This is page numbers 2581 – 2616 of the Hansard for the 17th Assembly, 4th Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was report.

Topics

The House met at 1:32 p.m.

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Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Good afternoon, colleagues. Item 2, Ministers’ statements. The honourable Minister of Transportation, Mr. Ramsay.

Minister's Statement 50-17(4): Inuvik To Tuktoyaktuk Highway
Ministers’ Statements

Kam Lake

David Ramsay Minister of Transportation

Mr. Speaker, I’m pleased to recognize that the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project reached another milestone earlier this week when the Prime Minister confirmed that Canada will contribute $200 million to the construction.

Constructing the northernmost segment of the Mackenzie Valley Highway to Tuktoyaktuk requires a federal and territorial partnership strengthened by a common vision. Monday’s commitment confirms that Canada views the all-weather highway to the Arctic Coast as a vital component in our long-term plans to develop our economy. The commitment also highlights Canada’s confidence in the NWT as a significant contributor to the future economic prosperity and security of Northerners and all Canadians.

It’s important to note that Canada’s decision to increase funding to this nationally significant project comes at a time of continued fiscal restraint anticipated in the next federal budget.

Mr. Speaker, the issuance in January of the Environmental Impact Review Board’s Panel report was a significant step toward bringing together this important infrastructure venture. The panel’s report recommends the project move forward, subject to conditions. The GNWT has responded to the panel’s 51 recommendations in a submission to Canada seeking formal project approval. We anticipate a response from the federal Minister of the Environment shortly, with recommendations that reflect the GNWT’s role as a responsible government.

The Prime Minister’s confirmation of funding support provides another significant piece of the

tapestry we must create as we move forward with this construction project. The Department of Transportation plans to begin this project by upgrading the access road from Tuktoyaktuk to Gravel Source 177 and conducting additional geotechnical work. Much work also remains to obtain regulatory permits, finalize the highway design and determine an approach to procurement.

Constructing the first all-weather highway to the Arctic Ocean will produce substantial benefits at the national, regional and local levels. It is the foundation for economic development enabling natural resource exploration and while reinforcing Canadian sovereignty objectives. We fully anticipate receiving returns by way of regional development, training, jobs, and greater economic prosperity through more cost-effective access to communities and resource development opportunities in the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 50-17(4): Inuvik To Tuktoyaktuk Highway
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Ramsay. The honourable Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Minister's Statement 51-17(4): Income Assistance Actions
Ministers’ Statements

Monfwi

Jackson Lafferty Minister of Education, Culture and Employment

Mr. Speaker, our income security programs provide support for those residents over the age of 19 and their families. It covers basic food, shelter and clothing needs, child care benefits, heating subsidies, income support and student financial assistance. It also provides supports for disabled residents.

Mr. Speaker, we recognize that not one formula fits all needs. This is why our client service officers have a difficult job, one that few people can do. They do their best to meet the unique needs of their diverse clients, while at the same time adhering to the general guidelines and requirements set out by our acts and regulations in the Northwest Territories. No one client’s needs are the same as another’s, so these are all complex cases and our CSOs do a tremendous job given their often huge caseloads. Annually, we have approximately 3,300 unique income assistance cases in the NWT. With economic circumstances and opportunities varying in some communities, some of the client services

officers manage extremely high volumes of caseloads.

We know that the challenges faced by disabled residents and seniors are significantly different than those of other income assistance clients, and this has already been identified in the draft action plan the Department is developing in response to last week’s tabled report by the Auditor General. A streamlined application process will be implemented for both disabled residents and seniors, with a dedicated staff position to provide information and support for only those clients. This will ensure their unique challenges are met while balancing requirements to verify our processes to fulfill the recommendations of the Auditor General.

Mr. Speaker, this remains one of our challenges: to verify clients’ information per our requirements and guidelines, and serve our clients according to their needs. They are the people on the ground, who meet with clients daily and see the hardship of broken families, mental illness, disability, infirmity and hopelessness, and they deserve our collective respect.

That said, I have directed the department’s deputy minister to contact the client that Mr. Bromley spoke on behalf of yesterday, and senior staff will meet with her to discuss her challenges and work on a solution.

Mr. Speaker, as we go through the process of improving and identifying the gaps in our income security programs, our CSOs will continue to serve our clients with the best advice, support and commitment that they have provided so far, with the hope that with every case we review, we get closer to an effective and efficient program. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 51-17(4): Income Assistance Actions
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Lafferty. The honourable Minister responsible for the NWT Power Corporation, Mr. Miltenberger.

Minister's Statement 52-17(4): Report On The Northwest Territories Power Corporation
Ministers’ Statements

Thebacha

Michael Miltenberger Minister Responsible for NWT Power Corporation

Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today, to inform Members on the work the Northwest Territories Power Corporation is doing to provide a safe and reliable source of electricity at the lowest cost, while pursuing opportunities to increase the mix of clean, renewable energy sources.

NTPC has been working to control its costs in order to lessen the impact on electricity rates for Northwest Territories residents and businesses. A renewed sense of focus at NTPC has led to new levels of cost control and efficiency gains. The corporation has implemented a strategic plan that focuses on areas which matter most to customers:

service reliability, the price of electricity and meeting external commitments.

Mr. Speaker, results to date are encouraging, but there is still more work to do to ensure NTPC continues to provide best value to ratepayers.

The corporation remains at the forefront in supporting and implementing this government’s strategies to move the territory’s energy supply away from fossil fuels as much as possible and on to renewable energy sources that are both cleaner and less subject to price fluctuations.

In that regard, Mr. Speaker, NTPC, with funding from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, recently expanded what was already the North’s largest solar energy project in Fort Simpson. The project added over 40 kilowatts to the existing 60 kilowatt generating capacity of the site.

All told the site is now able to convert sunlight into enough electricity to supply 17 houses in the community, at peak. The project will displace approximately 100,000 kilowatt hours of diesel generation and remove 76.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air.

As part of upgrades to Colville Lake’s power system over the next two years, the corporation is investigating using smart grid technology that consists of a 50 kilowatt solar system and a battery arrangement which can supply the community’s full needs.

NTPC, in partnership with the Community Government of Gameti, recently completed a pilot project to convert the community’s thirty-one 100 watt high pressure sodium streetlights into 50 watt high efficiency LED streetlights. Information gained as part of that project will guide plans to roll out this greener technology across the territory. While NTPC will be assessing the performance of the new lights for some time, initial feedback has been very positive from residents who like the new lights.

There are areas within the NWT that offer significant potential to harness wind power to produce electricity. NT Energy has received $100,000 from ENR to conduct a pilot project in a community along the Arctic Coast and is in the process of confirming where the project will be located. Lessons learned from a previous wind project in Tuktoyaktuk will be applied to this new project.

Northerners care about the environment and many have already taken steps on their own to replace fossil fuel sources with greener energy solutions for generating electricity. We encourage those self-generation initiatives and want to ensure there are policies and processes in place that support that goal.

With that view in mind, NTPC is conducting a policy review to consider the option to replace net billing with a net metering program. Under net billing, a customer who qualified for the program received a credit on their bill for self-generated power put back into the grid. The rate paid is equal to the cost of the diesel displaced and other variable costs. Under net metering, that customer would receive the higher retail rate instead.

Doing away with the standby charge that currently applies to customers who generate more than five kilowatts of solar or wind power and feed power back into the grid is another incentive we will undertake.

Mr. Speaker, this government recognizes the need to quickly press forward with other initiatives that will support that goal of reducing costs and reliance on diesel. Nowhere is that more critically important than in Inuvik. NTPC has signed agreements to secure a supply of liquefied natural gas that will address the community’s power requirements in the short term, while leaving the door open for local suppliers to develop solutions for the longer term. The corporation is working toward an initial goal of having a partial supply of liquid natural gas in place as early as this fall and ramping up its supply of that less costly fuel next year as additional LNG sources are scheduled to come on-line.

Such a positive development will also mean that NTPC will avoid approximately $2 million in capital costs to convert its gas engines to diesel in response to the town’s decreasing gas supply and displace a significant amount of diesel it would have otherwise burned.

Furthermore, success in securing a supply of LNG for Inuvik’s short-term requirements could also prove to be a viable option to replace diesel and reduce power costs in other thermal communities across the territory. NTPC is actively pursuing that option.

LNG can also be used as a heating fuel. With that option in mind, NTPC is working with the Town of Inuvik and the Inuvik Joint Venture to see if it is feasible to use LNG for this purpose in that community.

Mr. Speaker, one of the inherent weaknesses in our power system is that, unlike southern Canada, it is an isolated system without an integrated transmission grid. As a result, our ability to fully exploit our existing and future hydro potential and other economies of scale is limited. In that regard, NTPC is actively pursuing opportunities to expand transmission capabilities within the NWT that would stabilize rates and foster economic development.

What we envision is a transmission grid along the west side of Great Slave Lake that would connect the Taltson hydro system in the South Slave to the Snare system in the North Slave region. The grid

would also extend northeast from Yellowknife, promoting economic development by providing a means for existing and future mines in that area to connect to hydro. We also envision being able to connect the grid to communities such as Kakisa, Fort Providence and Whati.

Such a grid would change our power system and become an instrument for economic development by stabilizing rates, increasing reliability and extending cleaner hydro supply to more and new areas.

At the same time, NTPC is attending to matters at hand that affect our existing power system. Mr. Speaker, the corporation is making measureable progress to implement a comprehensive reliability improvement plan for its Snare hydro system that provides power for Yellowknife, Detah and Behchoko. The initiatives the corporation has put in place seem to be having the desired effect, judging by the number of outages in recent months.

However, as much as the signs are promising to this point, it is too soon to declare success. I will continue to monitor this issue to ensure that the corporation meets its commitment to reduce outages on that system by 70 percent over three years.

NTPC must also overcome other important challenges. It, like many northern organizations, continues to face a critical demand for skilled labour. To meet that challenge, the corporation has developed and implemented a strategy to refocus recruitment and retention efforts on northern hires through initiatives such as a scholarship program, apprenticeship program, a careers website and increased presence at career fairs. These efforts are showing results, but it is a challenge competing with growth regions such as Alberta and Saskatchewan. Two of four apprenticeships available in 2012-13 have already been filled and four more apprenticeships will be available in 2013-14. NTPC remains committed to the apprenticeship program, and will seek two more apprentices in 2014-15 and ongoing.

Mr. Speaker, NTPC has much work ahead in the years to come to ensure that Northerners receive an environmentally friendly, secure and reliable source of electricity at the lowest cost possible. It is worth noting that this year the corporation has been serving Northerners for 25 years. In 1988 the GNWT acquired the Northern Canada Power Commission from the federal government and established it as a territorial Crown corporation. Coincidentally, this year also marks 65 years since the original Northwest Territories Power Commission was set up.

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to continuing to update this House on the progress and the contribution that NTPC is making to the energy future of this territory. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 52-17(4): Report On The Northwest Territories Power Corporation
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Miltenberger. Item 3, Members’ statements. The honourable Member for Hay River South, Mrs. Groenewegen.

Financial Assistance For Students With Learning Disabilities
Members’ Statements

Jane Groenewegen Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Department of Education is in the process of improving student financial assistance. That is a good thing. I have not heard anything about improving support for students with disabilities. These students, especially those with learning disabilities, cannot compete with high school graduates to get into many colleges or universities. Students with disabilities often have to attend specialized schools that are oriented toward developing their specific gift, art, carving, writing, whatever it may be. Tuition fees are usually higher than they would be at other schools. Private schools are another option. Classes are smaller and students can get one-on-one attention, but that comes at a price that they often cannot afford.

Maybe we ignore the situation that adults with learning disabilities often face. Most, if not all, live on income support and have no way to earn and save the money they need to even attempt going to a school after high school. The luckiest ones have families that support them, but even so, adult students with disabilities face challenges most of us can’t even imagine. For most, a part-time job to help get through school is just a dream.

Our Student Financial Assistance Program does include a disability grant. It is ironic that despite our system being more generous than most for all students, other jurisdictions offer more flexible support for students with disabilities. A typical student with a disability would look at the funding options here and quickly realize that schooling down south is out of reach. Instead some stay here and rely on income support that probably costs this government $25,000 a year.

Instead we should increase student financial assistance for students with permanent disabilities. In the past three years, SFA has funded four, five, and eight of these students per year. I wonder how many do not bother applying. This issue was raised to our constituency office through Lillian Crook, who is an avid and tireless activist on behalf of persons with disabilities. I believe it is a real concern and that we do fail our young people who have disabilities by not providing more incentive for them to achieve whatever potential they can through additional education.

I believe that when ECE is looking at student financial assistance, this is an area that needs to be

looked at separately from SFA in general and it needs to be stepped up. I think the long term will prove that the more that we invest in these young people, the less they will rely on us in the future.

Financial Assistance For Students With Learning Disabilities
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mrs. Groenewegen. The honourable Member for Range Lake, Mr. Dolynny.

Organ Donation And Paddlers For Parts
Members’ Statements

Daryl Dolynny Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Greg Loftus of Yellowknife has been interested in organ donation programs for decades. For over 30 years he’s been signed up as an organ donor and had a double kidney transplant in 1997.

Mr. Loftus became instrumental in starting up Paddlers for Parts and is still active in its operation. Paddlers for Parts is an NWT non-profit organization established in Yellowknife in 2001. Its mission is the promotion of organ and tissue donation and support of the Kidney Foundation of Canada by promoting kayaking and canoeing as healthy lifestyle choices. Through its fundraising events and in conjunction with Northern Alberta and Territories Kidney Foundation of Canada, it provides educational financial assistance to persons with kidney problems through its Assisted Paddlers Bursary Fund.

Mr. Loftus also started a petition with the objective of asking northern residents to help establish an NWT organ donor registry. The fruits of his labour were tabled, with just under 500 signatures, last week in our NWT Legislative Assembly.

World Kidney Day is tomorrow, March 14th . While

we want to thank the continued community awareness and work of Mr. Loftus, we are reminded that our lack of a formalized organ donor registry in the NWT is truly hampering our ability to help those who desperately need organ transplants.

Once again, we need to make sure that all Northerners have the ability to participate in organ and tissue donation, and we need to develop a long-term plan to improve NWT participation in the donation process. We ask once again that residents of the NWT talk to their MLAs about using space on our NWT health care cards or drivers’ licences to allow for and facilitate organ donation. Through everyone’s commitment, and with the help of difference makers like Mr. Loftus, collectively, we can create the much needed organ donor registry for the Northwest Territories and our residents.

Organ Donation And Paddlers For Parts
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Dolynny. The Member for Frame Lake, Ms. Bisaro.

Devolution Consultation
Members’ Statements

Wendy Bisaro Frame Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to carry on today from my Member’s statement of yesterday and further discuss the Devolution Final Agreement and the upcoming engagement process.

Constituents have expressed their concerns to me about the lack of information and the lack of opportunity to discuss how the Devolution Agreement will be implemented. In a post-devolution NWT, after federal employees and jobs have been transferred to the GNWT, what guarantees do we have that services will remain as they are today? What have we heard from the NWT government to date to reassure residents that a post-devolution GNWT will carry on with all the activities currently done on our behalf by federal government staff? What have we heard to give us comfort that the standards of service and programs that we take over will be maintained at the same level as they are now, as delivered by Canada, when they are delivered by the GNWT?

So little has been said about a post-devolution government, with the exception of how much more money we’ll have. The residents are, rightly, nervous. Will we maintain the same level of environmental monitoring and assessment? Will we continue the same land functions that the Government of Canada now performs? I sure hope so. Federal employees do a huge number of things on behalf of the NWT. Will all of these activities be continuing? What plans does the government have to incorporate those activities and departments into the GNWT public service? How will the new GNWT public service be structured? Can residents have input into the proposed structure?

All of these questions should be part of the public engagement process that was outlined by the Premier yesterday during oral questions. Not only do our residents need to understand the Devolution Final Agreement, but they need and want to understand how things will work in a post-devolution NWT. How the agreement will be implemented must be discussed with the general public, and the general public must have an opportunity for input.

The Premier’s been immersed in getting to devolution for years, but now is the time to lift up our heads and take a good, objective look around, to take stock of where we are, take stock of what people know and want to know, and to provide opportunities for residents to speak and be heard.

I’ll have questions for the Premier at a later time.

Devolution Consultation
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Ms. Bisaro. The Member for Deh Cho, Mr. Nadli.