This is page numbers 2429 – 2482 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 going.

Topics

The House met at 1:31 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Good afternoon, colleagues. Item 2, Ministers’ statements. The honourable Minister responsible for the Anti-Poverty Strategy, Mr. Abernethy.

Minister’s Statement 41-174): Anti-Poverty Strategy
Ministers’ Statements

Glen Abernethy Great Slave

Mr. Speaker, to live in poverty in Canada is to live with insufficient and often poor quality food. It is to sleep in poor quality and/or unaffordable housing, in homeless shelters, or on city streets and parks. It means making difficult and painful decisions on a daily basis involving trade-offs, whether to pay the rent or feed the kids, pay the electric bill or go to the dentist, buy a new bus pass or forego socializing with friends. To live in poverty is also to be at greater risk of poor health, family or neighborhood violence, and a shorter lifespan. It is to be unable to participate fully in one’s community and greater society. It is to suffer great depths of anxiety and emotional pain.

When our government was elected, we set a goal of helping our residents become and stay healthy, educated people free from poverty. Since then, Ministers have stood in this House many times to talk about initiatives that will help us reach that goal. Our Premier and Finance Minister laid the groundwork. Early in our mandate they established a sustainable approach to making our territory prosperous in partnership with other northern governments. Minister Beaulieu has spoken of supports to people with mental health and addictions issues, including the desperate need for prevention and harm reduction. Minister McLeod has introduced a number of programs that address housing needs, especially the new fair and sustainable public housing rent scales and changes to home ownership programs. Minister Lafferty has spoken many times about our government’s support for early childhood development and for comprehensive education programs that get our residents ready to enter the workforce. Minister

Ramsay is leading the development of a socially responsible Economic Development Strategy that will provide all our residents with opportunities and choices. We have made sustainable, vibrant, and safe communities our goal.

Mr. Speaker, all of our goals and initiatives are related. Our government’s entire agenda is an Anti-Poverty Strategy. A strong, diversified economy increases employment opportunities where they are most needed. Those opportunities come from investments in education and early childhood development. All of this work has the goal of reducing and preventing poverty throughout the NWT.

This is, and will always be, a shared effort. Poverty is complex. Although there is a widening gap between those who are prospering and those who are just getting by, poverty is not just about money. It can mean a family does not have enough healthy food. It can mean they have poor quality or unaffordable housing. It always means they have to make difficult decisions about how to make ends meet. People who live in poverty are at greater risk of poor health and violence, and they often aren’t able to participate fully in their communities.

The budget that is before the House is the first step. It includes new investments of approximately $3.4 million in our Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan, in early childhood development, and in helping Northerners capture the benefits associated with exploration in the Sahtu. These are long-term investments, but Members know they start paying off immediately.

As we prepare for the opportunities that will come with devolution, self-government and increasing economic development, we commit to addressing inequalities that keep our people from succeeding in education and the workforce. In partnership with Aboriginal governments, community governments, non-government organizations and others, we are developing a framework that will set out how we will all work together to reduce poverty. This framework will play an influential role in our government’s social agenda and will be the basis for much of our work throughout this Assembly, setting the stage for real gains in the next five to 10 years. It will also include a mechanism to ensure long-term continuity of coordinated efforts to reduce poverty.

There is no place for poverty in the NWT. This is the shared belief of many Northerners as well as the individuals and organizations who came together to build this framework. Over the coming months my Cabinet colleagues and I will return to this House to discuss new investments and new ways to deliver programs to reduce poverty in the North. These investments will be part of an action plan based on the framework and developed with Members. We believe in strong individuals, families and communities sharing the benefits and responsibilities of a unified, environmentally sustainable and prosperous Northwest Territories. I look forward to talking to Members about ways to achieve this shared vision. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister’s Statement 41-174): Anti-Poverty Strategy
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Abernethy. The honourable Minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation, Mr. McLeod.

Minister’s Statement 42-17(4): Availability Of Rentals For Critical Staff
Ministers’ Statements

Inuvik Twin Lakes

Robert C. McLeod Minister Responsible for NWT Housing Corporation

Mr. Speaker, a lack of affordable, adequate and suitable housing creates challenges in recruiting staff for the GNWT, Aboriginal governments and for community governments. Staff need homes to live in if they are going to continue delivering the programs and services the people of the NWT rely on their governments for.

Currently, the NWT Housing Corporation has about 90 market rentals in communities and has provided support to communities and other organizations for another 40 units. The NWT Housing Corporation is taking steps that will expand this stock and help to address this issue.

We are standardizing the rents in our units using the same community zone system as is used for the public housing rent scale. In the past, rents were based on individual unit costs and could vary significantly. The new rates are fairer and will give potential staff more certainty about their housing costs. As an example, a two-bedroom unit in

Fort Liard will be rented for $1,250 per month with the tenant paying for electricity and municipal services.

The NWT Housing Corporation is also working closely with stakeholders within the education and health sectors, areas of particular concern, to improve the availability of information on NWT Housing Corporation rentals.

Mr. Speaker, we are also re-launching the Housing for Staff program. This program allows the NWT Housing Corporation to partner with community organizations and developers to expand the availability of rental units in smaller NWT communities. The program was in place during the 16th Assembly, but we have made changes to

increase its effectiveness, including increasing the subsidy provided to developers in the northern part of the territory to reflect higher construction costs. We are also changing the requirement that developers only rent to GNWT staff to receive the subsidy to allow for rentals to Aboriginal and community government staff as well as GNWT staff. These organizations face similar recruitment challenges as the GNWT and this step will help address that, while expanding the pool of potential tenants for developers.

Mr. Speaker, we share Members’ concern about vacant home ownership units. We will immediately make these units available for rental in cases where there haven’t been eligible clients apply for our Homeownership Support Program. This will use our stock more efficiently and make more units available to staff that deliver critical services. This approach will not impact our home ownership programs, but will allow us to get the most out of our housing stock.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, there are communities where the lack of available housing for staff that deliver critical services is particularly severe. The NWT Housing Corporation is consulting with stakeholders and reviewing each community’s stock of rental units, and we will invest to develop more units where they are most needed and no private developer is willing to invest.

Mr. Speaker, these actions will be a significant contribution to addressing the problem of availability of housing for staff that deliver critical services. The steps I have outlined will improve our ability to work with potential staff on housing options and is expected to expand the market rental stock supported by the NWT Housing Corporation by about 50 percent. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister’s Statement 42-17(4): Availability Of Rentals For Critical Staff
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. McLeod. The honourable Minister of Transportation, Mr. Ramsay.

Minister’s Statement 43-17(4): Alcohol Ignition Interlock Program
Ministers’ Statements

Kam Lake

David Ramsay Minister of Transportation

Mr. Speaker, we know that impaired driving leads to injuries, death, and millions of dollars in property damage across Canada every year. Statistics Canada recently reported the NWT and Yukon had the highest rates of impaired driving across the country in 2012. Ninety-four NWT residents were convicted for impaired driving last year. That number doesn’t include administrative suspensions where licences were removed temporarily for blowing over the legal limit in roadside breathalyser tests. The Department of Transportation is taking action to turn these dismal statistics around.

Today I’m pleased to announce the Alcohol Ignition Interlock Program in an effort to make our roads safer. An ignition interlock is an in-car breath

screening device connected to the ignition and power systems of a vehicle. The device prevents the vehicle from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is over a pre-set limit.

Individuals who’ve lost their licences due to impaired driving convictions may be eligible for early reinstatement of their driving privileges in return for meeting specific requirements under the Ignition Interlock Program. If the registrar approves an application, participants may have an interlock device installed in their vehicle, at their own expense, at a cost of $125.00 per month.

Participants remain in the program until their driving prohibitions are lifted, unless removed by the registrar or they voluntarily withdraw. Participants must meet licensing conditions imposed by the registrar and show a clean record with no violations for the last three consecutive months to complete the program.

Mr. Speaker, the department is working with Canada’s leading provider of ignition interlock devices to deliver services to NWT residents using proven technology that effectively reduces the rate of impaired driving. All Canadian provinces and the Yukon administer interlock programs and report the devices work because they mechanically stop impaired driving before it begins.

The Department of Transportation has worked closely with jurisdictional partners, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Manitoba, to introduce this program. The department also consulted with the RCMP and municipal enforcement as well as with the NWT judiciary. The department continues to collaborate with the youth organization, SADD, through its Yellowknife Chapter, to combat drinking and driving in the NWT and increase public safety on our roads and highways. We appreciate the cooperation from our provincial partners, enforcement agencies, the judiciary and Students Against Drunk Driving, whose members are with us this afternoon as visitors in the gallery. They are key partners in combatting drinking and driving and increasing public safety on our roads and highways.

I invite residents to check the DOT website for more information on how to qualify for entry to the program. Our web address is www.dot.gov.nt.ca.

Mr. Speaker, the Ignition Interlock Program demonstrates the department’s continued commitment to reduce incidents of impaired driving in the Northwest Territories. Driving is a privilege, not a right, and every person must be sober when behind the wheel. Initiatives such as the Ignition Interlock Program advance the 17th Assembly goal

of building sustainable, vibrant, and safe communities by focusing on prevention. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister’s Statement 43-17(4): Alcohol Ignition Interlock Program
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Ramsay. Item 3, Members’ statements. The honourable Member for Nahendeh, Mr. Menicoche.

NWT Electoral Boundaries Commission Interim Report
Members’ Statements

Kevin A. Menicoche Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Electoral Boundaries Commission is touring the Northwest Territories to hear feedback on its proposals to change the number of MLAs in this Assembly and who they represent. I fear that most people do not know how important this is. It goes to the core of how NWT residents are represented and whether consensus government can work.

I have carefully reviewed the proposed electoral boundaries and they are very troubling. All would increase the very powerful influence on our government to an unacceptable level. It is so obvious that Yellowknife is already represented extremely well by its seven MLAs, and three of them Cabinet Ministers.

Our consensus system relies on a balance between the capital and the regions. All the commission’s proposals would distort that balance and exaggerate the divisions between rural and urban ridings that sometimes plague us even now.

The people of Alaska reduced this problem by choosing Juneau as the capital instead of the much larger Fairbanks, and British Columbia’s capital is Victoria, not Vancouver. I think maybe we should move our capital to Fort Simpson.

---Laughter

Seriously, Mr. Speaker. Besides boosting Yellowknife’s power, every proposal has fatal problems. They all ignore fundamental boundaries, deep historic rivalries, political realities, language and administrative efficiencies.

For example, the proposal for 18 ridings and one of the plans for 19 ridings create a new district made up of eight small Deh Cho, Monfwi and Tu Nedhe communities. Their first language is Slavey, Tlicho and Chipewyan. At least three Dene land claim regions are represented, plus Metis claims. Throw in the fact that transportation links between these communities are poor at best and you have a total nightmare for any MLA. It’s impossible to fully represent the people in this proposed riding. It appears that the potential for conflict of interest was completely ignored.

The final proposal for 19 ridings is similarly flawed, so is the one for 21 ridings.

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

NWT Electoral Boundaries Commission Interim Report
Members’ Statements

Kevin A. Menicoche Nahendeh

The final proposal for 19 ridings is similarly flawed and so is the one for 21 ridings. The latter actually includes nine ridings with constituents living in Yellowknife. That is beyond belief. I cannot support more MLAs for the capital, let alone two more.

In short, each proposal of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is a recipe for disaster. Adopting any one of them will compromise, not improve, representation of NWT residents. Adopting any one of them will erode or even destroy our consensus system. Until boundaries are proposed that are actually improved representation, I cannot support tampering with the current electoral system until, perhaps, next term. I urge the status quo. I also urge all constituents and/or NWT residents who care about consensus government to speak up during the remaining public sessions.

NWT Electoral Boundaries Commission Interim Report
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Menicoche. The honourable Member for Weledeh, Mr. Bromley.

Devolution Agreement Plebiscite
Members’ Statements

Bob Bromley Weledeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. A couple of weeks ago the Premier told us yet again that the signing of the Devolution Agreement is just days away, but useful context is still missing in the information he provides. Yes, the public has had access to a very complicated agreement-in-principle, and we have seen media relations centred on milestones rather than content. There is a website people can go to for information, but it’s mostly information going out with no invitation for debate. Opportunities for public engagement have been limited or nil. The Land Use Sustainability Framework consultation came and went, I think; a profile that was so ephemeral that it scarcely bears mention.

When does the full public review and debate take place on the quality of the agreement being unveiled? What will the process for public comment be and how will the Premier ensure a meaningful way to take citizens’ concerns into account as we move to set up our own resource management apparatus? Will this House have an opportunity to vote on the agreement? Incredibly, this has never been made clear.

The Members’ general support for devolution has been pretty clear. Doesn’t the government want formal and democratic endorsement providing for debate and the imprint of consent and validation upon this historic step?

I’m hearing growing calls for a plebiscite. Support for devolution appears strong. The real benefit of a vote would be in the exploration of issues. Nothing would focus public interest and attention so much as an opportunity to take part in a historic decision. If the government really thinks this is a great deal,

and it clearly does, a plebiscite would be an ultimate demonstration of that faith.

The devolution of resource management is the biggest last stage in political development short of provincehood. Although the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, a substantial part of resource management, is apparently missing from the draft agreement, we still have here a monumental historic step. Government leads, but as we move to the next level of political responsibility, wouldn’t it be good to take our people along with us?

As we approach a draft final agreement, I will have questions for the Premier on the immediate plans for bringing devolution home.

Devolution Agreement Plebiscite
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Bromley. The honourable Member for Hay River South, Mrs. Groenewegen.

Hay River Community Wellness Planning
Members’ Statements

Jane Groenewegen Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My community was very excited to have participated in a community wellness planning session which I had the pleasure of attending in Hay River on January 23rd . Over 200 members of

the Community Interagency Group and elders participated in this consultation activity and many important points of interest were raised. It was apparent, early in the session, that Hay River has a number of wonderful things going on, and communication between the agencies and partners needs to be a priority.

During the consultation sessions, various strategies were identified as immediate areas of actions such as community mentorship programs, more youth counselling, more sober family events, more prenatal parent activities, nutrition programs, and support for the existing Lights On Program for youth. Also identified was as an immediate area to address is the need for a community wellness worker to coordinate events, disseminate information, bring partners together, and help the community in cooperatively building partnerships. A community wellness project will not only help the community to access First Nations and Inuit Health Branch funding that Hay River has never accessed before, it will have a much greater impact on the community as groups have made strong commitments to partnership and to work on projects together for the future.

The community wellness plan should also give organizations a clearer direction of the needs of the residents of Hay River. Removing barriers to programs was a clear message heard at all levels of consultation.

Another common theme that became evident throughout the session was that priority needs to be given to reaching out to the most vulnerable members of the community and changing the way we do business. Community members made it very clear that they want to see their front-line workers leave their offices and go to those in need of their services, instead of living the theme you build it and they will come. We know this is not working. The community wants to see its workers out serving clients where the clients are, changing office hours so that government agencies that support these clients are available even after regular work hours. Many ideas and strategies for improving and focusing attention on wellness in the community were identified and the community looks forward to seeing action on these items.

I would like to extend a big thank you to Sabrina Broadhead and the Department of Health and Social Services for their vision and action on this topic. A special thank you to Jill Taylor, chair of the Wellness Planning Session, for her hard work and contribution of countless volunteer hours providing opportunities for our community, especially for the youth and the vulnerable residents who so often cannot represent themselves. This type of action, the community wellness project, helps in making it easier for communities to work together, access funding and move forward, and it is a great step in making our community and our territory a healthier place to live.