This is page numbers 4771 – 4804 of the Hansard for the 17th Assembly, 5th 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 million.


The House met at 10:01 a.m.



The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Good morning, colleagues. Item 2, Ministers’ statements. The honourable Minister of Finance, Mr. Miltenberger.

Minister's Statement 91-17(5): October 2014 Session Fiscal Update
Ministers’ Statements


Michael Miltenberger Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to update Members and the public on our fiscal situation and discuss the ways we are addressing our challenges during the remaining life of this Assembly.

To date, 2014-15 has included a number of fiscal challenges. The most severe fire season in NWT history has cost $55 million, or 3 percent of this year’s budget. A record 64-year low water levels at Snare Hydro required the government to intervene with a $20 million contribution to the NWT Power Corporation to ensure higher electricity costs of 13 percent are not passed on to NWT residents and businesses. On the revenue side, total gross revenues forecast for the next number of years are expected to grow at less than 1 percent annually. Resource revenues are expected to be slightly lower than originally estimated last December, averaging approximately $113 million annually over the next five years, down from $120 million annually, and they are extremely volatile in that the expected revenue stream could fluctuate by as much $30 million from the expected annual average. Resource revenues are also finite in the sense that we cannot rely on receiving them from the same sources forever. These two facts are the reason why this government has decided to not include resource revenues in our operations and maintenance budget to fund programs and services.

The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) will only use resource revenues to fund infrastructure, pay down debt and invest in the NWT Heritage Fund.

As a government we will remain fiscally vigilant because average annual revenue growth over the next five years is expected to be significantly lower than historical growth rates. The fiscal reality is that we depend on the Territorial Formula Financing Grant to provide the majority of our revenues. Over the next five years, the grant is projected to grow about 2 percent annually due to a declining NWT population and reduced provincial and local government spending as provinces attempt to balance their budgets.

Next week I will be tabling the GNWT Public Accounts for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The annual report from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) on the Public Accounts is positive overall, a clean opinion, noting significant progress by GNWT over prior years. One such indicator of progress is the OAG cost of the audit has decreased approximately 20 percent from the prior year, which is a decrease from $929,000 to $756,000. This is mainly due to the fact that there were fewer errors and audit issues noted during the course of the audit, which resulted in improved efficiencies on the part of both GNWT management and the OAG audit team. Additionally, the GNWT has managed to shorten the public account time frames by continuously improving reporting and quality over the last three fiscal years. As the 17th Assembly prepares its final

budget, the fiscal objective remains the same: hold the line on expenditure growth to allow us to make the investments necessary to protect our infrastructure and grow the economy. The achievements of this objective are reflected in the 2015-16 Capital Estimates tabled in the Legislative Assembly yesterday. Including the proposed housing investment, the total planned infrastructure investment in 2015-16 will be $314 million.

Being fiscally vigilant also means returning to a reduced capital plan after the 2015-16 Capital Estimates. This reduction will be difficult given the government’s current infrastructure deficit, the contribution public infrastructure spending makes to local economies and the fact that we need critical infrastructure to grow our economy.

NWT economic activity is only three-quarters of what it was eight years ago because resource production is declining and business capital investment is significantly lower. The lower levels of

economic activity are one important reason why the NWT population is declining.

We are attempting to grow the NWT economy through a number of strategies that complement each other. As announced in this year’s budget, our target is to increase the NWT population by 2,000 people over the next five years, and we are taking steps to grow the NWT economy through important initiatives such as Industry, Tourism and Investment’s Economic Opportunities Strategy and Mineral Development Strategy and Education and Culture and Employment’s work to attract skilled immigrant workers along with providing training opportunities for NWT residents to take the jobs here in the NWT.

A robust economy combined with an increased population is key to our fiscal sustainability. The NWT population has not increased significantly since 2004 when the NWT was experiencing very strong economic growth while the rest of Canada was not. The NWT is competing with booming economies, especially in Western Canada. The Department of Human Resources is continuing to take steps to improve our internal recruitment and retention actions, and through Industry, Tourism and Investment’s Come Make Your Mark program, we are working with the private sector to support their recruitment and retention efforts. On October 8, 2014, I met the senior management of NWT’s three operating diamond mines, the NWT Chamber of Mines and the NWT Chamber of Commerce to continue our discussion on labour market challenges faced by the private sector, particularly the mining industry, and in doing so we are gaining a better understanding about what companies are doing to encourage more NWT resident labour and how the GNWT can work with the companies to make their actions in this regard more successful.

These economic development strategies will depend on transformational investments such as the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Optic Link, the Mackenzie Valley Highway and addressing our energy challenges. We need to focus on these strategic investments, and other investments, to lower costs for residents and businesses and open corridors to previously inaccessible markets and resources.

Funding these strategic investments require operating surpluses. Given the medium-term revenue outlook, these operating surpluses will only be achieved through making choices about what programs we fund and how much we fund them.

With respect to energy costs, we know that the GNWT cannot sustain its investment in subsidizing power rates. Since the beginning of the 17th Assembly, our government has provided $58 million in subsidies in order to shield NWT residents and businesses from ever-increasing electrical costs.

As you heard from the Premier yesterday, this level of subsidy cannot continue and the GNWT will be holding a second Energy Charrette November 3rd and 4th in Yellowknife where people from across the

NWT will be invited to discuss their ideas on how best to address our energy challenges.

Going forward, the next Assembly will face the same difficult challenges we are currently addressing. That is why we will use the last annual public budget tour for the 17th Legislative Assembly

this fall to discuss the GNWT fiscal situation, fiscal objectives and strategy with NWT residents. The information and feedback we collect will be a key piece in the transition to the 18th Legislative


Since the first budget of this Assembly, we have successfully worked to maintain a stable fiscal environment while managing the fiscal risks of the many things outside of our control. Our prudent management of expenditure growth has meant that we have achieved the fiscal targets that permitted increased infrastructure investments for 2014-15 and 2015-16. Our commitment to fiscal discipline gives us the assurance that we will have the fiscal flexibility to address our challenges as they arise. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 91-17(5): October 2014 Session Fiscal Update
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Miltenberger. The honourable Minister of Health and Social Services, Mr. Abernethy.

Minister's Statement 92-17(5): Med-Response
Ministers’ Statements

Great Slave

Glen Abernethy Minister of Health and Social Services

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to provide this House with an update on the Med-Response system.

Med-Response is the first program of its kind in Canada – or anywhere else, as far as we know. Other jurisdictions have call centres to coordinate air ambulance triage and dispatch, or call centres to provide clinical consultation, but Med-Response is breaking new ground by combining these functions into one operation.

Mr. Speaker, Med-Response has the potential to transform how we provide care to patients who are injured or critically ill. Today we have a patchwork of protocols and processes that govern how we deal with urgent situations in communities outside Yellowknife. When a community health nurse wants to arrange an air ambulance, he or she may have to make five or six phone calls. They have to contact a regional nurse in charge, a medical director, the medical travel office and possibly other clinical experts. They do all this while trying to care for a patient who may well need urgent attention. They can be on hold for minutes or even an hour waiting to speak to a physician.

Med-Response will change all that. There will be one dedicated 1-800 number for all health care

workers to call when they need an air ambulance or when they need advice or consultation that is beyond the capacity of local expertise. When a call is received, an emergency medical coordinator will immediately assess the urgency of the patient’s condition and then take the appropriate action. That might include getting a dispatcher to start arranging a medevac, or patching in an ER physician or specialist to provide advice and support. Both these things can happen at once. The phone system provides for up to nine callers to be involved, so that everyone with a role to play understands what is happening in real time.

Another benefit of Med-Response is that it provides an immediate support for new staff, casual staff and locum staff that may be dealing with an emergency situation but not be familiar with our system. In some cases, having immediate access to specialized clinical support may help to avoid having to medevac a patient.

Because all calls will be recorded, Med-Response will introduce a new level of quality assurance into our system. The data tracking capacity will allow us to monitor air ambulance usage and regional patterns, providing the basis for future program improvement.

I have heard concerns about the delayed implementation of this innovative system, but it’s more important to do it right than to do it right now. The team at Stanton Territorial Hospital is in place and has been working through looking at programs in other jurisdictions, customizing the phone system and dispatch software, training staff and developing operating procedures. We are now getting into the final stages of implementation, which involve reaching out to practitioners in every region to ensure that systems are thorough and accurate and that nothing has been forgotten in the design.

In the very near future, the team will kick off two weeks of intensive scenario testing as the final step before the system goes live early in the new calendar year.

Later today I will recognize in the gallery the dedicated team of professionals who are working to make Med-Response realize its potential. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 92-17(5): Med-Response
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Abernethy. Honourable Premier, Mr. McLeod.

Minister's Statement 93-17(5): Launch Of The United Way Northwest Territories Government Of The Northwest Territories Workplace Campaign
Ministers’ Statements

Bob McLeod Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, investing in the health and well-being of our people and our communities and building prosperity in the Northwest Territories is at the heart of this

Assembly’s priorities, but it is not our priority alone. These goals are shared by many non-governmental organizations in our territory, by our citizens and by our employees.

The United Way NWT is one such organization and I am pleased today to stand as the United Way’s NWT Government of the Northwest Territories Workplace Campaign honourary chair to announce the kick-off of this year’s staff payroll campaign.

Mr. Speaker, the United Way NWT began about 14 years ago as United Way Yellowknife but has expanded to provide support across the territory. Over the past three years, more than $180,000 was allocated to various charities across the Northwest Territories.

Like this Assembly, the United Way NWT is committed to building strong and healthy communities through their three areas of focus: • From poverty to possibility – moving people out

of poverty and meeting basic human needs.

• All that kids can be – improving access to early

childhood and development learning programs, helping kids to do well and complete high school and supporting the healthy transition into adulthood and post-secondary education.

• Healthy people, strong communities – improving

access to social and health-related support services, supporting resident and community engagement and supporting community integration and settlement.

Each year the Government of the Northwest Territories has a month-long United Way Workplace Campaign. During this month, employees and Members of the Legislative Assembly and Ministers can sign up for payroll deductions and hold fundraising events. Payroll deductions are an easy way to support the United Way and other registered non-profit organizations that are based in and focused on the Northwest Territories. A few dollars off each paycheque will go a long way towards supporting non-profits and probably will not even be missed. I challenge all my colleagues here in the Assembly who do not already participate to sign up.

This is the 12th year of the Government of the

Northwest Territories Workplace Campaign. Many Members of this Assembly are donors or volunteers and our Government of the Northwest Territories staff have been generous contributors to the United Way. This year, Mr. Speaker, through the Workplace Campaign, we hope to increase the number of Government of the Northwest Territories staff who currently donate by payroll deduction to 10 percent of our employees. This would be a tremendous boost to the community and territorial organizations that United Way NWT supports.

I have said many times before that Northerners need to work together to create the kind of strong,

prosperous and environmentally sustainable territory that we want. The United Way NWT has taken up that challenge and is an important partner with us in supporting beneficial programs and services across the Northwest Territories. The Government of the Northwest Territories payroll campaign begins today and will end on November 21st .

I understand departmental coordinators are organizing events that will occur throughout the month and that deputy ministers are leading a government-wide interdepartmental challenge that will feature a number of friendly fundraising events.

I want to thank the United Way NWT and its volunteer chair, Tracy St. Denis of Industry, Tourism and Investment, our Government of the Northwest Territories Workplace Campaign departmental coordinators and all the staff that are donating and signing up for payroll deductions. Your efforts make a real difference in the lives of our fellow Northerners, and I am very proud to be your honourary chair. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 93-17(5): Launch Of The United Way Northwest Territories Government Of The Northwest Territories Workplace Campaign
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

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

Hay River Skate Park
Members’ Statements

Jane Groenewegen Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to congratulate the Town of Hay River on opening a new skate park this past August, one month before the town’s BMX and skateboarding competition. Mr. Speaker, this may not seem like a big thing, but I’ve got to tell you it’s something we talked about in Hay River for many, many years, so it was great to see it come to fruition.

Residents of Hay River have worked long and hard to build a bigger and better skate park for the community. Skate parks are a great way to keep youth healthy and engaged in outdoor, unstructured play. They can hone their skills and compete with other stunt artists in a safe, specially designated public area to practice their skills whenever they have free time.

Hay River’s skate park was designed with expertise from the Canadian Ramp Company, which recently finished work on the largest steel ramp park in Atlantic Canada.

Complete with rails, ramps and jumps, the skate park was host to the Hay River’s 4th Annual X-

Games on September 13th , open to participants

from across the territory to show off their tail whip, board slides, 360s and other tricks on two and four wheels.

This skate park is not only a valuable asset for youth across the NWT but a testament to what a group of dedicated, community-minded volunteers can accomplish. I especially want to recognize the hard work of the Hay River BMX Skate Park Committee that went above and beyond to bring this facility to life.

Volunteers spent the summer stripping copper off of waste wire donated by Diavik and selling it for profit. The committee also entered a contribution agreement with the Town of Hay River to raise funds for the skate park. They can be proud of what their hard work has achieved. The skate park has had lots of use before the snow started to fly this week and will be used for many seasons to come.

I’d like to thank all of the volunteers who made this year’s X-Games possible and once again commend the determination and community spirit that made this skate park a reality. I encourage the young people of Hay River to enjoy this new facility and not forget to wear their helmets. Thank you.

Hay River Skate Park
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

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

Debt Management Policy
Members’ Statements

Daryl Dolynny Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. For years we’ve been hearing about our sound fiscal strategy of surpluses, paying down our short-term debt and maintaining a $100 million cushion to our current $800 million borrowing limit. Yet for years there have been a number of pressures that have negatively impacted this fiscal framework. Such things as the personal and corporate income tax estimates for the 2014-15 season that created more than a $30 million void in tax revenues. Plus if you add on top of this fiscal pressure such things as the recent fire seasons of approximately $55 million and last week’s $20 million NTPC low water rate rider offset, and of course ongoing items such as the Inuvik-Tuk highway, that’s $300 million, Stanton Hospital at $400 million, the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link Project at around $80 million, the replacement of our fire suppression air fleet, which is price unknown at this time, continued pressures of our health and social services programs and more than $3 billion of infrastructure deficit, one has to truly wonder: where is the Finance department hiding this pot of gold?

Clearly, there is no pot of gold, yet this administration feels justified in spending us into a corner at every opportunity while we struggle to pay off our public Visa and MasterCard payments. But fret not, because although we hit the wall of worry some time ago, apparently all we have to do is fill out the Joe Oliver American Express Card application form and presto, we’re back inking those cheques.

Unfortunately, this is not the way to deal with debt management or insult the intelligence of the taxpayer. So how does this administration keep this incredible debt wall secret from escaping? What Jedi mind tricks are fogging the truth about our financial health?

Admittedly, over the years we are drilled repeatedly how our disciplined spending has produced better than average results and fiscal responsibility. On other occasions they toss around such terms as Moody’s ratings, debt to revenue or debt servicing matrix; all too impressive results by design, but by whose design? The Department of Finance? The Minister himself? Has anyone stopped to evaluate exactly what financial bill of goods the people have been getting?

Clearly, when this government talks about debt, they are focusing primarily on direct debt. However, this mirror approach misses a large portion of total government liability.

I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Debt Management Policy
Members’ Statements

Daryl Dolynny Range Lake

We fail to look at the complete picture of the state of this government’s debt load and must not only consider direct debt but also debt guarantees, contingent liabilities, contractual commitments and unplanned program obligations. Sadly, while most jurisdictions in North America are looking at ways of debt reduction or enacting laws for expenditure, this administration has been doing the exact opposite and is spending each and every one of us into a corner. The people deserve answers.

So, with the Finance Minister’s budget dialogues coming to a community near you, I challenge the people of the NWT to filter through this Department of Finance magic show and to please, please ask the tough questions, because ensuring our future starts with you knowing the truth. Thank you.

Debt Management Policy
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Jackie Jacobson

Thank you, Mr. Dolynny. The Member for Hay River North, Mr. Bouchard.

Addressing The High Cost Of Living In The NWT
Members’ Statements

Robert Bouchard Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As you all know, the residents of the Northwest Territories this summer hit a wall, the wall of cost of living. They’re concerned with the rising cost of living in the Northwest Territories.

It saddened me this summer to hear a lot of long-term Northerners talking about leaving the Northwest Territories because of the cost of living. The low water rates and the potential 13 percent increase in the cost of power was one of those things that basically hit the wall and they said, that’s

it, we have a crisis, we need to leave, we’re talking about leaving.

Yesterday the Premier announced, and last month they announced, that they were going to pay the $20 million to eliminate that 13 percent. But that’s only a quick fix.

Yesterday the Premier talked about an Energy Charrette, and we need to look at that energy cost because that’s one of the biggest factors. We need to look at alternative energies, biomass options, conservation of energy as well as the natural gas and LNG options out there for us in the Northwest Territories to lower the cost of living for the taxpayers.

But energy is only one situation. We need to look at our taxation. Our Cabinet wants to talk about increasing the population by 2,000 people over the next few years. It used to be that people came to the Northwest Territories as an opportunity. But the problem is that the cost of living is rising and the cost of taxation is rising, so the money that they’re taking home is decreasing.

We need to talk to the federal government about increasing northern residency deductions. We need to look at other options for taxation. We need to lower the cost of gas. We need to lower personal taxes. We need to lower small business taxes. The NWT needs to be the place of opportunity again. We need to take action on the cost of living in the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.