Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s my next to last opportunity to address this House. My almost last chance to say what I want, how I want, with no worries of repercussions. Parliamentarians are so lucky to have the privilege we do in regard to speaking in the House. It seems a bit strange that I will not be back in this Chamber after tomorrow except as a visitor, but you should all know I am quite comfortable with that. I’ve made no secret that I am looking forward to retirement, and I will definitely not miss the 14-hour session days.
So I want to subject you all to a look back to my perspective on the good, the bad and the ugly from my time as an MLA, well maybe not the ugly. But where to start on my retrospective? There have been many positive moments and events, but I’d be lying if I did not also say that there have been times when this job and all that it entails has had a negative impact on me and on the Assembly.
I find it interesting that four years ago as the 16th Assembly was closing, I said this, “It’s been an interesting four years to say the least. I came to start this new job full of optimism and hope. I thoroughly enjoyed the strategic planning session and came away from that feeling positive, ready to tackle all the problems of the NWT and government. There certainly have been ups and downs during this Assembly’s life and I may not be so optimistic and positive today, but in general it’s been an enjoyable experience.” It’s very interesting to me that I feel much the same today after eight years.
I’d like to think that I’ve made a difference in my time here, whether it’s been small or large depends on the observer. So, what are the things I would change if I could? What are the negatives that I mentioned? Foremost and top of mind has to be the different understandings of consensus government by the executive and Regular Members. Not long ago I was frustrated enough to write an e-mail to the Premier, entitled “Are we still a consensus government?” Many decisions by Cabinet are made and publicized without any or adequate opportunity for Regular Members to provide input. Admittedly, we elect Cabinet Members to manage and oversee the work of government, but Regular Members deserve to be consulted enough in advance so that any input will actually have some impact.
An example: a brief comment in committee one day from a Minister that Cabinet would be considering a large subsidy for NTPC due to low water to a press release the next day advising it was a done deal. Not my idea of consensus.
As I wrote to the Premier last month, “Cabinet may not consider these omissions a big deal, but it clearly demonstrates the lack of respect for Regular Members that they feel. It clearly demonstrates the low regard Cabinet has for us as we go about our jobs. It says to me, “don’t worry, boys and girls, the government is in good hands, you don’t have to worry about a thing, we’ll take care of everything for you.” That’s a bit caustic perhaps. I was a little frustrated at the time, as you can imagine, but it conveys the message that if Cabinet wants to live the true spirit of consensus, they need to work harder at it. Consensus government is only as good as the actions of the people using it. Over the last year and a half, I’ve come to feel that Cabinet has little interest in real consultation.
Another negative: in regard to legislation, two things: At the start of this and the 16th Assembly, Regular Members were asked to provide our priorities for legislative change and then all input seems to be ignored. I’ve also been disappointed with the glacial pace of government for amending of old and implementing of new legislation. There have been a couple of major pieces of legislation in government over four years, but in my mind, other than that, most bills that have come forward have been fixes, small bits, when I feel that there is so much real work on legislation that’s been left undone.
Talking of pace, the amount of time required to get a response on an inquiry from an MLA to a Minister could definitely be better. True, it’s as good as the Minister and his or her staff, but in general it takes far too long to get an answer on an inquiry on a constituent’s behalf and it’s often when the matter is seen as urgent by the constituent and doesn’t seem to be seen that way by the Minister.
Many times, committees and Members have asked the government to review all policies for conflicts between departments. The impacts that the conflicting policies have on our residents are huge, but we have yet to see any real change which will have an impact on the day-to-day lives of NWT residents. It is imperative that the government do that government-wide analysis on policies and amend policies accordingly.
On a personal note, there have been a number of issues that I have personally pursued or supported during my time here, issues that I did not see finished or accomplished either wholly or in part, and issues, which other Members championed, which I supported, but did not come to fruition. 911. I fully hoped that in the 17th Assembly, now it’s going to be the 18th, but I fully hoped in the 17th Assembly that we would see the establishment of 911 in the NWT and it’s been rather frustrating for me that we continue to see I guess it’s foot dragging or putting up of blocks on the part of the government to the establishment of 911. It should have happened in Yellowknife by now.
Access to information and protection of privacy legislation for municipalities is something else which should have happened by now. It has been called for by the Information and Privacy Commissioner for probably 10 years now, and yet, again, the government does not seem to want to move forward on it. We’ve done investigations, we’ve consulted I think probably several times now, and nothing. Again, I have to say that it is something that should have happened over the last eight years and yet it has not.
A standalone campus for Yellowknife for Aurora College. This is something which is desperately needed. It is something which all Yellowknife Members have spoken of in the last eight years and certainly well before that, but it is something which has yet to make its way to the capital budget. It doesn’t seem to be an urgent matter for anybody on the Executive because they’re the ones who present us with the capital budget and I sincerely regret that we weren’t able to get that project into the budget to get it at least on its way.
Homelessness. I pushed homelessness quite a bit for a period of time and I thank Mr. Nadli for speaking about homelessness today because it is an issue and it is increasing in communities outside Yellowknife. It’s definitely an issue here in my home community, but it’s an issue in other communities, as well, and I don’t think that there is enough of a focus from government on dealing with homelessness. It’s a housing issue; it’s an income support issue; it’s a health issue; it basically cuts across all departments because people are homeless for any number of reasons. It is something that needs to be addressed.
An ombudsman. I am sincerely sorry that we did not get an ombudsman act legislation put forward in this 17th Assembly. It is something which I firmly believe is necessary. I know the government says that there are lots of appeal boards, there are lots of opportunities for somebody to appeal, that you can go to court. I’ve said many times that’s not enough. We need to establish legislation for an ombudsman office and we need to get it established soon. I hope the provision of a draft Ombudsman Act to the Minister of Justice will enable the Minister of Justice in the 18th Assembly to bring forward that legislation as the first piece of legislation in that Assembly.
This is not something that’s reared its ugly head too much in the 17th Assembly, but in the 16th Assembly we had a huge, huge fight over supplementary health benefits and in the end not much changed, but we still have no supplementary health benefit coverage for some of our residents. They’ve been referenced as the working poor, a term that I hate, but we do not have all of our residents eligible for supplementary health benefits.
A hotel tax. That’s something else which I thought was fairly simple to establish. It didn’t have to be a change to legislation even. It could be something that could be set up or it could be a simple legislation to just apply to municipalities that wanted it. Again, we’ve investigated that I think to the nth degree and it has yet to come to fruition. It doesn’t have to be mandated for all communities, but for those communities that want it. Yellowknife wants to advance their tourism industry. Yellowknife wants to use the funding from a hotel tax to advance their tourism, to advance their conference industry and the opportunity has not been given to them.
A fairer policy on student housing for Aurora College. I think all of us, as Members, have probably heard from somebody at Aurora College, particularly here in Yellowknife, who have had difficulties with student housing. I pushed to get a policy amended. The policy was evaluated by the college and they came back and said that everything was okay, and I really regret that we could not have established a fairer policy for student housing for students in Yellowknife going to Aurora College.
A lack of greater provisions of housing for seniors and residents in transition from homelessness to their own home. We definitely need, in these two areas, as I spoke in my statement today, we need housing in a number of areas and we need housing in general across all of the Territories. Here in Yellowknife, the seniors’ housing situation is pretty desperate. Here in Yellowknife the transition housing situation is pretty desperate and I regret that we weren’t able to put the infrastructure in place or to put something in place to allow these people to go from homelessness to transition housing to get themselves established and then from transition housing to get into their own home, or seniors who need to go from their own home to supported living or to independent living or perhaps to extended care. It is something which has been talked about a long time but we haven’t, unfortunately, seen the advances we should, particularly here in my home community.
I am very regretful that we did not end up with a better formula for funding for inclusive schooling. There was a review, albeit I have to grant the department kudos for holding a review. After all the work that was done, after all the input that they got, they said, “No, we’re going to stay with what we have,” and it unfortunately does not fund education boards as it should in terms of students that are being inclusive schooled. Particularly the magnet communities, and Yellowknife is a magnet community. We have services here that don’t exist in other communities, so people with disabled students or students who are intellectually challenged bring their children here and we have people moving to this city to take advantage of the services here and to take advantage of the schools here and yet the magnet schools and magnet communities are funded to the same level as any school anywhere in the territory and it’s unfair. It’s something which I’m really regretful we weren’t able to change.
The amount of action we’ve had on renewable energy projects, in my mind, is regrettable. In eight years I expected we would have a major energy project, something like a community biomass heat and electrical system somewhere in one of our communities in the territory. I think it was seven years ago we had a delegation that went over to Europe and came back and said, “These things are all over Europe,” and I thought, oh great. Yes, we can do it here. No, it hasn’t happened and we are still talking about projects. I admit, yes, there’s a little bit of progress, but by now we should have had a major energy project. We all know the cost of our power is pretty horrendous and it has a huge impact on our cost of living.
I need to talk about land claims. There’s an absolute need to settle our land claims and I don’t imagine anybody in this House would disagree, but it is beginning to impact our economy. It’s beginning to impact our governance and it’s something which definitely needs to be done sooner rather than later. A tough job, but it needs to be done.
I must also comment on climate change and the lack of action that we’ve taken on climate change in recognizing that climate change is an issue and recognizing that we need to put money into it and in recognizing it is a policy issue that we have to take everything we do and look at it in the light of climate change. We’re not doing that, I don’t believe.
So, some of those things are big, some of them are little, and I regret that they didn’t get accomplished, but I hope somebody in the 18th Assembly will take up each and every one of those and as, Mr. Speaker, you would say, “get ‘er done.”
Mr. Speaker, I have deplored the lack of effectiveness of Regular Members of Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning in this 17th Assembly. We can accomplish so much through cohesiveness and support of each other, but it was not to be in this Assembly. But, being the optimist that I am, I hope that the 18th Assembly Priorities and Planning committee can wield the power that they have in an effective manner and for the betterment of our residents and our territory.
A few words of advice to the next Assembly: please take more time when setting up standing committees. The division of committee work amongst Regular Members was not evenly done in the 17th and some Members felt the strain of that. I know it impacted my work and my attitude of my colleagues.
But enough of the negative; it’s not been all bad. There were a number of issues that I pursued and I have a good sense of accomplishment about those. First and foremost for me is the Donation of Food Act. It was a private member’s bill that I brought forward in the 16th. I really had no idea what I was doing. I was really new at the game, but with the help of staff and with the help of my colleagues, we established the Donation of Food Act which was pretty much the “let’s get going” for the Food Rescue Program which operates here in Yellowknife and it had a huge impact on them. I have no idea now how many hundreds of thousands of tons of food we’ve saved from the landfill, but it’s a lot.
The NEBS legislation was another positive for me. In 2007 when I was campaigning, I stopped at the door of Mr. Dennis Adams and sort of said, you know, the usual, “Well, I’m campaigning and have you got any issues and what can I do for you and I want your vote,” and he said, “Yes, there is something you can do for me.” He, at that time, was the executive director for NEBS. “You can get legislation for us that’s going to take us out of the situation that we’re in.” I said, “Oh sure, fine. I’ll work on that.” Well, it took us until – where are we, 2015 – from 2007 to 2015, but it’s done, Mr. Speaker, and it is an excellent piece of legislation and I want to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Government Operations for the work they did. The same for the committee in Nunavut who did the same work and it ended up being a very long process but I think we came out with a very good piece of legislation.
I’m quite proud of the fact that I pushed the 16th Assembly to establish Caucus Protocols and Conventions. They have shaped how we work, how we govern ourselves, how Caucus works and how consensus kind of works. Consensus is a very strange animal. It helps that we have these guidelines to move us along. They are guidelines, right, so we don’t always obey them. But consensus, our consensus, is a work in progress and I hope that it continues to develop protocols and conventions as things crop up.
I’m very happy that we finally, and we’ve now just had a second set of amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act with respect to distracted driving. I feel extremely strongly that we have a major portion of our population who don’t yet realize the dangers in driving and texting, and I urge all Members, if you ever see anybody texting and driving, pull them over and tell them to stop. They are accidents waiting to happen and we are lucky we haven’t had anybody killed because of it – yet. So I’m very pleased that we were able to get… Initially the act was changed to put in fines and then just recently we’ve increased those fines and added suspensions, as well, so that’s awesome. I’m very glad for that.
I’m pleased that I was able to take a small part in establishing the Anti-Poverty Action Plan. The Anti-Poverty Coalition enlisted me to present their petition to the Premier in the 16th Assembly. I would have been happier if we had had anti-poverty legislation, but the fact that we have an Anti-Poverty Action Plan and that we’re getting updates on that, I’m very pleased with that. We’re started down the right road. I would hope that legislation would be the next step.
The Child and Family Services Act: that consultation when we reviewed that act and the consultation for the Mental Health Act. Both those consultations were probably highlights in terms of bills and reports that I was involved in. They were both extremely involved. They were both really quite emotionally draining because we were talking about people’s lives, but I’m very pleased that we were able to get excellent recommendations to the Child and Family Services Act, some of which have happened. Lots more needs to be done, but we’ve had some take place, and the Mental Health Act, which we’re going to be discussing later, is going to be a huge improvement on the Mental Health Act that we have at the moment. So I was very happy to be part of those.
The establishment of the Order of the NWT… It was a great ceremony today and we had great recipients today and, for me, I was pushed by a constituent to bring that forward and I was pushed, probably three or four times; every three or four months I’d get this e-mail or question, “Where’s it at, where’s it at?” So I took it to Caucus, and Caucus, in their wisdom, decided this was a good thing that we should do. It has now been established and it is an excellent addition to the awards that we have within our territory.
Devolution, how could I forget devolution? That we have devolution is an excellent accomplishment and I supported it and I have to give kudos to the Premier and his staff who managed to get everybody on board to get devolution to happen.
Mr. Speaker, in closing, it’s been my honour to represent the constituents of Frame Lake these past eight years. The constituents’ concerns that regularly came to my office fall into four categories and I’m sure it’s pretty much the same for all of us: their health, social services, housing, and income support, and being able to help people with those kinds of problems is very gratifying. I very much enjoyed that part of being an MLA. I very much enjoy being able to help people to fix their problems, sometimes. We run up against roadblocks quite often and it goes back to the policies which inhibit us from helping people as opposed to assisting us to help them.
Mr. Speaker, I like watching people – and goodness knows there’s lots to watch here – in committees and hearings, in the House. The relationships that develop here, or don’t, are quite fascinating. I appreciate the friendships and relationships I’ve made during my time here. I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to travel our beautiful territory to get to know it better and to meet many of our people, as Mr. Yakeleya would say.
I wish each of you in this House success in your upcoming job interview. You need to know that I will be watching with interest on election night to see how you do. Thank you to the people of the NWT for letting me have such a great last job before I retire. Thank you to the Members of this and the 16th Assemblies for your support, your counsel and your friendship. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.