This is page numbers 83 – 126 of the Hansard for the 18th Assembly, 3rd 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 electoral.


Members Present

Hon. Glen Abernethy, Mr. Beaulieu, Mr. Blake, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Ms. Julie Green, Hon. Jackson Lafferty, Hon. Bob McLeod, Hon. Robert McLeod, Mr. McNeely, Hon. Alfred Moses, Mr. Nadli, Mr. Nakimayak, Mr. O’Reilly, Hon. Wally Schumann, Hon. Louis Sebert, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Testart, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Vanthuyne

The House met at 1:32 p.m.


The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Good afternoon, Members. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.

Caroline Cochrane

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, this government is committed to improving access to services and enhancing community wellness and safety through the implementation of a territorial 911 program. I would like to describe some of the key steps the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs has taken to ensure that 911 becomes a reality for the territory and that the 911 program benefits all the communities.

In May, a 911 program manager was hired to design a culturally respectful, made-in-the-North 911 program. The program will be based on best practices and established standards. It will foster community wellness and safety for all communities of the Northwest Territories. Consistent with other Government of the Northwest Territories programming, translation services will be available, and our 911 service will be offered in the territories' 11 official languages.

In July, key community stakeholders met to inform the initial stages of the legislative development. The feedback received from stakeholders, along with the program design, will be the basis for an appropriate and responsive legislative framework for our territorial 911 system. I intend to introduce this legislation in 2018.

In August, industry experts were hired to help identify required information technologies and phone systems to be used in the future 911 program. We must ensure systems are adequate to handle the services and that robust privacy safeguards are in place. Mr. Speaker, a communication plan will soon be implemented and information about the Northwest Territories 911 program will be made available on the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs website. The 911 program page will be updated often as the program design is finalized and key decisions are made.

Mr. Speaker, a great deal of work is under way to validate earlier planning assumptions. The work will be complete in December, at which time we will decide on a final operational model and implementation plan. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a 911 program that is representative of the Northwest Territories' needs and operating environment.

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to providing an update to my colleagues on the final design, and, shortly afterwards, a briefing to the Standing Committee on Government Operations. At this time, I am happy to confirm the Northwest Territories 911 program is on track to go live for every community by summer 2019. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Alfred Moses

Alfred Moses Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, over the past year the Department of Education, Culture and Employment has continued to make and implement significant changes in its programs for families, seniors, and students across the Northwest Territories. Last year, the federal government announced the new Canada Child Benefit. We revised our Income Assistance Program so that the new federal benefit is not counted as income for our clients. This change ensures all Northwest Territories' residents with families receive the full benefit of this new federal program.

Also, through a joint initiative with the Department of Finance, this past July we enhanced the Northwest Territories Child Benefit. This benefit now provides additional financial support to more low- to modest-income families with children. The NWT Child Benefit now reaches more Northwest Territories families, because we increased the combined income threshold to receive this benefit from $30,000 to $80,000. More than 2,200 families are now benefitting from these changes. As well, the territory-wide implementation of junior kindergarten has provided opportunities for significant financial benefits to families, and reducing their cost of living. Parents of four-year-old children in junior kindergarten will save up to $12,000 per year.

Mr. Speaker, most recently, we increased support for low-income seniors through the Senior Citizen Supplementary Benefit. Effective September 1, 2017, the monthly amount of the Senior Citizen Supplementary Benefit was increased to $196. Northwest Territories senior citizens who are receiving the Federal Guaranteed Income Supplement automatically receive the NWT Senior Citizen Supplementary Benefit on the same cheque. Approximately 1,200 seniors across the Northwest Territories are receiving this benefit.

Also under the banner of our income security programs, I would like to provide Members with an update on the Northern Bonus offered through our Student Financial Assistance program. Since 2015, we have promoted the Northern Bonus to encourage post-secondary students to return or move to the Northwest Territories. The Northern Bonus is applied to a person's student loan account up to a maximum of $2,000 per eligible year, with a lifetime maximum of $10,000. Residents who received a Northwest Territories' student loan and who have lived in the Northwest Territories for 12 consecutive months after ceasing to be a full-time student may apply.

There is no limit on the annual number of Northern Bonus applications for Northwest Territories-issued student loans. I am happy to say that we have approved 420 applicants since September 2016, totalling $741,383. We offer a similar incentive to residents who have received student loans from Canada, a province or a territory other than the Northwest Territories. For these students, there is a limit of 100 applications accepted per year. I am pleased to advise that this initiative has been fully subscribed to for both 2016 and 2017.

Mr. Speaker, these improved programs are critical to the well-being and independence of residents across the Northwest Territories. These improvements help us reduce poverty, foster healthy families, and develop and grow our workforce. These improvements support the 18th Legislative Assembly's priorities to reduce the cost of living, foster healthy families, improve the affordability of childcare, develop and grow our workforce, and reduce poverty. Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.

Robert C. McLeod

Robert C. McLeod Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the NWT is on the front lines of climate change and has been experiencing its impacts for decades. Our government is committed to addressing the threats that climate change poses to the sustainability of our communities and the way of life of our residents. The Government of the Northwest Territories is actively engaged in a comprehensive and coordinated response to climate change by developing a Climate Change Strategic Framework, which will guide our efforts on climate change from 2018 to 2030.

This week, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, also known as OAG, released an independent audit report on climate change in the Northwest Territories. Environment and Natural Resources worked proactively with the OAG during the audit process and appreciates the work that has been done. We look forward to using the results of this audit to improve and finalize our planning around energy and climate change adaptation and mitigation in our territory. Mr. Speaker, the draft Climate Change Strategic Framework has three key areas of focus: ensuring we have a strong understanding of the impacts of climate change; protecting our communities through adaptation and resilience planning; and mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions.

The draft framework, which was developed through extensive public engagement, is set to be released for further external review by Indigenous governments, stakeholders, and the public in the coming weeks. The input gathered from this review, combined with the comments from the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment and the recommendations arising from the OAG Report, will guide the GNWT as we finalize the framework.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources plans to table the final document in the Legislative Assembly during the spring session, after which an action plan will be developed. Working together with the Department of Infrastructure, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is working to ensure planning is aligned across government in order to ensure we achieve our goal of transitioning to a strong, healthy economy that is less reliant on fossil fuels and where our residents and communities are resilient and adaptive in the face of a changing climate.

As a small jurisdiction acutely challenged by the impacts of climate change, we have shown leadership over the past decade with actions that respond to the impacts we are experiencing. Our government has invested millions in adaptation efforts related to climate change, alternative energy projects, energy retrofits, improved transportation infrastructure and improved building standards. These efforts are ongoing and will be further supported by the staffing of our new community adaptation specialist position, hired specifically to help communities identify and implement local resilience and adaptation initiatives.

Mr. Speaker, various research and monitoring initiatives within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are already tracking climate change impacts. These include government and community-based water monitoring programs, the Cumulative Impacts Monitoring Program, various wildlife research programs, and the GNWT Knowledge Agenda. The GNWT plans to build on this work by supporting further community involvement in the identification, planning, and completion of climate change-related research and monitoring efforts. At the national level, the GNWT is doing its part to honour our commitments under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Canada is committed to a 30 per cent reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and the GNWT has committed to a similar goal for our territory.

New adaptation funding opportunities at the federal level are anticipated to emerge later this year, and in 2018, under the Pan-Canadian Framework. Our government is actively pursuing federal funding to develop further adaptation initiatives. Mr. Speaker, audits are critical for evaluating what was done in the past and providing useful input for the future as we continue to fulfill our commitment to protecting the northern environment. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

Wally Schumann

Wally Schumann Hay River South

Mr. Speaker, our government believes we can foster a future in which agriculture entrepreneurs have the tools to succeed and each region can grow and harvest locally produced food. The Northwest Territories Agriculture Strategy is the blueprint with which we intend to grow the economic viability of our agriculture sector. The revised mandate commits this government to expanding the agriculture sector by implementing this strategy, improving access to agricultural lands, updating agricultural funding programs, and supporting training for commercial farmers. The strategy outlines the actions we must take, the investments we must make, and the legislative tools that need to be put in place in order to achieve this commitment. Mr. Speaker, this is no small task, but since tabling the strategy this past spring, we have been working to advance the implementation of this strategy in a number of areas.

I am pleased today to announce a partnership with the Northwest Territories Association of Communities to complete bylaws surrounding backyard agriculture. This project will see the association develop three Backyard Agriculture Smart Management Practices alongside associated bylaws for use across the Northwest Territories. Specifically, these template bylaws will cover backyard chickens, beekeeping, and backyard goats. They will be made available to Northwest Territories municipalities to be tailored to reflect their specific community needs. As the agriculture sector in our North grows, our communities are keen to advance local farming and food growing initiatives. This policy development is a crucial step in guiding grassroots agriculture in our territory and supporting the transition to commercial enterprises while protecting public trust and public safety.

Our partnership with the NWTAC is just one of many in which we are working to advance the implementation of the NWT Agriculture Strategy. We also worked this summer with the Inuvik Greenhouse Society to deliver Train the Trainer programs to community garden societies in each of the Beaufort Delta communities. The pilot program included the creation of community greenhouse coordinators. These community members were instrumental in helping to build local food-growing capacity by providing training and support all season long.

We were pleased this summer to support Polar Eggs, our largest and most successful commercial agriculture venture, with a marketing initiative to launch their six-egg carton. ITI is also supporting their work to gain a greater market share in the NWT, in particular by accessing our smaller remote communities. Mr. Speaker, as we move forward from our Mid-Term Review process, we do so with three priorities for the implementation of the NWT Agriculture Strategy: to improve access to agricultural land; to update agricultural funding programs; and to support training for commercial farmers.

Access to agricultural land is the biggest of these challenges, but, while we are the lead department, this is not something that we can do on our own. We have formed a working group across the GNWT departments to help us identify solutions. In particular, we are working with the Department of Lands to complete policy work regarding the leasing of lands for agricultural purposes. This work will continue throughout the winter. In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, we are assessing our support for the NWT growers and producers.

Under the Growing Forward partnership with the federal government, we will once again invest $1.2 million in programs and initiatives to support and grow the NWT agriculture sector this year. This funding program, however, will soon transition to the up-and-coming Canadian Agricultural Partnership, and it is providing a timely opportunity to assess our agriculture programming. We are doing just that. We have sent surveys to stakeholders across the territory to help us determine how they utilize our agriculture programming and what improvements or changes they would like to see. Their response and input will inform the program guidelines that are put in place with the new agreement.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, we will also be focusing on the resources that we must provide to support commercial agriculture, specifically, to thrive and grow. The Agriculture Conference in Hay River this last weekend helped us to begin this important conversation. We were pleased with the participation of growers and producers who took part in discussions aimed at helping them grow their food business. It was an opportunity to talk about where our industry should go, and how we should work together to advance our collective goals. Goals, Mr. Speaker, that are reflected in the vision of the NWT Agriculture Strategy: to increase the diversity, amount, and value of foods and goods produced in the NWT for the betterment of all communities and residents in the Northwest Territories.

We know there is a lot of work left to do. We're committed to seeing it through, and I look forward to pushing the emergence of our agriculture sector and growing the demand for safe, affordable, locally grown food choices which will create business and entrepreneurial opportunities to strengthen and diversify the NWT economy overall. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Bob McLeod

Bob McLeod Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise Members that the Honourable Glen Abernethy will be absent from the House for today and tomorrow to attend the federal-provincial-territorial Ministers of Health meeting in Edmonton, Alberta. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.

Giant Mine Remediation
Members' Statements

Cory Vanthuyne

Cory Vanthuyne Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we know that resource development is one of the most important assets of the NWT's economy. We've also learned that, when we move big projects forward, we'd better figure out how we're going to clean them up when production ends. That's where we're at with Giant Mine. The remediation of Giant will be a project almost as big as if it were a new mine development. It will involve nearly a billion dollars in spending around Yellowknife and the NWT. The remediation project will need a skilled workforce, and it will involve opportunities for local Indigenous businesses. The question is, Mr. Speaker: are we ready?

Mr. Speaker, as a government, we need to be consulting with and learning from the Giant Mine Remediation project team. What skills and trades will be in demand? What kinds of small business support will be needed? What opportunities are there for our businesses and residents to find long-term, meaningful employment? What will we be doing to keep those dollars at home here in the NWT? This project will place demands on our infrastructure. It will rely on our transportation and hospitality sectors, vehicles and maintenance, accommodations, and food. Services of all kinds will be needed. Long-term jobs will create opportunities for workers and their families who will need homes, schools, healthcare, and infrastructure. Another big demand will be the energy needed to make such a project possible. Mr. Speaker, the Giant project may be up and running at the same time as a new TerraX gold mine. TerraX has already identified energy availability as one of its biggest challenges. If TerraX and Giant are on-stream at the same time, Mr. Speaker, the demand will be even greater. I ask again: will we be ready?

Mr. Speaker, this project represents a new opportunity for Yellowknife and the NWT. Jobs, growth, training, skills and trades, secondary industries, are needed to support the people and the infrastructure this project will demand. In the interests of our mandate objectives of economic diversification, training, and growth, we need to be prepared. So I'm asking, Mr. Speaker: are we doing enough to make sure we're ready to capture these opportunities when they come? At the appropriate time, I'll have questions for the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Giant Mine Remediation
Members' Statements

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Mackenzie Delta.

Frederick Blake Jr.

Frederick Blake Jr. Mackenzie Delta

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, according to the Housing Corporation's annual report, local housing organization, or LHOs, operate as agents of the corporation in most NWT communities. Under agreement with the corporation and overseen by an advisory board, each LHO provides a wide range of local property management services. Local is the key word here. As the Minister pointed out in a recent statement, when NWT residents have access to an LHO, they have access to timely, responsive, and relevant services right in their home community. They are able to take ownership in the local delivery of government programs.

Let me be clear, Mr. Speaker; this is good work, and the Housing Corporation is moving in the right direction when they help communities establish new LHOs, but there is still disparity, and this disparity is distressing for my constituents who have brought this to my attention. Let me explain. When a community doesn't have an LHO, property management work is handled by the Housing Corporation district office. This means it's handled by workers who are part of the public service, with all the benefits of being in the public service.

Mr. Speaker, the same work in a community with an LHO will be done by workers without those benefits. Mandatory leave with pay, the so-called "Donny Days," is one example, but it isn't the only one. I know the Minister isn't responsible for labour agreements between existing LHOs and their staff, and I know that our communities are well-served when LHOs can help residents engage locally with essential programs and services. Nevertheless, there is a question of fairness here, a question that needs asking. I want to bring this matter to the Minister's attention so that, when the Housing Corporation continues its work to improve community capacity, the people on the ground, the ones actually doing the work, won't be short-changed. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions later today.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Hay River North.

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Mr. Speaker, a while back, I received a visit in my office from a constituent, Nicholas Reimer. He is a grade 3 student at Harry Camsell school, my alma mater. He had concerns about the safety of some of the pedestrian highway crossings at Hay River. I share his concerns, as do other constituents I have spoken with. I wanted to bring those concerns to the floor of the House today. By my count, we now have two official pedestrian crosswalks on the highway in Hay River: one by the health centre, and one from 553 to the Red Rooster. The health centre crosswalk is brand new and has bright LEDs that catch motorists' attention. On the other hand, the crosswalk by the Red Rooster has been there as long as I can remember. These lights are quite dim compared to the health centre crosswalk, and they are not always very noticeable.

Five-five-three is probably the most densely populated part of town, so there are a lot of people, including a lot of kids, who use that crosswalk every day. That is especially true in the summer months, when the long days mean it's even harder to see the lights. It would be nice to see Hay River North get the same bright LEDs for its crosswalk that the Minister had installed in his own constituency. Like I said earlier, we have two official pedestrian crossings on the highway in Hay River, but we have some unofficial ones, as well. The one that I have heard the most concerns about is actually on the border of our two constituencies. It runs from Poplar Road in the industrial area to behind the soup kitchen. Not everyone who works in the industrial area has a vehicle, so in the morning, at lunch, and after work, you often see people waiting for a break in the traffic to dart across. Again, I often see kids crossing here to go to their after-school jobs. If you look at the satellite images on Google Maps, you can actually see the walking trails worn into the ground leading up to the highway at this crossing.

Now, I don't want to slow people down when they're trying to where they are going. I am not saying we need a full set of lights at every de facto pedestrian crossing on the highway. I want to make sure we are doing what we can to keep people safe. Obviously, people should be using the official crosswalks, but it is not always practical to walk a couple kilometres out of your way and then trudge through the ditch. I will have questions for the Minister of Infrastructure. Hopefully, he will have some positive answers for me and Nicholas. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Nahendeh.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, reclamation of traditional lands is of utmost importance to the First Nations of this country and of my riding. Recently, a sacred vent hole in the community of Nahanni Butte had been blocked by an RCMP radio tower. This tower was built in the 1980s, and since then, elders have not forgotten the significance of the location. In August of 2016, the community of Nahanni Butte requested the removal of the RCMP radio tower blocking the Sacred Vent Hole of Tthenaago. A little over a year later, I am happy to report the vent hole has been unblocked and the site has been cleaned up.

According to traditional Dene legend, there were once giant beavers roaming the region. The Great Spirit used his walking stick to poke a hole in the top of the mountain to scare the beavers out and chase them down the river of the Deh Cho.

The main tower was dismantled by the RCMP in July 2017, and the large concrete base covering the vent hole was removed. Upon the inspection of the site later that month, an elder and a member of the community noticed that there were still leftover concrete and boulders located at the base of the trench that were blocking small vent holes and other materials that needed to be cleaned up from the site. The Nahanni Butte Dene Band reached out for assistance to remove the remaining debris, and our government was quick to accommodate their needs.

On Thursday, September 7th, ENR provided a helicopter and a four-man field crew to assist the chief, band manager, and locals in the cleaning up of the site of the sacred vent hole. Coincidentally, this was the same day that the community was evacuated due to the rapid expansion of the fire nearby because of a huge wind. Coincidence? I don't think so. Mr. Speaker, cleaning up the sacred vent hole was very important to the community, especially to the elders. They have witnessed the recovery of the sacred vent hole.

I would like to thank the ENR and the RCMP for working promptly with the community to have this issue addressed. I would also like to thank the Minister and department staff for working with us on this issue. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Sahtu.

Daniel McNeely

Daniel McNeely Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, departmental strategies are sound prudent management systems and strengthens vision for direction. I know I have mentioned this a number of times because we have a number of strategies out there.

Entering the two years remaining in our term draws attention to the more implementation of strategies and achievable targets. It is incumbent on us to hold accountable and transparent government.

Mr. Speaker, action plans are developed with targets, measurable to the success of these strategies. Above all, education through consultation is just as important to the public's expectations of their government's direction.

Being innovative on government programs for maximum benefits through an intergovernmental or interdepartmental forum, this model exists today. We can look at the Anti-Poverty Conference. The structure is meaningful and going to be held at the end of next month in Norman Wells.

Mr. Speaker, this will be a template for similar joint initiatives. On this principle, I will later have questions for the Minister of ITI on two upcoming strategies, one referred to today. Thank you. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. As we all know, the demand for public housing outstrips our financial capacity to provide it. It's a game of catch-up that has no end in sight.

In June of last year, the Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation announced a potential solution, to have northern manufacturers build modular homes that could be shipped to communities across the NWT. The Housing Corporation publicly tendered a design-build request for proposals in April of last year for 39 units. After evaluating 16 proposals, a large contract was awarded to Concept Energy Services in Hay River for 19 two-bedroom duplexes, and a much smaller contract for one two-bedroom standalone unit was awarded to Energy Wall Building Products here in Yellowknife. I have been unable to find the contracts the Minister promised to post on the GNWTs Contract Events Opportunity Website, so I am not sure of the dollar value. The Concept Energy Services contract is obviously worth millions. Work was scheduled to be complete by the end of March this year.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister heralded the modular housing contracts as a game changer. She said it would spawn a new northern manufacturing industry. It would create more than 100 jobs. It would serve the private sector as well as government. The modular homes would cost between 25 and 40 per cent less than stick built homes. The homes would be energy efficient and built to withstand northern winters. Mr. Speaker, it looked like a win-win situation. Fast forward to today. There are three contract opportunities now available to finish three partially completed two-bedroom duplexes in Ulukhaktok. Ulukhaktok was one of the destinations for the modular homes being produced in Hay River. Are these the same modular homes? How much money has the government already paid for these modulars? My fear is that a promising idea hasn't panned out. Instead of being a game changer, the northern manufacturing of modular homes is a bust. I will have questions for the Minister. Mahsi.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.