This is page numbers 1951 – 2010 of the Hansard for the 18th Assembly, 2nd 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.


Members Present

Hon. Glen Abernethy, Mr. Beaulieu, Mr. Blake, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Ms. 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 1:30 p.m.


The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Good afternoon, Members. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Alfred Moses

Alfred Moses Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, one of the most important areas we can invest in is early childhood development, and the Government of the Northwest Territories has made a commitment in its mandate to do this by implementing its Right from the Start Framework. Ages zero to five are the most critical time in a child’s development, and the work that the Departments of Health and Social Services and Education, Culture and Employment have been doing in partnership have been helping all of the children in the Northwest Territories.

Over the past year, we have made some significant improvements to the programs and services we offer and support in early childhood development.

Mr. Speaker, strengthening licensed early childhood programs through the improvement of resource materials and through increased training for early childhood workers is one of our specific mandate commitments related to Right from the Start.

Mr. Speaker, many of our children have the benefit of attending these early learning programs, and we recognize there are challenges in delivering programs in different communities. To account for these differences, we have reconfigured our model so operators can focus on developing quality programs for the children in their care rather than focusing on administrative paperwork. To ensure children with special needs have appropriate support, we have streamlined the Healthy Children Initiative into the Early Childhood Intervention Program. These program changes will be phased in over five years and will help our licensed early childhood programs better plan and meet the scope of the children’s needs.

Since 2015, the Early Childhood Staff Grant Program has provided a wage top-up to early childhood workers in licensed daycare facilities to upgrade their skills and education. Over the 2015-16 fiscal year, Education, Culture and Employment provided grants to approximately 240 full- and part-time early childhood workers.

As well, in 2016-17, we awarded five $1,000 scholarships to 13 post-secondary students enrolled in full-time early childhood development diploma or degree programs.

We also continue to work with our early childhood operators across the North, through symposiums, video conferencing, and ongoing discussions. They are often the first caregivers outside the child’s family, and we need to ensure they are supported.

Another one of our mandate commitments, Mr. Speaker, was to revise the funding support model for licensed early childhood programs. I am pleased to advise Members that Education, Culture and Employment has fulfilled this commitment.

A daily subsidy for each child attending programs will continue to be provided to operators. The previous Early Childhood Program Operating Subsidy had 10 zones. We have reduced this to two zones; Zone A for all southern communities with road access, and Zone B for communities in the Sahtu and Beaufort Delta and those communities without road access.

In light of full territorial implementation of junior kindergarten beginning in the 2017-18 school year, we have significantly increased the infant rate for operators across the territory. Operators in a Zone A community like Yellowknife can now expect to get $20 more, while operators in a Zone B community like Aklavik will get over $26 more.

In response to our mandate commitment to work with stakeholders and communities to explore options for free play-based care for four-year-olds, the government will be rolling out junior kindergarten to all NWT communities in the next school year, up from the 20 communities where it is currently available.

During both the review of junior kindergarten and subsequent engagements, we talked extensively with invested stakeholders across the NWT, including Aboriginal governments, ECE Service Centre regional superintendents, early childhood consultants, Aboriginal Head Start staff, the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association, Superintendents of Education, parents, teachers, and school principals and have received generally positive feedback on our approach and content.

We accepted all of the recommendations of the review and have enacted a revised funding model, enhanced the curriculum and teacher guide, increased training for teachers, developed a detailed communications plan, and engaged across the North to garner feedback for territorial implementation.

For five years now, we have been using the Early Development Instrument, which provides a snapshot of children’s school readiness at age five. The Early Development Instrument measures a child’s developmental health when they enter the school system. The preliminary Early Development Instrument results, after the initial rollout of junior kindergarten, is showing improvement among our five year olds. The promise of junior kindergarten as a way of ensuring our children are ready when they enter the formal school system at five seems to hold true. The results are preliminary, but very encouraging.

Mr. Speaker, healthy early childhood development is a priority for this Legislative Assembly. I believe it is also a priority for all of the communities and families across the North, and we are working to ensure we have the most responsive programs, services, and opportunities available for families and children, right from the start. Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Nahendeh.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This past summer a number of people noticed that there was erosion of the river bank and the ground slumping upstream at the Enbridge pipeline.

After hearing about this issue, the chief and council of the Liidlii Kue First Nations contacted Enbridge to inform them of the potential hazard.

Mr. Speaker, Enbridge is well prepared for these issues. It is my understanding that each September the company holds its annual emergency training exercise with local companies, Nogha Enterprises, Rowe's Construction and Great Slave Helicopters, and the local fire department, RCMP, and Department of Lands personnel to prepare them for these types of situations.

Luckily, this situation did not involve a spill or a break in the line. Fortunately, the company had and followed their erosion control measure plan. What does this involve, you might ask? Well, it is about how the company monitors, assesses, and remediates the situation. As well, the company has a good preventable maintenance and a monitoring program that alerts them of changing condition to the stability of the ground.

Mr. Speaker, this past November the company felt it needed to address the sloping issue in the pipeline, which led them to shut it down. The rationale was because of the sloping stability concerns.

Once this decision was made, the company informed the bands that were affected, Deh Cho First Nation and the village, of the shutdown. For the communities outside Fort Simpson, the company brought them into Fort Simpson to hear the message directly, then they followed up with a letter.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say Enbridge is working with Liidlii Kue First Nations to utilize the traditional knowledge to help address this sloping stability issue. As well, the local companies have taken the necessary safety training offered by Enbridge so that they can work on the project.

In speaking with the Enbridge regional contact, the company, including personnel from down south, was very impressed with the community and the region's ability to get the necessary workers and equipment to work on the remediation part of the project.

Mr. Speaker, as of December 31st, Enbridge expenditure was at $5.7 million, just for Fort Simpson.

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding crews will continue installation and begin the borehole program the week of January 9 and it is expected to run until the end of February. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to finish my statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'll try to take the marbles out now.


There will be approximately 40 people involved, excluding local contractors. Labourers and services will be contracted from Nogha Enterprises and Rowe's Construction as required.

All accommodations will be sourced from Fort Simpson businesses, and services such as water, fuel, and equipment will be sourced from Fort Simpson.

Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank Enbridge for being so forthcoming with the information about this situation and using local companies to work on this remediation. Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.

Cory Vanthuyne

Cory Vanthuyne Yellowknife North

Mr. Speaker, earlier this week I made a statement about the need to invest in the biggest asset of the Northwest Territories -- our people -- and I stand by that statement.

Mr. Speaker, when world economies are soft, commodity prices are down, and markets are pessimistic, the time is right for new growth and opportunity. Some of our new areas of economic growth are very bright; one only has to look out at the streets of Yellowknife, filled with tourists from Asia, to see this.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I was reminded that there is room to be optimistic in our established economies as well. Members of this House were privileged to get an update from TerraX Minerals. This is a company that is poised to spend roughly $40 million in exploration over the next few years; an investment that will benefit the entire territory.

TerraX plans to invest this money "on spec," meaning it has no guarantees of finding anything. It is investing in the area right around Yellowknife, one of the most explored areas of the North. Mr. Speaker, TerraX is using new technologies and theories, opening the possibility of creating opportunities that weren't available just a few years ago.

This is the kind of investment that we badly need and we must welcome it with open arms, Mr. Speaker. In my statement earlier this week I mentioned the "gloomy" outlook for the resource sector and, to be frank, between a forecasted drop in exploration spending of almost half, the loss of corporate head offices to Alberta, and Imperial Oil leaving Norman Wells, the outlook isn't rosy.

This makes it even more important that we create a welcoming climate for exploration investments like TerraX. This kind of investment has a multiplying effect, Mr. Speaker. While the principals of TerraX have no guarantees of finding a workable deposit, its investments will create jobs and activity for local businesses. While they take the risk, helicopter companies, diamond drillers, airlines, hotels, and other local businesses will reap the benefits. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Unanimous consent granted

Cory Vanthuyne

Cory Vanthuyne Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you, colleagues. It's not only dollars, Mr. Speaker. TerraX is also investing socially in the territory. As we saw in their presentation yesterday, the company is taking steps to reach to NWT communities, the public, and Aboriginal governments. They are continually consulting to make sure that stakeholders are aware of its activities. Although TerraX has contributed to the NWT Ski Loppet on an annual basis, this year they announced that they will be the main sponsor for the Loppet.

So, Mr. Speaker, as I stated earlier this week, I believe we must seek new opportunities to grow and diversify our economy, but that does not mean that we should turn our backs on new investments in the mining sector. TerraX's exploration efforts will create growth and opportunity in the NWT economy, Mr. Speaker, and the company has demonstrated that it is a good citizen. We should do everything we can as a government to welcome and encourage it. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I want to speak today about protecting NWT consumers from false advertising and ensuring the integrity of our tourism products and branding for our visitors.

Most people remember the high-profile case of pickerel offered at a local restaurant which was actually a fish from Kazakhstan called Zander. The real news turned out to be the lack of protection for our consumers through no penalties under our NWT Consumer Protection Act. There does not appear to be any power to lay charges or seek fines. Municipal and Community Affairs, which administers the legislation, has set up a complaint system. The department acts as a mediator between complainants and businesses. At the time of the fish story, the deputy minister is quoted as saying that, after a complaint was filed, "We hope that they can work it out themselves." He said public awareness plays a role by putting pressure on businesses not to mislead consumers.

Mr. Speaker, I don't think that's good enough. We should actually expect a lot more from our government. In Alaska, a media report indicated a restaurant was fined $50,000 for selling New Zealand elk as Alaska reindeer. In Quebec, misleading customers on the composition of food will get you a $500 to $9,000 fine.

There are two issues here. One is to provide a mechanism ensuring consumers who have been intentionally misled can get redress with legislative requirements that forces retailers to give a refund and make things right. The other issue is one of deterrence, to actively discourage misrepresentation. A tourist on a five-day trip from overseas is not likely to file an English-language complaint, even with the potential for a refund. We need a stronger consumer protection system with powers to investigate complaints and lay charges on behalf of the public and fines robust enough that retailers make sure products are as they are described. As more and more livelihoods are based upon the world-class quality of our tourism destination, we want to actively discourage bad players from hurting our reputation. This does not happen often, but we must be vigilant.

I don't want to give the impression we are uniquely behind. Our Yukon neighbour is not much further ahead in this regard, but with our growing tourism sector we need to begin thinking about protecting our resident consumers, our Northern products, and reputation. I'll be asking questions later today of the Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

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

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this government loves to subsidize housing. The Housing Corporation provides social housing; ECE pays individuals' rents through the Income Assistance Program; and even the Department of Justice provides subsidized housing by forcing private landlords to house delinquent tenants for months on end.

Let me explain. Say a tenant falls into arrears for the month of January and an application to evict is filed with the rental office in February; there likely won't be a hearing for two or three months. If the tenant continues to skip out on rent during this time, there's nothing the landlord can do except sit idly by as potentially unrecoverable arrears grow and a revenue stream worth thousands runs dry.

Mr. Speaker, I understand we have to protect tenants' rights, but there are tenants who are aware of this and who work the system.

In the NWT, there is one company that controls around 85 per cent of the rental market. I'm not concerned about that company; it can absorb the costs. My concerns are for all the other landlords in the territory who contribute to their local economies, are trying to make a living or earn some extra income, or who count on a few rental properties for their retirement income.

In Hay River, it's tough to find a place to rent, and when you do, it's not cheap. A big part of the reason for that is it's hard to convince individuals or businesses to invest in constructing new apartments or rental units because everyone knows the hassles that landlords have to go through in the territory. The system doesn't just hurt landlords; it hinders growth of our economy. The lack of rental housing makes it extremely difficult to attract and retain employees that we need to address our labour gap and help grow the economy. It could also make all the difference for a family considering leaving town.

There are tweaks to the Residential Tenancies Act that can help remedy some of the problems, but the immediate issue is the understaffing of the rental office.

Two years ago, the office hired a deputy rental officer. That brought the total of officers up to two. Unfortunately, half the staff recently retired, and now we're back down to one. Nowadays, nearly half of all applications take over two months to be heard. Mr. Speaker, the rental office doesn't just deal with private landlords; it is also used by the Housing Corporation to collect arrears, and aggressive attempts by the corporation at collecting arrears have further disadvantaged small landlords.

I know the Minister is aware of this issue; I've discussed it with him before. I was assured that the rental office was taking steps to tackle its workload problem, and hopefully that means hiring another officer. I'll have questions for the Minister of Justice at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Sahtu.

Daniel McNeely

Daniel McNeely Sahtu

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Our NWT economy is based on a number of factors, and involves a number of players as well. In the global economy price sector, downturn places governments in taking a lead role in diversification. However, targets of balanced budgeting is a measurement for sound consumer confidence.

Economic indicators such as gross domestic product, net-to-debt ratios. Other factors on stability can be seen by monthly reports from the Bureau of Statistics. Benchmarking our physical progress to other Canadian jurisdictions provides evidence of maintaining sustainability, as set out in our budgetary deliverance.

Mr. Speaker, core social programs through five departments are supported by 63 per cent of this budget. Being mindful of the economic players and resource development, confidence remains consistent with the Assembly's mandate. Attracting industry will see benefits that we have seen by contributions to the local school in Tulita in the amount of $30,000 for the breakfast program. Similar contributions were made by TerraX as mentioned by my colleague earlier. Physical responsibility compliance are other factors on management's prudent progression.

Mr. Speaker, from this budget the Sahtu region will see 25 career positions, jobs that weren't there before, long-term jobs that will help and support families to place their footing within the community as well as contributing to the local economy and TFF income. From this budget, my region will see true independence and have the ability to make decisions on their own for the destiny that they wish to choose. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Kieron Testart

Kieron Testart Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, if I asked you where you think the highest average rent in Canada is, I assume you would say a major Canadian city like Toronto or Vancouver. Mr. Speaker, you would be wrong. If you were wondering what the answer is, you need look no further than out the windows of this building.

Mr. Speaker, according to a 2016 report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Commission, the average rent for a two-bedroom unit in Yellowknife is $1,636 per month, while in Vancouver a similar unit costs $1,450 and in Toronto the rent would be $1,327. That means Yellowknifers on average pay $200 more per rent than tenants in the two largest cities in Canada.

To be fair, Mr. Speaker, there has been a 2.2 per cent drop in the rent from 2015, but that is due to roughly 206 people who have left the territory, prompting local landlords to offer rent reductions in order to fill that vacancy rate. This trend can also be attributed to new purchases and the construction of condos, but also because some people have just given up on renting. Mr. Speaker, there is a large community of young Northerners who are becoming permanent house-sitters or even moving back in with their parents, effectively putting aspects of their social mobility on hold.

Being that there is no CMHC data on other similar communities' rental prices, we would likely see higher rental prices in communities such as Inuvik, Hay River, and Fort Smith.

Mr. Speaker, in our mandate document, we are committed to addressing the high cost of living. Although not explicitly mentioned, easing the burden from renters is something we need to focus on. Renting is usually the first step before buying your first home as an important aspect of the middle class experience. That element is being taken away from young people, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, when young people come here, they are looking for opportunity, they are looking for mobility, and they are looking to make a future in the Northwest Territories. If they can't even afford a home while they build that future, we are in trouble. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister on what she plans to do with the new rent subsidy program she mentioned yesterday in the House, and we will see exactly where we are taking affordable rent for the future of the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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, we know that mental health is a critical issue in our communities. The Department of Health and Social Services has set out a five-year plan, called Mind and Spirit, promoting mental health and addictions recovery in the Northwest Territories.

Within Mind and Spirit, the department plans to focus on children and youth, mental health, and addictions recovery, all areas where communities badly need support. Mr. Speaker, to get this work done, we will need trained experts on the ground, people who are committed to our communities in the long term.

Residents of Tsiigehtchic recently had the benefit of a local mental health worker, someone who could provide counselling services, help with case management and suicide prevention, promoting mental health, and coordinating medication and monitoring for Northern people where they live.

Unfortunately, that worker was needed somewhere else and now works out of Inuvik. That means the worker was in Tsiigehtchic just long enough for people to start getting used to them, to become comfortable with them, and now they are gone. Even if another mental health worker comes to town, residents will feel like they are starting from scratch.

Working in mental health is a position of great trust, Mr. Speaker. When communities are used to people coming and going, it can be hard enough to welcome someone new, much less to open up to them about their most personal questions and challenges.

Moves like this are disruptive, Mr. Speaker, and the anxiety and uncertainty they cause run counter to our goals of supporting good mental health.

Of course, we can't control how individuals feel if it is time to move on to try different work or even life in a different communities. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Frederick Blake Jr.

Frederick Blake Jr. Mackenzie Delta

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you, colleagues. Of course, we can't control when individuals feel that it is time to move on to try different work or life in a different community. When our health authorities assign work or move positions, they need to consider the impacts of those decisions on the people who they serve.

To deliver reasonable services and adequate support, we need to build a mental health system committed to encouraging long-term presence in our small communities. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Sugar Tax Best Practices
Members' Statements

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in recent years the idea of a sugar tax levied on sugary drinks like pop and juice has generated debate about outcomes. I would like to share my findings from a review of existing programs and best practices.

Sugar taxes typically focus on naturally or artificially sweetened beverages and are calculated based on volume, and might also include syrups or artificial sweeteners. They are usually implemented at the federal level, as in the countries of Hungary and Mexico. Here in Canada, the federal government has said only that it will continue to monitor emerging evidence on the effectiveness of such measures.

Media coverage often boils down to one of two narratives. Supporters argue for a sugar tax to take action on an obesity crisis. Detractors argue that a tax would increase taxes and interfere with consumers' free choice.

What is more, because sugar tax programs are still young, we don't have conclusive evidence of their results. Some promising results from Mexico suggest that their sugar tax has led to decreased soft drink sales in the order of 7.5 per cent over two years, but they are unable to calculate the effect of this drop on health.

It seems to me that this conversation speaks to the desire for policy that empowers consumers to both choose and access healthy food, a critical issue here in the NWT. I want to offer the finance Minister a couple of best practices for his budget commitment to explore a sugary drink tax.

First, the department must have clarity of purpose. While the budget address linked sugar taxes to health, a 2016 revenue options paper had dismissed the idea, arguing, as have other jurisdictions, that the expense would likely outstrip the income. I was also troubled by the same paper's suggestion that seeing low-income people paying a larger share would not be an issue. That sounds less proactive and more punitive.

Second, I point to the recommendations of both the Senate Committee and the Canadian Diabetes Association. Both suggest that a sugar tax is not a stand-alone magic bullet for better health. Instead, government needs to develop clear plans for dedicated use of levied funds and revise existing practices respecting healthy food affordability and regulation, labelling, and marketing of sugary beverages. Here, the GNWT may have a head start. For more than 10 years, Health and Social Services has encouraged students, families, and schools to "drop the pop."

I will have questions for the Minister. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Sugar Tax Best Practices
Members' Statements

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Nunakput.

Herbert Nakimayak

Herbert Nakimayak Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, modern treaties, land claims, and self-government agreements are a key component of governance in the North.

Mr. Speaker, the federal government has released a statement of principles on its approach to modern treaty implementation. These principles must be upheld in all our negotiations with Indigenous groups.

Modern treaties promote strong, sustainable Indigenous communities that create enduring intergovernmental relationships between treaty partners and certainly around the lands and resource ownership and management. They support a stable climate for investment and promote broader economic and policy objectives to the benefit of all Canadians.

Many modern treaties set out Indigenous groups' lawmaking powers and equip them to develop programs and services that are tailored to the unique needs of their communities.

Mr. Speaker, modern treaties are reconciliation in action. Treaty rights are recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act. Treaties establish a mutually agreed-on and enduring framework for reconciliation and ongoing relationships between the Crown and Indigenous people.

Mr. Speaker, modern treaty implementation is an ongoing process and must reflect the agreements entered into. Modern treaties must be implemented in a manner that upholds the honour of the Crown, recognizing that Indigenous groups and treaty rights are constitutionally protected.

Mr. Speaker, through the implementation of modern treaties, Canada shares a set of broad objectives with its Indigenous treaty partners, including the promotion of social, economic, and cultural well-being of Indigenous peoples and contribution to the development of prosperous and sustainable Indigenous communities in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, modern treaty implementation requires a whole-of-government approach and effective intergovernmental relationships to be successful. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that Canada has articulated these principles, and that the Government of the Northwest Territories' approach to land claim and self-government agreements also reflects these values. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.