This is page numbers 2625 - 2646 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 work.

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 1:30 p.m.


The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Good afternoon, Members. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Finance.

Robert C. McLeod

Robert C. McLeod Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to update Members on the fiscal situation and ongoing challenges we are facing for the next few years.

Yesterday the Premier talked about the government's vision for the future. Twenty years from now we want to see a healthy and prosperous territory where people have good-paying jobs built on the foundation of responsible resource development. We see residents who have achieved economic independence and who do not have to rely on income assistance to get by. We see people who can own their own homes, provide for their children, and purchase healthy foods. As a government, we need to make sure we are managing our financial resources responsibly so we can continue to fund the programs and investments that make this vision a reality.

When I presented the 2017-2018 budget in February, I was cautiously optimistic that we had started to turn the corner towards a more sustainable financial footing. The decisions we have made to reduce our spending on programs and services and implement initiatives to increase our revenues were intended to reverse the pattern where we spent more in the year than we bring in as revenue.

Preliminary actuals for the 2016-2017 fiscal year show we achieved a $155 million operating surplus last year, which has allowed us to deliver our capital program without adding to our short-term debt. Mr. Speaker, the actions we took to better align our expenditures with our revenues were a necessary first step. However, the challenge of the expected slow growth in revenues over the medium term means we need to continue to manage spending in the coming years. Over the next five years, we are forecasting revenues to increase on average by 1.8 per cent or about $34 million annually. It is from these increases that we will fund new programs or services and respond to forced growth from increases in demand or in the cost for delivery of existing programs and services.

Mr. Speaker, our fiscal pressures are significant. However, to achieve our collective vision, we cannot just manage our financial resources and not make investments into our population and our infrastructure to help create a future where our people can thrive and be healthy, where a well-managed environment contributes to our economic wellbeing and quality of life, and where a strong economy provides the necessary jobs and opportunities for our communities as well as funding for essential government programs.

Planning has already started for the 2018-2019 budget, including the capital estimates which were tabled yesterday. The 2018-2019 capital plan totals $237 million and includes investments:

• for health facility replacements, renovations and equipment, including for the Stanton Territorial Hospital Renewal project and initial work to build 48-bed long-term care facilities in Hay River and Inuvik and to invest to improve long-term care facilities in Yellowknife. This funding will also be used to begin the replacement of the health center in Tulita and to complete the health center in Sambaa K'e.

• for highways, including the GNWT contribution to the Tlicho all-season road, and additional Building Canada projects;

• to begin the work for the replacement of the air terminal building in Inuvik;

• to continue providing funding to community government for their infrastructure needs;

• for new education facilities and renovations to existing facilities, including completing the school in Lutselk’e, the addition of the gym and classrooms to Ecole Allain St-Cyr in Yellowknife, and the ongoing work on the renovation and addition to the school in Tuktoyaktuk; and

• for deferred maintenance and energy upgrades to existing GNWT assets.

In addition to our own capital plan, we are working closely with the federal government on the significant infrastructure investment programs that they have recently announced. While we continue to get more information on program criteria, there is little doubt of the potential for significant and transformational investments that may come from these programs. As GNWT contributions will be required on these projects, we will need to plan carefully to ensure alignment with our overall fiscal planning.

Mr. Speaker, this government’s fiscal strategy has yielded results and has put us on a much stronger financial footing. That gives us the flexibility we need to fund investments in our economy and our residents, but only if we maintain our discipline. We know that infrastructure investments have a significant impact on our short-term economic conditions, while also providing the base for sustainable economic growth and improved social conditions.

We also know infrastructure spending alone will not address all of the challenges facing our territory. Our government remains committed to working with Regular Members as we move into the business plan review, which is an important step in the development of the 2018-2019 budget. The business plans describe the steps we are taking to ensure our programs and services are addressing the priorities of the Legislative Assembly and implementing our mandate.

Mr. Speaker, within this fiscal context the assurance that I can provide to this House and to residents of the NWT is that this government will remain mindful of our long-term financial objectives, and the future well-being of our constituents, as we move into the second half of this Legislative Assembly. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Minister of Lands.

Louis Sebert

Louis Sebert Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Lands takes its responsibility to administer and manage public lands in the Northwest Territories seriously. That is why, over the summer, the department engaged with Indigenous governments, stakeholders, and the public on potential changes to the Northwest Territories Lands Act and the Commissioner’s Land Act. This input will, for the first time, allow for a made-in-the-North approach to managing land in the Northwest Territories.

Since devolution, administration of public lands in the Northwest Territories has fallen under two separate acts: the Northwest Territories Lands Act and the Commissioner’s Land Act. These two acts were developed independently of one another, one by the federal government and one by the Government of the Northwest Territories. With devolution, both lands acts became the responsibility of the Government of the Northwest Territories, and our government made it a mandate commitment to improve how they work together to advance our vision of land and resource management.

Mr. Speaker, our work has focused on building from the foundations that these two pieces of legislation provided. As a first step, the Department of Lands developed an engagement paper on the two acts. The paper was used to facilitate discussion around potential administrative and technical changes that could provide better system alignment where appropriate, and improve consistency and clarity for the public land users. This was a key tool for jump-starting the conversation about the kinds of changes that might be needed to the two acts.

With this engagement tool, the department got to work reaching out to Indigenous governments, stakeholders, and the public through open houses in regional centres, presentations to interested groups, and online feedback gathered through the department’s website. This feedback will be reflected in a report that will be shared with Members and made available to the public in October. The report will be placed on the department’s website and sent out to those who participated in the engagement. Afterwards, we will follow the legislative process to begin developing legislation later this fall.

Making revisions to our lands acts is one step towards meeting our shared land and resource management goals and will not end with the development of new legislation. We will continue to take a collaborative approach to implement the legislative, regulatory, and policy systems. As our territory continues to change and evolve over time, we need to ensure our legislation isn’t left behind.

Mr. Speaker, these efforts to improve legislation, policies and systems will help us to achieve our greatest objective, to create more certainty for land users throughout the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Glen Abernethy

Glen Abernethy Great Slave

Mr. Speaker, the priorities of the 18th Legislative Assembly include a commitment to take action so that seniors can age in place. Our government’s mandate builds on this priority by committing the Department of Health and Social Services to complete a projection of programming needs, develop updated capital plans to address the need for long-term care beds, and to develop a regulatory framework and financing options that will allow us to meet the growing demand for long-term care in the Northwest Territories.

As Minister of Health and Social Services, I remain committed to supporting seniors and elders to continue living in their homes and their communities for as long as possible, but we also need to provide for those who can no longer live independently, even with the appropriate supports.

Looking after our seniors and elders is an important part of this government’s vision for the future, which the Premier outlined yesterday. Looking ahead 20 years, we see a healthy and prosperous territory built on northern strengths and advantages. We see residents who have good paying jobs, who are able to provide for their children and to purchase their own homes and healthy food. We see a territory where people have broken the hold of colonialism to achieve economic self-determination and who no longer have to rely on income assistance to survive.

That is why our government undertook a major review of the current state of long-term care in the Northwest Territories and the projected need for these services as our population continues to age. The Northwest Territories Long-Term Care Program Review Final Report, completed late in 2015, provided projections for long-term care bed needs over a 20-year period and achieved an important mandate commitment.

The report projects that, by 2026, there will be a shortfall of 258 long-term care beds in the NWT, which represents a substantial increase over the 180 beds available today. Plans were already in place at that time to replace and expand the Jimmy Erasmus facility in Behchoko and to build an 18-bed long-term care facility in Norman Wells, but the addition of these 27 new beds did not begin to meet the projected needs as identified by the report.

Mr. Speaker, we know that today there are elders who are waiting for a spot in one of our long-term care facilities, and that these lists will continue to grow. We must take action. In response to this need, the departments of Health and Social Services, Finance, and Infrastructure worked closely to develop a plan to respond to these needs.

Today I am pleased to confirm that the Capital Estimates, 2018-2019 include the first concrete steps towards addressing the long-term care gap in the Northwest Territories. Funding is included to develop 72 beds in the old Stanton Hospital in Yellowknife; to begin planning for a 48-bed long-term care facility in Hay River to serve the entire South Slave region; and to begin planning for a similar facility in the Beaufort Delta region.

As we move forward, we also recognize that we need to address future pressures in the Dehcho region and in Yellowknife. In the near future, we will undertake a feasibility study to assess the potential for a combined health centre and a long-term care facility in Fort Simpson that would add 28 new long-term care beds in that region. To support our continued partnership with AVENS A Society for Seniors, the Capital Estimates includes funding for a much-needed kitchen and laundry renovation to support future expansion.

Mr. Speaker, there is more work to be done, and the support of Members, stakeholders, and our partners throughout the NWT will help us continue to advance this important work. We have committed to developing a regulatory framework and financing options for long-term care, and that work will get under way in the near future.

The improvements and investments being made in long-term care will support our seniors and elders to remain as close to home as possible when it is no longer possible for them to remain in their community. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Bob McLeod

Bob McLeod Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise Members that the Honourable Wally Schumann will be absent from the House today and tomorrow to attend the federal-provincial-territorial Ministers of Infrastructure meeting in Ottawa. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

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

Herbert Nakimayak

Herbert Nakimayak Nunakput

Quyanainni, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we are living in a time where mood and anxiety disorders affect Canadian youth in shocking numbers. Statistics Canada reports that those aged 15 to 24 have the highest rates of all of the groups.

First Nations and Inuit youth are even more severely impacted, Mr. Speaker. We see this in our own communities and in the communities across Canada. Among First Nations people, suicide rates are above the national average. Among Inuit it is between six and 11 times the national average.

Mr. Speaker, this is painful knowledge with real and brutal impacts on the people we serve. I have tried to explore available research, tried to begin to understand why this is happening and what we can do about it. I'd like to share some of what I've learned, Mr. Speaker. In researching I've looked for "the three C's": studies that are current, Canadian, and culturally relevant. As I said yesterday, programs addressing Indigenous youth health absolutely must be region- and culture-specific.

Programming must also recognize the continuing impacts of colonization. While it is conventional for physicians today to understand suicide as something deeply personal, specific to individuals, we can't deny the systemic roots. Researchers have described the mental health crisis in Indigenous communities as a "collective response to ongoing cultural assaults."

Looking at a study of 200 Indigenous communities in British Columbia, I saw valuable lessons learned by our neighbours. Where Indigenous cultures were respected, active, and empowered to grow and flourish, suicides rates were lower. Where communities enacted self-government and the restoration of land title; where languages and traditions, including leadership roles for women, were protected and practiced; and where Indigenous governments exerted control over education, child and family services, and community safety, Indigenous people were healthier and safer.

That means personal is political, Mr. Speaker. Person-specific solutions like the NWT Help Line, expanded counselling options, and enhanced mental health education are certainly critical, but they can't stand alone. Any plan to confront this crisis must support the political and cultural sovereignty of First Nations and Inuit people. Mr. Speaker, what happens at the negotiating table at the Department of Executive is of critical significance to the practices and priorities of the Department of Health and Social Services.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Member for Nunakput, your time for your Member's statement has expired. Masi. Members' statements. Member for Deh Cho.

Michael Nadli

Michael Nadli Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, at Deh Gah School in Fort Providence, high school students aren't only taking on the regular challenges of back to school, they're also thinking about their futures and the future of their community, and they're asking the tough questions that we need to answer to help the community thrive in the years to come.

Through their principal Shanna Hagen, the students brought me their concerns about meaningful employment opportunities in Fort Providence. As young people preparing to enter the workforce full-time, either after graduation or following post-secondary education, they're interested in job creation. They want to know what actions the Government of the Northwest Territories is taking to work with the regions and communities to create new jobs, not simply subsidize existing programs or positions.

Mr. Speaker, myself and several of my colleagues are interested in this very same thing. Earlier this year, during budget deliberations, Regular Members and Ministers debated the Small Community Employment Support program. This side of the House wanted to see the program expanded beyond subsidy into job creation.

With the support of Cabinet in the final 2017-2018 budget, I think we're on our way to the program enhancements we need to get the results that will make positive changes in our communities.

The students of Deh Gah School have also offered their suggestions, identifying areas in the community where new jobs would create spinoff employment and health benefits for all residents. For instance, the students have suggested providing locally available training for the fire department, creating jobs to deliver improvements and regular maintenance to community recreational assets like the baseball field and the arena, and undertaking new initiatives like a skateboard park for children and youth.

Employment in our small communities continues to be a difficult challenge, and to date the Small Community Employment Support program hasn't made a significant dent. With the changes agreed upon by all the Members of the 18th Legislative Assembly, I'm hopeful that we can demonstrate to the students of Deh Gah School and to the youth and young families across the NWT that the GNWT is there for them, ready to deliver meaningful support. 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. Mr. Speaker, shortly after the end of the last session I received a copy of a confidential assessment of Aurora College completed in 2013. After reading the report I wonder why the college is being studied again less than four years later. It would take less time and cost less money to follow through with the recommendations that were made then.

The 2013 study focused on the college's purpose, its roles and responsibilities with respect to the Education Minister and his department, and to "strengthen the college and its successes." The consultant met with everyone and anyone with an interest in the college.

The 2013 report made 36 recommendations about governance, operations, planning, and accountability. The consultant noted that many of the issues and challenges weren't new even then. The college's broad mandate requires it to be all things to all students. Then, as now, the college was required to reduce operations because funding from the GNWT had declined. To quote the assessment, "Possibly the greatest challenge facing the college is that of rationalizing its purpose against the resources available." Ditto today. The consultant recommended that "the Minister, in cooperation with the board, examine the college's purpose with the intention of confirming a long-term direction for the college." He also references a forthcoming strategic plan. That plan was scrubbed to make way for the foundational review this spring, although how it would differ from the study before or after is anyone's guess.

The foundational review ordered by the Minister in March has similar terms of reference and the contractor will meet with a similar group of people, and it is very likely that he or she will come up with similar recommendations.

Mr. Speaker, I'm unsure what the government of the day did with the 2013 study recommendations, but surely the Minister is familiar with them. If not, why not? If so, why take the time and money for another review? I believe the Minister already has the information he needs without spending another $413,000 on the question of the college's future. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Kieron Testart

Kieron Testart Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to applaud the Honourable Minister of Justice for taking real action on cannabis and actually getting out and starting to do this work. It's a bit late, but we're making progress.

Other provinces are also making progress, Mr. Speaker. Recently the Ontario government announced it will create a Cannabis Control Board and open up 60 store fronts in the first year to manage the sale and distribution of cannabis products in the province, while privatized cannabis dispensaries in Ontario will be shut down over the next 12 months.

Now, I wouldn't recommend the Minister take this approach; it's been very controversial, and this monopolization of the entire industry has not been well received in a positive light by the public. We need to create real opportunities with cannabis production in Canada. Once it is legal, our country will be facing a huge supply issue and, further, as other countries across the world open up cannabis markets either through medical or commercial production, Canada can plug that gap, which is why it's essential that the North has the opportunity to play in that market.

New Brunswick recently announced a multi-million dollar deal with a pair of federally licensed marijuana producers, OrganiGram Holdings and Canopy Growth Corp. This new deal is worth $90 million of cannabis production, and at the end of this deal both companies saw their stock increase 2 per cent and 16 per cent by the end of the day that the announcement was made. There's clearly growth in this area, Mr. Speaker.

Furthermore, the New Brunswick government has set up a Crown corporation to have clear oversight on how recreational cannabis will be sold, but will not run a retail operation, instead counting upon other entities, the private sector and entrepreneurs, to do it. This public/private model is an ideal fit for the North's needs to both further economic diversification and ensure that Northerners have access to safe, legal product, and will allow us to compete in an explosive market for something that not only Canadians but the world wants.

Mr. Speaker, it's time for us to assist in the creation of real opportunities surrounding this new cannabis industry, and not just solely capitalize on them as a source of revenue. It's time to let northern entrepreneurs take the lead on this file. I hope the Minister agrees with me. I'll have questions for him later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Sahtu.

Daniel McNeely

Daniel McNeely Sahtu

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. The NWT Healthcare Strategic Plan: six regional health and social services authorities were established into the NWT Health and Social Services authority system, known as NTHSSA, which are agencies of the GNWT governed by the NWT Leadership Council. Regional wellness councils provide strategic advice and valuable input on the needs of priorities of the residents within their respective regions to better improve healthcare.

Mr. Speaker, the complex care needs of residents of the Northwest Territories must be addressed in a way that achieves the best efficiencies to operate within the GNWT's current fiscal challenges and logistically remote areas, while ensuring access to high-quality patient care. Later I will have questions for the Minister responsible. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.

Cory Vanthuyne

Cory Vanthuyne Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Power Corporation wants to raise our power rates again. We keep hearing the same arguments over and over. Water levels are low, so hydro is compromised; rates have to go up. Homeowners and businesses are doing such a good job at using less power; rates have to go up. Our infrastructure is old and needs replacing; rates have to go up. It costs more and more to produce energy in the thermal communities; rates have to go up.

A 4.8 per cent hike last year, 4 more per cent this spring, now another 4 per cent coming: that's an increase of almost 13 per cent in just over a year. It will be almost 40 per cent over six years. It has become unbearable. In a government and Assembly that committed itself to transparency and openness, Mr. Speaker, the Power Corporation remains shrouded in mystery. Forgive me for the bad pun, but we are all in the dark when it comes to this organization.

The government pretends that the Power Corporation is still an arm’s-length Crown corporation, but in reality the government has brought the Power Corporation half in-house. By the Minister's own admission, he dissolved the board to save money. He admitted that, because the GNWT had significantly subsidized NTPC's operations during the low-water years, it was acting like a department anyway, so he assigned an internal government board of directors. He is right. In practice, it is almost another government department.

However, Mr. Speaker, the public deserves to know the government's vision for power generation and distribution in the NWT. As MLAs, we deserve the chance to question and evaluate that vision. We deserve to know when the rate hikes are going to end and what alternatives are being pursued to wean our communities off diesel. We deserve to know what is happening with the generators that we bought from a California company nearly three years ago. We deserve answers to all these questions, Mr. Speaker, because any Power Corporation issue affects everyone's bottom line.

Mr. Speaker, whether the vision is to make NTPC a government department or to fully privatize it, the people of the NWT deserve to know the plan. They deserve a government that will level with them. NTPC, bring your annual plans to MLAs for meaningful discussion and debate. 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, as I have in the past, I rise today to speak about the needs of Aklavik's Moose Kerr School, needs that are just not being met. Let us review what we know. We know that Moose Kerr School was built close to half a century ago, in 1969, the same year as Samuel Hearne Secondary School in Inuvik. Samuel Hearne Secondary, though, was demolished in 2013, while Moose Kerr continues to support approximately 15 teachers and 160 students, not to mention a wide range of community and sporting events year-round.

We also know that, although various small projects and maintenance work has continued, Moose Kerr last received a major retrofit back in 1999 and that, according to GNWT capital planning standards, building replacements are scheduled 20 years following work like that.

The Minister himself told the House on October 19, 2016, that the school had "been identified for renovations or replacement in approximately 2019."

A building assessment would be one of the first steps to get that ball rolling, so earlier this year, on February 8, 2017, the Minister also told the House that, "Should the assessment determine that a renovation is required, a planning study will be launched in 2018-2019 to begin this process."

With all this in mind, Aklavik has been looking forward to significant work on the school for some time. However, I am disappointed to report that the capital estimates tabled yesterday don't mention this work. This seems like a clear-cut case of communications breakdown, Mr. Speaker, and I will have questions at the appropriate time so that we can sort this out. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

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