This is page numbers 2679 – 2704 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. 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 10:00 a.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

Mr. Speaker, our government has a responsibility to make sure that Northwest Territories residents have access to the best education programs possible. We owe it to our students to give them programs that are well designed, up to date, and position them to go into the kinds of jobs that employers are looking to fill. We also owe it to our young people to make sure that the system and institutions through which we deliver education programs are managed efficiently and effectively and that the chains of responsibility among all the decision makers are absolutely clear.

As Members will recall, there was significant debate in this House and in the media last winter over how decisions were being made about Aurora College programming and who was making them. Although there was significant evidence showing that two of the college’s programs were not having the intended results, there was little agreement on what to do about them. Many ideas were shared during that debate, including a strong call to make foundational changes to the way we do business so the people of the Northwest Territories have the kind of educational institution they need and deserve.

These were the circumstances last March when I decided to announce a foundational review of Aurora College. At the time, I said the foundational review will help inform the government's long-term vision for Aurora College and position it to provide the necessary skills and knowledge our residents require to participate in and contribute to the social and economic fabric of the NWT for decades to come. That is still our vision for this much-needed review, Mr. Speaker.

At the end of June I wrote to the Standing Committee on Social Development to confirm that I had incorporated its recommendations into the final terms of reference for the review so that we could engage independent expertise to conduct the review. At that point, our intention was to have the review completed in December 2017, and this is reflected in the terms of reference that are available on the ECE website.

At the end of August, committee replied to my letter indicating that they had some concerns with the proposed timelines for the project. I replied on September 1st, advising committee that I recognized and shared its perspective and agreed that we need to take the necessary time to ensure the review is both thorough and strategic.

I also advised committee that my officials would work with the contractor to develop a detailed work plan and that I would advise them if any change was required on the timing of the review as a result.

As Members are aware, we have recently completed the contracting process and are working with the contractor to develop a detailed work plan that will also set out the schedule for the review. That work plan is currently being finalized, and I look forward to sharing it with committee before the end of session. I appreciate committee’s advice about the timelines and have decided to extend the timeline for the review to March 31, 2018. This will give the contractor the time required to complete a good, thorough review and consult with everybody they need to.

Once the contractor completes the review, a departmental response will be prepared to support implementation of its recommendations. We will be sharing that response with committee for input prior to finalization of the implementation plan. Based on the review and the departmental response, the college will develop a long-term strategic plan and the government will start implementing recommendations. Recommendations with resource implications will be advanced through the 2019-2020 business planning process.

Part of the contractor’s job will also be to review and consider the results of an assessment of the college commissioned by a previous government in 2013. While it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speak to the decisions of that government, I will be tabling this assessment later today so the public is able to see the whole report.

I provided all Members with copies of this report on June 20th, and while that assessment contained many good recommendations, including a recommendation to undertake a more comprehensive review of the college, this is a different time and a different government.

It is important that this government’s decisions be based on current evidence and current circumstances. At the same time, we don’t want to lose any of the good work from the previous study and will ensure that it is one of the inputs the contractor considers as part of the current foundational review.

One of the major challenges of this project has been finding the right balance between doing the work well and doing the work quickly, Mr. Speaker. While we would all like this work to be completed quickly, I believe it is more important that the work be done well, as it will help set the course for the college for the next 10 or 20 years.

Mr. Speaker, we are going to take the time that is needed to do this review well. We owe it to current and future Aurora College students to set a strong, clear course for decades, not for just the next two or three years. This is an issue that is too important to rush, and I look forward to working with Members on a long-term solution for the college, not a short-term fix. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Minister of Infrastructure.

Wally Schumann

Wally Schumann Hay River South

Mr. Speaker, our government has made commitments in its mandate to investigate and implement renewable and alternative energy solutions, explore the potential for the development of hydroelectric power and transmission lines, and develop wind and solar energies to replace diesel. Transitioning away from expensive fossil fuels for home heating and electricity generation will be critical for reducing the cost of living for residents and protecting the NWT environment.

Today I would like to provide Members with an update on some of the energy initiatives being undertaken by our government to fulfill these commitments. Mr. Speaker, earlier this year our government completed a comprehensive public engagement on energy and climate change. This public engagement, done in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, allowed us to gather input from residents to help inform the development of a new energy strategy.

We heard that the people of the Northwest Territories support the transition to a lower carbon economy. To achieve a lower carbon economy, we must use less fossil fuel. People understood that our dependence on imported fossil fuels contributes to climate change, causes pollution, and leaves us at the mercy of fluctuating world market prices.

People also understood only too well the challenges of life in the North, especially the challenge of our high cost of living. While most people want to see more renewables and alternatives, they also associate these choices with an increased cost.

Mr. Speaker, we heard that we must set realistic and achievable emissions targets. We heard that future carbon tax revenues should be redistributed to those impacted. We heard that energy efficiency programs and financial incentives should be expanded and be more flexible.

The proposed Energy Strategy, Mr. Speaker, would lead us over the next decade and beyond. Our government, with input from Regular Members and the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment, will release a draft of the strategy this session for public input.

The draft strategy sets out a long-term approach to addressing the affordability, security, and sustainability of energy supply and use in the Northwest Territories. The goal of this strategy is to guide the development of affordable, secure, and sustainable energy for transportation, heat, and electricity, support energy efficiency and conservation, and promote renewable and alternative energy solutions for the NWT.

Once we finalize the 2030 Energy Strategy, this government will develop an action plan to support its implementation. Mr. Speaker, while we have been hard at work addressing this mandate commitment, progress has been made on a number of innovative projects to improve energy affordability, reliability, and sustainability in the Northwest Territories.

For example, this government intends to pursue a megawatt scale wind project in Inuvik, which will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the NWT’s largest diesel community. The GNWT will undertake technical and regulatory work, refine cost estimates, and undertake community consultation as we move towards a decision to construct. We are assessing the suitability of further smaller-scale wind projects in Sachs Harbour and Norman Wells. Both communities are due for power plant upgrades as part of NTPC’s capital plan, and we will collect wind data over two years to make an evidence-based decision about using wind to displace diesel in these communities.

Mr. Speaker, we are also installing a second exhaust heat recovery system in Inuvik’s power plant to capture and use residual heat from the natural gas generators. This project will supplement our existing residual heating system to provide building heat, heat the liquefied natural gas we use to generate power, and heat the Town of Inuvik’s water supply, as opposed to having to use diesel.

We are also studying the potential to use this residual heat for district heating of buildings in the community. By capturing wind energy in Inuvik and diverting residual heat, we are making progress in reducing Inuvik’s reliance on diesel and moving towards alternative sources of meeting the town’s needs for energy.

Meanwhile, in Tulita, we are installing 45 kilowatts of solar. This is in addition to the 55 kilowatts installed in the community of Aklavik last year. Our total for installed solar power in the NWT is almost 850 kilowatts. Mr. Speaker, this makes the NWT amongst the leaders in Canada in terms of solar capacity installed per person in the territory.

Finding and developing new, innovative options for energy is one aspect of addressing our energy needs. Another aspect is making our government assets more efficient. Through the Capital Asset Retrofit Fund, we have created a work plan which includes $3.8 million in upgrades, including lighting retrofits, large biomass heating systems, and insulation upgrades. Of note is the 950 kilowatt biomass boiler in the Inuvik hospital that is expected to save $100,000 in heating costs and offset 1,400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Mr. Speaker, we rely on energy in our daily lives. Access to secure, affordable, and environmentally sustainable sources of energy is essential to the prosperity of the NWT. Energy drives our economy. Energy is essential for everyday living in the North, and everyone in the NWT has a part to play in achieving a more sustainable NWT.

We look forward to even more success as we move to finalize and start implementing the new 2030 Energy Strategy. 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, in 2016 I tabled a document titled "Building a Culturally Respectful Health and Social Services System." This document was a commitment made to ensure that cultural safety is woven into the fabric of the health and social services system and integrated into all aspects of management, operations, and front-line services.

It speaks to the importance of honouring traditional healing practices. It also speaks to working in collaboration with partners to ensure that all aspects of health and social services are culturally safe and respectful for our patients and clients.

In my meetings with leaders of Indigenous governments over the past few years, they have stressed how important it is that we work together to improve health and social outcomes in the Northwest Territories. Leaders have stressed that, historically, health and social services have been provided in a way that has not always respected or incorporated Indigenous peoples’ presence, culture, traditions, or needs, and they have told us we need to change.

In May 2016 we met with representatives from Indigenous governments across the Northwest Territories to talk about how we can make these changes happen. We agreed to set up a task team to come back with recommendations.

Mr. Speaker, over the past year staff from the health and social services system have worked with staff from several Indigenous governments to explore options for working together. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contributions made by staff from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Gwich’in Tribal Council, the Tlicho Government, the Dehcho First Nations, the NWT Metis Nation, and the K'atlodeeche First Nation.

Together, we have developed a draft terms of reference for an Advisory Body of Indigenous Knowledge Holders that would work with the Department of Health and Social Services, the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, and the Tlicho Community Services Agency.

The mandate of this group would be to provide guidance on how our health and social services system can better incorporate Indigenous traditions, culture, and healing practices leading to improvements in care and health outcomes for our residents.

Mr. Speaker, the proposed terms of reference have been shared with leaders of Indigenous governments across the Northwest Territories, asking for their feedback.

In the very near future I plan to meet with leaders and reach agreement on how we can move forward to ensure there is a formal, structured process for transforming the NWT health and social services system by incorporating Indigenous knowledge and traditions throughout our program and our service delivery. This work will help further the department's vision for best health, best care, for a better future. 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 made a commitment in its mandate to supporting mineral exploration and the mining sector through a number of actions that I want to update Members on. Our government recognizes the need for a strong, diverse economy where all NWT residents have a chance to get ahead.

The foundation of our economy is socially and environmentally responsible resource development. The Northwest Territories' abundant natural resources are not only key to growing and sustaining our economic future, but are also essential to lowering the cost of living, as well as developing training, educational, and capacity-building opportunities.

Mr. Speaker, our economy depends on the strength of this foundation and the revenues and the opportunities it provides. This is why we continue to address some of the most pressing issues in our natural resource sectors and to unlock our territory's potential.

We continue to invest in the NWT Mineral Resources Strategy, the guiding document for supporting a strong, well-managed future for our territory's single largest industry. There is much we can be proud of in the implementation of this strategy so far.

We promised to place renewed focus on mapping the geoscience of our vast territory. Amongst many important projects, the NWT Geological Survey released two reports with new information on our high-potential Slave Geological Province. Today we can announce these reports have resulted in the strongest staking rush we have seen in our territory since 2014.

In a two-week period following the late June release of these studies, 34 mineral claims were staked. This surge can be linked to the new geochemical information released. Major diamond companies were among those staking these claims.

This brings 2017's totals to 184 claims covering 139,019 hectares of land in the NWT. To put this into perspective, the entirety of 2016 saw only 83 claims and 42,404 hectares. It is a sign of progress in exploration after some challenging times. We are pleased to see responsible mineral development growing from the grassroots in the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, these staked claims are only one piece of the exploration puzzle. New projects require ongoing work, which can be cost-intensive and challenged by adverse market conditions. That is why we expanded our support for early-stage exploration by more than double, investing nearly $1 million in qualifying prospecting and exploration projects.

We are committed to supporting the exploration industry, and this investment by our government is proof of that commitment. To complement the financial incentives, we have also extended our work credits program, which provides extra work credit for exploration work completed to help encourage explorers to keep exploring over the long term.

As of today, these explorers will have access to an extraordinary collection of core samples from past work completed across the territory at the new geological materials storage facility in Yellowknife. This will allow analysis of historical samples for new mineral potential at a fraction of the cost of drilling new samples.

Mr. Speaker, at the heart of the competitive, well-managed mineral regime, we want to foster good legislation. In our mandate, the government committed to evolve our legislative, regulatory, and policy systems for land and resource management, including new mining legislation and regulations. Under the Mineral Development Strategy, we committed to the development of a made-in-the-North Mineral Resources Act that reflects the unique needs of our territory and the input from our people.

I am proud to say we have made strides on an aggressive timeline to collect input from Indigenous governments and organizations, industry stakeholders, interest groups, and all NWT residents during the public engagement phase of this important project.

The North has always been about partnerships. Indigenous groups and other stakeholders are critical to create a legislative model that ensures sustainable, responsible development while respecting the Section 35 rights of Indigenous people and the spirit and intent of agreements we have reached with them.

We remain on track to deliver our territory's first ever home-grown mining legislation in the life of this Legislative Assembly. A standalone Mineral Resources Act will allow us to reflect the unique regulatory needs and the specific priorities of our territory, ensuring we protect our land and cultural heritage at the same time we develop our economy.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, although the NWT has not produced a drop of oil or gas for the first time since 1936 in the past six months, we haven't forgotten about this important sector. We know our potential is significant, and our work is ongoing to identify an approach and a strategy that will realize the benefits that this sector holds for our communities and our people.

We must, however, ensure the strategy we develop is consistent with the approach that our government is taking in its Energy Plan and Climate Change Strategic Framework. We will continue to improve our territory's investment climate, and to ready our businesses and residents to capitalize on the opportunities that responsible oil and gas resource development will bring.

In the meantime, however, there may be a more immediate domestic market for our oil and gas resources as a cleaner and more affordable source of local energy that supports our vision of greater energy security. We will work to ensure that this is part of the strategy that we are now looking to bring forward in the new year.

Mr. Speaker, building and maintaining a foundation is a long-term task. There is much we can be proud of in the work we have done so far to strengthen responsible resource development, but we still have a long way to go. We are committed to putting in the hard work and focusing on what we need to get done to support the strong, resilient natural resource industry the Northwest Territories needs to unlock its potential. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Tom Beaulieu

Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marci cho, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, [no translation provided]. Mr. Speaker, today I would like to congratulate the students who have graduated from high school this year in Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. In Lutselk'e, there were three who graduated; Nathan Lockhart and Curtis Lockhart, who are twins, and Ethan Catholique. In Ndilo, there were four graduates, Brent Betsina, Frank Betsina, Laveena Black, Kevin Mackeinzo. In Fort Resolution, there were eight graduates. This matched the most that had ever graduated at the Deninu School, I believe. They were Laney Beaulieu, Roger Beck, Jacob Boucher, Zachary Klugie-Mulder, Michelle Lafferty, Tamara Lafferty, Tori Lafferty, and Desiree Mandeville.

Mr. Speaker, I was able to attend the graduation ceremony and speech in Fort Resolution, and I am proud of the students who have worked hard to achieve these accomplishments. The families who supported them in their education goals, and the graduates also, should be very proud of themselves.

Best wishes to the graduates in the Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh riding. I hope they appreciate the wonderful things they have learned to take into the future. Mr. Speaker, I was unable to attend the graduation ceremonies in Lutselk'e and Ndilo, but I offer my congratulations to those students, as well.

Mr. Speaker, this year, we saw 15 people from Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh graduate and move on to new aspects of their lives. On Wednesday, September 20, 2017, both the Minister of Finance and Minister of Health spoke about looking forward 20 years to see people with good jobs, jobs that will allow them to take care of their families, who are in their own homes and provide healthy food for their families.

Mr. Speaker, this goes a long way to providing a healthy environment that will afford people good opportunities for success moving forward. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Right To Know Week 2017
Members' Statements

Kieron Testart

Kieron Testart Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, it is pretty obvious by now that I am committed to advocating for more open and transparent government. With Right to Know Week being celebrated the week of September 25th to October 1st, and with international Right to Know Day being held on the 28th of September, I think it is appropriate to remind the government of its mandate commitment to increase transparency and accountability.

Mr. Speaker, international Right to Know Day originated in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2002 with 15 original countries signing on. Since then, the popularity and scope of Right to Know Day has grown immensely. In Canada, Right to Know celebrations have expanded into a week-long event coast to coast, and they even present awards in recognition of those who support access-to-information rights.

Mr. Speaker, I, for one, applaud this government's steps since it has developed its mandate to make transparency a priority, most evidently by creating a new portfolio with responsibility for these matters. However, most accomplishments in transparency have been symbolic rather than concrete.

In the spirit of Right to Know Week, I would like to see the Minister responsible for Public Engagement and Transparency commit to accomplishing a few concrete actions that will make a significant difference in the overall accountability of its government to Northerners and ensure the public's right to know is well enshrined in the policies and legislation of this government.

First and foremost, Mr. Speaker, let's make the municipal governments subject to Access to Information regulations. It's not acceptable in this day and age that a public government has no legal obligation to provide access to public records and to protect the personal information it collects; having limited resources is reason enough to be accountable to the citizens which they serve.

Next, let's make requirements for mandatory breach notifications where there has been a material breach of privacy or where a privacy breach puts an individual's information in jeopardy or exposure. Most jurisdictions are moving towards this, and we've already implemented it in our health sector, so let's expand upon it and make it applicable in all areas of the public sector and government.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, and most easily accomplished, let's allocate more resources to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The work is ever expanding, more so if this government takes my other recommendations into account, and more resources are going to be required to keep up with the workload.

Mr. Speaker, let's celebrate this upcoming Right to Know Week and implement some real changes in how we hold ourselves accountable to our citizens. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Right To Know Week 2017
Members' Statements

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Sahtu.

Voices On Housing Survey
Members' Statements

Daniel McNeely

Daniel McNeely Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Good morning, colleagues. Voices on Housing. As mentioned over the past few days, strategies and action plans are essential to achieving our goals and objectives. Today is Voices on Housing, a survey completed and tabled by the Housing Corporation this past May.

Mr. Speaker, it may sound convincing in the House; however, out there in the remote areas of our great territory, it matters by deliverance. Our listening audience, Mr. Speaker, wants security, certainty. They ask: should I mortgage or sell? Is my family secured by government programs? Is there future commerce and marketplace stability for my business?

As referenced in the Voices on Housing survey, I quote, "results from the housing engagement survey are intended to assist in developing new actions in support of the NWT Housing Corporation's strategies." Later I will have some questions for the appropriate Minister. Mahsi.

Voices On Housing Survey
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, the Government of the Northwest Territories has a number of programs to support those people who rely on the traditional economy of hunting and trapping to support themselves and their families.

This is good news, but I believe the GNWT can and should be doing more to help our residents who want to continue to lead a traditional lifestyle. After all, most of these people live in our smaller communities, where prices are high and families rely on the benefits of the hunt to feed and clothe their families.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to see assistance be provided to the hunters in Nunakput to enable to tan hides before sending them to market. This would allow those hunters to command the highest possible prices for their goods. There are two ways that the hides can be tanned; traditionally, or through industrial processes. Traditionally tanned hides are the highest-quality hides that are produced here in the Northwest Territories. The work is time consuming and physically demanding, but the result is hides of unrivalled beauty. They are truly a work of art, Mr. Speaker.

The GNWT's own promotional materials even acknowledge the traditional economy tanned hides "cannot be produced by industrial tanning techniques," and that the hides tanned in the traditional way are "durable, lightweight, and strong."

Even the hides produces by industrial tanning techniques would allow northern harvesters to maximize their hunting profits. I have spoken with ITI and I am aware that the idea of a commercial tannery in the Beaufort Delta has been considered in the past, but that was not pursued because of concerns about high capital costs and facilities.

I would like to see the department revisit this idea. Just because it wasn't viable 10 or 15 years ago does not mean that it is not viable now. Market forces do change, Mr. Speaker. Things that were once common may become more rare and prized over time.

Another idea that the department could explore is the provision of home tanning kits, providing the materials to harvesters who are looking for their own hide tanning options, Mr. Speaker. The GNWT must continue to work for ways to support our traditional economy in the Northwest Territories. Quyanainni, 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, it's time for this government to renew the GNWT Anti-Poverty Action Plan. The two-year plan expired in the last fiscal year, and when it was in currency it provided an important blueprint for addressing the needs of those who live in poverty or who are at risk of poverty. Now we need an updated and comprehensive plan that prioritizes actions to carry us forward in our common goal of reducing poverty.

Mr. Speaker, one of the limitations of the previous Territorial Anti-Poverty Action Plan was that it didn't include a monitoring, reporting, and evaluation framework, so it's hard to say now what effect poverty-reduction efforts have had. There was a commitment at the last Anti-Poverty Roundtable to develop this framework, but I am unsure what progress has been made on this.

Mr. Speaker, poverty remains a significant issue in the NWT. During the summer, the Conference Board of Canada produced a report measuring social outcomes in all three Territories. I'm going to highlight a few findings. The first is that a quarter of the Indigenous population lives in the bottom 20 per cent of household income. Secondly, almost a quarter of youth aged 20 to 24 are neither working nor in class. Third, income changes little across generations in the NWT, meaning that poor people remain poor.

Mr. Speaker, the conference board has three suggestions for improving social outcomes in the NWT. First is to have more people finish high school and post-secondary education, and we hear that's going the right direction from my colleague from Tu Nedhe. Then to bump up an income for people who do finish education, especially for Indigenous people, is very significant.

Second, we need to improve access to health care. I realize this is a challenge because of the limited health personnel available in remote communities, and I am also aware that the government is attempting to address both of these issues, both educational attainment and health.

The third suggestion, and the one that is the focus of my statement today, is to ensure there are ongoing investments in poverty reduction strategies. The starting point is to renew our Anti-Poverty Action Plan, introduce the evaluation framework. Mr. Speaker. I seek unanimous consent to finish my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mahsi, colleagues. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the starting point is to renew the Anti-Poverty Action Plan, introduce the evaluation framework, and prioritize action that not only alleviates poverty but moves people out of it for good. I will have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services. Mahsi.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Colleagues, I'd like to draw your attention to people in the gallery. We have with us Mr. Dave Ramsay, former Member of the 15th, 16th, and 17th Legislative Assemblies and also a former Minister as well. Welcome. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. It's fall, and once again we are seeing our streets filled with tourists drawn from around the world to enjoy our spectacular aurora viewing. While further interim measures have recently been announced, we are still without a solution supported by the tourism sector, or resourced with dedicated funds from this government.

As I have pointed out before, aurora tourism is the NWT's biggest success story in sustainable and renewable economic diversification. It's a $40 million a year industry, and a study last year showed that having a visitor's information centre boosted expenditures by about $5 million alone in Yellowknife. As I've also pointed out, visitors' centres at the 60th parallel in Inuvik and in Dawson are operated by the GNWT and only open in the summer.

Anyone with eyes knew that the Yellowknife visitors' information centre was crumbling to ruin. The warning flags have been up for years. For more than a year, the Northern Frontier Visitors Association, which operated our very popular centre, has appealed to this government to take action so tourists won't be left out in the cold, with no welcome or advice.

We appreciate the City of Yellowknife's effort to offer a stopgap, but this will not be the comprehensive service replacement required. There has been no progress on a full-service centre to operate temporarily until we have a new visitors' centre open. The numbers prove how inadequate the move to the museum has been. There were 725 clients served in July this year; the same period last year, 3018. That's a catastrophic drop.

As I have said before, it is simply inconceivable that Yellowknife would not have a world-class tourist information and interpretive centre. How is it possible that this government operates visitors' centres with comparatively low figures, but has sat on its hands in ensuring service for the NWT's tourism epicentre? It is as if our government has simply vacated the field for supporting tourism in Yellowknife.

It is time to stop ignoring our guests and get serious about maximizing tourism benefits. I am looking for this government to commit operating and capital funds in this budget cycle to begin construction of a new centre and to explain its plan for service in the meantime. I will have questions for the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment later today. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statement. Member for Mackenzie Delta.

Frederick Blake Jr.

Frederick Blake Jr. Mackenzie Delta

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in a small community health centre, staff have to be ready for just about anything. Tsiigehtchic Health Services regularly offers services and support for everything from check-ups to homecare to emergency treatment, plus specialized services for students, elders, and those living with disabilities.

Mr. Speaker, we have a community health representative and a homecare worker resident. While a nurse visits from Inuvik weekly, and a doctor once a month, staff have to be on their toes, and they are often called to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Residents, including elders, often need help getting to and from the health centre or perform typical errands that have a big impact on health, like collecting groceries or prescriptions. Right now, staff are pitching in when they see those needs are going unmet, using their own vehicles without compensation for their time or for cost of fuel.

In addition to this, Mr. Speaker, I am also concerned about potential liability problems, although staff are certainly providing a valuable public service. That is the key phrase, Mr. Speaker; a "public service." To that end, I would like to propose working with the Department of Health and Social Services to ensure that a government vehicle is available to staff at the Tsiigehtchic health centre, and continue to provide the best possible care for residents.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I will have questions later today.