This is page numbers 3261 – 3304 of the Hansard for the 18th Assembly, 3rd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was funding.


Question 133-18(3): Chemotherapy Services At Stanton Hospital
Oral Questions

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Oral questions. Item 9, written questions. Item 10, returns to written questions. Item 11, replies to Commissioner's opening address. Item 12, replies to budget address, day 7 of 7. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Mr. Beaulieu's Reply
Replies to Budget Address

Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the number one issue facing small communities is the lack of employment. That means there are many opportunities for the government to create jobs within our small communities. Job creation must be strategic, and can contribute to the GNWT's financial health as well as to our communities. If there is one thing we have to do in the life of the 18th Assembly, it is to create jobs where jobs are needed most. Mr. Speaker, jobs in our small communities will have a positive impact on all communities in the NWT, including Yellowknife and the regional centres.

When our small community members are working, they will spend most of their money in the large centres. For example, you will see an increase in snowmobile and boat sales. In other words, Mr. Speaker, all boats shall rise, as the saying goes.

Mr. Speaker, homecare is one such strategic spending item. If the Department of Health and Social Services creates a homecare program in all small communities, it could keep seniors out of long-term care. As I have said many times in the House, for every senior who stays at home instead of entering a long-term care facility, the government would defer spending of $140,000 per year.

This has an additional benefit of allowing seniors to age in place, which is what they typically want to do. However, before seniors can age in place, the NWT Housing Corporation must start retrofitting seniors' homes to a level that is more barrier-free and senior-friendly. The Department of Health and Social Services and the NWT Housing Corporation must begin to put some real money behind aging in place. I am talking about improving at least 150 houses across the NWT. If we were to average five houses per community, it would create many jobs in our small communities. This would be very, very positive for Yellowknife and the regional centres. Just imagine that number, Mr. Speaker, spending $80,000 to $100,000 per unit towards aging in place over the next three years. That would be expenditures of about $15 million into our economy. That would put builders and suppliers to work.

Mr. Speaker, a community access road program are a low-cost way to create many benefits. Some benefits include increased mobility, increased productivity, savings costs for transportation of people and materials, greater access to lakes, rivers, trap-lines, campsites, and hunting grounds. Access roads provide a much-needed opportunity for people in our communities to connect with traditional areas, to provide more opportunities for other on-the-land recreational and cultural activities, and would help reduce the cost of living. Building access roads creates good local jobs and will reduce the need for some types of social spending. Increasing spending to the access road program by 50 per cent would bring the amount close to $2.5 million and would see great benefits to our residents.

Mr. Speaker, we need to put more funding into combatting addictions in our territory by working with the local Indigenous governments to create on-the-land treatment programs in each community, including Yellowknife. Support should be provided by a mobile treatment system, perhaps run out of the Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre on the K'atlodeeche Reserve. The cost of addictions to its victims, their families, communities, our health system, and our justice system should be incentive enough. However, the added benefit to the GNWT will be a much better bottom line. Mr. Speaker, if we were to do this, we would see a large decrease in social spending and our people would be in better health.

We will create a society that is educated and ready to work. We can concentrate on our economy. We can put our money into supporting small business. The businesses, in return, can put more people to work.

Mr. Speaker, we need a new approach to the issue of absent students in our schools. Firstly, we must understand that poor attendance is usually a result of deeper social issues which are created within their homes, like parents with addictions and poverty. Parents who cannot feed their kids properly have difficulty sending them to school. The way a child acts in school is a direct reflection of what it's like at home, so if there is dysfunction in the home, the child is more likely to "act out" in ways that may be disrespectful, rude, or even dangerous. Over long periods of time, such interactions fuel a negative relationship between students and schools. Students facing these issues are far less likely to graduate high school. A student who does not graduate from high school has a greater chance of being in the social services system than one who graduates.

Children must have positive reinforcement that they can look forward to going to school. That is what will ultimately boost attendance rates. This will also result in higher graduation rates in our smaller communities. When a student graduates, it increases their potential to get a job by 25 per cent. Imagine what that would do for our economy and the finances of our government.

Mr. Speaker, we must pursue a reorientation of our correctional facilities to ensure abundant, positive opportunities to improve inmates' life skills and foster quality socialization. The aim must be to help each inmate reintegrate into society as a rehabilitated and improved individual, not a more broken and potentially more dangerous person than they were when they entered the justice system. A concentrated effort focused on inmate rehabilitation will lower the recidivism rate of inmates. There are many benefits to these programs, and some have been measured, studied, and reported.

Additionally, there should be a systematic program to help people stabilize their lives after being released. Such a program should include an element designed to eliminate all possible barriers to future employment for former inmates. A person who is rehabilitated and working in the community as opposed to being in jail will save the system more than $100,000 per year; that is the cost of incarcerating one inmate for one year.

Mr. Speaker, the land-leasing policy system in small communities must be reviewed, and the cost to community members must be lowered. I realize that the government is working on its land-leasing policy, but we have people right now who are asked to pay 10 per cent of the property value as an annual fee for renting the lot. That cost is prohibitive to most residents who would like to obtain a lease. If they cannot obtain a lease, they are unable to access Housing Corporation programs and would not be able to decrease their cost of living by making their home more efficient and comfortable. This is especially true for our elders.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Alberta has an Advancing Futures bursary that provides up to $40,000 in education funding for youth formerly in foster care, aged 18 to 24. A program coordinator is also available to assist case workers and youth with the education portion of a transition plan. The bursary is available to obtain high school equivalency through adult education for entry into post-secondary schooling, to earn a license or certificate, to learn a trade, or to earn a post-secondary diploma or degree. Advancing Futures will also assist students to learn life skills and to obtain meaningful employment. This is a system based on young people's potential and helping them overcome challenges.

In British Columbia, another good program exists for former youth-in-care, aged 19 to 26. For eligible applicants, the province will waive tuition fees for students seeking an undergraduate degree in a public post-secondary institution in the province. The program also covers apprenticeship and trades programs. I am concerned that our government does not do enough to help youth emerging from foster care into adulthood and that our system is fragmented and not holistic.

Mr. Speaker, the conservation economy has tremendous potential in the Northwest Territories. In Lutselk'e there is a group called "Ni hat'ni Dene," which means "Watchers of the Land." The Ni hat'ni Dene are protecting the land and enjoying what they do, and for every dollar that they are paid, the GNWT reduces social spending by $2.50. This is more strategic spending. Each time the government chooses to replicate this type of process, we will see a reduction to large budget items like income support, housing, and health and social services. This is important because strategic spending can help foster greater economic self-sufficiency in our people and thereby less reliance on government. Furthermore, our government would be working alongside Indigenous governments, working on and caring for the land of our ancestors.

Mr. Speaker, we must begin working with Indigenous governments and the federal government to clean up more waste sites. There are hundreds of these sites in the Northwest Territories. This work would bring many jobs to the North and will help us build a cleaner, more sustainable environment right across the territory, especially in the Akaitcho and Tlicho regions where the majority of these sites exist.

In order to provide certainty to our government, Indigenous governments, and industry, we must put more money and effort into completing land use plans in regions without settled land and resource agreements. The goal should be to get Agreements-in-Principle signed before the end of the 18th Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, this government must begin to invest heavily in early childhood development, and more must be put into the budget for prenatal care, covering children up to the age of three. People working in the field of early childhood development tell us that the return on early childhood development spending is about 7 to 1, possibly as high as 10 to 1. Mr. Speaker, for every dollar that is spent on early childhood development, we will see a decrease in social spending by up to $10 over a person's lifetime.

Mr. Speaker, these adjustments to the budget will increase spending by a modest amount of $20 to $25 million. We will then see the benefits being accrued to the Government of the Northwest Territories and our people. We must have faith that we can speed up social change with sensible, targeted programs and strategic investment. We must show faith in our people of the Northwest Territories, and the Government of the Northwest Territories will do right by the people of our territory. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Beaulieu's Reply
Replies to Budget Address

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Replies to budget address, day 7 of 7. Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Ms. Green's Reply
Replies to Budget Address

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, two years ago the Finance Minister told residents of the NWT that he had a plan for the 18th Assembly: to reduce spending on operations and maintenance in order to generate a surplus to pay for infrastructure. The plan was for two budgets of program cuts and layoffs, followed by two years of spending. The Minister made good on his plan for restraint by cutting $100 million from the first two budgets and issuing layoff notices to about 100 people, most of them working here in Yellowknife.

This year's budget was supposed to represent a turnaround, yet it offers one third less new spending than last year. Revenue is estimated to drop by more than $50 million in the next fiscal year. Clearly, the problems the Finance Minister flagged on the revenue side are worse than anticipated and need our immediate attention. I will come back to this point later.

There are several investments which will be of direct benefit to the residents of Yellowknife Centre. The government has heard and responded to the needs of people who gather downtown to drink, along with concerns and complaints from residents who live and work downtown. The government investment in the temporary sobering centre, first at the Yellowknife Arena and now at the Salvation Army, provides a safe place for people to sleep off their intoxication.

The GNWT has partnered with the city and the federal government to fund the Safe Ride program that transports clients to various locations, including the sobering centre. This service meets the immediate needs of people with addictions and mental wellness challenges. I note the federal government funding for this program is only for one year. I urge the Minister of Health and Social Services to negotiate long-term funding for this program.

Later this year, the sobering centre and the day shelter will move to a permanent location on 50th Street. It Is my hope that once this move happens, the Minister of Health and Social Services will provide further harm reduction for chronic alcoholics by launching a managed alcohol program. This is a program that provides regular and measured doses of alcohol to help people cope with their addictions in a more constructive way than drinking non-beverage alcohol or involving themselves in criminal activity to support their needs.

Mr. Speaker, the NWT Housing Corporation has improved housing options for people who are chronically homeless. Just before Christmas, I was pleased to join the Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation for the opening of eight new semi-independent units in my riding at the Yellowknife Women's Centre. The Women's Centre also operates a Housing First program for both men and women. They are housed in market rentals downtown. The Side Door is offering a Housing First program for youth. I hope that the Minister will soon reach an agreement with the Salvation Army to create semi-independent units for men. These initiatives have strengthened housing options for vulnerable populations.

I am happy to see continued support for the Housing First program in this budget, but note that the total funding has remained the same for three years in spite of the fact that we still have a significant homeless population living in emergency shelters. It is time to increase funding in this area. It is, of course, a better investment to provide people with a home than to house them in emergency shelters. Having a home gives them an opportunity to stabilize in order to make productive choices for their future.

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the announcement of the new Transitional Rent Supplement Program to help low-income people reduce their total spending on accommodation to less than 30 per cent of their gross income. Almost one in five households in Yellowknife reported shelter affordability as a problem in the 2014 housing survey. My hope is that the new program will be widely promoted and easier to access than its predecessor.

Finally, on the topic of housing, last fall, the Minister responded to a motion from Regular MLAs to produce a report that provides a plan for reducing core housing need across the territory, including a budget. This plan can best be described as sketchy, since it is not broken down in terms of how various program supports will be implemented on a regional basis or where the $67 million budgeted is going to come from. This budget decreases spending on housing by almost $1 million.

Mr. Speaker, I spent many hours listening to the heartbreaking testimony at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry when hearings were held here in Yellowknife last month. A sister of one of the NWT missing women talked about the difficulty to getting information about what action police had taken to find her sister. I hope that the creation of a Historical Case Unit within the RCMP will help this woman, and all of the other families who have murdered and missing loved ones, seek justice and closure.

Mr. Speaker, there is a significant population of people in Yellowknife Centre who are elderly. They will benefit from the increase to the NWT Seniors' Supplement Benefit announced last September, as well as various forms of housing assistance provided by the NWT Housing Corporation, but we still have a long way to go to provide long-term care and independent housing for seniors, especially here in Yellowknife, where waiting lists are long and very slow-moving.

Mr. Speaker, a year ago, Regular MLAs demanded government fully fund the introduction of junior kindergarten across the NWT. Unfortunately, the program started without all of the money in place, but I am happy to see an additional $881,000 available for inclusive schooling for three- and four-year-olds in this budget. The next step is to revamp the funding formula for inclusive schooling so that the growing number of children who have learning challenges get the support that they need as quickly as possible.

The issue of providing busing for junior kindergarten students was also unresolved in the last fiscal year, and the issue is not mentioned in this budget. It is my understanding that there is now a territory-wide study under way of busing needs for all grades. Trustees at the Yellowknife school boards have told us that their busing programs run a substantial deficit that is unsustainable. Funding for education must include getting students to school where they live too far away to walk.

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the government for its new Child and Youth Mental Health Counsellors program. While there are some loose ends to resolve, I think we can all agree that providing new support for mental health for young people is of vital importance. I understand this new model is going to be tested in two regions starting this fall. My hope is that the program will be ready to roll out in Yellowknife sooner than the government's planned introduction date of 2021.

Finally, on the topic of children, I want to revisit the issue of how unaffordable childcare is for many families. I appreciate the increased subsidies the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment has offered to childcare operators. Even so, a family with a child in full-time childcare and one in after-school care will spend almost as much on care for them as they will on shelter. This situation often prompts caregivers, usually women, to take time out of the workforce to provide childcare. For them, it is a better investment of time vis-a-vis the amount they are paying someone else to do the job. When this happens, the government also loses the tax income the care giver is paying while at work. This is tax income we can't afford to lose. There is a better way: to subsidize childcare costs for families on an income-tested basis. There is no money in this budget for this initiative, but I am looking forward to an announcement by the Minister now that negotiations with the federal government on early childhood development are complete.

Mr. Speaker, many residents of Yellowknife Centre are employed directly or indirectly by the mineral resource sector, whether in exploration, development, or mining. They want to see a continued government focus in this area to ensure their livelihood over the long term. I applaud the government's continued investment in the Mining Incentive Program. If anything, investment in this program should be increased, since exploration is the gateway to identifying economic potential of new deposits.

At the same time, the government needs to work harder on advancing land rights negotiations and agreements. Despite some lofty talk by the Premier at the beginning of our term, progress towards signed agreements has varied from non-existent to very slow. I realize the GNWT is not the only party at the table, but we would be better served if the Premier talked about the need to advance Indigenous land rights as a red alert issue, rather than trying to revive the oil and gas sector in the Beaufort Sea. Certainty of land tenure is the foundation of economic development, whether mining, agriculture, or forestry.

Mr. Speaker, the investment that government is making in economic diversification is inadequate. While tourism, fishing, and agriculture are small contributors to the GDP of the Northwest Territories in comparison to industry and public administration, these sectors continue to grow in value and provide new employment opportunities. These ventures offer good economic multipliers of job creation and are worthy of greater support, whether that means building or expanding campgrounds or increasing the film industry rebate program, to name just two possibilities. I note that, while investment in fisheries and agriculture has increased in the last two budgets, funding for the fur program, the Great Northern Arts Festival, and the film industry has remained static for the last three years. It is time to change that.

Tourism is the fastest growing sector of our economy. The budget papers from two years ago don't include a measurement for tourism. This budget notes that over 100,000 visitors came to the NWT in the last fiscal year and spent over $200 million. Residents have seen business opportunities, creating a boom in hotel construction and increasing traffic in restaurants. I would like to see the government provide additional assistance to businesses that want to create additional activities for leisure tourists and aurora viewers to enjoy. Further, it is time for the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment to tell us the plan for providing tourism information services in Yellowknife. I commend the City of Yellowknife for helping out in a pinch, but it is time for the territorial government to step up.

Mr. Speaker, I am now going to turn my attention from the spending side of the budget to revenue generation. In his February 2016 paper on revenue options, the Finance Minister said that, in order to generate operating surpluses to build infrastructure, he has three choices; to reduce expenditures, to increase revenues, or to implement a combination of both. Let's leave aside the question of exactly what kind of infrastructure we are going to invest in and agree that we do, in fact, have an infrastructure deficit. Ottawa has pledged the better part of $600 million over the next 10 years to begin to fill that gap, but we need money of our own to access that money. The Ottawa offer is cost-shared, with the NWT contributing 25 per cent or about $150 million of that total. The operating surplus for the next fiscal year is projected to be just $23 million. We need to ensure that we have money available for these cost-shared projects when federal funding starts to flow.

Part of the Finance Minister's problem is that revenue from most sources is down. Corporate income tax was down in this fiscal year, and it will fall another $30 million in the next fiscal year. Personal income tax is also down by more than a quarter. I understand that these revenue sources are the most variable in the budget, and often for reasons that are beyond the government's control, but that does not mean we are powerless to increase revenue.

Mr. Speaker, it is worth noting a fact we are all familiar with: the NWT economy is small and fragile. If world commodity prices drop, the NWT takes a fall. The Premier has said time and again that our economy has not recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis knocked our economy off its peak; peak GDP, peak workforce size, peak employment, and peak resource revenues. The territorial government collected $119 million in corporate income tax during this peak period 10 years ago. In the next fiscal year, it is forecasting corporate income tax of just $31 million, a decline of two thirds over that high point.

What can we do to increase revenue? That is the perennial question examined in the 2016 Revenue Options Paper. Various options were examined using the criteria of how much money they would raise, the impact they would have on the economy, and the principles of a predictable, fair, and simple tax policy. The largest source of revenue for the GNWT is, of course, the grant from Canada. It is increasing by $24 million in the next fiscal year and accounts for about 70 per cent of our total revenue. The problem with the grant from Canada is that it does not encourage the GNWT to increase its own-source revenues, such as they are. If the GNWT grows its own-source revenues, the territorial formula financing goes down and, in good years, vice versa. There is not much incentive for the GNWT to increase its own-source revenues, so it has not; but it could, and that is the discussion we need to have. I am going to go even further and say that it is also time to rethink the territorial formula financing so that the promise of devolution is fulfilled in greater financial independence for the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, the Revenue Options Paper lays out several possibilities to raise more money. A tax bracket for high individual income earners would net $2 million a year. A 1 per cent increase in the payroll tax would bring in $20 million. A 1 per cent increase in corporate tax would yield $5 million. The revenue options paper dismisses all of these options because they would increase the cost of living, the cost of doing business, and/or generally make the NWT a less desirable place to live and work. There is no evidence presented to support this conclusion. It is simply a Finance Department mantra.

Mr. Speaker, let's take a closer look at corporate tax as an example. Our corporate tax rate for large businesses is 11.5 per cent, while Nunavut is at 12 per cent and Yukon at 15 per cent. The Nunavut and Yukon economies are not suffering as a result of the higher rate. In fact, both Nunavut's and Yukon's populations have increased, and so has their economic activity, particularly mining. If the NWT raised its corporate rate to 15 per cent, it would potentially raise an additional $18 million in revenues each year. This is a sum of money worth talking about. It would, at least in theory, almost double the operating surplus for the next fiscal year.

Mr. Speaker, my colleague, the MLA for Frame Lake, pointed out that the GNWT will earn more from the tobacco tax in the next fiscal year than it will from royalties on minerals, oil, and gas. I realize this is a blip, due in part to the suspended oil production in Norman Wells, but it could soon be the new normal as hydrocarbon production there continues to decline.

Mr. Speaker, a report commissioned by the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment concludes there is "a significant opportunity for the NWT to benefit more from mining." I have already mentioned some ideas in the report, such as increasing incentives for exploration, expediting land rights negotiations to create certainty about which land is available for exploration and development, and renegotiating the share of resource revenues that the GNWT can retain without losses on the grant from Canada.

I was shocked to read that the NWT take on mineral resources is among the lowest in the world because of this government's generous deductions on royalties and corporate taxes along with lax oversight on tax avoidance. In short, we could and should be benefiting more from mining in the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude this statement. Mahsi.

---Unanimous consent granted

Ms. Green's Reply
Replies to Budget Address

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mahsi, colleagues. For reasons I do not understand, the Minister of ITI says now is not the time to revisit royalties, even though he is developing a new Mineral Resources Act. Instead, he would like to delay this discussion until the mines begin to close. This situation is totally unacceptable. We need the money to help close our infrastructure gap, diversify our economy, and improve the well-being of our residents.

Mr. Speaker, you may have noticed I have not mentioned either of the forthcoming taxes on carbon and cannabis. Neither is mentioned in the budget because they are not yet in place. I believe that both of these taxes should be revenue neutral. Revenue from a carbon tax needs to be invested in shifting our territory away from its dependence on fossil fuels. NWT residents are, in fact, already paying a carbon tax on freight that enters from Alberta. I have heard only a few complaints, and this is on a tax which has no benefit to the NWT at all. Likewise, the cannabis tax should be revenue neutral. There will be considerable start-up costs related to legalizing cannabis that are absent from the budget. There will also be a need for ongoing and robust public education directed to youth about the potential harmful effects of this drug, even if it is legal.

Mr. Speaker, we face declining revenue and increased forced growth in spending. Either we continue to reduce expenditures or we raise revenue. In my view, we do not really have a choice. Government has already made more than $100 million worth of cuts, yet our operating surplus will be smaller next year than last. The Finance Minister is forecasting a rebound for the final year of our term, but I am unclear what evidence that is based on or whether he is indulging in some wishful thinking.

We know now that we have additional expenses coming our way, such as completing the collective agreement with the Union of Northern Workers, meeting the increased needs of our elderly residents, and reinventing Aurora College, to name just a few examples.

It is time, Mr. Speaker, for the Finance Minister to do what he has not done before; that is, to initiate an open-ended public conversation about revenue generation in the NWT. Instead of having the Minister tell residents that all opportunities to increase revenue will not work, he needs to engage Northerners face-to-face to find solutions to this ongoing problem. The 2016 Revenue Options paper is the logical starting point for this conversation.

Once the Minister has completed this engagement, he needs to bring the results here so we can debate them and make decisions about how we are going to generate more revenue. I challenge the Minister to begin this work now so that it is ready in time for the next budget. Mahsi.

Ms. Green's Reply
Replies to Budget Address

February 20th, 2018

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Replies to budget address, day 7 of 7. Member for Nahendeh.

Mr. Thompson's Reply
Replies to Budget Address

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today my reply to the budget will be a bit different from the one I was working on this past Thursday. Working behind the scenes has brought us closer to a final agreement on the budget. It has been a long process, from closely reviewing the business plans to finding common ground, and finally getting closer to a budget that we can agree to pass. I realize there is still some work to be done, but I feel we can reach a final agreement that meet the needs of the residents of the NWT. This being the third budget, I thinking we are getting better at listening to one another. For a $1.73 billion budget, we are only a few million dollars apart. Don't get me wrong, we still have work to do.

Even so, Mr. Speaker, this year's business plans were a bit challenging, especially when you consider we were spending more than $1.73 billion in public funds. Some departments' plans lacked details. There were sometimes inconsistencies, typographical errors, and wholesale repetition of sections from the previous years. I would like to have the departments provide more detailed descriptions of all planned activities, as identified by the Members from this side. We need to be better informed so we can make better decisions.

Mr. Speaker, the Finance Minister said the 2018-2019 budget proposes operation expenditures of $1.713 billion. As we worked through the business plans, we came up with an additional $2.9 million dollars of requests. Some were increases in funding, others were reinstatement of planned cuts, and others were new investments. I have to say, for the first time in three years, we were in the same ball park.

As the Minister said in his budget address, the projected operating surplus of $23 million is the lowest in seven years. What does this mean? It means short-term borrowing is projected to increase and that we will add to our debt. With this in mind, we need a realistic plan for how the GNWT intends to proceed with major projects within its existing borrowing capacity, and what circumstances might trigger the GNWT to seek increases to its current federally imposed borrowing limit. The scary thing is that we are still do not have a collective agreement with a number of the unions.

I am happy to see the Government of Northwest Territories is adding $37.8 million to departmental budgets that did not reflect the realities of their spending, which caused them to come back for supplementary appropriations. I would like to thank the government for a more realistic budget for these departments.

Mr. Speaker, I realize the most of the regions face hardships, and I empathize with them. In the Nahendeh riding, we have been experiencing this for a long period of time. All you need to do is visit the six communities, especially the smaller ones, to realize the hardships the residents face. Unfortunately, we do not have huge GNWT infrastructure projects such as the construction of a major highway; I would love to see the Mackenzie Valley highway start at the south end as well. I am happy to see the good news that the National Energy Board has approved the plan to repair the Norman Wells pipeline and that Enbridge has been working with the aboriginal governments on this project. However, we still see communities having to share jobs so people can survive. This is a huge disappointment.

I agree that we need to diversify our economy. I believe tourism can play an important role in our economy, especially in the Nahendeh riding. We see a number of tourists coming into our region during the summer months, but few or maybe none during the winter. In our riding, we see the investments that the government is making and hope to increase the number of visitors coming to our region. This could lead to future employment and business opportunities.

Mr. Speaker, when I see the government developing strategies, I think this is a very good first step. It's the next steps that concern me. There doesn't seem to be a lot of action that helps the ordinary resident. In my riding, I see a number of individuals trying to get into commercial agriculture, but access to land is a huge stumbling block. The Deh Cho, especially Fort Simpson, used to be a flourishing spot that provided excellent land for growing and it provided for many. I know it can do so again. Unfortunately, I have heard from a number of people who want to access land who say that the government makes it difficult that they can't afford to do it. I had one individual tell me it is cheaper to build a tank farm than a number of greenhouses. This is a concern.

Mr. Speaker, there are things to celebrate in this budget. The Department of Education, Culture and Employment has responded to the needs for inclusive schooling in the junior kindergarten program. The additional addition of $881,000 is a good start to address this issue and it is my understanding that this will continue in future budgets.

Mr. Speaker, I was very excited to see an additional $1.6 million to expand the Distance Learning Program into four more small communities. I have heard from someone in my riding. They would like to see their children continue their studies in their home community. This expansion will help.

Mr. Speaker, it is also exciting that there is $848,000 to improve diagnosis and case management services for people with autism and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and another $653,000 to expand services for young children in small communities who need speech language therapy, occupational therapy, audiology services, and enhanced services for more complex neurological disorders.

Mr. Speaker, in my past career, I had the opportunity to speak with youth from across the Territories about their challenges. Today, those challenges still have not changed. If anything, they have gotten worse. We need to understand the mental health needs of our children and youth in the Northwest Territories. This requires urgent attention. The addition of child and youth mental health counsellors is a very positive step. These much-needed positions will help our youth and their families address mental health and addiction issues, support mental wellness, and to build coping and resiliency skills. I look forward to seeing them in each school.

I am happy that, for the smallest communities, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment will continue the travelling model of mental health support that has been successfully implemented. Mr. Speaker, the Housing Corporation plans to enable residents to bundle aging-in-place initiatives with other housing programs and the plan to support fuel tank replacement are positive steps to help residents of the Northwest Territories, especially our elders.

Mr. Speaker, in looking at the Mandate Commitment 4.3.5, Reduction of the burden of chronic diseases by promoting healthy lifestyles and improving screening and management, with specific focus on increasing awareness and availability of smoking cessation aids, I hope the Department of Health and Social Services will revisit the Don't Be A Butthead campaign. I recommend this or a similar campaign target two specific demographics: one, children and youth, and two, our small communities, with the goal of reducing smoking rates in small communities to match the lower rates in Yellowknife and the regional centres. Such a campaign must also include public health and safety components addressing cannabis use.

Mr. Speaker, I recommend that the Department of Health and Social Services plan a review of supplementary health benefits sooner than it is set out in the business plan. It should include an assessment of income or means-testing. The department should provide regular updates on this file to this House. As well, the department should propose a way to introduce funding to close the current gap in services for residents who are currently excluded from coverage. This group includes non-Indigenous working poor without workplace insurance.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment has reversed all its reductions to the Social Work Diploma program and the Teacher Education Program. Now I would like to see them restore regular enrolment and program operations until all related review and strategic planning, including the foundational review and the proposed review of the social work program, are complete. I respect the process, but this will be the second year without an intake, and that is concerning.

If you look at the department's forecast for positions in demand from 2015 to 2030, you find: teachers, elementary school and kindergarten teachers, 777 positions; secondary school teachers, 577 positions; early childhood educators and assistants, 448 positions. In the social work positions: social workers, 158; and social and community service workers, 479, are high on the list. This should be telling us something. There is going to be a demand for trained people, and we need to prepare for that.

Mr. Speaker, we heard from the arts community that they would like an increase to their funding after more than 10 years without one. After learning their concerns, I would like to recommend Education, Culture and Employment add an additional $500,000 to funding for the Northwest Territories Arts Council in the 2018-2019 Main Estimates. This would double the current support. As well, I would like to see the department identify $100,000 in the 2018-2019 Main Estimates for a touring grant program that would aid Northwest Territories-based performing artists in performing opportunities outside the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, it is great to see funding being provided to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Council of Friendship Centres. However, the NWT is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not annually support the territorial Council of Friendship Centres or the Local Friendship Centres.

For example, the Rankin Inlet Friendship Centre receives a tremendous amount of support, operating a number of satellite offices in the Kivalliq Region, and providing a number of programs and services in other communities. In the Yukon, the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre receives multi-year funding to operate a number of programs and services in Whitehorse and the surrounding communities. I think we need to do the same here in the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to see the Housing Corporation develop a policy to ensure that individual communities are empowered to decide whether modular or stick-built units are used in their communities. This could be achieved through the development of the proposed community housing plan. This would be a huge step to empower the communities and improve local housing.

Mr. Speaker, I hope the government will provide additional resources for Single Window Service Centres / Government Services Officers (GSOs), so each small community has this service by the end of our term in office. By providing these positions, each community will have a one-stop shop where those most in need can more easily access help navigating government. As for the larger centres, I realize that we cannot provide this type of position for them, but hopefully the government can work together for something similar in the future.

I am happy that Education, Culture and Employment is proposing $1.4 million to establish six new career and education advisors who will engage with students and youth, helping them make informed decisions about their education and career paths. However, the problem is that the six positions will be split between Yellowknife and Inuvik, to serve the whole NWT. This idea does not make any sense if we are doing what is best for our young people. If we are really looking at what is good for the whole NWT, we need to see one position in each of the six regions. This way, the advisors will get to know the youth, staff, and communities better.

Mr. Speaker, there has been some discussion on the proposed four- or five-stream secondary school structure. According to the labour market forecast, a high school diploma will be enough to qualify for only 14 per cent of territorial jobs (3,871) by the year 2030. Roughly 77 per cent of jobs will require more than a high school diploma. It is apparent that the proposed new structure will impact future secondary students and their post-secondary options, both educational and career-based. Further, the Strengthening Teacher Instructional Practices pilot has clearly demonstrated the importance of meaningful engagement in advance of decision-making with students, parents, and teachers. I strongly recommend that the department is proactive in its communication with all members, students, parents, and teachers, and that a final draft and full communications plan be complete by the end of June.

Mr. Speaker, we have heard the Finance Minister speak about converting maturing equity leases to fee-simple title. This would help residents holding those leases be secure in renovating or building homes, starting businesses, and contributing to the economic development of the territory. Presently, this is a huge issue.

I am happy to see the Department of Lands taking action on equity lease issues across the NWT. However, I have a huge concern about the department’s approach. The budget shows a new initiative for the creation of three positions for Fort Smith to address 244 outstanding equity lease files in the NWT. To me, this is excessive to resolve 244 equity leases, particularly when staff are located in Fort Smith, where there are only six equity leases. I understand the need to train staff, but once training is complete, staff need to be redeployed to communities where equity leases are of the greatest concern. This includes Fort Providence, where there are 58 equity leases, Fort Simpson with 33, and Yellowknife with 50, including the Ingraham Trail and Detah.

The honourable Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh spoke about the land lease system. Presently, the Department of Lands charges 10 per cent of assessed value of the land. This is very expensive to consider when you are only renting a lot from the GNWT and, after 10 years, you have to start all over again. Mr. Speaker, the residents pay more than double what I pay in my tax-based community. I would like to see the department reduce the rate from 10 per cent to 3 per cent.

Mr. Speaker, this year we are seeing a second year of cuts to funding for multisport games. This is totally unacceptable. Last year, the government cut $150,000, and this year they are proposing to cut an additional $250,000. I can bet that another $250,000 will be removed in next year’s budget. It is very disappointing, especially for me. In my opinion, these games belong to the government and need to be funded from within the department’s budget. To see this happen as part of the GNWT’s fiscal strategy is very sad, to say the least.

Mr. Speaker, I am trying to address issues with the Small Community Employment Program. I understand what the Department of Education, Culture and Employment wishes to do with the program, but, in the small communities of Nahendeh, we need employment opportunities. People want to work, and, unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of work out there. As one contractor says, it is getting bad when we see more vehicles getting repossessed than we see vehicles roadside assistance happening. I hope the department will earmark a good portion of the Small Community Employment funding for job creation.

On a similar note, I cannot forget about my summer students with jobs with the Government of the Northwest Territories. They are very important in my region and in the whole territory. I would like to see a concrete plan for hiring summer students and to see a budget for it.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I have to say that we still have some challenges facing us. We only have a couple of more years left in our term, and, like I heard on TV the other day, "let’s do it right." Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Thompson's Reply
Replies to Budget Address

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Replies to the budget address, day 7 of 7. Item 13, petitions. Item 14, reports of committees on the review of bills. Item 15, tabling of documents. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Tabled Document 86-18(3): GNWT Programs And Services For Persons With Disabilities Inventory
Tabling of Documents

Glen Abernethy Great Slave

Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the following three documents entitled "Equity, Accessibility, Inclusion and Participation - NWT Disability Strategic Framework: 2017 to 2027"; "Disability Matters - A Companion to the NWT Disability Strategic Framework: 2017 to 2027"; and "GNWT Programs and Services for Persons with Disabilities Inventory." Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Tabled Document 86-18(3): GNWT Programs And Services For Persons With Disabilities Inventory
Tabling of Documents

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Tabling of documents.

Tabled Document 88-18(3): Summary Of Members' Absences For The Period October 17, 2017 To February 6, 2018
Tabling of Documents

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

I hereby table the "2016-2017 Annual Report of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories"; and, pursuant to section 5 of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, I wish to table the "Summary of Members' Absences for the period October 17, 2017 to February 6, 2018."

Tabling of documents. Item 16, notices of motion. Item 17, notices of motion for first reading of bills. Item 18, motions. Item 19, first reading of bills. Item 20, second reading of bills. Item 21, consideration in Committee of the Whole of bills and other matters: Minister's Statement 1-18(3), North Slave Correctional Complex Inmate Concerns; Minister's Statement 19-18(3), Aurora College Foundational Review Process; Tabled Document 63-18(3), Main Estimates 2018-2019, with the Member for Hay River North in the chair.

Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and Other Matters
Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and Other Matters

The Chair R.J. Simpson

I will now call Committee of the Whole back to order. I want to thank our visitors in the gallery for sticking with us. It has been quite a day. What is the wish of committee? Mr. Beaulieu.

Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and Other Matters
Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and Other Matters

Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, committee would like to consider Tabled Document 63-18(3), Main Estimates 2018-2019, continuing the Department of Education, Culture and Employment followed by continuing the Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, time permitting. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and Other Matters
Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and Other Matters

The Chair R.J. Simpson

Thank you, Mr. Beaulieu. Does committee agree?

Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and Other Matters
Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and Other Matters

Some Hon. Members