This is page numbers 4243 - 4266 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 community.

Topics

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 10:03 p.m.

Prayer
Prayer

Page 4243

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Good morning, Members. Item 2, Ministers' Statements. Minister of Finance.

Minister's Statement 94-18(3): Fiscal and Economic Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 4243

Robert C. McLeod Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to update Members on our fiscal and economic situation and some of our ongoing challenges.

When I presented the 2018-2019 budget in February, I noted the progress we had made towards our fiscal strategy but also described our revenue challenges, with total revenue for 2018-2019 expected to be about $120 million less than 2016-2017 revenues. This decline in revenue over a two-year period has presented an enormous challenge for our government. We have met that challenge through careful management of expenditure growth, while still advancing actions described in the mandate of the 18th Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, we are now at about the mid-point of the fiscal year, and I can report that we continue to be on track, with signs of very modest improvements in our fiscal environment in the future.

For 2018-2019, federal infrastructure contributions are responsible for slightly higher revenues than expected at the time of the 2018-2019 main estimates. As the planned infrastructure contributions grow over the next few years, our revenues will also grow. Additionally, we are seeing indicators of improved stability in our own-source revenues over the next few years and modest increases in our Territorial Formula Financing Grant from Canada.

Mr. Speaker, as Members know, we need to balance revenue growth with expenditure growth unless we plan to continually take on more debt. We are all aware of our expenditure pressures, including the impacts of the aging population, the need for strategic investments in education and wellness, the importance of strategic infrastructure and other investments to support our economy, and the importance of reaching a fair collective agreement with our employees.

This Legislative Assembly and future Legislative Assemblies will need to continue to carefully manage our financial resources to ensure our overall sustainability to help create a future where our people can thrive and be healthy, where a well-managed environment contributes to our economic well-being and quality of life, and where a strong economy provides jobs and opportunities for our communities as well as funding for community governments.

Mr. Speaker, the NWT economy continues to show mixed results. Indicators like retail and wholesale trade, labour income, and diamond production all show strong growth on a year-to-date basis compared to the same period in 2017. Information on resident employment, income support cases, and the overall territorial population show deterioration compared with the same period in 2017.

The medium-term forecast for our economy needs to reflect the reality that the NWT economy continues to be built on the foundation of resource development and will continue to be into the future. We need to face the reality that our diamond mines are maturing, and we cannot take our economic foundation for granted. We need to continue to make strategic investments in our infrastructure and continue to build our base through diversifying our economy. The Northern Prosperity Economic Symposium that was held in early October and included leaders from the GNWT and Indigenous governments reinforced the importance of finding concrete ways to work together to support a prosperous and strong territory.

Mr. Speaker, during this sitting, we will be considering the Capital Estimates 2019-2020. As part of this plan, we are proposing $118 million for highways, $93 million for social infrastructure, $42 million for energy projects, $29 million for community governments, and $62 million in other projects in support of program delivery. This investment creates important economic activity and jobs throughout the Northwest Territories.

The Northwest Territories and our government are facing significant economic challenges, but I hope that I can provide to this House and to the residents of our territory some assurance that this government will always remain mindful of our long-term financial objectives and the future well-being of the people we were elected to serve. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 94-18(3): Fiscal and Economic Update
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for NWT Housing Corporation.

Minister's Statement 95-18(3): Housing Actions in the Tlicho Region
Ministers' Statements

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Alfred Moses Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation has been working collaboratively with the Tlicho Government to address critical housing issues in the Tlicho region. In order to meet this government's commitments to address the cost of living, the Housing Corporation is continuing to implement northern solutions for northern housing. A crucial element of this approach is working in partnership with other orders of government, such as the Tlicho, to address affordable housing challenges.

Mr. Speaker, the Tlicho Government and the Government of the Northwest Territories formed a working group involving leadership from all Tlicho communities, as well as senior management from the Housing Corporation. The group has met a number of times over the past year, leading to improved planning and an acceleration of housing activities.

The group has identified and prioritized areas that would benefit from an increased focus including: repairs and maintenance, analyzing the existing housing stock, finding solutions to homelessness, avoiding evictions, building capacity, and improved communications with residents of the Tlicho region.

I am encouraged by the recent work that has been undertaken by the Tlicho Government and the Government of the Northwest Territories Housing Working Group. I look forward to the reporting on the actions that they will take in these areas.

I want to promote the work that is already being done by the Housing Corporation to address many of these issues. One of these actions is the introduction of a housing stability worker in Behchoko. This person will work towards supporting residents in developing strategies to keep their housing. Sometimes, the obligations related to housing can be lost in the demand of other pressing issues such as addictions, child care, family violence, poor health, and other social issues. The housing stability worker will work with vulnerable tenants by connecting them to vital community programs and services. This support approach will hopefully lead to more stable tenancies. This program is up and running in Behchoko right now with an office set up in the Tlicho's Ko Go Cho Complex.

Mr. Speaker, I want to also let this House know the Northern Pathways to Housing program is expected to be completed in Behchoko in the near future. This project is designed to help address homelessness. Once finished, it will house four single adults who would have otherwise been experiencing homelessness. This project has already shown to be successful so far in Fort Simpson, where four previously homeless individuals have been stably housed for nearly half a year. Mr. Speaker, this project is truly an example of a northern solution for northern housing. At the inception of its design, there were no projects like it anywhere in this country.

Mr. Speaker, the Northern Pathways program is intended to house people first and then to improve their housing sustainability by addressing the issues that contributed to their homelessness. This approach is indicative of how our government is looking for ways to deliver services in a more integrated manner.

In support of our elders remaining in their home communities, the Housing Corporation recently constructed a seniors' aging-in-place nine-plex in Whati. This facility was toured by federal deputy Ministers just the other day and showcases the innovative approaches that the Northwest Territories is taking to address our issues. I am hopeful that this important infrastructure will result in more seniors staying in Whati and continuing to pass on their wisdom to our future generations.

Lastly, the Housing Corporation has begun preliminary discussions with the Tlicho towards the development of four community housing plans for their region. Each individual community plan will feed into a larger regional plan. These housing plans will be developed by the community for their community. The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation will look to hire a local facilitator to gather local feedback and to help plan for a community housing forum. At the end of the process, communities will have a detailed, comprehensive community profile, a needs analysis, and a housing plan.

These plans will be invaluable going forward for all housing stakeholders. They could be utilized for planning for new infrastructure, partnership proposals for any level of government, supporting private market proponents in their projects, housing design, and numerous other housing planning purposes.

The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation has presented this concept to the Tlicho Government and the Government of the Northwest Territories Working Group and will be working with Tlicho representatives towards the development of these plans over the next year. My understanding is that at least one community housing plan will be initiated in the Tlicho Region in the coming weeks, upon formal approval of the community's leadership.

Mr. Speaker, we all know that there are considerable housing challenges in our small communities. We all know that there are considerable housing challenges in Whati, Behchoko, Wekweeti, and Gameti. Tackling these issues head on together is what's required. I know that the Tlicho leadership appreciates the efforts of the Tlicho Government and the Government of the Northwest Territories Housing Working Group. Joining forces with the Tlicho Government will provide more leverage to our efforts. I look forward to improved housing outcomes as we work together towards shared housing aspirations for our people.

Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 95-18(3): Housing Actions in the Tlicho Region
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Minister of Infrastructure.

Minister's Statement 96-18(3): Summer Highway Construction Update
Ministers' Statements

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Wally Schumann Hay River South

Mr. Speaker, our government is following through on its commitment to invest in transportation infrastructure by strengthening connections with our federal partners.

Improving our existing highway system helps to keep communities connected while improving safety for all road users. This also provides jobs and fosters skills and capacity development for all Northerners. Today, I am pleased to provide an update on many highway improvements that were undertaken this year.

Mr. Speaker, we have improved more than 200 kilometres of highway this summer, including three community access roads and three bridges at a cost of $46.4 million. This work was funded by the Government of the Northwest Territories and the federal government under the Government of Canada's New Building Canada Plan.

On Highway No. 1, work got underway to improve the embankment and drainage from kilometres 207 to 222. Pit development, material production, and culvert installations were undertaken, and work has progressed to a point where improvements to this section can be completed next year. Improvements along Highway No. 1 also included the complete resurfacing of the Fort Simpson and Kakisa access roads.

Rehabilitation completed from kilometres 256 to 332 of Highway No. 3 this summer have resulted in an improved road surface. Road widening, structural strengthening, drainage improvements, resurfacing, and chipseal all took place on this section of roadway between Behchoko and Yellowknife. Rehabilitation work on the approaches to the Deh Cho Bridge, including reconstruction of the approach shoulders, soil nailing, and asphalt surface repairs, were completed earlier this fall and have further strengthened connections along this route.

Along the Ingraham Trail, roadway widening, structural strengthening, drainage improvements, resurfacing, and the application of chipseal took place between kilometres 49 and 51, and this work is substantially completed. Progress was also made on further planning and surveys intended to support the design of additional guardrail installation along this highway.

Mr. Speaker, rehabilitation of Highway No. 6 from kilometres 28 to 42 was completed this summer. This highway is now completely chipsealed, providing improved comfort and safety to travellers and residents of Fort Resolution. Highway No. 7 also saw surface improvements between kilometres 137.5 and 153 to help mitigate impacts on the highway's water-susceptible soil.

Mr. Speaker, our northernmost highways also received improvements this summer, with brushing and gravel surfacing taking place along the Dempster Highway and the start of reconstruction work on the Inuvik Airport Access Road. The Inuvik Airport Access Road Project is now 35 per cent complete.

The final completion inspection for the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway is scheduled for the end of October, and all signs, guardrails, and delineators will have been installed at that time. The operation of this highway was a success this past year, with many tourists visiting the area.

Mr. Speaker, bridges are an essential part of our highway system. It is important to ensure our bridges are maintained and rehabilitated appropriately, which is why our government has a number of bridge projects on the go. This summer, we completed the rehabilitation of the Buffalo River Bridge on Highway No. 5, which allows the bridge to handle modern highway loads and ensures an extended service life.

Work also began this month on the replacement of the Hay River to Pine Point Bridge on Highway No. 5. The project involves replacing the bridge superstructure, and construction is expected to be completed by the fall of 2019. Once completed, the bridge will be an open-deck bridge to better meet the current and projected traffic loads. During rehabilitation, traffic will be diverted to the nearby CN Rail bridge.

Mr. Speaker, in addition to improving our existing highway system, we are also committed to expanding our system. I am pleased to say that the Canyon Creek Access Road near Norman Wells is scheduled to officially open this November. Construction of this road has provided a significant boost to the Sahtu Region.

To date, 84 people have been employed through the Canyon Creek All-Season Access Road project, 28 of which were local Sahtu residents and 36 of which were Northerners from other parts of the territory. Eight of these individuals are now qualified heavy-equipment operators. These training and employment opportunities have allowed residents of the Sahtu to gain valuable skills that will be useful for future projects and opportunities. With this new road, residents will benefit from improved access to traditional hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities. The new road could open up potential resource development south of Norman Wells.

Looking ahead, our government is preparing for another active highway construction season, with reconstruction work scheduled for sections of Highways Nos. 1, 3, 4, 7, and 8. This work will be funded under the Government of the Northwest Territories' third bundle of highway capacity improvement projects approved under the New Building Canada Plan and will extend the work done under the previous bundles to support safe travelling, community access roads, and resource development.

Mr. Speaker, our highway system is an essential part of our transportation network. It connects communities and unlocks our economic potential by enabling exploration and development. We will continue to work with the federal government to secure further funding for our short- and long-term infrastructure needs. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 96-18(3): Summer Highway Construction Update
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

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

Aurora College Foundational Review
Members' Statements

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R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in February 2017, I stood up in this House and asked the Minister of Education to undertake a foundational review of Aurora College. I asked because I believed the college was both underperforming and underutilized. Education is the cornerstone of every prosperous society. With a presence in 24 communities, Aurora College is key to achieving true and lasting prosperity across the NWT.

However, as they say, be careful what you ask for because you just might get it. The foundational review has been completed, and, while the report echoed many of the concerns I have heard, it is more of a proposal than an evaluation. The report essentially has one overarching recommendation, which is to have the government transform the college into a university based in Yellowknife.

Because of time constraints, I will list only a few of the reasons why I reject this recommendation.

The first is simple: we must stand guard against the onslaught of centralization of services in the capital, which come at the expense of other communities. I refuse to allow this Assembly to pull the plug on Fort Smith.

The second is that it is irresponsible to embark down a path of spending an unknown but undoubtedly immense amount of our limited funds on university when we have a graduation rate of 67 per cent in the NWT, which is actually closer to 40 per cent in the communities, and when many of the graduates require upgrading before they can even consider post-secondary.

After high school, there is no shortage of universities to attend, but, before graduation, our students usually only have one choice of school, and those are the schools that we need to invest in if we want to effect lasting change for our residents.

Another reason is that, although Aurora College is an arm's-length institution, attached to that arm is the hand of the GNWT wrapped firmly around the neck of the college. The Department of ECE bears much of the responsibility for the state of the college, and for this Assembly to sign a blank cheque authorizing ECE to go ahead and build a university would be to neglect our core oversight function.

However, Mr. Speaker, with all that being said, I am not opposed to the eventual growth of Aurora College into a polytechnic university, but that isn't something we should rush into based on a consultant's report.

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Aurora College Foundational Review
Members' Statements

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R.J. Simpson Hay River North

First, we must fix the issues at Aurora College so that they can provide the educational services that our residents need and deserve. At the same time, we can begin to lay a solid foundation so that the college can develop and grow, premised on successful program delivery, and based, not on the opinion of a southern consultant, but on the collective vision of our people. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Aurora College Foundational Review
Members' Statements

Page 4247

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Members' statements. Member for Nahendeh.

Recreation North
Members' Statements

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Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, on September 25th, Recreation North provided a news release that spoke about what they had done and are planning to do. The Recreation North 2015 Arctic Inspiration Prize Laureate is a tri-territorial partnership of the Recreation and Parks Association of Yukon, the NWT Recreation and Parks Association, and Recreation and Parks Association of Nunavut. It was established to provide training to strengthen the capacity of recreation leaders in northern, rural, and remote communities. I believe the training is a great supplement to what the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs is presently doing.

Mr. Speaker, after developing and piloting training for northern recreation leaders, Recreation North announced its future plans. The Recreation North Training Program launching in November 2018 will be a series of remotely delivered learning events. Evaluation of the pilot demonstrated the value of training to the participants and employees. I would like to share a couple of comments from the first participants.

"I appreciate learning from the others. A lot of brilliant ideas and creativity was shared. Most of our experience was very similar, even though we came from three different territories."

"Staff has gained confidence and was able to do the programming. The person was able to apply what they learned instantly, and I was able to see him doing it on a regular basis."

Moving forward, Recreation North is making a few changes to the training program by offering flexible learning opportunities. The program is flexible and works around people's work schedules in online blocks. This is really good. Students can work around busy schedules and complete certification at a reasonable pace, in a reasonable way.

Mr. Speaker, the training comprises a series of learning events delivered remotely by distance. In-person learning is offered through each territorial recreation and parks association. Each learning event takes about five hours to complete. Individuals may take one or several learning events, for personal interest or professional development, or choose 12 learning events for certification in northern recreation leadership. The flexibility in how the program is now laid out will allow individuals to begin at any point throughout the year.

I would like to thank Recreation North for all their work and look forward to seeing future success stories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Recreation North
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Northwest Territories Economic Symposium
Members' Statements

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Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci Monsieur le President. Back in February, the Premier made a statement about the Arctic Policy Framework that included a reference to a northern summit on economic development. When I questioned the Premier on this initiative on March 1st, he said the "purpose of the summit is to seek input into the writing of the NWT chapter of the Arctic Policy Framework" and that it would likely be held within the next couple of months. The Premier further stated that we would be "paying for experts in different economic sectors to participate." The Premier said, "We are realizing that to diversify our economy is not as easy as it looks or sounds.

We need input from every sector or every possible source so that we can come up with a plan that will work. Just relying on our traditional sources to come up with a vision and a new economic diversification is not as easy as it sounds. We want to be as inclusive as possible."

When asked if Regular MLAs would be allowed to participate, the Premier said, "We would be pleased to discuss it with committees certainly," but that "our experience has been that sometimes it affects the input from people who are there, but, certainly, I have no problem with it. We should at least have a discussion on it."

The first notice that Regular MLAs received of this event that was held October 1st to 3rd came via the weekly media advisory on Ministerial activities on September 24th. The same day, I asked the Premier for an agenda and a participant list. That was finally provided three days later, after I raised the request a second time. Sorry, I can't share the agenda or participant list because, believe it or not, the guest list for this consultation is confidential. I can confirm that the focus appears to have been largely related to non-renewable resource development. Happily, the communique issued on October 4th from the symposium seems to take a more balanced approach but was again made without any input from this side of the House.

I will have questions for the Premier about the NWT Economic Symposium and what happened with the commitments he made in this House to make this event inclusive, balanced, and collaborative. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Northwest Territories Economic Symposium
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife Centre.