This Hansard has not been finalized - this is the "Blues" in Parliamentary speak, or unedited transcript in regular speak.

This Hansard is the unedited transcript and will be replaced by the final copy soon (generally within 5 business days). In the meantime, direct quotes should not be used, when the final is published it will seamlessly replace this unedited copy and any existing links should still work.

This is from 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 going.

Topics

The Budget Process
Mr. O'Reilly's Reply
Replies to Budget Address

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

This year was a bit of an anomaly with regard to the timing of the review of the departmental budgets or business plans. Rather than the usual September schedule, the review was pushed back into November and early December. I attended all of those meetings, even though I was not a Regular Member of two of the standing committees. The time for this review was much compressed, but it was accomplished with the able assistance of our staff. I know that it is often difficult to accommodate everyone’s schedule, but we need to build in more time for ensuring we have responses from Ministers on outstanding issues and questions from the reviews, and Minister needs to respond in a more timely manner. I am pleased to say that Regular MLAs worked together well and put together a coherent set of recommendations to improve the 2018-2019 Budget, and indeed all future budgets.

The compressed timeframe and shifting of the business plan review later than normal has left little time for any kind of negotiations, not that much is happening. Once again, Cabinet has resorted to an exchange of correspondence rather than a real effort to resolve outstanding issues. Regular MLAs have put forward a small set of changes that consist of rolling back some of the most damaging cuts and very modest improvements and efforts to diversify the economy. The financial “asks” amount to less than 2 per cent of the overall budget. As I said last year, we are once again in a game of “chicken” to see who will blink first. This is not my idea of consensus government, and I believe it's a disservice to our residents.

Of course, most of this could have been avoided had Cabinet bothered to initiate an early consultation with Regular MLAs on the 2018-2019 budget, asking Regular MLAs what we would like to see included. There has never been any real effort to reach any agreement or consensus on what the overall fiscal context or direction should be. Cabinet remains firmly entrenched in its expenditure and debt management approach rather than a more balanced approach that would examine revenue options. Next year, Regular MLAs should work together and send our budget considerations, including specific requests for investment and new revenue options, to Cabinet in time for incorporation into the 2019-2020 budget.

I would like to talk about some of the good things in the budget, Mr. Speaker.

There are some good things. It would be unfair not to recognize the work by our colleagues on the other side. There is some forced growth spending for some programs such as income assistance and other areas, and that is a good investment. Here is a list of some of my favourite new investments in this budget:

• $1.3 million to implement the new Agriculture Strategy,

but it is also divided across several departments with no clear accountability;

• $1.2 million to support Indigenous and community government action on climate change,to establish candidate protected areas, and to develop monitoring and management options with respect to the Bathurst caribou herd, but it is really funded by internal cuts made within ENR;

• $2.1 million to fund junior kindergarten in all Northwest Territories communities. However, there is no commitment to actually change the formulas for funding schools to include junior kindergarten students;

• $1.5 million to increase mental health and wellness resources for children, youth, and their families through child and youth care counsellors, but partially funded by cutting $475,000 from the budget for the Tlicho and Dehcho education authorities and from other authorities as this rolls out over four years. As we were briefed today, I think this is a good initiative with lots of details to be worked out;

• $848,000 to improve the diagnosis and case management services for people with autism spectrum disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder;

• $762,000 to fund a sobering centre in Yellowknife;

• $653,000 to increase services for children with developmental delays and disorders, those requiring speech and so on;

• $304,000 to establish a two-person RCMP historical case unit;

• $300,000 for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation for rent supplements;

• $493,000 for six years to convert equity leases to fee-simple title, but those jobs are going to be located in Fort Smith rather than the communities where the work needs to be done;

• Then some special funding for the Northwest Territories/Nunavut Council of Friendship Centres, but we need a policy framework for transparent and accountable decisions around these one-time funding allocations.

Now on to the bad of the budget, in my view. I have to highlight these because they have not actually been brought out by the other side of the House. To start with, here are some items that should have been in the budget, in my view:

An increased investment in renewable or alternative energy, especially at a time when the Arctic Energy Alliance has already run out of funding for its very successful Energy Efficiency Incentive Program rebates. What are we waiting for, for federal dollars to rain from heaven? There are no costed proposals to get our communities off diesel. Cabinet needs to pitch more than just roads to resources to the federal government as infrastructure projects. We need proposals submitted to bring all of our housing out of core need and to build energy and householder energy self-sufficiency, not huge hydro projects without a buyer.

There has been almost nothing shared with Regular MLAs on a carbon tax, and I spoke about that earlier today, Mr. Speaker. There is no money identified in the budget for this work although we have to make a decision by March 30th as I mentioned earlier today.

There is no increased investment in the arts in this budget. Last year, Cabinet more than doubled the Mining Incentive Program, to $1 million in a blink of an eye, but cannot seem to get behind increasing investment in the arts to diversify our economy. Other investment to diversify our economy should have been included for the booming tourism industry, especially here in Yellowknife where we do not have a proper visitor information centre. I would urge all in this House to go over and drop by the visitors’ centre so that you can see what it looks like.

More positions will be lost through the discontinuation of programs and services and elimination of staff. This will continue to have a profound negative impact, particularly in small communities, where every job is important. I would also add that continuing to cut positions while we are in negotiations is a clear sign that Cabinet would rather cut people than find new resources and revenues. That is not the kind of message I think we should be sending to our valued public service.

There seems to be some funding to assist with junior kindergarten implementation in relation to inclusive schooling. Even though the Minister promised so-called “full funding,” the school funding formulas have not been changed to include JK students and the issue of busing remains outstanding.

I believe that the Minister should have been much more transparent and more accountable in presenting the cuts that are contained in this budget, and some of them are actually categorized as “Other Financial Management Board Adjustments.” Some of the cuts are also a continuation from the first two budgets, so the damage is spread out over a longer period of time. If the Minister will not disclose these cuts, sorry, I am going to have to start here, in this House, today.

ENR will see reductions of over $3 million, more than any other department except for Infrastructure. This department achieved very little in the last year in terms of its legislation, policy development, and communications, largely because of the cuts to its capacity. A further $371,000 cut in this capacity is contained in the new budget, and, if that was not bad enough, the department has been directed to cut a further $1 million over the next two years to come up with a promised savings in firefighting aircraft maintenance that did not materialize. Here is a clear case where Cabinet’s fiscal strategy is making it nearly impossible for ENR to achieve what is in the mandate.

ENR plans to cut $150,000 in boreal caribou monitoring, even though this species has now been classified as threatened and a recently developed recovery strategy calls for increased monitoring.

ECE continues to show a $200,000 reduction to the district education authorities for school administration. Earlier today, I mentioned the reduction in funding for the Tlicho and Dehcho regions for youth mental health counselling. I do think that those are important initiatives with lots of details still to be worked out.

In the Executive and Indigenous Affairs budget, there is new funding of $387,000 for a deputy secretary of federal engagement to be located in Ottawa. Almost no rationale has been provided publicly. I had expected that this might be used to help secure infrastructure funding, but now it appears to be little more than an effort to further the messaging associated with the Premier's Red Alert. I cannot support the establishment of a Red Alert office in Ottawa.

There is still no plan to roll out government service officers in all communities, including the regional centres and Yellowknife. Regular MLAs have asked for such a plan for the last two years without success. There might even be efficiencies in Yellowknife by working with the federal Service Canada office. It is not good enough for Cabinet to say that additions will be made when there is money. If it was up to me, I would replace the Red Alert office with GSOs, a much better investment of such public funds

The Department of Finance continues to show new funding for $400,000 for labour relations capacity for marine transportation services which should be removed and allocated to the revolving fund established for that enterprise. This is not the first time that Cabinet has tried to put such MTS-related expenditures into departmental appropriations rather than the revolving fund.

ITI intends to cut a further $925,000 to the Business Development and Investment Corporation that supports economic diversification. It is not clear what ITI’s plans are for this organization beyond using these external cuts to meet its fiscal reduction targets.

Justice intends to eliminate its court reporter program of $478,000, but this is not discussed in any detail in the business plan. There has been no visible progress on the public resource centre that was supposed to replace the court library, and we remain the only jurisdiction in Canada without a court library.

Lands continues to defer its investment in the Western Arctic Centre for Geomatics at $570,000, which should be spent now to build on the promises of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Optic line and help build a regional knowledge economy.

MACA continues with its cuts in support for multi-sport games funding with a further $250,000 reduction. Bringing the lottery fund in-house should not serve as an excuse to cut departmental appropriations that support sports.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I have offered some thoughts on how to improve the budget process, including early and meaningful consultation with Regular MLAs and the public, ensuring a more balanced approach that includes more revenues, and recommended a focus on diversifying our economy in line with new federal funding opportunities.

Cabinet’s dream of oil and gas development has faded, and we need to shift our focus to a more balanced approach, away from an externally controlled, export-driven economy. Cabinet will say that their support for economic diversification through tourism, arts, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and the like remains strong. I don’t see that support translating into increased budget allocations. Cabinet’s fiscal and economic strategy is to build a cash surplus to provide further subsidies for more non-renewable resource development in the form of public infrastructure. With a new government in Ottawa, the new priorities for infrastructure are a cleaner economy, a more inclusive society, a low-carbon economy, and transformative change.

Cabinet is still locked into the roads-to-resources paradigm when we should be developing plans and strategies for adequate housing and universal childcare so our residents can engage in the economy. We need to get our housing out of core need while creating local jobs; provide stronger support for the arts, tourism, agriculture, and the fishing industry; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; lower the cost of living; and develop a real post-secondary education system with a university of the NWT. These sectors also create more local jobs than non-renewable resource development per dollar of investment. This is the kind of leadership I still hope for in our budgets.

Regular MLAs have again attempted to get more strategic investments that benefit the greatest number of our residents, help diversify our economy, and create lasting benefits, or avoid future costs. It is most unfortunate that we have come to this point where there are again fundamental disagreements.

There are some exciting initiatives in this budget. I sincerely thank my Cabinet colleagues and their staff, and my committee colleagues for much hard work in getting us to this point. On balance, I will find it very difficult to support the 2018-2019 budget given the continued focus of Cabinet on cutting programs and services to fund infrastructure without any serious effort to increase revenues. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. O'Reilly's Reply
Replies to Budget Address

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Replies to budget address, day 3 of 7. Item 12, petitions. Item 13, reports of standing and special committees. Item 14, reports of committees on the review of bills. Item 15, tabling of documents. Minister of Finance.

Tabled Document 70-18(3): Government Of Northwest Territories Response To Committee Report 2-18(3): Report On The Review Of The 2015-2016 Public Economy
Tabling of Documents

Robert C. McLeod Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the following document entitled "Government of Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 2-18(3): Report on the Review of the 2015-2016 Public Economy." Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Tabled Document 70-18(3): Government Of Northwest Territories Response To Committee Report 2-18(3): Report On The Review Of The 2015-2016 Public Economy
Tabling of Documents

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Tabling of documents. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

Tabled Document 71-18(3): Mineral Resources Act: What We Heard Report
Tabling of Documents

Wally Schumann Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the following document entitled "Memo Resource Act: What We Heard Report." Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Tabled Document 71-18(3): Mineral Resources Act: What We Heard Report
Tabling of Documents

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. 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); Minister's Statement 19-18(3); Tabled Document 63-18(3). By the authority given to me as Speaker by Motion 7-18(3), I hereby authorize the House to sit beyond the daily hour of adjournment to consider business before the House, with 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

February 12th, 2018

The Chair R.J. Simpson

I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. 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, starting with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, followed by the Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs. 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

Agreed.

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, committee. We will consider the document after a brief recess.

---SHORT RECESS

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. Committee, we have agreed to consider Tabled Document 63‑18(3), Main Estimates 2018‑2019. This is essentially our budget document, and for those following along at home, this document can be found at the Department of Finance's website under "Budget."

We have agreed to begin with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, which begins at page 25 of the main estimates. I will ask the Minister if he would like to provide any opening comments. Minister Moses?

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

Alfred Moses Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and yes, I do.

Mr. Chair, Members, I am pleased to present the 2018‑2019 Main Estimates for the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. Overall, the department's estimates proposed an increase of $12.462 million or 4 per cent over the 2017‑2018 Main Estimates. Improving education outcomes and student success requires ongoing support from early childhood to post‑secondary education and training, and our 2018‑2019 Main Estimates reflect this approach.

The highlights of our main estimates include:

• $2.7 million from the federal Early Learning and Childcare Agreement that will be used to increase the accessibility and participation in quality early childhood development programs, services, and supports;

• $2.1 million to offset the costs associated with the territorial implementation of junior kindergarten. As well, due to lower enrolments, we will direct an additional $881,000 towards providing inclusive schooling funding for junior kindergarten students;

• $1.6 million to expand the Distance Learning Program in four additional small communities. This is the first year of a three‑year rollout aimed at bringing this much‑needed programming to all 20 small communities;

• $1.4 million to establish six new career and education advisors, who will engage with students and youth to help them make informed decisions about their education and career paths;

• $1.7 million to address the increased demand on the income assistance program;

• $478,000 to adjust program inequities in our income assistance and student financial assistance programs; and

• $4.6 million in funding from Canadian Heritage to revitalize, preserve, and enhance official Indigenous languages and to provide services and communications in French.

These increases will be offset by sunsetting programs such as the $1.25 million Labour Market Development Agreement which expires March 31, 2018, and our final year of reductions totalling $763,000.

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment continues to work to meet the priorities of the 18th Legislative Assembly. Among many of its planned activities, I would like to highlight some key initiatives that will be undertaken in 2018‑2019:

• The introduction of a renewed policy on junior kindergarten to grade 12 Indigenous languages and education that will help clarify the role schools have in the revitalization of Indigenous languages and indigenizing education in schools;

• The department will work in collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Services to roll out a new school and community child and youth care counselling program. We will utilize existing and new resources to establish full‑time youth mental health counsellors, with positions in the Deh Cho and Tlicho regions. For the smallest communities, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment will continue with the travelling model of mental health support that has already been successfully piloted;

• Informed by the findings of the foundational review, Aurora College will complete a strategic plan that will help meet the needs of our labour market demands. The department is embarking on a new and exciting path towards expanded opportunities for post‑secondary education in the Northwest Territories and is developing legislation for the creation of an overarching legislative framework to govern post‑secondary education in the Northwest Territories. This work is a critical step toward increasing post‑secondary opportunities for NWT residents;

• We will implement the Small Community Employment Strategy, focused on increasing and maximizing training and employment opportunities for residents and improving employment outcomes in small communities;

• The department will be implementing changes to its social assistance programs that will help to reduce the costs of living, support seniors to age in place, and reduce poverty by increasing the income of low- and modest‑income residents. This will include change to our Senior Home Heating Subsidy and will expand the program to include seniors who have heating expenses in rental units and remove the phase-out percentages for income thresholds;

• Completion of a new four‑year Government of the Northwest Territories Culture and Heritage Action Plan that will highlight and outline culturally‑appropriate programming through the Government of the Northwest Territories.

These are a few of the highlights for the 2018‑2019 fiscal year. I look forward to working with Members to advance our priorities and the mandate actions related to the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening remarks, and I welcome any questions from the Members. Thank you, Mr. 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

Thank you, Minister Moses. Do you have witnesses you wish to bring into the Chamber?

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

Alfred Moses Inuvik Boot Lake

Yes.