This is page numbers 4103 - 4182 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 going.

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Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. The Member for Yellowknife North.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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Cory Vanthuyne Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yes, the only thing that I will add, really, is that, when we come into this House, there is a lot of expectation that all Members in this House will have some answers, and it's projects like these that we have a history of the public raising a lot of questions and we do not seem to have the answers.

The Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment has had discussions at length amongst ourselves with regard to project oversight and to what degree would we be impactful in putting some limited resources toward trying to provide various degrees of oversight so that maybe we could validate some of what the government does when it's related to these projects and thereby provide significant answers to the public at large. We are troubled to do that. We are not technical professionals by any means, and, when we reach out to research and our staff, they do not have that capacity, either. So, using a third party who can put fresh eyes and ears on a project of this nature and provide us with lessons learned, that will be valuable not only to this government on working on projects going forward but also to answer some very serious questions that the public has had over the many years, so I will support the motion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. The Member for Hay River North.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As we all know, the committee was supposed to have a public briefing on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, and I was hoping that would happen before this motion so we would have a better sense of whether or not the timing is right to make this motion. I see in here it calls for the audit to be completed as soon as practicable, and I know that, the Auditor General's office, you are not going to meet a smarter group of people, and so I think that, if we make this recommendation, they will know the right timing.

Regardless, I think, if this motion fails, I have a feeling that the Auditor General will look at this project anyway because it is such a massive and such an important project. I think it's prudent, considering our future plans. We can learn the best practices, what went right, what went wrong. It will also help address a lot of the questions I have been asked by my constituents about the road.

You know, I know that it's been heavily audited. The feds put a lot of money into this, and they have been paying attention to what has been going on, but that information is not public, so I think that that is something we need, as well. Being part of the Government Operations Committee, I see the value that the Office of the Auditor General brings to the territory when it reviews things like this. Like I said, they can tell you exactly what went wrong, what went right, and ensure that, going forward in the future, we make better use of every dollar that we spend. So I will be supporting this. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. The Member for Frame Lake.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I am going to be very short. I support the motion. I had a chance to see part of the road at the end of April, and I have had constituents raise issues around this with me, and I think it's time that this audit take place at the appropriate time, and I will be supporting the motion. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. The Member for Nunakput.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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Herbert Nakimayak Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am going to speak a little bit about my region. Mr. Speaker, this project hired hundreds of people from Nunakput as well as the Mackenzie Delta region. A project like this will likely get audited, like the Deh Cho Bridge, like the Yellowknife Hospital. I think, seeing my colleagues here who put this motion forward, to me, looking from the outside in, it questions the integrity of the contractors and it questions the integrity of the Department of Infrastructure, the Department of Finance, and all the moving parts for something like this.

Mr. Speaker, when a project this big happens, it's not one or two people. So I see, pointing the finger at everyone around us in this room, I think the Members need to understand that this is a new gravel road; it's built on permafrost. Somebody mentioned something like it's the first project of its kind in the world. I think one of the Members stated that, you know, it's like putting the cart before the horse, as well as many other things, Mr. Speaker. I think, I believe, that this road will get audited, and I think that we should give it time. Although, the motion put forward, it may not be in this Assembly; it may be in the next Assembly, Mr. Speaker. An audit was done a couple of years ago on this, and I think we can make strides to get access to that information, which will help, as well. Too, the Auditor General may have access to that.

Mr. Speaker, I think that doing something right now on a project that is unfinished is a waste of people's time and resources who are still working on this project. I think it will even imply more cost to the project. So I will not have much to say, but I know that our colleague the Minister of Infrastructure will have, so I am going to say that I do not support this motion as it is right now. You know, sitting here as an MLA, I think we all know that an audit is going to come down the road, but, at this time, it questions the integrity of the contractors and the people of my region, so I will not support this right now, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Minister of Infrastructure.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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Wally Schumann Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway was one of the largest construction projects undertaken by the Government of the Northwest Territories, and it was completed for the most part on time and on budget. Although the terrain on which the highway was constructed is challenging, the design, planning, and construction of the highway were all conducted by a team of experts. Overall, the highway has been performing as expected. The first winter season of operation was successful, and the highway experienced an average of 60 to 70 vehicles per day.

The contractor is addressing some work not completed last season and the deficiencies from the final inspection, which include final embankment compaction, surfacing gravel on select sections, and work around bridges and culverts such as rip-rap installation and painting. This work could not have been completed prior to freeze-up last year and has carried forward to this summer. These are all normal kinds of works to complete a major project, and there is a budget available for this work.

This project has been undertaken in an open and transparent manner and had significant financial, environmental, and operational oversight by numerous federal, territorial, regulatory, and other agencies. Members of the Legislative Assembly and the public have been kept fully informed on the progress on environmental and regulatory review and permitting, procurement, construction, and operations. Several strategic oversight committees were set up to ensure proper management throughout the project. These included a departmental oversight committee that met on a weekly basis, frequent reports to the P3 and Infrastructure deputy minister's committees, regular updates to the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway ministerial oversight committee, regular written in-person briefings from Members of the Legislative Assembly, and frequent progress reports provided to the public during peak construction periods. The departmental project oversight committee reviewed issues including construction progress, environmental compliance, budget, potential emerging risks, local employment, local spending, and training updates, and also identified items that required action.

Infrastructure Canada staff were part of the monthly project meetings involving the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Inuvialuit Land Administration, contractors, regulators, an independent engineer, and also interested parties. The project involved every significant regulatory and permitting oversight. The Department of Infrastructure was transparent in monitoring its commitments and tracking our progress to meet our environmental assessment commitments, and were publicly available on the project website. The department also met twice yearly with all regulators as part of the corridor working group, another requirement from the environmental assessment.

The Department of Infrastructure followed regular GNWT contracting procedures and adhered to Cabinet decisions on this process. The necessary regulatory permits were obtained with the support of the Inuvialuit Water Board for water licences, and the Inuvialuit Land Administration for quarry permits and land use permits. The Department of Infrastructure actively tracked all identified risk elements of the project with a risk matrix that was updated on a regular basis.

Environmental risk were managed in partnership with the Government of the Northwest Territories departments and federal agencies, including the Government of the Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources, who monitored the project for wildlife, and federal departments of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment and Climate Change Canada. In total, 235 environmental commitments were tracked and reported throughout the project. An agreement management committee with representation from Infrastructure Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories was established to administer and monitor the contribution agreement. This committee met twice per year through the duration of the project to review project status and ensure compliance with the agreement.

An independent financial audit has been completed annually to ensure revenue and expenditures are in accordance with the federal funding agreement. In addition, the annual audit by the Office of the Auditor General of the GNWT public accounts included the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project.

Payments from Canada were based on milestones. If Canada was concerned about project management, payments would have been withheld or held back and not released. Infrastructure Canada is now conducting a joint audit and evaluation of its programs, and will be reviewing the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway as part of this audit. This will be conducting site visits to Yellowknife, Inuvik, and Tuktoyaktuk in June of this year, and will speak to the Government of the Northwest Territories and community representatives to review the benefits to communities of this project.

Federal officials indicated that this is one of the most highly monitored and transparent projects they have ever seen, which speaks to the level of oversight that is being committed to the project. Given the high level of the project oversight, the Department of Infrastructure does not believe a special audit will have incremental value, and there are other higher-priority issues the auditor general could look into. However, if an audit is undertaken, the government is very confident that these audit results will be positive. With this, Cabinet will not be supporting this motion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

To the motion. I will allow the mover, the Member for Kam Lake, to make concluding remarks on the motion. Member for Kam Lake.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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Kieron Testart Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and thank you very much, honourable colleagues, for your comments, your thoughts.

Mr. Speaker, right off the bat, I am disappointed to hear from the honourable Minister of Infrastructure that this is not something that the government is in a position to support. I just want to be clear that to people who may be concerned about the potential cost of an audit like this: the resources of the Office of the Auditor General are independent of this government and this government's budgets, and indeed, the prerogative to even accept this motion, should it pass, would be up to the auditor general, as well. As an independent audit office, they are able to choose their own work and pursue their own reviews.

As some of the honourable Member mentioned, the value of a third-party audit really speaks for itself. We, as a standing committee, have reviewed several performance audits and, of course, the annual report on the government's public accounts, which we reported on earlier today. This is an opportunity to have an independent, fair, and transparent process that looks at all aspects of the project. The honourable Minister spoke that the Auditor General has reviewed the financial performance of the ITH project in the public accounts, but that's just an accounting exercise, a financial audit to make sure it meets accounting standards. It is not a performance audit.

The words spoken today in support of the motion were very clear that there are things we can learn from this project. While I have full confidence that the Minister and the department he represents in this House, and further, the contractors who are working on this project and our federal partners took this very seriously, and worked diligently to ensure it met all of the standards they laid out for in the agreement, having a third party verify those results just will further strengthen the case for transportation corridors. When the government is undertaking major transportation corridors in highly expensive regions of Canada, and asking the federal government to pay for them, why not have an independently verified audit of one of those projects to back up our business cases? This is not an attack on contractors, an attack on governments, or an attack on infrastructure projects. This is in support of those projects so we can find out the best practices for projects like these and ensure we can continue to deliver on projects like these.

So I don't agree with the Members who have spoken in opposition to this motion, saying it will reflect poorly on the people involved in this project. That's not what this is about, Mr. Speaker. This is about good value for money and best practices, and I believe that we will be able to achieve that better with a third-party independent review than with our own internal processes.

The strategic oversight committee the Minister spoke of, they are internal to government. They do not produce things that are publicly transmitted unless the Minister chooses to make them public. At this point, we've heard progress updates about the project. The highway, I might add, is closed today due to operational concerns, so people are asking questions. This is an attempt to resolve those questions and to show that the Minister's confidence in this project and that everything was done properly is, in fact, correct.

I urge everyone to support this, and I urge my colleagues across the aisle to change their minds on this. Mr. Speaker, this project was also initiated in the 17th Assembly, and a peculiar feature of our unique form of consensus government is we don't look backwards into the full range of operational details that previous Assemblies initiated, which is another reason this is calling for a special audit, to look into something that wasn't properly in the mandate or the responsibility of this 18th Assembly.

The Minister held a grand opening, and the project was substantially complete. There's enough there to start looking at it. Further, the motion does not call for an immediate audit. It calls for an audit when is practicable, as has also been pointed out, so to Members who were concerned that we are putting the cart before the horse, the motion clearly states that time should be taken until all the facts are known, and all the details can be produced by governments, to be reviewed by the auditor general.

Furthermore, why don't we just undertake it with our own committees, Mr. Speaker? Well, this project overlaps the mandates of two of our standing committees, and as a result, it would be very cumbersome to try to fit that into the standing committees' normal area of review. Furthermore, the scale of such an audit, or such a review, would stretch the resources of this Assembly, which should be properly focused on policy development, policy review, and legislative review, as well.

So, rather than take away from our own internal resources, we are calling on a third party that is independently funded to provide the kind of oversight that the project of this scale and this magnitude deserves.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to conclude by saying that the concerns that we have all heard as Members perhaps can be responded to by the Minister or by his staff or even by Members of this House. We just need that certainty that comes from an independent third party audit that will ensure we have the best possible facts, evidence, and best practices and good value for money so we can continue to build these projects to justify the investment or to make our investments more attractive to build critical transportation infrastructure from the federal government and continue to do our due diligence as legislators to work with the Office of the Auditor General and review these projects as they come forward.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That concludes my comments in this debate. I would like to request a recorded vote. Thank you.

Motion 17-18(3): Review of Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project, Defeated
Motions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. The Member requested a recorded vote. All those in favour of the motion, please stand.

Recorded Vote
Motions

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Clerk Of The House Mr. Tim Mercer

The Member for Kam Lake, the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, the Member for Nahendeh, the Member for Frame Lake, the Member for Yellowknife Centre, the Member for Deh Cho, the Member for Hay River North, the Member for Yellowknife North.

Recorded Vote
Motions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

All those opposed, please stand.