This is page numbers 43 - 80 of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 1st 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

Housing Crisis
Members' Statements

Page 48

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Residents of the Northwest Territories are experiencing a housing crisis. That is not news to the 900 individuals and families on the NWT Housing Corporation's waiting list, and it is not news to the 6,308 households that have housing problems, meaning that their house is not in good repair, not big enough for their family size, or not affordable or some combination of these three. The news is that the housing crisis got worse in the 18th Assembly, despite the Housing Corporation's best intentions for improvement.

Mr. Speaker, making public housing available and private housing affordable is a crucial issue in my constituency where two-thirds of my constituents are in public housing or in other rentals. It is also an issue for Yellowknife as a whole. There are as many people on the Yellowknife Housing Authority waiting list as there are units available, about 350. About a quarter of those who are waiting are seniors. The community survey released last month indicates problems with affordability in Yellowknife have increased to include 2,000 households. In fact, all categories of housing need in Yellowknife have gone up.

Mr. Speaker, in the 18th Assembly, I presented a motion, which all MLAs supported, for an action plan from the NWT Housing Corporation to reduce housing problems based on the 2014 survey. The plan was presented two years ago with a goal of assisting 1,000 households across the territory. I haven't seen any reporting from the Housing Corporation that indicates whether this goal was met. What I do know is that rather than going down, housing needs across the territory have doubled in the last five years.

Mr. Speaker, those in need are running out of patience with the NWT Housing Corporation and so am I. I have heard about initiatives from communities and land rights organizations that have taken matters into their own hands, including Deline and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. I understand their frustration. I am also losing confidence in the NWT Housing Corporation.

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

---Unanimous consent granted

Housing Crisis
Members' Statements

Page 48

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mr. Speaker, I don't believe the Corporation is up to the task of providing housing and programming to alleviate the obvious need. What we do know is that the Housing Corporation has steadfastly refused to add any new units to its inventory because doing so would increase overhead costs. This is an unacceptable position. I am asking for an investment in more units immediately. We cannot expect residents to thrive, go to school, and go to work when one of their most basic needs remains unmet. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Housing Crisis
Members' Statements

Page 48

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr)

Thank you, Member. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Improving Education in Small Communities
Members' Statements

December 11th, 2019

Page 48

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I would like to talk about education NWT. I just want to make a quick acknowledgement that it is good to see the kids come out, classroom. A big part of why I ran for office is our children, our next generation. It makes me very happy to see. I did a speech at one of our schools in my riding last week. My message was to stay in school and work hard, and I want to extend that message out to you, as well. One of the biggest things I said: you never know when in our classrooms. We can have our next Premier. We can have our next Prime Minister. We can have our next MLA, next Nobel Laureate, next Olympian. We are all pushing for you, and this is a big part of the job that we do here.

Going back to what I was saying, Mr. Speaker, there are a few specific areas in education, particularly in the smaller communities that I want to discuss. I have noticed that it is not an uncommon reality for schools in smaller communities to have classrooms of very poor student-to-teacher ratios. I have seen several instances where classes have one teacher, maybe one teacher's assistant, teaching upwards of three grades simultaneously in one class. This seems to be standard practice in many communities. Even so, I consider that to be problematic and in need of serious review.

Mr. Speaker, another area in education that needs improving is in regards to graduation rates. According to stats from the NWT Bureau of Statistics, the NWT for many years has consistently had a much lower graduation rate than the national average. For example, in 2016, the national high school graduation rate was 72 percent, whereas the NWT's average was 67 percent. Even lower than that was the territorial average graduation rate for Indigenous students, which was 61 percent.

Moreover, Mr. Speaker, again, in the 2016 Bureau of Statistics for data in my riding of Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, the average number of people who have a high school diploma or higher was only 47 percent compared to the NWT average of 72.6 percent. For me, this disparity is quite shocking and unacceptable. The Department of Education must begin work immediately to increase the gap in education between the smaller communities and the larger urban centres.

Mr. Speaker, I am seeking unanimous consent to continue my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Improving Education in Small Communities
Members' Statements

Page 49

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Mr. Speaker, the 19th Assembly's mandate items addresses this issue specifically, which states that one of the desired goals of this Assembly is to increase student education outcomes of the same level as the rest of Canada.

Well, Mr. Speaker, we have a long way to go in achieving educational parity on each of the fronts that I have just mentioned, but if we want the NWT to achieve true educational parity compared to Canada's national average, I believe it is imperative that our government redouble our efforts in the smaller communities because that is where the education outcomes need to improve the most. The smaller communities have been left behind for far too long. Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker.

Improving Education in Small Communities
Members' Statements

Page 49

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr)

Thank you, Member. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Priorities and Mandate of the 19th Legislative Assembly
Members' Statements

Page 49

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. The 18th Assembly collectively developed a list of priorities that Cabinet then took and turned into a lengthy wish list. That was the first time that a formal mandate was developed. At the end of the 18th Assembly, Cabinet claimed it had completed 202 of 230 mandate commitments. The advice from the Transition Matters Special Committee was that there should be fewer priorities and fewer mandate commitments. I am not convinced that we achieved that with the priorities that were tabled in this House on October 25th. As this sitting presents the first opportunity to speak to these priorities, I wish to offer some observations and comments.

As hard as our facilitators tried, we produced a list of 22 priorities versus the 25 of the 18th Assembly. Hard choices were not made amongst big infrastructure projects or even between those projects and investments in social spending that should include housing, universal childcare, and a guaranteed basic income. While we had a rigorous process, two days was not enough. We ran out of time and energy with an extremely intensive orientation and a looming leadership selection process. With even one more day, we may have been able to produce more refined priorities.

I will find it very difficult to support some of the priorities set by this Assembly. Some may work at cross-purposes with each other, such as increasing economic diversification while trying to increase mineral exploration. I am also of the view that there is very little that we can do to increase mineral exploration beyond settling outstanding Indigenous land rights and changing our messaging and the perception of the state-of-the-art environmental management system. Commodity prices and financial markets are well outside our control.

Some of the priorities provide precise direction, such as improving student outcomes to those achieved elsewhere in Canada or increasing the number of resident healthcare professionals by 20 percent. Other priorities are extremely vague: reduce core housing needs or, for example, advance universal childcare. We have not handed Cabinet an easy task. The priorities provide very little direction for the work of some of the departments' agencies and Ministers.

I will have questions later today for the Premier on how she intends to work with Regular MLAs in developing specific direction for each Minister and department. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Priorities and Mandate of the 19th Legislative Assembly
Members' Statements

Page 49

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr)

Thank you, Member. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Prompt Payment for Northern Businesses
Members' Statements

Page 49

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As an Assembly, we committed to supporting economic development in northern businesses. Many of my Kam Lake constituents report the challenges associated not only with starting a business, but also keeping it profitable. I believe that the GNWT can and must do more to support northern businesses.

According to 2019 NWT Statistics Bureau data, over 70 percent of the 3,600 NWT businesses employee four or fewer employees. Our economy and communities depend on these small northern businesses. Not only do they provide meaningful employment, they also support events, youth sport, and activities that enrich our communities.

Every dollar spent on NWT businesses generates a positive spinoff effect in our economy, and the loss of these businesses will hurt workers and their families, impoverishing our communities, and ultimately stand to reduce the territorial population, in turn reducing our federal transfer payments.

Mr. Speaker, Kam Lake business owners tell me that the cash flow is a challenge for their small businesses. Late payments cause a trickle-down effect of missed payments to other businesses and workers and an increase in interest costs that drive the cost of doing business. One way to grow our northern businesses, Mr. Speaker, and decrease the cost of living is by paying for services rendered on time.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT Financial Administration Manual requires that BIP businesses get paid 20 days after receipt of a good or service. Government payments are often late. These concerns were documented by the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment in its GNWT Procurement Practices Report tabled in August. The committee recommended that the GNWT pay invoices below $10,000 within a week and that the GNWT pay a late payment penalty when it fails to make timely payments. To support northern businesses and reduce the cost of living, we must move forward with these recommendations.

Mr. Speaker, I am incredibly proud of northern entrepreneurs. I know firsthand the persistence and passion it takes to run a business. The GNWT needs to support economic growth and diversification by doing everything possible to promptly pay vendors. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Prompt Payment for Northern Businesses
Members' Statements

Page 50

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr)

Thank you, Member. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Taltson Hydroelectric Expansion
Members' Statements

Page 50

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I would like to talk about the Taltson Hydro Electric Expansion Project. As an official mandate item on the priorities list of the 19th Legislative Assembly, we have a duty to see this project move forward in a timely manner and in close cooperation with Indigenous governments.

In terms of business opportunities and environmental regulation, Mr. Speaker, this hydro expansion would provide the NWT with more renewable energy, create job opportunities, lower electricity costs, and will set the pace for a vibrant economy into the future. This has to remain a priority in order to secure any significant long-term investments in the NWT. We need this infrastructure if we want to sustain and grow our territory's economic development.

Mr. Speaker, as a Fort Smith resident, my community resides in the closest proximity to the existing Taltson hydro system, and I can tell you based on concrete evidence that the majority of Fort Smith residents support this project, and I know that the majority of Members in this House support this project as well.

Moreover, Mr. Speaker, based on the considerable amount of research that has been conducted on the Taltson expansion, all plans state that this project has the potential to eliminate approximately 240,000 tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions by replacing diesel power generation. This would occur by creating that interconnected NWT power grid as opposed to the current separate North and South Slave grids.

Overall, Mr. Speaker, this project has the capacity to nearly double the NWT's current hydro capacity output. This would serve our territory's power needs for years to come, and any surplus energy that the NWT would not utilize could be sold to other nearby provinces and territories as needed.

Mr. Speaker, as a jurisdiction that is currently undergoing notable economic decline, I believe that our territory needs a considerable boost and could really benefit from long-term infrastructure investments such as that of the Taltson hydro expansion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I will have questions for the Minister.

Taltson Hydroelectric Expansion
Members' Statements

Page 50

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr)

Thank you, Member. Members' statements. Member for Deh Cho.

Education Renewal in Small Communities
Members' Statements

Page 50

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. My Member's statement today is in regard to the state of education in our small communities. Mind you, what I have noted is that it is almost taboo to discuss education on a public level in our communities. Public meetings to discuss education and any initiatives have not been initiated by the school, the school boards, nor by the divisional education councils that represent the schools throughout the region.

No one seems to mind that the attendance rates are dropping, the graduation rates are not flourishing as they should be, and the fact that the academic level of education has gone by the wayside. Couple this with the fact that our schools have had to lay off good quality teachers. It is alarming that no one wants to make an issue of what can be deemed a crisis situation regarding the state of education in our small communities.

I would like to draw your attention to a Department of Education, Culture and Employment document entitled "Education Renewal and Innovation Framework, Directions for Change." It is a three-year education renewal action plan created in 2015 by the department. The document goes on to state, "The current approach to education is not producing the overall levels of student achievement that we need and should reasonably expect for the investments that are being made." The document further states, "This renewal is critical to developing the capable citizens the Northwest Territories needs."

The document presents nine major action plan commitments that the Government of the Northwest Territories will ensure to undertake to improve the quality of education in our communities. It is a very bold and determined document. Unfortunately, this is the first time I have seen the document, and it is now 2019, four years later. I would further be dismayed, and rightly so, if the district education councils have not seen or had any chance to action the initiatives outlined in the Renewal Action Plan.

It is not clear if people in the communities were consulted or presented with the action plan. Had this happened, there certainly would have been measurable outcomes and the GNWT would have been on the hook to see these commitments through. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Education Renewal in Small Communities
Members' Statements

Page 51

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

I'll be very quick, Mr. Speaker. At the appropriate time, I will have questions for the Minister. Mahsi.

Education Renewal in Small Communities
Members' Statements

Page 51

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr)

Thank you, Member. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.