This is page numbers 1299 - 1316 of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd 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 land.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. Norn, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:31 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1299

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Colleagues, before we begin, I would just like to ask you to join me in wishing our colleague, Minister Green, a very happy birthday. I would not say how many years.

---Applause

We are wishing you many more to come. Enjoy your day and questions today. Ministers' statements. Minister of Infrastructure.

Minister's Statement 65-19(2): Update on the 2030 Energy Strategy
Ministers' Statements

Page 1299

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Government of Northwest Territories has continued to roll out energy initiatives under the 2030 Energy Strategy Action Plan that will help ensure NWT residents, communities, businesses, and industry have access to secure, affordable, and sustainable energy.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has made a mandate commitment to strengthen our leadership and authority on climate change, and the way we will achieve this is through the implementation of the 2030 strategy.

As Members of this Legislative Assembly know, the energy strategy has six strategic objectives to reach the 2030 vision. They include:

  1. working together to find solutions: Community engagement, participation, and empowerment;
  2. reducing greenhouse gas emissions directly from electricity generation in diesel-powered communities by an average of 25 percent;
  3. reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from road vehicles by 10 percent per capita;
  4. increasing the share of renewable energy used for space heating to 40 percent;
  5. increasing residential-, commercial-, and government-building energy efficiency by 15 percent; and
  6. the longer-term vision is developing the NWT's energy potential, addressing industrial emissions, and doing our part to meet national climate change objectives.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to update Members today on the status of achieving these objectives.

A number of community projects have been funded jointly by the territorial and federal governments, under the Greenhouse Gas Grant Program to reduce the use of fuel and lower emissions. For example, the YK1 school board received funding to install wood-pellet boilers in two Yellowknife school facilities, and the Town of Fort Smith was funded to make energy efficiency and electric heating upgrades in three town buildings.

The Arctic Energy Alliance, AEA, also continued its Regional Office Program, which operates in six regional offices to engage with communities, promote AEA programs, and to provide support for local energy projects. Last year, this program invested $800,000 into the work of these offices, resulting in over a million dollars' worth of energy rebates paid directly to communities, business, and residents outside Yellowknife, for things like energy-efficient appliances, efficiency upgrades to buildings, and alterative heating like wood stoves. This is out of a total AEA budget of about $5.9 million, of which there was a record total of $1.9 million in rebates given out across the Northwest Territories last year. Over 50 percent of these rebates were provided to communities outside of Yellowknife.

The GNWT is advancing a project to build a 170-kilometer transmission line from the Taltson hydro system to serve Fort Providence, Kakisa, and Dory Point. This project is essential for the NWT to meet its greenhouse-gas reduction commitments, providing about 15 percent of the total reduction target for electricity generation and would remove up to one million litres of diesel and 2.5 kilotonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. The project will use power from the existing Taltson system to eliminate the use of diesel for electrical generation in these communities and reduce the cost of power.

Mr. Speaker, to help reduce their emissions from the transportation, the AEA launched an electric vehicle rebate program in June of this year, which provides rebates up to $5,000 for a new electrical vehicle and up to $500 for charging stations in hydropower communities. The GNWT is also exploring new technologies that could help reduce transportation emissions, including liquid biofuels. The department is currently conducting a study that would not only help us understand whether liquid biofuels can work in a cold northern climate, but also how factors like availability, storage, and cost affect their feasibility in northern climates. This study is scheduled to be completed early 2021.

With the new federal funding from the Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund, the AEA launched new and expanded programs and nearly doubled the number of rebates that it provided in 2019-2020 compared to the previous year, for an increase of 150 percent worth about almost a million dollars. These programs provided rebates to Northerners who purchased energy-efficient products such as wood stoves, LED light bulbs, and ENERGY STAR-certified appliances. They also provide rebates to communities that install renewable-energy systems and support community energy-plan implementation and made it possible to run a program to help lower-income homeowners and energy efficiency upgrades.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT continues to lead by example in energy conservation and efficiency by upgrading our own facilities through the Capital Asset Retrofit Fund. Last year, energy efficiency projects were funded including the Inuvik hospital, Angik School in Paulatuk, and four of the schools in Hay River. Last year, these and other initiatives under the Capital Asset Retrofit Fund reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by almost 15 thousand tonnes and saved the GNWT almost four million dollars.

As part of the government's long-term vision for our territories' energy systems, the GNWT is currently upgrading both its hydro systems. At Snare Forks, a total overhaul of the generating unit was undertaken. Although delayed by COVID, the work is scheduled to be completed before the end of 2020.

The Taltson overhaul was delayed by COVID, but the facility underwent its annual maintenance shutdown last summer. During the shutdown, equipment assessments were completed to firm up design, manufacturing, and procurement details for the major overhauls. Parts are scheduled to arrive in 2020, with the overhaul scheduled for 2022.

Mr. Speaker, these are just some of the initiatives that demonstrate our government's ongoing efforts in conjunction with the Government of Canada, Indigenous and community governments, the AEA, and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation to ensure residents, businesses, and industry have access to secure and affordable energy as we transition to a strong, healthy economy that is less dependent on fossil fuels. The GNWT's annual Energy Initiatives Report, which will be released this fall, provides a full view of last year's energy initiatives. Quyanainni, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 65-19(2): Update on the 2030 Energy Strategy
Ministers' Statements

Page 1300

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Finance.

Minister's Statement 66-19(2): NWT eServices Portal
Ministers' Statements

Page 1300

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, this government is committed to making its programs, services, and functions accessible to people in as many ways as possible. We are committed to keeping up with the worldwide shift towards online portals to access information and services of all kinds.

Our goal is that, to the greatest extent possible, people should be able to access Government of the Northwest Territories' programs and services how they want, where they want, and when they want.

The eServices team within the Department of Finance is close to a major milestone that will support our work towards this goal of greater accessibility: the launch of the new NWT eServices Portal. This new portal will allow people and businesses to access programs and services online, from one safe, reliable location. It is worth noting that, over the past six months, the importance of online services has only been further highlighted as our residents have adapted to working remotely and socially distancing. The goal of the portal is to provide users with secure and convenient online access to GNWT programs and services through a single account. Once it is launched, by the end of 2020, residents will be able to use it to register for and renew their healthcare cards; request birth, death and marriage certificates. Existing driver and motor vehicle services, existing MyECE services, and an improved online application for Northwest Territories fishing licenses will also be accessible, all through the new portal. This initial bundle of services is just the start of our efforts to bring more programs and services online, and we plan to add a second bundle of services to the portal in early 2021. Additional ongoing releases will continue to be prioritized, planned, and launched moving forward.

Mr. Speaker, we all know that the demand for online programs and services is high; as Minister of Finance, I am committed to making sure that our department works across government to ensure that we are doing our best to meet the needs of people and businesses by bringing the right programs and services online through the portal. Further, we are committed to protecting the security and privacy of our users' data. As we speak, the eServices team is conducting thorough privacy and security assessments of the portal, all integrated back-end systems and each service being connected.

As I stated earlier, it is important that we provide our people and businesses with access to programs and services how they want, where they want, and when they want. So let me very clear about another aspect of this improvement: the new eServices Portal creates an additional way to access the GNWT's programs and services. It does not take away or diminish the other access points to government services. For clarity, this means that a resident can choose to access a program or service online or can continue to access that program or service how they always have, on the phone, in person, or through other access points. This milestone shows how we will execute our commitment, as a government, to providing the best possible service and constantly exploring innovative and creative ways to improve that service. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 66-19(2): NWT eServices Portal
Ministers' Statements

Page 1301

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.

On-the-Land Mental Health Programs
Members' Statements

Page 1301

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. One of our priorities for this government is to increase the number and variety of culturally respectful community-based mental health and addictions programs, including after-care for our residents. While we do have some programming available to our residents, I think there is a disconnect from what we our currently doing to what our people actually need and are asking for. For example, we have specialized treatment facilities that residents can be sent to out of the territory, which is an option for those who need this treatment. We also currently have some Indigenous groups providing on-the-land programs. However, there needs to be a gateway program that allows more people to seek help.

Mr. Speaker, often it is difficult for people with addictions to navigate the system to access out-of-territory addictions treatment. For on-the-land, some can't just jump up and leave out on the land for one to two weeks, because they may suffer from withdrawals or other physical or mental health conditions when going through withdrawals. Unfortunately, our current programs don't allow, for some of our residents, a safe gateway to enter into some of our longer-term programs. As a result, our people in need continue to suffer.

We need gateway programs like the Arctic Indigenous Wellness program in Inuvik, in the Beaufort Delta, in all of the regional areas throughout the Northwest Territories. We need GNWT to sit down with our communities and Indigenous groups to deal with and come up with options to deal with gaps in services that I've mentioned. We need the GNWT addiction counsellors to have outreach offices to engage and to get to know the residents who currently reside in the shelters and for those who are struggling with their addiction because going into a facility is not always the right answer for everyone.

This current system is not one Indigenous people trust, and therefore they don't access assistance. We must do better to build a relationship between our mental health and addictions counsellors and our residents who need it the most. We have to change the way we do things, as it is obvious it hasn't been working the way the service is being provided now. Status quo is no longer acceptable when we are losing our family members. Our family members are becoming victims and hostages to the drugs and alcohol in our communities. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On-the-Land Mental Health Programs
Members' Statements

Page 1301

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Illegal Drug Trade and Enforcement in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 1301

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Last week, I spoke about addictions and the need for additional supports to combat the disease. My statement today will focus on the drug trade and drug enforcement in the NWT. We often hear that drug dealers are well-known in the community and that nothing is being done to round them up or lock them up. We hear all too often that the RCMP and government are not doing their part to curb drugs entering the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, when we reflect on the impact illegal drugs have on individuals and families, it is easy to understand the frustration of our residents. We have a justice system that more often places restraints on those officers enforcing the law to curb distribution, sale, or use than it does on drug dealers. There is a substantial difference between someone possessing for personal use and possessing with the intent to distribute or sell. To prove someone guilty is not a simple task. It requires a substantial number of investigative hours by police and many more by others as it winds through the court system, and then there is no guarantee of a successful conviction.

Mr. Speaker, the criminal justice system is complex, and the players are many. Players include the police, defendants, Crown prosecutors, lawyers, judges, correctional officers, parole officers, victims, complainants, witnesses, informants, and others. One can see how information can be overlooked and a matter thrown out of court because of a technicality. The reality is that we find ourselves fighting a battle, and a battle that we appear to be losing. Our opponent is well-funded, well-organized, adapts quickly to change, and when we remove a piece, it is quickly replaced by another. If this government expects to lessen the impact of the drug trade in the NWT, it must be a collaborative and interdepartmental approach with additional federal support. The million-dollar question is: do we have sufficient resources in the NWT and in each community to deal with not only drug enforcement, but the many issues that show up daily on the desk of an RCMP officer? As drugs kill off our residents, many question why our justice system appears to be failing the same people it is meant to protect.

Mr. Speaker, although this is a complex matter, it remains our responsibility to ensure that we not allow another person in the NWT to die because of the illicit drug trade. I will have questions for the Minister of Justice at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Illegal Drug Trade and Enforcement in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 1302

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.

Importance of Lands in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 1302

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I believe the Department of Lands is the single most important department in the GNWT. Now, I think many would laugh at that. I think perhaps even the Department of Lands might laugh at that, Mr. Speaker, but whether it be land claims, on-the-land healing, agricultural land, municipal control of land, land tenure so people can get mortgages or insurance, our own residents' spiritual connection to the land, increasing mineral exploration on withdrawn land, or habitat protection for caribou, land lies at the heart of many of our solutions. Yet, the Department of Lands presently has a broken mandate. They do not have control over many of these items, and EIA is busy at the negotiating table such that they are not given the proper attention. This is a call to our Cabinet to make a comprehensive strategy for how we approach land in this territory and, in many cases, how we give that land back.

Mr. Speaker, recently Deninu K'ue First Nation got a cease-and-desist letter for trying to build a mini-putt and RV course on a parcel of withdrawn land, a parcel of withdrawn land that, in all likelihood, will be given back to them once they settle a land claim the size of New Brunswick. Now, I recognize there are competing interests between the Metis and the Deninu K'ue First Nation, and I don't wish to weigh in on that. I recognize the complexity of resolving these issues in the NWT, and many times it can be hard to figure out who even comes to the table, let alone who we give the land back to. Yet, trying to separate the issue of building an RV park and settling one of the largest land claims in Canadian history needs to be done.

These are clear and distinct issues. The Department of Lands needs to create a process for transferring lands to Indigenous governments outside of the comprehensive land claim process. We are doing this for municipalities; I believe we need to do it for Indigenous governments. We need to, once and for all, settle the land tenure issue. Many residents simply cannot own their home or own the land it is on and get access to insurance and mortgages in this territory. I believe we need to set out a process such that Indigenous residents can own land in fee simple. This is one of the main issues for the Housing Corporation. It is one of the main issues for municipalities.

Now, Mr. Speaker, land use planning in this territory is a Gordian knot. However, Alexander broke the Gordian knot by taking a sword to it, and I encourage the Minister of Lands to come up with a comprehensive land strategy and break that Gordian knot. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Importance of Lands in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 1302

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Acknowledging the Role of Educators in Getting Students Back to School
Members' Statements

Page 1303

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On Friday, I took double the time that I was allowed, so today, I'm going to keep my statement very short and sweet. I just wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all of the teachers in the Northwest Territories for the hard work that they have done in trying to get our students back to work. As the daughter of educators, I watched my mother spend countless hours working well beyond her eight-hour day in order to prepare lesson plans as well as to mark tests. Our entire basement, as I just recently cleaned out, was full of teaching supplies, so I know how hard teachers work, and I know their dedication. I can't even imagine trying to move it all virtually or to do all of the adjustments they've had to do. I wanted to take today to give a shout out to the teachers. Thank you.

Acknowledging the Role of Educators in Getting Students Back to School
Members' Statements

Page 1303

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

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