This is page numbers 179 - 228 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 going.


Members Present

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

The House met at 1:30 p.m.



Page 179

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Welcome, everybody. Orders of the day, item 2, budget address. Minister of Finance.

Budget Address
Budget Address

Page 179

Caroline Wawzonek

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Madam Speaker, the Northwest Territories is a land of opportunity. We have a vast geography, a wealth of resources, and a population strengthened by incredible diversity.

The 19th Legislative Assembly wants to see the Northwest Territories make the best possible use of all of our opportunities and resources, including the strength of our people, to achieve the 22 priorities that were set by all 19 members of this Assembly. These priorities stretch across all of our communities and are our shared vision for economic growth, environmental stewardship, and a healthy and better educated population.

[Translation] Achieving these priorities will be a continuing journey that will outlast the life of the 19th Assembly, and this government must make decisions in a way that looks beyond four years to the next generation. We have a responsibility to put the Northwest Territories on the good path using our priorities as a guide and establishing a budget and a fiscal plan to achieve as much distance towards these priorities as possible. [Translation ends]

It has been said that it is easier to destroy than to create. Think about an ice sculpture. Creating takes time. It requires patience. It succeeds with thoughtfulness and planning. This government wants to create a positive path forward for the future.

Budget 2020 is a first step on a path towards our priorities, one for which we build relationships within our government, with our communities, and between governments.

This budget proposes to spend almost $1.9 billion on programs and services in the coming year and sets out further fiscal steps that will support progress on all 22 priorities. This budget is a foundation upon which we will create and build.

Shortly, I will review the Northwest Territories economic situation and outlook. I will describe some key drivers in our economy as well as some of our challenges. Next, I will discuss our fiscal situation and strategy, which speaks to some of the direct impacts that government can have towards positively influencing our economic situation. I will then describe our planned revenues and expenditures for the next fiscal year and conclude with a discussion about next steps for the financial health and planning of the Northwest Territories.

I want to make two comments about how this budget was prepared.

First, this budget was a collective effort. It stretches back to the last Assembly, when departments were working on their plans for the coming year. We are always building on work from prior Assemblies in a consensus government. In the relatively short time of four months since this Cabinet was formed, we have tried to chart, of course, a more inclusive approach to financial policy setting that better engages all Members. It is my intention to continue establishing opportunities throughout our processes for public dialogue and engagement with this Assembly. Evidence-based decision-making requires information and perspectives, and potential decisions should, where possible, be vetted by those impacted.

I want to thank all Members of this Assembly for their constructive ideas and work in building our financial plan for the next fiscal year and beyond.

Second, in preparing this budget, we needed to take a realistic look at our fiscal challenges. Our immediate fiscal situation is not what was hoped in the last budget, but it is manageable. We are not in a crisis. This is a time for cautious optimism. Achieving the priorities of this Assembly will require a disciplined approach and a plan to ensure that we are getting value for the money we are spending while preserving the ability to responsibly fund infrastructure needs in our communities and across the territory. Although this is next fiscal year's operating budget, the revenues projected in this budget must also partially pay for the 2020-2021 capital budget that was approved last fall. More importantly, we must remember that we are on a longer journey and that the first step taken in today's budget sets the direction for the financial plan over the next four years. Within our budget, we remain committed to responsible fiscal management.

Just as this budget is meant to provide a stable starting point for the future of the 19th Assembly within a context of change, our approach to financial management is changing progressively to deliver a better product to serve the goals of this government.

Part of this change includes the use of four-year business plans instead of an isolated annual version each year. We will regularly return to the business plan to evaluate our progress and performance so that we will know if we are getting the results and value we expect for the money we spend.

We will also be focusing resources to improve evaluation and monitoring of key performance measures across sectors and programs. Many of the programs and services that government delivers cannot be measured purely by numbers. Much of what we do provides a social return that is going to need a more nuanced measure. Our goal is to ensure not only that residents of the Northwest Territories get the best monetary value for their dollar but that they get a positive social, cultural, educational, health, and economic return on our collective investment.

Economic Outlook

The financial foundation for all our priorities is a vibrant and diverse economy. The Macroeconomic Policy Framework is a set of measures used to assess the territory's economic performance over time. It shows the economy has not recovered to its pre-recession peak in 2007. We know that circumstances have changed since then. Political and economic uncertainty across the world can significantly impact our small, resource-based economy.

In 2019, the Northwest Territories economy is expected to have shrunk 4.3 percent due to declines in diamond production and private-sector investment. Increases in government investment expenditures helped cushion the slowdown in private sector activity and saved the economy from a more severe decline. Government infrastructure investments are the prime driver in a 3.4-percent increase in total private and public investment from 2019 to 2020. This year, economic growth is expected to improve, with real gross domestic product forecast to increase 3.8 percent. However, this growth will only partially offset the GDP decline from 2019, leaving the economy still smaller than it was two years ago. In short, the Northwest Territories economy is stable, but it is not growing.

Economic stability does not describe the longer-term outlook. The diamond mining industry has been our economic engine for the last two decades. However, the industry has matured, and all existing Northwest Territories diamond mines could be closed by 2030, with the first one ceasing operations within the next five years. Possible expansions may allow one or more of the diamond mines to continue to operate, but that remains uncertain, just as there is no certainty of finding new economically viable deposits. The closure of the diamond mines will result in a large drop in economic output, and there are no other confirmed projects on the horizon large enough to fill this gap.

The role government can play in supporting economic growth should not be underestimated. Strategic infrastructure investments are key to supporting future economic growth and to supporting our people to be the drivers of that growth. The Canadian economy is in the midst of restructuring towards a more digital and service-centred economy, and we want the Northwest Territories to be contributing members as this evolves. The GNWT has already invested in the basic infrastructure for a more digital economy with the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link that gives better access to the global digital economy and countless new opportunities for Northerners. Government spending on programs, goods, and services will provide stability to the economy by supporting northern businesses, local wages, and household consumption. Public infrastructure investments such as roads, bridges, power corridors, and communications networks, as well as schools, hospitals, and community facilities will contribute to higher standards of living for Northerners and to improved private sector business cases for future investments. Investing in physical and social infrastructure sets the Northwest Territories up for economic growth tomorrow. We will be guided by the principle that the expenditure of our public funds maximizes economic benefits to residents and local economies and supports northern business.

Fiscal Situation and Outlook

Madam Speaker, our fiscal situation is not dire. However, unexpected revenue declines mean that the previous fiscal strategy objectives to increase fiscal capacity and eliminate the cash deficit were not achieved.

We are expecting our operations budget from 2019-2020 to show a deficit of $70 million. Although this is quite a distance from the $60-million operating surplus projected in last year's budget, over one-third of the revenue loss is due to a re-allocation of federal transfers for infrastructure projects from the 2019-2020 fiscal year to 2020-2021.

In 2020-2021, our operating budget is projected to show a surplus of $203 million. Over the next four years, we are currently projecting that average annual revenue growth will be greater than operating expenditure growth, which allows us to project operating surpluses for the entire Assembly. However, after this year, the operating surpluses will start to decline, dropping to $147 million in 2021-2022, $116 million in 2022-2023, and then to $3 million in 2023-2024.

An operating surplus is only one part of our total financial picture. The operating budget is mainly the funding of day-to-day programs and services provided by government. The capital budget is where we show the funding of large-scale investments in infrastructure projects. Without a surplus in our operating budget, there is no cash available to put into our capital budget to pay for infrastructure investments. The less cash available from an operating surplus, the more we would have to borrow to continue to invest in capital projects.

In the not-too-distant past, the Government of the Northwest Territories made large investments to help connect our communities with improved transportation networks such as highways, roads, bridges, and airports. Large public investment has enhanced energy and communications infrastructure and built health facilities and schools. Despite these efforts, the Northwest Territories remains in a significant infrastructure deficit compared to much of the rest of Canada. Many communities have no road access, limited internet connectivity, and rely on diesel to generate heat and power. Several of our communities have small and aging school facilities that accommodate only one or two teachers to cover classes from kindergarten to grade 12. The Northwest Territories' core housing need is among the highest in Canada. Surpluses in the operating budgets are not large enough on their own to support the kind of large-scale investments we need to catch the Northwest Territories up to a similar level of infrastructure seen elsewhere in Canada. Borrowing has been and will remain necessary to make strategic infrastructure investments.

Remaining fiscally responsible includes managing our debt. Our debt level is approaching the federally imposed borrowing limit of $1.3 billion, and current projections show that we will be over that limit by 2021-2022. The Department of Finance uses a variety of measures to assess our debt level and ensure that we continue to use debt responsibly. We have the fiscal capacity to handle higher debt levels, and discussions are underway with Finance Canada to raise the limit, to provide more flexibility for long-term planning.

Fiscal Strategy

When it comes to developing our fiscal strategy, our focus is on the future.

What we want is the ability to enhance fiscal resources to advance the 22 priorities of this Assembly.

First, using today's current estimates, the fiscal strategy provides an initial allocation of $25 million over the life of the 19th Assembly to advance towards our mandate priorities, starting with $10 million in 2020-2021. Over the next few weeks, we will be working with Members to allocate this funding.

Second, we will continue to build on our relationship with the federal government to take advantage of funding opportunities to advance our priorities, such as housing investments. We will also be looking for more flexibility than the usual 75/25 approach to cost-sharing.

Third, we will seek opportunities for collaboration with other governments to advance shared priorities. This government does not want to compete for resources with other organizations within the Northwest Territories. We will work with Indigenous governments across the Northwest Territories to advance projects that benefit all of our people.

Finally, we are looking for creative low- or no-cost initiatives to improve fiscal planning, including four-year business plans, to bring the longer-term horizon into view, and we will rely on increased program evaluation to bring more value for our dollars spent. The GNWT will undertake strategic reviews to ensure programs and services are meeting expectations and that budgeted expenditures for these programs are properly aligned with our mandate and all additional revenue options are considered.

Further, we are seeking an increase to the borrowing limit, for better flexibility while maintaining a level of debt that is affordable. We have already begun to engage the federal government and remind them that the NWT is a fiscally responsible jurisdiction, with much opportunity but also longstanding gaps. We can only succeed in increasing the limit if we demonstrate responsible and strategic spending. Investments will need to be modest and reflect our expected revenue growth over the next four years.

From a fiscal perspective, we believe that more effective and sometimes more flexible use of our existing programs and services will provide better value for the public money that we are spending. We expect to improve performance while reducing costs so that we can free up fiscal resources to help close the infrastructure gap that exists across our communities without overreliance on debt.

Tax Measures

The cost of living is high in the territory, especially within small communities, where average incomes are lower. Budget 2020 introduces no new taxes. We will be reviewing our tax regime in tandem with standing committee, and we are developing a plan to engage the people of the Northwest Territories in a dialogue about government revenues. Together, we will continue to explore ways to increase our own-source revenues without an undue burden on our residents and businesses.

The Northwest Territories is at the forefront of climate change, with the impacts of rising average global temperatures being more pronounced here than in other parts of the world, affecting permafrost, ice road seasons, and forest fires. Carbon pricing was developed as a response to the federal proposal and implemented as part of a made-in-the-North approach to encourage greenhouse gas reductions.

Effective July 1, federally mandated carbon tax rates will increase to $30 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions as part of our legislated commitment to carbon pricing under the pan-Canadian framework. This means a tax-rate increase of 2.3 cents-per-litre on gasoline and 2.7 cents-per-litre on diesel fuel. In lock-step with the carbon tax increase, the cost-of-living offset will increase to $156 per year for an individual and $180 per year for a child, on July 1. The cost-of-living offset payments are made quarterly, except for single individuals, who will receive a lump sum in July because their quarterly payments would be less than $50.

Budget 2020 proposes almost $11 million in spending for residents and businesses for the cost-of-living offset, heating rebates, large emitters' rebates and grants, and rebates for electricity producers, to mitigate the impact on the cost of living due to the carbon tax.


Madam Speaker, we propose to spend $1.896 billion in this budget.

We mapped out the proposed budget, starting with the blueprint of last year's budget. Departments worked hard to find $15 million to reallocate. We also partnered with the federal government for $29 million in new federal funding for some projects. This effort gives us the flexibility to fund $94 million in additional spending.

We are investing $39 million of this new spending in our public service to conclude the last collective bargaining agreements. The remainder of the additional funds are proposed to adjust departments' budgets to better match their spending needs, to deliver on partnership agreements with Canada, and to add $6 million in funds for initiatives started in the last Assembly.

Based on current fiscal forecasts, we will set aside at least $25 million over the term of this government to advance this Assembly's priorities. The proposed amount for 2020-2021 will be submitted through a supplementary appropriation after the main estimates have been approved by the Assembly. We will be more collaborative and more strategic in how we approach delivering on our mandate that comes from this Assembly's priorities.

Providing quality health care and social services that are comparable to what other Canadians receive will always be a key consideration in budget planning. The Department of Health and Social Services has a proposed budget of over half-a-billion dollars, with $18 million of enhancements and adjustments introduced this year. Budget 2020 includes $10 million for supporting well-being through the recently amended Northern Wellness Agreement with the federal government. This means more health and wellness programming in our communities in collaboration with Indigenous Services Canada.

With the opening of the Stanton Territorial Hospital last year, we have created a facility that will serve us for many years and will be administered through an agreement with Boreal Health Partners. More functions are becoming operational, and Budget 2020 proposes adding $2.6 million for a wide range of operations in ongoing funding. This funding will support 51 positions to help patients, including 15 behavioural health workers, nine positions in the medicine unit, five staff for processing medical devices, four positions in each of the emergency triage department and day procedures units, and three for rehabilitation services. Through partnership and collaboration with the federal government, we are leveraging our ability to provide healthcare, and this budget delivers $2.1 million in spending over several areas of health. These include mental health and addictions, home and community care, cannabis awareness, emergency treatment, climate change and health adaptation, improving wellness and aftercare plans for cancer patients and survivors, supporting our participation in the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, and enhanced seasonal flu monitoring.

There are infrastructure deficits across all of our communities. Infrastructure includes all of the physical structures needed to support our programs and services. Our hospitals and health facilities care for people to get back on their feet. Our schools provide the space for education received by students. Our roads allow all residents and businesses the ability to grow our economy by moving goods and labour to where they are in demand, while also allowing ambulances and first responders quick access to emergencies. Transportation links us across this territory through a network of airports and runways of not only concrete but also ice on rivers and lakes. Our laboratories, warehouses, parks, fire monitoring stations and towers, and all other government buildings and assets are ultimately to support the health, safety, and well-being of our people.

We have a rich, diverse, and expansive terrain which creates a challenge for serving our many small communities. The territory continues to lag the rest of Canada in terms of infrastructure with the oldest average age in the country. By investing in the territory, infrastructure has the ability to lower the cost of living and develop the economy at the same time by creating multiple benefits across several sectors and departments to make the Northwest Territories a better place to live and work.

The Department of Infrastructure has a proposed budget of $275 million, which includes $10 million of new spending this year. As part of a larger strategy for care, 72 new long-term beds at the old Stanton hospital will be supported with $4 million of new funding. Proposed spending enhancements of $2.2 million provide for operations of new buildings, including the new Stanton hospital, the Hay River fish plant, biomass heating plants in schools in Hay River and Aklavik, and a laboratory and warehouse in Fort Simpson. Investment in the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway has increased the use of the Dempster Highway from Kilometre 0 to 272 of Highway 8, and Budget 2020 proposes an enhancement of $659,000 for ongoing upkeep to support people seeking adventure in our spectacular North. This budget introduces a permafrost data management and analytical system for both highways through Transport Canada funding under the Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative for $390,000.

There is a proposed $250,000 to support the Lafferty ferry over the Liard River and Ndulee ferry over the Mackenzie River. Resources from the federal government's Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund to address climate change will allow us to allocate $2.4 million in the infrastructure budget, with $300,000 put towards increased funding for the Arctic Energy Alliance and its programs which would bring its total funding to $5.8 million. The remainder will go to approved projects that get underway this year.

Given the investment of previous Assemblies, a proposed $4.5 million is recommended for the Department of Finance for interest costs related mainly to short-term borrowing, which has advanced our ability to take advantage of cost-shared capital funding offered by the federal government to invest in the territory's infrastructure with favourable financing.

Finance, working with several other departments, is improving the way NWT residents and businesses can access government services through a better and expanded online portal that covers a range of departmental services. Budget 2020 proposes $337,000 to complete the implementation of a single, secure online portal for existing services across departments, and to bring 40 more licences and permits to the platform.

The people of the Northwest Territories have a proud history as stewards of the land. We all share a responsibility to ensure our environment is healthy for present and future generations. Budget 2020 introduces additional funding of $8 million for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources within a proposed budget of almost $100 million. In an ongoing effort to establish protected areas, this Budget allocates $175,000 of additional funding to monitor more candidate area sites. An additional $2 million is proposed to support our forest fire suppression air tanker fleet to be better prepared for wildfire outbreaks. As part of the environmental assessment of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, $45,000 is proposed to fulfill commitments to support the wildlife monitoring program that will expand our understanding of the impact of roads on wildlife, and can be applied to future projects.

Budget 2020 allocates Environment and Natural Resources with $1.4 million for conservation and recovery of the Bathurst and Bluenose-East barren-ground caribou herds.

There is $960,000 to support boreal caribou range planning in Budget 2020 under the conservation agreement with the federal government, with $897,000 proposed under Environment and Natural Resources and $63,000 under the Department of Lands. Budget 2020 also recommends $3.5 million in funding for advancing activities under three challenge nature fund agreements with the federal government, much of which is for the GNWT and Indigenous governments to collaboratively establish, manage and monitor Thaidene Nene and Ts'ude Niline Tuyeta, which are new territorial protected areas and Dinaga Wek'ehodi, which is currently a candidate protected area. These four-year agreements, with a total of $11 million in funding, will also support the conservation economy and job creation in small communities.

Budget 2020 includes $23 million for the Department of Lands for ongoing work to manage, administer, and plan for the sustainable use of public land, fairly and transparently, to reflect the interests of our people now and for generations to come.

The Department of Justice delivers the Integrated Case Management program. ICM breaks down silos with project collaboration between Health and Social Services, Education, Culture and Employment, Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority staff, the Stanton hospital, and the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation. It is an example of government re-imagining existing resources to support better outcomes for people. It empowers them with knowledge and is an innovative solution that delivers results.

Most of the people accepted in the program have gone through a life-changing crisis before admission, and 70 percent of them live with mental health challenges. Many program participants are referred to the program to address housing needs, a foundational aspect of the program. More than half of them are experiencing homelessness or precarious housing. Pathfinders are the backbone of the program. They work alongside clients, help navigate systems, and even sit in on appointments between clients and government service providers. The outcomes for participants are tangible, such as secure housing, as well as the intangible, such as the self-confidence it gives participants who gain greater independence once they understand how to effectively access the supports they need. ICM is also tasked with identifying barriers that participants have faced so that departments can collaborate to remove those barriers for all service users. Budget 2020 allocates $827,000 towards ongoing funding to make ICM a permanent program. The participating departments will move forward together to make the best use of the knowledge and experience about accessing government programs that is being gathered through this program.

Budget 2020 also proposes $240,000 for the Victim Services program that directly funds entirely to community-based organizations that provide victim service supports.

A strong education system for all stages of childhood development is one of the cornerstones on which to build the future of the Northwest Territories. Budget 2020 proposes $340 million in spending for the second largest department, Education, Culture and Employment. Budget 2020 continues to implement the specialized territorial support team for schools with $319,000 in new funding for mental health and speech and language specialists, bringing the specialist team to five members. This budget continues to improve the Northern curricula with $129,000 of new funding to support resource development about Northern issues and to create assessment tools for credential recognition of this curricula beyond our borders for students applying for post-secondary opportunities, and also to provide training for our teachers to deliver this material. Budget 2020 also proposes an ongoing funding increase for education authorities of $269,000 for student transportation to catch up with actual expenditures.

Another successful and innovative program that is expanding is northern distance learning. Funding of $604,000 is proposed to bring northern distance learning to five more schools, and provide access to more students, as well as enhancements and funding for the equipment needed. Northern distance learning harnesses technology to improve student learning opportunities across all of our communities with videoconferencing and online tools linked to high schools in regional centres. The program is helping high school students achieve academic success without having to leave their home community.

To support the processing of information requests related to day school settlement records, $129,000 is dedicated to a student records coordinator. This coordinator will help former day school students get the compensation to which they are entitled under the March 2019 class-action suit settlement with the federal government.

The GNWT is dedicated to creating a prosperous and sustainable Northern economy and the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment has a proposed budget of $60 million to that end. Spending proposed in Budget 2020 includes an increase of $758,000. To promote economic growth, Budget 2020 is proposing $250,000 to support implementing socioeconomic agreements that will facilitate mine developments in the Dehcho and Tlicho regions. To promote economic diversity and nurture a growing tourism sector, $176,000 is dedicated to support increased activity in the Beaufort-Delta region from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway traffic, and $92,000 is dedicated to improving public safety along the Ingraham Trail for aurora viewing in North Slave parks.

The responsibility of northern governance and decision-making often spans more than one department, and that includes offshore oil and gas negotiations. Budget 2020 puts forth $825,000 to support resource management under the Pan-Territorial Vision for Sustainable Development, with $705,000 allocated to the Department of the Executive and Indigenous Affairs and $60,000 for each of Environment and Natural Resources and Industry, Tourism and Investment.

The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is proposing a total operating budget of $109.2 million in 2020-2021 to support the corporation's mandate, which includes $4.2 million of additional spending to promote housing partnerships, homeownership, and the preservation of the public housing program.

During the term of the 19th Assembly, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation will continue to work with 33 communities towards the development of Community Housing Plans that include local and community-based strategies and solutions to guide the adaptation of existing housing and the development of future housing in each community.

Further, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation will work with people currently in public housing who may have the resources to become homeowners through the new home program and through the sale of public housing. We will also address housing affordability through the Canada Housing Benefit, a new national portable housing benefit program designed to address housing affordability.

We recognize the need for an increased supply of affordable housing in the territory. To move forward, we look to housing partnership programming such as the community housing support initiative that will support local and Indigenous governments and community partners in developing unique housing approaches. Additional opportunities can be found in the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, with a $60 million allocation for the Northwest Territories housing projects.

Recognizing the great need of people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, we are developing the GNWT homelessness strategy to ensure that the GNWT investments in and actions on homelessness are aligned, consistent, and effective.

Having set a foundation for government operations, I would like to say a few words about our immediate next steps.

The next task is to review and analyze how we use this $1.9 billion budget not only to deliver good governance day to day but also to advance initiatives in support of the 19th Legislative Assembly's priorities. To do this, we will take a "whole of government" approach and try to avoid pitting one set of needs against another. We must find ways to advance all of our priorities, recognizing that different regions, communities, and people within those communities will have different needs. Recognizing and balancing the many needs of a diverse society is one of the roles of government. It is a challenge but also an opportunity to showcase consensus government by working with all Members of this Assembly.

We will also be working on a more consistent approach to evaluate programs and services. All departments will be involved in performance measure development and monitoring to ensure that we are getting optimal returns on our investments. We expect that a more systemic approach should help achieve more value from the expenditures and improve evaluation of our service levels. Last, but far from least, we will change the way that the government does business.

There will always be risks in the world. Our government recognizes that there are risks around us and challenges ahead. We acknowledge that our economy has slowed, our fiscal resources are limited, and much of our physical and technological infrastructure still needs to catch up to the rest of Canada. National and international conditions are continuously changing. However, having acknowledged those risks and challenges, we believe that changing our approach on how to deliver government services will help us prepare for whatever new challenges the future may bring.

We will not be afraid to take risks because risk is where the opportunities arise. We will not be stalled in fear that decisions, proposals, solutions, or new programs may not deliver as hoped. We will have the courage to start taking measured risks with incremental evaluation of our efforts. We will remain engaged with our residents in order to be responsive and proactive. To achieve this goal may require a cultural shift to harness the ingenuity of our public service and our communities.

We will build a culture of creativity and innovation within our administration, our public service, and hopefully across the Northwest Territories. This does not require millions of dollars of new investment, but it will take relationships built on trust, communication, and respect. Fortunately, we start in a position of strength given the good work done today in and day out of our public service. The cultural shift will also need to start from the top with each of us in Cabinet and in the 19th Assembly leading with integrity and courage and solving problems creatively and collaboratively.

My commitment to this Assembly was a commitment to people, building relationships, and understanding the stories of others. I have learned that the budget process is a year-long endeavour, and with the shift to four-year business plans, it will be important to hear from different perspectives throughout our term.

While the message of Budget 2020 is largely one of stability, that is not the message of the 19th Assembly. The message from this Assembly is found in its priorities, and we will take measurable actions using a collaborative approach to achieve our mandate. This Assembly is one that listens to each other and its constituents and will reach out to stakeholders for feedback. We may have differences of opinion, but these conversations are the true strength of consensus government.

Through collaboration, we will achieve more creative problem solving. With more creative problem solving, we can achieve more responsive and effective results. Establishing performance measures helps evaluate the success of our work so that our resources are used effectively. Making this approach the way we do business and govern will show the world that the Northwest Territories is a premier destination to live with a positive economic future; strong educational opportunities for our children; quality health care; a respectful approach to honouring our lands, water, and wildlife; and collaborative relationships with Indigenous governments based in our commitment to reconciliation. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Budget Address
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The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Thank you, Minister of Finance. Members, before we break for a short reception in the Great Hall, I would like to recognize a few visitors in the gallery. Mr. Anthony W. J. Whitford, former Commissioner, Speaker, Minister, Member, Sergeant-at-Arms, honourary clerk at the table; Mr. Tom Beaulieu, former Minister and Member; Mr. Kieron Testart, former Member; Patrick Gruben, chair of the Inuvialuit Development Corporation; Denny Rogers, the director of business development in Inuvialuit Development Corporation; as well as Patricia Chaychuk, clerk of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. Thank you.

We will now take a short break, and I welcome you all to the Great Hall for a reception.


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The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Item 3, Ministers' statements. Item 4, Members' statements.

Lesa Semmler

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Mr. Speaker, on May 11, 2016, the Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation announced that the GNWT would examine options for the future governance of the NTPC. As a first step, responsible Minister Louis Sebert revoked the appointments of the NTPC public board of directors and appointed a new board made up of GNWT deputy ministers. A press release issued that day said, "Appointing deputy ministers to the board will eliminate approximately $1-million cost annually." Minister Sebert was also quoted as saying, "The decision is a part of our government's broader work to address the cost of living. The GNWT continues to provide a significant level of direct financial support to NTPC, and the Auditor General has recently changed its accounting classification to recognize its more direct relationship to the government. Given these factors, it's worth examining governance options for the corporation."

When the 19th Assembly took office, the deputy ministers who were no longer working for the GNWT also ceased to serve on this NTPC board of directors. They were replaced on the board by a fresh crop of DMs late last year. On February 5th, the current Minister responsible for NTPC told this House, "They are actually not deputy ministers sitting on the board. They are actually regular people in there, working together with government with the Power Corporation."

Mr. Speaker, the last time "regular people" served on the NTPC board of directors was in 2016 when the government dissolved the public board. Under the previous government, deputy ministers were put on the NTPC board for a specific purpose, which was to carry out the task of determining government's options for the NTPC on behalf of the GNWT.

What I would like to know and what the people of NWT deserve to know is: what work has been done in this? Later today, I will have questions for the Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Eulogy for Mrs. Rita Rowe
Members' Statements

Page 182

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I would like to pay tribute to Mrs. Rita Rowe, a long-term resident of Hay River, who was surrounded by family and passed away peacefully on February 14th in Hay River. Rita was born on June 22, 1935, on a small farm in Lonesome Pine, Alberta, to Mary and Arthur Lockhart. She was the youngest daughter with 14 siblings. When Rita was just 12 years old, her mother passed away, resulting in Rita going to live with her sister in Edmonton.

At the young age of 16, Rita went looking for work, which found her on a plane heading to Yellowknife. Her adventure was just beginning. Her first job was working as a waitress at the Busy Bee Cafe, where she became lifetime friends with Patricia Rowe. Christmas arrived in Yellowknife, and Rita had no plans. Patricia suggested Rita spend Christmas at the Rowe house. This is where Rita met Bill, her husband-to-be, and the rest is the journey of their life.

Rita and Bill were married on January 20, 1953, in Peace River; however, they lived in Berwyn, Alberta. While living in Berwyn, Bill and Rita travelled back and forth to Saskatchewan to work in the oil field. Soon after, they came North where they ran a garage and restaurant in Enterprise until it was destroyed by fire. It was then Rita and Bill decided to move to Hay River, where Bill had BJ Motors and Rita worked at raising her family of six.

In 1963, Rita was diagnosed with TB and, along with two of her children, had to go to a hospital in Edmonton for treatment. It was a very hard time for the family, but Rita always had a positive outlook on life. Rita worked tirelessly, volunteering with figure skating, Royal Purple, and hockey groups to ensure that goals were achieved and fun was had by all. Rita enjoyed organizing figure skating auctions to make sure ice time was paid for and that coaches were in place.

In 1976, Bill and Rita headed South to take over the Rowe family farm. Rita loved the farm and always had time to visit with neighbours, work the garden, and prepare for family visits. She instilled honesty, integrity, and hard work in each of her children. In 2013, Rita and her family proudly celebrated 100 years of homesteading on the farm.

Mrs. Rita Rowe is sadly missed by her family and the residents of Hay River. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Eulogy for Mrs. Rita Rowe
Members' Statements

Page 183

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Teck Resources Frontier Mine Decision
Members' Statements

Page 183

Steve Norn

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker. Today, I would like to share some remarks regarding the large oil sands mining project known as Teck Frontier, which, as of two days ago, has officially been withdrawn by Teck Resources Limited.

The news of this decision, in my view, is positive. The adverse environmental impacts that this project would have brought to our territory would have been felt for generations. We here in the NWT have always been feeling the impacts of the oil sands development for many years already. We have seen the impacts it had on our waterways, our interconnected lakes and rivers that flow from the Athabasca River in Fort McMurray, all the way north through the Slave River and into the Great Slave Lake. The water quality along these waterways has diminished. In some cases, the volume of water flowing through has decreased.

Along with these effects on water, there is also a major concern for the impacts to wildlife such as fish, moose, caribou, and others. These two areas of concern would have also exponentially impacted many nearby First Nations and other Indigenous groups to hunt and trap on their own land.

I believe that the withdrawal of the Teck Frontier Mine is a reawakening of corporate, social, and environmental responsibility for this country. Big business, especially multinational corporations, need to work with Indigenous governments all across Canada before any major projects are moved forward, to ensure that there are benefits for all parties that are impacted.

Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, I believe that the Alberta-NWT Transboundary Water Agreement should have played a larger and more active role in Teck Frontier Mine consultations. One of the core tenets of that agreement states clearly, among other main objectives, that both parties must work "to maintain the ecological integrity of transboundary water ecosystems." If Teck Mine had gone through with development, I seriously doubt that the ecological integrity of our lands and waters would have been upheld, which begs the question: if our government's participation in such agreements does not bear any fruit for our territory's interest, then why be a part of it?

I also have a problem with the lack of participation by Indigenous governments in enacting this water agreement. Why did they only receive "observer statuses" with this agreement as opposed to being fully active participants to this agreement? I see many problems with that approach, and I hope we can be more inclusive with our Indigenous partners when it comes to major decisions like this. Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister responsible shortly.

Teck Resources Frontier Mine Decision
Members' Statements

Page 183

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, the 413-kilometre Slave Geological Province Road has a $1 billion price tag. That is $2.4 million per kilometre. For the cost of a quarter kilometre of road, we could have housed 42 of our territory's homeless.

Almost a year ago, the Yellowknife Women's Society began discussions with the City of Yellowknife and the GNWT about reopening the Arnica Inn to provide 42 transitional housing units for the homeless clientele of the Yellowknife Women's Society. The vast majority of these people are Indigenous single men or women displaced from smaller communities across the NWT and Nunavut. Mr. Speaker, this project is a territorial project.

The proposed co-funding agreement was a partnership. It was proposed that CMHC would contribute $2.6 million, the GNWT $660,000, and the Yellowknife Women's Society would run the facility. The need for transitional housing is there. Seventy-five percent of the funding is there. The support to administer this project is there. Mr. Speaker, why are we not there?

In December, the housing Minister acknowledged that we have a housing crisis in the Northwest Territories. The government's newly minted mandate calls for an increase in adequate, affordable, and suitable housing and commits to working with partners to increase funding for housing programs. Despite this, application made by the Yellowknife Women's Society was denied by CMHC. Why? Because the GNWT does not support this project.

To make matters worse, this government failed to communicate with its potential partners. The GNWT has known about this project for almost a year. Every Yellowknife MLA was told of this plan during election. One hundred percent of us were in support of this project. Apparently, the GNWT has failed to support this project. Apparently, the Yellowknife Women's Society was not advised.

Apparently, keeping Members of this House adequately informed was also neglected. Based on the normal 20-year half-life of a building, this project would have provided housing for homeless people at less than $60 a month.

Today, I want answers, Mr. Speaker. How did we get to this point? How did the housing Minister fail to adequately communicate with the Women's Society and Regular MLAs? Most importantly, why has the GNWT chosen not to support this project that would have housed 42 of our homeless for the cost of a quarter kilometre of road?

As the 19th Legislative Assembly, we committed to investing in relationships and better communication. Mr. Speaker, we owe better to each other and to the people we serve. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I would like to thank the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources for the invitation to the GNWT-Government of Nunavut research and management meeting on barren-ground caribou that was held this past Saturday. There were many Indigenous government leaders at the meeting, including the Tlicho chiefs, Lutselk'e Dene First Nation chief, Yellowknives Dene First Nation chiefs, North Slave Metis Alliance representatives, and also leaders from Nunavut, including Premier Joe Savikataaq, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated Vice President James Eatoolook, and others. There were many staff and researchers from these organizations as well. Forgive me if I have not recognized everyone.

There were a series of technical presentations on the status of several barren-ground caribou herds, including Bathurst and Bluenose East, management proposals and recommendations, and some discussion of other issues.

It would have been helpful to have heard a little more about what is happening in Nunavut, especially with regard to habitat protection. It was very good to hear that the Government of Nunavut has proposed a harvesting moratorium on the Bathurst caribou herd to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, as there continues to be up to 30 bulls taken each year on their side of the border.

General concerns were raised about communications and agreement to improve this within the Northwest Territories and across the border with Nunavut, too. A number of specific concerns were also raised. For example, it is not clear who and how decisions will be made around aerial shooting of wolves, should traditional harvesters not reach the desired targets. There was also frustration at the lack of progress on habitat protection and need for restrictions on industry, while harvesters have gone without caribou for more than five years.

I want to acknowledge that this was a useful continuation of the working relationships among Indigenous governments and public governments. There was also agreement to have further meetings with traditional harvesters and elders present, more information about the various plans and activities, and how they relate to each other.

I hope I can be part of that process. I will have questions later today for the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources on some of the issues that arose at the meeting. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Jackson Lafferty

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Masi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this Valentine's Day, when many people were receiving chocolates and flowers from their sweethearts, the Yellowknife Women's Society received a very bitter present indeed. The women's society was told by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that they would not receive funding for a social housing conversion project dear to the hearts of many Yellowknifers and dear, also, to the hearts of the people in my riding of Monfwi. The Arnica Inn project would have provided small, self-contained apartments for 42 of the 338 disadvantaged people, Mr. Speaker, who are currently living without housing in Yellowknife. Many of them come from my hometown of Behchoko and Monfwi riding.

The reason the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation turned down the application was that the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation was not prepared to contribute its required 25 percent of the capital costs, an amount totalling $660,000. For that trifling sum, we could have leveraged upwards of $4 million from the federal funding for homeless Northerners.

Our share spread over the project's 42 self-contained apartments, would have cost this government $16,000 per unit. Mr. Speaker, you would think that a government that cares about homelessness would jump at such a great deal. Yet, astoundingly, the territorial housing corporation didn't respond to the society's request for support, let alone offer to help.

Mr. Speaker, this raises questions in the House, and from the public, as well, about the concerns of people living out on the streets in the capital city, Yellowknife. I intend to question the Minister of Housing at a later time regarding this very important matter for my constituents. Masi.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am also going to hop on this train. The Arnica Inn: an example of how not to govern. By my count, every single Yellowknife MLA and my colleague beside me supported this project. During the election, the City of Yellowknife supported this project. In fact, I don't remember talking to a single person opposed to this project. Then, once we get elected, this project seemingly does not go through because the GNWT did not support it.

Furthermore, I find out that we don't support this project due to the mayor and the executive director of the women's society informing me, and CMHC ultimately informing them. This was a clear breakdown in communication, Mr. Speaker. The Housing Corporation is a Crown corporation. It is supposed to be arm's length from government, but it is not supposed to be arm's length from the Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation. It is not supposed to be arm's length from democratically elected Members of this legislature.

Mr. Speaker, I struggle to know why this occurred. I will have questions for the Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation, but I believe that there is a larger problem here. Our NWT Housing Corporation is extremely risk adverse. They are so afraid of the 2038 deadline on losing funding from CMHC that they fail to put new units on the ground. We speak of partnerships. We speak of ending homelessness, and this was a project that checked all of those boxes, Mr. Speaker.

We need a Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation who has a bold vision, who is willing to take the risks, and is willing to address our housing crisis.

It is now the responsibility of that Minister to repair the relationship with the Members who supported this project, to repair the relationship with the women's society, to repair the relationship with the City of Yellowknife, and most importantly, to give some hope to our most vulnerable citizens who, on the streets of Yellowknife, who come from all across this territory, that they will have housing, that there is some plan in place that ultimately addresses this.

Mr. Speaker, from where I was standing and where I stand now, this project made complete sense. I will have questions for the Minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Jackie Jacobson

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Crown corporations are set up to manage government enterprises that run like businesses. These government-owned corporations operate at arm's length of the government.

Both Northwest Territories Power Corporation and the Aurora College are established in legislation as territorial corporations. What else can they have in common? In both cases, Mr. Speaker, the GNWT has dissolved both public boards that was tasked on running them.

In May 2016, the Minister responsible for NTPC revoked appointments. The board of directors were replaced to save a million dollars to put towards cost of living for the people of the Northwest Territories.

In June 2017, the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment appointed an administrator to Aurora College. The website says the administrator would "temporarily replace the board and assume responsibilities."

Mr. Speaker, whenever the GNWT eliminates public boards or municipal governments or municipal council, or public governance structure, they are limiting the voice of the public. We also lose the expertise and the different perspectives of members of the public to bring forward to the boards that they serve on. This should be done with extreme caution for the shortest possible time period.

I question whether the main reason of pulling the NTPC board was to consider governance options or to save a million dollars. It has been almost four years now. What is taking so long, Mr. Speaker? When are they going to see the proof and the progress of the money that they're saving?

As for Aurora College, the termination of the expert hired to oversee the work makes me question whether timely progress is being made on that project, too.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT needs to move quickly to complete these reviews and let us know the governance models are going to be put into place. As a Member of this Assembly, we have to hold the government accountable in these positions. I'll have questions for the Premier at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Members' statements. Item 5, recognition of visitors in the gallery. Member for Hay River South.

Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery
Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery

Page 184

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to recognize at this time Germaine Michel from Hay River. She is a chaperone here with a few of the Pages who are from Hay River South. I would also like to recognize the Pages, who are Rochell Sabourin and Joseph Arcand. Thank you.

Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery
Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery

Page 184

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Recognition of visitors in the gallery. Member for Nunakput.

Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery
Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery

Page 184

Jackie Jacobson

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to welcome my constituency assistant who just started working with me, Mr. Vince Teddy. Welcome to the Assembly. I am really honoured to be working with him for the people of Nunakput, Mr. Speaker.

Also, I would like to welcome Dan Gruben from my home community of Tuktoyaktuk, and Denny Rodgers. Thank you, and welcome to the House. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.