This is page numbers 825 - 844 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 program.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Frederick Blake Jr, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Ms. Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Lafferty, Ms. Martselos, 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 1:32 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 825

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

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Finance.

Minister's Statement 42-19(2): Setting the Stage for the Finalizing Budget 2020
Ministers' Statements

Page 825

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

When the Legislative Assembly shut down in March due to the COVID health state of emergency, the Government of the Northwest Territories was well into its annual budgeting process. As we continue that discussion, we are also moving forward to other financial matters to be discussed during this sitting of the Legislative Assembly.

The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic do not change the Government's need to continue providing programs and services. At the same time, we have been responding to the immediate needs of the Northwest Territories economy, communities, businesses, and residents as a result of the health restrictions.

Since the 2020-2021 budget was introduced, the government's fiscal situation has worsened as the COVID-19 pandemic has created declines in own source revenues and increases in expenditures while the government has developed and launched a variety of economic relief packages. The significance of the negative effects of the fiscal framework will be better known as the Emerging Wisely plan is further implemented.

Mr. Speaker, we are fortunate that Canada has provided $23 million in support to the GNWT response that will partially offset costs directly related to COVID-19. Right now, departments are responding to COVID-19 in ways that have not been included in their budgets through existing appropriations. These include the establishment of Emergency Management Operations, which are likely to be ongoing for some time; the roll-out of managed alcohol; check stops at borders; monitoring of incoming air traffic passengers; self-isolation centers in regional centers; and homelessness supports. The Department of Finance is working with all the departments and public agencies to track all of the incremental costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, the Government of the Northwest Territories has spent almost $7.9 million in COVID-related costs, and we project an additional $31.1 million will be needed, of which $11.3 million is allocated to the health response.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has also provided targeted assistance to various sectors in the territory including funding for childcare providers, airport landing fee holidays, airport lease fee holidays, and increased income assistance which to date totals over $30 million.

I believe we must work continue to work creatively, use further assistance to advance the 19th Legislative Assembly's mandate. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health measures being implemented across the planet have thrown the global economy into the economic equivalent of a 100-year storm. Given the economic disruption, and despite all immediate government actions to support the economy, things will not be the same when the COVID-19 pandemic health measures have lifted. The Government of the Northwest Territories has a responsibility to support the recovery as quickly as possible or much of the private sector may simply not have the ability to recover. We need to act quickly and strategically to invest in the future economy and in all of our residents and businesses in a way that reflects the core values held by Northwest Territories residents and builds on the priorities of the 19th Legislative Assembly. It is my expectation that, through the structure of the Emerge Stronger dialogue and process, we will be able to gather ideas and proposals that reflect needs from across regions, communities, and sectors in order to take responsive and responsible funding decisions.

Mr. Speaker, departments have provided high-level assessments of COVID-19 impacts on the mandate priorities and associated actions that indicate that a lot of the mandate items can be fulfilled by the end of the 19th Legislative Assembly with few delays or issues. As we adjust to a post-COVID environment, I look forward to working with all Members to keep the mandate largely aligned with the economic and social recovery by recognizing priorities that may no longer be relevant and embracing new priorities that may have emerged.

As part of the 2020-2021 budgeting process, a fiscal strategy has been presented that spans the life of the 19th Legislative Assembly. Part of this strategy identified $25 million to fund mandate priorities over the next four years. This funding is proposed to remain in place and the supplementary appropriation to be considered this sitting will include an advancement of immediate funding to begin work on several initiatives.

Mr. Speaker, back in February, I indicated we would hold public discussions on the next budget as soon as possible so that the Assembly would have the benefit of residents' priorities in advance of finalizing the four-year business plans. These plans and increased program evaluation, among several policy initiatives, are intended to lead to governing so 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 lands, water, and wildlife; and collaborative relationships with Indigenous governments based in a commitment to reconciliation." We want to understand how residents interpret what is essentially our mission statement.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not changed this commitment. Over the summer months of 2020, supported by the Department of Finance, I will endeavour to meaningfully engage with residents of the Northwest Territories to determine their views on a variety of topics related to how and why the Government of the Northwest Territories spends money. Of particular interest to me, given the drastic changes that have taken place as a result of COVID-19, is how residents and stakeholders think the government should change the way we do business and what measured risks they would support the government to take to aid with the economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 42-19(2): Setting the Stage for the Finalizing Budget 2020
Ministers' Statements

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

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts on Small Businesses Operating Outside of the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 826

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I would like to discuss the matter of NWT small businesses conducting cross-border services who may now lose out on contracts due to the fact they are required to self-isolate upon their return.

A real-life example would be a business that currently has a contract to pick up vehicles in the NWT and deliver them to a location in Alberta. The contract this business has is with the southern company. This service is intermittent and requires the business owner, upon his return, to self-isolate in Hay River, while his home base is Fort Simpson. The consequence of this is the loss of 14 days of business and revenue.

The contract is now coming up for renewal, and the NWT company will most likely not be invited to bid. This is due to the fact they are required to self-isolate upon their return and thus not able to follow through with timely service due to the stringent self-isolation requirements in the NWT. The contract will now go to a southern service provider, who is allowed to come into the NWT, retrieve a vehicle, turn around, and go back south with no requirement to self-isolate. This puts our northern businesses at a disadvantage.

This scenario is not only affecting this particular company. It is also affecting other northern companies in similar positions. These homegrown northern companies are now considering moving a good portion of their operation to Alberta in order to keep their businesses afloat. The move to Alberta would remove the requirement to self-isolate in the NWT, which is costing these companies both contracts and loss of revenue.

Mr. Speaker, we all know the reasoning behind the self-isolation requirement, but we also need to use a common-sense approach to some of our decisions.

We in the NWT are fortunate to have some very competent people in our health department, Dr. Kami Kandola being one of them, and I am sure she, with her team and working with other departments, can come up with a solution to this issue and help save some of our small businesses. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts on Small Businesses Operating Outside of the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 826

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

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

Community Alcohol Restrictions in Behchoko
Members' Statements

Page 827

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Masi, Mr. Speaker. Behchoko has issued a temporary ban on all liquor in the community. It was a response to an alarming upsurge in bootlegging. The community prohibition supplements the territorial government's own COVID-19-related liquor restrictions implemented on April 16th. My understanding is that that prohibition ceases tomorrow, May 28th.

[Translation] Mr. Speaker, today, we know there have been all sorts of problems and issues in the communities related to drugs and alcohol in most of the communities and my community, because we all know that we have access to travel, and we also know of the bootleggers in the communities. How can we provide services to the community so that we would be able to ban bootleggers? Much later on in the day, I would be able to then ask the Minister of Justice. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Translation ends].

Community Alcohol Restrictions in Behchoko
Members' Statements

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

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

Border Check Point Vehicle Crossing
Members' Statements

Page 827

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mr. Speaker, the Chief Public Health Officer prohibited all travel into the Northwest Territories to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This was March 21st. There were exceptions to allow persons deemed as essential services in and out of the territory, such as long-haul truckers, health and social services providers, federal and territorial wildlife officers, peace officers, forest firefighters, and the list goes on and on.

The Emerging Wisely document, the phased approach to lifting restrictions, was aptly introduced, and phase 1 was in effect in time for the May long weekend. I know many NWT residents were out in full force all over our highway system. This was great to see.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to run some numbers of the vehicle crossings and occupants at the border checkpoint. I believe this was in Enterprise, which is quite the distance from the actual NWT-Alberta border, which is at the 60th parallel. This information was taken from the Deputy Minister of MACA's report of May 25th:

  • On Wednesday, May 20th, there were 46 transports, 11 private vehicles, with 13 occupants total;
  • Thursday, May 21st, 33 transports, 14 private vehicles, with 23 occupants;
  • Friday, May 22nd, there were 22 transports, 12 private, with 19 occupants;
  • Saturday, May 23rd, 22 transports, 26 private vehicles, with 43 occupants;
  • Sunday, May 24th, there were 19 transports, 22 private vehicles, with 43 occupants.

I would also like to note that, on Sunday, May 10th, which was Mother's Day, there were 57 private vehicles, with a total of 101 occupants. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Premier at the appropriate time. Mahsi.

Border Check Point Vehicle Crossing
Members' Statements

Page 827

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

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

Marine Transportation System Shipping Season
Members' Statements

Page 827

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I would like to bring up the MTS sea lift for Nunakput for the 2020 season.

Mr. Speaker, in this House before, I brought up that the sea lift for Nunakput is a vital lifeline in remote coastal communities in my riding. The sea lift gives families the annual chance for lower cost of food, fuel, and building materials shipped into our communities, and also vehicles and snowmobiles. It's more cost effective shipping by sea lift than by air. This is even more important, Mr. Speaker, with the economic impact of COVID-19.

In 2016, Northern Transportation Company Limited was out of business. GNWT purchased the assets, and the Department of Infrastructure took over the company. They started shipping up and down the Mackenzie River. The barges could only reach our communities, Mr. Speaker, when the ice was gone. This means: start the boat, Mr. Speaker, right now. Start getting it ready in regards to our communities and the shipping.

The GNWT has one chance every year to get this job done. Those years, the sailing was a disaster for MTS. It was unable to deliver for Paulatuk. They blamed the high water and the ice blockage, which happens on the ocean side, comes in and out. They are supposed to be resupplying Sachs Harbour. Actually, they are returning from private contracts. That is what was the delay. We can't have that this year.

It cost the former government $3.9 million in flying essential goods to the communities that didn't have salvage season for the residents. Materials and equipment stayed on the boat for a year, and the materials were rotten, mould. The barge had another year to arrive into the community. When the materials did arrive, again, they spoiled on the barge.

Mr. Speaker, Nunakput has not forgotten the 2018 sailing season. I want to repeat that so it reminds the Minister to keep an eye on that, to make sure MTS is on the ball and ready to start shipping north when ice is cleared. This is so important to our constituents up in my riding. The sea lift schedule is posted on the MTS website. The schedule of Ulukhaktok, Paulatuk cargo acceptance is July 12th, Sachs Harbour, August 2nd to the 14th.

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

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, colleagues. Mr. Speaker, Sachs Harbour, Ulukhaktok, their last shipping acceptance date for cargo in Hay River and Tuktoyaktuk is July 12th. Sachs Harbour is the 2nd of August to the 14th. The Ulukhaktok barge is expected between July 29th and the 16th. For Paulatuk, the barge is expected between August 6th and the 19th. For Tuktoyaktuk, we have the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway. Plus, we have the shipping for out of Hay River July 10th, expected July 24th. Remaining two barges, last of the year, cargo acceptance for the community of Tuktoyaktuk is July 23rd for those barges, arriving August 6th and 10th, respectively. These dates subject to change, but keep an eye on MTS website. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Marine Transportation System Shipping Season
Members' Statements

Page 828

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

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

Wage Top-up Program and Minimum Wage
Members' Statements

Page 828

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. To support low-income workers during the pandemic, the Department of Finance has implemented a wage top-up program. NWT workers aged 15 or over and earning less than $18 per hour are eligible. Program covers April 1 to July 31, 2020. Workers who receive commissions or tips must include those amounts as part of their income for the purpose of the program. Students who, as part of their school curriculum, are employed in the work program and those who are self-employed are not eligible.

Employers are required to apply and receive one-time compensation of $50 per eligible employee, and their portion of Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance costs for the top-up will also be covered under the program. A grant is paid to each business that successfully applies based on the hours worked for each employee during a given month. The employer is required to include in the employees' paycheque a lump-sum wage to top-up payment in the business's next available payroll cycle. Total cost for the four-month program is estimated at $6.2 million, with the federal government covering $4.74 million or about 75 percent.

To be clear, Mr. Speaker, I support the wage top-up program as it can support many of the service sector workers who provide key programs and services and will assist in economic recovery. However, the need for this program is the clearest sign that our minimum wage is too low. Thirteen dollars and forty-six cents per hour is not enough to get by on, and it is no surprise to many Northerners.

In March 2019, Alternatives North released research reports that calculated each parent in a family of four would have to earn $23.95 hourly in Yellowknife, $24.75 in Hay River, and $23.78 in Inuvik for a decent standard of living.

This government uses a multi-stakeholder process to review the minimum wage. Committee has two government reps, one of whom shares two employee representatives, two from employers, and one from a social agency, two finance employee service consultants. The committee's 2014 and 2018 reports are almost verbatim. The report observed raising the minimum wage will have "little bearing on many Northerners living in poverty because fewer than 1,121,000 workers the NWT make less than $15 an hour." I will have questions later today for the Minister of Finance on how we can keep the wage top-up program as the floor for new NWT minimum wage. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Wage Top-up Program and Minimum Wage
Members' Statements

Page 828

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

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