This is page numbers 1749 - 1778 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 budget.

Topics

Members Present

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

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

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Prayer
Prayer

Page 1749

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Item 2, budget address. Minister of Finance.

Budget Address
Budget Address

Page 1749

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, approximately one year ago, I stood in this Assembly and introduced Budget 2020 as part of a journey. I described it as a foundation from which we could build a positive fiscal path forward towards long-term economic growth and stability. There were already negative economic indicators, but I said that we should not describe our circumstances as a crisis. I said that I was cautiously optimistic that achieving our priorities and building from a solid foundation was possible with discipline and planning.

At the time of tabling Budget 2020, I did not predict that last year's budget session would end abruptly to focus government efforts on a pandemic that was creating a public health crisis, not only in the Northwest Territories, but across Canada and around the world. The need to shut down to contain the virus resulted in an economic crisis for the Northwest Territories, a crisis that has impacted people in different ways, as many have lost their livelihoods or face precarious financial futures.

[English translation not available]

In tackling the pre-existing challenges of our undiversified economy, made only more immediate by the impacts of the pandemic, we should remember that the economy is not a thing. An economy is the way that we, as a society, choose to allocate our resources to serve our families, our communities, and our society's needs and wants, education and opportunities for our children and grandchildren, appropriate healthcare, housing, and food.

Challenges in crisis provide opportunity and motivation for needed change and for unified effort towards common goals. Knowing all of this, I remain cautiously optimistic about our future. I do not arrive at this optimism lightly, and I will share three reasons with you.

First, the people of the Northwest Territories have confirmed that our brand of northern spirit, resilience, and community is stronger than ever. We all saw the power of coming together to follow health protocols, support our local economy, take staycations, and find creative ways to continue to deliver goods and services.

Second, our fiscal structure has insulated us from even greater economic shocks and allows us an opportunity to preserve stability as we look towards recovery. While in other times, many, including me, have expressed concern over the challenge of an undiversified economy, in the present economic climate, having a large public sector has helped support continued levels of employment and disposable income. Territorial formula financing, among other federal supports, has kept our revenues comparably stable.

Last, and where I will spend the majority of this budget address, is on the foundations that we have started to build for a healthy, resilient, and more diverse economic future for the Northwest Territories.

With the anxieties of the pandemic ever-present, I did not realize just how far we had actually come in the journey I spoke about one year ago until I began to prepare for this budget address. As I will soon describe, we are building foundations for a well-educated population; healthy and safe families and communities; and economic opportunities, both territory-building in scale and at community levels. We are changing the way we do business to give better value for the people of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, while delivering the budget this year, it is important to directly acknowledge the need for economic recovery. That fact does not diminish the reasons for optimism I shared earlier. Just in time to be reflected in Budget 2021, we have the benefit of the Business Advisory Council's report speaking to both relief and recovery from COVID-19. The report highlights the need to focus on education, green technology, and our opportunity to, not only move towards green energy solutions, but to be part of a critical mineral value chain that will supply the world with the technological requirements for greener energy, as well as business support through government procurement, catching up on our infrastructure across sectors, and more and better opportunities for equity participation by Indigenous governments. I feel optimistic knowing that we all share similar goals and, again, the foundation to achieve those important asks are reflected in this budget.

The strength, resiliency, and creativity of the Northwest Territories population cannot be overstated as an economic benefit. I heard directly from many residents and organizations during budget dialogues last summer that, although there is anxiety and worry, people continue to believe we can achieve stability and growth. There was a desire for fiscal stability, which this budget provides by avoiding cuts or new taxes. There was also a strong connection drawn between long-term investments in people, including education and health, and future financial well-being, which is also reflected in this budget.

Another strong theme was the need to know that the government will be efficient and fiscally responsible with an eye on the future. This last ask is the goal of the Government Renewal Initiative that I announced in October and which is now under way. This does not require new funding from this budget, but it will be a significant government-wide effort to ensure that our fiscal house is in order.

Mr. Speaker, I present Budget 2021 as a stability budget that builds on the foundations we have set over the past year and allows further opportunity to advance many important projects. In this time of uncertainty, we propose to carry on with $2 billion in expenditures and no spending reductions. Over the next few minutes, I will share details of the work happening across departments that will support our economic future; describe ongoing investments in our people, our anchor industries, and our communities; and what is being done to ensure government efficiency so that I can continue to stand in the Assembly and say that we should look with optimism towards our future.

Mr. Speaker, we estimate that the Northwest Territories economy shrank almost 7 percent in 2020 because of the immediate and severe economic disruption caused by the global coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of the year. By the end of 2020, we saw the predicted economic rebound begin, and we expect economic activity this year to continue to recover from the 2020 low. The Northwest Territories economy in 2021 will likely remain smaller than it was in 2019, and the risks and challenges remain the same as before the pandemic's economic shock. Until the global health crisis is under control, a full recovery of the territorial economy will be slow and uneven.

Industries such as local retail, construction, and public administration have seen faster returns towards pre-pandemic strength, while hard-hit sectors such as tourism, hospitality, airlines, mining, and wholesale trade continue to struggle. Global lock-downs and border closures, reluctance or lack of opportunity to travel by air, and reduced international demand for diamonds, fur, and aurora tours means our hardest-hit sectors will take more time to show signs of recovery. Long-term challenges such as maturing diamond mines, an aging population, and a lack of economic diversification or private sector activity will depress future growth unless there are substantial structural changes. Long-term structural challenges must not be underestimated. Meanwhile, we must remain vigilant about public health orders because more coronavirus cases in the territory could dampen economic recovery.

Putting forward a recovery plan while still in the midst of an evolving crisis is challenging. We need to invest when the moment is right to catch the wave of recovery while not underestimating the full extent of the pandemic and investing too soon. With a spirit of knowing what we can accomplish together, especially when collectively motivated, we are working to develop our recovery roadmap. It will evolve as the distribution of the vaccines changes the way we respond to the pandemic. We should all feel encouraged that with the vaccine, the can-do attitude shown by the public service from the earliest days of the pandemic through to the vaccine roll-out, the creativity and patience of the business community, and the investments proposed in Budget 2021, we can move quickly with a flexible and responsive recovery.

The GNWT is a large player in the territory's economy. Budget 2021 has no reductions because right now the economy needs support. Despite welcomed additional federal transfers since last March to help us keep our residents safe and our economy working, we expect to spend more on programs and services in 2020-2021 than what we will bring in as revenues. For the third year in a row, we anticipate that we will have an operating deficit. This means that we needed to borrow more than expected for the capital budget, and debt is projected to increase to $1.33 billion by March 31, 2021. In Budget 2021, thanks again to increased federal support, we are projecting revenues to be higher than operating expenditures, which will produce a $69-million operating surplus. However, we need more than this operating surplus to pay for the $441-million capital plan approved last October and to start reducing the debt that we have already accumulated.

Revenues are projected to be $2.2 billion in 2021-2022. We are expecting lower amounts of our own revenues, especially corporate income tax, resource royalties, and revenues from the airport, Yellowknife airport, and Marine Transportation System revolving funds. The federal government is providing additional funds above the typical annual transfers, and our fiscal independence has weakened as a result. The combination of increased transfers and lower own-source revenue has increased the federal contribution to our total revenues from an average 81 percent to over 85 percent. While territorial formula financing arrangements provide a stable and predictable revenue base, we are facing serious risks to our own-source revenues. A slowing economy will likely mean several years of declining tax revenue, especially corporate and personal income taxes, and potentially little resource revenues. Furthermore, we face significant risks to both our own revenue base and federal transfers if our population starts to decline.

Mr. Speaker, we have chosen to balance our need for revenue by supporting a competitive tax regime for small businesses, reducing the small-business tax rate from 4 percent to 2 percent effective January 1, 2021. In an average year, this will result in forgone revenues of about $1.7 million annually but provides greater value by leaving small businesses with more resources to grow the economy. Continuing our usual practice, we will increase property tax rates and some fees to match inflation. As we agreed by signing the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, our carbon tax rates will increase to $40 per tonne of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions on July 1, 2021. Although this will add 2.4 cents in additional tax to a litre of gasoline and corresponding increases to other carbon-based fuels, our suite of carbon tax rebates will continue, and the cost-of-living offset will increase on July 1st to $208 per adult and $240 per child to help residents to adjust to the higher carbon price.

Mr. Speaker, we are proposing to spend $2 billion on programs and services in 2021-2022, an increase of $117 million from last year's budget, a result of $132 million in new spending that is partially offset by $15 million in savings. Not all of this funding will be rolled into the operating budget expenditure base for future years, such as the $41 million for various COVID-19 supports included in the budget to continue to keep our communities and residents safe. We are hopeful that our evolving response to the public health risks will make a portion of the $35 million for the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat included in this budget unnecessary, with the need for the secretariat phased out over the 2021-2022 fiscal year. The budget includes $4.3 million for contributions for our schools, to ensure that learning continues while we keep our children safe, and an additional $1.1 million to student financial assistance for extra support to post-secondary students for their increased education costs because of the pandemic.

Excluding the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat and other COVID-related supports, Budget 2020 includes $2.3 million more for new-asset amortization costs and $90 million in new spending. This new spending includes $23 million to maintain existing service levels in some programs, $40 million to enhance programs and services already offered, and $26 million to further our priorities. Over 60 percent of our spending on programs and services goes to investments in our people and to keep our communities healthy and safe. Spending on social programs and communities underpins a healthy economy. We propose in this budget to increase spending on these vital programs by $64 million, including $20 million for initiatives that directly address priorities of this Assembly, $28 million to continue or enhance work already underway, and $16 million to address funding pressures such as income incidence, medical travel expenses, and shelter funding.

Budget 2021 includes $4.5 million to complete the phased approach to bring child- and youth-care counsellors to all regions of the territory to support young people facing a range of personal or social issues. This program will provide year-round support and ensure that help is available after hours. We need to better protect vulnerable children, and we are proposing to add $7 million to the Child and Family Services budget for this purpose. These new resources will expand the ability of Child and Family Services to address gaps in the system and to accelerate implementation of its quality improvement plan. The additional resources will compress what was a five-year plan into three years, with the second phase expected to be completed shortly and the third phase in 2021-2022. The funding will increase the number of community social service works, family preservation workers, child and youth placement coordinators, foster care and adoption workers, and case aid workers to help vulnerable children and their families. The Office of the Children's Lawyer is experiencing an increased number of clients, and we have included an additional $99,000 in funding to support service availability.

Mr. Speaker, we want our families to be healthy. We propose to renew and improve the Healthy Family Program with $1.1 million to help parents ensure their children get a good start in life. The Healthy Family Program was redesigned with support from families, communities, and other partners to better reflect early childhood development and culturally based prevention priorities.

A good start in life needs to include opportunities for early learning and quality childcare. One significant reason for the lack of licenced childcare spaces is the high costs of infrastructure to start up or expand operations. By providing ongoing funding of $500,000 in this budget to subsidize facility repairs and renovations, we will help increase the number of daycare spaces and improve childcare availability and affordability.

Before remote learning became a common concept across Canada last March, the GNWT had already introduced the Northern Distance Learning Program so that youths in remote communities could remain with their families and still have access to educational opportunities available in larger centres. We are adding an additional $1.2 million for the Northern Distance Learning Program in this budget to fulfil the next step in the multi-year plan to improve and enhance services and make the program available to more students.

If we want better education outcomes for our children, we need to ensure that our schools use the best practices and that these practices have the support of parents and students, education staff, and Indigenous governments. This budget includes $306,000 for the first year of a three-year plan to modernize and renew the Education Act, to support an education system that will set out students up for success. We are also proposing to include $265,000 in this budget to advance the development and implementation of competency-based professional standards for junior kindergarten to grade 12 educators.

Connecting students to jobs is good for the student, good for business, and good for the economy. With an additional $508,000, we propose to hire career and education advisors in the Deh Cho, the Sahtu, and the South Slave regions similar to the advisors already in the North Slave region. These advisors will work with the students and their parents and guardians to provide information for the transition to post-secondary schooling, provide advice to Aurora College students on northern job opportunities, promote the Schools North Apprenticeship Program for skilled trades and certifications, and help post-secondary territorial students connect with employers.

As the territory's population ages, the GNWT plans to significantly increase long-term care spaces where they are needed most. We have added $406,000 in this budget to address increased costs for long-term care services currently provided by AVENS. Budget 2021 includes $1.1 million to train more personal support workers and licenced practical nurses through Aurora College, to care for long-term care residents with graduates who have gained their skills within our territorial community.

Community governments deliver services that are vital for the survival of our communities and our economy. To help reduce the gap between the cost of providing municipal services and the revenues that communities can raise themselves, we propose to increase annual community government funding by $3.3 million. Communities can count on their share of this revenue to continue year over year to more adequately fund their operations and water and sewer system services. However, we estimate that there is still a $16.4-million funding gap for these community budgets. We will continue to work with our community government partners to address this gap.

We are exploring better ways to keep our communities safe. This budget includes a $303,000 proposal for a pilot community safety officer program that will be community-led and developed using best practices from other jurisdictions to guide implementation. Administered by a community government, community safety officers will be a visible presence in the community to deter crime and will develop close working relationships with the RCMP and municipal and territorial enforcement agencies. These officers will not carry weapons and will actively work with citizens in a culturally appropriate way to promote community well-being.

Budget 2021 includes a number of other investments in justice programs. We are proposing to continue work already started with the Government of Canada with an additional $158,000 in 2020-2021/2021-2022 for finalizing and implementing the Gun and Gang Strategy. This work supports community-level prevention and enforcement efforts to address criminal activity arising from organized crime and to appropriately design a response to the violence, fear, and harm created by gangs.

In response to increased demand for court sittings, we propose to include $233,000 to create two new sheriff's staff positions in Yellowknife. We have also included $123,000 in this budget to address rising costs for providing services for inmates at the North Slave Correctional Complex.

The demands of around-the-clock law enforcement in our largest city, combined with new training requirements, means it is necessary to include $422,000 in this budget for three more RCMP constables in Yellowknife.

Finally, we accept the recommendations in the 2021 Judicial Remuneration Commission Report by including $257,000 in this budget for additional compensation and training opportunities for territorial court judges.

The 19th Legislative Assembly has a clear priority to increase the number of affordable homes and reduce core housing need. The 2021-2022 budget proposes to provide the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation with the first $5 million out of a total of $15 million over three years so that it can participate in the National Housing Co-Investment Fund and expand the number of housing projects it can undertake. We also propose to provide the corporation with $300,000 to help low-income homeowners replace aging fuel tanks and an additional $109,000 to assist emergency shelters facing increased costs due to inflation.

We are proposing to add $4 million to the Income Assistance Program to address both an increase in clients and changes in allowances.

Escalating drug and non-discretionary supply costs as well as more patients requiring out-of-territory care have put huge expenditure pressures on our health system. We are addressing these pressures with a further $30 million for increased healthcare expenditures in this budget, including $8.4 million in federal funding to improve services under the First Nation Home and Community Care Agreement. This additional funding addresses some of the annual overage in the Department of Health and Social Services budget, such as $7.5 million to reflect the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week nature of operations; $3.4 million for medical travel; $1.8 million for supplementary health benefits; and $4.2 million for out-of-territory hospital and physician services for residents. We recognize that the need for $30 million in one year to address the fiscal challenges in our healthcare system is significant. The Department of Health and Social Services has developed a sustainability plan to ensure the long-term fiscal viability of our health services in the face of mounting costs, so that residents can continue to receive the best possible physical and mental healthcare.

We are proposing $280,000 in this budget to extend the community-based peer support program started this year for people with mental health and addictions issues. Increasing evidence is showing that supportive relationships between people with common experiences help reduce hospitalization and distress and improve the quality of life of participants.

As part of our ongoing partnership with Canada on home and community care, we are proposing a $290,000 increase in the budget to further support the Paid Family/Caregiver Project and fund project software to improve service delivery.

We are looking in this budget to maintain the momentum to preserve, revitalize, and strengthen Indigenous languages, with $600,000 in continued spending to develop and Indigenous languages education immersion diploma, in partnership with Aurora College, the University of Victoria, and Indigenous governments.

[English translation not available]

Mr. Speaker, the coronavirus pandemic has hurt some businesses more than others. [English translation not available]... economic strategies has not done enough to provide economic diversity, stability, and strength. A successful future economy needs investments in lifelong education. That is one of the main reasons we have done the legislative groundwork to transform Aurora College into a polytechnic university.

We also need to ensure that we have processes in place to monitor and evaluate our post-secondary programs so its students can be assured that our educational programs meet the required standards and quality found at other Canadian universities. To achieve this, we are proposing to add $177,000 for a quality assurance coordinator to maintain quality instruction at the post-secondary level.

Over the past year, the tourism sector and many of the hospitality and accommodation businesses associated with it have been especially hard hit by the impacts of the pandemic that crippled travel and tourism worldwide. The Northwest Territories remains a spectacular destination for Canadians and international travellers alike, and we want to remind the world of what we offer as a destination. The proposed $936,000 in this budget for a renewed tourism 2025 investment strategy is intended to help our tourism sector to return to 2018-2019 levels of visitors and spending by 2024-2025 by preserving funding of existing programs and introducing new services and activities providing for training for operators and tourism staff, and gathering data to better reflect and guide the evaluation of the investments.

The challenges in our resource sector are rooted in the global market but we can still find effective ways to support this vital part of our economy. We need to provide clarity, certainty, and an inclusive approach to balancing priorities of exploration, development, community involvement and environmental stewardship. We have the opportunity to position the Northwest Territories as a leader in responsible resource exploration and development by drafting sensible regulations that do not discourage resource development while still providing the environmental protection that Northwest Territories residents expect.

This budget includes an additional $360,000 in 2021-2022 only to develop the regulations for the Mineral Resources Act, which came into effect near the end of the 18th Legislative Assembly. We also propose to maintain the Mineral Incentive Program by reinstating $400,000 for 2021-2022 and propose $225,000 for the continued implementation of the petroleum resources strategy.

We are continuing to implement our Commercial Fisheries Revitalization Strategy for a viable Great Slave Lake commercial fishery. To support commercial fishers on Great Slave Lake, we propose to include $150,000 to expand the role of the fish officer position while the fish processing plant is being built in Hay River. We also propose a $100,000 contribution to assist the Tlicho fishers' cooperative to complete the work necessary to put the plant into operation. On the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight, the budget includes $510,000 to further adjust the mandate priority to increase the amount of food produced locally. We propose to direct $110,000 of this funding to the sustainable livelihoods program to work with partners to develop and deliver harvesting training courses, including safety and navigation, harvesting and processing skills, and food preparation.

We also propose to allocate $400,000 of this funding to implement a food safety framework and develop appropriate food safety regulations that will help remove obstacles that prevent residents producing their own food and distributing to others.

We intend to sharpen the focus of our efforts to address unauthorized land occupancy by proposing $309,000 to address untenured and unauthorized occupants on public lands. We will use these funds, along with participation from Indigenous groups and Northwest Territories residents, to identify ownership, determine if occupancy is based on traditional rights, offer tenure to land if appropriate, or move ahead and remove unauthorized occupants. We also intend to support better land use planning with $253,000 to staff in the Wek'eezhi land-use planning office.

We aim to link our support for regional economic development with opportunities in the knowledge economy by proposing to include $350,000 to capitalize in our knowledge economy strengths, and establish regional economic development plans with our partners.

The Northwest Territories is at the forefront of the effects of climate change and sees its impact on our environment, wildlife, and people. In October 2020, the GNWT allocated $2.6 million to support five departments in staffing 14 new full-time and two new seasonal climate change-related positions located in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Inuvik for implementation of the 2030 Northwest Territories Climate Change Strategic Framework action plan.

Budget 2021, plans to continue this work with an additional $2.6 million. This funding will be used to help the Northwest Territories transition to an economy that uses fossil fuels less intensively and is better able to adapt to the effects of climate change on the natural environment, human health and well-being, culture and heritage, infrastructure, and the economy.

The GNWT is also establishing a Northwest Territories climate change council to include Indigenous governments and organizations, community governments and other external partners, including non-government organizations and industry representatives in the implementation of our action plan. The council will play a key role in strengthening the leadership and authority of the GNWT on climate change.

We are pleased to honour the Deline Got'ine Government financing agreement with $199,000 for incremental grant funding, equivalent to funding received by other communities.

As announced last July, we propose to invest $631,000 in this budget to create a gender equity unit, to lead and coordinate all of the work being done to advance equality in the Northwest Territories. With these resources, we want to better ensure that government decisions, including financial decisions, consider there is sometimes unequal effect on people with different identity factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, or abilities. We want to support all the partners and agencies to consider gender and identity factors so that they can improve all services delivered and advance the goal of a more inclusive society. This work is just beginning for us, but its purpose has been enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and called for in the calls to justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. With an expanded unit, the GNWT can better serve the public by incorporating the perspectives of people from across the gender spectrum in its activities and assessing how diverse groups of Northwest Territories residents experience government policies.

We have added new spending to this year's operating and capital budgets without finding any savings or new revenues to pay for them in order to be a source of stability while we navigate globally uncertain times. As we advance in this Assembly, we will need to set ourselves on a better expenditure track if we want to be able to continue to make investments that will provide for a strengthened and diversified economy for the future.

Mr. Speaker, not every initiative requires significant new funding. Some of the most important work we are doing towards improving our economic outlook and fiscal governments does not have its own budget line. For example, we have established a working group to find ways to reduce red tape for small business. The working group will look at regulations and processes used to enforce regulations that affects small businesses and will ask why we have certain regulations and assess the risk if the regulation is removed or the process changed. We expect the working group to provide recommendations to improve regulations so they achieve their reason for existence with the least administrative burden possible.

We have also recently announced the formal start of the procurement review. In addition, on October 30, 2020, I announced the next steps in the promise made in our first budget to use creativity and innovation to do better with the resources we have and move away from any pattern of spending that allows duplication.

Starting immediately, the Department of Finance will be working with other departments to implement the Government Renewal Initiative. Government renewal must take a comprehensive and whole-of-government review. The renewal starts with individual departments but will quickly extend to reviewing programs and outcomes that are shared across departments. We will be using program evaluation techniques, gathering objective evidence, and reporting on outcomes associated with the spending of public money to help inform financially responsible and sustainable policy choices.

The vision is to help departments build their budgets based on the value delivered in the service of public priorities, rather than on incremental growth. This is a shift in the way that we think about budgeting and the need for close coordination and clear communication between government and Members of the Legislative Assembly as the work progresses will be essential. We all have a role to play in ensuring that the GNWT is an effective and sustainable organization for the long term and that all of our decisions are driven by value and priorities that serve residents across the territory. Once a stronger culture of outcome evaluation and the processes of value-oriented budgeting are in place, the ongoing benefit for delivering on priorities will make the time and resources spent worthwhile.

Mr. Speaker, the health, social, and economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the power of pulling together as a society and as a government in pursuit of a common goal. As we have done across the Northwest Territories in order to limit and contain the spread of COVID-19, we need to take advantage of this collective spirit to keep the momentum going towards the common goal of supporting the recovery and future economic growth.

Budget 2021-2022 is not itself a COVID-19 relief package. Our recovery cannot be a one-time event. It will need to reflect the changing landscape of this pandemic, including the vaccine rollout here and across Canada, and the speed of the global economic recovery. Budget 2021 provides stability and builds on the foundations of economic growth that we already knew we needed last year. I remain cautiously optimistic about our economic and fiscal future, a future for all Northwest Territories residents.

Through engagements with the business community, I know the frustrations and fears are very real, but what they have said about our economy and ideas for change is not a surprise. That leaves me optimistic, because I see the work that we are doing to address those calls for change. Similarly, after conducting extensive budget dialogues last summer, we heard the calls from residents to ensure investments in people, to avoid government duplication, find internal efficiencies, and ensure value for public dollars. This also gives me the confidence that our initiatives are on a good path.

Budget 2021 continues to invest in healthcare, communities, and community services, early childhood supports, education modernization, including in distance education, and progress on the climate action plan. There are also investments towards a modern regulatory landscape for our mineral resources sector and public lands. Furthermore, we are advancing regional growth initiatives, such as the Great Slave Lake fishery and exploring LNG feasibility.

The three mandated infrastructure projects, the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Taltson Hydro Expansion, and the Slave Geological Corridor, continue to progress. In addition, there is an expansion of the Mackenzie Valley fibre optic line to Tuktoyaktuk, and the Government of the Northwest Territories is supporting the Tlicho government to run a fibre optic line to Whati in conjunction with the final work on the Tlicho All-Season Road. These projects, together with work announced by Northwestel last fall, mean that all Northwest Territories communities will have access to high-speed Internet by 2023.

Mr. Speaker, the pandemic is still with us just as much as the economic problems that pre-existed it. Our work to respond to all of these challenges is under way. Added to that is the resiliency of the people of the Northwest Territories. That resiliency is also not new, but it has been particularly strong and present through the pandemic: a resiliency that includes creativity, innovation, and collaboration. With these foundations, we will build a healthier and more sustainable economic future for the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Budget Address
Budget Address

Page 1752

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Colleagues, we will continue after a short recess. Thank you.

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Budget Address
Budget Address

Page 1752

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Welcome back, everyone. Item 3, Ministers' statements. Minister of Justice.

Minister's Statement 101-19(2): Corrections Service Moves Forward on Workplace Improvement
Ministers' Statements

Page 1752

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Mr. Speaker, corrections can be a difficult and challenging field. In addition to the demanding environment and 24/7 operations, the Corrections Service must always adapt to the ever-evolving best practices. Five years ago, the Auditor General gave us a path forward to address conditions that focused on our case management and programs for offenders, and as a result, significant changes have been made. This summer, a new Corrections Act will come into force signaling a shift towards a greater focus on rehabilitation and reintegration, and enhancing transparency and accountability of corrections services. We are moving in the right direction and have made progress, but clearly, more work needs to be done.

Over the last number of years, the Department of Justice has heard various concerns raised by Corrections Service staff regarding their workplaces. To fully understand and address these concerns, the Deputy Minister of the Department of Justice initiated a workplace assessment to hear directly from staff across various levels and locations of the Corrections Services. This work was conducted by an independent contractor to encourage honest, confidential discussions. The goal was to hear from as many employees as possible. I want to thank and commend the staff who took the time to share their workplace experiences, both good and bad, with the consultants. It shows they care, are passionate, and want to be involved in making improvements and constructive change.

The final assessment report identified specific areas where we are doing well and areas where we need to do better, including staffing; policies and directives; safety, leadership and support; and communication. The report also highlighted the need for management to do a better job engaging with staff prior to implementing changes.

The Department of Justice provided the report to staff to allow them time to consider solutions for moving forward. Senior leadership held numerous meetings with staff in December to discuss initiatives currently under way that will help address some of the concerns, and to open the lines of communication and listen to additional solutions to address the areas where improvement is needed.

Mr. Speaker, some of the actions that we are currently undertaking include revising and updating the Corrections Northern Recruitment Training Program; implementing new processes to ensure staff receive re-certification training in a timely manner; a full replacement of uniforms to ensure they are complete and fit appropriately; and continued participation in appropriate leadership training for supervisors and managers within the Corrections Service so they are better equipped to support and lead their staff. Meetings between management and staff will continue so that site-specific operational challenges and issues can be addressed collaboratively.

I want to assure Members that the workplace assessment report will not be shelved and forgotten about. The report laid bare issues across the Corrections Service, and we must confront those issues head-on. The Department of Justice will be held accountable for the response to the concerns raised by staff, and Mr. Speaker, they want to be held accountable to ensure that these issues are addressed to the best of their abilities. However, there is recognition that the Department of Justice cannot make all of the necessary improvements on its own. There is a need for a more collaborative working relationship between the Department of Justice and the Department of Finance, in their role as Human Resources, as well as with the Union of Northern Workers, or UNW. Acknowledging this, a working group has been established, chaired by the Assistant Deputy Minister, Solicitor General, and will include senior officials from both departments, as well as the UNW. The working group will report progress to the Deputy Minister of Finance, the Deputy Minister of Justice and the President of the UNW. This group will listen to and learn from our dedicated corrections professionals as the team works collectively to improve Corrections Services workplaces.

This working group will oversee the development and implementation of a Corrections Service Workplace Assessment Accountability Framework, a monitoring and evaluation process and a staff communication plan. As outlined in the Department of Justice's Business Plan, the Accountability Framework for Corrections, previously called the Human Resources Plan, will be established before the end of this sitting, and all of the initiatives in the plan will be implemented by 2024.

I commit to providing updates on the progress the Department of Justice is making toward improving Corrections Services. We must remember that our goal is always to ensure the safety of corrections staff and individuals within the corrections system. To feel safe, our staff must feel supported in their daily work so they, in turn, can successfully support probation clients and inmates as they work to make the necessary changes to reintegrate back into our communities. Our employees are hard-working, professional, and dedicated, and with their help, and the help of the working group, we will make positive changes to the corrections work environment and, as a result, to the safety of the people in our care. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 101-19(2): Corrections Service Moves Forward on Workplace Improvement
Ministers' Statements

Page 1753

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 102-19(2): Update on the 2030 Energy Strategy
Ministers' Statements

Page 1753

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to strengthening our leadership and authority on climate change, as well as enhancing efforts to stabilize the cost of power and increase the use of alternative and renewable energy. As part of these commitments, our government has made almost $26 million in energy-related investments this past year, which are highlighted in the 2019-2020 Energy Initiatives Report, which was released in January.

Designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide reliable energy to our communities and stabilize energy costs for residents, the projects highlighted in the initiatives report support the goals set in the Northwest Territories' 2030 Energy Strategy.

Some of these projects include the ongoing work being done by our partner, the Arctic Energy Alliance, or AEA. With federal funding from the Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund, the AEA launched a series of new and enhanced programs. Some of these help lower-income homeowners winterize their homes, and others provide rebates on new electric vehicles and energy efficient products. In fact, this past year, AEA doubled the amount of rebates provided to households.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT also continues to roll out the Greenhouse Gas Grant Program. This year, $274,000 was awarded to a northern-owned plumbing and heating company in Yellowknife. The company will install a wood pellet boiler district heating system that will supply heat to its headquarters and the GNWT central warehouse. This system also has the potential to connect to other private commercial buildings in the area. Once complete, this project is expected to displace over 190 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and save 60,000 litres of oil annually.

Mr. Speaker, progress was also made this year with the proposed Taltson Hydro Expansion project. This project has the potential to displace greenhouse gas emissions, while supporting efforts to stabilize the cost of energy, and create significant opportunities for Indigenous participation and benefits and employment opportunities for all Northerners.

As part of the GNWT's assessment for the Taltson expansion, the GNWT has signed an agreement with the Arctic Research Foundation to map two potential submarine transmission line routes on the lakebed of Great Slave Lake. As identified in the Energy Initiatives Report, the expedition included the participation of students from Lutselk'e and the Yellowknife area, who received hands-on training from scientists and local crew in advanced mapping technology and marine vessel operation. Hopefully, these students will use this experience to inspire new and creative solutions for the future.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT is setting the stage for other ambitious energy projects. One example is the Inuvik Wind Project, another key initiative under the 2030 Energy Strategy. The project will see a 3.5-megawatt wind turbine installed, reducing diesel consumption in our largest off-grid community by up to 30 percent. Late last year, we secured a land-use permit and water licence from the Gwich'in Land and Water Board. The GNWT looks forward to advancing this project to the construction phase, realizing its environmental, economic, and regional benefits.

These are just some examples of the exciting energy projects happening across the territory today. The GNWT will continue to engage directly with communities and Indigenous governments and organizations to ensure their participation, partnership, and empowerment when proposing and implementing energy solutions. We all have a role to play in making sure that the Northwest Territories meets its climate change objectives. Through government support and individual action, we can make it happen. Quyanainni, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 102-19(2): Update on the 2030 Energy Strategy
Ministers' Statements

Page 1753

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Deputy Premier.

Minister's Statement 103-19(2): Premier Absent From the House
Ministers' Statements

Page 1753

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to advise the House that the Honourable Caroline Cochrane will be absent from the House for a portion of today's proceedings to participate in an urgent conference call with the Council of the Federation and First Ministers meeting. Quyanainni, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 103-19(2): Premier Absent From the House
Ministers' Statements

Page 1753

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Deputy Premier. Ministers' statements. Item 4, Members' statements. Member for Nunakput.

Assistance Required in Communities during Pandemic
Members' Statements

Page 1753

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Over the last two-and-a-half months, I've been home, and this is basically what I've seen, the struggles that our communities are going through, my home community of Tuktoyaktuk, and I could only imagine the rest of the communities across the territory. This COVID-19, Mr. Speaker, it makes it tough on everybody, the way gatherings and stuff are happening right now, and I think that we really have to thank our front-line workers, our nurses, RCMP, the teachers, our hamlet staff, the community corporations, the bands, our IRC staff in Gwich'in, for all the hard work that they do.

Mr. Speaker, we have to start looking at and focusing on the little things instead, on healthy families, healthy living across our territory. We have our youths. We have to provide more programming. We don't have enough funding. The local community governments are stretched, and the IRC is assisting the community corporations to help provide services and different programming that we need so badly right now because of COVID-19. You can't basically do anything. You can't travel. Same thing with our adult care programming, you know, for treatment, any kind of treatment that people need. Our elders' care programming, more funds for the communities to do this, to work with MACA, and to get counsellors and grief counsellors and all kinds coming into the community for a week, instead of having to call them and work with them, sending in teams once a month to each community to help people get through this.

Our communities are hurting, Mr. Speaker. I see this more and more. We have a $27-million revolving fund for alcohol and drugs. I see how alcohol and drugs affect my constituents because we have nothing going on. There's no work up there. What could we do to help them? We have to provide some sort of service for them. We have to provide service for them, getting treatment in the Northwest Territories, Mr. Speaker. They need help, and giving them options other than doing that. That means getting them work, getting small projects in each community. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Assistance Required in Communities during Pandemic
Members' Statements

Page 1753

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker; thank you, colleagues. We need projects to help our people, consistent help with cost of living, struggling paying bills, food, power. Mr. Speaker, what we can do is what we have to do: assist our local community governments, provide more funding of services. We have a role to play as a government, as all 19 Members, to try to help our people. Let's put our talk to the test. Our Budget 2021, let's put that to the test now. I want to see helping our communities on their daily struggles, supporting our local leaders and our mayors, Mr. Speaker. We have to do better as a government. We have to do better as all MLAs to help our people in the small communities, and not just in the capital. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Assistance Required in Communities during Pandemic
Members' Statements

Page 1753

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.