This is page numbers 1779 - 1798 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 housing.

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, 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 10:02 a.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1779

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Good morning, everyone. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Lands.

Minister's Statement 104-19(2): Public Land Act - Public Engagement
Ministers' Statements

Page 1779

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Public Land Act received assent on August 21, 2019, at the end of the 18th Legislative Assembly. The new Public Land Act consolidates the existing Northwest Territories Lands Act and the Commissioner's Land Act into one cohesive land management regime. To bring the Act into force, new regulations must be developed.

The Department of Lands is taking a phased approach to regulation development. Phase 1 is focusing on the essential regulations necessary to bring the Public Land Act into force in the first quarter of the fiscal year 2022-2023. These regulations will address public land grants and dispositions such as leases and licences of occupation, quarry administration, security requirements and restoration, and general rights to use public land. With the Public Land Act in force, phase 2 will then commence and focus on evolving the regulatory model to address policy approaches and needs. As the Minister responsible, I am committed to having these regulations in place as soon as possible. With that said, the process and the timelines must allow for meaningful involvement of Members of this Legislative Assembly, Indigenous and community governments, leaseholders, stakeholders, and the public.

Mr. Speaker, the first round of engagement, which began on December 10, 2020, introduces the project and invites comments and ideas for developing the regulations. As of January 22, the online engagement platform has seen over 1,200 visits and over 105 people engaging with the content. Lease fees are a key topic of discussion on the engagement platform. Lease fees are calculated differently under the two existing acts. The new regulations will create consistency around public land valuation and pricing, which is a key objective of the new regulations. The Department of Lands will also be reviewing the types of leases that can be issued with the objective of providing greater clarity for residential and commercial land users, including those in the agricultural sector.

Mr. Speaker, Northwest Territories residents have the opportunity to shape legislation that supports our decisions on how land and resources in the Northwest Territories are administered and used, both for current residents and our future generations. I encourage all residents to visit the Department of Lands website and click on the Have Your Say section to provide input on how the Government of the Northwest Territories regulates public land. This first phase of engagement will be open until February 12th.

As you know, the Government of the Northwest Territories is looking at a proposed approach for how standing committees could be more involved in the development of regulations. The Department of Lands will follow the process and plan once it is developed. In the interim, I would invite committee Members to engage in this work over the coming months. A second round of public engagement is targeted for the Fall of 2021 and will provide an opportunity for public comment on the proposed regulations.

It is important to emphasize that we are all users of public land. Developing new tools for managing land and natural resources is an ongoing commitment since devolution. These regulations are part of that ongoing work. This engagement is an opportunity for the Northwest Territories residents to contribute to decisions about Northwest Territories land and resources according to their own priorities. Mr. Speaker, this is an important milestone for the Department of Lands and the Government of the Northwest Territories. Residents can be part of the history of the land management in the Northwest Territories by participating in the public engagement to develop the Public Land Act regulations. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 104-19(2): Public Land Act - Public Engagement
Ministers' Statements

Page 1779

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statement. Minister responsible for Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

Minister's Statement 105-19(2): Homeownership Program Changes
Ministers' Statements

Page 1779

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In my time as the Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, I have made it a priority to travel into communities to listen to what our residents are telling us about housing in communities and seeking solutions to barriers that are identified. Homeownership is a goal for many of us, but it can be challenging. The costs of owning and maintaining a home can be expensive and out of reach for many of us, especially those who are in rural and more remote communities. The Housing Corporation was tasked to look at their housing programs to identify ways to address these barriers and, where necessary, come up with new options to help encourage, increasing sustainability for homeownership. The Housing Corporation is working towards a new approach in how to eliminate the requirement for land tenure and home insurance when accessing emergency and major repair programs in rural and remote communities.

Mr. Speaker, as much as we always want our homeowners to have tenure and insurance so that they have a level of protection for their homes, it is not always available or affordable. For our smaller rural and remote communities, these are two major challenges faced by homeowners in accessing funding for much-needed major repairs. Supplies and services are often limited to Local Housing Organizations, or LHOs, and public housing is typically the only source of housing. Homeownership can be challenging to achieve without government support. We have a lot of skilled homeowners with the know-how and the desire to do their own repairs. However, many communities lack a readily available source for materials and items needed for those repairs. The Housing Corporation will provide access to LHO materials and services in communities where they do not exist.

Mr. Speaker, helping our residents get into homeownership offers considerable benefits. To achieve this, the Housing Corporation will increase their focus on the sale of detached public housing inventory to expand homeownership to those who have lived in these homes long term. The program will be available to all families who are residing in a detached public housing unit and can afford the cost of operating and maintaining their own home. In doing so, we will also build replacement public housing that not only reduces waiting lists but also creates opportunities to address critical areas such as affordable housing for single and two person households.

While this is a great step forward, these actions would not be complete if we did not also support these households in their transition. Moving from renter to homeowner brings on more responsibilities, and people need to be prepared for that. To ensure this, tenants will be provided with the tools to become successful homeowners such as additional counselling, as well as maintenance and repair courses, and courses on developing financial skills.

Mr. Speaker, in 2020, the Housing Corporation is planning to build at least three new homes and implement a new pilot program targeted to income-earning families to transition to homeownership from public housing. The Housing Corporation will also begin the lease-to-own program beginning in early 2021. Mr. Speaker, supporting homeownership is essential for addressing housing needs in the NWT. Homeownership obviously is not for everyone, but if we can do this in a way that supports the needs our people, the benefits will be meaningful. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 105-19(2): Homeownership Program Changes
Ministers' Statements

Page 1779

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Seniors Housing
Members' Statements

Page 1779

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As a government, we have been working on addressing universal childcare for the people of the NWT, which is good and a much-needed service. However, I would like to suggest that we begin to address the care for seniors in a similar, across-the-board manner, at least in terms of housing and cost.

Mr. Speaker, right now, there is a policy within the NWT Housing Corporation called Core Need Income Threshold. According to the NWT Housing Action Plan 2019-2022, Core Need Income Threshold is the income limit for each community that represents the amount of income a household must have to be able to afford the cost of owning and operating a home without government assistance.

In essence, Mr. Speaker, Core Need Income Threshold is a housing policy which the NWT Housing Corporation uses to determine which individuals qualify for public housing, based solely on the applicant's income level. To be fair, the NWT Housing Corporation also considers adequacy and suitability to determine an applicant's core housing need. However, the Core Need Income Threshold has been a repetitive issue to a number of my senior constituents applying for public housing.

For example, there is an elderly couple in Fort Smith who are in their eighties, who have been married for 63 years and have lived and worked in the NWT for their entire adult lives. They have been trying for years to move out of their home into a more suitable home at that time will account for and address their mobility, safety, and social needs as seniors. This couple has been trying to move into NWT Housing Corporation's senior public housing in Fort Smith but have been denied eligibility to this facility because their combined monthly income exceeds the Core Need Income Threshold. Mr. Speaker, the Core Need Income Threshold is preventing this couple from even being considered a spot on the waiting list for the senior public housing. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Seniors Housing
Members' Statements

Page 1780

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

This is not an acceptable or just policy. The NWT Housing Corporation must start accounting for clients' age and mobility when determining their eligibility for public housing. It cannot be about income. On paper, this couple does have the ability, financially speaking, to own their own house outside of public housing. However, this does not accurately represent their whole situation. At this stage in their lives, they do not have the physical ability to own and maintain a multi-level home any longer.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I suggest the NWT Housing Corporation implement a universal flat rental rate to all seniors applying for public housing regardless of income, race, gender, or otherwise. They also need to consider the mobility level of each client when determining the client's core housing need. There can be no discrimination against seniors, period. I will have questions for the Minister of housing later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Seniors Housing
Members' Statements

Page 1780

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Tar Sands Monitoring
Members' Statements

Page 1780

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. There are ongoing concerns with the environment due to the recent uncontrollable rising water levels. "Uncontrollable" could include natural variables such as increasing snow accumulations and melt. This could include the man-made dams south of us. Many of the residents believe the high water levels could be attributed to the man-made dams turning on their taps for whatever reasons beyond our control. Therein lies the problem. We just do not know when the southern governments will decide to release vast amounts of water at one time, and there are several dams. Mr. Speaker, this is overly concerning for the residents of the Northwest Territories, as we are impacted by the flow of the water into our tributaries. The ENR Department states that they are actively monitoring the water levels through monitoring stations in key areas leading to the tributaries.

Mr. Speaker, the residents are especially concerned with the Alberta tar sands tailings ponds during this period of uncontrollable high water levels. Mr. Speaker, the GNWT may have transboundary water agreements with the southern provinces, transboundary this and transboundary that. These agreements are meaningless when there are no active communications with each other. The southern provinces didn't provide any advance warnings should they let out waters from the dams. Heaven forbid we even receive any type of communications regarding tar sands tailings ponds leaking into the water systems from the Alberta government. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the ENR Minister at the appropriate time. Mahsi.

Tar Sands Monitoring
Members' Statements

Page 1780

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Mental Health
Members' Statements

Page 1780

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. This morning, when I woke up and got out of my vehicle, I had my speech all prepared for a business speech, but we have a business theme next week. Today I thought I would go off the script and speak from the heart with a message for the people. I thought about mental health, and I looked at the weather. It's going to be very cold this weekend, and it made me think about the Dene laws. One of the Dene laws states that we should always help each other. This weekend out there, if anybody in the public is out there and you see somebody who might be hurting or might be distressed, reach out to them. One of our staff told me before, "Words matter," and they do. Reach out. Help each other.

Mental health, this is going to be one of my messages here today. Pre-COVID, we had to deal with seasonal affective disorder, we had to deal with things like residential school trauma, and all of that is kind of heightened now with pandemic fatigue. That is something else we have to deal with. Before, we would just get up, book a flight or jump in our vehicle, and go and just escape for the weekend. Now, all we have are staycations. Now, all we have is each other. We have to reach out. All of these mental health maladies will be more coming to the surface now because of pandemic fatigue. I urge everybody to reach out and help out each other above all else and just keep that simple message out there. Keep it simple, and do not make it too complicated.

To conclude, I think I look back to our elders who keep busy. Even when it got dark, they kept busy. They kept their hands busy. They sewed. They told stories. I looked it up. I was doing my research before I got here. I was thinking about this, and it made me smile. I thought about the classic example of Grandma Moses. I don't know if anybody knows American history a little bit. I like to read, and I am a trivia buff. She was 78 years old when she started painting. She had the creative juices all her life, and she let it out later on. My message to all our listeners is to keep busy; never stop learning; never stop hustling; don't stop. If you are hurting, reach out. Reach out. I will have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services. Marsi cho.

Mental Health
Members' Statements

Page 1780

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Home Insurance
Members' Statements

Page 1780

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. Home insurance is proving to be a growing barrier to home ownership in the NWT, and we heard the Minister of housing actually say that literally minutes ago in this House. I've had constituents contact me about their inability to obtain home insurance. This past holiday season, we had our own home insurance cancelled by Aviva Canada after five claim-free years simply because we put in a wood-pellet boiler system five years ago. The cancellation happened outside of the regular renewal period. Luckily, our broker was able to find only one other insurer willing to take us on at a 40-percent increase in premiums. As bad as it may be in Yellowknife, I can't imagine how difficult it must be for homeowners in small communities to obtain insurance. I also met with Yellowknife Catholic Schools last week, who raised the same issue of the difficulties in finding an insurer for its schools and of rapidly escalating premiums that have increased almost 600 percent over two years.

I've raised this issue before, about accessibility and affordability of home and now non-profit-sector asset insurance in the NWT. Previously, I've mentioned the Saskatchewan Government Insurance, a Crown corporation established in 1944, that offers products in five Canadian provinces. It also operates as SGI Canada in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. It has operated in Manitoba since 1993, in Ontario from 2001, in Alberta since 2006, and in BC beginning in 2015. It offers home, farm, business, and even auto insurance.

I have asked this government to approach SGI about possible expansion of their services to the NWT, to ensure our residents, non-profits, and businesses have access to insurance as there is a failure of the private market to cover our jurisdiction. I will have questions later today to see if Cabinet is serious about ensuring our residents have access to affordable insurance. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.