This is page numbers 4635 - 4688 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 know.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Mr. Edjericon, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek, Ms. Weyallon-Armstrong.

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 4635

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Finance.

Minister's Statement 268-19(2): 2023-2024 Capital Estimates
Ministers' Statements

Page 4635

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, later today I will be tabling the 2023-2024 Capital Estimates, which uses a revised approach in budgeting that better aligns the GNWT's planned spending with actual project delivery. Overall, the proposed capital estimates include $328 million in total spending, comprised of $292.5 million in departmentally managed capital, and $35.5 million for Housing NWT.

Over the last nine years, the GNWT has proposed capital plans averaging $405 million per year but the actual average spend was only $226 million per year. Put simply, the GNWT does not have the capacity to develop all of the projects we have been putting into the capital budget for the past few years, nor can the Northwest Territories' economy supply the labour and materials necessary to build assets on the schedule and scale proposed in previous GNWT capital plans. This creates unrealistic expectations among residents and communities, does not encourage good planning, and necessitates an unnecessarily large borrowing plan. This revised approach puts a $260 million funding cap on departmental capital spending beginning in 2023-2024, and brings the capital budget closer in line with the actual expectations. Infrastructure contributions for community governments and funding for Housing NWT are not included in this cap.

As part of this process, we asked departments to go through their planned investments and reassess what can actually be accomplished within this new funding cap and recognize that previously approved cost estimates and timelines of projects that have not advanced are now dated and will need to be revisited. This approach was reviewed by an interdepartmental working group and the new assistant deputy ministers working committee tasked with overseeing the capital planning process. Going forward, any new project estimates being proposed by departments will be reviewed by a peer review committee, which will provide technical oversight on project planning.

In some instances, we adjusted our investment timeline to move some projects back to the planning stage on the recommendations of the assistant deputy ministers review committee. Once unresolved issues that may have been delaying these projects are addressed, these projects will come back through the annual capital planning process for inclusion in the capital plan. We are moving, not cancelling, previously approved projects from long-term planning and have included $8.7 million in the 2023-2024 Capital Estimates to assist with further project scoping and design such as the Great Bear River Bridge currently proposed as part of the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Colville Lake school, and a number of long-term care facilities. In short, projects that have lingered on the books, but are not advancing, will now see a better focus placed on problem-solving and planning so that they can in fact be ready to advance.

We are transforming our capital budgeting to encourage sound planning and refocus on projects that will be delivered. Our stronger emphasis on sound planning will also benefit local industries and businesses by allowing them to realistically plan to help deliver GNWT projects. To be clear, funding for smaller capital projects typically delivered by local businesses was not impacted by the $260 million cap in the 2023-2024 Capital Estimates. This includes small capital projects, retrofits and biomass funding, funding for highway bridges, culverts and chip sealing, and information management and technology equipment, as well as deferred maintenance. What has changed is that the more rigorous planning process for large capital projects will help businesses be assured that large capital projects proposed in the 2023-2024 Capital Estimates are truly ready to be built.

Our capital planning process is guided by a process handbook that prioritizes projects based on the protection of people, assets, the environment, and financial investments. Our needs list includes all the projects we envision for our future and reflects our priorities, combined with a long-term vision that extends well beyond any single Legislative Assembly. The additional funding included in the capital budget for planning and design will help decision-makers evaluate when projects should be included in the capital estimates for review and approval by this House.

This more realistic approach to capital planning provides a more accurate borrowing plan and more transparency with the Fiscal Responsibility Policy. The policy requires that at least half of GNWT capital investments are financed by an operating surplus. When capital budgets are larger than what can be delivered, we end up approving a borrowing plan that is too high for our needs which, in turn, sends a negative signal to financial stakeholders, and the users of the information that is published in our budgets.

Mr. Speaker, the 2023-2024 Capital Estimates align realistic spending and achievable timelines and continue to advance mandate priorities agreed to by the 19th Legislative Assembly. The new approach that resulted in these proposed estimates will encourage fulsome planning, support more realistic fiscal management and, importantly, focus attention and accountability where it should be - on the delivery of those projects that are in fact shovel ready. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 268-19(2): 2023-2024 Capital Estimates
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 269-19(2): Child and Family Services Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 4636

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report to this House, and residents of the NWT, on the progress we are making to transform the child and family services system to better serve children, youth, families, and communities. We want to create a system that provides services that are culturally safe and anti-racist.

Initiatives under the 2019-2021 Quality Improvement Plan are helping us reach that goal. I want to share a few details from the annual report of the director of child and family services, which I will table later today. Prevention services now account for 50 percent of all the services delivered. The Family Preservation Program has continued to expand throughout the NWT and now supports 86 families. A total of 75 percent of children who receive services remain in their home while a further 17 percent remain in their home community. Foster placements are being replaced with family placements, primarily extended family.

Mr. Speaker, that doesn't mean our job is done. Indigenous children continue to be overrepresented for both prevention and protection. Much of the need in this area is driven by poverty and housing insecurity. Access to safe housing, mental wellness supports, recreational opportunities, and pre- and post-natal care are the building blocks to support families and communities.

Another area of concern flagged in the director's report is youth in permanent care of the director who age out of the Extended Support Services Agreement. In the last fiscal year, only 23 percent of youth chose to continue services that would help them to transition to adulthood following their 19th birthday.

Mr. Speaker, these changes are possible because of our robust Quality Improvement Plan. A few of the plan's highlights include:

  • 56 new positions focused on frontline capacity, family preservation, placement services, supervisory support, as well as training and cultural safety;
  • Creating and filling two positions to support the integration of principles of cultural safety and anti-racism as part of the child and family services reform;
  • Developing and implementing the Family Preservation Program I just referred to. This program provides families with wraparound support and promotes family unity and well-being. It also includes new funding to hire family preservation workers in every region of the NWT; and finally,.
  • Expanding prevention support offered to expectant parents throughout the pre- and post-natal periods.

Mr. Speaker, the need for system reform has long been in play to begin addressing the impacts of colonization within the child and family services policies and practices. The department, and the health and social services authorities, recognize that Indigenous voices must guide the process of reconciliation within child and family services. Our goal is to acknowledge their experiences and answer their calls for a more culturally safe and anti-racist approach to the delivery of child and family services. We will also continue to work with Indigenous governments and communities by sharing information, keeping an open dialogue about service delivery, and supporting Indigenous governments in planning for children and youth.

The Standing Committee on Social Development's Report on the Child and Family Services Act called on all of us to work together to provide a broader continuum of care to meet the needs of children, youth, and families in the Northwest Territories. That is a goal I wholeheartedly share. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 269-19(2): Child and Family Services Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 4637

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1182-19(2): Response to Hay River Flooding
Members' Statements

Page 4637

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Disaster Assistance Policy was established for a reason; that being, to provide financial support to those impacted by natural disasters that may not be covered through standard insurance policies. The flooding in Hay River is one of those occurrences where that financial support was required, and that support has been well received and appreciated by residents and business owners.

Mr. Speaker, it has now been several months since flooding occurred in Hay River. As we know, many residents have been displaced from their homes, with many continuing to live in temporary accommodations. - this is extremely difficult for many and more so for seniors.

Mr. Speaker, some residents are in commercial accommodations while others chose to be with family or friends. Due to a shortage of contractors, untimely processes, and communication issues around DAP claims, some residents are concerned that they may be unable to return to their homes before next summer, or the summer after.

Mr. Speaker, residents say they continue to wait on clear answers from this government on home replacement, home repairs, and mitigation solutions. They are finding the requirement to jump through ever-changing government policy, rules, and forms, is causing additional stress and worry. Mr. Speaker, it is not just the residents, but also the contractors and local suppliers that are facing additional issues such as labour and material shortage which is not unique to the NWT. Impacted residents are waiting extended periods for quotes from contractors. Contractors are just too busy to quote and do not want to give false hope to residents that work can get started.

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that prior to the damage caused by flooding, many of the local contractors had a full slate of work on their plate. The addition of taking on flood damage remediation forced each to refocus and rearrange existing work which will result in some government and private projects falling behind.

Mr. Speaker, what is required from this government is additional support for the pathfinders, professional services, technical support, and access to contractors. We must streamline the process to move remediation of homes along. As winter approaches, it is time for the Minister of MACA and his staff to visit Hay River to hear ongoing concerns from those impacted by the flood. He needs to provide reassurance to the residents and businesses that his department is listening and willing to take the necessary steps support remediation efforts. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1182-19(2): Response to Hay River Flooding
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1183-19(2): Barging Services to Nunakput Communities
Members' Statements

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Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I rise to the issue of barging services in Nunakput riding. Since the GNWT, Mr. Speaker, has taken over barging six years ago, our communities continue to be at risk of barge schedule and weather, and they always run out of supplies in the communities which is costing our community members more to fly in materials off the airplane and whatever is needed.

Mr. Speaker, the barge schedule is set every year. So why are the community resupplies not the first priority to be complete? Why do our communities consistently wait to the end of shipping season and hope their supplies will arrive? The GNWT, Mr. Speaker, is a public servant. We are all public servants that serve the people of the Northwest Territories, and the people of the Northwest Territories should be put first.

This year in Nunakput, communities of Paulatuk and Ulukhaktok that we got barges got in but the month prior to the month and a half prior to that they were flying in flat Pampers because the store shelves were obsolete. They were deleted. And so is the government willing to see if we could do some sort of -- if the people were to bring back a receipt from airline or something like that to help the residents of those two communities that had great bare expense to try to survive, are they willing to come and work with us to get funding back to the people that had to pay so much?

Mr. Speaker, does the Department of Infrastructure not establish a schedule in collaboration with the communities' leadership when coming up in the next weeks to come. It arrives in the community and meets the needs of the residents.

In October 2018, while shelves in the communities were depleting, MTS cancelled the barge resupply in Paulatuk. This year we're good to catch it. Ice was impassable. The mayor of Paulatuk at the time, the community was never given clear delivery dates besides the original forecast, and the barge arrived early September. And while the barge did not arrive that season, Mr. Speaker, it was late. The residents bore the whole cost of buying supplies for the community. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of Infrastructure at the appropriate time. Thank you.

Member's Statement 1183-19(2): Barging Services to Nunakput Communities
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1184-19(2): Income Assistance and Public Housing
Members' Statements

Page 4638

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the vicious cycle a person must go through to remain in public housing, or their rental home, is often enough to make anyone's head spin. Often I hear about housing clients in arrears that receive no help. Their income support is insufficient, and they are subjected to overly rigorous and often invasive data collection. Income assistance clients living in our government-funded housing still cannot afford to live, or ever get ahead, as any income, help, or gift-in-kind, lowers the amount of money they will receive down the line, and then they cannot afford to pay for food or other items. Mr. Speaker, you can't even win a small Bingo jackpot on income assistance without that being deducted from your next cheque; Something that hardly seems worth the administrative burden it creates.

I have to wonder, has the cost benefit analysis been done to see if the amount of money saved is more than the administrative cost it takes to go after an elder in Deline for attending a bingo. As the Premier said yesterday, people are in situations where choices must be made between food and paying their bills.

Basing current rent on the previous year's income makes no sense, and rent based on affordability and current living situation is what a person needs. If clients have arrears, they have difficulty getting caught up. The couch surfing homeless are generally those on the GNWT housing waitlist. If they stay with family who resides in a public housing unit, that family member is then penalized for the additional income of the couch surfer and the rent is increased. Why? They are covering a gap in service as this government does not have enough housing for all residents that need it. This causes overcrowding and unhealthy living arrangements, a burden to the family member that is only trying to help and yet we find it acceptable to charge them more for this.

Cabinet's response is always people can appeal decisions made by the departments. However, many are unaware of their rights to ask for a reassessment or an appeal. Plus, this all takes time, mental energy, and resources these already marginalized clients cannot easily access or afford. They are afraid of engaging with government offices as they ask for help and are made to feel like a burden and not worthy of government time or money. Often people describe their interactions with the GNWT as being made to feel like, quote, "a criminal or a beggar", and I have to ask how does that fit into our 19th Assembly priority of truth and reconciliation? The answer, Mr. Speaker, is that it doesn't. And nothing that is being said by this Assembly is more than lip service. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1184-19(2): Income Assistance and Public Housing
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Great Slave. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Member's Statement 1185-19(2): Human Right to Adequate Housing
Members' Statements

Page 4639

Richard Edjericon Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in 1948, the right to adequate housing was made part of the United Nation Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to adequate housing is relevant to all nations, and all members of the international community have ratified at least one treaty, declaration, plans of action, or a conference committing themselves to the right of adequate housing.

The United Nation's committee on economic, social and cultural rights has underlined the right to adequate housing should not be interpreted narrowly. Instead, it should be seen as a right to live somewhere in security, peace, and dignity. Mr. Speaker, in case you're wondering why I'm citing international treaties in our territorial legislature, I'm doing my best to impress the importance of the rights to housing in this government. I spent the opening days of our legislative sitting bringing real and personal stories of my constituents' struggles with inadequate housing and in barriers put up by inflexible policies, decisions, that undermines their ability to live in secure, peace, and dignity.

Mr. Speaker, the mandate of this government has modest goals for housing that are entirely achievable. The mandate promised to increase the stock of quality, energy efficient, affordable housing, especially for vulnerable people, by 100 units over a four-year period. In a transition, 100 individual families to income to homeownership has been three years since these commitments were made and, by the GNWT's own math, 75 percent of these targets should have been met.

It will be foolish not to acknowledge that unprecedented global pandemic and subsequent economic downturn has affected this work. But for the Minister, who I will remind stated not too long ago "housing is my passion", housing should be the first and foremost priority of existing resources, not to mention the federal government has been generous in affording billions of dollars towards national housing infrastructure programs. $30 million has been received by the GNWT to build homes and support local housing strategies for the first year and the next fiscal year. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, there's no shortage of resources that could make a difference in the lives of my communities. Instead, I see serious lack of political will to push harder than ever before to ensure our people have access to homes that allow them to live in secure, peace, and dignity. Mr. Speaker, this challenge would not be so great if there were more collaboration at the regional and community level. Of course, I'm speaking about partnership with Indigenous governments, both settled and unsettled, that are far better to equipped to determine their own housing needs and implement resources to build and repair homes. The current approach seems to be keeping this money and putting it through the policy rigor at Housing NWT where we know, for the last 50 years, there are red tape barriers to assisting homeowners even today. Instead, why does the Minister not consider reallocating these critical funds that are $30 million from Canada for the next two years with no strings attached through a contribution agreement with Indigenous governments and housing programs and strategies immediately? This way we have insurance that the resources are getting to the ground and being used effectively to promote and provide for adequate and affordable housing in Indigenous communities.

Mr. Speaker, I was elected to find solutions to problems, and what I have learned is that sometimes less government is better option when faced with poor track record of the learning results for the last 50 years of the Housing NWT. Mr. Speaker, I have questions for, at the appropriate time, mahsi, for the Minister.

Member's Statement 1185-19(2): Human Right to Adequate Housing
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.