This is page numbers 5051 - 5086 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.


Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Mr. Edjericon Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek, Ms. Weyallon-Armstrong.

The House met at 1:31 p.m.



Page 5051

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Welcome, everybody. Ministers' statements. Minister for Municipal and Community Affairs.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs continues to be engaged in flood recovery, and I am pleased to provide Members with an overview of the efforts taken to date and the status of the ongoing work. Flood recovery is communities driven and supported by the territorial and federal governments. There are many actions to be coordinated:

  • address local concerns and impacts;.
  • provide territorial supports and processes;
  • working with the federal government; and,
  • The Government of the Northwest Territories continues to work with impacted community governments to ensure that they are safe and that their residents have the support they need.

The Government of the Northwest Territories will continue to support communities with emergency planning and flood recovery efforts, along with long-term work to address the climate change impacts we are experiencing with more frequent and serious natural disasters.

The 2021 flood directly impacted 91 residents and 35 businesses across five communities and costs approximately $38 million. The GNWT repaired and replaced homes and undertook mitigation measures to protect houses from future flood impacts. And in some cases, this meant rebuilding in a new location; while in others houses could be lifted.

The 2021 flood recovery project is in its final stages. There is one additional home to relocate and a small number of claims to be completed. Municipal and Community Affairs is working with Public Safety Canada on a reimbursement claim under the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements.

The scope and impact of the 2022 flood is significantly larger than in 2021. As of September 15, 2022, the flood recovery cost for Hay River and the K'atlodeeche First Nation is $174 million, which may change as the recovery work continues. There have been 484 applications for disaster assistance, and 416 damage assessments completed. While many claims have been finalized, the department is working through the remainder as quickly as possible.

Madam Speaker, we continue to learn from the 2021 Flood Recovery Project and have made significant changes to how the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs supports communities and residents following a natural disaster. This includes:

  • creating a more efficient process for residents and businesses to apply for assistance;
  • improvements to the Disaster Assistance Program, and,
  • an increase in the amount of available disaster assistance.

Municipal and Community Affairs is finalizing the 2021 After Action Review, a standard practice after large scale emergencies. The 2021 Review is scheduled for completion in early 2023. The 2022 Review is currently being planned and details will be publicly available soon.

The difficult work of mitigation planning is also underway. The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs is engaged closely with the Town of Hay River and the federal government to investigate federal funding opportunities for mitigation projects identified by the town. Arrangements have also been made for a community-level mitigation assessment for the K'atlodeeche First Nation. Mitigation planning is complex, and it will take time before decisions are made about which community-level mitigation projects are available for federal funding.

Madam Speaker, I want to assure residents that although we cannot control how or when natural disasters may occur, we are focusing efforts to ensure we are as prepared as possible. These preparations include completing a flood survey report with input from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Town of Hay River, and the K'atlodeeche First Nation. This is essential to flood preparation and developing mitigation measures.

We are advocating with the federal government for the development of funding programs. These programs would support long-term planning to address the impact of climate change on northern communities, from the increasing risk of floods and wildfires to permafrost degradation and shoreline erosion.

Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you, first and foremost, to the tireless efforts of all the volunteers who showed up for their friends, neighbours, and for their fellow residents. Thank you to community governments and their staff for the spirit of cooperation and collaboration. Thank you to the frontline staff who have been on the ground through all the response and recovery work over the last two years.

I have said that the 2021 and 2022 floods were unprecedented. The time, effort, and complexity of the recovery has been unprecedented and has meant a tremendous amount of work for everybody involved. We are stronger when working together and we should all be proud of the resilience, generosity, and determination of Northerners when faced with emergencies. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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

Caroline Wawzonek

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Madam Speaker, as the Minister responsible for the public service I can say without question that the employees are the GNWT's most important resource. An engaged workforce that is committed to its work is critical to the delivery of quality programs and services to residents across the territory. This is why the Government of the Northwest Territories, like many other public and private sector employers in Canada, wants to ensure that public servants are engaged and satisfied at work.

This past year, the GNWT completed the first Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey since 2016. This survey is conducted by jurisdictions across Canada. It measures employee commitment and satisfaction across all government departments and regions and serves as an important pulse check so that we can understand and respond to any areas needing improvement. The results of the survey guide dialogue between management, employees, and human resource specialists. The 2021 Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey response rate was 48.0 percent.

Madam Speaker, the majority of this year's survey indices remained relatively unchanged from the GNWT's 2016 scores. The three categories where the GNWT aggregate scored above the previous survey were development, leadership, and diversity and inclusion, with diversity and inclusion having the highest increase, 5.8 percentage points, as compared to the 2016 score. In comparison to other jurisdictions, the GNWT scored above the interjurisdictional average in over half of the questions, including for all statements under the capacity, development and excellence and innovation categories, and for two-thirds of statements under the culture category. Most notably, the GNWT scored 11.4 percentage points higher than the interjurisdictional average on the statement "my organization supports my work-related learning and development."

Madam Speaker, although we scored better in some categories than other jurisdictions, there are areas of improvement that need to be addressed, one being employee morale. Since the last 2016 survey, employee morale has gone down by 3.4 percent. While some of that decline is likely the result of running this survey in the midst of a pandemic that affected work-life balance, limited travel, and contributed to higher turnover rates; I do not consider this to be the only challenge we face, and it does not alter the need to take action.
There are also some notable disparities in scores between departments. Appropriately, departments have received individual guides with detailed results to help them interpret the survey results so that they can take the appropriate steps to address some of the challenges identified by their employees.

In addition, Madam Speaker, the Department of Finance is also establishing an interdepartmental working group with the aim of improving workplace satisfaction across the GNWT. This working group will provide concrete meaningful actions and resources for departments and agencies to adapt.

I want to thank all employees who took the time to complete the Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey. The GNWT values your input and will do everything it can to ensure you are working in a safe, healthy environment that contributes to your success and the overall success of the communities in which you serve.

Our employees' outlook, priorities and expectations are changing, Madam Speaker, and we need to remain live to these changes and adapt accordingly. I look forward to seeing the good work that will come from these survey results. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister for Housing NWT.

Minister's Statement 293-19(2): National Housing Day
Ministers' Statements

November 3rd, 2022

Page 5053

Paulie Chinna

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Madam Speaker, Housing Northwest Territories marks the 50th year. With our strategic renewal underway, Housing NWT is seeking to make improvements to the way we do business; and, in particular, focus on building and establishing stronger partnerships. Leading up to the National Housing Day on November 22, I would like to share with you some exciting things happening as well as we celebrate the people who have made a difference in supporting Housing's work over the years.

Madam Speaker, in previous statements I have shared with this House changes that we are making to improve our approach under the renewal, including our focus on collaboration with Indigenous governments. With our new mandate and a commitment to reconciliation and collaboration with Indigenous governments on their own housing priorities, we believe we are positioned to work together into the future for the benefit of all NWT residents who require housing supports.

Madam Speaker, as I have said many times in this House, the housing crisis cannot be solved by Housing alone. While recent federal funding announcements have led to many new and exciting projects, I also want to recognize the many community-based organizations that have worked with Housing NWT over the years to address unique needs in their community.

Housing has a small program called the Community Housing Initiative Program, and through that program we have supported organizations with engaging support to develop their community housing plans. We have seen organizations work to create housing solutions for their staff housing needs, and we have seen organizations work to support the homeowners in their communities by doing much needed furnace servicing and building ramps for seniors in need. These local organizations, with support from Housing NWT, have supported the local needs and priorities in their communities. Now with the significant amount of federal funding flowing to Indigenous governments across the Northwest Territories, I only see opportunities for these partnerships and supports to grow and multiply.

While the renewal is about positioning ourselves for the future, it is also important to recognize our history. In the past 50 years the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, now Housing NWT, has existed, it has been supporting Northerners with housing needs. To do this, there have always been dedicated and passionate employees behind the scenes, working for the residents of our communities.

On National Housing Day, I want to celebrate the hard work and perseverance of so many individuals, past and present, who have worked for our local housing organizations, our district offices, and our offices here in Yellowknife. There are so many board members and contractors who have been involved in housing at the local level. Many of these individuals have gone above and beyond in carrying out their duties. I have heard stories about employees helping flood victims safely evacuating from their homes, helping fire victims find a safe place to spend the night, and helping clients navigate government programs and services. Housing NWT is composed of dedicated individuals whose hard work changes lives and improves communities. As we mark our 50th anniversary, we will be highlighting some of these incredible employees.

Madam Speaker, we want residents of the Northwest Territories to mark this anniversary with us. Housing NWT is encouraging our local housing offices to have community-based celebrations to mark National Housing Day on November 22 and acknowledge the 50th Anniversary of Housing NWT. Whether they hold open houses, throw a feast, hold a skating event at their arena, we are hopeful that these community events will provide an opportunity to celebrate all the local housing boards and organizations do to support housing programs in their communities.

I am pleased to announce that Housing NWT is working towards developing an educational grant that will be awarded annually to NWT students entering a field related to housing. Housing NWT already strongly supports the development of apprenticeships across the Northwest Territories in the maintenance trades. These scholarships will provide additional support for those who are entering into the field of study related to housing services. Details for this initiative are currently being developed, such as how students will be able to apply and how the recipients will be selected. I look forward to sharing these details in advance as we launch of the application process.

Madam Speaker, Housing NWT feels strongly that it has, and will continue to, play a significant role in the development of housing capacity across many fields in the Northwest Territories like maintenance, architectural, engineering, property management, and board development. It is our hope that these new educational grants encourage future generations to follow their passion and pursue excellence.

As Housing NWT advances its renewal strategy, I will continue to work with the federal partners, Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations, community governments, and stakeholders to make housing across the Northwest Territories more affordable and accessible to those most in need.
Mahsi, Madam Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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

Member's Statement 1281-19(2): Housing
Members' Statements

Page 5054

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker, today I feel I must continue to share my frustration and disappointment with the overall state of Housing NWT and its service delivery to all people in the NWT.

Madam Speaker, throughout this entire term, all Regular MLAs have shared stories about their constituents' negative experiences with Housing NWT, and I don't blame them. The overall state of the housing units across the NWT are several decades old and are in severe disrepair. Most of the required repairs in public housing go unaddressed for many weeks, months, or even years by housing staff. So in cases where significant repairs to a public housing unit are required but housing staff fail to examine or repair said damages, is the onus on the tenant to cover all the damages? At what point does Housing NWT take responsibility for negligence towards the maintenance of housing units? Where is the line drawn?

Moreover, Madam Speaker, several of my colleagues have recently highlighted the issue of housing arrears, particularly for low income people and the difficulty for many in paying off their housing arrears. I agree with my colleagues that there is a real need for this government to examine all policies around housing arrears. Everyone's situation is different, but often it is low income or vulnerable people who owe housing arrears in public housing and it takes them considerable time to pay that off. There has got to be a mechanism of relief or additional support provided to these types of people in situations who are indebted with mounting housing arrears.

In addition, Madam Speaker, I support the idea of having a competent and dedicated board of local housing authorities because they provide a local perspective and a voice on all housing matters within our communities. At least, they're supposed to. However, it's been brought to my attention that the local housing authority in Fort Smith does not have a full slate of members right now, which is concerning. The reasons for vacancies are varied. But it is my understanding that once a board member is chosen by the local housing authority, it takes three months to get approval out of Yellowknife from Housing NWT to confirm any new board members. That is not acceptable. It is a bureaucracy like which disempowers local housing --

Member's Statement 1281-19(2): Housing
Members' Statements

Page 5054

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Member for Thebacha, your Member's statement has expired.

Member's Statement 1281-19(2): Housing
Members' Statements

Page 5054

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

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

---Unanimous consent granted

That is not acceptable. It is bureaucracy like that which disempowers local housing boards and gives greater power to Housing NWT to dictate local housing decisions.

In closing, Madam Speaker, I really don't like ending a session like this, but I hope the housing Minister will take note of all the concerns we have on this side of the House and will enact some positive concrete changes within Housing NWT as soon as possible. And I hope to see more houses built and more retrofits done in Fort Smith because there hasn't been anything new on this for this year. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Member's Statement 1281-19(2): Housing
Members' Statements

Page 5055

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker, this past four weeks my Member's statements focused on those issues residents of Hay River have concerns with and that have implications for the continued existence of our community.

Madam Speaker, one must realize, and as long as I can remember, the community of Hay River has relied on the presence of marine transportation infrastructure, whether for commercial fishing or the transportation of goods and equipment. Without a navigable harbour and channel, we may well lose our ability to provide a service that, for decades, has sustained our community and provided services to northern communities and regions accessible only by marine vessels and air.

Madam Speaker, losing the harbour could result in:

  • losing marine infrastructure;
  • losing the coast guard base;
  • losing fisheries and oceans; and,
  • the demise of the commercial fishing industry.

That, Madam Speaker, would further impact other Hay River infrastructure, business, and jobs. It may also result in an exodus of residents who find themselves unemployed and with no employment opportunities within the community. We are already seeing a decline in our population, and we must do something to reverse that before it becomes a trend.

Madam Speaker, if access to the harbour is lost, where would that leave Hay River and the Northwest Territories? Currently, we all know that the railhead terminates in Hay River, and we all know that highway freight destined for those isolated and remote communities, or resource development projects, ends up at Island C where it is transferred to barges.

Madam Speaker, we have Cheetah Resources on the east side of Great Slave Lake needing access to our harbour for marshalling of their rare earth mineral concentrate. We have Osisko Metals needing the railhead to transport ore from the old Pine Point mine site to processing facilities in the south. We have projects, such as Sabina Gold in Nunavut, relying on our harbour to get material and equipment to site.

Madam Speaker, as this House does not resume sitting until February next year, then going forward and at every opportunity between now and then, I expect this government to relay a strong message to the federal government and that message being that the revitalization of the Hay River Harbour is a priority for the stakeholders, for the town of Hay River, and for the Northwest Territories, and that we need their support. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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

Jane Weyallon Armstrong

Jane Weyallon Armstrong Monfwi

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker, I want to talk about access to electrical power for Tlicho residents living on Highway No. 3.

Madam Speaker, the Tlicho people have historically lived in small encampments and have come together for special events such as weddings, funerals, successful hunt, and other celebrations. Some Tlicho residents still live in encampments, cabins, and houses along Highway No. 3. Madam Speaker, in the House on June 3rd of this year, the Minister of Infrastructure called the Whati Transmission Line, quote, "a key initiative under our 2030 Energy Strategy," end quote. But what is the plan for getting these homes along Highway No. 3 off diesel power?

Madam Speaker, the Minister told the House the Whati Transmission Line will occur 100 percent on Tlicho lands, and she said that the Department of Infrastructure and Tlicho government were working together, quote, "to determine an acceptable routing corridor for the transmission line between the Snare Forks hydroelectricity facility and Whati." When the authorities came to Behchoko to request access through Tlicho lands for the power lines from Snare hydro to Yellowknife, they promised Behchoko residents would have free access to the power on Tlicho lands. Madam Speaker, residents along the highway cannot always depend on portable generators to power their homes and their freezers after a successful hunt. We already have a fibre optic line along the highway and the addition of electrical lines might be accomplished at reasonable price. I will have question for the Minister of Infrastructure at the appropriate time. Thank you, or Finance.

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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

Katrina Nokleby

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker, November is Indigenous Disability Month. According to the most recent data, in 2012, there were over 2700 persons with disabilities in the NWT. Of those, 62 percent were Indigenous yet the total Indigenous population of the NWT in 2012 was only 48 percent.

Vital Abel was a former NWT Legislative Assembly employee who left behind a legacy of strength and inspiration. Vital Manuel Abel would have been familiar to MLAs in the '90s as the former assistant to Premier Stephen Kakfwi. Vital was from Fort Good Hope, where he was born with developmental disabilities caused by spina bifida. He spent his life in a wheelchair but was taught from a young age to not let his challenges limit him.

Vital's parents taught him to never depend on anyone. He arrived in Yellowknife in Grade 10 and attended Sir John Franklin High School in my riding. After graduating, he worked in MLA Stephen Kakfwi's office for over ten years. Premier Kakfwi referred to Vital as a good worker, who was faithful and positive and always on time. Vital was an avid churchgoer who never missed a service and was always the first to show up for worship. His parents were so proud of him and all he accomplished in his short life. Vital died in 2006 at the age of 32. Spiritually, he was incredibly strong and continues to be a source of inspiration to people in our territory.

Persons with disabilities in the North face many challenges, including having to relocate to Yellowknife to access supports. Often this means entire families move with children, as is the case of the family in Lanky Court I spoke of yesterday. As winter sets in, we must remember that what many of us take for granted, the ability to walk through the freshly fallen snow, poses great challenges for others. For people with disabilities, this means they can no longer go to school, no longer easily pick up groceries, no longer run other small errands. They fear fire because the simple act of leaving their apartment is no longer possible.

Madam Speaker, REITs, landlords, and Housing NWT all have a responsibility to ensure that the entrances and walkways of all the buildings in Yellowknife are free of snow and ice such that every person in our territory can move about freely, without barriers. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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

Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Our government's open government policy commits to our public service being open by design to build a government that is open by default. And Madam Speaker, it is my experience that the exact opposite is true - that, in fact, we are closed by design and closed by default. And this is shown, Madam Speaker, in the repeated requests that myself and committees have made for information that is inevitably either marked confidential or not provided at all. Every year when the capital budget comes forward, I give the same speech about wanting to see the same documents made public. And to date, none of them have been made public. I am going to just summarize a few of those documents that I believe should be public and if ATIPP would certainly be made public, the government should proactively disclose.

One is the GNWT's 20-year capital needs assessment. This is a document that shows the GNWT what it thinks it needs to build over the next 20 years. I think this would be very helpful for residents to look in their community and maybe they could see when their school or health centre was due to be replaced. Additionally, the government has a five-year needs assessment. This one is a little more particular and has actually had some financial input put into it whereas the 20-year needs assessment is more of a wish list, and we know things are going to change. It doesn't necessarily mean. But five years out, quite a bit of financial work has been done and it's actually more likely we're going to build that. This document exists. I think it would be great public information. Once again, a five-year capital plan of any sort we have should be made public. Right now we have a one-year snapshot of what's being built with no timeline of what is actually occurring, whether things are on time, whether something was completed, and it takes repeated questions in this House to actually figure out when a project was finished on budget and on time, as many are not.

Additionally, Madam Speaker, you can see in our capital budget a number of just one-line descriptions of projects but we know there is a briefing note describing each of those projects in a little bit more detail. I think this would be great public information. Perhaps someone is interested to know why the student records module replacement completion date moves up every single year it is presented in the capital budget. And I'd rather not waste all of my committee's time and all of Cabinet Members' time asking year after year if we could simply disclose that information in the briefing note which already exists. I'll have questions for the Minister of Finance, who presently holds all of these documents, whether she will make them public. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker, as this is the final day of the fall session, I would like to commend my colleagues on both sides of the floor for understanding each other. We all come here to make a difference and to make life easier and better for the residents of this vast territory. It is very trying in our efforts when having to deal with limited and challenging budgets for all departments. The staff who put up with us day in and day out, you're all loved, and we appreciate everything that you do for us.

To the ones who live with deep depression and feel there is no other way out, believe me you are loved, and we are all here for you. Your life doesn't have to fall to pieces as there most likely is a better day. That could be later in the day, it could be tomorrow, or it could be the next day, and perhaps all the other days of your life. Please do not give up; we care.

I would like to commend the housing Minister for providing assistance to the young family with the baby in Paulatuk by providing them a warm house that gives them comfort from the cold environment of our North. Mahsi to the Minister.

Madam Speaker, in closing, I would like to wish everyone who may be struggling with addictions and chronic diseases the best of health and the warm embrace of our Creator. We don't ask for anything more than the simplest things that life has to offer. Mahsi.

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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


Thank you, Madam Speaker. Today marks 266 days since I was elected to this House to represent the constituents of Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh and the communities of N'dilo, Dettah, Lutselk'e, and Fort Resolution. It's also 333 days until the next election. I want to reflect on my experience to date we had right into the final year of this Assembly.

Madam Speaker, as soon as I arrived here, I couldn't help but feel that the GNWT train already left the station and I and my constituents had been left out -- left behind. No matter what I do or try to catch up, it seems like there isn't anything that I could do to slow down this train. And what I mean by that, Madam Speaker, is that anytime I bring up issues of housing or anything like that, I put that into the train, it gets thrown out, because it bounces off the door because the policies that hinder our people from trying to improve their lives.

So Madam Speaker, this year's budget was $2.2 billion. My riding got $3.4 million, 1.7 of a percent. So that's concerning to me. And housing got $30 million for CIRNAC this year and next year, but yet we're fixing the public housing. And that doesn't make sense when we have a housing crisis here in the Northwest Territories.

Yesterday the Finance Minister said, in response to my questions around fiscal deficits, "I do not believe there are any political pressure on us to do or not do anything as a department are not tied to the political whims of any particular administration."

Madam Speaker, I respectfully disagree with the Minister on this point. I reject the notion that the priorities of elected Members are whims to be discarded when they don't fit into the planning cycles of the GNWT departments or the priorities of the deputy minister. Political priorities should be the most important consideration to everything the GNWT does.

The priorities don't come from political parties or lobbyists like down south. They come from our people, Madam Speaker. Your job as Cabinet is to deliver out the priorities of all 19 elected Members. Our residents expect results, and sadly progress has been barely filled on the most pressing issues of the day. If this is the foundation of our consensus system, then we are deep in trouble. Madam Speaker, I would have some questions at appropriate time. Mahsi.

The Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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