This is page numbers 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.


Recorded Vote

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

In favour.

Recorded Vote

Clerk Of The House Mr. Tim Mercer

The Member for Thebacha has indicated that she is in favour of the motion.

Recorded Vote

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Colleagues, we'll rule the motion out of order. There's some errors in the wording so we'll deal with it next session.

Okay, motions. Notices of motion for the first reading of bills. First reading of bills. Minister responsible for Finance.

First Reading of Bills

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

March 31st, 2022

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, I wish to present to the House that Bill 51: The Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2022-2023 be read for the first time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Pursuant to Rule 8.2(30, Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2022-2023, has been presented, deemed read for the first time, and is ready for second reading.

First reading of bills. Second reading of bills. Minister responsible for Finance.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the honourable Member for Nahendeh, that Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2022-2023, be read for the second time.

This bill authorizes the Government of the Northwest Territories to make appropriations for operations expenditures for the 2022-2023-fiscal year.

It also sets out limits on amounts that may be borrowed by the Commissioner on behalf of the government, includes information in respect of all existing borrowing and all projected borrowing for a fiscal year, and authorizes the making of disbursements to pay the principal of amounts borrowed. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. The motion is in order. To the principle of the bill. Member for Hay River South.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the reason I put my name forward for the office that I now hold was to advocate for the community of Hay River and to give a voice to those that may not always be heard. At times, one finds themselves painted into a corner. This becomes commonplace for those who represent constituents from regional and small communities. Supports and services required by those in regional and small communities is not always in synch with what bureaucracy has planned.

The reality is that government is managed by a bureaucracy located in Yellowknife that may, through no fault of their own, not have a sense of small community living, amenities, and issues. This often translates into budgets, supports and programming that appear unfriendly and not understanding of the reality of communities outside Yellowknife.

Mr. Speaker, today we have the main estimates in front of us and we are expected to vote in favour or against them.

With this budget, the government is attempting to move forward the mandate and priority items for each department while making sure this government continues operating beyond today. This is a daunting task as it may require favouring one region over another, one community over another, one program over another, one project over another, one issue over another, and one MLA over another. In the end, it is about making decisions to direct limited funding to grow regions and communities while supporting and advancing the growth of the economy and infrastructure of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, the NWT is made up of 33 communities, with all 33 not being treated fairly when it comes to financial support from this government.

Outside Yellowknife, we have a range of issues that include lack of housing, homelessness, mental health, addictions, policing, access to proper health care, education, aged infrastructure, failing road systems, diminished resource development, inadequate communication systems, increasing community funding gap, unsettled claims, cost of living increases, recruitment and retention of qualified staff through all departments; all impacting the lives of have-not communities.

Mr. Speaker, when Yellowknife requires a day shelter, a public emergency is declared which comes with $175K of monthly operating funding while the communities are told to use the community sports centre or other facilities as day shelters.

When Yellowknife requires $2.2 million in funding for housing and wellness, it only requires a one-page letter to this government while the communities are told there is no more funding.

When there is a need for more housing in Yellowknife this government purchases a 24-unit apartment building in Yellowknife for $2 million plus.

When the Hay River Ski Club requests $150K to support sports, physical fitness and mental health for youth post-COVID, they are told to go and fundraise at a time when residents just don't have any more to give.

Community governments are experiencing financial hardship due to an ever increasing funding gap at a time when aged infrastructure needs replacing as well.

Mr. Speaker, this government has a shortage of qualified workers.

With an Affirmative Action Policy that was designed to raise the number of Indigenous persons employed in the public sector, the question is: Can we achieve that equity with the pool of qualified Indigenous people living in the NWT?

Reviewing statistics, I believe many of the qualified Indigenous people are working but continue to experience disadvantages as they are often overlooked for advancement and training.

If we expect to meet Indigenous employment targets, this government needs to provide the resources to educate Indigenous youth and position them to take over the roles many of us are in. In the interim, if we are to grow the North we need persons from all professions with various education, experience and skills who are willing to make the NWT their home. While we provide incentives to encourage people to move here to work, we must also provide those same or similar incentives to those already living and working here.

Mr. Speaker, this government talks about the need for housing, trades, and jobs. Then it goes out and purchases manufactured homes from the south which provides no sustainable impact on the community or the economy of the NWT. Going forward, we must support a combination of stick-built and NWT manufactured homes with those manufactured homes to built in the North.

The community of Hay River, with its access to marine transportation services, highway access, rail access, and access to what should be cheap hydro, is the most feasible place to support manufacturing initiatives. This government has yet to realize the potential for manufacturing in the community of Hay River and therefore does not provide adequate supports required to advance it. The market for manufactured goods would not only be the NWT. And, when we consider Hay River's proximity to the south, the possibilities are endless.

Mr. Speaker, the mineral resource sector has played a significant role in the development of the Northwest Territories. The 19th Legislative Assembly recognized that fact and committed support to increase resource exploration and development. We know that the NWT is rich in minerals and oil and gas. The stumbling block is access and the cost of that access.

If we expect the NWT to grow, we need roads to resources and communities and that, Mr. Speaker, starts with the Mackenzie Valley Highway. This government must work strategically and quickly with the federal government and industry to make this a real priority. The Mackenzie Valley Highway would not only support industry but it would also support access to the south for those communities along its route while forming a loop with the Dempster Highway which would increase tourism opportunities as well.

Further, it would work towards lowering the cost of living for residents while providing access to education, jobs, business opportunities, improved communication systems, and housing for regional and smaller communities. This is where we must direct additional financial support.

Mr. Speaker, workforce priorities are changing which is impacting our ability to recruit and retain professionals throughout government and the private sector.

One area of concern is health care. Over the past two years we have seen the demand for healthcare workers increase and our success to recruit lessened. The reality is that the workforce is changing, workers priorities are changing, and the demand for healthcare workers is on the rise. It is therefore important this government adapt to that change and find creative ways to recruit professional healthcare staff that will provide for consistent, timely, and quality healthcare services to the residents of the Northwest Territories. We need to place additional resources into this area as it directly impacts the health and lives of all residents.

Mr. Speaker, further to health care, there remains issues with medical escorts and travel costs.

With respect to medical travel, we need to revisit the allocation for meals and accommodations. The amounts provided are not sufficient and need to align with what government employees receive while on duty travel. $18 a day for meals and $50 per day for accommodation is not acceptable and unfair to those who are on limited income.

To reach this goal, and because the cost could be substantive, it will require conversations with the federal government to secure additional funding to offset the increase.

Mr. Speaker, this budget may have its faults but the government has promised additional funding of $4 million for housing programs, $500,000 for heritage centres, $2.2 million for homelessness shelters, and multiyear funding agreements that allow for inflationary increases for those third parties who deliver core government programs and services on behalf of the government.

To pay for this, in addition to $2.4 million cut to contract services, we can expect an increase in tobacco tax which will generate up to $3.5 million annually.

These additional financial commitments by government are welcomed and confirms the fact that government is listening to the people of the NWT. Does it go far enough? Probably not. But it is a move in the right direction and we must recognize that fact.

Mr. Speaker, will this budget pass? I expect it will however I am hopeful that this government listened to what we had to say and in their deliberations considered our requests along with information included it in their decision-making processes. We, as Regular MLAs, may not have received everything we requested in this budget but that should not stop the dialogue from continuing as we move forward, as it is not about us. More importantly it is about the people of the Northwest Territories.

Although I will vote against this budget, I hold no ill feelings or animosity to those on the other side of this House as they had a job to do as well. However, this is an opportunity where we can agree to disagree while highlighting inequities between Yellowknife, regional centres and small communities. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. To the principle of the bill. Member for Thebacha.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, today I will be voting against this year's budget for a variety of reasons which I will outline now.

As I said in the March 9th, 2022, Member's statement, the Government of the Northwest Territories budget allocations are not evenly spread across all communities and regions of the Northwest Territories. We see time and time again that the capital region gets most of the funds and everyone else is left to fight over the crumbs. Small communities and regional centres are routinely undercut and forced to fight to get funding at every turn whereas funding for just about everything within the capital region is almost automatically granted.

There is something seriously wrong with that scenario. The current structure of allocated funds within our territorial budget is flawed and needs to be evaluated.

Moreover, Mr. Speaker, one of my top priorities for this year's budget did not get any funding commitments which was to allocate $500,000 to the Salt River First Nation for a tiny home pilot project initiative for homelessness. This would have been a potential solution to address homelessness in a regional centre.

On March 4th, 2022, the Member for Frame Lake, on my behalf, tabled into this Assembly the letter from Salt River First Nation outlining the project proposal. That letter was sent to the Minister of Homelessness and to the Premier on January 21st, 2022, so that Cabinet over two months to consider that project and find at least some funds to support it. All that was offered was to work with Salt River to submit funding applications to the federal government to access certain funding streams.

Well, Mr. Speaker, that is not good enough. Going that route would take too long and this project would not get underway for at least another year or two, if that.

I understand there may have been some concern from our government to fund this project because it was an on-reserve project. Well, our government could have easily reached out to the Indigenous Services Canada to determine a cost sharing arrangement to fund this shovel-ready project this year. But for reasons beyond me, that did not happen.

In contrast, Mr. Speaker, our government received a letter on January 31st, 2022, from the Yellowknife Women's Society requesting funding for the Spruce Bough organization which provides wellness and housing programs to vulnerable people in the capital region.

While I do wholeheartedly support funding for homelessness and wellness programs for the people of the NWT, I strongly urge our government to spread this same support evenly across the board to all communities and regions of the NWT.

In the end, Spruce Bough received a funding commitment almost immediately after their letter was submitted. Although Spruce Bough did not receive the funds they requested, they did receive a substantial amount that was nearly exactly what they asked for.

Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, while it is good to see our government provide the relief funding to many struggling airlines across the NWT, in the latest phase of air aid delivery our government failed to include all airlines for additional financial support.

I spoke about this issue on Monday when I voted against the Supplementary Estimates (Operations Expenditures), No. 3, 2021-2022. I said this to the Minister of Finance, and I still feel this way now, which is that the evaluation process for airline aid delivery is flawed. To only look at a financial snapshot during a very narrow timeframe during a global pandemic is not okay.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, I take issue with the fact that the Department of Finance increased its budget by 13.9 percent for 2022-2023. The Minister of Finance says these extra funds were needed for additional manager-level staff in the department. Well, I just don't understand why we need these additional staff to oversee a budget deficit that continues to accumulate additional debt for the Government of the Northwest Territories. Our government is hiring more staff to help fix a broken system. That just doesn't make sense to me.

Mr. Speaker, another reason I do not support this budget is the Fort Smith Airport runway. While I do appreciate that funding was given to overlay the existing air side surfaces at the Fort Smith Airport, I'm still upset that the width of our airport runway was arbitrarily narrowed by the Department of Infrastructure.

I understand that Transport Canada changed their runway specifications which affects all airports across the country. However, to destroy a perfectly good and effective airport runway that was serving the needs of our community, our airline and our flight school, just doesn't make any sense. I've asked every which way to the Minister of Infrastructure and Finance to change the Fort Smith Airport runway back to its original specifications, but they will not budge from their position. That is extremely disappointing to me and the constituents of Thebacha.

Mr. Speaker, this government has to realize that regional centres and small communities do not have the same level of physical and social infrastructure as the capital region. More attention needs to be paid to the regional centres and small communities to bring them up to par with the level and programs and services as the capital region.

If this is truly a consensus style of government, then the MLAs from outside the capital region need to have a better say in which goes on into the budget. If we as ordinary MLAs feel that we cannot enter the front door, how is a regular person off the street going to enter that door to advocate the issues they need to be addressed to our Cabinet.

In all my time as an ordinary Member of this Assembly, I have not once seen an MLA from the capital have to advocate for funding on the floor of the House.

Mr. Speaker, another thing I am disappointed in is the lack of support given to my constituent who endured a tornado that destroyed his home. I know that the NWT Housing and MACA did reach out to that constituent and worked with him to some extent but I still maintain that he was shortchanged and did not receive adequate support that could have been provided.

Also, one other issue I feel the NWT is lacking in is policing in the smaller communities and regional centres.

The Minister of Justice once told me that the NWT has the highest per capita ratio of RCMP officers for our population than anywhere else in the country. Well, despite that fact I still feel that the level of policing is not sufficient and is not addressing all the crime taking place within our communities, particularly when it comes to drug issues that all the people of the NWT are dealing with.

Mr. Speaker, to vote against this budget is not a decision that I have made lightly. I have put a lot of thought into this decision and for these reasons, I will be voting against this budget. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Thebacha. To the principle of the bill. Member for Monfwi.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

Jane Weyallon-Armstrong Monfwi

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, after trying to get some basic financial information about my region from the government, I was told that the GNWT did not budget in this way and that the information I wanted could not be provided. I decided to do my own work, and I can say it has been an eye opening experience.

Mr. Speaker, if we were to break down the $2 billion operating budget based on population, it amounts to almost $45,000 per person living in the NWT. Based on this estimate, that the Tlicho's share of the operating budget should be about $135 million per year. When I look around Tlicho communities, however, I wonder where is this being spent. According to the sources of information I have, I estimate the amount of money being directly spent in my region to be approximately half of that amount.

The question I keep coming back to then, Mr. Speaker, is what happened to the other $60 million on an annual basis that should be flowing to the people and communities in the Tlicho regions?

Mr. Speaker, the Minister's email provided some insight to this. It talks about work being done that benefits all NWT communities, like the Executive, Indigenous Affairs, education modernizations, curriculum renewal, and MMIWG. There are many more of these types of projects across government, and I'm not saying that these are bad projects or that work should not continue. But using half of our money, or $60 million, to work on GNWT priorities, many of which are out alignment with what is actually needed in my region, is really unfair.

For example, Mr. Speaker, if the GNWT was really interested in improving educational outcomes in my region, changing the Education Act will not have the same impact as addressing the social economic conditions like poverty and housing. A change in education legislation is not going to fix the housing crisis.

When you have eight people living in a three-bedroom unit and children do not have a good night's sleep or no quiet place to study, how do you expect these children to have good attendance and to focus on their education when they are worried about basics like food and shelters? Fixing this problem will do far more to improve educational outcome than some legislation changes.

Mr. Speaker, this government says it wants to work in partnership with Indigenous governments, and it says a lot of the right things. But the way it spends money tells a different story.

The fact that $60 million is allocated to territorial projects without any community consultation sends a message that the GNWT knows better than local leaderships. To add insult to injury, organizations then have to apply for funding that have a lot of restrictions placed on them. The Minister of Health often has spoken about unused pots of funding. Maybe the reason organizations choose not to apply is because of all the restrictions placed on the funding, making it difficult for them to achieve an outcome.

Mr. Speaker, funding restrictions are just a tool that colonial government use to control Indigenous government. If the GNWT is serious about working with Indigenous government, they need to come up with a new fiscal approach that is built on mutual respect and trust instead of control. Just as the federal government trusts this government to make decisions, we need to show Indigenous government that same trust.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot support this budget as it is out of alignment of what my riding really needs. I would like to see the budget change to reflect more small community needs. GNWT is using a large portion of our funding, or $60 million every year, to support territorial projects when my region's basic needs are not being addressed.

My riding priorities are to fix the housing crisis, work on mental health and addictions, and to fix aging infrastructure, infrastructure as previously mentioned. Even if a small portion of the $60 million GNWT is using for its territorial projects were spent towards our priorities, the housing crisis could be resolved over the next couple years.

I believe that all other small NWT communities are in the same situation and are paying a huge price tag for territorial projects that have little benefit for small communities. That is why we continue to see outcomes for people living in small communities. Communities get worse and the widen gap when compared to those people living in the capital or large regional centres.

If you are from small communities, you would understand our struggles and challenges yet we do not hear this from this Cabinet most who are from small northern communities. We feel no one is advocating on our behalf. Remember, there are 32 other communities outside of capitals that matters. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Monfwi. To the principle of the bill. Member for Frame Lake.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I'm pretty exhausted. I don't have any formal speaking notes, I don't know how anybody else has managed to pull theirs together. But, you know, it's well known that I fundamentally disagree with Cabinet's fiscal framework that perpetuates overspending on capital, some of which is directed at large infrastructure projects of dubious merit and value.

I criticized this Cabinet for its lack of attention to raising revenues in my reply to the budget address. I advocated for one or more tax brackets for high income earners. I think that we can retain greater benefits from mineral exploration and development by retaining or capturing more royalties from mining and other measures that I identified in my reply to the budget address.

However, I was certainly happy to work with my regular MLA colleagues to secure some compromises and improvements to the budget, and those were highlighted yesterday by the Minister of Finance. And, you know, it was a difficult and challenging process that we went through but those changes that we secured as regular MLAs by working together included, you know, additional funding for housing and for homelessness. And although $4 million as a permanent increase to O and M funding for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation may not sound like a lot on a $2.2 billion budget, I think it starts to head us in a better direction.

I support additional funding for homelessness shelters and for heritage centres as well.

I think there was a very significant commitment made on nongovernmental organization multiyear funding that will allow for inflationary increases to their funding. I think that's a really significant commitment that Cabinet has made, and I really look forward to that being implemented.

I support increasing tobacco taxes and a reduction in contracted services that were proposed by the -- or committed to by the Minister of Finance as well.

I did mention that I believe this was a very difficult process of negotiating changes, but I certainly appreciate the collaborative approach that was taken in the spirit of compromise, and it's I think a vast difference in approach from how we approached this in the last Assembly. So I want to give my Cabinet colleagues and the Minister of Finance some credit for that.

And I guess in conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I can see my way to support this budget with the reservations that I mentioned earlier. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Bill 51: Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2023-2023, Carried

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Frame Lake. To the principle of the bill. Member for Kam Lake.