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.

Topics

Members Present

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

The House met at 1:31 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 240-19(2): Ending COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
Ministers' Statement

March 31st, 2022

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, Happy New Year. This is the end of the fiscal year and the end of the public health emergency.

Mr. Speaker, as you know it's been two years since we declared a public health emergency in the Northwest Territories and doing so disrupted the lives of NWT residents, along with people around the world, and they have been disrupted again and again by public health orders restricting travel and gatherings, closing schools to in-person learning, sending workers home, and preventing non-residents free movement across our borders - all to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Mr. Speaker.

Some residents have suffered serious illness and have been hospitalized. Sadly, 21 NWT residents have died, including elders and knowledge-keepers. I grieve with those who have lost loved ones.

The pandemic has taken a toll on the physical and mental health of many NWT residents. At the same time, it has also shown how resilient and kind Northerners are. During community outbreaks, neighbors, friends, and strangers stepped up to help one another by bringing food to those in isolation and offering other kinds of support where it was needed.

Mr. Speaker, I want to sincerely thank all healthcare workers across the NWT. We are so grateful for their ongoing efforts over the course of this pandemic. Their work to manage every outbreak, deliver vaccines to every community, offer testing services to those who needed it, provide care for residents with more serious infections, and step up to be redeployed and offer their expertise when and where it was needed, they did all of this and I thank them.

When this pandemic began, we had a limited understanding of this virus, and with no vaccine or treatment available we had to take urgent action to manage the spread and prevent the health system from being overwhelmed. Once declared, the public health emergency enabled us to make decisions quickly about public health measures that would help keep us safe. It enabled the chief public health officer to issue orders to protect residents and minimize risk to the public. These orders included

  • travel restrictions;
  • mandated isolation for those infected or at risk of being infected;
  • limiting the size of public gatherings;
  • implemented infection control with physical distancing protocols; and,
  • minimized the potential for outbreaks within high-risk populations such as long-term care facilities.

We also established a compliance, education and enforcement task force to respond to complaints, and investigate when orders weren't followed or when the public was at risk.

As part of our early warning surveillance strategy, we were one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to implement a wastewater surveillance program that later garnered international recognition. We have used wastewater signals to inform public health actions such as targeted testing of travellers. We also added the COVID-19 school screening program and the DetectNWT program for businesses to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in both schools and businesses.

Mr. Speaker, the NWT launched the largest and most comprehensive vaccine program in the territory's history at the end of 2020, targeting high-risk populations before expanding to everyone else. By April 2021, vaccine teams had visited all NWT communities at least twice. We were also one of the first to roll out third doses and to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds. I am very proud of our efforts.

Today, four out of five eligible NWT residents are vaccinated and half over the age of 18 have had a booster shot.

Mr. Speaker, the public health measures taken by the GNWT have been guided by the most current scientific evidence, intended to save lives, and implemented to ensure that our health system could continue to function and respond. Now the data is showing us that the time is right to end the public health emergency.

With most of the population vaccinated and treatments available to lessen the severity of COVID infections, we are transitioning from a broad territory-wide emergency response to a continuous readiness approach that ensures our health system remains ready to respond to outbreaks, protect high-risk populations, and support communities with readiness planning. With a better understanding of COVID-19 and more tools in our toolbox, the public health emergency will end tomorrow.

To maintain readiness, we have transferred some resources from the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat to other GNWT departments. These resources include 8-1-1, wastewater testing, and communications, education and enforcement.

Mr. Speaker, the end of public health emergency means that we are moving away from public health orders and encouraging residents, businesses, and organizations to manage their own risk and make their own choices. Effective tomorrow, there will no longer be a requirement for masking, testing, or to report positive COVID cases. In addition, all travel restrictions will be removed and self-isolation plans will no longer be required. Isolation will no longer be mandatory but recommended.

We expect to see an increase in COVID cases because the pandemic is not over. It is simply entering a new phase.

I will conclude by asking all NWT residents to be considerate of each other's choices when it comes to COVID and to be patient and compassionate as we all adjust to another round of changes. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 240-19(2): Ending COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
Ministers' Statement

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Best Minister statement ever.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

Minister's Statement 241-19(2): Apprenticeship - Northwest Territories Housing Corporation
Ministers' Statement

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Mr. Speaker, education is very valuable and important in creating long-term successes for our residents. To address ongoing shortages of qualified trade workers in Northwest Territories communities, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is committed to supporting training for apprentices. The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation continues to work with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment to promote and coordinate the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation's apprenticeship program in order to secure additional candidates throughout the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation aims to hire up to 12 local housing organization apprenticeship positions in total this year.

The local housing organizations currently employ over 40 journey-certified staff in various trades that will support apprenticeship assignment opportunities in the future. The demand of apprenticeships at local housing authorities and organizations will be reviewed as a part of the LHO engagement aspect of the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation's renewal strategy.

Mr. Speaker, currently the Housing Corporation has eight apprenticeships with LHO staff in Fort Providence, Fort Simpson, Sachs Harbour and Lutselk'e set up to write the trade entrance exam for the housing maintain serviceperson.

Through our contracts, we have 25 apprentices currently working on the Housing Corporation projects. By 2024 the Housing Corporation is committed to increasing the number of journey-certified apprenticeships by ten by requiring at least one apprenticeship for all housing projects.

In addition, through our contracts there have been 33 work placements for apprentices as a part of the Northwest Territories new construction contract work since April 1st, 2020.

Being an apprentice is often one of the first steps in a lifetime of work in the trades. Mr. Speaker, the NWT Housing Corporation aims to support apprenticeship through opportunities across all regions of the Northwest Territories despite challenges due to shortages of apprenticeship applications and certified skilled workers available to serve as their mentors and supervisors. The Housing Corporation is committed to this program.

The Corporation is happy to announce that two apprentices have been journey-certified since April of 2021. The first was a housing maintenance serviceperson in Norman Wells who gained their journey person certificate on April 1, 2021. The second gained their journey person certificate as an oil burner mechanic in Yellowknife at the end of October 2021.

Since this program started in 2007, the Housing Corporation has seen a total of 21 people receive their journeyman certificates.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the role of the Corporation that plays in the training and education of new apprentices across the Northwest Territories. We will continue to work with our colleagues at Education, Culture and Employment on the apprenticeship program as we work towards increasing the number of certified apprentices and celebrate the skilled trades across the Northwest Territories.

Being from a small community myself, I have seen firsthand the importance that skilled trades play in our communities. The apprenticeship program not only helps improve housing in the short term but provides apprentices with the skills and education to continue improving housing in the future as well. I look forward to seeing the good work these apprentices will be doing across the NWT. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 241-19(2): Apprenticeship - Northwest Territories Housing Corporation
Ministers' Statement

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Northwest Territories Power Corporation.

Minister's Statement 242-19(2): General Rate Application
Ministers' Statement

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

General rate application. Mr. Speaker, the past two years have been a difficult time for us all as we endured the challenges associated with a worldwide pandemic. We now face a period of economic uncertainty due in part of the war in Ukraine and its global implications on the availability of, and cost of, goods and services.

Mr. Speaker, this government is aware that residents of the Northwest Territories are concerned about cost of living, including the cost of electricity. We recognize that inflation is putting pressures on household budgets and rising costs make living in the North ever more expensive.

Electricity rates across the territory are set by the Public Utilities Board, an independent quasi-judicial body. Electricity rates are influenced by a number of factors including, but not limited to, revenues from sales, fluctuation in fuel prices, inflation, as well as fixed costs borne by utilities to operate and maintain their assets.

While our government is working hard to protect ratepayers from costs associated with the necessary investments in Northwest Territories Power Corporation's aging infrastructure during a period of unpredictable costs, there remains a need to revise rates across the territory. To this end, Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation filed a general rate application, or GRA, with the NWT Public Utilities Board yesterday afternoon, seeking a change to electricity rates in the communities the Power Corporation serves.

Unfortunately, despite significant federal and territorial government investments, current rates are not producing sufficient revenues to cover costs of producing and delivering electricity to customers. Northwest Territories Power Corporation requires an overall revenue increase of approximately 7 percent to address this situation, which will be phased in over two years. This is the first increase to base rates the Power Corporation has proposed since 2019.

The Northwest Territories Power Corporation has worked very hard to keep rates as low as possible while providing reliable services and investing into new and refurbished assets such as hydro units, local power plants, transmission lines, and power poles. Many of its assets are beyond their serviceable life and require investment now to avoid risks associated with catastrophic failure. We simply cannot risk waiting any longer.

Fortunately, in collaboration with the Department of Infrastructure, the Power Corporation has been able to secure federal funding from Investing in Canada's Infrastructure Program towards several of its capital projects. To date, a total of $89.4 million for six projects has been secured which would otherwise have been fully paid through rates.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT will also continue to help offset higher residential electricity rates across the NWT through the Territorial Power Support Program, or TPSP. This program ensures that all NWT households can, with modest energy saving efforts, pay the same power rates as Yellowknife. The GNWT subsidize the difference between local rates and Yellowknife rates up to 1000 kilowatt hours in the winter and up to 600 kilowatt hours the rest of the year. This program represents a cost to the GNWT of several million dollars annually.

The rate increases being proposed in most communities are in line with, or below, annual inflation since the last rate increase. The rate increases are also consistent with electricity rate increases in other parts of the country. In fact, after two years most residential customers will have experienced a bill increase equal to an average 1 percent per year since 2019 after TPSP is applied.

In the Snare and Thermal zones, the GRA proposes that rates increase by 2.5 percent in each of the next two years. A portion of this will be covered by the TPSP.

If the Power Corporation's proposal is accepted by the Public Utilities Board, it is estimated that an average residential customer in the Snare and Thermal zones will see an increase in their monthly bill of approximately 3.5 percent or $11.50 after two years.

While the Taltson and Norman Wells rate zones have also not seen a rate increase since 2019, the need to adjust for historical issues and to meet Public Utility Board guidelines that rates in a given zone cover between 90 to 110 percent of cost to deliver electricity in that zone has resulted in a higher rate increase proposal.

Rates in Norman Wells and the Taltson zone do not currently meet the 90 percent threshold and must be increased by 10 percent in each of the two years to be able to close the gaps between what it costs to deliver power and revenues collected from customers.

To reduce the burden on the customers, the Power Corporation is asking that the proposed rate increases be implemented over the next two years rather than all at once.

The proposed rate increases in Norman Wells will also be offset by TPSP so the actual impact of the proposed rate increase on the residential customer will be the same $11.50 per month as in Snare and Thermal, or a 3.5 percent increase over the next two years.

Customers in Northwest Territories Power Corporation communities in the Taltson zone have had the lowest rates in the NWT for a number of years and do not qualify for the TPSP. Even after the increase proposed in this GRA, rates in Fort Smith and Fort Resolution will remain lower than any other community in the Northwest Territories and lower than the TPSP rate.

Mr. Speaker, while I recognize that the timing for these proposed rate increases is less than ideal, Northwest Territories Power Corporation is required to file an application with the Public Utilities Board to address its current and fiscal realities.

Despite fiscal financial contributions from the government to fund necessary work on the Power Corporation's aging infrastructure, as well as government support programs designed to offset higher rates in communities there, unfortunately, remains a need to adjust rates at this time.

The Northwest Territories Power Corporation will continue to work with the GNWT and the private sector to increase its customer base as well as identifying operating efficiencies and cost-saving opportunities within the Corporation to help stabilize the cost of electricity moving forward while ensuring our grid remains reliable. Quyananni, mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 242-19(2): General Rate Application
Ministers' Statement

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1067-19(2): Inuvik Mike Zubko Airport Expansion Project
Members' Statements

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier this week, the Inuvik Airport runway extension is a very important project, not only for my riding but for the North, for Canada, and it is a strategic location project for all North America. I also mentioned earlier this week the project is delayed and stalled even though there is a time-sensitive part of the construction that needs to occur this year or it will face a delay of another year.

Mr. Speaker, the estimated cost of this time sensitive work is estimated $ 8 million and this money can save the project timeline and keep it on track.

Mr. Speaker, while I recognize there is costing estimates and other details that need to be worked out, I argue to the government that this money needs to be allocated now so the project can continue and discussions on other financial aspects of the design of the project can occur at the same time. This will ensure that we safe is the project timeline while providing security and desperately needed jobs to the Inuvik and surrounding communities.

The overbudget costing of the project is not from what I understand due to the contractors but due to the specs that have been designed and given to the contractors, which was done after money was announced by the federal government. These specs were designed by the GNWT and are what is driving up the costs.

I am aware of there being discussions between the parties, and I am hoping that this time-sensitive phase has been resolved and that our local contractors can get to work and keep this project moving along. I will have questions for the Minister responsible later today. Thank you.

Member's Statement 1067-19(2): Inuvik Mike Zubko Airport Expansion Project
Members' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1068-19(2): Mental Health and Addictions Support
Members' Statements

Jane Weyallon-Armstrong Monfwi

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, you have heard me speak many times about alcohol and substance abuse, not only in the Tlicho region but in all of the regions throughout the Northwest Territories. Remember, there was a time when there was no alcohol or drugs in our communities. Now they are everywhere and many people feel powerless to control that.

The impact of alcohol and drugs have been devastating on our people. A person is affected mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Relationships are broken. Parents become unavailable and homes become unsafe. The families and the children are the ones who pay for this.

Mr. Speaker, I am saying this in a simple way here but as I speak, there are so many people in the midst of their addictions.

Mr. Speaker, there are also many peoples who want to be free of their addictions and are frighting to stay sober. We need community-led solutions for addictions and substance abuse recovery programs and aftercare. This is often overlooked. We must be able to continue to support people once they have completed an addiction recovery program.

Currently, there are not enough community-led and on-the-land addictions recovery programs or aftercare programs available in the NWT.

In 2020, Minister Green of the Department of Health and Social Services was quoted by CBC that she was not aware of differential access to the kind of care people receive in Yellowknife compared to the rest of the territory.

Has Minister Green been to the community of Behchoko? To Gameti? To Wekweeti? To Whati? I can tell you there is a major difference in access to care for those in need of addictions and substance abuse support in the Tlicho region compared to Yellowknife. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services at the appropriate time. Thank you. Mahsi.

Member's Statement 1068-19(2): Mental Health and Addictions Support
Members' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1069-19(2): Northwest Territories Mining Royalty
Members' Statements

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. By the time this House reconvenes in May, the opportunity for public comments on the review of NWT mining royalties will have closed without much public debate or media coverage. Why is this important?

There has never been a comprehensive and independent review of mining royalties and the present process is fundamentally flawed, with literally billions of dollars of potential government revenues at stake.

I submitted eight pages of comments on a previous version of a research paper. It took two attempts to even get an acknowledgement and there has never been a detailed response. Very few of my comments and suggestions were incorporated or implemented.

The only information to guide the review to date are the faulty PriceWaterhouseCoopers competitiveness study - a high-level discussion paper with vague next steps and no timelines, and a research paper that perpetuates the extractivism paradigm. The discussion and research paper contains no actual analysis of past performance of our mining royalty system let alone any evaluation of its fairness or ability to maximize revenues or benefits.

The secrecy surrounding mining royalties and the lack of any financial analysis continues to cripple this review and these papers barely acknowledge this problem let alone propose any solutions. Clearly this review is heading towards the status quo.

That should surprise no one given the rampant regulatory capture within the department as a result of its conflicting mandate of promoting and regulating mining. This review needs to be done independently just as was done with the procurement review, with an independent panel and a report.

These papers don't even make any substantive use of previous work done by world-class experts like the ITI commissioned Natural Resources Governance Institute Report, Northwest Territories Mining Sector Review and Benchmarking Study, or the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment's Report on "An Economic Analysis of the GNWT's Approach to the Mining Regime Fiscal Review". These experts have concluded that "the NWT has one of the world's most charitable fiscal regimes for the mining sector" and "the NWT sells its nonrenewable resources more cheaply than most of the other jurisdictions in the world." I'll have questions for the Minister of ITI on how to fix the fundamentally flawed review of our mining royalty that's currently underway. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1069-19(2): Northwest Territories Mining Royalty
Members' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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