This is page numbers 6721 - 6786 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

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, despite opposition or doubts from some about the viability of the Taltson Hydro Expansion, can the Minister confirm that this project is still a priority for the Government of the Northwest Territories? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Diane Archie

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, yes, this project is a priority of this 19th Assembly. We also have federal funding, Mr. Speaker, that's in place to do things like advance the business case, formalize business partners, define a preferred transformation route. Also at the end to be able to file this regulatory application. Mr. Speaker, I'll say it again, big picture thinking, thinking about the future that stabilizes the cost of energy. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, I realize that the end of the 19th Assembly is upon us. So I just wanted to ask the Minister if she can confirm that this project will continue to be pursued by NTPC and the Government of the Northwest Territories regardless of the upcoming election. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Diane Archie

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I can't really speak for the next government; however, the Taltson expansion is funded and continues to be a central to our strategy to stabilize cost of energy, support some community electrification, provide access to clean energy for them. Mr. Speaker, the Department of Finance and Department of Infrastructure are both working together to ensure that we continue this. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Final supplementary. Member for Thebacha.

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, can the Minister provide any update on her engagements with the federal government regarding the Taltson expansion? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Diane Archie

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, yes, our department staff are engaged with federal officials on the potential, and all parties recognize the value of building relationships with Indigenous partners, better defining the project footprint, working towards filing this regulatory application.

I also raised the issue with Minister Fraser who is the Minister -- federal minister of housing, infrastructure, and communities. I know that Minister -- we had an introductory meeting in September to have discussion on infrastructure, community, and housing. I also know that Minister Wawzonek and the Premier has raised the issue of federal participation every opportunity we get to speak with federal Ministers. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Oral questions. Member for Deh Cho.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, my questions are related to my Member's statement on the tailings ponds contamination and seepage and are for the ECC Minister.

In light of the recent updated news, can the ECC Minister advise this House and the residents of the waterways what has been done to address the serious issue of water contamination? Mahsi.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Minister responsible for Environment and Climate Change.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the Member for the question. The GNWT understands and shares the concerns that Indigenous governments and all NWT residents have for our shared waters. This spill and seepage has been a priority for me and this government. The GNWT, in collaboration with the Fort Smith Metis Council, Smith Landing First Nation, and the Town of Fort Smith, collected weekly water quality samples to track potential impacts of the incident upstream and address human health concerns until early summer of 2023 with the regular water sampling schedule resumed. Primary results analysis in June showed that the water in the Slave River are safe for people and animals with no evidence of chemicals from the seepage and spill and contaminated Slave River within the NWT. The GNWT also initiated a formal dispute resolution process under the bilateral agreement as we are of the view that Alberta was required to notify the GNWT of the seepage and spill as early as practical and didn't.

We continue to work through the dispute resolution process, Mr. Speaker. Since the process was initiated in March, information sharing from the Government of Alberta has significantly improved.

Finally, I was successful in asking the federal Minister to include a representative of the GNWT and NWT Indigenous governments in a joint federal, provincial, and territorial Indigenous notification working group. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mahsi to the Minister for that answer. Mr. Speaker, I'm not privy to the workings with another jurisdiction, such as the province of Alberta, to draft up bilateral water management agreements. Can the Minister apprise this House as to the process for reaching an agreement to monitor and receive reports related to the contaminants? Mahsi.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Alberta-NWT Bilateral Water Management Agreement has specific provisions for sharing water monitoring results and reports, and information is regularly shared between our governments. For example, the GNWT and Alberta co-drafted transboundary agreement annual reports using monitoring information from both jurisdictions. There has been some challenges with Alberta sharing information previously and a transboundary agreement provisions are what allowed the GNWT to compel Alberta to share information despite a dispute if they don't and conduct regular agreed upon monitoring. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker, and to the Minister also. I think my Member's statement has clearly pointed out, from all news reports and whatnot, that we can't trust the Alberta government to work with our territorial government in providing any notices or advanced notices of the contaminants. They clearly don't have any control over what is happening at the tailings ponds at the tar sands mine sites. It's just run amuck right now.

In light of that, Mr. Speaker, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nations of Fort Chipewyan, south of us in Alberta, have dealt with this issue since the development of the tar sands mining projects. Has the ECC Minister and department staff reached out to have a meeting with the two group to hear their concerns with the tailings ponds? Mahsi.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The GNWT is aware of the water-related concerns of Athabasca, Chipewyan, and the Mikisew Cree First Nation and Fort Chip Metis Nation. The GNWT has collaborated with members from these First Nations through the Peace-Athabasca Delta Ecological Monitoring Program as well as the fish monitoring camps and watering sample. The GNWT regularly communicates with NWT Indigenous governments to share information about the transboundary water, including Kearl spill and seepage through direct contact as well as through regular dialogue with the Indigenous steering committee with the NWT water strategy. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Final supplementary. Member for Deh Cho.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker, and mahsi to the Minister. I'm just curious to know if the Minister's department has any reports or minutes of meeting that they may have had with the counterparts that I mentioned in Alberta, and if they could share that with the House or with the Members.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Minister, as being part of Cabinet who controls all of government, have they reached out to the Premier of Alberta to strongly urge dialogue to discuss grave concerns regarding the mines tailing ponds, seepage, and quite possibly breaching the enclosures? Mahsi.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On a number of occasions, including when the Minister from Alberta phoned me last night, I expressed to the Alberta Minister of Environment and Protected Areas my strong concerns about the oil sand tailing pond seepage and the potential release of treated oil sands tailing water in the Athabasca River. And, Mr. Speaker, the Members will be receiving an e-mail that I received from the Minister last night. We looked at it, and we're sharing it with our colleagues, and we'll be sharing it with the communities across there.

They are taking it seriously. They've heard our concerns. They heard what we're trying to do. And she was very committed to making sure we get that information to us as soon as she got it. So for that, I thank Minister Schulz for that.

I have stated publicly the GNWT is not supportive of the release of treated tailing waters from the oil sands until we have the information, data, and science that demonstrates this can be done safely and will not affect the ecological integrity of our shared waters. A condition of regular dialogue between Ministers and senior officials, the GNWT is using the Alberta-NWT Bilateral Water Management Agreement and its bilateral management committee as a primary tool to address transboundary concerns related to water management and to protect the interests of the NWT residents.

And, Mr. Speaker, the Member talked about reports, and we are working with them getting these reports now. We're just one -- there's one pillar that we're waiting for to get that information. And then we're looking at that. So then once we have all that information, we hopefully will be able to share some of it with committee. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Oral questions. Member for Monfwi.

Jane Weyallon Armstrong

Jane Weyallon Armstrong Monfwi

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, can the Minister tell this House why residents who choose to travel on their own to seek medical attention are unable to seek immediate reimbursement for medical travel? Especially when they are diagnosed with an illness that would require medical travel out of the territory. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Monfwi. Minister responsible for Health and Social Services.

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I want to tell the Member that the way medical travel works is that the patient needs to see a care provider in the Northwest Territories who refers them for services in the south that are not available here. And then in that case, medical travel pays for the travel, the hotel, the ground transportation, and so on. If people go and book travel on their own to see their own practitioners, the expense is theirs. Thank you.

Jane Weyallon Armstrong

Jane Weyallon Armstrong Monfwi

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we need more programs and services in small communities. Indeed, the health care systems needs to be improved, especially in small communities. If it was okay, then all these things would not be necessary.

Can the Minister explain if any review of the medical travel policy is underway to allow for more flexibility in these circumstances for the residents of the NWT? Thank you.

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we're always interested in hearing about people's experience with medical travel in an effort to improve it. We have done reviews of different aspects of the medical travel policy while I have been the Minister. And at this point, our primary focus is negotiating with Canada to sign a new NIHB agreement, which includes the compensation for medical travel, to include a wider range of escorts. We hear many complaints about the lack of escorts, and we would like to improve that but we need the funding from Canada to make that work. Thank you.

Jane Weyallon Armstrong

Jane Weyallon Armstrong Monfwi

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We are losing services in our communities and when we go to regional centres to access treatment, our residents are being turned away and denied access to care. What is being done to ensure there are no systemic barriers to accessing programs and services? Thank you.