Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I'm not sure anyone's still listening but if they are -- maybe I'll get a copy of Hansard and put this in my transition binder.
Mr. Speaker, I'm not really the touchie-feelie speech writer type; that's not really how I went through the court system so you can put your Kleenex away. I also, in general, the Commissioner's address is something I thought I would do because I don't get the chance to speak much, I gather. Thanks to Member from Frame Lake, apparently I'm in error. Apparently I speak a lot. Sorry, everyone, I was going to make up for that today so it's a bit long but I don't think -- I think you've all beat me anyway so I'm in a good stead.
Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I'm an optimist. Being an optimist and being a politician are not an easy combination. And these last four years, as we've all been saying now for a few hours, have had nothing short of crisis and those crisis have done their best to break an optimist's habit. Before we'd even passed our first budget, my first budget in this Assembly, there was COVID. This taxed our already maxed-out health care system. Then there was some supply chain shocks, floods, inflation, more floods, wildfires, record low water levels, challenges with the food resupplies, and challenges to our electricity systems that are now looking to have to use more expensive and carbon intensive diesel. Mr. Speaker, it is hard to be an optimist right now.
But way back in February of 2020, when people were still associating COVID with cruise ships and inflation was well under 2 percent, the Commissioner said the following in her address, People need a strong and secure foundation on which to grow, and, Mr. Speaker, I believe we have that strong foundation. I will not go so far as to say that the foundation is secure in the sense of being sustainable because I think a lot depends on what happens here in the next few years. But I do believe the foundation, at least, is there.
Some of what this government has achieved, even in the face of the recurrent crisis, has helped established that foundation. This is true across government but in the attempt to summarize or simplify will be just that; it will be too summary and too simple. So while this is not an exhaustive list, I have a few thoughts.
The government renewal program and the program evaluation policy that goes with it.
Mr. Speaker, back when I started, we did not know all of the programs and services that were offered by the Government of the Northwest Territories. I find that a bit striking. We now know. And we discovered that there's around 200 programs that had no evaluation matrix associated to them. While on the one hand you might not be proud of that, on the other I'm very proud we now know that and we can move forward.
Mr. Speaker, we now have a human resources strategic plan, the Indigenous Recruitment and Retention Framework. It has published targets associated with it, diversity and inclusion framework, and succession planning. Mr. Speaker, let that sink in that we didn't have any of that before the start of this Assembly.
Our capital planning, Mr. Speaker, we are delivering a capital plan that we can actually achieve that makes it more transparent and makes it much easier to hold departments to account for the delivery.
Mr. Speaker, on procurement. Like human resources, let me pause for a moment on these few facts. Three years ago, there was multiple different versions of the objectives and purposes across multiple departments for government procurement. Is it any wonder that people were challenged with that system, and there was no methodical way to answer whether a proponent was, in fact, delivering on the promises for local employment or purchases. It is hardly a wonder that this was such an issue at the beginning of the Assembly.
Mr. Speaker, I believe we put ourselves on the map as a location for environmental, social, and good governance investment -- a term I didn't even know existed four years ago -- and as a source of critical minerals and metals, something I also didn't hear much about just four years ago. For the Mineral Resources Act regulations, somewhat much maligned at times, Mr. Speaker, but, Mr. Speaker, it has completed six of seven steps in the brand new Intergovernmental Council Legislative Protocol. That's an accomplishment.
And last but not least on my list, Mr. Speaker, having an action plan for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry is a significant step forward, and it was one that was slowed down, intentionally, to go back and consult with communities along the way. It also has a translator's booklet associated to it that is foundational in that space for the North where we have 11 different official languages.
Mr. Speaker, I am not the only political optimist, and I'll give you an example coming from the conclusion of the Northwest Territories chapter of the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework. It speaks to barriers and challenges but it has a hint of optimism. It says this: It is time for Canadians to look North, to look beyond the cultural methodology we have created about the Arctic, to its real potential to add to Canada's social and economic strength and global advantage, end quote.
The existence of a methodology about a distant and mysterious and exotic and maybe harsh or inaccessible Arctic allows Canada to be disconnected from the realities of the North. That disconnect leaves the incredible potential of the Northwest Territories' people, lands, geography, culture, and geology misunderstood and, frankly, underestimated. That disconnect also allows a lack of understanding about the striking disadvantage against which northern people are still trying to succeed.
Mr. Speaker, it is in the interests of the rest of Canada to take note. A few examples, if I may.
The Inuvialuit settlement lands have tremendous reserves of liquid natural gas. That's something of much interest around the world right now. And the IRC should be given the opportunity to capitalize on that, should they choose.
Our territory has a wealth of critical minerals and metals in a jurisdiction where our industry practices reflect environmental, social, and good governance factors. I've had the opportunity to travel to many countries in the world and, Mr. Speaker, our tourism product is incredible. This is my favorite place in the world. We have lands and waters primed for Indigenous-led conservation initiatives which would come with their own economic, social, and cultural opportunities. We have incredible freshwater fish. We have a growing satellite facility up in the North. There's film scouts that are coming to look for our unique locations. There's strategic geopolitical placement here. And this is not meant to be the rah-rah for the ITI minister, I assure you. What it is is two-fold.
First -- and the list could be much longer. I'll stop in light of time, Mr. Speaker. But, first, it's my frustration at how much hustle it seems like it takes for Ottawa to take notice of us. And this is not meant at every Minister or department who are members of the federal public service or the federal government. And, indeed, Mr. Speaker, I am lucky that there are some Ministers with whom I value a relationship. But on a larger, wider and higher scale, there are growth opportunities in the Northwest Territories that could benefit all of Canada with a bit more attention.
Part of our challenge involves the need to overcome historic and systemic disadvantage. The Northwest Territories has the highest proportion of residential school survivors. It should be little surprise, then, that we also have some of the highest rates of family violence and some of the highest rates of suicide in Canada, and yet our Indigenous communities cannot access 100 percent funding after emergencies that on reserve communities might access, as one example.
Our government remains responsible for the delivery of health and social services, justice, and housing, among other services. Those are services that are often drawn down when people have greater mental health needs or other personal challenges. And of course as we all know, and you've all heard me say, we get a huge proportion of our budget from the territorial formula financing. That complex calculation is meant to account for what provinces are able to provide to their residents and then adjust so that the territories can, theoretically, provide something similar. Except that the last time that that calculation was given a detailed once over was sometime ago and over recent years, it has become clear Indigenous people of Canada have far greater needs owing to Canada's troubled relationship with Indigenous people. And I cannot help but question whether the equation, in fact, adequately takes into account that 50 percent of the residents of the Northwest Territories are Indigenous Canadians, many still living in traditional communities, and all of us lacking in a national scale energy or transportation corridor infrastructure. Even if it does take some of that into account and even if it does give us money that brings us to a provincial level, Mr. Speaker, that does not put our population at an equal footing. And I won't even start getting into programs where the federal government seems to outright forget the realities of the North, like in our health care funding, medical travel, or Metis health benefits.
My other purpose with that laundry list I had at the beginning about opportunities here in the Northwest Territories, however, is that we must also take responsibility for our collective future North of 60.
Mr. Speaker, it's too often that we seem to bog down at the edges of big issues, spend time on what divides us rather than what could or should unite us. And I'm going to give one example, and that is what is the energy future for the Northwest Territories. In the years to come, hauling diesel long distances across the territory by road only to then transfer it to an even more carbon intensive means of transport like barging, that is not going to be a viable method of powering the Northwest Territories. And any chance we have of reducing the cost of power will not count via a patchwork of disconnected systems. Is Taltson the answer, Mr. Speaker? Well, it might be. It is clearly a billion-dollar-plus sized project, but why did it not proceed before? What were the consequences of it not proceeding? Well, for one, the three diamond mines that now have to create their our own power systems are likely now facing, sooner than not end of life because they have to instead incur the high costs of trucking diesel up the winter road. What about the future for critical minerals and metals? There's major demand coming. But they're expecting to be able to have green energy. Well, how are we going to supply it, Mr. Speaker? I think that's true for a lot of institutional investors in different sectors, not only here. What are we going to do to respond? So what are we offering? What are we offering to the exploration companies and others? What about to the existing mines? What MOUs might have been signed with NTPC? What kind of collaboration has there been between our energy team and industry? What other alternatives might there be, in fact, that could provide equivalent megawatts? Any? Do we need all the megawatts? Where do we need the megawatts? When would we need them? If we don't need them, does that answer our need for Taltson? Maybe and maybe not. What other benefits are there for a large system like Taltson? What about small modular reactors, Mr. Speaker? What about micronuclear? And how does the proposed timeline to complete transmission on Taltson compare to the predicted date for small modular reactors? How might the cost of large scale hydro compare to community scale hydro? Was that maybe what we need?
Mr. Speaker, I'm going to stop there but I could go on asking questions in the energy space for quite some time. And my point, Mr. Speaker, is that there are a multitude of questions that I think need to be asked about energy security for the Northwest Territories, and these questions don't necessarily require a final cost estimate calculated today with interest rates high and inflation all over. It's a point in time anyways, Mr. Speaker. But, really, I want us to imagine what if we spent some of the time that we did stating all the reasons we dislike the federal carbon tax or debating all the pros and cons, what if we did that and applied it to some of those questions? What if we took back some of the time we've spent talking about who's sitting on the board at NTPC and asked instead, regardless of who's there, what they are doing to build the industrial customer power base. They're territory-wide issues, Mr. Speaker. Energy is but one. There are many more such issues where we simply must get moving on territory level solutions. And if I was -- if it seems like I'm taking a dig at MLAs, Mr. Speaker, I'm not. There's a responsibility for asking these questions as Ministers as well, internally and externally. And there's also a responsibility within the media to ask these questions of all of us, both the Ministers and MLAs. I was using the example of Taltson specifically, but I do want to acknowledge that Members certainly have asked for progress and I am glad every single time that they do. But nonetheless, there have been many times where those conversations did get bogged down on which document we'd shared on board composition, on carbon tax, something about which I have had very little control, but it leaves my wondering why. Why did we get stuck on some of these topics and some of these issues about documents and composition of boards? And let me venture one observation for the remainder of my time.
I don't think there's enough trust in this building, Mr. Speaker. And it's not trust in any one single individual because relationships will faulter in which is sometimes a very emotional role. I mean trust in our system of government and in our collective group of leaders, both elected and in the public service.
My most challenging and disheartening moments in this role occur when our differences, which are the very aspects that, as I began by describing, could unite us, instead devolve into personal accusations, statements like you don't care, you want to cause pain. We might not agree on how to face our political challenges but no one in this room, I believe, no one in this room wants to cause the residents of the Northwest Territories any form of pain. That's nonsense. And this isn't merely a matter of argument style. Saying those types of things, Mr. Speaker, stifles our ability to continue to stand and engage in difficult debate. We need to rebuild trust, not only in our institutions but in each other, and in the ability to engage in difficult debates on substantial matters. And it doesn't mean that we don't have serious disagreements. I have had some serious disagreements, both with my Cabinet colleagues and with Members across the floor. And respecting them doesn't mean I'm going to invite them to dinner when all of this is over, Mr. Speaker, but surely, surely we can hang on to some basic respect for one another no matter how much we disagree on the politics.
It is not just us as Members. It is trust in government processes and trust in the public servants behind them that is often lacking. Mr. Speaker, we are all human, and the people who work in the public service are human. Some will work harder than others, and some will make mistakes. Please do not ever let one person ruin your faith in the ability of your friends and your neighbours who work for government. And I'll speak to that a bit more in just a moment.
My ask first, to anyone who steps in this building come November, is to please begin from a place of respect and try always to build trust. Even when it seems broken, please try again. Without this, progress on the big issues facing this territory will be much harder, and the discussion and the debate will not be ready. Mr. Speaker, I'm almost done. I have a few thank-yous so maybe get the Kleenex; we'll see how it goes.
I was new to the government service when I was elected in 2019. I had never been a member of the GNWT's public service and if I am being honest, I was unsure what I was going to find.
I am so grateful to the public service. In a consensus system, when people get upset with the government, which happens, it is the nature of governing, rather than blame the party who happens to be in power, which is what might happen in a party system, the ire and the frustration easily gets turned to the government generally, and the public service specifically, here in the Northwest Territories.
As of Wednesday, October the 4th, I have answered 1104 questions in the House. There's been a few more since then, but I haven't done the count. I have answered hundreds more questions in Committee of the Whole and hundreds more again in front of standing committees. And here's a secret. I did a lot of homework before I ran for office but four years ago, I knew very little about public accounts. I knew very little about the government fiscal framework. I could not have told you what an ESG might stand for. I certainly could not have explained digital government. I had competed on RFPs, but I did not know much about public procurement. And I can assure you I was quite unfamiliar with the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. And so in order for me to answer literally thousands of questions about all of these different topics, and many more, I have relied on the public service. For every single question I have been asked, I assure you I have probably asked my staff and my departments at least two, and sometimes more. And often I have not only asked them to explain a concept or a process in excruciating detail, I have often then said but why is it so? And sometimes, often, they have answered with new policies, new processes, changes, legislative or regulatory changes, not to mention countless rewrites of the BF reply, the speaking notes, and the media releases. The poor comms folks.
Mr. Speaker, so much of this work is unseen and under appreciated but any success that I might have had in this role is thanks to members of the public service.
A true unsung public service hero is the role of the constituency assistant. It really doesn't have the right title, Mr. Speaker. For me, balancing the demands of a Minister's office and that of a MLA is challenging. I had many different channels by which people can reach me. Unfortunately, I am often overloaded by the one channel that I am standing behind here. Fortunately, I have someone with energy and passion, and I was never worried about missing a communication come in as an MLA. Nor was I worried whether or not my office would advance issues on behalf of my constituents, many of which my constituency assistant had to advance to me as a Minister so I know exactly how difficult and tenacious she can be. She was always accessible, she was deeply engaged, and I do not how I would have managed this role without her.
A huge thank you to my ministerial team at the Assembly. They have kept me, my correspondence, my briefings, and truly my life organized. I put everything in my calendar, every last sports event, every dentist office appointment for the kids, and they somehow have managed to work around that and balance that with all of the demands of this office. They have kept me calm. They have kept me functional. The volume of things means that all of this was no small feat. But beyond that, Mr. Speaker, they are the frontline of my office, and they are also the frontline for all the emotional highs and lows that come into a Minister's office.
I want to say thank you to my colleagues on Cabinet. We do not always agree, Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the front that we like to put forward of being all calm and organized, but we did become a team. I am very grateful for this comradery. And thank you, Premier, for your leadership of our team.
Thank you to my colleagues in the House. We have had some laughs, Mr. Speaker. We have had some tough but good debates. I have learned a good many things. We also had a few other less than pleasant moments but I am pretty sure they are going to make some good Ministers some day, Mr. Speaker.
A thank you to my family. My spouse is at one of our remote mine sites most weeks from Monday to Thursday, and he just doesn't do the 12-hour days. His days are typically longer. But when he comes home, he has consistently asked me what can I do to help? He also happens to be my most difficult constituent and frequently tells me very plainly his views on what the government is doing. He is also my first gut check and has had to listen to many a political theory as I was trying to unpack an issue or a problem.
Thank you to my kids, Mr. Speaker. They have been troopers. They have become very independent confident young people over these last four years, and they are now exceptionally good at making breakfast for dinner on days when I am running late.
Thank you to the many many friends and neighbours who have helped drive my kids all over the city to various sports, had them over for play dates, and including sometimes some weeknight/school night sleepovers when required.
Last but not least, very importantly, a thank you to the residents of Yellowknife South. Many residents and their families have struggled with the recurring emergencies that we have all experienced in the last four years. Even when I have not been able to provide a preferred solution or answer a question the way someone clearly had hoped, residents have remained respectful. In a age of political polarization, I have been deeply grateful for that. Many have trusted me with their challenges and concerns, shared their struggles and Ministers with me. I am grateful for the trust they have placed in me. I am grateful for the kindness and the support that my residents have shown me. It has been truly an honour in this House to be here on behalf of Yellowknife South. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.