This is page numbers 5215 - 5258 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, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Mr. Edjericon, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. O'Reilly, 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 5215

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Housing NWT.

Minister's Statement 302-19(2): Energy Management Strategy and Blueprint
Ministers' Statements

February 13th, 2023

Page 5215

Paulie Chinna

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform this House that the draft NWT energy management strategy is out for public feedback until February 21, 2023. This strategic approach will support both Housing NWT's energy goals and objectives, as well the strategic objectives of the GNWT's 2030 Energy Strategy and a long-term view towards guiding energy management decisions and investments. The strategy will also support skill training, economic development opportunities, and more reliable and sustainable energy systems for Housing NWT.

Mr. Speaker, recognizing the importance of public engagement in the development of this strategy, in January 2023 Housing NWT released a draft strategy for public review and comment. As noted earlier, this public comment period will be open until February 21st, 2023 and provides an opportunity for all stakeholders to offer valuable feedback.

Mr. Speaker, over the past several months there has been key engagement work completed, including hosting technical workshops with experts in the energy sector, meetings with our local housing organizations, letters to Indigenous organizations seeking input, and presentations to the Council of Leaders. From the valuable input received and the analysis of the energy use of our housing units, Housing NWT drafted an energy management strategy. Housing NWT recognizes the importance of energy efficiency, especially in times when we are aware of how climate change is affecting our lives. We know we must improve the energy efficiency of our housing and investing in long-term alternative energy products and solutions. Improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewable energy provides benefits such as lowering operating costs, improving living conditions, and contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions which is vital in our fight against climate change. Working to plan, build, and manage our assets in an energy-efficient manner is part of Housing NWT's new mission, values, and vision.

As I spoke previously, Mr. Speaker, we are striving to meet all our new mandate commitments. The new energy management strategy will inform change to policy and programs necessary as part of our renewal, speaking directly to the well-being of our communities, especially considering the issues caused by climate change. As Northerners, we must take seriously the impact that climate change is having on our environment.

I can confirm that since 2010, Housing NWT has invested over $5.1 million in 13 alternative renewable energy projects such as solar and biomass projects in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Fort Simpson, Hay River, Behchoko, Dettah, N'dilo, Fort Resolution, Fort Liard, Whati, and Aklavik.

Mr. Speaker, I very much look forward to the release of this new strategy and blueprint in the spring of 2023 as Housing NWT continues to work closely with Indigenous governments, community governments, the private sector, and non-for-profit sectors, and our federal funding partners in realizing the goals and objectives of this energy management strategy. I would also like to thank the staff of Housing NWT for contributing and putting this document together. It's much appreciated.

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Environment and Natural Resources.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Mr. Speaker, this government is committed to working with Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations on conservation in the Northwest Territories. The Department of the Environment and Natural Resources has spent the last three years implementing establishment agreements, drafting site-specific regulations, and establishing management boards for existing territorial protected areas, Thaidene Nene and Tuyeta. The network of protected and conservation areas in the NWT comes with many benefits:

  • Conservation areas protect ecological and cultural important space;
  • They help to maintain biodiversity, which is critically important for the ecosystem's health; and,
  • They empower and employ communities.

Today I would like to share some of the successes in implementing that network and the work we will continue through the rest of this government. Mr. Speaker, this past December, the Deline Got'ine government, affirmed along with the Governments of Canada and Northwest Territories their commitment to enhance the conservation and stewardship in the Great Bear Lake watershed. As part of this commitment, the Deline Got'ine government announced their intent to create the Sahtu K'aowe Indigenous protected and conservation area. This will enhance and formally recognize the stewardship the Sahtu Got'ine have had in the Great Bear Lake watershed within the Deline district for millennia. This project means active stewardship of the world's eighth-largest lake and much of its watershed and reflected meaningful steps forward for reconciliation.

Mr. Speaker, ensuring that we have a strong economy is essential to ensuring the people of the Northwest Territories, in all communities, have meaningful jobs and opportunities. To this end, our government is working with Indigenous leadership who are bringing the public and philanthropic sectors together to explore options for the long-term investment in the NWT conservation network that will also benefit our environment. This arrangement is known as project finance for permanence, a dedicated fund to support implementation of protected and conserved areas, support the economy, and empower Indigenous communities.

Last December, as the world came to Montreal to negotiate a new framework for preserving biodiversity, our government was there alongside Indigenous leaders and the federal government to promote investment in our territory's conservation network. This included support for community economic development and Indigenous-led stewardship programs through a project finance for permanence in the Northwest Territories. We will continue to pursue this initiative and ensure the interests of all NWT residents are presented.

Mr. Speaker, advancing conservation starts with a good plan. To this end, we are near to finalizing a renewed work plan for advancing the conservation network. This plan has been built upon engagement with Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations, stakeholders, and the public.

Mr. Speaker, there is much more work to be done to advance conservation in the NWT. This work includes advancing decision-making on the establishment of Canada protected areas, supporting territorial protected area management boards, providing conservation network information to the public, and supporting Indigenous-led conservation and stewardship initiatives. Alongside Indigenous leaders, we are seeking long-term funding so that conservation can bring real benefits for the communities that support social, cultural, and economic well-being of people across the NWT. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Education, Culture and Employment.

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Mr. Speaker, February is Indigenous Languages Month in the Northwest. Territories. [Translation unavailable].

This month let us celebrate the territory's nine Indigenous languages and learn about the important role language revitalization plays in advancing reconciliation in a real and meaningful way.

Mr. Speaker, for generations Indigenous people have lived under systems designed to erode their cultures, strip their identities, and erase their languages. Here in the NWT and across Canada, we have seen a profound loss of language among Indigenous residents and communities. I am one of the countless Indigenous people who never acquired the language that was spoken by my ancestors. This is a reality that many people face and one that must be addressed. We have a shared responsibility, Mr. Speaker, as a government and as NWT residents, to advocate for the territory's Indigenous languages and revitalize them. This month I encourage NWT residents to connect with these languages through radio, podcasts, books, and television, and learn simple phrases and original place names.

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment has put together several resources and activities for residents, including a video on Indigenous Languages Month and a virtual scavenger hunt for tips on how each of us can support Indigenous language revitalization. Across the territory, residents will find coffee sleeves promoting Indigenous Language Month at their local coffee shops, and I hope everyone can take the time to enjoy a coffee or tea while practicing new vocabulary and common phrases in one or more of the NWT's official Indigenous languages.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories is working diligently to achieve its vision of an NWT where Indigenous languages are supported, respected and thriving. Every year, we feel the momentum growing as more and more people are accessing our Indigenous languages programs. We saw proof of this in December when we received a record 37 applications for the Indigenous Languages Revitalization Scholarship. These individuals are studying to become Indigenous language teachers, interpreters, translators, and linguists.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate the participants of the third year of the mentor-apprentice program who recently completed 200 hours of Indigenous language immersion. Their dedication is an inspiration. Increasing the number of fluent speakers will help expand services available in Indigenous languages across the government, in schools, early learning and child care programs, and other public services. The fourth year of the mentor-apprentice program will begin accepting applications on February 13, and I encourage everyone to consider participating.

2022 marked the beginning of the United Nations' Global Action Plan of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. Mr. Speaker, the aim of the decade is to draw attention to the critical loss of Indigenous languages and the need to preserve, revitalize and promote them. The GNWT's Indigenous Languages Action Plan, which was recently extended to 2024-2025, focuses on meeting these same goals for Indigenous language revitalization and providing access to public services in all nine of the NWT's official Indigenous languages.

Mr. Speaker, learning and reclaiming Indigenous languages requires commitment from governments, communities and people. So let us all take the time this month to educate ourselves on the Indigenous languages spoken in our regions, support those who speak them, and encourage those who are learning them. By working together to revitalize the NWT's Indigenous languages, we will help strengthen NWT communities, regions, and the territory as a whole. Kinana skomitin, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Mahsi cho, Minister. Ministers' statements. Deputy Premier.

Diane Archie

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, Premier is here today. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Deputy Premier. Ministers' statements. Order. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, on October the 5th, 2022, the Government of the Northwest Territories and Union of Northern Workers signed an MOU providing a one-time labour market supplement in the form of a recruitment and retention bonus depending on eligibility requirements. According to the MOU, the labour market supplement will be applied as retention bonuses for some registered nurses, nurse practitioners, midwives, licensed practical nurses, and medical laboratory technologists. Eligible employees will receive between $5,000 and $7,000 depending on the NWT community they live in. An additional temporary labour market supplement in the same amounts would also be given as recruitment bonuses for new hires into eligible positions such as registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and midwives.

Mr. Speaker, while in theory this is a good idea being used by the Government of the Northwest Territories; however, in practice the way they are delivering these bonuses has been done poorly. The main issues with this are that the finance department is only giving these recruitment and retention bonuses to a select number of health employees. This means that there are many nurses across the NWT who are omitted from receiving the labour market supplement retention bonus. In fact, I've been contacted by several constituents who work in health, some of whom have worked in that area and have lived in Fort Smith for nearly 20 years, and they never received this retention bonus. This is unacceptable.

Mr. Speaker, if the Government of the Northwest Territories truly wants to retain nurses, midwives, and laboratory technologist staff with the labour market supplement, then our government needs to seriously rethink their approach with this. The parameters around this policy are too strict, and it has needlessly created divisions among the new and old staff in the NTSSA. For the Government of the Northwest Territories to reward new nurses with bonuses and not give the labour market supplement bonus to long-term nursing staff who have lived in the NWT for years is not okay. The divide among this bonus has created tension and an unhealthy work environment for many staff who feel undervalued, left out, and forgotten by their employer the Government of the Northwest Territories. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Mr. Speaker, I've spoken to the Minister of Finance about this many times over the last few months but she's unwilling to revisit this and make any changes to this temporary recruitment and retention bonus. The Minister tells me that these bonuses are not designed to be a thank you to employees despite their length of service or the type of work they've done throughout their careers.

We all know there is a healthcare crisis across Canada right now so the retention of our long-term staff should be a priority, but that's not happening right now. I will have questions for the Minister of Finance later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Jackie Jacobson

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Youth in Nunakput and the Beaufort Delta communities are asking for more sports and recreation. Mr. Speaker, we all know how important sports and recreation are for the -- helps our youth to grow mentally, become more confident, develop skills, and have physical outlet. Sports gives a chance to meeting new friends, a positive environment, travel for tournaments, and all that goes along with that.

Mr. Speaker, recreation can improve the quality of a person's life but not all youth can participate. Some of the smaller communities that have to fly in and fly out, they don't have the money to pay for registration fees, sports equipment, or for travel, Mr. Speaker. Some communities don't even have facilities, staffing, or coaching. We're doing our best in Nunakput communities, but we need help.

Mr. Speaker, the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action number 90(1) says that, We call upon the federal government to ensure that national sports policies, programs, and initiatives are inclusive to Aboriginal peoples, including, but not limited to, or establishing: In collaboration with the provincial and territorial governments, stable funding for, and access to, community sports programs and that reflect the diverse cultures, traditional sporting activities of Aboriginal peoples.

Mr. Speaker, to support youth access to sports and recreation, to give this a better life, we need investment from our GNWT. And I will have questions for the Minister at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we are now in a new year and inching closer to spring and potential spring flooding, and one can only imagine the anxiety of those Hay River residents affected by flooding last year.

Mr. Speaker, recently I have experienced an increase in the number of calls with respect to both remediation and mitigation questions. Considering that we expect the federal government to provide a majority of the financial support which comes with restrictions, it is important to ensure that the information received from the federal government is not distorted as it passes through the chain of command before it reaches the Pathfinders and those affected residents.

Mr. Speaker, not only is the potential for spring flooding an issue but so is the continued matter of rebuilding after last year's flooding. Many residents are still in disbelief as to the devastation and the stress it has caused. As the summer construction season is fast approaching, many residents are hoping to either complete repairs or replace their homes that are beyond repair. There continues to be questions with process including inconsistencies between the adjuster's confidential reports and mitigation assessment reports received by clients. These inconsistencies need clarification that goes beyond the authority of the Pathfinders.

Mr. Speaker, some residents are not familiar with project management, construction, engineering, or contracts. Although I have assisted some throughout this process, there are others who are looking for assistance and direction on how to begin their own process of rebuilding or replacing their home. We must understand there may be contractors out there who know that the cost of remediation is covered by government and who may be willing to take advantage of the situation. What we need to provide to these homeowners with is access to third party project management to ensure that the work, that is being done by contractors, not only meets code but that the timeline and budget numbers are fair and reasonable. The cost of this project management service must be a part of the rebuild cost.

Mr. Speaker, I am expecting this to be a very busy season for rebuilding in Hay River. Because of that, it is important this government has the staff in the community that can provide timely supports required for residents. I will be asking the Minister to direct his staff to hold a public meeting in Hay River to hear and address concerns from residents prior to this construction season.

Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Katrina Nokleby

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, today I want to recognize the work of the Canadian Red Cross Society. The CRCS is part of the largest disaster relief and humanitarian network in the world. Comprised of the International Committee of the Red Cross and many related organizations, the Red Cross movement works to help people and communities in times of need and to strengthen their resilience. There can be only one Red Cross Society in each country, and we are very lucky to have the Canadian Red Cross Society as part of our national identity.

Over the course of the pandemic, the CRCS provided a wide range of services and aid in the NWT. The CRCS environmental prevention and control team supported 38 NWT sites, ranging from schools to health centres to shelters. Fifty workshops were held over a six-week period at Stanton, and in Behchoko and Inuvik, to provide training on epidemic prevention, viral containment, and mitigation. The CRCS was engaged in COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, public health and community nursing, patient care, and various other tasks based on urgent need. The CRCS provided 22 qualified medical personnel to the NWT, including registered nurses and physicians.

The CRCS has also played a role in smaller NWT communities outside of COVID-19 supports: Two physicians supporting Hay River's health centres to prevent their closure as well as registered nursing support to Stanton Hospital's OR. In Fort Simpson, where the CRCS has a municipal agreement to collaborate, a psychological first aid course was held for community members. As well, an opioid harm reduction and first aid course was delivered to over 30 participants with 60 nasal Narcan kits distributed.

During the 2022 flooding, the CRCS provided mental health and psycho-social supports via CRCS safety and well-being volunteers, as well as a public health advisor, to help in both Hay River and in Yellowknife. And I don't need to tell you, Mr. Speaker, about the amazing work done by the Red Cross internationally, in all corners of the globe.

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and my colleagues. As we continue to face the challenges presented by our ever-changing climate, a strong relationship with the CRCS will be more important than ever. Climate-driven disasters and emergencies are only expected to increase in frequency and intensity, and it is crucial we respond rapidly and effectively. These emergencies will be more complex, overlap with each other, include a public health and/or mental health component, and be longer in duration requiring communities and governments of all levels to collaborate and coordinate with organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the call for more activities in the NWT communities is one Regular Members have heard multiple times in relation to child and family services, homelessness prevention, and suicide prevention.

Mr. Speaker, there is so much to be learned from sport - how to be a team player, how to focus on what we can control and let go of what we can't, and how to release some good old endorphins. Sports connect us, can help us learn to problem solve, and work wonders for our mental health. But activity is more than sport. It's recreation and physical activity that provide a link to culture, tradition, land, and physical and mental health.

According to the NWT Association of Communities, when the cross to municipalities increases, the first thing to go is programming which is often recreational programming. Over the past three years, NWT communities have felt inflationary increases and operating and infrastructure costs. And while this government will achieve its goal of putting an additional $5 million toward the municipal funding gap, with inflation this investment will not succeed in reducing the municipal funding gap by the intended $5 million.

Mr. Speaker, the municipal funding gap isn't a new budgeting challenge for NWT communities. But we have heard how it is going to become even further squeezed with the upcoming rise in the carbon tax, which does not include revenue sharing with municipalities or NGOs. NWTAC says carbon tax costs are expected to add $2 million to community budgets and that non-tax based communities, the NWT's smallest and most remote where increasing own source revenues is not an option, will need to cut programming to accommodate carbon tax shortfalls.

In the NWT's tax based communities, covering the carbon tax cost will again rely on yet another tax increase. Here in Yellowknife, 2022 saw a nine percent property tax increase. And in 2023, city council passed a 4.37 percent tax increase. Continued increases are already forecast for 2024 and 2025.

Mr. Speaker, our communities are calling for an increase in activity infrastructure and programming as we work toward building a stronger healthier North. But I worry the true cost of excluding municipalities and NGOs from carbon tax revenue sharing is the unintended consequence of reducing programs in so many of our communities that need it most and a continued increase in NWT cost of living that is hollowing out our middle class and threatening our population growth. Not only do we need to close the municipal funding gap, Mr. Speaker, but we need to ensure that our municipalities aren't further financially burdened by the carbon tax. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Lesa Semmler

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, when COVID-19 shut down our schools, we know that it was difficult for all students. Many students struggled to attend online, online classes and keep up with the work. Now that we are out of the pandemic, we see the real effects that COVID-19 had on our education of our youth and our children. My concern, Mr. Speaker, is for the youth that were in high school during the pandemic, when the schools closed and opened and closed and then opened and went online and -- those are the concerns that I have.

What do we know about these youth? Do we know the impact that it caused these youth? I am concerned about the rate of attendance and if Indigenous students from small communities, regional centres were at a higher number, if they weren't attending or not able to access schooling online? And did they complete the required work? I know in my community that there are students, through the challenges of COVID-19, struggled and some unable to graduate high school.

Mr. Speaker, we have young adults who are challenged to keep up with school during the pandemic. Now they are young adults without a high school education or, some may say, a watered-down education as they were exempt from having to complete parts of their courses and even exempt from writing some of their exams. How can we support these youth? What programs are available?

Mr. Speaker, this is our future workforce, our labour pool. These are our future polytechnic university students, our affirmative action employees, but what does their future look like without a high school education? We know young adults are struggling to complete their education and so how is the GNWT investing in this success? I'll have questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. It's time for another statement on the millions of dollars of preventable liabilities our government has taken on from our mismanagement of the Cameron Hills gas field once owned by Strategic Oil and Gas. Production stopped in February 2011, and it finally went into receivership in 2020. We accepted this site under the Devolution Agreement without full financial security and without an approved closure plan. Nothing was done to prevent the site from becoming a public liability. The final revisions to the fourth version of the closure and reclamation plan were supposed to be submitted in April 2021 and that still hasn't happened.

November 2022 was the last report from the court-appointed receiver. It shows that GNWT and the receiver have been trying to sell the property since July 2021. In July 2022, a request for proposal was issued for abandonment of some of the wells on site by the receiver. This is to comply with an order issued by the Office of the Regulator of Oil and Gas in July 2019. The first batch of 24 wells is to be properly abandoned by March 31, 2023 - just a matter of a few weeks away, Mr. Speaker - and the rest of the wells by 2026.

Environmental Liability Management Incorporated of Calgary has been selected to do this work and has negotiated some sort of an abandonment agreement. A land use permit for this work was issued in January of this year. It looks like the work may have started because there is a shiny new sign on the access road south of the border when I drove by in late January. It's also not clear whether a proper closure plan will ever be completed for the property and how the current abandonment work relates to that uncompleted plan. It looks like all the work has gone to a southern company and that none of that spending is taking place in the NWT to benefit our so-called "remediation economy." The last report says GNWT payments to the receiver have been about $3.9 million and all of the money held as financial security has been used up so all additional costs will be covered by taxpayers.

We also learned in the review of the 2021-2022 public accounts that $20 million has been added to GNWT's liabilities to cover some of the costs for Cameron Hills. It is not clear how much more taxpayers will have to pay out to remediate this site. Needless to say, Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of questions about what is going on with the Cameron Hills field, and why nothing has been done to prevent this from happening again and again. I'll ask the Minister of Lands for those answers later today. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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