Debates of Feb. 8th, 2023
This is page numbers 5123 - 5150 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.
- Oral Questions
- Members Present
- Budget Address
- Member's Statement 1304-19(2): Petroleum Products and Carbon Tax
- Member's Statement 1305-19(2): Housing Data Collection
- Member's Statement 1306-19(2): Indigenous Hunting Rights
- Member's Statement 1307-19(2): Public Lands
- Member's Statement 1308-19(2): Socio-Economic Forum
- Member's Statement 1309-19(2): Aftercare Facilities
- Member's Statement 1310-19(2): Housing
- Member's Statement 1311-19(2): Addictions
- Member's Statement 1312-19(2): Nurse Licensing
- Member's Statement 1313-19(2): Nahendeh Athletes at 2023 Arctic Winter Games
- Question 1316-19(2): Petroleum Products and Carbon Tax
- Question 1317-19(2): Socio-Economic Forum
- Question 1318-19(2): Land Lease Fees and Revenues
- Question 1319-19(2): Registered Nurses Licensing Process
- Question 1320-19(2): Housing Strategic Data Collection and Analysis
- Question 1321-19(2): Housing Crisis in the Northwest Territories
- Question 1322-19(2): Bill C-21 Status
- Question 1323-19(2): Establishing Addictions Aftercare Facilities
- Question 1324-19(2): Indigenous-based Addictions Services
- Question 1325-19(2): Homelessness Strategy
- Question 1326-19(2): Non-Insured Health Benefits for Addictions Services
- Question 1327-19(2): Indigenous-based Addictions Services Commitment from Minister
- Tabled Document 813-19(2): 2023-2024 Main Estimates
- Tabled Document 814-19(2): Follow-up Letter for Oral Question 1178-19(2): Grade Level Outcomes and Data for Northwest Territories Students
- Tabled Document 815-19(2): Email from Office of Minister responsible for Housing NWT regarding Demographics of Public Housing
- Tabled Document 816-19(2): 2022 Mineral Resources Act Regulations Targeted Engagement Surveys for Prospecting License Holders Tabled Document 817-19(2): Mineral Resources Act Implementation Engagement Tracking Log, November 25, 2022 Tabled Document 818-19(2): Letter dated January 13, 2023 from Kevin O'Reilly, MLA, to Ministers of Environment and Natural Resources, Industry Tourism and Investment, and Lands regarding Public Participation ini Resource Management
- Tabled Document 819-19(2): Dene Nation Letter to Premier dated December 19, 2022 regarding Housing Crisis Tabled Document 820-19(2): CBC Article entitled “NWT to see $60M in federal housing dollars, allocation to be determined”
- Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
- Report Of Committee Of The Whole
- Orders Of The Day
Hon. Diane Archie, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Mr. Edjericon Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek, Ms. Weyallon Armstrong.
The House met at 1:31 p.m.
The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.
Budget address. Minister of Finance.
Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this is the final budget of the 19th Assembly. It provides a final opportunity to consolidate the work we have done during the 19th Assembly, set wheels in motion for the future, and ensure we end this Assembly in better financial shape than when we started.
In this budget, we show both responsiveness to the needs of the Northwest Territories and responsible fiscal management through a right-sized approach that recognizes needs and opportunities as well as our capacity to attain them.
This budget comes as we maintain stability across the Northwest Territories' economy during ongoing times of volatility and uncertainty. We successfully managed to avoid reductions to the public service or to the programs and services that public servants provide. We have not wavered in our strong focus on prioritizing work that will improve governance and sustainability and delivery of those programs and services over time, even in the face of a short- or medium-term crisis.
In this budget address, I will describe the expectations for the economy, the fiscal outlook as we move towards the next Assembly, and the actions we are proposing to strengthen the foundation for the future.
The Northwest Territories' economic indicators are positive, and our future should be bright.
This is a bold statement, but it needs to be said. The possibility for a prosperous future lies within our collective hands; not only those of elected leaders but residents across the territory. It is time to refresh our economic perspective. Focusing on our myriad of economic challenges can become self-fulfilling inertia at best and an excuse for paralysis at worst. Instead, we can put emphasis on the economic opportunities around us and focus attention on what we can do to realize our potential. There will be geographic constraints and challenges that require support from other levels of government; but we should, at the least, ensure that nothing within our control remains a barrier.
We face our economic challenges because the alternative is unacceptable and not who we are. We had two years of public health shutdowns and just as the economy was rebounding, we were hit by devastating floods and rampant inflation. The example of residents facing the disaster of the recent floods is a clear demonstration that when the going gets tough, Northwest Territories' residents grab a bucket and start bailing.
Now we need to turn that determination, tenacity, hard work, and drive towards our collective future. The government can play a part to provide education, skills, health supports, and economic incentives, but the economy is not under the exclusive control of government.
The government should show timely responsiveness as well as responsible fiscal management to maintain stability for residents and communities. The government can also try to mitigate the impacts of economic disruption - and there are still notable signs of economic disruption.
We know that businesses in all sectors are struggling to find workers. This is a challenge for employers but an opportunity for prospective workers to take advantage of the market and join the workforce or add to their skills and increase their employability. We are proposing more resources in this budget to help residents obtain the education and work-related skills training to help them take advantage of work opportunities and to help businesses meet their labour market challenges.
We are also aware of and experiencing the impacts of inflation. This is leading to higher overall costs as well as pressure on wages, which will further add to cost pressures. In response, this budget proposes increased income support benefits and continuation of the Senior Citizens and Disabled Persons Property Tax Relief Program. We are also continuing to increase local food production in the fishing industry and country food harvesting to help reduce dependency on distant markets.
Unemployment is at a record low. As for inflation, the signs are there that inflation in global consumer prices is beginning to moderate as rising interest rates slow investment and transportation bottlenecks get resolved. Spending on mineral exploration is increasing and as the international drive continues to achieve net-zero emissions, we will be ready with robust regulations and skills training to ensure that Northerners benefit from developing critical minerals deposits in an environmentally sustainable way.
The economy is an organic system, and no government can simply turn it on or off. However, governments can support the economy indirectly through economic initiative spending as well as more directly through capital spending and tax regimes, all of which we have done through the life of this government. As well, we have operated as a foundation of economic stability during what have been turbulent times. To continue to do so, we need to ensure the government has the fiscal capacity to provide timely responses to unexpected shocks. We have not only been responsive in emergencies; we have increased our ability to respond by improving our fiscal capacity.
Mr. Speaker, with the final budget of this Assembly, we can see the vision set out in the first budget coming together. Importantly, that vision was not a single event or moment in time. The 2023-24 budget continues with our goal of changing the focus towards a more all-of-government approach that more clearly shows the trade-offs in different public expenditures and priorities from a limited amount of revenue.
With the 2023-24 Capital Estimates approved last November we broke the cycle of an unrealistically large capital budget that then requires an even larger borrowing plan commitment. We right-sized our capital budget to align our capital plan with the economy's ability to build it. And We have chosen to take the time to build in a way that maximizes the project benefits for the Northwest Territories economy and positions the GNWT for a successful fiscal transition to the 20th Legislative Assembly.
By providing more clarity on our anticipated capital spend, we have given more certainty to local businesses when bidding on projects, and this helps the GNWT to better maximize the local economic benefits of its project construction. We have also made changes to our procurement processes so that local businesses and communities can take better advantage of the business opportunities that government spending creates.
While I am encouraged when a plan starts coming together, we are not done. We have, through a more realistic approach to capital planning, provided the means for a more accurate borrowing plan and more transparency in how GNWT borrowing complies with the Fiscal Responsibility Policy. Last summer, we evaluated this policy and its requirement that at least half of GNWT capital investments is financed by the operating surplus to ensure that it is still effective in meeting our debt management principles. We have already started changes in the reporting on the future debt implications in this budget and, in short order, we will be revising and revisiting the Fiscal Responsibility Policy to help decision-makers better understand the implications of their budgetary choices.
These steps have restored balance to our overall fiscal situation and if we continue to adhere to this fiscal strategy, we are no longer projecting to be in danger of exceeding the federally-imposed borrowing limit.
We are projecting to finish 2022-23 with an operating surplus of $40 million, lower than budgeted as we required more resources to deal with this year's flooding and wildfires.
The operating surplus for the 2023-24 Budget is projected to be $178 million, after adjustments. This surplus is sufficient to comply with the Fiscal Responsibility Policy. Total revenues are forecast to reach $2.5 billion, and the operating budget is $2.2 billion. The 2023-24 total debt projection is $1.5 billion, which leaves a comfortable $311 million window below the $1.8-billion borrowing limit.
Mr. Speaker, we raise revenues to fund government programs and services and to invest in infrastructure that is used to deliver programs and services to support the economy.
We have heard consistently over the three years of budget dialogues that there is narrow capacity for increasing taxes. In line with the goal of remaining responsive to the times, we do not want to use taxes in a way that could reduce the incentive to grow and diversify the economy. Accordingly, we will live within our current means and stay the course on taxation by following the established practice of increasing property tax rates by inflation.
We will also be debating increasing carbon tax rates this session as required by Canada in their efforts to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions. The proposals in this budget to offset the carbon tax burden, such as increased cost of living offset amounts or spending that helps individuals and businesses reduce their carbon-based fuel consumption, are conditional on approving carbon tax rate increases. If, on April 1, 2023 we do not raise carbon taxes to $65 a tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, the federal system will apply and carbon tax revenues generated in the territory will be distributed through federal programs.
Before I get to the main part of the budget where we traditionally focus on the new dollars that we are proposing to advance the priorities of this Assembly, I want to discuss what the overall $2.2 billion, or $49,000 per person, in spending is accomplishing.
The 2023-24 budget continues our goal of changing the focus to an all-of-government approach that more clearly shows the trade-offs in different public expenditures and priorities necessary with a limited amount of revenue.
I remain excited as the Government Renewal Initiative continues to create a culture change that prioritizes an evaluation mindset to ensure efficiency and responsiveness. We have a full inventory of programs and services that the GNWT delivers and are making considerable progress in identifying the priorities for the first evaluations. Substantive results are not ready to help with this year's budget but will start being produced in time for transition to the next Assembly.
The shift towards whole-of-government thinking can be seen in other work that has been achieved or is underway. For example, "Changing the Relationship" is the government's action plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQ2S+ peoples. One of its core objectives is to rebuild trust in government by ensuring programs and services are responsive to the people they serve.
We are also following in the multi-departmental development of the Homelessness Strategy that will ensure that the dollars we attach to actions in the strategy provide the best value.
We are moving ahead with our thinking from the end user perspective of government programs and services so that people are better able to access GNWT programs and services how they want, where they want, and when they want. Our government's eServices program currently provides online access to 19 services in five different program areas. We are working diligently to increase our online offerings as quickly as possible while still ensuring that residents may be confident that their personal information and online transactions are protected.
We are well underway in implementing a host of recommendations arising out of the latest employee satisfaction survey. We are working to meet department-specific Indigenous hiring targets to ensure our workforce better represents the Northwest Territories' population. We are also following through on our other public service initiatives such as the Indigenous Recruitment and Retention Plan, the Affirmative Action Policy Review, and Human Resource Plan to continue to strengthen our civil service in a way that supports our vision for the Northwest Territories.
Our public service continues to work on key pieces of legislation for more robust governance rules that support economic development, protect the environment, and safeguard public safety. We expect substantial progress on the Mineral Resources Act Regulations, the Builders Lien Act, the Fire Prevention Act, the Liquor Act, and the Public Lands Act in the next year.
Housing Northwest Territories is on a path to successfully complete its mandate commitments, such as increasing the public housing stock by 100 units and supporting the transition of individuals and families to homeownership. It is focused on partnerships and working to build local capacity while continuing to advance its multi-year capital plan delivery of over $100 million involving 510 housing units across the Northwest Territories. Housing NWT continues to advance its renewal strategy, including receiving input from the Council of Leaders, to create a new mandate and implementing program and policy changes with a focus on helping those who need it most, as well as using formal and informal arrangements to improve relationships with Indigenous governments.
Mr. Speaker, this $2.2 billion operating budget proposes $150 million in additional spending over the 2022-23 Budget. This amount includes $62 million for expenditures in response to last spring's flooding that we expect to substantially recover through federal disaster assistance programs. If we remove this major one-time adjustment, the total increase in spending remains a manageable 3.4 percent.
We are recommending $21 million be approved to address higher demand or higher costs for current programming that departments cannot manage from their existing budgets. This includes over $10 million to support health services, mainly out of territory supported living for adult patients, chemotherapy drugs for health agencies, and the Stanton Territorial Hospital's intensive care unit. Other departments required more resources as well.
We are considering expenditure pressures faced by non-government organizations that deliver programs and services on our behalf. Budget 2023 changes our approach to funding non-governmental organizations, with a proposed $738,000 dedicated to helping specific organizations address inflationary pressures. These include organizations helping health agencies, housing, and the Community Futures Program and Community Transfers Initiatives. We are also helping departments with the wording for multi-year agreements with some non-government organizations. These actions have been a long time coming, and we are going further with the establishment of an external advisory committee to better support non-government organizations.
New spending initiatives are $42 million, of which $10 million is supported by federal transfers.
A strong healthcare system is vital for healthy individuals and a robust community and economy.
For this reason, the Department of Health and Social Services receives the largest share of the annual operating budget and in this budget, we propose an additional $30.9 million to strengthen our healthcare delivery.
Key to a successful healthcare system is the people who deliver the care. We are proposing to add $9 million next year for actions to make it easier to recruit and retain frontline workers and to specifically address challenges in recruiting and keeping frontline registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians.
We are also seeking to improve healthcare sustainability with an additional $1.2 million in this budget for personal support worker and licensed practical nurse training programs to meet expected labour force demands for home and community care and long-term care programs. This support will complement the $8.6 million proposed to fund positions at the Stanton Legacy Facility to provide for more extended care beds and support the new long-term care beds.
We propose to add $11 million to the department's budget to transition from pandemic to endemic, including ongoing support for vaccinations and public health.
Mr. Speaker, we cannot claim to be responsible or responsive if we do not continue to seek ways to reduce the burden of socio-economic disadvantage or support residents experiencing mental health or addictions issues. Our investments directed to these vulnerable groups will help us achieve our goal of healthy people free from poverty and have the added benefit of reducing government expenditures over the long term by reducing residents' reliance on more expensive social programs.
We are proposing to invest almost $5.2 million to improve the existing Income Assistance Program and create a new program tailored for seniors and persons with disabilities that will help them age in their own homes with dignity. With this initiative, we intend to adjust benefit levels using the northern market basket measures and make changes to refresh the existing income exemption levels and remove barriers for using the Income Assistance Program.
Improving community safety also responds to consistent concerns from communities on issues of safety and equality. With the support of our federal partners, we are including $750,000 for a framework for enhancing victim services that will continue support to communities for person-centered victim services. With financial support from Canada under various agreements, we propose to add $2.2 million to the Department of Justice's budget to strengthen access to justice services for residents. This new funding will improve access to the justice services, including: legal aid; Indigenous court work services; support for family members engaging with the family justice system; improvements to the family justice system; public legal education and information; and increase access to legal advice for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence to support safety planning, making informed decisions, and to navigate the justice system and emergency protection order processes. Also included in the $2.2 million is $554,000 to further support community justice committees.
We are also proposing to establish a permanent coroner position and include 18 relief community coroner positions into the public service with $273,000 to fund this initiative.
Efforts continue to fill the gaps in our territorial emergency response system to meet ongoing challenges in dealing with major emergencies and implement the recommendations of the Auditor General of Canada. With this budget, we are recommending an additional $453,000 to enhance the emergency management organization support to community governments for emergency planning, preparedness and situational awareness, mitigation and prevention of territorial emergencies.
We also need to continue to reduce the risk to government information technology by upgrading technical equipment where necessary, and are proposing $406,000 for the Tlicho Community Services Agency to upgrade its equipment so that it remains compatible with the rest of the GNWT information systems.
Mr. Speaker, with this budget's proposal for another $833,000, the commitment to reduce the municipal funding gap by $5 million by the end of this Assembly has been achieved. This will bring the total community contribution funding for operations and maintenance to almost $55 million.
We are also including almost $62 million in flood recovery assistance for the Town of Hay River and the Katl'odeeche First Nation Reserve for the next fiscal year. The majority of this funding is expected to be recovered from Canada under disaster and emergency assistance programs.
We have implemented the first steps toward more affordable licensed early learning and childcare programming in the territory, with the goal of reducing families' childcare costs to an average of $10 a day by 2026. This initiative is supported through federal funding and with proposed funding of $10.3 million in 2023-24, we are aiming to increase access to high quality, inclusive, affordable, early learning childcare spaces. The new investment will make childcare fees more affordable for families while providing early childhood educators with increased professional learning and post-secondary opportunities.
The Healthy Family Program provides contributions to 15 communities to improve their early childhood development programs with program resources, supplies and events. We are recommending a further $250,000 in 2023-24 to expand the program to another community.
[Translation] to the federal government in the area [Translation ends]
We are proposing to improve our Student Funding Framework to allow for consistent and stable administrative support to small schools with $368,000 in additional funding that will ensure a minimum level of administrative funding for our smaller schools. This increase will help ensure that teaching staff in small communities will be better able to focus on teaching students rather than administrative tasks.
Mr. Speaker, the Building Skills 4 Success in the Northwest Territories program focuses on delivering and developing essential skills training programs. Among its aims is to improve the availability of essential skills among the trades and for broader skills that are transferable and applicable in any workplace. This program is in partnership with the Northwest Territories Literacy Council and Aurora College. We are seeking to strengthen this program with an additional $1.9 million, supported by the federal government.
We want to strengthen our support for Northwest Territories residents in their efforts to further their formal education after high school. This will not only increase their opportunities for high-paying jobs but improve the productivity of the Northwest Territories labour force. We are recommending a further $1.5 million investment in the Student Financial Assistance Program to improve the financial stability of students to achieve their educational goals. The proposed funds include increasing the basic grant for northern Indigenous students to fully cover the average cost of tuition, books and supplies, and eliminate their 12-semester limit for the basic grant. In addition, we are proposing an increase to the basic grant for non-Indigenous students who were schooled in the territory to assist with 80 per cent of the average cost of tuition, books and supplies.
To foster growth and collaboration with Indigenous government partners and offer opportunities for GNWT staff to develop their careers, we are proposing $323,000 in this budget to further our partnership in the Building Capacity in Indigenous Governments Program. Our employees will benefit from experience working in different places across the territory while Indigenous governments will benefit from building capacity and adding employment in their communities.
Mr. Speaker, we continue to look for ways that the territorial government can support the efforts of residents to build an economy that benefits Northerners.
We can help by making economic necessities more affordable. We know that the lack of affordable housing is a critical issue, creating barriers to economic development and labour force participation, and puts pressure on other GNWT social programs. We are proposing an additional $4 million for core Housing NWT programs that will be used to support home repairs, fuel tank replacements, home purchases, mobility modifications, preventative maintenance, and seniors aging in place.
We are also proposing a further $1.83 million in this budget to fund 2022-25 Energy Action Plan efforts to guide the development of affordable, secure, and sustainable energy for transportation, heat and electricity in the Northwest Territories. We are proposing $446,000 for meat safety regulations for locally produced, harvested and affordable food. Drafting regulations should be done by the summer, training is set to begin by winter, and full implementation, with application intake available and licenses being issued, is planned by the end of the fiscal year. This should help residents with affordable and sustainable food and support the local economy.
Budget 2023 proposes several measures to support mineral resource exploration and project development. First, we propose to further implement the Mineral Development Strategy with $280,000 to enhance the Unlocking Our Potential brand that we are using to attract global attention in our world-class resource base and will permit us to extend the over-subscribed Prospector Training Program for another two years.
The Mining Incentive Program is another successful and oversubscribed GNWT initiative. This budget proposes to complete the increase promised in the mandate from $1 million to $1.5 million with a $200,000 increase to encourage prospecting, exploration, and investment by helping reduce financial risk at the grassroots mineral exploration stage. Every mine starts with a staked claim, and this has been a supportive program for prospectors and exploration companies to attract and support early-stage and advanced exploration projects. Work is underway to implement the Mineral Resources Act through the development of regulations required for the Act to come into force. We are adding $149,000 in 2023-24 to work towards their completion over the next two years. This will finalize the modernization of our regulatory environment for mineral rights governance within the existing framework for co-management of land, water and resources.
We continue to put forward initiatives to support economic diversification and other business opportunities. In partnership with the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, $50,000 is proposed to make a business case for local cement production, which will do double duty by reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry from transportation if cement can be produced locally.
Heritage centres keep track of the stories that make the Northwest Territories a special place with a deep history and are a valuable part for tourism industry offerings. We are proposing $500,000 to support heritage centres across the territory with ongoing funding for grants for operations, maintenance, or capital upgrades to ensure that these centres remain viable.
As part of continued implementation of the overarching Tourism 2025 Strategy, we are proposing $324,000 to provide the following:
- increased funds for small communities;
- investment in tourism infrastructure;
- business supports to develop and offer products and services to travellers;
- doubling the mentorship for businesses and youth in the tourism industry; and,
- partnering with communities to offer cultural experiences and better park programming.
We are also seeking an additional $250,000 to give to the five regions so that they can develop regional marketing plans that complement larger marketing initiatives by Northwest Territories Tourism.
We are asking for a $200,000 increase to the Film Rebate Program to improve the competitiveness of the Northwest Territories film industry, with a total annual rebate program of $300,000. This program is designed to encourage content creation in the territory by rebating portions of local spending, hiring, and travel to and within the Northwest Territories for production crews.
Mr. Speaker, our role in the stewardship of our environment is a paramount priority as is our effort to adapt to the effects of climate change.
When we make decisions, we want them to be grounded in good evidence. The GNWT is working with co-management partners to support recovery of the Bathurst and Bluenose East barren-ground caribou herds, which have experienced dramatic declines. We have increased population surveys for both herds to every two years, increased the number of collared caribou, and did an additional Bathurst survey in 2022. In budget 2023, we are proposing an additional $1.14 million to monitor the population, protect important habitat, and manage predators through the traditional economy.
This budget proposes $114,000 for an application-based grant program for installation of electric vehicle charging stations as part of our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The GNWT is working in collaboration with Natural Resources Canada to deliver the Northwest Territories Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program. This funding is dedicated to getting EV charging to multi-family buildings, on the street, and at work. Organizations can apply all year round on a first-come, first-served basis, for level 2 charging stations, and this funding proposal will support 72 chargers across the territory over the next two years.
Mr. Speaker, Members of this Assembly should be proud of the work we have done together. I am grateful for the help all Members of the Assembly, residents, businesses, community leaders, stakeholders, and all budget dialogue participants for their input in developing the GNWT budgets.
[Translation begins] We could not accomplish all that we have without the ongoing support of the federal government. I am proud of how we worked together with Canada to lessen the economic disruption to people's lives during the pandemic and deeply appreciate the federal support that was given to our government and Northwest Territories residents. We have taken what we learned about collaboration during this time to improve our partnership with Canada on our priorities such as enhancing the Slave Geological corridor, expanding the Taltson hydro project and building the Mackenzie Valley Highway. [translation ends]
We are stronger working together than alone. We have made strides in working with Indigenous governments to make sure that our priorities mesh with their priorities and we hope to continue to strengthen these relationships. We will continue to work with Canada on our shared priorities, such as healthcare.
There is momentum that attaches to the end of an Assembly. We want to use that momentum to continue the positive shift in the way we do business. We have been responsive not only to crisis but to input from residents across the Northwest Territories. I am confident that we are at the crest of change towards a culture of continuous improvement and a right-sized approach to our fiscal capacity. The implementation of four-year business planning and the changes in how we budget for capital investments have dramatically helped improve our fiscal situation. The forward movement happening in the Government Renewal Initiative will carry this momentum into the next Assembly to ensure that the GNWT provides even more value for the dollars it spends on programs and services.
Mr. Speaker, this final budget of the 19th Assembly continues to build on our mandate priorities, and I am confident will leave the next Assembly with a fiscally-sustainable framework on which to build. In addition to structural governance changes are the choices we made for investments in communities, healthcare, healthcare workers, early childhood, skills training and in support of economic growth. Our legacy is derived from all of these changes and choices that will provide returns for the benefit of the people of the Northwest Territories for generations to come. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.
Thank you, Minister. Colleagues, we will resume after a short recess. Thank you.
The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.
Thank you, colleagues. I will continue. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Nunakput.
Member's Statement 1304-19(2): Petroleum Products and Carbon Tax
Jackie Jacobson Nunakput
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in this House, I spoke many times about the cost of living in the riding of Nunakput and the Beaufort Delta. Our fuel, our home heating fuel, cost of propane, power, all these have gone up. Many of the NWT residents, especially the people in my riding, could barely make ends meet right now, Mr. Speaker. In the NWT, we pay double or triple than our counterparts in southern Canada to survive, yet the federal government wants to tax us more on the carbon tax.
Mr. Speaker, the carbon tax system from the federal government is going to increase cost of living for Northerners. The carbon tax is unfair to families, businesses, and communities. Small communities, especially in the Beaufort Delta, Mr. Speaker, and Nunakput riding, are going to suffer even more paying high cost of living, an extra 14 to 15 percent. The Nunakput riding already has the highest cost of living. We have some of the lowest household income. We also have no resource development, little opportunity to work to earn money, and now we're going to be having to pay more on the federal carbon tax. Unacceptable, Mr. Speaker.
What is the GNWT doing about this? Is the GNWT going to protect the residents of the Northwest Territories and stand up for us to the federal government and let them do their dirty work? It has to be done. Not while I'm here, Mr. Speaker. I cannot support the carbon tax bill coming forward as a whole. We're setting ourselves up to fail. Let the federal government do their federal backstop and let them do the dirty work, Mr. Speaker.
Programs and services underfunded, limited budgets are given. There is no commitment from this government to protect our residents, especially when residents in the High Arctic will be the most impacted on implementation of this new tax if it's accepted in this House. Mr. Speaker, I'll have questions for the finance minister when I'm done. Thank you.
Member's Statement 1304-19(2): Petroleum Products and Carbon Tax
The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.
Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.
Member's Statement 1305-19(2): Housing Data Collection
Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of housing responded to questions on data collection on the homeless population. One of her responses was astonishing and disappointing. She explained that the department does not, quote, "currently have systematic collection of data on this population to allow us to track the population over time. Not only does this make it difficult for me to tell you how many NWT residents are impacted at any point, but it also means that I do not have data on how long individuals remain homeless and what kind of housing solutions they move into."
Data is important, Mr. Speaker. It improves people's lives, informs decision-making, shows trends, allows us to respond to challenges before they evolve into a crisis, alerts us if we need to pivot, gains trust in stakeholders, and provides strong arguments for funding. In short, Mr. Speaker, data allows our strategies to actually be strategic.
While the government says it's committed to evidence-based decision-making, that appears to not be the practice at housing. It is infuriating that this is how now delivering a homelessness strategy without a baseline and clear understanding of how they are serving, who they are serving, and why.
Good data collection and analytics are a proven form of homelessness prevention. Successful homelessness strategies use data to identify people at risk of homelessness and provide support before it happens. Using this data proactively has significant bottom line impacts within the justice system, child and family services, shelters, and healthcare. But we need to know who is experiencing homelessness and why. What interventions worked, and where are people falling through the gaps. Without effective integrated data collection, we won't know the answers to these questions and be able to respond strategically.
But housing data isn't only about homelessness data. Housing NWT collects public housing tenant information based on community, income, rent calculations, arrears, but the most personal information is the breakdown of tenants by age. Mr. Speaker, this, again, doesn't clearly answer who is living in public housing and what is going on. Why do people have arrears? Are rents unpaid because of pest infestations, broken appliances, snowdrifts in the living room? Have arrears been accumulated by primary leaseholders who aren't the working partner, by seasonal workers, by women, by elders who carry a debt that is not their own?
Mr. Speaker, good data can help this government determine how to address housing. Without a baseline, we won't know if the solutions are performing and without comprehensive data, we won't know if the strategy and policy changes are simply forcing a new segment of our population into homelessness. These questions aren't just about infrastructure, income thresholds, and numbers on a waitlist. Housing is about people and to understand people, you need to understand their why. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Member's Statement 1305-19(2): Housing Data Collection
The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.
Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.
Member's Statement 1306-19(2): Indigenous Hunting Rights
Katrina Nokleby Great Slave
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, on June 23rd the federal government completed its second reading of Bill C-21 which would make certain consequential amendments with respect to firearms. Currently the bill is under review by the federal standing committee on public safety and national security.
Following Bill C-21's second reading, there was a clear public outcry from coast to coast to coast about the negative impacts of this bill on the way of life for Indigenous people many of who are subsistence hunters. The purpose of this bill was to improve public safety and yet the people most affected are the Indigenous people who use rifles and other hunting weapons to provide for their families and communities.
Mr. Speaker, in the NWT we are very aware of the importance of hunting. Hunting puts food on the table for families. It provides healthy, wild, and nutrient-rich meat for children and elders. It is a staple, a necessity. Simply put, Indigenous people cannot live without hunting. When the Minister first provided me with the GNWT's position on this bill, I felt it wasn't strong enough. While the federal government has recently made promising amendments to the bill that improve its impacts on Indigenous hunters, the GNWT can still do more.
The GNWT should make it very clear to the federal government that no government, at any time, should be contemplating the prohibition of firearms that Indigenous people use for sustenance. The GNWT must push the federal government to come to the Northwest Territories to talk to Indigenous hunters. They must engage with the people whose very way of life and livelihoods are being impacted by the changes they are proposing.
One of the 19th Assembly's priorities is to advance UNDRIP therefore the GNWT can, and should, do more to protect the rights of Indigenous people to hunt and continue their way of life. Here is a chance to show the Indigenous people of this territory that the GNWT supports their way of life and will fight for their rights on the national stage. And I finished on time today, Mr. Speaker. Thank you very much.
Member's Statement 1306-19(2): Indigenous Hunting Rights
The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.
Thank you, Member for Great Slave. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.
Member's Statement 1307-19(2): Public Lands
Frieda Martselos Thebacha
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, today I'm going to revisit an issue that I've been bringing up since the start of the 19th Assembly, which still has not been addressed yet. That issue is the land lease fees for people who own cabins on lands in the NWT. I've done several statements on this issue, and I've asked the Minister of Lands many questions, but I don't seem to get any clear answers. The Minister and his department have had plenty of time to work on the Public Lands Act throughout this Assembly so hopefully we can advance this whole issue into a new positive direction for the people of the NWT.
In addition, Mr. Speaker, I've invited the Minister of Lands to come to Fort Smith to have a public meeting to discuss this whole issue with my constituents and explain to them the changes with this policy and all related fee increases. I've invited the Minister several times, but he's not been able to actually set a date and follow through with it. The Minister tells me that he's visited Fort Smith six times throughout this term, but I can honestly say that I have not seen him in Fort Smith that many times over the last three and a half years. So I hope the Minister will honour his commitment and come to Fort Smith for a public meeting to discuss cabin leases before the end of the 19th Assembly.
Overall, Mr. Speaker, there's still confusion and concern with many of my constituents about the issue of land lease fees and how these changes will impact their finances into the future or how their existing lease contracts may be affected or contradicted given these new rules coming into effect in 2018.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, as I've said before, I believe the Minister of Lands knows in his heart that the new rent minimum for cabin lease costs have gone up too quickly for regular people to handle. For someone to get up 83 times in the previous Assembly to talk and question about this issue, I have to believe the Minister shares at least some of the concerns that I have about this issue. I understand that lease rent and fees have not increased in 20 years but have some foresight and consider the impact this has on average people. In this day and age, with the record level of inflation and the cost of living, many people are living pay cheque to pay cheque. So these high cabin lease rent increases are creating a significant, unforeseen issues with people across the NWT, and I hope the Minister can see that. I will have questions for the Minister of Lands later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Member's Statement 1307-19(2): Public Lands
The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.
Thank you, Member for Thebacha. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.
Member's Statement 1308-19(2): Socio-Economic Forum
Merci, Monsieur le President. I attended a socio-economic forum on December 5th, 2022 put on by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment as part of its work to review socio-economic agreements. The GNWT has six such agreements in place covering large resource development projects. These negotiated arrangements provide for commitments around employment, training, contracting, monitoring, northern preferences, and more in unenforceable agreements which are apparently the main tool for benefit retention. These agreements could become legal requirements for larger mining projects that anticipate spending $75 million and create more than 250 person-years of employment over five years.
The socio-economic forum was attended by about 50 participants. There was a very narrow cross-section of stakeholders, mainly ITI staff, mining industry representatives, and a few Indigenous government staff. I raised the issue of more inclusive participation in this event many times over more than two years. For example, on February 26th, 2020, the Premier, on behalf of the ITI minister said, in this House, "we will engage with all applicable stakeholders in this work."
Despite my repeated attempts, no one from the Northwest Territories Association of Communities, Status of Women Council of the NWT, Chambers of Commerce, NGOs, the Northern Territories Federation of Labour, or even Aurora College, was invited. ITI hired a facilitator from Victoria, British Columbia for the event. It is not clear why DPRA, who prepared an extensive review report on the Socio-economic Agreement Program, did not make the presentation on their own; rather, we got ITI providing its interpretation. And that full report, only released quietly after the event, clearly shows that our approach to socio-economic agreements has failed to maximize benefits.
Small groups were formed to answer a set of questions, predetermined by ITI, that had little resemblance to the research undertaken and the opportunities to improve benefit retention. In my view, this event was poorly designed and organized with a narrow cross-section of stakeholders, workshop materials were not made available until shortly before the meeting, and the full report only released after the event.
The next steps are not very clear, Mr. Speaker. Will there be any public engagement on this work to improve benefit retention, a mandate item for this government? Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.
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