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This is from the 19th Assembly, 2nd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was know.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge, 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 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Environment and Natural Resources.

Minister's Statement 320-19(2): Lack of Transparency around Spills at Kearl Oil Sands Development North of Fort McMurray
Ministers' Statements

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, water is life for Indigenous peoples who have relied on it since time immemorial, for residents who rely on it today for clean drinking water, and for the thousands of species that live and thrive in our North because of it. I rise today to speak on a disturbing issue that has come to our attention in the past 24 hours. I was shocked to learn that one of the largest oil sands spills in Alberta was reported in February, and I was disappointed that we were not informed by Alberta as per our Bilateral Water Management Agreement.

According to media reports, approximately 5.3 million litres of industrial wastewater spilled over the banks of a storage pond at the Kearl Oil Sands operation north of Fort McMurray. The spill overflowed into forest and wetland adjacent to tributaries of the Muskeg and Firebag Rivers, which flow into Athabasca River.

In a separate incident at the same site, oil sands tailings effluent of an unknown amount, with levels of some contaminants over federal and provincial guidelines, has seeped into groundwater and reached surface water since May of 2022. Again, we were not informed.

It was unfortunate to learn of these incidents secondhand. We heard about it from an Indigenous government in the area after a regional municipal government in Alberta reached out to them.

Mr. Speaker, this violates the Bilateral Water Management Agreement with Alberta which commits our governments to communicating directly and transparently about issues that could affect shared waters. This is not the first time that information hasn't been shared in a timely manner. Every indication we have right now is there is no evidence for concern about water quality in the NWT. Enhanced water testing done at Fort Chipewyan by the regional municipality has shown no evidence of contamination of Lake Athabasca, which provides some comfort.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT is taking several steps to respond to this issue. We have requested additional information from the Government of Alberta to ensure that we have what is required to communicate to our partners in water management and monitor about our possible risks. We will be activating dispute resolution measure in our transboundary agreement with respect to information sharing in light of this breach, and I have requested a meeting with the Minister of Environment and Protected Areas to ensure that our bilateral agreement is upheld.

We are currently communicating with Indigenous governments and the Town of Fort Smith to devise a plan which enhances monitoring of water in the Slave River to track potential impacts of the incident upstream.

Mr. Speaker, we will continue to work closely with Indigenous governments and communities every step of the way. This failure comes at a time when the Government of Alberta is asking for trust and cooperation with the NWT as they work towards regulations to allow the release of treated oil sands tailings effluent into the environment.
Important issues like these require trust, and there is no denying the trust of Indigenous governments, community leaders, and our own government has been affected by this lack of transparency.

This event outlines our position that the GNWT will not support the release of oil sands tailings effluent unless rigorous science demonstrates a safe way to do it and information sharing and emergency response provisions under our agreement are upheld. This government will ensure Northerners' voices continue to be heard as we move forward. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 320-19(2): Lack of Transparency around Spills at Kearl Oil Sands Development North of Fort McMurray
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Infrastructure.

Minister's Statement 321-19(2): Infrastructure Climate Change Adaptation
Ministers' Statements

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories has mandate commitments to strengthen its leadership and authority on climate change and to ensure that climate change impacts are specifically considered when making government decisions.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Infrastructure recognizes the challenge climate change presents and are the taking necessary steps to ensure public infrastructure is more resilient to the impacts of a warming planet and can meet the current and future needs of NWT residents. Transportation Canada's Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative provides us with much needed support to develop integrated climate change adaptation measures in transportation planning in the North. This partnership supports critical work, such as analyzing permafrost data from the Dempster Highway and the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, and the development of geoassets and geohazard data management systems to improve transportation safety in the NWT and preserve existing infrastructure.

During the planning and design stage of road projects, we are using satellite imagery and thermal analysis to gain knowledge about permafrost and select the most suitable alignment and design for our roads.

Mr. Speaker, replacing seasonal winter roads with all-season roads is another way to make our transportation system more resilient to climate change impacts. These seasonal ice roads are critical for communities to get goods and supplies they need and for mobility between communities. Construction of these roads are also being negatively impacted by climate change.

The opening of the Tlicho Highway in 2021 extended the ice road season into the Tlicho. Our government continues to advance two strategic road projects - the Mackenzie Valley Highway and Slave Geological Province Corridor, which will either eliminate or extend ice road seasons.

Climate change is also impacting airports in the territory, and we have undertaken projects to address these impacts. We have either completed or have projects underway at airports in Sachs Harbour, Fort McPherson, and Sambaa K'e that focusing on drainage work to be able to improve their resiliency to climate change. Our government, with the assistance of the Government of Canada, is also investing in improvements to the Inuvik Airport to address the effects of climate change. Some of the work involves improving the drainage network to direct water away from vulnerable areas to protect against permafrost thaw. Our government's work to adapt to climate change and mitigate its impact on our public infrastructure also extends to buildings and energy systems. One example is our participation on the northern advisory committee of the Northern Infrastructure Initiative. This initiative develops Northern-specific codes and standards to address climate change resilience in infrastructure design, planning and management.

Mr. Speaker, NWT's energy system is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our climate change mitigation efforts. Our Capital Asset Retrofit Fund energy savings projects will reduce over 16,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually by the end of 2023, and result in $3.5 million of yearly utility savings. The installation of over 40 biomass heating plants has been integral to the reduction of the GNWT's emissions. Approximately 35 percent of annual heating in our government facilities is now provided by wood pellets.

Mr. Speaker, the future initiatives, such as the Inuvik Wind Project, the Fort Providence-Kakisa Transmission Line, and the Taltson Hydro Expansion, will not only make our energy systems more secure, affordable and sustainable, but help us significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we take action against climate change and mitigate against the impacts of the rapidly changing climate. Quyananni, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 321-19(2): Infrastructure Climate Change Adaptation
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Municipal and Community Affairs.

Minister's Statement 322-19(2): NWT Community Flood Response
Ministers' Statements

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs is committed to strengthening the Northwest Territories emergency management by improving response to emergency events and assisting residents and community governments to be well prepared when faced with an emergency. I will outline for Members the lessons learned from the 2022 flood and how we apply these lessons to prepare for the 2023 flood season.

Mr. Speaker, before I do that, I want to acknowledge the difficult journey for those people so heavily impacted by the 2021 and the 2022 flood. These events and the time, effort, and complexity of the recovery has been unprecedented and have a significant effect on residents. Recovery efforts continue but the shining light throughout is the resilience and resolve that impacted residents have demonstrated, and the generosity of NWT residents as a whole.

To make sure we enact the lessons learned from these experiences, Municipal and Community Affairs is working on an after-action review related to the 2022 flood in two phases. Phase one, currently underway, focuses on preparedness and response, while phase two will follow and focus on recovery. This review includes input from a public survey and public engagement sessions that took place this past January.

Mr. Speaker, Municipal and Community Affairs has made it a priority to provide more support to community governments to plan for emergencies like flooding. The department has expanded staffing resources, including one staff person in each region for the first time, all dedicated to emergency management. An additional three positions at headquarters has resulted in the expansion of community emergency planning workshops, including table-top exercises in all communities, and updating and distributing templates for community governments to develop and update their emergency plans.

The department continues to review disaster-related policies and procedures. There has been valuable lessons over the past two flood events, and the department is focused on substantial improvements in the way disaster assistance is administered.

Recovery from a disaster event like a flood is a long and difficult process, and I want to reassure all Northerners that we are working to bring clarity to this process.

Finally, I want to assure residents that although we cannot control how or when natural disasters may occur, these are things that all of us can do to prepare for and lessen the impacts should a disaster occur. Having a household emergency plan and an emergency kit are critical for personal preparedness. We encourage residents to think about where they might stay in the event of an evacuation and to ensure their emergency kit is ready for high-risk periods like river breakup.

The Be Ready annual campaign for flood and other natural disasters preparedness began in February and runs through until May. This campaign provides tips and information on how we can be prepared if you are in a typically affected area.

Mr. Speaker, the intensity and frequency of floods and other natural disaster events is increasing due to climate change. More than ever, it is important that all Northerners do their part to protect themselves and their property and follow recommended steps like developing a household emergency plan and kit. Individuals, community governments, and the Government of the Northwest Territories all need to do their part to prepare for disasters because nobody can do it alone. We remain stronger together. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 322-19(2): NWT Community Flood Response
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1407-19(2): Spills at Kearl Oil Sands Development
Members' Statements

March 2nd, 2023

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I read in the news that there were two separate environmental incidents tied to the oil sands in northern Alberta, incidents that this government only became aware of yesterday.

Mr. Speaker, the Alberta energy regulator is aware of the situation and, on February 26, 2023, issued to Imperial Oil, an order pursuant to sections 113 and 241 of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. The order, which I will table later today, confirms that since May of 2022, there has been ongoing seepage of industrial wastewater into the environment and the released material is known to have an adverse effect on the environment.

Then on February 4th, 2023, there was release of approximately 5,300 cubic metres from a wastewater storage pond which will also have an adverse effect on the environment. Both these releases are from Imperial Oil's Kearl Oil Sands site.

Mr. Speaker, I understand that Imperial Oil and the Alberta energy regulator failed to inform, not only the First Nations in the area, but this government and those Indigenous governments who have signed comprehensive claims in the NWT. This is not acceptable. We have a transboundary water agreement; a transboundary water agreement with the Government of Alberta, that requires, through an emergency clause, immediate notification of any developments or activities that may negatively affect the Northwest Territories. This was not followed.

There is a dispute resolution mechanism that allows for this government to seek remedies, and I encourage the Minister of ENR to take immediate action using that mechanism.

Mr. Speaker, being downstream from where this leakage and spill has occurred could have substantial impact to our watershed, aquatic life, and mammals. Although it has been reported that a plan to clean up the site has been filed by Imperial Oil, the question is what are the details in this plan? Does this government know what's in the plan? And when will the government find out what is in the plan?

Mr. Speaker, we need to find out what when wrong from the standpoint of Alberta not fulfilling their obligation under the Bilateral Water Management Agreement and this government failing to pick up on the media stories which have been out for some time. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of ENR at the appropriate time. Thank you.

Member's Statement 1407-19(2): Spills at Kearl Oil Sands Development
Members' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1408-19(2): Yellowknife Liquor Stores
Members' Statements

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Yellowknife liquor stores aren't very nice, and I would like to make them a little nicer. Mr. Speaker, every once in a while I go down south and I go to buy some beer or wine and I remember that buying alcohol can actually be an enjoyable experience. Whether it be the customer service, the selection, or just making sure that the building is in good repair, I think Yellowknife liquor stores leave a lot to be desired. And, Mr. Speaker, at this point I think it's time that we go out and re-tender our two Yellowknife liquor stores. Liquor stores in Yellowknife are basically a license to print money and I think that we share the love.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I think the market in this city could hold one or two more liquor stores easily. And we're well aware of the problems that we have with alcoholism, but I don't think the solution is to just allow one vendor to make millions of dollars year over year on it.

Now my preference, as I have stated before, would be to allow alcohol in grocery stores or corner stores. I don't think that I am going to quite get that but I am hoping that I can get a commitment that we will re-tender the Yellowknife liquor stores, look whether the market can handle one more, perhaps open on Sundays, and perhaps amend the Liquor Act so that if Yellowknife wants to do this but another community doesn't, that's okay, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister of Finance.

Member's Statement 1408-19(2): Yellowknife Liquor Stores
Members' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife North. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Member's Statement 1409-19(2): Aftercare and Detoxification Services
Members' Statements

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

After that, Mr. Speaker, for my statement today I want to speak once again about aftercare and detox services within the NWT.

This is an issue that I have spoken about several times throughout this term because it is an issue that touches nearly every family across the NWT. Mr. Speaker, two months ago, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction released a report entitled "Canadian Guidance on Alcohol and Health." In their report, which was developed by an independent expert working group of addiction researchers, they provide an updated set of guidelines for the recommended limit in the number of alcoholic drinks a person consumes per week. This report was very different compared to the guidelines where they released in 2011.

Mr. Speaker, in 2011 the CCSA said that women should not consume more than ten drinks per week and men should not consume more than 15 drinks per weak. However, the updated guidelines state that regardless of gender, age or race, all people should not consume more than three to six alcohol beverages per week. The reasons for these new guidelines are due to the evolving nature of the science and research on the subject and to help Canadians reduce the long-term health effects of alcohol and maintain a moderate risk level for all alcohol-related health issues.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, according to a report from the Canadian Institute of Health Information in 2016, the rate for hospitalization due entirely to alcohol for the NWT was six times higher than the national average. Also, according to a 2019 study from the same organization, NWT youth were more likely to be hospitalized from harm caused by substances than youth anywhere else in the country. We also need to consider the high number of suicides in the NWT over the last year. According to the data from the NWT coroner's office, 2022 had a record number of suicides, with 18 confirmed to date, which is more than any year since 2002. We also need to consider the rise in opioid-related deaths that the NWT has experienced recently, with six deaths confirmed for 2022 caused by drugs laced with fentanyl and all those deaths occurred in Hay River. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

In closing, Mr. Speaker, these are stark statistics, but it is for these reasons, among others, why I strongly believe that the NWT needs to open an aftercare facility that has the option for clients to detox as well. There is clearly a need among the people of the NWT for this type of facility.

During the last session in October, I suggested to the health Minister that with the closure of Trailcross Treatment Centre in Fort Smith, there is potential to convert the old Trailcross building into a territorial aftercare facility. I still believe that this is a good idea for us to consider because, again, given the way the building was built it makes it an ideal location to house both male and female clients separately but under the same roof. I will have questions for the Minister of health later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1408-19(2): Yellowknife Liquor Stores
Members' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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