This is page numbers 5567 - 5614 of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was know.


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.



Page 5567

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Shane Thompson

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 wetlands 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.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Diane Archie

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.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Shane Thompson

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.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Rocky Simpson

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.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Rylund Johnson

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.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Frieda Martselos

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.

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. The GNWT's energy strategy, that the GNWT will partner with communities and stakeholders, Mr. Speaker, I have not seen the GNWT partner on energy projects in my riding of Nunakput. In Nunakput, we face the coldest and darkest winters. We use diesel to heat our homes, our businesses. We pay the highest price of fuel in the territory set by the GNWT, is to do this. Not only is this diesel is a source of energy to operate our communities, we pay carbon tax on that fuel. In my riding, we are already facing the highest cost of living, three and a half times more than Yellowknife, with some of the lowest employment opportunities across the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, how are our people to pay our bills, pay their heat, keep the lights on in their house? The government says they want to partner with our communities to implement an energy strategy, the government is partnered with Nunakput communities.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT is partnering with Nunakput to make our homes more energy efficient, to help us establish local sources of energy. Mr. Speaker, M18, the project that is in Inuvialuit settlement region, we are already ready to develop a source of natural gas there, to have security for diesel fuel and compressed gas for Inuvik. And all I could think of is jobs.

Mr. Speaker, we have a solution in the ISR to promote energy security, sustainability, but the project continues to be put under review by the federal government. Which I remind them, the Inuvialuit settlement region is a settled land claim, for 39 years, on Tuk 7(1)(a) lands. The territorial government has to come and support us in regards to this project, Mr. Speaker.

What can the GNWT do to support the residents, to meet the rising costs of energy? If this is the case, the effective costs will go right across the board. The biggest increase is the cost of feeding our families. My communities need to secure affordable sustainable energy systems. I don't see the GNWT making headway to achieve this in my riding of Nunakput. The GNWT has to support M18. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the appropriate Minister of Infrastructure at the appropriate time, thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Entrepreneurship accelerates economic growth, spurs innovation, instigates social change, promotes research and development, and improves and grows existing sectors. Global business owners have been instrumental in spurring social change and improving the way people live and work around the world.

Mr. Speaker, entrepreneurship is a good thing for every NWT community. While some business ventures are large operations, so many more are small home-based businesses expanding our workforce and economic and social health. But Housing NWT is standing in the way.

People in public housing work and their rent is based on their income through their T4 but Housing NWT prohibits home-based business in public housing due, quote, "to the fact that these homes are provided with subsidized rent." But the rent, Mr. Speaker, is subsidized according to a person's income. I think of a writer, a bookkeeper, a consultant, a baker, an artist or crafter, or maybe a labourer, wanting to start their own business but putting their housing in jeopardy by doing so.

Business startup for some NWT residents is a viable economic tool to access opportunity and pull themselves out of poverty. Building a business takes time. There is a time where a business owner grows their brand and reputation, to build their clientele as they grow their annual income. But to say public housing tenants with self-generated income are not welcome removes a very viable sector of opportunity from NWT residents, particularly those living in public housing dominated communities.

As a business owner, I followed the home-based business and zoning bylaws established in my community and income tax rules established by Revenue Canada that required me to submit GST quarterly and file my taxes annually. Zoning bylaws established what type of home-based business I could operate in my home and home-based business bylaws established rules around parking, people traffic, and signage. At this point, Mr. Speaker, it seems the only business operators protected in public housing are drug dealers.

I urge Housing NWT to create a home-based business framework for public housing to support economic diversification and growth across the NWT, especially in small communities. Entrepreneurship is a viable and much needed form of employment in our territory. Given the time and dollars ECE and ITI invest in skill development, building employment in small communities and entrepreneurial growth, I kindly ask Housing NWT to be part of the solution. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. Members' statements. Member for Deh Cho.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mashi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Ambassadors of Deh Gah Elementary and Secondary School have returned home safely from a recent trip to Mexico. The Fort Providence contingent made up of 11 students and seven chaperons made the trip February 4th to the 12th. The trip was spearheaded by the school's child, youth and care counsellor Daphne Blanco-Sarlay. Daphne's idea is to create at cultural exchange between two Indigenous communities impacted by colonialism in what's called Connecting through Kindness. The city of Tulum, Mexico has a population of under 20,000 residents and is one hour south of the resort town of Playa del Carmen. Tulum has a history of Indigenous Mayan culture. The students fundraised for the past three years to help the small community rebuild their secondary school and loved getting their hands dirty for a great cause. The students raised $10,000 and were beaming with pride as they understood this will benefit the education and future of the Mayan youth that hosted them.

Although there was a language barrier, the students immediately made friends with their counterparts and managed to communicate in their own ways. Together they jumped rope, played hopscotch, hide and seek, tug of war, and shared many moments together cementing their friendship. Students toured various places of interest but most of all enjoyed the walks on the beach, the water park, snorkeling through underwater caves, and swam in the ocean where the water was so crystal clear they could see the bottom of the sandy ocean, the ocean floor.

This was a trip they will never forget as they never imagined they would be in sandals, short-sleeved shirts and shorts, especially in the month in the February and are reminded of the temperatures back home in the North.

The students of Deh Gah School look forward to hosting the Mayan students this coming summer. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.

Lesa Semmler

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, Crown corporations are hybrid entities that walk the line between a government body and a private enterprise. Generally their goal is to operate at arm's length from the public government. They provide programs and services to residents in a variety of ways, and have government support, with a goal of creating a more streamlined approach to program delivery. However, in the Northwest Territories, we do not appear to have a concrete plan or a consistent governance model for our Crown corporations.

I recognize that no two issues are the same, Mr. Speaker, and that our Crown corporations provide different services. What I cannot determine is if our public government puts any effort into truly examining and evaluating how our Crown corporations operate.

The government stepped forward when it needed to purchase MTS; however, it is unclear to me how the government plans to look at this model moving forward. What is the current business plan and structure option for MTS? We have a board of deputy ministers for the NTPC right now. There is no independence in this structure, Mr. Speaker. The connection to government is not at all arm's length with government operation.

Additionally, there is the NWT Housing Corporation. The board structure was removed decades ago for a president who reports to a Minister. Now there is a working group with our Indigenous governments on the implementation of this work. But, again, Mr. Speaker, we have no consistency for vision for our Crown corporation.

Mr. Speaker, it is not lost on me that we require collaboration with government in many of these areas. We need shipping on to our communities, we need sustainable power rates, and we need to collaborate on housing. However, what we also need is a clear and consistent governance model for these Crown corporations. They cannot succeed without government support, but we can benefit from flexibility and independence from government if process is established appropriately. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Premier later today. Thank you.

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. Yesterday I spoke on attempts by this government to engage the public and mining industry on mining royalties. Other work on mining royalties came to my attention when there was a presentation at the November 2022 geoscience forum by a consultant apparently hired by ITI. This consultant is the same one who conducted a nine-page peer review of the Price Waterhouse Coopers benchmarking study that found that GNWT is doing just fine with royalties and taxes from mining. That peer review was in agreement with the benchmarking study and its conclusion that the NWT is competitive with other jurisdictions - at least the ones that were included - and that public investment in infrastructure and technology is the best way to get more mining revenues. That study though focused on competitiveness and not fair return or maximizing benefits.

In any event, the same peer reviewer from Vancouver has been hired by ITI, again, through a $75,000 sole source contract to conduct some sort of modeling of mining royalties. Given that this consultant has already concluded that the NWT is doing fine in terms of competitiveness and mining revenues, I'm not sure what kind of modeling is going to be done. I will have questions for the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment on this modeling, whether the public will get to have a say on what is done, and whether any of this work will be released publicly. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Frame Lake. Members' statements. Member for Nahendeh.