This is page numbers 5943 - 6022 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 1:31 p.m.



Page 5943

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Infrastructure.

Diane Archie

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to strengthening connections with air transportation businesses and industries. Collaboration with worldwide aviation leaders is vital to the Yellowknife Airport's success and to the growth of our territory through its tourism and employment sectors.

As the primary aviation hub for the Northwest Territories, the Yellowknife Airport hosts a number of cold weather testing activities during the winter season. These activities offer significant benefits for the local economy, with the groups staying in Yellowknife for several weeks, sometimes months.

Cold weather testing increases revenue growth for Yellowknife Airport partners and local businesses like restaurants, hotels, vehicle rentals, and much more. It also allows us to diversify our winter tourism markets by developing new sector of business tourism.

Mr. Speaker, after hosting Korean Aerospace Industries in 2022, we secured two cold weather testing opportunities with Airbus for the 2023 winter season.

Airbus is currently conducting cold weather testing on two different aircrafts: the H160 helicopter and the CC295 Kingfisher - an aircraft used by Canadian Search and Rescue. The last group is expected to complete testing at the end of this month.

The partnership with Airbus has created an opportunity to host over 40 engineers, pilots, and support staff between January 6th and March 31st in Yellowknife, with logistics support from Summit Air and Deton Cho Logistics.

Mr. Speaker, cold weather testing with Airbus is one of the many successful partnerships between the Yellowknife Airport and aviation leaders, bringing innovation and economic opportunity to the North. We look forward to welcoming more cold weather testing opportunities and will continue to affirm our place as leader in this industry. Thank you,

Quyananni, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Caroline Wawzonek

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories, like many other public and private sector employers in Canada, wants to ensure that its employees enjoy a high level of engagement and satisfaction in their work. However, decreases in employee morale are being experienced across Canada in the public sector, and the Northwest Territories is no exception. The results of our own Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey, released last year, identified some areas for improvement, including notable disparities in scores between departments and agencies. In response to this, the Department of Finance supplied GNWT agencies and departments with individualized guides supporting them in interpreting the survey results and identifying areas of improvement.

To further address concerns raised in the survey and improve overall employee satisfaction, the Department of Finance has been working on a corporate Human Resources Strategic Plan expected to be released in April.

The Human Resources Strategic Plan identifies four areas of priority:

  • Diversity and Inclusion;.
  • Indigenous Representation and Indigenous Leadership;.
  • Health, Safety and Wellness; and
  • Competency Development,

each with their own overarching strategic goals and corresponding objectives.

Under the Human Resources Strategic Plan, each department and agency will develop an implementation plan and complete annual evaluation reporting. Finance will support departments and agencies as they customize their implementation plans to address their respective workforce needs and human resource challenges as identified in the Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey.

Mr. Speaker, the findings from the Survey have also identified some areas for overall improvement including employee morale, which was down 3.4 percent since the last survey in 2016. To address this, the Department of Finance has established an Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Interdepartmental Working Group. This working group will be informed by a targeted survey for employees, a departmental scan, a jurisdictional scan, and research on emerging and best practices. The objective of this working group is to develop an action plan that will provide concrete meaningful actions and resources for departments and agencies to address the needs of their workplaces.

Employees are the GNWT's greatest resource, Mr. Speaker, and I take their perspectives very seriously. I have initiated regular employee virtual town halls where the deputy minister of finance and I answer questions from GNWT employees and speak on issues and initiatives that impact them. These town halls have been a valuable opportunity for us to connect with public servants who are impacted by initiatives such as the Human Resource Strategic Plan and the action plan to improve employee satisfaction. The deputy minister and I have an upcoming town hall scheduled this spring.

Mr. Speaker, an engaged and satisfied workforce is critical to the success of the government. By listening to the needs of employees, the GNWT can better support them and set them up for success, contributing to a government that delivers quality programs and services to residents. I look forward to seeing the good work that will come from these initiatives, from all departments, in the coming months. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Paulie Chinna

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Mr. Speaker, I want to share with you some of the exciting things happening at Housing Northwest Territories that are a direct result of our renewal strategy. Since the initiation of the strategy, Housing NWT has worked with the Council of Leaders to revise and modernize its mandate and use this mandate to guide the review of our policies and programs. We are now in the process of implementing the changes coming up for review. Changes include the implementation and improvement of how Housing NWT works with local housing organizations, our critical partners in delivering all of our public housing programs. We have also improved and collaborated with Indigenous governments with agreements signed with the Tlicho government, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, and Deline Got'ine government, and more agreements are expected. Additionally, we are putting in place a last-chance mechanism for engaging with Indigenous governments with a forum that will be co-chaired by Housing NWT and an Indigenous government. The Terms of Reference are now being finalized, and we do anticipate that the first Indigenous government co-chair for this forum will be the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

Mr. Speaker, Housing NWT recognizes the importance of supporting each Indigenous government as they develop and implement their self-government agreements and determine how housing priorities are more in need in their communities. It is worth noting that Housing NWT is doing all of this work while managing a public housing expansion that has been unprecedented in recent decades.

Mr. Speaker, along with these accomplishments, I am proud to bring forward a number of new initiatives and improvements underway. My colleagues are aware, public housing applicants who have met the eligibility criteria undergo prioritization using a point rating system. An applicant is given a number of points for certain needs and this score helps to prioritize their ranking to access available housing in their communities. As part of Housing NWT's renewal strategy, the points system was updated and modernized so that it lines up with Housing NWT's mandate and government priorities. This means that the point rating system now includes points for those who are experiencing chronic homelessness, or individuals who are in need of housing because they are living in an environment that is involving family violence. The new points system is being rolled out on April 1st of this year.

Mr. Speaker, to ensure our tenants' successes, we have recently worked with the literacy council to plain language the tenancy agreements as well as develop a tenant's handbook that outlines the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. We have also introduced a tenant success plan which outlines how local housing organizations should work with the clients to support them and giving them a chance at success.

Mr. Speaker, another small but new initiative is centered around access to credit. For some of our clients, their monthly rent is the only regular payment that are being make and the only opportunity they have to build a good credit rating. We are happy to announce a credit rating pilot program in two communities: Fort Resolution and Inuvik. Public housing tenants will have the opportunity to opt into the program which will only report positive credit rating.

Mr. Speaker, for our homeowners, along with the increase in thresholds for most programs, a focus on seniors and eliminating the co-pay for emergency repairs, we are introducing a pilot program in two communities that will allow for us to work with the local housing organizations in communities where there is no local supplier for construction materials. The local housing organization will provide access to material, such as heating and plumbing parts, things that we know homeowners need and that are hard to get in a timely manner in a small remote community.

Mr. Speaker, these are just some of the current highlights with much more exciting news expected to come in the coming weeks, including our new Energy Management Strategy and Blueprint.

Mr. Speaker, the housing needs in the territory are so great that sometimes it seems that the challenges are harder to accomplish. But what I have seen in my time as Minister is the willingness to work together to meet those challenges and to be courageous, to look with a critical eye at whether our efforts are being effective. No one government, no one organization, and no single solution alone will allow us to be successful. We need to work together to address the territory's housing crisis. I would like to take this time to thank my colleagues on the other side who have supported me in this portfolio as well and implementing these changes as we go forward. I'd also like to thank the staff at Housing NWT for coming together and implementing these programs as well. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I want to speak once again about the Taltson Hydro Expansion. As Thebacha MLA, I have particular interest in this project because Fort Smith is the closest community to the Taltson Dam.

Mr. Speaker, currently I do have some concerns about this project. I know that throughout this Assembly our government has been in consultations with various First Nations and Metis governments that are nearest to the Taltson Dam, as they should be. In fact, the Government of the Northwest Territories signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2021 with a number of nearby Indigenous groups, which is good. However, there is one missing component with that work. There is one First Nation that has reserve lands right beside the Taltson Dam, yet the government has not managed to get them to sign them on to the MOU, which is a major problem for advancing this project forward.

Mr. Speaker, as I stated many times in this House, I support this project and I do not want to see any roadblocks that may disrupt or delay this expansion. And I think that Cabinet wants that as well, which is why it is extremely important that the government continues to engage with this First Nation in question and get them onside with this project. If the government fails to do so, then they run the risk of potentially being brought to court and facing a possible injunction, which would most certainly delay this project for years.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Infrastructure must not let that happen, so she needs to resolve this as soon as possible. And I will continue to do as much as I can in my role as the MLA for Thebacha to help would those efforts because I know that this project is in the best interests of Fort Smith as well as the entire NWT. I do not want to see this project halted at the 11th hour caused by something that can be prevented today. Therefore, the government needs to continue to engage, particularly with this First Nation in question who has not yet signed on to the MOU for the Taltson Hydro Expansion. The government must be innovative and flexible with their consultations and they must get the support of all nearby First Nations and Metis governments if they ever want this expansion to happen. I will have questions for the Minister of Infrastructure at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the events of last years' flood is fresh in the minds of those affected, and questions continue to be unanswered for some residents when it comes to future mitigation.

Mr. Speaker, the community of Hay River is situated along the shore of Great Slave Lake and the Hay River. The reality is that a portion of the residential, commercial, and industrial area is in a flood plain and will always be subject to potential flooding.

Mr. Speaker, this government talks flood mitigation but does not appear to understand that it is not reasonable to expect a one-size-fits-all approach for the various areas within the community.

Mr. Speaker, two locations that experienced significantly high-water levels is Paradise Valley, along with Lot 13 and 15 on Riverview Drive. Both locations saw water levels exceeding seven feet. Because of this, affected residents do understand that it is not realistic or practical to rebuild on the site as the costs would be too prohibitive while residents' safety would continue to be at risk each spring.

Mr. Speaker, post flood, this government committed to support those affected homeowners and businesses with disaster assistance options. One of the options that was discussed with residents was that of property acquisition, or buyback, which some residents consider as the only viable option for them. This option is allowed and set out in section 3.4.1 of the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements. This option, although available, is one this government refuses to use due to what they say will result in significant implications for communities, as well as residents, and that further policy work will need to be undertaken in consultation with community governments prior to moving forward.

Mr. Speaker, the message being relayed to these residents has been mixed, unclear, contradictory, and unreasonable. Although many impacted by the flood are moving ahead with remediation in some form, we have those residents who are, and continue to be, at a loss on how to proceed as the only reasonable mitigation measure for them is property acquisition by this government, or something very similar, that would provide comparable assistance.

Mr. Speaker, to resolve this issue, the residents are looking for a face-to-face meeting with the Minister responsible for MACA, and I would recommend that he agree to such a meeting at the earliest.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Katrina Nokleby

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the cost of doing business in the North is expensive. There's no doubt about that reality. However, I often wonder if a lack of coordination from the government hinders our ability to support our communities in terms of infrastructure planning and management.

Spring is here, and I want to ensure we are positioning both government and industry to be successful in advancing important infrastructure projects during the upcoming construction season. The NWT has many unique operating environments and a short window in which to bring in materials. Yet the government's own processes do not always account for this reality. How many federal dollars have we missed because we do not position our projects to be shovel ready in an efficient manner? When the government does not issue RFPs early enough in the spring for summer work, industry is not able to move fast enough to staff up and bring materials in. This leaves the North behind on important projects, Mr. Speaker. Just look at the delays to our current infrastructure projects; delays that have left 500 million of federal funding unspent on the table. If we truly want to deal with our infrastructure deficit, better coordination and more forward thinking would help to get more projects underway and stimulate the flagging economy.

Mr. Speaker, whenever I look through the capital estimates, I note that there are usually two to three projects in a community or region in various departments. And I ask, are the departments coordinating the supply of materials for all projects together and effectively; or, are these projects operating in silos and we're wasting our resources and duplicating efforts where we don't need to be? If we really want to see a successful north, with robust and reliable infrastructure, the government must take a more coordinated approach to better plan and sequence northern projects and retrofits. We must pool our efforts so we can better utilize our buying power, our transportation efforts, and our labour force towards building a stronger territory for us all. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Jackie Jacobson

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I rise in the House again in regards to Bill 60. Mr. Speaker, it's concerning in this House about the impacts of carbon tax in my riding. I continue to raise my concerns today.

Mr. Speaker, Bill 60 cannot go forward as proposed. The carbon tax is going to increase the cost of living in the Northwest Territories in my riding by 15 percent and 4 percent every year after.

Mr. Speaker, we're doing the federal government's dirty work. How are we going to tax people who have nothing to give, Mr. Speaker? Why are we putting our people at the highest place in the Arctic, we're being penalized because of where we live. We're the most impacted by climate change being taxed on climate change where this territory gives 0.05. The federal government should be paying us to clean their air, Mr. Speaker. You know, everything that's happening right now, we have -- we provide for our families, we hunt. We travel on the land. The cost of gas is going up in the communities, at $2.75 a litre in some communities. And then if you don't get nothing to -- if you luck out, don't get any caribou or anything that's subsistence for how we're going to feed our families because you just wasted your gas and you get nothing. Putting pressure on families. On top of all this, the government expects us to pay more taxes.

Mr. Speaker, we pay more taxes already. We pay $2 a kilowatt in small communities for power. The families can barely afford to buy food. We have the highest price of food index in the Northwest Territories. Over 50 percent of the Nunakput residents are worried about having enough money to buy food and provide for their families, Mr. Speaker. We have to hunt, again to put food on the table. It's our culture, our way of life, hunting is our household. The pressure to provide food for our family and especially with the climate change and the ice is thinner in some parts of the territory in our riding. Our power bills continue to go up. And yet our houses, you know, that are provide in the communities, our housing, are paper-thin walls, cracks in doors and brings snow right through the homes, floors are so cold they have to put blankets down for -- and how energy efficient is that, Mr. Speaker?

People in our riding have very little employment opportunities. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, colleagues. Mr. Speaker, families earn average $50,000 less than NWT family, almost 20 percent are on income assistance. Over 10 percent of our families make less than $30,000. There's no offshore; the moratorium is still in place. The federal government takes away but doesn't give nothing back. The resource development is dragging on. There's no way to get ahead, Mr. Speaker. There's no way to pay the bills. Residents already have to -- and now that are going to be taxed more. Mr. Speaker, I oppose the carbon tax on Bill C-60 and we simply can't tax our people anymore when they don't have nothing to give. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. Earlier in this sitting, I tabled a copy of the February 3rd, 2023 letter where the federal minister of northern affairs approved a regional study under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act to look at the future of the area between Yellowknife and the Nunavut border. Unfortunately, the study, as it is currently formulated, will stop at the Nunavut border. However, caribou don't stop there and planning continues for an all-weather road that would destroy habitat and disrupt migrations of the Bathurst caribou herd.

A regional study is a good thing, especially if there is participant funding, a broad mandate that considers options and alternatives, and work on how the results will actually be implemented and reported on. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the Department of Infrastructure that it should "down tools" during the regional study.

I raised the issue during the review of the Infrastructure 2023-2024 Main Estimates on March 8th, and it is business as usual there in terms of spending money that will disrupt the habitat of what's left of the Bathurst caribou herd.

Despite several attempts to get the Minister to clarify the status of the work on the so-called Slave Geological Province Road, or the Lockhart All-Season Road, I could not really get a straight answer.

On November 1st, 2022, during the review of the capital budget, I raised the issue of whether Cabinet would push ahead with an all-weather road while a regional study is underway. The Minister of Finance said that the work on the road was delayed, which would allow for the regional study to take place.
Even the Government of Nunavut has just changed its position on the Nunavut Land Use Plan and is calling for permanent protection of caribou calving grounds and other key habitat by prohibiting development. Our government has no such position and continues to bulldoze ahead with a road that will have irreversible impacts. I will have questions for the Premier later today on whether this government intends to proceed with an all-weather road to Lockhart Lake and trigger a separate environmental assessment while a regional study under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is in progress. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Lesa Semmler

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Mr. Speaker, carbon tax has now become a word many people don't want to hear. However, as Members in this House, we have talked, listened to residents, and debated this topic for the past few months. I am in a situation now that I must decide on what's best for the residents in the Northwest Territories on how we move ahead with this.

The GNWT carbon tax is what we are paying now but heating fuel has been able to be excluded up until the new changes that are coming that being imposed upon by the federal government. They have decided they will no longer allow for GNWT as this goes against what they are trying to do - decrease carbon in Canada. And now their schedules -- according to their schedules, we're increasing the carbon tax.

Those territories and provinces, whether they are under the federal backstop or have opted to create a carbon tax that will best meet their needs and fit the federal guidelines, we in the NWT have our own legislation and now we are at a point where we have to decide to agree to what GNWT Cabinet has decided for the NWT or decide to not support and therefore the federal backstop will kick in, and the tax will kick in.

Mr. Speaker, we as Regular Members ask for legislation to ensure that our residents have a regional COLO payment, to our residents, money for municipalities, businesses, and offset, as well as defined legislation that must come to this House to be decided if there are any changes in the future by all MLAs. Cabinet has agreed to regional COLO payments for the municipalities to get -- and they are also agreed to the COLO -- regional COLO payments in the municipalities but with legislation, you know, we are where we at.

The new carbon tax changes will take place April 1st, 2023, so we have to decide who we trust more that will take care of Northerners - GNWT or the federal government. Because if we vote down the GNWT tax, the federal carbon tax will take over and we will be still paying the tax. So I will have some questions for the Minister. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, let's face the facts. Last year the NWT's population dropped by over 200 people with over 900 people leaving the territory. Thankfully, this decline was offset by about 300 births and 400 newcomers. Last year this House passed a motion calling for a strategy to match Canada's population growth. Every Regular Member voted in support. In its response, the GNWT all but rejected this House's call for a coordinated robust plan to increase the NWT population. The GNWT pointed instead to its growing the NWT strategy, an ineffective and outdated strategy that failed to achieve its goals. Cabinet claims that population and labour challenges are nationwide. While that's true, this House needs to hear me when I say we are the only province and territory to have fewer residents at the end of 2022, so a declining population is an NWT specific issue.

While there are existing efforts for infrastructure, post-secondary education supports, and supports aimed at seniors and elders, more needs to be done.

Recent employment surveys have shown that about half of Gen-Zs and Millennials plan on looking for a new job in 2023, and that they want better work-life balance and more career challenges. The North offers both, Mr. Speaker, as well as the best student financial assistance in the country. But who is telling our fellow Canadians about this?

Mr. Speaker, even our own residents are moving on to new opportunities. This is not only about attracting new residents; we need to focus on retaining the existing ones. Imagine our growth rate if we retained the 900 people who left last year. Cabinet's rejection of the motion also means they turned down the recommendation to analyze why Northerners are leaving our territory. There is some work on asking residents why they're leaving. The GNWT's recent Indigenous employment plans set targets for running exit interviews but the targets are low. For example, the NTHSSA is only aiming to complete exit interviews on 20 percent of departing employees this year. And there's no plan to ask residents why they are choosing to leave and to address those reasons.

A shrinking NWT isn't just an NWT issue; it's a Canadian one, Mr. Speaker. Hollowing out remote northern communities does not support reconciliation or the Canadian Arctic sovereignty and security goals. I will have questions for the Minister of Finance later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Richard Edjericon

Richard Edjericon Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this year is the time of year when we celebrate spring and the arrival of spring and the animals and that kind of thing. This year we didn't have the Long John Jamboree, and it's something that, you know, we all bring our families out and enjoy a good time and that kind of thing. But this year in the Chief Drygeese territory, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation are planning their spring carnival from March 31st to April 2nd, 2023, in Dettah, and they're looking at, on Friday, they are looking at a fish derby, many hand games, and a talent show. I think this is a good opportunity for the Premier and Cabinet to come out and try out their singing, jigging, and show some of the best dressed outfits. And on Saturday, we're also looking at a kiddie carnival, pond hockey, and outdoor events, sleigh pulling, log sawing, etcetera, and the same thing on Sunday. I'd like to encourage my colleagues and everybody in the Northwest Territories, especially people here in Yellowknife, to come out to Dettah this coming weekend to enjoy the carnival there.

Also in Lutselk'e, we're also planning to have a carnival there as well in April; the long weekend it looks like. And I just want to make sure that I got this right here.

On April 8th, Friday, 9th and 10th, again, in Lutselk'e, they're looking at opening ceremonies, outdoor games, activities, sled pulling, piggyback races, and all that good stuff that brings everybody out of their homes into the community after a long COVID. And so this is a good opportunity to celebrate as well. And they're also looking at, you know, a talent show, and that kind of thing in the community of Lutselk'e. So, again, if you're in the neighbourhood in Lutselk'e, come out and join us, and especially this weekend here in YKDFN. Mahsi.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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