This is page numbers 6381 - 6416 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.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie (remote), Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge (remote), Hon. Paulie Chinna (remote), Ms. Cleveland (remote), Hon. Caroline Cochrane (remote), Mr. Edjericon (remote), Hon. Julie Green (remote), Mr. Jacobson (remote), Mr. Johnson (remote), Ms. Martselos (remote), Ms. Nokleby (remote) Mr. O'Reilly (remote), Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson (remote), Mr. Rocky Simpson (remote), Hon. Shane Thompson (remote), Hon. Caroline Wawzonek (remote), Ms. Weyallon Armstrong (remote)

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

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The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Members, by the order of the Commissioner of the Legislative Assembly, this sitting outside the capital in Inuvik. I thank mayor Clarence Wood and the town of Inuvik for the use of their chambers.

The Assembly last sat outside of Yellowknife in 1989 in Norman Wells. Under Rule 10.1, this sitting is a hybrid one. Members are here in person and virtually and is due to the state of emergency in the Northwest Territories. All Members are concerned for residents displaced by wildfires. Many Members are displaced themselves. Like you, we fear for the safety of your homes, businesses, and communities. On behalf of the Assembly, thank you to everyone working to keep our communities safe, the firefighters, military personnel, municipal staff and leaders, civil servants, contractors, and volunteers. We see your work and sacrifice.

At this moment, I want to acknowledge Northwest Territories firefighter Adam Yeadon. Adam died fighting wildfires near Fort Liard on July 15th, 2023. Adam was a young man who lost his life protecting others. I ask Members to join me in a moment of silence in his honour.

Thank you, Members.

Members, today's sitting will be different. Under Rule 10.5(2), I have issued special orders of the day to ensure the efficient operation of the Chamber. These orders reflect Members' desire for a business-focused sitting. We are here to deal with the timing of the election. We are also here to authorize additional spending to respond to these wildfires.

This is the largest hybrid sitting we have done. It is on short notice. We are in a community and not in the Chamber. There will be technical difficulties, technical challenges. This includes the live stream. Be patient, stay focused on why we are here. If we do, we will get through this together.

Members, I have received a letter from the Commissioner, the Honourable Margaret Thom. It reads:

Dear Mr. Speaker. I wish to advise that I recommend to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories the passage of Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures) 2024-2025; Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures) No. 2, 2023-2024, during the second session of the 19th Assembly.

Members, the Member for Monfwi has provided me with notice that, pursuant to Rule 3.5(1), she wishes to move a motion for emergency debate calling upon the Government of the Northwest Territories to ensure that Indigenous governments are involved in the GNWT's response to end the current wildfire emergency. Under that rule, the Member would move the motion for an emergency debate at the conclusion of oral questions but those are not on the orders today. That means Rule 10.5(2) applies. That rule relates to remote sittings.

It states where the rules in this section are silent on a matter covered elsewhere in the rules, the Speaker may amend any rule or procedure as required to allow for the effective participation of Members appearing remotely. In the efficient operation of the Chamber under Rule 10.5 (2), I direct special orders of the day for today to ensure the efficient operation of the Chamber. This sitting could be characterized as an emergency sitting. The orders were issued to allow for a business-focused sitting, focused on dealing with two pressing matters:

  • Changing the date of the election; and,
  • Approving additional funding for wildfire response.

The Northwest Territories is under a state of emergency. We must be focused on the pressing matters at hand; however, Members will have their individual privileges. When a motion is made for an emergency debate, if it passes all of the remaining business of the day is set aside. That would mean dealing with the timing of the election and authorizing spending for wildfire response would not be dealt with today.

I am concerned that the Member's motion may not get fair consideration if Members are worried that the matter we were called together would be put aside. As a result, under Rule 10.5(2), I will amend Rule 3.5(1) such that at the end of third reading of bills, the Member may move to set aside the original business of the House to discuss a matter of urgent public importance requiring immediate consideration.

Members, I believe this balances the privileges of the Member and the Assembly and ensures the efficient operation of the Chamber. Thank you.

Tabling of documents. Minister responsible for Finance.

Caroline Wawzonek

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the following document: Supplementary Estimates (Operations Expenditures), No. 2, 2023-2024. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister responsible for Finance. Tabling of documents. Government House Leader.

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the following five documents: Government of the Northwest Territories response to Motion 74-19(2) Reconciliatory Review of Housing NWT's Collection Approach; Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Motion 77-19(2) Review of the Territorial Land Lease Policy and Procedures; Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 40-19(2) Report on the Review of Bill 61, An Act to Amend the Ombud Act; Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 50-19(2) Strengthening Community Supports, Lifting Youth Voices Recommendations for Suicide Prevention; and, Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 51-19(2) Report on Indigenous Representation in the Northwest Territories Public Service. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Government House Leader. Tabling of documents. Colleagues, before we get into consideration in Committee of the Whole of bills and other matters, I would just like to recognize in our small public gallery, our mayor, the mayor of Inuvik Clarence Wood. Thank you for allowing us to be in your Chamber today. Thank you.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and other matters, Bill 23, Bill 29, Bill 77, Bill 82, Committee Report 52-19(2), Minister's Statement 264-19(2), Tabled Document 681-19(2), Tabled Document 967-19(2), with Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes in the chair.

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Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair

The Chair Lesa Semmler

Committee, we've agreed to consider Tabled Document 967-19(2) Supplementary Estimates (Operations Expenditures) No. 2, 2023-2024. Does the Minister of Finance have any opening remarks?

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Caroline Wawzonek

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Thank you, Madam Chair, I do. Madam Chair, I am here to present Supplementary Estimates (Operations Expenditures), No. 2, 2023-2024. These supplementary estimates propose a total increase of $75 million to fund the shortfall within the fire suppression budget for the Department of Environment and Climate Change.

I recognize that this request is substantial, and it will have an impact on the GNWT's forecasted operating surplus. I want to assure committee that the Department of Finance is taking steps to ensure that the government remains in compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Policy, as well as considering how best to mitigate the financial impacts of the wildfire season. Given the challenges faced over the last six months, it is likely that GNWT departments will need to prioritize operations and assess activities that are key to government operations and support the residents of the Northwest Territories. As a government, we continue to seek opportunities to recover costs associated with these natural disasters from the federal government.

That concludes my opening remarks, Madam Chair. I would be happy to answer any questions that the Members may have.

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The Chair

The Chair Lesa Semmler

Thank you, Minister. Minister, do you wish to bring your witnesses forward?

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Caroline Wawzonek

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Yes, please, Madam Chair.

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The Chair

The Chair Lesa Semmler

Does committee agree?

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Some Hon. Members

Agreed.

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The Chair

The Chair Lesa Semmler

Thank you. Would the Minister please introduce your witnesses for the record.

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Caroline Wawzonek

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Madam Chair, I believe on the line, also remotely, should be the deputy minister of Finance Bill MacKay, as well as Terence Courtoreille, the assistant deputy minister or deputy secretary to the financial management board. Thank you.

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The Chair

The Chair Lesa Semmler

Okay, thank you. I will now open the floor for general comments, and if the Members, just give me time to make sure that I don't miss anybody. All right. MLA Johnson.

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Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm just wondering if the Minister can provide us an update of the initial fire suppression budget and what this initial -- or this additional $75 million brings us up to as a total and then perhaps try to answer the question whether we think this is the grand total or whether another supplementary appropriation may be coming. Thank you.

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The Chair

The Chair Lesa Semmler

I'm just going to leave this as general comments until we get into the detail. So if you have general comments on this, state your general comments, and then if you want to get into detail with question and answer, we'll when we get into the line by line item. So do you want to continue, Mr. Johnson.

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Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

No general comments. I'll ask questions when it comes to detail. Thank you, Madam Chair.

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The Chair

The Chair Lesa Semmler

Thank you. MLA for Frame Lake.

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Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Thanks, Madam Chair. My questions are going to be detailed as well. So thank you.

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Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair

The Chair Lesa Semmler

All right. MLA for Kam Lake.

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Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Madam Chair, I do have some general comments, and I'm going to start just by saying that I was quite surprised to see that this supplemental appropriation was specific to ECE and did not include Finance and ITI. Just from -- I'm currently sitting here in session today from the city of Edmonton, which has gone above and beyond to try to support residents, and I have to say a huge shout out to city councillors as well that have been working closely with MLAs, to try and help out people as best they can. But right now where I sit, a lot of residents have paid out of pocket for commercial airfare to get here and some of those dollars that they paid for to get here were from their mortgage and rent dollars. Some people car shared and with the current subsidies that are being provided by the GNWT, only the driver is eligible to get the dollars, and so that means that some people car shared, paid out of pocket for gas and aren't eligible to get any kind of subsidies from the GNWT. Some people ended up paying for hotels for days here down in Alberta because they were unable to get through the lineups with the Red Cross to access hotels or didn't have a means of leaving the city where it was longer for people to get hotels. And I spoke with one mother who had four young kids and was sleeping in a vehicle instead of an evacuation centre because she just didn't feel that that was a good option for her for sleeping with her children and that she would get more sleep in her vehicle. Some people are having to take taxis to the Expo Centre here in Edmonton to get food for their families because they're not comfortable in a big city using public transportation, even though the city of Edmonton has graciously made that complementary. Some people have never left the Northwest Territories before, and so it's really quite intimidating to use such a large public infrastructure to try and get around. Some people are travelling for most of the day just back and forth to the Expo Centre to try and get food and have had to kind of use out-of-pocket dollars to access some of that and are really feeling the pinch.

So from there I also just wanted to kind -- and I'm using this time, Madam Chair, to talk about this because there isn't a space in this supplementary appropriation for Finance or ITI, and so I'm unable to kind of talk about it outside of this, this space right here. But my other concern is that I have a lot of constituents who have not seen a disruption to their income but given all of these additional costs that are out-of-pocket and given that a lot of people in our territory live paycheque to paycheque, the additional costs of this evacuation are really stretching them beyond their limits and they're not sure how they're going to really put themselves back together. And I know that one of the things that we often hear said is that people need to plan for a rainy day, but a lot of people have just started to recover post-COVID. And when I think of, like, our neighbours to the south of us over in Hay River, they've been hit with rainy day after rainy day after rainy day, and there's not been an opportunity between any of their evacuations to kind of save for that rainy day. And especially when you're living paycheque to paycheque, there's no money to put away for a rainy day; the North is an expensive place to live. And so I am very concerned about, especially the residents from Hay River, who are -- I don't know how they've even begun to catch their breath. I'm concerned for the residents that I serve as to how they're going to weather this, especially where we do not know what the timeline on this is, and so I have questions too at a later date about whether or not there is room to extend these subsidies and be a lot more simple and flexible and provide them to every resident; as to whether or not if this evacuation continues, if we're going to look at additional subsidies; and that doesn't even touch on our entrepreneurs and our business owners that we very much seem we rely on in the territory with all of the work that they have done to fire smart the territory.

I'm very appreciative that the SEED funding was opened up, but I have businesses who have paid out-of-pocket without billable hours. They have paid salaries to their workers to keep them going, and they're not getting any billable hours. They're sitting down here, they are bankrupting their businesses in order to keep food on the tables and in the mouths of the workers that they have because at the end of the day, the longevity of their business, like, there's -- they're good people, which is why they're doing it, but the longevity of their business also relies on them affording their workers to come home and to stay in the territory and to keep building the territory with them. And so I just wanted to point those out there that I really would have liked to have seen some Finance and ITI dollars in this supplementary appropriation so we could discuss some of those items as well. And I'll have more specific questions for ECE when we get to the appropriate time in the budget. But I have a lot of concerns right now about our residents wearing this evacuation and weathering this very big storm. Thank you, Madam Chair.

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The Chair

The Chair Lesa Semmler

Are there any other Members for general comments? Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.