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This is from the 20th Assembly, 1st Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was housing.

Members Present

Hon. Caitlin Cleveland, Mr. Edjericon, Mr. Hawkins, Hon. Lucy Kuptana, Hon. Jay MacDonald, Hon. Vince McKay, Mr. McNeely, Ms. Morgan, Mr. Morse, Mr. Nerysoo, Ms. Reid, Mr. Rodgers, Hon. Lesa Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Testart, Mr. Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek, Mrs. Weyallon Armstrong

The House met at 1:30 p.m.


The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

I'd like to thank Lillian Elias for opening prayer and the wise words. Greatly appreciated.

Just one little bit of housekeeping. Please be a little bit slower when you talk. We have some translators that are not asking to do a sprint for the whole marathon. So they said if we could please be a little bit slower, they would greatly appreciate it. So now let's get down to business.

Ministers' statements. Minister from Housing NWT.

Lucy Kuptana

Lucy Kuptana Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, living and travelling throughout the Northwest Territories, I have seen first-hand the many housing challenges faced by residents. All people of the Northwest Territories deserve a quality standard of living.

During the 19th Legislative Assembly, Housing NWT consistently advocated to the federal government for funding to address housing needs across the Northwest Territories. I would like to recognize the dedicated work of the 19th Legislative Assembly and former Minister Paulie Chinna in this area. The advocacy that took place in the 19th Legislative Assembly supported significant federal investments in housing, including money being provided directly to Indigenous governments through distinctions-based funding, as well as many other housing delivery agents having their projects approved for funding. Housing NWT recognizes the importance of working together with all partners to find solutions to the housing challenges here in the North.

Mr. Speaker, Housing NWT advanced a multi-year capital plan valued at $130 million which includes the construction and repair of approximately 500 housing units, with a combination of federal and Housing NWT funds. In 2022-2023 Housing NWT held discussions with Indigenous governments and communities and did the planning and finalized construction contracts for 100 additional public housing units - 60 units designated for singles, 30 duplexes designed for families, and 10 units designated for seniors in communities outside of our regional centres. These seniors' units are in line with our government priority to support aging in place. These 100 units are the first expansion of the public housing stock made in decades. Now, as the 2023-2024 fiscal year comes to an end, all 100 of those new units are either complete or will be complete within the next six months. These units were all constructed by companies from the North.

Mr. Speaker, this construction commitment was achieved as a result of significant one-time federal funding support, which included a $25 million contribution from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation to construct 60 modular housing units; a contribution from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada for $25 million to construct 30 public housing units; and, an additional contribution from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to support 10 modular duplexes for seniors.

Mr. Speaker, to support small communities in developing skilled tradespeople, Housing NWT has leveraged every opportunity to build and maintain this capacity. Housing NWT's new construction contracts have supported 55 apprenticeship work assignments since 2020 thanks to our requirement for general contractors to hire at least one apprentice in new construction contracts.

The last few years have presented extraordinary challenges for housing due to the impacts of climate change, disruptions to material supply chains, and increasing costs of fuel and construction materials. In addition, the marine transportation system has experienced low water levels on the Mackenzie River which resulted in the cancellation and delays to barges. This delayed some projects as material or modular units had to wait until the 2024 winter road season to be sent into communities.

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the NWT construction sector on its ability to be responsive to these challenges by adapting to changing and challenging logistics.

Housing NWT considers climate resiliency in design to ensure appropriate foundation systems and low-maintenance climate-durable materials are chosen, as well as maximizing energy efficiency to reduce operating costs over the service life of housing units. Housing NWT continues to closely monitor the cost of construction and is implementing mitigation measures where possible by looking at innovative and creative solutions to address the many challenges of building and maintaining homes in our environment.

Mr. Speaker, I support Housing NWT's focus on increasing the well-being of individuals and communities by providing fair access to quality housing support for people most in need. I hope to build on this work by promoting a culture of working together as a community, focusing on partnerships to help foster innovation.

Looking forward, Mr. Speaker, there are many exciting projects on the way in 2024, including partnerships with Indigenous governments, the city of Yellowknife, the Department of Infrastructure's energy division, the Department of Health and Social Services, the Arctic Energy Alliance, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and other federal funders.

Through 2024, Housing NWT will continue to implement renewable energy projects, advance a climate change risk analysis, and continue research and development on technology. I look forward to continuing to update this House on the outcomes of these initiatives.

In closing Mr. Speaker, there will be many exciting outcomes from Housing NWT's capital investment in recent years. I will work with Housing NWT's staff and my colleagues around this House to continue to advocate for solutions to the Northwest Territories' housing challenges, especially in our smaller communities. Together with Indigenous governments and other partners we can improve the lives of residents in the Northwest Territories by offering more quality affordable housing in every community. Quyananni, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Minister of Housing NWT. Ministers' statements. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, last month I attended AME Roundup in Vancouver, where I had the privilege of representing Northwest Territories' residents and advocating for their interests in the realm of resource development.
Roundup showcases the Northwest Territories' resource potential to the world's mineral development community. In recent years, we have seen growth in the exploration of key commodities, especially for critical minerals like lithium. This exploration presents the NWT with a unique and timely opportunity to increase investment in our mineral sector.

Mr. Speaker, I can report incredible buzz and excitement at Roundup for our territory's potential, especially around critical minerals.
As a world, we are writing a new way forward to tomorrow's renewable energy and clean technology solutions. 23 of the 31 Critical minerals essential to Canada's critical mineral strategy are found in our backyard. So while this is a global challenge, the solutions are Canadian and, more specifically, this chapter starts in the NWT.

As we all recognize, the benefits of mining extend well beyond the extraction of precious stones and minerals. Even before a mine can start operating, a diverse range of products and services are required. Exploration activities and geoscience research can bring significant economic benefits.
Exploration activities benefit our economy by hiring locally. Although the employment opportunities at the exploration stage do not approach the scale of an operating mine, exploration companies employ a wide range of laborers. Let us not forget, before you can even start a mine and create hundreds of job opportunities, you first need enterprising and innovative mineral exploration companies to find and develop valuable viable deposits.

Mr. Speaker, in 2023, exploration spending in our territory totalled $118.8 million, an
11 percent increase from 2022. The NWT was the only northern jurisdiction to see an increase during this period, and growth is being driven by the search for critical minerals. We want this spending to increase to the levels seen in previous years where it totalled between $150 and $200 million.

Our government's approach to this year's Roundup was strategic. We highlighted the immense potential for those engaging in responsible exploration and development within our territory and demonstrated how partnerships with Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations can unlock new opportunities.

In the spirit of environmental, social, and governance with an Indigenous lens, or ESG-I,
we are promoting responsible resource development. Our government is dedicated to integrating ESG-I considerations into our policies and practices, ensuring that exploration and mining projects meet the highest environmental and social standards and will attract ESG-I-conscious investors.

During Roundup, the Government of the Northwest Territories hosted networking talks focused on capacity building and relationship development for Indigenous governments and NWT participants in the mineral development sector. We brought five events to Vancouver, including two ESG-I talks, a question-and-answer session on the Mineral Resources Act, a Meet the Leaders event that introduced our Premier, Cabinet, and Indigenous government leaders to national counterparts, and of course, NWT Night. These events were well attended by influential industry stakeholders, government officials and, crucially, our Indigenous partners. Our contingent was also supported by the Member for Sahtu, and I am grateful for his presence and contributions at RoundUp this year.

Mr. Speaker, Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations also made a big splash at Roundup. Over a dozen Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations were represented. Congratulations are especially in order for the Tlicho government, who hosted their inaugural Tlicho Night. It was my personal pleasure to attend this successful event.

Mr. Speaker, Roundup was much more than simply an event. It is an opportunity to show how we are enhancing our investment landscape and to build upon the partnerships to get us there. By nurturing these connections at venues like Roundup, we hope to see all Northerners share in the prosperity our resource economy brings to our territory. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Minister of ITI. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member from Great Slave.

Kate Reid

Kate Reid Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I look around, and I see people in various states of overwhelm and depression. It reminds me of some of the toughest times our territory has been through when I was growing up in the early 90s but perhaps it seems even worse now that I'm grown and have adult responsibilities. It's also why I'm here. Running for office is born of my desire to help. The only thing I'm certain of doing in hard times is using my skill sets to help when and where I'm capable.

Mr. Speaker, this is an important note. Your capacity to help will look different in every day, hour, and moment. Mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual burnout is real in our territory and achingly present, and I want to acknowledge and respect that.

Mr. Speaker, over the coming weeks of this session, I want to speak of how we can build a stronger territory that provides many kinds of help to our neighbours to withstand hard times. One of the largest looming hard times is that of financial hard times, Mr. Speaker. We will do what we do best, support people as much as we can, but we also need a government that we can rely on to support us when times are tough to ensure nobody gets left behind.

Mr. Speaker, one part of a strong foundation that we can rely on could and should be a guaranteed basic income to remove the paternalistic reach of income assistance. As I mentioned in this House, the Senate of Canada is studying basic income and Alternatives North is preparing a draft implementation report for what it could look like in this territory. I'd like this Assembly to begin to look at it seriously and why it could be beneficial as compared to income assistance. I will have questions for the Minister of ECE at the appropriate time. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Member from Great Slave. Members' statements. Member from Frame Lake.

Julian Morse

Julian Morse Frame Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, yesterday I spoke to one of the underdeveloped sectors of our economy. There are several other underdeveloped sectors, which I will speak to in time, but today I want to focus on the significant economic activity we already have and how we can maximize benefits from it.

Mr. Speaker, for such a small territory, we have a huge amount of economic activity happening; so much so that we are often unable or unprepared to fully benefit from it. Our diamond mines rely on a significant number of employees from outside of the NWT to sustain their operations for example. I suggest that there is more we can do to incentivize northern hiring than we currently do. I shared frustration with a lot of Northerners when the mines moved their head offices out of the North, and the territorial government did not take substantive action to hold them accountable for moving more benefits out of the North. I think we should be looking into what measures we can put in place to incentivize all companies who operate in the North to ensure benefits stay here. We also need to ensure our royalty regime is robust and ensures benefits to Northerners from resource extraction are maximized, which is a statement unto itself.

Another sector which is poised to grow here in the near future, Mr. Speaker, is mine remediation. The Giant Mine project alone is projected to cost billions, and I believe we are not currently prepared to maximize the benefits to the North from this project. In order to fully benefit from the remediation, we are going to need to look at how procurement processes can help to create capacity and maximize northern benefit, and we need to be preparing our workforce. Ideally, our new polytechnic could develop a program which teaches mine development through the lens of remediation through a mine cycle technologist program. We are uniquely poised to be a leading jurisdiction for this kind of training with some of the biggest and best regulated remediation projects occurring in the country, if not the world.

I think we also need to take an eyes wide open approach to the upcoming closure of Diavik and actively work to ensure the economic and employment related impacts of this closure are minimized to the greatest extent possible. I have a number of lines of questioning for Ministers on these topics at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Member from Frame Lake. Members' statements. Member from Sahtu.

Daniel McNeely

Daniel McNeely Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, during my campaign and recent trip to the community of Colville Lake, previous Assembly capital plans approved the Colville Lake School. Mr. Speaker, some progress was accomplished. Site geotechnical assessment, two modular units constructed. We can view this progress as our government's precommitment to ensuring approved value education for our children.

Mr. Speaker, the Behdzi Ahda' First Nation is a progressive one. The progress shown by the community leaders are fastly approaching independence in concluding self-government negotiations. On the principles of relationships and partnership building, this prevents a unique opportunity for both this government and the Behdzi Ahda' community government on school construction, design, and lease back ownership while delivering education in a modernized facility. The concept of this government mortgage, community government mortgage is not particularly new to this government. Mr. Speaker, later I will have questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. Mahsi

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Member from the Sahtu. Members' statements. Member from Range Lake.

Kieron Testart

Kieron Testart Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, Kent Cooper, former executive director of the Associated Press, is often credited with coining the term "right to know." Stated as early as 1945 that the citizen is entitled to have access to news fully and accurately presented. There cannot be political freedom in one country, or in the world, without respect for the right to know. In the years since, the public's right to know has extended to public governments as well.

As noted here in the Northwest Territories, our Information and Privacy Commissioner Andrew Fox stated: Government has to facilitate the access to information and to protect the privacy interests of everyone, every one of us. But Commissioner Fox also notes that one of the key parts of having these Acts work is to ensure that people who are making it happen are sufficient in number and are trained to a level of competence. Without that, it doesn't work. And there's the rub, Mr. Speaker, is making the system work, and ours just isn't working it.

In the fiscal year 2021-2022, one third of access requests were late. Now that number is over half of all access requests. The government is also noted to be lacking in policies, resources, and training to adequately serve our Access to Information and Protection of Privacy regime. This is a chronic and pervasive deficit within the Government of the Northwest Territories, especially in the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services agency who Commissioner Fox notes is the worst example.

It is not only high staff turnover and lack of policies and resources that are creating this problem. It's also the sheer number of access requests that have increased it more than 20-fold in recent years. Also of note is the timelines for the access regime have been shortened in an effort to improve citizens' access and responsiveness to the regime. These were all well intentioned choices, but it's unfortunately burdened the system with timelines that are just too short. And recently, there was a high-profile case where someone had to wait more than 180 days/six months to get their access request granted after the IPC had made an order to do so.

So I will have questions for the Minister responsible for that department's access regime and the overall department's access regimes because we need to do better. Our citizens have a right to know. It's our job to make sure that right is realized. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Member from Range Lake. Members' statements. Member from Inuvik Boot Lake.

Denny Rodgers

Denny Rodgers Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the 19th Legislative Assembly committed to ensuring that government procurement maximizes benefits for the NWT residents and businesses. In order to fulfill this commitment, in December of 2020 the GNWT hired an independent panel to provide recommendations to strengthen GNWT procurement policies. This independent panel conducted public consultation, engaged with stakeholders, and reviewed years of contract data.

Mr. Speaker, on August 2023 the GNWT responded to this panel review report with a report on the review of GNWT procurement policies and practices. Mr. Speaker, in this report, it notes that the GNWT has been working with Indigenous governments on approaches to Indigenous procurement policy. The report also includes an implementation plan on several key topics, one of which is an approach to Indigenous procurement.

Mr. Speaker, the implementation plan for GNWT to address the Indigenous procurement policy includes the following actions: *

Work with the Council of Leaders and the modern treaties and self-government partners to explore ways to promote inclusion of NWT Indigenous business and individuals more effectively;

Develop an approach that recognizes the interest of parties and recognizes the implementation of modern treaty obligations;

Executive and Indigenous affairs lead a departmental working group to coordinate GNWT efforts in engagement with these bodies;

Engagement efforts ongoing since 2021, Mr. Speaker, include reviewing the panel's report on recommendations, confirmation of GNWT procurement principles, draft common procurement principles, jurisdictional scan, discussion and definition of Indigenous businesses for the purposes of GNWT policy, and introduction of potential policy mechanism.

While these actions are noted as in progress, Mr. Speaker, there is no timeline set for completion. I'll have questions for the Premier on the advancement of this policy. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Inuvik Boot Lake. Members' statements. Member from Yellowknife North.

Shauna Morgan

Shauna Morgan Yellowknife North

Mr. Speaker, today I'm following up with my statement from yesterday by delving deeper into opportunities for biomass district heating systems in the territory. So this is a good example of where the barrier to reducing emissions is not necessarily money. We can do more with existing resources by getting our policies and regulatory systems in order and better coordinating with partners.

While we often focus on community electricity projects, in fact heating our building with oil has a much greater overall impact on our emissions in the NWT than electricity does. And it's up to 10 times cheaper to switch our heating systems than our electricity systems.

Now, the GNWT has made good progress on switching over some of its own buildings to biomass in lots of communities and, notably here in Yellowknife, the jail, the Stanton Hospital has biomass boilers, and by the way the new boiler in the Legacy Stanton Building is saving $1,500 per day in heating costs.

Where we are stalling on progress is getting organized with district heating projects. So that's where one big boiler pipes heat to all the large buildings nearby. If we look at downtown Yellowknife, most of those big buildings still use heating oil, and there's not enough room to put a separate boiler beside each of those buildings. So recently there was a technical feasibility study completed for a downtown Yellowknife district biomass heating project, and that was done by Alternatives North in partnership with the city of Yellowknife and Arctic Energy Alliance. The study found that there is a business case for either a private company to build and run the system or even a stronger case for a nonprofit enterprise with access to federal grant funding to build and run the system, and there would be even estimated 20 percent return on investment. The barriers, though, are partly regulatory. So figuring out if this would count as a utility and, if so, how the Public Utilities Board would manage it, and also how to get all of the downtown business owners to the table and agree on how this could work. So the GNWT can help drive projects like this by committing to be an anchor customer.

Notably, the business case here doesn't make sense without the carbon tax, and this reiterates my point from yesterday that people say you can't charge the carbon tax because we don't have alternatives because the carbon tax --

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Member from Yellowknife North, your time is up.

---Unanimous consent granted

Shauna Morgan

Shauna Morgan Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So I was just saying that in this case, it's the carbon tax that makes the alternative feasible economically.

Now several years ago, the city of Yellowknife paid for a study to figure out if district heating system that would include city hall, JTFN, the museum, and potentially even this building, and it was determined to be feasible but then there were arguments about who should take the lead and so the idea sat on the shelf. So in conclusion, biomass district heating is a low hanging fruit that can reduce emissions cost effectively but it's time to get organized and get on with it. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Member from Yellowknife North. Members' statements. Member from Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Richard Edjericon

Richard Edjericon Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On June 5th, 2023, the hamlet of Fort Resolution had its elected council dissolve and replaced by an administrator appointed by municipal and community affairs. The department's now responsible for the hamlet's governance with senior authorizing official making all their decisions on the day-to-day operation.

The people of Fort Resolution see this intervention as an example of modern-day colonial type of attitude. They feel punished. The GNWT is accusing them of mismanagement but how could they have managed their community effectively when they never had adequate support they needed? Now the GNWT's officially responsible for our Fort Resolution government. They can't ignore the serious lack of services the community struggles with.

One of the most urgent services they lack is a fire department. Long before Fort Resolution council was dissolved, it became clear that the fire department was in jeopardy. The situation was left to spiral out of control until the fire department was hit with a mass resignation. Today, they only have the bare minimum protection for fire and all they can manage is a preventative approach. A preventative approach is a polite way of saying the community of Fort Resolution is unable to respond to a serious fire. Their community is totally unprotected from that threat.

In the previous Assembly, I asked the Minister to try to restart the fire department and put in place a fire plan to protect the community. To my disappointment, those efforts were not made. There is still no volunteer fire department or a fire plan for the 2024 fire season is quickly approaching. We know that the fire happens too often in our communities. We all want to prevent damage to our property and most importantly prevent injury or loss of life due to fires. My people need a fire plan and fire department as soon as possible so they can easily know that they will be assisted if the fire breaks out in their community or businesses. I have questions for the appropriate Minister at the appropriate time. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

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

Jane Weyallon Armstrong

Jane Weyallon Armstrong Monfwi

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, [Translation] so at this time I'd like to talk about housing. There are not that many houses throughout our community so at this time I would like to ask to talk about housing. [Translation ends]

Mr. Speaker, we know that Indigenous people in Canada are 11 times more likely to be homeless than non-Indigenous people. We know the majority of homeless people on the streets in Yellowknife are from Behchoko.

Mr. Speaker, the Tlicho region has over 200 people on the waitlist. We know that the Tlicho region, 18.37 percent of homes are overcrowded with six or more people. This is the highest in the territory. The Tlicho also has the highest number of homes in core needs in the territory. More than one out of every three homes in the Tlicho region are either not adequate, affordable, or suitable for residents. Mr. Speaker, this 37 percent of homes in Tlicho region are in core need. This is three times the national average.

Mr. Speaker, for Indigenous people living in the Tlicho region, housing is a nightmare. I do not see Housing NWT doing enough to increase housing stock and to implement repairs. The Tlicho are the most in need so what is being done to prioritize action in my riding?

Mr. Speaker, based on the capital estimates, over the last five years from 2019 to 2020, 2023 and 2024, Housing NWT have planned to build nine new homes and complete major renovations of 51 units between Whati, Gameti, and Behchoko, and also to build a new LHO in Behchoko, which was completed and it is in operation.

Mr. Speaker, this is not enough to address the housing crisis in Tlicho region, and I do not -- and I have not seen any new units in the communities. Also, I have not seen any renovations on 51 housing units in Tlicho region over the last five years.

Housing NWT has received millions of dollars from federal agencies to support Housing NWT. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of housing at the appropriate time. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Member from Monfwi. Members' statements. Member from Mackenzie Delta.