Legislative Assembly photo

Roles

Elsewhere

Last in the Legislative Assembly September 2007, as MLA for Frame Lake

Won his last election, in 2003, with 63% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Question 176-15(6): GNWT Human Resources Information System August 22nd, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I had said in a response earlier in this House to Mrs. Groenewegen, that there are some outstanding invoices with Answerthink and I have provided direction to the

department that they not be paid until we are satisfied that we have a working system. So I can't tell you what specific invoices they are, but I do know that there is a substantial amount and we will wait and see what happens over the next few weeks in terms of getting the system up and running. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 176-15(6): GNWT Human Resources Information System August 22nd, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In our opinion, the contract is not terminated until the product has been delivered. So I'm not sure where the Member is getting his information that the contract was terminated, because we have a contract for a product to be delivered. Until it's delivered in a working fashion, the contract is not complete. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 176-15(6): GNWT Human Resources Information System August 22nd, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'm not sure that it would be appropriate or correct to say that the contract was terminated. We have a contract with Answerthink for them to deliver a product and, as I've said previously in this House, we're not satisfied yet that the product has been delivered in the state which we were told it would be delivered. So at this point, we're not convinced that the contract has been completed, Mr. Speaker. We are expecting a team from Answerthink to be here next week, six people apparently, to work at resolving issues. Mr. Speaker, we think it would have been more appropriate had they come back on July 4th. Thank you.

Question 173-15(6): Social Housing Rent Assessments August 22nd, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It's hard to talk about a specific case without having all of the details. I will certainly commit to sit down with the Member this afternoon if possible to get the details and ensure that we have both the income support worker and, if necessary, the local housing authority work together to assess the situation this person might be in and see whether or not they're getting all of the benefits that they were entitled to from this government. Thank you.

Question 173-15(6): Social Housing Rent Assessments August 22nd, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As rents are changed by local housing authorities, that should have no significant impact on the amount of money that it costs a family to live in that house if they are in financial need, because the amount of subsidy that is provided through the Income Support Program or through the public housing rental subsidy will change according to the family's assessment. So as rents change, the subsidies might change as well so that there's an offset. We would hope that that would allow the sort of phase-in that the Member is talking about.

Minister's Statement 36-15(6): Helping Northerners To Achieve Self-reliance Through Income Security August 22nd, 2007

Good choice, Mr. Speaker. Thank you. Mr. Speaker, self-reliance is one of the core values of northerners and this government. It is an essential part of the vision of this Assembly. Northern people should have the tools and resources they need to function independently and to exercise self-determination.

In the summer of 2004, this government started planning for the redesign of income security programming in the Northwest Territories. Government staff undertook a review of all income security programs. They discovered that there are 17 programs in the government as a whole being delivered by seven different departments. Approximately $120 million is spent each year on these programs, with roughly half that amount being administered by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment through seven programs. Some provide "hidden" support, like the NWT power subsidy, while others, like the Income Assistance Program, are delivered directly to clients.

This review resulted in a policy framework that was approved in September 2005. Following that, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment was directed to develop an implementation plan outlining how the redesign of the GNWT income security programs would be carried out and how other departments would be involved.

The development of a comprehensive Income Security Program model based on the approved policy framework was also required.

It was important to understand what northerners wanted in an income security system. We gained this understanding through a consultation process. This consultation, and in fact the entire review of income security, was greatly aided by the support and advice of many people from non-government agencies, in particular:

  • • Lyda Fuller, executive director, YWCA
  • • Jane Whyte, executive director, YACL
  • • Barb Hood, executive director, NWT Seniors' Society
  • • Cecily Hewitt, executive director, NWT Council of Persons with Disabilities
  • • Arlene Hache, executive director, Centre for Northern Families
  • • several representatives from the Salvation Army; and
  • • Aggie Brockman, Alternatives North.

As well, regional meetings were held to hear advice from individuals and organizations including:

  • • the Hay River Seniors' Society
  • • Aurora College
  • • Fort Smith Uncle Gabe's Friendship Centre
  • • Fort Smith Seniors' Society
  • • the Inuvik Interagency Committee
  • • the Inuvik Homeless Shelter
  • • health and social services boards
  • • the Tlicho Community Services Agency
  • • the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce
  • • representatives of aboriginal and municipal governments.

I would like to thank all of the people who were involved in this and who continue to work with us to improve our social programs.

Based on what we learned through research and discussions with northerners, we developed an income security model to serve as a framework for supporting people in need. This new model was released this month.

The new model abandons the notion that income security programs are programs of last resort. It creates a program specific to the needs of seniors, persons with disabilities, families and single people. It emphasizes the importance of government departments and other agencies working together to meet the unique needs of individuals and families. It provides an adequate level of support for those with zero income and reduces this support by a percentage of income. Finally, this model will ensure access to all programs in all communities.

This model is not an across-the-board linear increase in benefits for northerners. It is intended to ensure that northerners are treated more equally and those who are

able are always rewarded for working towards self-reliance.

Benefit levels have been established using evidence linked to formulas that account for the cost of living through the Northwest Territories. The definition of income has changed to ensure that people are treated equally across the territory.

Government service centres will be established in all northern communities over the next two years. These service centres will provide a point of access for all income security programs and services.

Changes based on the new income security model have already been developed for Education, Culture and Employer's income assistance programs, and will go into effect in September 2007. We have set the stage for further changes to income security programs in the future with priority being given to the public housing rental subsidy.

In addition to the changes surrounding income assistance, I am pleased to announce that a new subsidy has been made available for low income parents through the Student Financial Assistance program. They will now be able to apply for a childcare user subsidy to help fund the cost of childcare while they attend class.

For the changes in our philosophy related to income security to be successful, they need to be viewed an essential part of a larger package. It is important that we use a coordinated approach to provide consistent support to help people move towards self-reliance.

This new approach should, over time, help us reduce poverty in the NWT, and lead to more self-sufficient individuals and families throughout the NWT.

---Applause

Mr. Dent's Reply August 21st, 2007

I appreciate that she stuck by that decision. But her jewellery store, the business she started, had to be sold after 18 years of being her baby. Our son, Tyler, has also paid a price for my public service. I have missed a lot of his activities over the years and haven't been there on many occasions when he needed me.

So, Mr. Speaker, I owe a deep debt of gratitude not only to my constituents and colleagues here, but to my family who have supported me to do this job. That's a debt that I could never adequately repay, but it's time that I started trying. So after waiting 27 years, Eileen has told me that it would be a good start for me to finish the basement and that's where I will start.

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure after the basement what the future holds for me, but I expect there will always be some element of public service involved. In spite of my white hair, I still feel that I am young enough to enjoy another career or two and Yellowknife is home. With all the opportunities that we have in the North, whatever I get involved in, I am sure we will be in the North and, undoubtedly, Mr. Speaker, it will be something interesting. Thank you.

---Applause

Mr. Dent's Reply August 21st, 2007

As I said, Mr. Speaker, I think it's because we are used to it that so many of us forget it. But when I talk to Members of provincial legislative assemblies, they are astounded to hear about the power of Regular Members. When I tell elected officials from other jurisdictions that when I was Regular Member I worked with other Members to get the government to make significant changes to budgets, like adding $1 million to a program that all Regular Members agreed should be a priority, they're incredulous. In a party system, that could never happen. Members would not be able to vote according to whether a proposal or legislation was good for their constituency; all votes would be controlled by party discipline. I still don't think we need that in our small jurisdiction. We need to be able to work together in the interest of our constituents.

Some have called for open committee meetings, and I agree that government should do as much as possible in public, but there has to be some balance, of course. Budget issues will always have to be considered behind closed doors or it would be impossible for the government to disclose all the information.

So, Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt that our consensus system will continue to evolve over time. Subsequent governments will make decisions about what it should look like. Right now, the system we have isn't perfect, but in my opinion it's better than the alternatives I see across Canada.

Mr. Speaker, being a Member of this Assembly has been a great experience. Over the years, I have chaired and participated in many committees. I am proud of the achievements. There has been a tremendous amount of legislation that has been passed over the last 16 years, way too much to mention, but our human rights legislation is a very good model for the rest of Canada and I am proud of the role I played as a member of committee sitting on the other side and seeing that come forward.

The same can be said for the Protection Against Family Violence Act. Those two acts speak to what this Legislative Assembly and past Legislative Assemblies have seen as important in protecting the rights of individuals and those who may not have access to protection in other ways.

I have also been very pleased, Mr. Speaker, to be on Cabinet for two terms. Over the years, I have had a lot of different responsibilities. I am especially proud of the time I have had as Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. What I found really interesting in reading a study not long ago, Mr. Speaker, is that in Canada the average span of time that a person spends on Cabinet as

an active Member in Canada is about four and a half years. So typically, a Cabinet Minister doesn't have a long tenure, doesn't have a long life as a Member of government. However, I have been really lucky in that I got to spend four years in the mid-90s as Minister of Education and then come back in this term as Minister of Education. So some of the changes that were instituted early on in the '90s, we are getting to see the results for now.

One of the most critical decisions that have been made by government over the years was to proceed with grade extensions. It was a controversial decision when it was proposed in the early '90s. There were significant arguments about whether or not they actually provide a good level of education in the smallest communities. But we are seeing now, Mr. Speaker, that it does work. We are seeing the grad rates have increased over the last 12 to 15 years to the same levels that what took between 30 and 50 years in other areas of Canada. We still have a long ways to go, but, Mr. Speaker, we have demonstrated that we are on the right track. We have seen tremendous growth in participation.

I am also really pleased that we have been able to achieve significant changes to the Income Support Program. Again, this is a program that provides assistance to those who are most in need in our society and helps to demonstrate the compassion this government has for those who are dealing with poverty issues.

Mr. Speaker over the years, I haven't always been able to resolve issues for constituents, but on many occasions a quick phone call has resolved things while a few have taken longer. I have to say that my biggest regret in deciding not to run again revolved around two outstanding issues that have not been resolved: the transfer of the Con lands to the city and resolution of the infrastructure problems in Northland.

Mr. Speaker, I know that the Minister of MACA is interested in resolving the Con and Rycon situation. I know that residents there want ownership of their lots and I hope we will see the transfer process started before the election, but I know it's going to take longer than four weeks to get done so it will not happen during the life of this government.

Mr. Speaker, I have also been very pleased by the recent actions of the City of Yellowknife to help the residents of Northland to develop a plan to resolve their water and sewer problems. I can only hope that the next MLA to represent Frame Lake will be able to see a joint response between this government, the city and residents to resolve that issue.

Mr. Speaker, in 16 years in this position, I owe a lot of people thanks. I have been here for so long I couldn't possibly list them all by name or I would be getting close to that three hour and 20 minute record. Obviously, in a system like ours, you don't do the work here alone. I have counted on the assistance and help of colleagues. It has been a tremendous experience over the years working on different committees with Regular Members, who worked, as I have, for two terms with Cabinet. I have really enjoyed the last four years working with this Cabinet and wish all of the Members well in their future for those who are seeking re-election and those who are like me and are moving onto other challenges.

I have also enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from the staff in this Assembly. Going back 16 years, there has been almost complete turnover in staff. I have seen almost every position filled by different faces, but the competency and the level of support either by the Clerk's offices, research and library staff, administrative staff, they have all provided tremendous support to me and to others over the years and I thank them for that.

In the eight years I have been Minister I have also found that the public service is incredibly dedicated. I know it's too often too easy for the public to take shots at the public service, but I know how many of my staff show up for work at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning often seven days a week. I have been proud to have the people support me in the departments who have put in those extra hours and make sure things are done when they should be. Whether it's clerical staff, directors, ADMs, DMs, I have been impressed by the work ethic we have by the public service. I would say that our public service in the North is second to none.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to take a moment to say a special thanks to those who have worked in my office while I was Minister. My executive assistants, especially over the last four years; Katherine Robinson and Alison Welch; the executive secretaries, Kathy Wind and Heather Bibby. Over the 16 years I have had more constituency assistants than I could mention, but Pearl Benyk has been the one who has been most recent and has lasted the longest. I thank her for the work that she's done in helping me keep my constituents informed about the work that we do here.

Mr. Speaker, to be effective in this job, you need not only the support from your colleagues, constituents and staff, but even more you need support from your family. Mr. Speaker, it's probably no secret to people who know Eileen, but my wife has never really been a fan of me being a politician.

---Laughter

Pretty well every election, she has said that she prefer that I not run. But once the race was on and the papers were filed, she was always a formidable part of the campaign team. I appreciate that.

Not only has she helped during campaigns, once elected, Eileen has always supported my political activities. She even had to take over running my business. That meant she had to run her jewellery store as well as operate a staff intensive 24/7 operation like a radio station. Then, after she started running two businesses, we had a son. So now she had three jobs and all of them full time. While, as she occasionally pointed out, just occasionally, I only had one job.

---Laughter

And this one job meant that I travelled a lot. So I wasn't there when Tyler was sick and she still had the two businesses to run. It eventually got to the point where Eileen decided something had to go. Thankfully, it wasn't me.

---Laughter

---Applause

Mr. Dent's Reply August 21st, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. For four consecutive elections and nearly 16 years I've been honoured to be selected by the constituents of Frame Lake to represent them in this Legislative Assembly. To this day, I am awed to have had that level of trust. Mr. Speaker, I want to make it very clear that even though I've got 16 years under my belt, I have no intention of trying to win the record for the amount of time on replies to opening address.

---Applause

I don't like to be called the oldest Member of the Assembly, because by age that's not necessarily true. I prefer the term "Dean of the Assembly," and I hope I can demonstrate some of the...(inaudible)...of that position.

Mr. Speaker, this system of government that we have is unique. It is significantly different than what most Canadians, in fact what most democratic societies, are used to. There are some who don't think it works well; but it works as it should. Over the 16 years that I've been here, I've seen quite a few changes, so I know that it is evolving.

Mr. Speaker, while I'm moving on and it will be up to subsequent assemblies to determine what consensus government looks like, I would like to take this time to reflect a bit on the operation of consensus government.

When I first got elected, I thought that we should move to incorporate some of the trappings of party politics to improve accountability. After just a while in the Assembly, I came to realize that there is some significant advantage to the system that we call consensus. In no other government with ministerial responsibility to a House, do non-government Members have so much power; so much information about how and when government decisions are being made. And that's an important point and I think it's one that many people, probably because they're used to our system, forget.

I had been active in party politics in the South before moving to the Territories. In fact, I was very active in my university for years so I understood how the federal and provincial governments worked. After getting elected here, I was astounded at how much information Regular Members were given. Nowhere else in Canada do Regular Members get to see a budget before it was presented to a House, and have the opportunity to press the Minister of Finance to make changes before it was introduced. Nowhere else did Regular Members have the opportunities to propose changes to legislation while it was under consideration, like we do here. In no other jurisdiction can Members support the government on one issue and the next day oppose the government on another. This is still true today. Other than Nunavut, there is no jurisdiction in Canada that comes close to giving non-government Members the power and independence and how they represent their constituents than they have in our system of government.

Committee Motion 12-15(6): Amend Schedule To Bill 18 Regarding Additional Funding For Gameti School, Carried August 20th, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I move that the schedule to Bill 18 be amended to:

a) increase by $3.050 million the supplementary appropriation amount set out in part 2, item 16, Education, Culture and Employment, by striking out $2.675 million in the column entitled appropriation by item and substituting $5.725 million;

b) increase by $3.050 million the amount set out in part 2 as the total supplementary appropriation for capital investment expenditures by striking out $3.615 million and substituting $6.665 million; and

c) increase by $3.050 million the amount set out at the end of the schedule as total supplementary appropriation by striking out $9.619 million and substituting $12.669 million.