Last in the Legislative Assembly December 1999, as MLA for North Slave

Lost his last election, in 1999, with 7% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committee Report 2-13(7) Report On Bill 15: An Act To Amend The Legislative Assembly And Executive Council Act July 27th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Electoral Boundaries Commission. The creation of Nunavut on April 1, 1999 had a significant impact on the population balance among the electoral districts remaining in the western Northwest Territories. Since early in the life of the 13th Legislative Assembly, Members of the then Western Caucus had been considering the appropriate number and distribution of seats for the new western territory. On October 18, 1996, the Legislative Assembly enacted the Electoral Boundaries Commissions Act, which permitted the establishment of an Electoral Boundaries Commission for Nunavut and one for the new Northwest Territories, if the Assembly so chose.

In January, 1998, Western Caucus indicated that the majority of western MLAs agreed with members of the Aboriginal Summit that the 14th Legislative Assembly general election should be based on the existing 14 western seats, given that negotiations for the development of a new constitutional structure for the new NWT had not been finalized.

However, MLAs also recognized that the 14 electoral boundaries remaining in the west after the creation of Nunavut could be subject to challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because of the uneven distribution of population among the ridings. In light of this, the Legislative Assembly decided to form a NWT Electoral Boundaries Commission. The Commission was established on June 1, 1998.

The NWT Electoral Boundaries Commission was composed of NWT Supreme Court Justice Virginia Schuler as chair, Ms. Lucy Kuptana of Tutktoyaktuk and Mr. Nick Sibbeston of Fort Simpson. The commission conducted a review of the western electoral boundaries through a community consultation process in August and September of 1998.

Under the Electoral Boundaries Commissions Act, the commission's task was to review the area, boundaries, name and representation of the existing electoral districts and make recommendations for new electoral districts. Section 11 of the Act required the commission to take into consideration factors including:

I.geographic and demographic considerations, including the sparsity, density or rate of growth of the population of any part of the Territory and the accessibility, size or shape of any part of the Territory;

As well, the Legislative Assembly directed the commission to strive to maintain a balance between urban and rural populations, and to take into consideration the cultural and linguistic interests of the Territories and the present land claim boundaries.

On October 23, 1998, the commission submitted its report to the Legislature. The commission recommended that two seats be added in Yellowknife, bringing the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly to 16. The commission explained that it was recommending minimal changes at this time. The Legislative Assembly is still undergoing change, the political landscape of the western Territory is changing, and the commission felt that the uncertainty was a good reason to be cautious.

The commission noted, at page 12: We feel that if significant changes are to be considered, they should wait until the current processes have resulted in a constitutional framework and structure of government which can be expected to last for some time. We recognize and indeed we recommend that a further boundaries commission should be established when that government is in place. That commission will be able to assess the situation as it exists at that time B a more realistic and useful exercise than trying to anticipate now what that situation will be.

The commission's report was debated in the Legislative Assembly. A motion based on the recommendation for two additional seats for Yellowknife was defeated, as was a subsequent motion for one additional seat for Yellowknife. As a result, the composition of the Legislative Assembly remained at 14 seats.

NWT Supreme Court Decision. On November 25, 1998, a group of Yellowknife residents called "The Friends of Democracy" filed a notice of motion in the NWT Supreme Court. The group sought an order declaring the provisions of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act that establish the 14 seats in the Northwest Territories to be unconstitutional and of no force and effect, because they violate the protection of the right to vote under section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Government of the NWT opposed the action and argued that the existing boundaries were valid. This position was supported by five aboriginal organizations who collectively were granted full intervenor status: the Metis Nation-NWT, the Dene Nation, the North Slave Metis Alliance, the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and the Lutselk'e Dene Band. These organizations are members of the NWT Aboriginal Summit, a forum of aboriginal governments and organizations which have been actively involved in discussions with MLAs and the GNWT toward the constitutional development of both public and aboriginal government structures in the NWT. The Aboriginal Summit had participated with the Western Caucus in the Constitutional Working Group, tasked with developing proposals for a new constitution and structure of government for the new NWT.

Both the GNWT and the intervenors argued that nothing should be done to affect the status quo in the distribution of seats at this critical stage in NWT constitutional development. The intervenors submitted that the current number of seats should not be changed until aboriginal land claims and self-government negotiations with the governments of Canada and of the Northwest Territories are resolved. They urged that section 3 of the Charter must be read together with, and subject to, section 25 of the Charter and section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which recognize aboriginal and treaty rights, and the process rights implicit in those sections.

On March 5, 1999, Mr. Justice de Weerdt held that the boundaries of three ridings violate the right to vote guaranteed by the Charter: The ridings of Hay River, Yellowknife North and Yellowknife South. The population of these ridings are each more than 25 percent higher than the average population of all of the ridings. The court declared that the parts of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act that establish these ridings are invalid, "being wholly inconsistent with" section 3 of the Charter.

Mr. Justice de Weerdt rejected the arguments put forward by the intervenors that the status quo should be maintained until self-government and land claim agreements are concluded. He said that the right to vote is a right of citizenship that should not depend upon the leave of a government or be withheld during government negotiations. He did not accept that in these circumstances, section 3 of the Charter is qualified by section 25 of the Charter or by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Mr. Justice de Weerdt essentially accepted the rule established in other cases that an electoral district's population should not be more than 25 percent above the average district population. However, he did not rule invalid those ridings whose populations were more than 25 percent less than the average. He noted that the application was directed at remedying the under- representation of voters in Yellowknife, rather than reducing overrepresentation in less populated ridings. He was satisfied that the overrepresentation in ridings which have populations below the average is probably justified, considering the factors of geography, community history and interests, language differences, difficulties in communication with remote communities and minority representation and the difficulties and expense of travel.

Mr. Justice de Weerdt suspended his declaration, giving the Legislative Assembly until April 1, 1999, to replace or amend the invalid provisions to comply with section 3 of the Charter.

The Government of the Northwest Territories, with the concurrence of the Friends of Democracy and the intervenors, requested an extension of the time frame to allow it to implement an acceptable solution prior to the next general election. Justice de Weerdt varied his order to give the Legislative Assembly until September 1, 1999, to amend or replace the legislation.

Bill 15. The Government of the NWT, as the unsuccessful party to the court challenge, had the right to appeal the Supreme Court decision to the NWT Court of Appeal. The intervenors did not have an automatic right, but required leave of the court to appeal.

The Aboriginal Summit, among others, urged the GNWT to appeal, and argued that it had in fact a fiduciary duty to do so in order to protect the rights and interests of aboriginal people. The summit pointed out that the issues involved included the integrity of constitutional negotiations with aboriginal governments in the context of treaty, land, resources and governance negotiations. As well, it involved the appropriate role of the courts in ensuring that nothing be allowed to transpire that would frustrate the ability of the Crown to honour its commitments towards aboriginal people. The Aboriginal Summit said that for the government to fail to appeal would be to break faith with Northwest Territories aboriginal people, and to abdicate its responsibility to ensure that constitutional development of the NWT goes forward in compliance with the constitution read as a whole.

Members of the Legislative Assembly and the Aboriginal Summit recognized that time was running out in the life of the 13th Assembly, and that this limited the opportunity to develop creative solutions in full consultation with northern people. However, the government did have the option of requesting the federal government to amend the Northwest Territories Act to allow for a one year extension of the Assembly. The Government could then have requested a longer extension of the deadline imposed upon it by the NWT Supreme Court.

The government was urged to request an extension of the term of the Legislative Assembly by several Members and by the Aboriginal Summit. This would have demonstrated leadership, and would have allowed northern people to participate in the development of a political solution to the constitutional questions raised by the NWT Supreme Court decision. In the committee's view, it would have been a much more productive use of time and resources than other recent costly initiatives, such as the Economic Strategy Panel.

Despite the direction of the Legislative Assembly, the GNWT chose not to appeal the Supreme Court decision nor to request an extension of the term of the 13th Legislative Assembly.

The government indicated that its legal advice was that there were no grounds to appeal the decision. However, the government did commit to support the intervenors' application for leave to appeal, if the intervenors chose to proceed, and to assist with the legal costs. The Premier also informed the House, on March 26, 1999, that the legal advice received by the government was that the intervenors would have a good chance of being granted leave to appeal.

The same offer of support and financial assistance with respect to an appeal was also made to the Friends of Democracy.

The Government then introduced Bill 15, An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, on March 23, 1999. Bill 15 proposes to amend the legal descriptions of the electoral boundaries that are appended as a schedule to the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, to create five additional ridings. Three of these would be in Yellowknife, one in Hay River and one in Inuvik. The bill also revises the electoral district of Deh Cho to include the community of Enterprise, as requested by that community.

As well, Bill 15 proposes to eliminate the ten electoral districts that are now part of Nunavut and make minor amendments to other riding descriptions to change the wording "Nunavut Settlement Area Boundary" to "Nunavut - Northwest Territories Boundary" to reflect Nunavut's now official status as a territory of Canada. If passed, the amendments made by Bill 15 will come into force when the 13th Assembly dissolves in the fall of 1999.

NWT Court of Appeal Decision. On May 5, 1999, the intervenors in the NWT Supreme Court case filed an application for leave to appeal and a notice of appeal of Justice de Weerdt's decision. All parties supported the intervenors' right to appeal.

The NWT Court of Appeal heard the matter on June 16, 1999, and denied the application for leave to appeal. The panel judges indicated that they had read all of the appeal material and that the intervenors had not established that they had any right that was violated by the NWT Supreme Court decision. If bona fide negotiations with respect to self-government and/or treaty negotiations do not continue, and section 25 or 35 rights are infringed, remedies will be available through the judicial process at that time. The Court of Appeal also found that the intervenors did not have a reasonably arguable appeal.

Mr. Speaker, I will have my colleague, Mr. Krutko, read the remaining report. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 184-13(7): Recruitment And Retention Of Health Professionals July 27th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, Mr. Speaker, I rise to talk about very real and dangerous issues that all areas of the NWT is feeling the effects of. This is, of course, the problem we have recruiting and retaining health professionals. This does not mean just nurses, it means all health professionals.

This problem exists in all areas of the Territories and it does not seem to be getting any better. Currently many health boards are experiencing staff shortages and as a result are forced to cut back services to its residents, close centres for anything other than emergencies. These types of measures are only affecting our residents and this situation will continue to worsen before it gets any better.

Solutions must be found to ensure we attract quality staff that will stay for a long term, or increase our northern training programs so that more northern residents can see this field as an excellent career choice. This is a very serious issue and we as MLAs must work with the health boards and the Minister to find a solution. All health boards are saying more resources are needed to adequately provide the services that our residents require. The boards cannot continue to receive less and try to do more. This is very crucial and it could have very serious consequences. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Member's Statement 176-13(7): Impact Of Electoral Boundaries Legislation July 26th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker, and welcome back, colleagues. I hope that everyone had some time to rest and enjoy the summer holidays. Mr. Speaker, we are now only a few short months away from ending our term as the 13th Legislative Assembly. Although we have dealt with many issues over the last four years, I wonder what our residents will remember this government as.

Will they remember the struggle we had encountered over balancing the budget or making the dream of Nunavut a reality? The thing our residents will remember this government, as a government that took away the voice of the rural communities and gave it to the urban of our territory. When Bill 15 is read and passed, it will change the political structure of this House forever. We cannot forget the smaller communities. They have just as much right to voice their concerns and raise issues of those of the person in any of the larger centres. Yet we have failed to compromise in these issues and the entire North will suffer as a result. We cannot forget the roots of this territory and where most of us come from. The smaller communities are the cultural centres for the territories and yet do not have a strong enough voice to do anything about it.

I have continued to stress the need for an additional seat for the North Slave area, specifically Rae-Edzo. My region still feels that there is a need to have more representation from the smaller communities and this would at least give us more voice. How can the larger centres expect to know and feel what it is like living and working in the smaller communities when very few of the residents ever travel outside of the municipal boundaries of their communities. Through all these talks and deliberation that has gone, I feel this is a black day in the history of our territory. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Question 212-13(7): Hearing On Highway #3 May 13th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My question would be to the Honourable Mr. Steen, the Minister of Transportation, regarding my Member's statement of some time ago. I mentioned the desperate need for Highway 2 to be repaired and maintained between Rae and Yellowknife reconstruction sites. There are some rough sections and then there are some breaks and heaves, and so on, and I was wondering if the Minister would be able to respond to the important question to see whether we could have some of the staff and equipment to look into it as soon as possible? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 170-13(7): Leaders Meeting To Discuss Highway 3 Reconstruction May 13th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, my colleague, Mr. Ootes, informed this House the other day regarding the very positive and worthwhile meeting that was held on April 30th, 1999. As you may recall from Mr. Ootes' Member's statement, this meeting was co-hosted by the mayor of Rae-Edzo and the mayor of Yellowknife. Other delegates included my colleagues from Yellowknife, myself, the Grand Chief of Treaty 11, the chiefs of Gameti, Wekweti, Dettah and N'dilo as well as council members from the city of Yellowknife, hamlet of Rae-Edzo and the Rae Band members were present. This, I feel, was a very successful meeting where, for the first time ever, such a group was gathered to seek ways to provide our residents a solution for Highway 3 reconstruction, as one united body. As a result, I think with our combined lobbying efforts we will be able to achieve this goal.

However we, as a whole government, cannot forget to continue on this project. We must progress. It is important for the safety of our residents and the economy in general to see the reconstruction of this road continue as planned. Over the years, too many lives have unnecessarily been lost on this road, not to find an innovative and progressive solution. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Member's Statement 163-13(7): Super Soccer Tournament May 12th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. A little over a week ago Yellowknife was host to the annual major soccer event of the year, Super Soccer. As has been the case over the past few years, many teams from across both our NWT and Nunavut were in attendance. From the people I have talked to, the event was a success and everyone had a very good time. Normally the teams from Rae-Edzo are the ones to beat and as always this was the case again this year. However, we did not have the full contingent we usually have, but the teams that did go did very well and were able to take the championship for the 14 and under boys' category. They played very hard and the community is very proud of the boys as well as all the other teams that represented Rae-Edzo. I would like to congratulate the teams from Rae-Edzo for the fine job they did as well as congratulate the organizers for the excellent work they did again this year. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Item 19: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters May 11th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I guess just some other general comments that I have been concerned about and I guess have been brought to my attention, some have had great response from the Minister and I appreciate that. Some information will be passed on to the mayor and to the education board at the community level to know what is happening with their budgets. Like I said earlier on, the budget seems to be kind of hopeless at the community level because what I gathered from this morning's interview on the young lady at the city of Yellowknife that regarding the education system that the community people are going through here and at the community level, this is where I felt that people may have some more concern about and then the bigger centres like Yellowknife having some difficulty, I guess what the regional communities look like and then especially smaller communities, for example Wha Ti and Snare Lakes. That is the reason why I brought this whole issue to the Minister's attention so that I would like to thank the Minister to give an appropriate response. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Item 19: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters May 11th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Relating to my Member's statement I made yesterday regarding the education budget, I guess again we sit here today discussing the education budget and how we can improve our childrens' education and at the same time stay within the very tight budget that we see ourselves in. Yesterday we heard from colleagues all stressing the need for the government to listen to the residents of the Northwest Territories, as small as our words here in the committee of the whole. This is one of the few times that we have had so much interest in one topic and that alone shows how important the concern is. During discussion yesterday, we saw a very dismal sight. What can we do to ensure our residents receive the highest possible education? We see the highest percentage rates of many troubling items, we have the highest pupil/teacher ratio in Canada, the highest literacy problems in Canada and the list goes on. We must find solutions and we must find them soon.

This morning on the radio I heard on an interview from a younger mother, her topics, of course, was the poor education levels she is witnessing within the capital. She went on to say that if our education system did not improve, her family would have to leave Yellowknife and move south in order for her children to get the education they deserve. This is what is happening here in our capital. Where are we when we are told that we have been the best system in place in the Northwest Territories, what is to be said in the smaller communities and regions. Recently I was told that there would be no more adult education offered in Rae-Edzo and this is a real blow to our residents. Where are our older residents supposed to get education? Currently we have many residents waiting to increase education levels. Some have decided to go back to school and are attending Chief Jimmy Bruneau School, possibly sitting next to their own children or grandchildren. This is not the way of offering our adult education within the communities.

In my community, we have a fairly new building designed for adult education and with everything else, is under utilized because of lack of funds, to hire staff. It is a shame to see this. Although my community is the largest Dene community in the Northwest Territories, we are not the only ones to have this and many other problems dealing with education. I believe this gives us just one more reason why we must continue to lobby for more funds in this area. If we, the largest community, feel the effects of under-funding for education, what do the smaller communities feel? Is their education system in such bad shape that it is almost hopeless? I certainly hope this is not true. I stress again, that we need to increase the education budget, but more importantly, we must also look at levels of education in the North to ensure that we are not just throwing more hard-earned money into a system that needs to be totally rebuilt from the ground up. The children are our future, we cannot gamble their lives like we are currently doing.

These are my general comments relating to my Member's statement yesterday. Some of the items at the community levels are really an essential need for improving their funding and more needed at a community level like Mrs. Groenewegen said. I guess I can believe her too, because we all speak for the residents of the Northwest Territories is to make sure we have more funding. I certainly have touched on the great concern the community had about the possibility of having some insertion or a reinstatement of the funding towards the adult education programs. I believe we will be having some older people have a better education system, a system by now relating to them, because when I mentioned about some of the older students who are going back to school and are sitting next to their children or classmates in the past. That is not a way to treat our adult education. I guess we pretty well have to have a good facility back in our communities and we hope that we can utilize them better and have the adult education system re-instituted in a community level. These are some of the areas that I am concerned about. I was wondering if the Minster would be able to give us some comments on the topic of adult education at the community level. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Member's Statement 158-13(7): Safety Concerns During Reconstruction Of Highway 3 May 11th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, Mr. Speaker, as spring has now brought new opportunities, we also see ourselves driving a highway that is badly in need of repair. Every year we go through this and I hope this year the Department of Transportation will act in a prudent manner and get the equipment out to repair the last 75 kilometres of gravel highway left on Highway 3. As both ends of this section of road between Rae and Yellowknife are now under construction, this leaves only approximately 75 kilometres of Highway 3 for the department to repair and maintain. I hope the department will work extra hard to ensure the safety and standard of this road is maintained to the premium it should be in.

This is the time of year when many people travel and with this road in its present condition, it is not only very dangerous to travellers, but also to the many people that hunt and walk along this road. So with that in mind, I hope the Department of Transportation will start to repair the last 75 kilometres of gravel road on Highway 3. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Member's Statement 153-13(7): Education Funding Concerns May 10th, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, Mr. Speaker, we find ourselves in this Chamber ready to continue our discussions regarding our current year's budget as well as working on various other important items. Recently, I received a letter from a concerned educator working in my community. Her concerns, of course, are in regard to the limited amount of funding available for our education system and our children's future in education.

Recently, we have seen the Minister's Forum on Education come forward with a number of very good recommendations, as well as receiving petitions regarding this important issue from across our territory. Yet, our government continues to inform us that we do not have the dollars to implement these recommendations. I ask this House, do we want our children to suffer from the highest pupil/teacher ratio in Canada, when we already have the highest level of special needs students in Canada and the highest illiteracy in Canada? Not to mention the highest dropout rate and the highest suicide rate among the youth in Canada, as well as the lowest funding in Canada.

We must find a solution to this very grave problem or our children's future will be a very dismal sight. We need to work together to ensure proper funding is in place for all of our educational facilities. We must also ensure that our children, have the opportunity to succeed as well as any child across the country has. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.