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Roles

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Last in the Legislative Assembly September 2007, as MLA for Weledeh

Won his last election, in 2003, by acclaimation.

Statements in the House

Question 124-15(6): Tuktoyaktuk Gravel Source Road Access August 15th, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'm told that we have now received a framework for how the infrastructure money will be spent. The Department of Justice are reviewing that now. So I expect we should be proceeding quickly on this. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 120-15(6): Devolution And Resource Revenue Sharing Agreement August 15th, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Until l see the clarification on the roles, I will not make assumptions about who has what responsibility. Mr. Speaker, I am told that Minister Prentice, for example, is the lead Minister for the pipeline. That pipeline is in the North, so I don't know what else may be in terms of division of responsibilities between these two Ministers, so I can't make assumptions. But we will continue to work hard on trying to achieve an agreement-in-principle in the meantime. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 120-15(6): Devolution And Resource Revenue Sharing Agreement August 15th, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I was elected as Premier for the life of this government. This government is alive and working until the writ is dropped. Until that happens, then, yes, we will continue to pursue this negotiation. Now, Mr. Speaker, I might add that this is complicated a bit by the shuffle of Ministers in the federal system. Even as I speak today, I am not sure who is the lead Minister for the North, so there are some delays there. But, Mr. Speaker, we will continue to press on this. That is our job. We will do it for the life of this government. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 120-15(6): Devolution And Resource Revenue Sharing Agreement August 15th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, the best of my knowledge in a negotiation and in any discussions, the fact that only four out of seven aboriginal organizations have signed on has never been an issue with the federal government. They have not raised that at all. They are satisfied with the four that we have been working with us. Thank you.

Question 120-15(6): Devolution And Resource Revenue Sharing Agreement August 15th, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yes, I can provide more detail. Mr. Speaker, as we've said before, there were six outstanding items between ourselves and the federal government and I won't go through each of them, but I will say that there are only two that are still outstanding. One has to do with the issues around net fiscal benefit. The other one has to do with the amount of money that would be transferred when federal employees and services are transferred to GNWT.

Mr. Speaker, in the case of net fiscal benefit, we are not going to accept a bad deal. We'd sooner have no deal. The Prime Minister has committed that northerners must be the primary beneficiaries of resource development. We take him at his word on that and we have included, in the draft agreement-in-principle, those words. The negotiators didn't want to have those words in. They wanted to leave us to negotiate a cap on our net fiscal benefit. That doesn't make us very comfortable. I think we have made some progress in having their negotiator agree to put the words back into the agreement-in-principle, but the negotiator is briefing the responsible Minister I think this week, but possibly next week. That was one issue. We are not going to accept anything less than a good deal for the North.

Mr. Speaker, the second issue was around a base transfer. That one is a fairly small one to resolve, in my mind. It may need a political solution and I intend to try to achieve that with that situation. Mr. Speaker, that one, we're only a few million dollars apart. The federal negotiators seem to believe that they have reached the maximum in their mandate and they're asking to go back and talk with the Minister responsible.

So, Mr. Speaker, those are the two issues. A base transfer, the amount of money, which is not a huge amount in the bigger scale of things, and second is on net fiscal benefit where we're not ready to accept a deal that puts a cap on what we will receive. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 26-15(6): Sessional Statement August 15th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome all Members back for this last session of the 15th Legislative Assembly. I know that it has been a busy summer for everyone in your constituencies and attending the various annual assemblies.

Given this is the last session of the 15th Legislative Assembly and, therefore, my last sessional statement as Premier, I want to take this opportunity to formally announce my own intentions regarding the impending election. After talking it over with my wife, Theresa, and my family, I have decided it is time to seek new ways to serve the people of this territory and so I am formally announcing I will not seek re-election this fall. I am glad to see so many people here to celebrate that.

---Laughter

Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the accomplishments of our government and this 15th Legislative Assembly. At the outset of our term, we promised we would act with honesty, integrity and transparency and uphold the highest ethical standards in carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to us as a government. We committed to running a government that made decisions in a clear, competent and consistent manner. I believe we have lived up to our promise.

While it is not my intention today to speak about all the specific accomplishments of this government and Legislative Assembly over the past four years -- many of these have been outlined in previous sessional statements -- I want to highlight some of our most important accomplishments in terms of the goals we set at the beginning of our term.

After listening carefully to the people who elected us, we stated at the outset our primary goal was to achieve greater self-reliance through shared responsibility as a territory, as communities, as individuals and as northerners. In the past four years, we have worked to

meet this goal by designing programs that provide residents with a "hand up" not a "hand out."

We have made significant investments in education and training facilities and programs that have contributed to record graduation rates from high school, ever-increasing numbers of northern students pursuing post-secondary studies and more and more trained workers. This has resulted in record employment and labour force participation rates throughout the territory.

---Applause

After a significant consultation process with stakeholder groups throughout the territory, we have reformed and restructured our income security programs to better meet the needs of individuals who utilize these programs. These changes are intended to provide relevant programming that help move people who rely on these programs from poverty to self-reliance.

We transferred funding and responsibilities to community governments so they could take greater control of decisions affecting their communities. We have been pleased to work with strong, focused mayors and councils throughout our territory who are committed to taking more and more responsibility and building strong, healthy, sustainable communities.

We have introduced and supported new health prevention programs such as the Don't be a Butthead campaign that has contributed to the decreasing trend in the number of our residents who smoke. We have expanded critical health services throughout the territory, such rehabilitation services in the South Slave and Beaufort-Delta regions, outreach services provided through Stanton Territorial Hospital and dialysis services in Hay River.

We have invested significantly in much needed new housing for NWT residents, increasing the housing stock in our communities. We have revamped housing programs to promote the transition from public housing to homeownership so individuals and families can achieve their personal goals and reach new levels of success. At the same time, we have increased resources to address the serious issues of homelessness across the territory including innovative projects such as Bailey House, which will assist homeless male clients seeking to make the transition to permanent community residences.

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We have worked towards the very important goal of eliminating the incidence of domestic violence by introducing new legislative and policy tools that remove abusers from the family environment, improve education and awareness, enhance prevention activities and services, and improve training for shelter workers.

We have developed an Energy Strategy and Greenhouse Gas Strategy with new energy efficiency and conservation programs and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Northwest Territories. We have worked to maximize our recycling efforts through programs such as the Beverage Container Program, which has dealt with over 25 million containers that would otherwise have ended up on our streets or in our landfills.

We are working to make our communities safer by increasing policing in many communities, increasing funding to victim services programs and putting in place legislative initiatives which provide our communities with new tools to address the insidious problems caused by illegal drugs and alcohol.

We agreed at the outset of our mandate to work in partnership with other governments in the Northwest Territories. We have established new funding arrangements with aboriginal governments to help build capacity in these organizations to deal with intergovernmental processes and have developed modern, forward-thinking, formal consultation processes.

Our government's relationship with emerging aboriginal governments continues to evolve and grow stronger. As I have noted in this House in the past, governance in the Northwest Territories is changing as aboriginal rights negotiations are concluded and agreements are implemented. This environment is a complex one and future governments will have to work hard to address the larger constitutional and intergovernmental issues that are developing.

Through cooperative relationships on the Taltson hydro project, our support for the Aboriginal Pipeline Group and our active participation in the Protected Areas Strategy, we are working with aboriginal governments to advance our common goal of balanced development. I want to thank aboriginal leaders from all parts of this territory who have shared their vision, shown resolve and determination and never wavered in their commitment to building a more prosperous, sustainable future for their people.

---Applause

While we continue to have a strong economy fuelled mostly by resource exploration and development, we have made real progress in efforts to balance our economy regionally and to respect traditional economies so that no one region or community gets left behind. To maximize economic opportunities in the resource sector, we have negotiated solid socio-economic agreements with the diamond mines and partnered with other governments and the private sector to deliver successful training programs in the mining and oil and gas sectors.

Mr. Speaker, we have also worked hard to address the large issues we identified at the outset of the 15th Legislative Assembly. Our first priority was to put our own fiscal house in order by making decisions that ensured a balanced budget. It also meant negotiating and concluding a fair Territorial Formula Financing Agreement.

I am pleased to say we have been successful on both fronts. We have made significant investments in some of the key priority areas I spoke of earlier, while ensuring our overall financial position was stabilized. This was in large part because of new arrangements reached with Ottawa on territorial formula financing. This new arrangement recognizes the challenges facing northern governments in providing basic public services in a territory with a small, dispersed population, developing economy, underdeveloped infrastructure, high living costs and challenging social conditions relative to southern Canada.

We have also been successful in negotiating flexible fiscal arrangements with the federal government in a number of other priority areas such as health wait times, infrastructure, climate change and the environment. Our borrowing limit has been increased to $500 million,

providing future governments with the flexibility to make strategic investments in critical infrastructure and other priority areas. This responsible approach to managing our finances resulted in an upgraded credit rating of Aa1 being issued by Moody's Investors Service.

---Applause

There have, of course, been frustrations and it will be of no surprise that the most important piece of business that remains unfinished is the completion of an agreement-in-principle on devolution and resource revenue sharing. However, the good news is we have reached a common front with four aboriginal governments, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Gwich'in Tribal Council, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and the Northwest Territories Metis Nation, on this important issue.

Over the past few weeks, we have been working with our aboriginal partners and the federal government to resolve the remaining issues surrounding an AIP. I am encouraged we have narrowed the issues substantively. It is our intention to work to resolve these issues before the end of the 15th Assembly and we are hopeful this can be achieved. It is my fervent wish the 16th Assembly will achieve a final devolution agreement that will give our territory the means to determine its own future course of action with regard to development and, most importantly, ensure the people of the NWT will become, as the Prime Minister has promised, the "primary beneficiaries" of our own resources.

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We would have liked to have greater certainty the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline will move ahead. However, our government believes the challenges facing the project can be overcome if government and industry work together to resolve them. The Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline is a basin-opening project that will provide significant benefit to Canada beyond the direct economic benefits from its construction. Our government believes the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline is too advanced, too desirable, too necessary and too beneficial to the North and to Canada to allow it to fail.

This Assembly has worked hard to ensure northerners will benefit when this project proceeds, including our work with the federal government to establish a $500 million socio-economic impact fund for impacted communities in the Mackenzie Valley. We also negotiated a socio-economic agreement with the project proponents that include a $21 million fund and provisions for northern employment and procurement.

As I have noted many times in this House, the single greatest impediment to economic development and the growth of our communities is the lack of infrastructure. Over the past four years, we have taken a number of important steps including the completion of the paving of Highway No. 3, the reconstruction of 60 kilometres of highway, the resurfacing of 52 kilometres of road, the construction of permanent bridges and improvements to the Mackenzie Valley winter road including the construction of bypasses of Norman Wells and Tulita. We have also worked on new critical infrastructure projects throughout the territory, such as long-term planning for an all-season road to the Arctic Ocean.

---Applause

Mr. Speaker, it is also important to note the strides we have taken as a Legislature to build a strong voice for the Northwest Territories within the federation. We play an active role and have a very strong voice at national tables including the Council of the Federation and the Western Premiers' Conference. At every meeting, we continue to gain support from the provinces for attention and action on northern issues. Last week, I attended the Council of the Federation meeting in Moncton and dealt with a number of issues critical to the Northwest Territories including the effect of climate change in the Arctic and the release of a national energy plan, developed in part by the Northwest Territories.

We have established strong working relationships with our federal colleagues. I would like to congratulate the Honourable Jim Prentice on his new assignment as Minister of Industry and thank him for his good work for the Northwest Territories. We look forward to working with the new Minister responsible for Indian and Northern Affairs, the Honourable Chuck Strahl.

Mr. Speaker, even though an election is near, we still have significant work to do in the remaining life of this Assembly. There is a significant legislative agenda remaining for the current session.

As well, we have continued to work with the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation for over five years to reach an agreement to build the Deh Cho Bridge. It has been a challenging process that has taken longer than any of us thought, but I am pleased to report this project is proceeding.

---Applause

Mr. Speaker, the project, as originally conceived, was to be self-financing. A combination of savings from the elimination of the ferry and ice crossing and a toll on commercial vehicles was proposed to provide a revenue stream to cover all the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation's expenses and a minimum return on their equity. However, due to construction cost escalation, the total project cost is now over $150 million. To address this issue, and as a result of our strong fiscal position, the GNWT has committed additional funding of up to $2 million per year to make the Deh Cho Bridge a reality. It is also important to note we can do this and meet our commitment to maintain the toll rate at $6/tonne in 2002 dollars. This is the only direct cost to consumers.

At the same time, we are continuing to work with the federal government as they develop the criteria for their infrastructure programming to ensure a federal contribution to this important project.

Mr. Speaker, we are pleased a highly reputable construction company, Atcon Group from New Brunswick, has stepped forward with a formal offer to build the bridge for a guaranteed maximum price with a completion date of fall 2010. Atcon Group's price is contingent on starting preparatory work this fall and allowing for three full seasons of construction.

It will take another six weeks to wrap up details surrounding the financing of this project. In the interim, the GNWT will issue a limited notice to proceed. This will authorize the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation to carry out, through Atcon, up to $5 million of preliminary work, under an increase to the loan guarantee.

This government strongly supports this important project. We have taken a measured approach to this project every step of the way and are completely satisfied that this is a good and fair deal. Given the rising cost of construction in western and northern Canada, this is probably our last realistic opportunity to build a bridge across the Mackenzie River. Now is the time to bring this vital piece of northern infrastructure from planning to completion. Members of this Assembly should be proud they have been instrumental in making such an important contribution to a project that will provide a legacy of improved service well into the future.

Mr. Speaker, as I noted earlier, I believe we have delivered open, honest and competent government over the past four years. I am grateful for the enormous support I have personally received. It truly has been a great privilege to serve the people of the Northwest Territories as Premier, to have the chance to help contribute to the future of the territory in these exciting, volatile and historic times.

I want to extend my deep appreciation to a dedicated and strong team of deputy ministers. I believe our team of deputy ministers serves the people of the Northwest Territories with an energy, commitment and degree of expertise and professionalism that is exceptional for any jurisdiction. I also want to pay tribute to the many public servants in the GNWT that toil tirelessly across the territory. Their hard work and commitment to excellence and services are a credit to us all.

Finally, on a personal note, I wish to thank the people of Weledeh for the privilege of serving them for eight exciting years as their MLA. I also want to extend my sincere thanks to the staff in my office who have worked with me over the past four years, indulging in my idiosyncrasies and consuming more than enough Tim Horton's coffee as a duty, and working to make my job easier, all with great good cheer, loyalty and wise counsel.

Mr. Speaker, for Theresa and I, it is time to seek new challenges. We will, of course, be remaining in Yellowknife. The North is in our hearts. It is where our family and closest friends reside. It is our home. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Motion To Amend Motion 8-15(6), Carried May 17th, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will be very brief.

---Applause

First of all, let me say that Cabinet will not be voting on this motion because it is a recommendation to us. Mr. Speaker, I just want to make a couple of points. Due diligence and transparency, those are things we live by. Due diligence is here and that is why we have the financial situation we enjoy right now that enables us to do this kind of project, is because we have done due diligence over the life of our government.

Mr. Speaker, transparency, yes, we have already committed and we will commit to giving the committee the best information we have. Mr. Speaker, we will do that as the final negotiations are done on the bridge.

Mr. Speaker, that is what the public expects of us: due diligence, transparency. But, Mr. Speaker, the public also who elected us expect us to get things done. They don't want us to talk forever and ever on these things. At some point, we have to get things done. Mr. Speaker, there is no issue...Let me say every community has its issue that it talks about all the time. Some people talk about where the caribou went. Some people talk about the flooding. I tell you, in Yellowknife, the one issue that has been talked about forever is the bridge, the need for a bridge. You go talk to some of our most senior seniors and you will find some of them have little $5 share certificates that they bought on the bridge in the 1960s or early '70s. This has been talked about in the public more than any other single issue.

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that even after we build a bridge, there will be a lot of debate about whether we should have built the bridge. So it's going to continue forever.

Mr. Speaker, this has been talked about for 30 or 40 years, it's been talked about in this House since the Bridge Corporation brought it to us in 2001 and we passed the legislation in the last government. It's been talked about each time we came forward with the need to increase the loan guarantee. This has been debated and talked about more than any other issue that this past government or this government has dealt with.

Mr. Speaker, let me say in closing, it would be an ideal world and a great world if we could do every project in every region at the same time. That would be great, but we can't. We have to take some of these projects and deal with them one by one and get them done or otherwise we will still be talking about chipsealing Highway No. 5 and a road up the Mackenzie and so on two or three governments from now, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.

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Question 109-15(6): Role Of GNWT In Mackenzie Gas Pipeline Projects May 17th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly why we have to conclude a resource revenue sharing deal.

---Applause

Mr. Speaker, it is our money that is coming out of here. The federal government has it and now are looking at an equity position with our money. That's why, Mr. Speaker, short of having a deal, we are sitting here being frustrated because other people are talking about how to spend our money.

Mr. Speaker, I would not want our government to be in a position where it's competing with the Aboriginal Pipeline Group or aboriginal business or any business in the North. So our first priority, Mr. Speaker, would be to have northern businesses own the equity shares of these kind of projects rather than us as a government get into it. Who knows how the negotiations will go? It may come to that at some point where we own a share. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 109-15(6): Role Of GNWT In Mackenzie Gas Pipeline Projects May 17th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, if we had a nice big fat bank account, we might consider that as being a good investment. Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, we don't have the resources to be able to buy into this multi-billion dollar project. Mr. Speaker, our position has been to support the Aboriginal Pipeline Group and others in the North to get an ownership. I hope the federal government, if they are considering an equity position, that they consider doing that on behalf of people in the North. The Aboriginal Pipeline Group, to me, would be the logical choice at this point. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 109-15(6): Role Of GNWT In Mackenzie Gas Pipeline Projects May 17th, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Our officials have insisted we be there. This one happened, we didn't know and, as I say, that is of great concern to us. Assuming we have devolution and resource revenue sharing at some point, this is a concern to the people of the North.

Mr. Speaker, in answer to the question, yes, either I will or the Minister of Finance will again say to Ottawa that you can't just give us lip service on this, you have to follow through and let us know these meetings are there. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.