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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was public.

Last in the Legislative Assembly September 2019, as MLA for Kam Lake

Lost his last election, in 2019, with 23% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Bill 34: Mineral Resources Act August 21st, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to start in addressing this bill by confirming my support for this, for Bill 34, and I will confine the majority of my commentary to the process that brought this bill to third reading today.

The Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment lived up to his promises: this bill has made no one happy. Instead, we have a bill that has created confusion, uncertainty, and shown a huge contrast in how legislation has been developed and reviewed in this Assembly by different committees.

Mr. Speaker, the standing committee's clause-by-clause review lasted four-and-a-half hours. Yesterday, the Committee of the Whole review lasted nearly six hours, late into the early-morning hours. This unprecedented amount of time this Legislative Assembly spent in review of this bill was in no way deliberate. Rather, it was the sincere effort of the honourable Members on this side of the House to get clear answers from the government on parts of the bill that were drafted to be "intentionally vague." I cannot agree with the suggestion that this bill is "world-class." The vast majority of important content is left entirely to regulations. Such broad authority and lack of real detail fails to provide the certainty that industry, the public, and Indigenous governments have asked for over the years.

At this point, I can say that much of the policy intent of these vagaries has been teased out through questioning of the Minister and his officials. Thorough review of Hansard should give clarity to those who seek it, but I cannot fathom why it took a combined 10 hours of public hearings to get to this place. The standing committee made best efforts to collaborate with the Minister, including a six-hour working meeting between the Minister, committee members, and staff on both sides. Government intransigence has no place in the spirit and intent of this institution, and I strongly encourage for this not to happen again, especially on such a crucial piece of legislation, vital to our economy.

Mr. Speaker, I will conclude again by reiterating my support for this bill, now that I am confident clarity has been achieved over the most contentious sections of the bill. It is high time the NWT modernized its mining legislation and, while far from perfect, it is good enough for now. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Committee Motion 261-18(3): Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment Report on the Process Used for Devolution Legislative Initiatives - Preamble or Purpose Statement, Carried August 21st, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Of the many pieces of devolution-related legislation that came forward, only a few contain preambles. Others contain purpose statements. Some contain both, and some contained nothing. Some Indigenous governments who provided evidence before the committee and some members of civil society, as well, expressed a desire to see a preamble or to see a stronger purpose statement or those kind of features to the bill.

Curiously enough, members of another committee worked on a bill that didn't have a preamble. There was some discussion about adding one. Ultimately, the committee learned that that was not admissible under the rules of amendment, which I spoke to earlier. There are formal rules for what can be added to a bill, and a preamble is not one of them. We also learned from our hearings that there seems to be a policy amongst the drafters of the Department of Justice that preambles should not be used. Apparently, the reason why we did seek preambles to some of these bills is they emerged from the co-drafting process.

This created a kind of state of confusion for the committee because sometimes it felt like a preamble would be helpful to lead into the legislation with an aspirational statement. There are merits and drawbacks to that approach. Other times, it felt like a purpose statement was really needed. If the act needs to be interpreted by a court of law, it is pretty clear what the purpose of the entire act is and that is how those clauses are interpreted.

These are important features of the bill. As they are quite difficult to change after they reach the committee stage, what this motion calls for or contemplates is: in our process in the consensus government, committees receive a legislative proposal from the government before a bill is brought forward. Committee is allowed to review that proposal, make comment on it, and provide that to the government. When those legislative proposals come forward, or LPs, to include a section that just says whether or not there will be a preamble proposed or a purpose statement proposed, at that point, the committee can say whether or not it needs one, whether or not the purpose or preamble is sufficient, and those kind of details. Once the bill is brought forward, those parts of the bill are much harder to change.

We don't want to be put into a situation again where we have a great deal of public interest on adding a preamble and our only option is that committee is to say, "Unfortunately, we can't because the rules of amendment don't allow us to add a preamble." That is not the situation committee wants to find itself in.

That was a lengthy explanation. Putting it upfront, I think, will greatly ease the ability of committee to assess that issue. Also, if committee members feel like these features are required for legislation, they can ask for it and have some say over purpose statements and preambles. I think that is a better process, ultimately. It is one that I don't think you would think of if you were just eyeballing the legislative process in our institutions. It is one the committee noted. I think this would be a really good improvement moving forward into the 19th Assembly. Thank you.

Committee Motion 258-18(3): Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment Report on the Process Used for Devolution Legislative Initiatives - Federal Concurrence, Carried August 21st, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My colleagues and I were just discussing who should speak to this, because this was an issue that occurred in our review of the Petroleum Resources Act. I think that this is a really important consideration, because all committees are bound by certain rules when it comes to amending legislation.

Over our time in the 18th Assembly, I think that committee Members have become very well-versed in those rules, what is admissible, what is not admissible, what is in the scope of the bill, how much it can change, and how much it cannot change. That is really useful in our review, especially when you combine that with the public process, because what the public tells you, their aspirations and desires may not be compatible with the formal rules of amendments, so you have to find workarounds. Typically, committees do that by way of recommendation, but it is, of course, more satisfying when those changes can actually occur in the bill.

Getting to the matter at hand, what we found with this curious situation is that there are certain federal approvals that have to come with changes to this piece of legislation, and we found that very late in the day. Although it doesn't directly impact the privileges of the committee to review legislation and bring about changes, it is a significant consideration, and committee Members can feel flat-footed if this is not an upfront fact for committee to keep in mind. Again, committee Members, at this point when we were reviewing these bills, were very familiar with the rules of amendment. This is when we weren't, and it immediately arose the question of, does this infringe on privilege? I don't think that that is the case at this point, but it is just helpful to know that.

Any time federal approval is sought, it should be in close collaboration with the standing committee. If there are consensual amendments that are going forward, they can then be brought to the federal government's attention. That is a far smoother process than just saying, "No, we can't change the bill," and then at least committee knows what the problem areas are that require federal concurrence, and we can work in that environment.

This just clarifies a problem that we found, and it may occur again if there are further improvements brought to the Petroleum Resources Act and other bills that are bound by federal statute, and most assuredly, those changes will come in the future. This is, I think, a very important motion for peace, order, and good government. Thank you.

Committee Motion 252-18(3): Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment Report on the Process Used for Devolution Legislative Initiatives - Comprehensive Briefing on Legislative Process for Technical Working Group, Carried August 21st, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think in addition to the chair's comments about kind of broader public knowledge of what a standing committee is, what Regular Members do, and, you know, making it very clear that they are two branches of government, the executive branch that proposes legislation and the legislative branch that reviews legislation.

That being said, I support that, that rationale, but I think what this motion speaks to more directly is that the technical working group that is spending a lot of time in the drafting stages of this bill needs to clearly understand what happens next so that expectations are fairly realized throughout the process. Because what we do not want, I do not think anyone wants, is the idea that what's developed through a technical working group or what is developed at the preliminary stages of a draft bill is going to be the final form of the bill, barring any regulations that have to come.

You know, the legislative prerogative of the House and the standing committees needs to be a clearly identified process that comes next, and the changes that may be sought in that process need to be clearly understood because, again, we do not want to be in a situation where standing committee is told, "Well, you cannot change this bill now; you've just got to rubber-stamp it," because that would be infringing on the independence of the legislative branch. However, you also do not want to be on the other side, where the standing committee undoes a lot of the hard-fought battles that have been undertaken in the co-drafting process. So I think this is a really important idea or concept if we are going to continue to co-draft and continue to do it well. Thank you.

Committee Motion 247-18(3): Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment Report on the Process Used for Devolution Legislative Initiatives - Protocols for Engagement in Development of Legislation, Carried August 21st, 2019

Thank you. I support this motion, as well. I'm a bit surprised to have a suggestion that this motion is in some way troublesome. This is based on the evidence that we obtained, that committee obtained, speaking to Indigenous co-drafting partners that there was a lack of capacity, or their experience in the technical working group, and inconsistencies between them. I don't think there are any ulterior -- I know there are no ulterior motives here. These concerns were not raised when these motions were developed and the report was drafted. These are new to me now, and I'm not sure why they're coming on the floor.

I certainly don't expect debate from the government Members at this time, but I think this is an important standard to set going forward, and I strongly support this motion. Thank you.

Committee Motion 246-18(3): Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment Report on the Perceptions Held by Northern Businesses Toward the Government of the Northwest Territories' Procurement Processes - Government Response to Recommendations, carried August 21st, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I really am appreciative of the committee staff and the committee members who worked on this report, but staff really deserves an important shout-out. We, the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment, had an unprecedented legislative agenda that it was seized with, and common issues arose from each of those around the unique nature of co-drafting bills in a special relationship with Indigenous people as guaranteed by the intergovernmental agreement, and that was broadened in some cases to include Indigenous nations that had not signed on to devolution, so this was a really wide-ranging, important process that speaks to this government's commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and nations. I think it's a very commendable effort. I am reminded of the Premier's call to "devolve and evolve."

It is with some regret, though, that there was a different approach taken by each of the sponsoring Ministers on each of the bills, and I would hope, if it is to realize that promise of evolution after devolution, that we have a common approach to how we deal with these things. Another key concern was the capacity issues that were shared with us by Indigenous governments and nations, that some wanted to fully participate and were impeded by a lack of capacity, so there are many recommendations to deal with this. This was a very worthwhile exercise, and I think it shows a lot of good will and a lot of commitment towards reconciliation when a public government gives up its exclusive right to draft public bills and opens and shares the pen with Indigenous governments and nations. I think that is a really landmark sea change and is very unique to the Northwest Territories, and the government should be commended.

The purpose of this report is not to scold or chide government on what they could have done better but to offer really common sense, practical observations of how this process can be done better in the future and how we can ensure that our efforts towards reconciliation through this process can be continued, strengthened, and ultimately result in a lasting positive relationship with Indigenous peoples and nations. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Committee Motion 244-18(3): Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment Report on the Perceptions Held by Northern Businesses Toward the Government of the Northwest Territories' Procurement Processes - Procurement Advisory Panel, carried August 21st, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Chair. A procurement advisory panel, I think, is an excellent way to ensure that all stakeholders engaged in the procurement process are at the table and able to provide some degree of oversight advice and recommendations to government on how to improve procurement.

As Members of this Assembly, we are not always subject matter experts, and it is always, I think, prudent to give subject matter experts an opportunity, and who better to lead than procurement experts, industry, and public servants, as well, who are all involved in the system.

This idea is not a new concept. It exists in our neighbouring territory of the Yukon. In the Yukon, it began as a temporary committee; it only had a limited lifespan. The idea was, "Give us some recommendations; we'll make some fixes, and then your time is done." That panel was so useful to the Yukon government in improving procurement that it became a permanent panel. This motion contemplates skipping a pilot, if you will, and just going to establishing a full panel.

I think that there is a lot of merit to this, especially if they do have a very clear terms of reference so that they are not waiting. It doesn't become a dispute panel or politicized in any way. It is just focused on very clear advice on how we can make things better, and independent advice, which I think is a really important piece here. We have heard, in the debate on these issues over the years, that the real issue is not the procurement system needs some improvement. It's that contractors don't understand how it works, so as long as we do a trade show or workshop and teach people how to interact with government, we will solve all of our problems, and I don't think that that is correct. I think that that is only part of the equation. There is much more to this.

To really get at the meat of it, I don't think that one motion on the floor of the House is going to fix that, but a panel that exists permanently and can make these kinds of ongoing recommendations over the years, that is where we can start finding these solutions, at arm's-length, with full independence, and providing that kind of fearless advice to the Minister and the government on how these things can improve.

I think that this is an excellent step forward, and I thank the committee for bringing it forward. I do support this motion. Thank you.

Committee Motion 243-18(3): Bill 45: Corrections Act - Amend Clause 40.1(5), Carried August 21st, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Chair. The subject matter of this report is near and dear to the hearts of the business community in my riding of Kam Lake. I am regularly copied on e-mails from many businesses who are involved with government procurement, expressing their frustration around procurement practices. I have raised many of those issues on the floor of this House, asked questions in question period. Unfortunately, the answers received often ended in "We don't have problems with procurement. We don't have problems with BIP. We will explore options, but we think everything is fine." That didn't sit well with me, and I don't think it sat well with my colleagues on the Standing Committee of Economic Development and Environment.

As we were in a position to take the initiative and pursue some areas of study on our own because no legislation was coming forward, this was a top priority of the committee to do its own independent research on it. That started by directly reaching out to stakeholders who interact with the government's procurement and supply system and ask them what they thought of it. It wasn't just Members. It was actually constituents, business owners, Northerners. The results are contained in this report.

I think it is a very good report. Not only did we go straight to the people who are most concerned, we ensured anonymity to allow truthful, honest answers without fear of reprisal, and we had a very excellent expertise analyze those results and put it into a very clear narrative. Anyone can pick up this report and read it and see exactly what our business community thinks about our system. That is a very useful tool. I am very thankful of our chair and of my colleagues on the committee for bringing forward this work.

The two substantive recommendations made in the report are other issues I have brought forward, as well. They haven't had much uptake from the Minister responsible or the government. I hope that a response is provided and we can actually move forward. No one is going as far as to saying the procurement system is broken. What is being said is that it needs improvement. Any system needs improvement.

My mind turns back to a common problem with public procurement in Canada and other western democracies where a decision was made to shift procurement away from expensive, government-owned procurement sources and go to the private section with an interest of driving down cost for taxpayers. Largely, procurement policies that are trying to reduce cost to the taxpayer have been successful, but we have maximized that efficiency. We have gotten the cost down to as low as it possibly can be. What we aren't looking at is how to maximize benefits to our local economy and to northern businesses. That is something that we have some policy clarity on, but it is murky as to how it actually operates and how it benefits.

I think in our government's case in particular, we need to focus on that economic development piece more so than reducing the costs to government, especially when our economy is downturned and hasn't recovered since 2007. It is not going to recover unless we provide some much-needed stimulus. The efforts to date, the great amounts of infrastructure spending, aren't making a big enough difference to get our economy back on track and restore prosperity to the Northwest Territories.

We have to look at other tools. Members have proposed procurement as one of those tools for stimulus. It simply hasn't happened. I hope the 19th Assembly will heed these lessons, follow the discussions and debates of our Assembly, and look at the recommendations in this report and make much-needed improvements to how procurement works in the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters August 21st, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think you can summarize the feelings of Members, at least on this side of the House, to say this process that led to the committee's process around this bill was a triumph of consensus. It does draw to mind the previous work that this department and this Minister did on the ATIP Act, starting with a bill that was largely updates, and now has ended up being some of the most progressive legislation in Canada governing that topic, and I'm a firm believer in credit where credit is due. I think, in this case, learning from my colleagues, that there was a lot of give and take, a lot of cooperation, and ultimately a better bill that better serves our residents. I commend the committee's hard work. I commend the Minister's hard work, and the staff who collaborated to make it happen. Thank you.