Last in the Legislative Assembly December 1999, as MLA for Yellowknife North
Lost his last election, in 2015, with 21% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Reply 4-13(8) September 10th, 1999
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to inform the Members that this reply will not be as long as my previous maiden reply to the opening address, as I am sure you will be happy to know. Mr. Speaker, before I go any further, I would like to congratulate Mr. Nick Sibbeston, the former Premier of this government and Minister, and, of course, obviously an ordinary MLA. I would like to congratulate him on his appointment to the Senate. I am sure Mr. Sibbeston will do an outstanding job in promoting all of our interests as he has done here in the Northwest Territories. For those of us who know him, Mr. Sibbeston is quite outspoken and I am sure he will inform his fellow Senators of the view points and the realities of the North while they are making decisions that affect Canadians and particularly the North.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all of my constituents who supported me during this past term. I would like to thank those who contacted me and voiced their concerns particularly when it was more than an issue that involved only one person so that we could try to do something to help the general population. I would also like to thank the three constituency assistants that have worked with me. Ms. Vi Beck, Mr. Roy Dahl and Ms. Leslie Wilson. With this new system that we are going to be having in the next Assembly, hopefully, Mr. Speaker, no one will be standing up next time saying that they had three constituency assistants because with the new system we will be able to offer them a fair wage and better working conditions I believe, so that you can actually keep a constituency assistant and they will not go off to better paying jobs.
Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank all of the staff that we work with here who certainly go out of their way at all times to try to ensure that we get all the information that we need. Sometimes we might make the odd request that is on the spur of the moment, but they always try to do their best to make sure we get what we need and travel plans are made and that type of thing. I would like to thank everybody from Mr. Hamilton to the kitchen staff and the whole works.
Mr. Speaker, also the rest of the GNWT employees as well. They have to do a lot of work that makes our work easier, providing us with information and various types of things. Drafting briefing notes and all that kind of stuff. And I am sure that they would much rather be doing the work that they have been hired to do, which is to provide programs and services to Members, people living in the Northwest Territories. I would like to thank them as well.
I would like to comment a little bit about some of the things that other people had mentioned earlier as well. I think the first thing I would like to mention is the fact that from what I understand, this was the first Assembly that had to make some serious cuts. Before we could even blink, we were told that we had to cut about $100 million from our budget from previous years. That is not an easy thing to do. Mr. Speaker, people know that when there is a lot of money, it is easy, everybody is happy, but as soon as there is less money, everybody starts quarrelling and trying to get their share. I know from having worked with aboriginal organizations in the past that this is the way it is. When you are working for an organization, when there is a lot of money, it is easy to get things. You may not get everything that you want, but you can get money to do certain things and that type of thing. When I came here, it was the same. When we had to start cutting, man, it was hard.
As Mr. Roland indicated yesterday, we made the necessary decision and we did that because, as Mr. Dent has indicated today, we did not want to mortgage our children's future. We were trying to ensure that the people of the Northwest Territories would not have a substantial deficit when we left. Seeing what is coming, Mr. Speaker, I am certain now, it strengthens my resolve and it confirms that we did the right thing even though many people felt that we went too far because we knew that the crunch was coming. In another year's time, in the following budget, we know that there is going to be another deficit. If we would have left a $100 million deficit already, that would have been really tough. I think the next Legislative Assembly has to make it a very, very high priority to work with the aboriginal and community leadership to ensure that control of and benefit from our natural resources is brought to the North. It seems like every time we turn around, we get another example, another example of how we are put in such poor positions because we are not in control of our natural resources.
One of the things that we had to go through in the past couple of years was just to get the diamond valuating and sorting facility in the community. I suppose you could say we had to fight, beg, cajole, threaten, everything under our power and every way we could think of to get major companies, major diamond companies, to agree that they would have their diamond valuating and sorting facility here in Yellowknife. I guess the other thing to point out is that it did not necessarily have to be in Yellowknife but at least in a community so that a community can benefit from the jobs and the money that comes along with it.
Another thing that we can look at is this whole Giant Mine issue. Mr. Speaker, we know that if we were in control all along, I guess it is a mine in more ways than one. It is a mine in the fact that they are mining ore but it is also a mine ready to go off because we have tons and tons and tons of arsenic there. Presumably that would have never happened if we were in control of our resources here, if we could put conditions on people doing their mining, exploration, and mining development. It would also enable us to put other conditions such as having to take on so many employees, trainees, and those types of things. Those could all be put as conditions.
The other very, very important point that comes out also is the fact that from these diamond mines, Mr. Speaker, who is getting the most benefit? It is certainly not us. After the diamond companies themselves, it is the federal government. They are getting what? Ten, 15 times more out of our own natural resources than we are. They are getting all the royalties. And then what happens? We have to go to them on bended knee and say give us a little bit more money.
We have the highest pupil/teacher ratio in the country. We have people out there, homeless people. We have all these problems and we are not getting enough money, but yet the federal government is getting all these dollars and making it seem as though we are the poor little cousin on the block. But if we were getting all the resources, all the royalties we were supposed to be getting and which we would be getting more of in the future because of the added diamond mines will be coming on stream, the oil and gas exploration and there are going to be all kinds of that being pumped out of here, Mr. Speaker, if we would have access to all those royalties, we would be paying our way a lot more than many of the provinces in the future. All the eastern provinces, eastern Atlantic provinces, some of the others as well. We would be putting more into the kitty ourselves than those provinces are.
Those Members who will be coming back to the next Assembly, and I hope that I am one of them as I will be putting my name forward, that we do make this a priority to get this Northern Accord or whatever it will be called, through. I think that all of the people in the Northwest Territories have to work on this, the aboriginal leadership, the community leadership, the MLAs, we have to put our differences aside, put our differences aside and work for the betterment of all of our constituents so that we can take control of these resources, get added money and ensure that we get maximum benefits from our resources.
Mr. Speaker, like Mr. Steen, I thought we were going to do all kinds of changes, some of them quickly. But like he said, it was an illusion. Things happen slowly in government and particularly in our form of government because we have a consensus style government and everybody comes from a different area of the Northwest Territories. We all have our own interests. We all have our own concerns that we want to address first. So in order to get support for things, it is very, very difficult. Lord knows, a lot of times you think you have an agreement, all of a sudden somebody else comes up with something new. Hey, we never thought of this, we never thought of that. Many times, although we do not like it, it is our civil service, but that is what they are paid to do is to provide us with the best information possible so we can make the best decisions. Those are the types of things that make government move slow. I know from my friend, Mr. Henry, and other people who are in business who are used to making quick decisions, it has been very, very frustrating not only for them but for us as well.
I would like to thank the Members who had served previously, such as yourself, Mr. Speaker, and several others who had previous experience as MLAs because without them it would have been a lot harder to get things done. They, of course, had been through it before and they helped us a lot with their previous experience in how things are done, that type of thing. I would like to thank them for providing us with advice as we went along.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to reflect a little bit on some of the things that we did go through. I think that we were able to, as I had indicated, get a diamond valuation and sorting facility in Yellowknife, but also those are not the only benefits we will be getting from the diamond industry. There are a couple of other polishing facilities that will be happening. I am happy to say that three have been approved, and I know that two of them will be in Yellowknife, the Sirius Diamonds one and Deh Cho Diamonds, which I am very, very happy to indicate will be in the constituency of Weledeh, where I will be running. It is 50 percent owned by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, which will be a tremendous boost for that community which has, for the longest time, been living right next to Yellowknife, which is a large centre but have been unable to fully benefit from the educational services that are available and also from the business advantages that are there.
I think too, that we were able to put forward some new programs for investments, that type of thing, through the Aurora Fund, the Tax Credit Program. Being able to do that by using other people's money, allowed us to save money that we could use for social programs. One of the things I learned too, Mr. Speaker, which I was not aware of before we came here is about motions. Motions that are made in the House are simply recommendations to the Cabinet and I did not know that before I came here. I thought once you fought it through and you can get a motion passed, that was what going to happen, and I know other people felt like that too. And the general public, many of them thought that, and they still think that, many of them. But we did pass some motions and some of them were followed, some of them were not. I was going through the motions and I noticed that most that were passed were for more money in education. Unfortunately, we were not able to put as much money into education as we wanted, but I think it shows to the general public that this Legislative Assembly felt strongly about education and, it is not because we do not want our youth and our people to be well educated that we have not been able to put money into it. It is simply because we have to do other things as well.
Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of things that we could speak about. We certainly had to work with resolving the equal pay issue, and I know that was hard. People took different sides and finally, I think, in the end, I should not say in the end, but today about 85 percent of the people who are owed money have received their money and although the union is still fighting to get more money for the other 15 percent who have not received their payouts, I think that for those who have accepted the offer, it has been good because they do not have to wait, and they have been able to spend their money on various things that they had wanted.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak a little bit about working on committees. I would like to thank the people who worked with me in the two committees that I was on, the Social Programs Committee, and I am very, very glad that we, I would like to mention a Member from the east, Mr. Ningark, who had been a long-standing Member in this House. He was a very calming influence in our committee, and he helped us through a lot with letting us know what had happened in the past, that type of thing. It was very, very difficult at times, Mr. Speaker, because we do see the business plans of the organizations, and it is very difficult to be critical of business plans that have gone through your committee because presumably you have approved them. It does not mean that we approve of everything that is going through there but because it has gone through your committee, sometimes in fact you may receive further information later on than you had when you made the decision or made recommendations. It is very difficult to sometimes be critical. But that particular committee had, I think, 63-65 percent of the budget in its envelope, and we had a lot of meetings. Particularly during Session, those of us who were on the Social Programs Committee and the Government Operations Committee, we were here at 9:00 in the morning and many, many times we met right from 9:00 until 1:30 or 1:20 when the House was going to be starting, and we went from one meeting to the next and then we had a lunch meeting as well. If people do not think that is hard, let me tell you, your head is spinning by the time you get to the House. Then you have to try to speak sensibly, asking questions, and making statements and the rest of that. I would like to thank those Members who worked with me on the Social Programs Committee and the Government Operations Committee as well.
Mr. Speaker, one of the things that you have to adjust to when you become a public figure such as becoming an MLA is the loss of time with your family. I know that probably, if I wanted to be a better MLA, I could have went to more things such as meetings in the evenings and that type of thing, but I made a commitment to my wife when I was elected that I would try to spend as much time with my family as possible, and that may have brought some criticism to me, but I have a 13-year-old son and I have tried to spend as much time with him taking him to his various sporting activities or to his school activities as possible. Along with that as well, is the loss of privacy. You cannot even go to the corner store for a loaf of bread, someone may want to talk to you, but you have to take the time to speak to those people. That is a simple fact of life. It does not matter where you are, people will come to you. It does not matter, even if you are out of your community. I have often travelled to Fort Smith, Hay River, Edzo, anywhere, and people still come to you and talk to you. So I guess the loss of privacy and the fact that you are no longer just an ordinary person on the street. You are not able to do many of the things that you previously used to do. A lot of things, government programs and things, are no longer available to you not because you are no longer a member of the Northwest Territories or a person living in the Northwest Territories, but simply because it looks bad that an MLA would participate in the same programs that other people participate in. That was a big adjustment. I guess we all had to learn to live with it, but I must say that it took a while to get used to it.
When I was campaigning four years ago, a couple of people asked me about promises I was going to make. I cannot promise anything because I do not know if I will be able to get what I want. There are a lot of things I want. One of the things I wanted to do was to improve the affirmative action, but I am sad to say that today, as we sit and stand here, that it is in a worse situation than when we got here. That is one of the reasons why I wish to run again to try to get some improvements to this program that has been with us for so long but which really does not seem to have done that much.
As I was saying, people had asked me, when I was campaigning about my promises, and what I had told them was that I could not make promises but what I would do when there was a problem or a situation, an issue, whatever you want to call it, I would get as much information as possible, I would look at both sides as fairly as I could and make the best decision that I could. I think that I have done that. I think that is the most that people could fairly expect of MLAs. I know that it does not matter what decision you make, you are going to get criticism from one side and praise from the other side. The next time you make a decision, it could be the exact opposite. The people who praised you the last time will criticise you, but that is just the way it is.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I am just about finished. I would like to thank my family. As my good friend, Mr. Miltenberger, knows, I have a very large extended family in the North, not only in the North but I would particularly like to thank my parents who stood beside me through this, my brothers and sisters and, of course, my wife and my children. As I had indicated earlier, you lose a lot of your privacy when you become an MLA and it seems as though the people who feel the most are members of your family particularly when you are being criticized in the press or by the general public, and members of your family often do not say it, but they feel badly as well, and many times more than us because we get used to it and we can deal with it. So I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my wife, my children, and the rest of my family for all the assistance that they provided me with in the last four years.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I look forward to seeing you and the rest of the Members who will be running again here in the 14th Assembly. Thank you.
Question 33-13(8): Cost Overruns On GNWT Projects September 10th, 1999
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions are for the Minister of Public Works and Services in relation to the RFP process and cost controls involved in those. Mr. Speaker, for some time now people have been talking about the fact that accrued projects are approved for a certain amount of money and then they come back and all of a sudden it is almost double the cost or a substantial amount of money more is needed. I
understand that all of these projects or many of them anyways, are done through architectural firms, those types of firms that draw up or produce professional documents, blueprints and things like that. What I would like to know is, do these contracts that go through Public Works and Services, do they have anything in there that would ensure the people who had made the original blueprints and those documents that people go by, do they have to cough up some money or pay a penalty or something if there are cost overruns because of poor designs? Thank you.
Member's Statement 21-13(8): Concerns Of Giant Mine Employees September 10th, 1999
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you colleagues. Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, because of the way the system works this likely means that the employees will get very little, if anything, of what is owed to them for their pensions and severance pay. This whole area is governed by the federal government, under the Canadian Labour Code and the Bankruptcy Act. Mr. Speaker, to me and to anybody that I have spoken to, it is unconscionable that the federal government can allow this. It is simple, all they have to do is put it into their act, that workers are the first secured creditors. I have to add, this is not the first time that this has happened. Similar situations have occurred across Canada. The worker is the person that always gets the shaft. It is time, Mr. Speaker, that the federal government lives up to its obligations. In this instance it is to
protect the workers both legally and financially. The federal government should step in and ensure that the miners receive what is owed to them and secondly, Mr. Speaker, the federal government has to change their act so that all employees become first secured creditors in any bankruptcy. Thank you.
Member's Statement 21-13(8): Concerns Of Giant Mine Employees September 10th, 1999
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, today in my last Member's statement I will be speaking about the sale of Giant Mine and the federal government living up to its responsibility to employees there. Mr. Speaker, as we all know Miramar Con Mine has proposed to buy this mine from the receiver Price Waterhouse Coopers. One of Miramar's conditions is that the employees do not come with the mine. Ordinarily under Canadian law, when you sell a company the employees go with it and so do the obligations that are owed to the old employees, meaning pensions and severance pay and those types of things. Miramar does not want the employees. Like any good business move they would like to cut their costs when they are purchasing this business. Unfortunately, in this instance, if this happens it will mean that the employees are the ones that are getting the shaft, so to speak. Most of them will lose their jobs and all of them will lose their pensions and severance pay if things work out the way the mine wants. Like I say, usually when you a buy a company all of their obligations come with it. Employees, employees pension and their severance pay. But if the receivers lay them off, then the employees simply become creditors to Giant Mine. Meaning that Giant Mine owes them money.
Mr. Speaker, there are two kinds of creditors. Secured creditors and unsecured creditors. Secured creditors are companies that have signed documents indicating that they will receive collateral if they do not receive the money that is owed to them. Unsecured creditors are also owed money, but they have not been smart enough or in a position to get the signed documents saying that they will receive something.
What does this mean? It means that once Giant Mine is sold, the receiver pays the secure creditors first. This means that the workers get what is left after the secured creditors, who are usually people like banks and other loan companies, the workers will get what is left after that. This means that they will get very, very little, if anything, of what is owed to them. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.
Item 19: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters September 9th, 1999
Thank you, Madam Chairperson. Madam Chairperson, the Standing Committee on Government Operations reviewed Bill 4, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Statutes Amendment Act, had its meetings on September 7, 8, and 9, 1999. The committee would like to thank the Minister of Justice and his officials for presenting the bill and responding to the committee's questions. As well, the standing committee had previously reviewed versions of this bill that were introduced in the House in December, 1998 and July, 1999. When the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, came into effect in 1996, it provided for a two-year grace period so that if another act had a conflict or inconsistency with it, the other act would prevail until December 31, 1998. In December, 1998 the Minister introduced a bill to amend ten acts that have provisions that conflict or inconsistent with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The proposed amendments allowed the access and provisions of the other acts to apply in addition to or notwithstanding the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The bill also proposed to amend the Archives Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, itself.
The standing committee held a public hearing and consulted with the Information and Privacy Commissioner appointed under the act, Ms. Elaine Keenan-Bengts. Due to the concerns raised by the Commissioner and the standing committee, particularly in relation to the privacy protection for personal information collected by public bodies, the original bill was not passed. Instead, a separate bill was passed to extend the grace period until December 1999.
The committee requested the Minister to examine the concerns to determine whether the bill might be improved in some areas. In July, 1999, a revised bill was introduced. This bill incorporated amendments responding to the committee's and the Commissioner's concerns about the Education Act, and the Motor Vehicles Act. A provision was added to the Education Act, to allow a school counsellor to give access to his or her notes to the student or the student's parents if the counsellor feels that it is in the best interest of the child.
The Motor Vehicles Act, amendments were changed to make it clear that access by various private bodies to records under the act would apply only to name and vehicle registration information, not to driving records.
The standing committee and the Information and Privacy Commissioner reviewed the revised bill and provided additional comments to the Minister. As a result, Bill 4 contains further revisions from the July bill. Changes were made to the amendments, to the Consumer Protection Act, and the Tobacco Tax Act, to clarify questions relating to the disclosure of information.
The standing committee appreciates the assistance of the Information and Privacy Commissioner and the efforts of the Minister and the Department of Justice officials to improve this bill. The Minister has also made a commitment to the committee to address concerns relating to how information is collected by public bodies. The Minister advised that a process is under way to bring forms into compliance with the privacy protection provisions of the act so that individuals will better know what personal information is collected about them, how it is used and how to access personal information.
The committee also has an outstanding area of concern. Some of the acts amended by this bill, particularly the Insurance Act, and the Motor Vehicles Act, allow personal information to be released by public bodies to private individuals or organizations. If the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, applies only to public bodies, the Commissioner and the committee were concerned that there are no legislative restrictions on the further release of personal information by private bodies and no penalties for such release. This is an important privacy concern.
In the case of the Motor Vehicles Act, department officials suggested that an obligation of confidentiality might be implied under the act. In the committee's view, this is not clear enough. The Minister also undertook to research whether the prohibition in section 59 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, against disclosing personal information might apply to private organizations or individuals. Members looked forward to receiving the results of this research.
If it is not clear that private individuals are included in section 59 prohibition, it is the committee's strong recommendation that the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, should be amended to create an offence and impose a penalty on private individuals or organizations who release personal information received in confidence from a public body.
Madam Chairperson, this concludes the standing committee's comments on Bill 4, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Statutes Amendment Act. Thank you.
Item 19: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters September 9th, 1999
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I, too, am in favour generally of this bill as has been indicated by my colleagues, Mr. Dent and Mr. Ootes. The bill will take effect for the next Assembly, the 14th Assembly, and it should make things a lot simpler of those Members. I know that when we took office I was quite surprised with the amount of money that we were making because I too was a member of the public at one time. I read the newspaper reports. I thought people made huge amounts of money and although some people still think that the money we make is a lot of money, I suppose it is, it is nowhere near the amount of money that people think that MLAs make. That is simply because of the reporting procedures by members of the press to continually, for one reason or another, add up all the office expenses, transportation expenses, constituency assistant's expenses, and everything else and roll it into one. It makes it seem as though it is part of your salary.
I know that I was quite surprised when I learned that I think the former Member from the Eastern Arctic was credited to making something like $170,000. I think half of that was for his transportation to and from his constituency. Not half, but a great amount.
Hopefully, this will make things simpler and a lot easier to understand for the general public. I know it will certainly make it a lot easier for the MLAs who will now receive the same amount of money every two weeks, the same as all our employees receive a cheque every two weeks and that is what they make. In that way, it will make thinks a lot easier for the next group of MLAs.
One thing I may not necessarily agree with, it does not sit well with me, is the fact that some MLAs sit on more committees than others and may work a lot more than other MLAs but they will not necessarily be paid for that extra work. Sometimes there is a fair amount of work that has to be done on bills and those types of things, particularly the Social Programs Committee. They had to deal with 62 percent of the budget, or whatever, and there were an awful lot of meetings involved. Although it is the case that those people who sit on more committees than others will not be remunerated for those extra meetings, I am in favour of this new system because it makes is simpler for everybody, particularly, for the reporting.
Also, Mr. Chairman, the Conflict of Interest Review Panel came back with several recommendations. I particularly like the fact that once the Conflict Commissioner determines that there are enough grounds to warrant an inquiry, then he or she directs an inquiry be started. The Commissioner of the Northwest Territories then appoints a sole adjudicator, which is a totally separate person from the Conflict Commissioner, so there is no apprehension of bias. There are two different parties that will be doing the process now and I like that. I think that a lot of other people will like that process as well.
As well, we have indicated in the conflict provision whose legal counsel will be paid for and that type of thing. That clarifies that area. In the past, I do not think it was as clear so a lot of people argued about this and that. This now clearly spells it out. I think it is a lot better. It doesn't matter which way it goes, as long as it is clearly spelled out. I think it helps clarify the issue.
The way that the system will work in the future, I do not think that you will really need legal counsel anyway. The new system will help make things simpler and easier to understand.
Mr. Chairman, again I just want to reiterate that I am in favour of this bill. I realize that perhaps people thought it should have happened sooner, but there has been a lot of things on our plate. I think that putting new things in place for yourself are very difficult things to do. I think that the best thing we could do for the next Legislative Assembly is to pass this now so that they do not have to worry about it being the first thing that they have to do when they get here. Thank you.
Item 12: Reports Of Committees On The Review Of Bills September 9th, 1999
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to report to the Legislative Assembly that the Standing Committee on Government Operations has reviewed Bill 4, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Statutes Amendment Act. We wish to report that Bill 4 is ready for consideration in committee of the whole.
And, Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to waive rule 70(5) and have Bill 4 moved into committee of the whole for today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Question 31-13(8): Addressing Special Needs In NWT Schools September 9th, 1999
Mr. Speaker, I just want to indicate that I am very disappointment that there has not been any effort made to comply with a motion from this House that is supposed to give direction to the Cabinet. We will just have to wait and see if they are going to try to do anything in this area. Thank you.
Question 31-13(8): Addressing Special Needs In NWT Schools September 9th, 1999
Mr. Speaker, I was wondering what has been done to comply with the motion that had been passed earlier to put more money into the area of special needs. Thank you.
Question 31-13(8): Addressing Special Needs In NWT Schools September 9th, 1999
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is a little difficult to hear the Minister. There is a bit of noise on this side of the House. Did the Minister indicate that he does not have any new money to put into the special needs area?
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