Debates of August 28, 2023 (day 161)

19th Assembly, 2nd Session
Members Present
Hon. Diane Archie (remote), Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge (remote), Hon. Paulie Chinna (remote), Ms. Cleveland (remote), Hon. Caroline Cochrane (remote), Mr. Edjericon (remote), Hon. Julie Green (remote), Mr. Jacobson (remote), Mr. Johnson (remote), Ms. Martselos (remote), Ms. Nokleby (remote), Mr. O’Reilly (remote), Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson (remote), Mr. Rocky Simpson (remote), Hon. Shane Thompson (remote), Hon. Caroline Wawzonek (remote), Ms. Weyallon Armstrong (remote)


Members, by the order of the Commissioner of the Legislative Assembly, this sitting outside the capital in Inuvik. I thank mayor Clarence Wood and the town of Inuvik for the use of their chambers.

The Assembly last sat outside of Yellowknife in 1989 in Norman Wells. Under Rule 10.1, this sitting is a hybrid one. Members are here in person and virtually and is due to the state of emergency in the Northwest Territories. All Members are concerned for residents displaced by wildfires. Many Members are displaced themselves. Like you, we fear for the safety of your homes, businesses, and communities. On behalf of the Assembly, thank you to everyone working to keep our communities safe, the firefighters, military personnel, municipal staff and leaders, civil servants, contractors, and volunteers. We see your work and sacrifice.

At this moment, I want to acknowledge Northwest Territories firefighter Adam Yeadon. Adam died fighting wildfires near Fort Liard on July 15th, 2023. Adam was a young man who lost his life protecting others. I ask Members to join me in a moment of silence in his honour.

Thank you, Members.

Members, today's sitting will be different. Under Rule 10.5(2), I have issued special orders of the day to ensure the efficient operation of the Chamber. These orders reflect Members' desire for a businessfocused sitting. We are here to deal with the timing of the election. We are also here to authorize additional spending to respond to these wildfires.

This is the largest hybrid sitting we have done. It is on short notice. We are in a community and not in the Chamber. There will be technical difficulties, technical challenges. This includes the live stream. Be patient, stay focused on why we are here. If we do, we will get through this together.

Members, I have received a letter from the Commissioner, the Honourable Margaret Thom. It reads:

Dear Mr. Speaker. I wish to advise that I recommend to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories the passage of Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures) 20242025; Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures) No. 2, 20232024, during the second session of the 19th Assembly.

Members, the Member for Monfwi has provided me with notice that, pursuant to Rule 3.5(1), she wishes to move a motion for emergency debate calling upon the Government of the Northwest Territories to ensure that Indigenous governments are involved in the GNWT's response to end the current wildfire emergency. Under that rule, the Member would move the motion for an emergency debate at the conclusion of oral questions but those are not on the orders today. That means Rule 10.5(2) applies. That rule relates to remote sittings.

It states where the rules in this section are silent on a matter covered elsewhere in the rules, the Speaker may amend any rule or procedure as required to allow for the effective participation of Members appearing remotely. In the efficient operation of the Chamber under Rule 10.5 (2), I direct special orders of the day for today to ensure the efficient operation of the Chamber. This sitting could be characterized as an emergency sitting. The orders were issued to allow for a businessfocused sitting, focused on dealing with two pressing matters:

Changing the date of the election; and,

Approving additional funding for wildfire response.

The Northwest Territories is under a state of emergency. We must be focused on the pressing matters at hand; however, Members will have their individual privileges. When a motion is made for an emergency debate, if it passes all of the remaining business of the day is set aside. That would mean dealing with the timing of the election and authorizing spending for wildfire response would not be dealt with today.

I am concerned that the Member's motion may not get fair consideration if Members are worried that the matter we were called together would be put aside. As a result, under Rule 10.5(2), I will amend Rule 3.5(1) such that at the end of third reading of bills, the Member may move to set aside the original business of the House to discuss a matter of urgent public importance requiring immediate consideration.

Members, I believe this balances the privileges of the Member and the Assembly and ensures the efficient operation of the Chamber. Thank you.

Tabling of Documents

Tabled Document 967-19(2): Supplementary Estimates (Operations Expenditures), No. 2, 20232024

Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the following document: Supplementary Estimates (Operations Expenditures), No. 2, 20232024. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Minister responsible for Finance. Tabling of documents. Government House Leader.

Tabled Document 968-19(2): Government of the Northwest Territories response to Motion 7419(2) Reconciliatory Review of Housing NWT's Collection Approach

Tabled Document 969-19(2): Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Motion 7719(2) Review of the Territorial Land Lease Policy and Procedures

Tabled Document 970-19(2): Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 4019(2) Report on the Review of Bill 61, An Act to Amend the Ombud Act

Tabled Document 971-19(2): Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 5019(2) Strengthening Community Supports, Lifting Youth Voices Recommendations for Suicide Prevention

Tabled Document 972-19(2): Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 5119(2) Report on Indigenous Representation in the Northwest Territories Public Service

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the following five documents: Government of the Northwest Territories response to Motion 7419(2) Reconciliatory Review of Housing NWT's Collection Approach; Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Motion 7719(2) Review of the Territorial Land Lease Policy and Procedures; Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 4019(2) Report on the Review of Bill 61, An Act to Amend the Ombud Act; Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 5019(2) Strengthening Community Supports, Lifting Youth Voices Recommendations for Suicide Prevention; and, Government of the Northwest Territories Response to Committee Report 5119(2) Report on Indigenous Representation in the Northwest Territories Public Service. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Consideration in Committee of the Whole of Bills and Other Matters

Committee, we've agreed to consider Tabled Document 96719(2) Supplementary Estimates (Operations Expenditures) No. 2, 20232024. Does the Minister of Finance have any opening remarks?

Thank you, Madam Chair, I do. Madam Chair, I am here to present Supplementary Estimates (Operations Expenditures), No. 2, 20232024. These supplementary estimates propose a total increase of $75 million to fund the shortfall within the fire suppression budget for the Department of Environment and Climate Change.

I recognize that this request is substantial, and it will have an impact on the GNWT's forecasted operating surplus. I want to assure committee that the Department of Finance is taking steps to ensure that the government remains in compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Policy, as well as considering how best to mitigate the financial impacts of the wildfire season. Given the challenges faced over the last six months, it is likely that GNWT departments will need to prioritize operations and assess activities that are key to government operations and support the residents of the Northwest Territories. As a government, we continue to seek opportunities to recover costs associated with these natural disasters from the federal government.

That concludes my opening remarks, Madam Chair. I would be happy to answer any questions that the Members may have.

Thank you, Minister. Minister, do you wish to bring your witnesses forward?

Yes, please, Madam Chair.

Does committee agree?



Thank you. Would the Minister please introduce your witnesses for the record.

Madam Chair, I believe on the line, also remotely, should be the deputy minister of Finance Bill MacKay, as well as Terence Courtoreille, the assistant deputy minister or deputy secretary to the financial management board. Thank you.

Okay, thank you. I will now open the floor for general comments, and if the Members, just give me time to make sure that I don't miss anybody. All right. MLA Johnson.

Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm just wondering if the Minister can provide us an update of the initial fire suppression budget and what this initial or this additional $75 million brings us up to as a total and then perhaps try to answer the question whether we think this is the grand total or whether another supplementary appropriation may be coming. Thank you.

I'm just going to leave this as general comments until we get into the detail. So if you have general comments on this, state your general comments, and then if you want to get into detail with question and answer, we'll when we get into the line by line item. So do you want to continue, Mr. Johnson.

No general comments. I'll ask questions when it comes to detail. Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you. MLA for Frame Lake.

Thanks, Madam Chair. My questions are going to be detailed as well. So thank you.

All right. MLA for Kam Lake.

Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Madam Chair, I do have some general comments, and I'm going to start just by saying that I was quite surprised to see that this supplemental appropriation was specific to ECE and did not include Finance and ITI. Just from I'm currently sitting here in session today from the city of Edmonton, which has gone above and beyond to try to support residents, and I have to say a huge shout out to city councillors as well that have been working closely with MLAs, to try and help out people as best they can. But right now where I sit, a lot of residents have paid out of pocket for commercial airfare to get here and some of those dollars that they paid for to get here were from their mortgage and rent dollars. Some people car shared and with the current subsidies that are being provided by the GNWT, only the driver is eligible to get the dollars, and so that means that some people car shared, paid out of pocket for gas and aren't eligible to get any kind of subsidies from the GNWT. Some people ended up paying for hotels for days here down in Alberta because they were unable to get through the lineups with the Red Cross to access hotels or didn't have a means of leaving the city where it was longer for people to get hotels. And I spoke with one mother who had four young kids and was sleeping in a vehicle instead of an evacuation centre because she just didn't feel that that was a good option for her for sleeping with her children and that she would get more sleep in her vehicle. Some people are having to take taxis to the Expo Centre here in Edmonton to get food for their families because they're not comfortable in a big city using public transportation, even though the city of Edmonton has graciously made that complementary. Some people have never left the Northwest Territories before, and so it's really quite intimidating to use such a large public infrastructure to try and get around. Some people are travelling for most of the day just back and forth to the Expo Centre to try and get food and have had to kind of use outofpocket dollars to access some of that and are really feeling the pinch.

So from there I also just wanted to kind and I'm using this time, Madam Chair, to talk about this because there isn't a space in this supplementary appropriation for Finance or ITI, and so I'm unable to kind of talk about it outside of this, this space right here. But my other concern is that I have a lot of constituents who have not seen a disruption to their income but given all of these additional costs that are outofpocket and given that a lot of people in our territory live paycheque to paycheque, the additional costs of this evacuation are really stretching them beyond their limits and they're not sure how they're going to really put themselves back together. And I know that one of the things that we often hear said is that people need to plan for a rainy day, but a lot of people have just started to recover postCOVID. And when I think of, like, our neighbours to the south of us over in Hay River, they've been hit with rainy day after rainy day after rainy day, and there's not been an opportunity between any of their evacuations to kind of save for that rainy day. And especially when you're living paycheque to paycheque, there's no money to put away for a rainy day; the North is an expensive place to live. And so I am very concerned about, especially the residents from Hay River, who are I don't know how they've even begun to catch their breath. I'm concerned for the residents that I serve as to how they're going to weather this, especially where we do not know what the timeline on this is, and so I have questions too at a later date about whether or not there is room to extend these subsidies and be a lot more simple and flexible and provide them to every resident; as to whether or not if this evacuation continues, if we're going to look at additional subsidies; and that doesn't even touch on our entrepreneurs and our business owners that we very much seem we rely on in the territory with all of the work that they have done to fire smart the territory.

I'm very appreciative that the SEED funding was opened up, but I have businesses who have paid outofpocket without billable hours. They have paid salaries to their workers to keep them going, and they're not getting any billable hours. They're sitting down here, they are bankrupting their businesses in order to keep food on the tables and in the mouths of the workers that they have because at the end of the day, the longevity of their business, like, there's they're good people, which is why they're doing it, but the longevity of their business also relies on them affording their workers to come home and to stay in the territory and to keep building the territory with them. And so I just wanted to point those out there that I really would have liked to have seen some Finance and ITI dollars in this supplementary appropriation so we could discuss some of those items as well. And I'll have more specific questions for ECE when we get to the appropriate time in the budget. But I have a lot of concerns right now about our residents wearing this evacuation and weathering this very big storm. Thank you, Madam Chair.

Are there any other Members for general comments? Member for Tu NedheWiilideh.

Thank you, Madam Chair. I also would like to add on to my colleague Caitlin Cleveland's comments as well. The majority of my calls are coming in from to me as the MLA for the Tu NedheWiilideh riding is that we have a lot of members that are in Edmonton and Calgary that are displaced. Right now as it is, you know, I understand that there's supplementary funding that's been made available up to $750 for people that drove out and back. But right now as it is, people that are living on social assistance, you know, they can make application to get money and get direct deposit, but right now as you and I, we all sit here today, I have people that are can't afford to take a taxi to do laundry let alone to eat. You know, the monies that they have just basically, when they left Yellowknife, was basically they had no money. And now, you know, they're each First Nation are doing the best to help their members but as we speak right now, we got people that are asking, begging hotel managers and front desk for food and, you know, they can't even take a taxi down to the centre to get food for their children. So, you know, it just it's really disheartening right now as it is to you know, to hear these kinds of stories coming from my constituents that are down south. And not only from them but from other constituents as well, from Yellowknife and Behchoko and so on. So I'm hoping that, you know, when I read, you know, the Red Cross in Alberta, you know, who's south from us, and the food and everything else is cheaper are cheaper down there. But yet, you know, they are the Red Cross will fund them $1,250 per adult and $500 for each dependent. And, you know, that's in Alberta, but here in the Northwest Territories we need to step up as a government to help our people out too as well that are part of this evacuees down in Alberta. I know there's people on the streets in Edmonton, Calgary, people being kicked out of the hotel rooms, and so on. So I'm not really sure, like, at this point my phone's been ringing day and night and dealing with all kind of issues. So I'm hoping that, you know, maybe this government should maybe reach out to the Red Cross as an idea and get them to because right now I don't know if we have the means to help all the evacuees here in the Northwest Territories right now, but we do need to help. So Red Cross has the capacity. Maybe I'm just throwing this out there for discussion but right now as it is, we need to do something. You know, this bill that we're talking about from the Finance Minister, I understand that and the urgency behind it, but we also need to really, really figure a way out because this is something that this this here incident or, what do you want to call it, disaster, doesn't happen, like this is the first one in a long time that I can remember that's hitting home. And but I get calls. I got mothers crying to me. I got fathers crying to me and so on. So I'm not sure what to do. But I'm just I just want to put it out there and maybe we could have a discussion on that too as well. But anyway, I think the Red Cross is out there. They have the means and capacity to pay these guys, our evacuees as much as they can, but Alberta, that's what they do in Alberta. Here in the Northwest Territories, our cost of living is much higher. So, anyway, I just want to put it out there and maybe have some discussion on it. But we do we need to do something, and we need to help the evacuees out. And it's already been over, what, a week or ten days now, and a lot of the people are, again, have no money, and they're struggling, and I'm really I just want to bring that to your attention. Thank you very much. Mahsi.

Thank you, Member for Tu NedheWiilideh. Members, I just want to remind you that this supplementary appropriation estimates is to provide funding for the shortfall in fire suppression activities for this season. That's what we are discussing here in Committee of the Whole. And so if you can keep your questions focused on that because the Minister is not that's what we're prepared for here today. We don't have a bill for or any other information on the recovery. So I'll just put it back to Members, are there general comments on this Supplementary Estimates No. 2? Thank you.

Seeing none oh, MLA Hay River South.

Thank you, Madam Chair. Yeah, I just want to, I guess, a couple comments and, you know you know, the Minister's now asking and this government's asking for another $75 million to continue with the fires, you know, the firefighting efforts going on, and rightfully so. There's a lot of work going on to you know, to support the you know, the firefighters, you know, there's probably cost of equipment and the support to those at the front lines as well. And I think this is just a start of what the ask will be. But, again, you know, I understand as well is that, you know, there's no asking here for additional funds for evacuees, which we're hearing a lot of.

In Hay River, we've been hit three times with evacuations and basically people are financially exhausted. We need to force you know, this government has to force the federal government to step up and provide for me, it would be no less than $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per youth as a start to support them while evacuated.

The other issue too that's come up and, again, it doesn't relate to the $75 million, but is the need to address and support businesses. A lot of them are hurting right now. In Hay River, again, it's the third time that they've

I'd just like you to keep the comments focused on the $75 million for the wildfire suppression in general comments, and then thank you.

Thank you very much, Madam Chair. And that's all.

Thank you. Are there any other general comments? All right. So seeing no further general comments. Does committee agree to proceed to the detail contain understand the tabled document?



Thank you. Committee, we'll begin on page 3 with the Department of Environment and Climate Change, Supplementary Estimates (Operations Expenditures), No. 2, 20232024, Department of Environment and Climate Change, wildlife and forest management, not previously authorized, $75 million. Does committee agree? Member for Frame Lake.

Yes, thanks, Madam Chair. Just quickly, I'm in Edmonton; I want to thank the firefighters, volunteers, contractors, and our Alberta hosts.

I'd like to know, though, from the Minister whether we actually have a total estimate of what the firefighting costs are to date and what it's likely to be by the end of the season and whether this supplementary appropriation is going to be enough? Thanks, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Madam Chair. So, Madam Chair, ECC's base budget for fire suppression is around $21.8 million, and our current estimate is that the supplementary estimate we're proposing should get to the end of the fire season, but you'll detect in my language some uncertainty. Our estimates as of right now, which led to the request for $75 million, is based on where we were at already now about ten days ago if I had my date correctly and, of course, things have continued to change significantly. It was actually as of August 22nd; this is where we were at in estimating where we were, which would be a projection that would you know, bringing us to a total requirement of just under $100 million. And so with that, the shortfall is around $75 million, thereabouts. Again, a bit of an added contingency there. Yeah, can I say where we're at? Again, typical fire season would end sort of by the somewhere in October. Nothing about this year has been typical thus far. So, you know, hopefully this will be adequate to get through to the end of that period. If not, it should at least be adequate to get through to the point that there'd be another opportunity for an Assembly sitting later in the fall. Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you. MLA for Frame Lake.

Thanks, Madam Chair. So in my quick review of the disaster finance assistance arrangements that the federal government has to help provincial/territorial governments, it doesn't look like any firefighting costs are eligible for reimbursement, at least under the policy, and that seems to be across the country. Can the Minister confirm that and what we're doing about it as a government? Thanks, Madam Chair.

Thank you. Minister of Finance.

Thank you, Madam Chair. Madam Chair, yes, that is my understanding as well, that, indeed, the emergency response elements, so namely this is where some of the evacuation costs may be covered if they are within the parameters currently existing under the DFAA but, indeed, firefighting response/wildfire response, would not be. Thank you.

Thank you. Member for Frame Lake.

Okay, thanks, Madam Chair. So this is going to leave us in a huge hole, obviously. Clearly, we cannot possibly be in compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Policy, probably even after a couple years. But can the Minister just tell me what the supplementary or the reserve is at this point and how much over we're going to be as a result of this sup and yes, we'll start with that. Thanks, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Member. Minister of Finance.