(October 17, 2013) - Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome my colleagues back to the continuation of the Fourth Session of the 17th Legislative Assembly. It is good to be getting back to work. We have an ambitious agenda, Mr. Speaker, and a lot left to accomplish as a territory and as a government, so I hope my colleagues are feeling well-rested.
The Fourth Session began on February 6, 2013. During the Winter and Spring sittings of this Session, Members considered and passed 13 Bills contributing to the good government and administration of the Northwest Territories. This included the 2013-14 Budget, which was passed after extensive review and debate this past March.
Ensuring the effective and efficient use of public funds is one of our most important tasks as legislators, Mr. Speaker, and during this Session we will be considering the 2014-15 infrastructure plan. For several years now, we have reviewed the annual capital plan in the Fall sitting of the Legislative Assembly to better support and prepare for the new construction season. Although we consider the capital and operations budgets at separate times, capital spending is a significant and critical part of the overall Government of the Northwest Territories budget.
Capital investments are necessary for building and maintaining the infrastructure – schools, health centres, garages, workshops and offices – where the Government’s programs and services are planned and delivered to the people of the Northwest Territories. The 2014-15 infrastructure budget continues this government’s pursuit of a balanced agenda with investments in the health and well-being of Northwest Territories residents, environmental management and economic development. Minister Miltenberger will have more to say about the capital budget when it is formally introduced for the consideration of the House.
More than a dozen pieces of legislation have been passed so far during the 4th Session. There are a number of bills currently before Standing Committees, including a new Wildlife Act and amendments to the Education Act to address bullying. We look forward to continued debate on all these bills in Committee of the Whole after they have been reported back to the House.
While debates in this House are central to the business of government, this is not the only place that Members of the Legislative Assembly get the business of the people of the Northwest Territories done. Since our last sitting in May, I know that Standing Committees have been busy meeting and traveling to consider matters of importance to residents.
Ministers, too, have been busy advancing the interests of the Northwest Territories and meeting with residents around the North. Over the past few months, Cabinet Ministers and I continued our commitment to engaging with Aboriginal governments by attending summer assemblies and annual general meetings of the Tlicho, the Akaitcho and Gwich’in, as well as the Dene National Assembly. Next month, Ministers will also be attending the Northwest Territories Metis Nation Annual General Meeting.
I was very pleased to attend the Sahtu Annual General Assembly in Tulita, where Mr. Yakeleya and I joined in celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the Sahtu Dene and Metis Land Claim and unveiling of the Sahtu Land Use Plan. It was a privilege to be present for the arrival of the traditional moose skin boat, the first of its kind made and paddled on the Mackenzie in many years.
Engagement with our colleagues at the federal, provincial and territorial level is another way that the Government of the Northwest Territories can represent and advance the interests of the people of the territory. Of particular note is work that this Government is doing at the national level on the social housing and Aboriginal educational achievement files. We are also part of the ongoing national work on labour market and anti-bullying issues, which were discussed by Premiers at our Council of the Federation and Western Premiers meetings over the summer.
We have also had the opportunity to showcase the Northwest Territories and the work we are doing with our colleagues from across the country at both the annual Energy and Mining Ministers Conference the Northwest Territories hosted in August and the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Seniors’ Ministers meetings that were held here in Yellowknife just last week. Next year, we look forward to welcoming Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for the Status of Women to the Northwest Territories for their annual meeting.
On the international stage, our Government continues to promote awareness of the Northwest Territories and its interests. Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic council will draw attention to Canada’s North. We support Canada’s focus on sustainable development and are engaged with the federal government to make sure our interests are represented in Council proceedings. Canada’s chairmanship will also be an opportunity to showcase the Northwest Territories to the world as Arctic Council meetings are held in our territory. Already we have hosted a meeting of the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna working group and look forward to more meetings, including the Senior Arctic Officials next March.
This summer also marked significant milestones in some major projects, including the commissioning of the Bluefish Dam, attended by Commissioner Tuccaro, Minister Miltenberger and Mr. Robert Hawkins, Member for Yellowknife Centre. The new dam is a major piece of public infrastructure that, along with the Snare Hydro System, supplies power for Behchoko, Yellowknife, N’dilo and Dettah. Together the two systems are a source of renewable power for more than half the population of the territory that help to displace the use of more expensive diesel fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Bluefish project was a step towards a future energy system that makes better use of the tremendous hydro potential the Northwest Territories has to help create sustainable communities and grow and diversify our economy.
Another significant achievement was the signing of the Final Agreement on Devolution on June 25th. I was proud to join Minister Valcourt and leaders from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Northwest Territories Metis Nation, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, Gwich’in Tribal Council and Tlicho Government, as well as several Ministers and yourself, Mr. Speaker, in Inuvik for this historic event.
Gaining Northern control over public lands and resources has been a longstanding goal for the Government and Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, and many previous Legislative Assemblies. This agreement will make that dream a reality effective April 1, 2014 and give the people of this territory the authority to control development, protect the environment and direct our economic future according to Northern priorities and values.
Work on this critical priority has continued over the summer and fall and recently culminated in the announcement of the new organizational structure for the Government of the Northwest Territories when Devolution takes effect on April 1, 2014. That announcement was made at the beginning of October, at the same time as our government issued job offers to 118 federal employees who currently deliver programs and services that will be transferred to the Government of the Northwest Territories. We look forward to welcoming these dedicated and experienced people into the Government of the Northwest Territories, where they can continue their service to the North and help us make the transition to Devolution smooth and efficient.
We also continue to work on the seven bills and over 20 regulations that must be enacted by April 1st in accordance with “mirroring” standards required in the Devolution Final Agreement. In addition work is underway on new legislation required to implement the Devolution Agreement, including the NWT Intergovernmental Lands and Resources Management Agreement Act, the NWT Intergovernmental Resource Revenue Sharing Act and the Devolution Measures Implementation Act.
Mr. Speaker, the Government and Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories continue to work to advance the interests of all the people of this territory. We will pass the second anniversary of our first meeting as the 17th Legislative Assembly during this Fourth Session. We have accomplished a lot on behalf of our people in the past two years, but there is much more work ahead. With the expected conclusion of the Session and the opening of the Fifth Session next month, the Commissioner will be delivering his Opening Address outlining the Government’s achievements to date and an agenda for the remainder of our term.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.