Mark Rendell

On the Ledge: What’s Happening in the House

Rounding up the first week of the legislative assembly's back and forth: draining RRSPs, staffing the mining board, saving money on fuel, merging health and an energy trick

We’re now a week into the spring session. After Chris Windeyer’s budget analysis and a look at the government’s controversial rationale for the Stanton P3 project, here’s a breakdown of some of the notable debates YK MLAs have been bringing to the house so far:

Stop penalizing people for good planning, says Bisaro

On the first day of this new session, Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro came out swinging at the government policy on income assistance. The thrust of her attack was directed at the Income Support Policy, which says people must exhaust their RRSPs before they become eligible for income assistance.

“I have to frown on what I heard the Minister say: that it’s okay to penalize people for good planning. It’s okay to tell people that you’ve managed to save, you’ve got this money, use it up before we give you any money to help you out, especially when somebody has been successful and they’ve encountered a bit of a rough patch,” she said.

“This ‘cash in all your extra money policy’ ensures the individual is kept reliant on government, ensures that government will have to continue to provide financially for this person, when they could be given the help they asked for and not be a bigger drain on our resources,” she said.

Minister Jackson Lafferty responded that RRSPs are a rainy day fund. “As such, they should be used prior to accessing IA, income assistance.”

Bisaro was not convinced.

“I would like to suggest that it’s going to be raining awfully hard when people reach retirement age,” she said. “If they have no pension from their work, which many of our residents do not, then it’s going to be raining very hard.”

Don’t like the new Mining Board? Write a letter, says Ramsay

The new mining advisory board, announced by Minister David Ramsay in Vancouver on Jan. 28, came under fire from several MLAs worried that it would become a lobby for the mining sector, rather than a third party at arms-length from the industry.

The purpose of the volunteer board, which will be appointed by Ramsay, is to “provide advice to government to ensure mining regulation is in place, that encourages economic growth while maintaining high regulatory environmental and social standards,” said Ramsay.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, however, worried that environmental and social standards would go by the wayside if only industry representatives populate the board.

“Without representation from environmental and social representatives, the advice of the mining board will not reflect the broad public interest necessary to re-establish the social licence and performance standards the public rightly expects of industry,” he said.

Bromley’s concerns were echoed by Bisaro, in a series of questions she posed to Ramsay on Wednesday.

“I think it is extremely important that we have a cross-section, not just people who are experts in mining but people who are experts on the impact of mining.”

Ramsay, for his part, largely brushed off the complaints/queries.

“It’s an industry advisory board; it’s not a social advocacy board,” he said. “There’s ample opportunity for folks if they are interested in providing commentary on how we develop the industry here by writing letters.”

Fuel’s drop save up to $1 million on NTPC bail-out, says Miltenberger

With the price of oil plummeting, it turns out the GNWT may not need to spend the entire $20-million they promised the Northwest Territories’ Power Corporation in September to help cover high costs due to low-water levels.

“There have been some projected savings with the cost of diesel,” said Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger, though he added “diesel hasn’t come down as much as the price of oil.”

“Depending on the cold and what’s happening with fuel prices, [savings] could be in the neighbourhood of $900,000 or maybe $1 million, but again it depends on a number of factors that we don’t control.”

This came in response to a question from Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins, who wanted to know what was happening to the money NTPC was saving due to lower fuel costs.

“We will spend what is needed, so the volume will depend on the temperature,” said Miltenberger. “We’ll account for every penny and litre that we use and burn, on an as-required basis. Ten million dollars [the first-year’s installment of the payment to NTPC] has not gone into the NTPC coffers.”

Health board amalgamation bill moves fast, maybe a little bit too fast, says Abernethy

Last Monday, Health Minister Glenn Abernethy tabled several amendments to the Hospital Insurance and Health and Social Services Administration Act, which will see regional health boards consolidated into a single territorial board.

The idea is “to move to one territorial Health and Social Services Authority, with one territorial board of management. But regional advisory wellness councils will continue to provide advice on local and regional program delivery,” said Abernethy in an announcement in November of last year.

“We do not propose to eliminate any positions, and we do not intend to move positions out of regions or communities… This new structure will create exciting opportunities for the talented people within our system to assume leadership roles, working in virtual teams across the territory,” he added.

The bill, which will likely be the most significant of this session, has had its first and second reading. It’s been publicly supported by a number of MLAs, though several have expressed reservations.

The Weledeh MLA said he supported the “principle of the bill,” though he added there are “some serious concerns that hadn’t been resolved,” from aboriginal governments that “are still a little bit surprised at how rapidly this is advancing.”

Last fall’s energy charette was a trick, says Dolynny

The GNWT’s much-vaunted energy charette in November (analyzed here by Chris Windeyer) received a scathing review from Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny who suggested that after spending a quarter-million dollars on two charrettes, the government still “has no idea what it’s doing.”

“During our last session, every time an issue of energy, cost of living, or electricity generation hit the floor of this House, the Cabinet was quick on its feet to point out to the Messiah of the upcoming Energy Charrette as its public defender in action,” said Dolynny. “Everyone in this House fell for the trick.”

“I mean, it did create a couple of jobs for a couple of keynote speakers and some facilitators. This is always good … but really what did this accomplish that wasn’t already in archive?”

He claimed that the document coming out of the charette would be nothing more than “another GNWT Swiffer duster picker-upper.”

“It’s really too bad this government will be judged only on its use of words and not its actions to mitigate our energy concerns. Let’s hope the leadership of the 18th Assembly has more foresight.”