MEDIA RELEASE: Review of Aurora College Social Work Program

October 9, 2018 – A report containing analysis and recommendations on Aurora College’s Social Work Diploma Program reveals that the program could be transitioned into a degree program and offered in the polytechnic university recommended by the recent Aurora College Foundation Review.

A copy of the report was obtained through an access to information request filed by Julie Green, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Yellowknife Centre.

“The report provides comprehensive analysis and a roadmap for the advancement of this vital program offering,” Green says.  “The number of graduates from a BSW program will increase if students don’t have to take third and fourth year-level courses in their first year, which is what happens now in the diploma program.”

“The demand for social workers is strong and shows no sign of diminishing according to Education, Culture and Employment’s 15-year forecast, with 158 new social workers needed by 2030,” says Green.  “Are we going to fill those with a revolving turn-over of southern hires, or are we going to continue training our own residents who know the realities of NWT life?”

The report enumerates the program’s many strengths including the necessary context for northern social work practice. It provides a strong foundation for further improvement that would benefit other programs, such as nursing, on a cost-effective basis.  “The remaining social work program instructors should be directed to create an implementation plan for the next school year based on the recommendations.”

“The contract for the report was let a year after the College made the decision to cut the program yet the report says its purposes are to determine how well the program meets students’ and employers’ needs, and to develop recommendations to improve it,” Green says.  The report was undertaken independently from the Aurora College Foundational Review by Crowe MacKay in Yellowknife and delivered in April.

“It’s clear that the decision to axe the program was not evidence based except on the basis of cost per graduate. The Executive Council pressured the College to cut program expenditures in order to pile up cash for capital projects.”

“So once again, roads trump housing, roads trump hospitals, and roads trump education.  When are we going to make investments in the NWT’s people a priority?”

“I’m looking forward to the October session of the Legislative Assembly, when I hope to get a new decision from a new minister, in keeping with the many progressive recommendations of this report and of the Aurora College Foundational Review.”

Read the report:  

For more information, please contact:

Julie Green, MLA Yellowknife Centre

P: 867-767-9143 ext. 12180 or toll-free 1-800-661-0784 E: julie_green@gov.nt.ca

When consensus government works

In the photo above: swearing in MLAs of the 18th Assembly

Most of us have probably had the experience of explaining consensus government to someone who is unfamiliar with it. The person doing the listening is bewildered. “Who chooses the premier? If executive council is a minority, how does anything get done?” And, most important, ”how does accountability work if you don’t have political parties?”

I find that question the most difficult to answer, and the failed mid-term review didn’t make it any easier.  A quick recap: MLAs of the 18th Assembly decided to conduct a mid-term review of the performance of Executive Council to improve accountability, a key election issue in 2015. The Rules and Procedures Committee created a process and MLAs spent hours debating and refining it. Last October, the mid-term review took place in the Legislative Assembly.

As far as accountability went, it was a bust. After speeches, questions and answers in committee of the whole, MLAs voted by secret ballot to remove Thebacha MLA Lou Sebert. The next day in the House, a motion to remove him failed. Why one result one day and another the next day? Because, in public, Executive Council decided to vote as a block. There was no requirement for them to do so. There should have been a free vote on Mr. Sebert’s removal where each member voted on the instructions of his constituents. It’s this ability to vote freely rather than on party lines that makes consensus government unique. What we got instead was block voting and an accountability failure.

Fast forward to June 14, to the non-confidence motion in the Premier at the Nunavut Legislature. MLAs there had already decided they wouldn’t be doing a mid-term review in 2019. But some were obviously dissatisfied with Paul Quassa’s performance. Using the same process available in the NWT Legislature, a member introduced a notice of motion, and two days later the motion came forward for debate. The debate was brief, followed by a free vote on the motion. Because it was a free vote, Cabinet members could vote as their constituents and consciences guided them. Six members of Cabinet voted non-confidence, along with ten regular MLAs. The result: Quassa was dismissed and Joe Savikataaq was elected to replace him.

The process in Nunavut showcased how accountability can work. It provided for a level of transparency around dismissing and choosing a leader unheard of in party politics. It demonstrated how nimble consensus government can be when accountability is required. No need to wait until the next election: the problem can be solved with two days’ notice.  NWT MLAs, especially those in Cabinet, should be interested in promoting accountability in consensus government.  We owe it to voters. And if we’re not prepared to improve accountability, the need for party politics to do the job will continue to nip at our heels.

More on Carillion and the Stanton P3 Situation

I’ve continued to question the Minister of Finance on the fall out from the takeover of the Stanton P3 maintenance contract by Fairfax Canada.   I got the briefing note below, which updates with the latest information.

Also, I received a response to my written question on the “Impact of the Collapse of Carillion on Stanton Renewal Project”, and a cash flow for the remainder of the project construction.

I’ll continue to press for more information and post it as it’s received.

 

Briefing Note

STANTON TERRITORIAL HOSPITAL RENEWAL PROJECT

PURCHASE OF CARILLION CANADA

ISSUE

On February 5, 2018, Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited (Fairfax) announced it had entered into an agreement with Carillion Canada where Fairfax will acquire certain assets and assume certain liabilities related to Carillion’s Canadian operations.

 

  • Construction activities are not affected. The design and construction of Stanton is being undertaken by a joint venture of Bird Construction and Clark Builders.  The proposed purchase of certain activies Carillion Canada will not impact current construction activity and timelines.
  • P3 model and structure is functioning properly to protect the GNWT. Project Co is required to be a separate legal entity which isolates the GNWT from external shocks to any of Project Co’s parent companies.  It is Project Co’s responsibity to remedy any adverse operational or other impacts being faced by any member of the consortium.
  • Project Co partners remain committed. The other Partners of the consortium, Bird and HOCHTIEF, have confirmed their commitment to the project, which includes assessing the proposed acquisition of Carillion Canada’s services business, which includes the Stanton contract.

CURRENT Status

On February 7, 2018, the Department of Finance met with representatives of Carillion Canada, Bird and HOCHTIEF.  A summary of the call is as follows:

  • Fairfax has offered to purchase the services business of Carillion Canada, which will include the provision of services to Stanton Hospital
  • Given that the proposed transaction is an acquisition of assets, it likely the current management team, including the key people involved in the Stanton project, will still be in place.  A takeover by a competitor would install its own management and program services people into the new entity
  • Proposed purchase is going through a due diligence review by Fairfax and UK receiver but parties want to close deal by the end of March 2018
  • As part of the proposed purchase, Fairfax to advance $50 million in operating capital to Carillion
  • BHP has also written Carillion and Fairfax to get clarity on the entity they will be dealing with. Likely too early for this.  Need to remember, Fairfax is only a holding company that operates through various subsidiaries so will likely need to create another subsidiary this new company
  • BHP Lenders pleased with the announcement as it gives some certainty that the current issue with Carillion, as it relates to the Stanton project, will be resolved in a timley manner
  • Some info on Fairfax:
    • A holding company that provides insurance and investment management services through various subsidiaries
    • $10 billion in revenues
    • $2 billion in net income
    • $35 billion in assets
    • $10 billion in equity

Department of Finance Assesment

  • From the Department’s perspective, this is a very positive outcome, if it can be finalized. Based on the proposed structure, it really does bring us back to “business as usual” stance, especially if it can close as quickly as Fairfax wants
  • Fairfax is buying the service operations of Carillion Canada, which includes providing services to Stanton Hospital
  • The new company will likely have the same key people in place. Nothing currently has or will be changing on the ground.
  • Strong parent company that has the balance sheet to guarantee the performance of the new company, which the Departyment would require
  • BHP’s Lenders will likely support the proposal
  • Though there is still some due diligence being undertaken, given the desire for a quick close and the injection of capital into Carillion, the proposed transaction looks achievable in the timeframe being contemplated
  • Likely be a filling in the courts on February 8, 2018 to outline some of what was discussed at the meeting.

BACKGROUND

  • Carillion Canada Inc. holds a 50 per cent equity interest in Boreal Health Partnership (“Project Co”). The other equity investors and partners are Bird Construction Inc. (“Bird”) and HOCHTIEF Canada (“HOCHTIEF”), each of which holds a 25 per cent equity interest.
  • Project Co entered into a project agreement with the GNWT on September 22, 2015, to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the new Stanton Hospital. Under the Project Agreement Carillion Canada will operate and maintain the hospital for a 30-year period.
  • The Project is currently in construction, with commissioning of the new hospital scheduled for November, 2018.

 

 

Update on Stanton Hospital Renewal – January 26, 2018

The GNWT met with BHP (Boreal Health Partnership: Clark, Bird, Carillon) today to get any additional updates.  From the GNWT’s perspective nothing has changed with the new filing by Carillion Canada (CC) for credit protection.  This filing could complicate things for BHP and the lenders but not for the GNWT.
  •  BHP are still bound by the requirements of the PA, as identified in the BN sent to MLAs yesterday.
  •  The reason why Carillion Canada requested and received protection is so it could continue operations and provide comfort to its clients that it is taking steps to be a growing concern entity.  The receiver for its parent company, Carillion plc, cancelled all financing to Carillon Canada so what this does is give time to secure its own financing from alternative sources given the parent is no longer back stopping the operation.
  • BHP still confirmed November 30th service commencement.  The GNWT has raised the concern of a compressed commissioning schedule if the worse-case scenario unfolds and Carillion cannot meet its obligations and a new service provider needs to be provided.  BHP acknowledge this concern and again confirmed they are taking proactive steps to stabilize the situation and uncertainty.·
  • All work activity on worksite is proceeding as planned and all joint project meetings will take place as scheduled with all representatives actively participating.
  • While the GNWT will need to be vigilant on event related to Carillion as they unfold, the activities to date confirms the P3 approach is working as intended for Stanton, with BHP and its lenders absorbing the impact of the recent Carillion events.

It is important to remember:

o   the hospital is 75% built already, and GNWT has not yet paid any amount towards its capital (debt and equity), and won’t pay anything until it is completed to the required standard
o   the Carillion services contract is with BHP and not with GNWT, such that BHP must resolve the recent Carillion events
o   the future service payments are performance based, and will be reduced or avoided if the facility does not perform to the required standard (not a feature of conventional procurement)
o   the project financing and ring fencing approach is working as intended to isolate the Stanton project from the Carillion corporate challenges
 
  •         Carillion has no role in the retrofit to the old hospital.

Update from GNWT Department of Finance on new Stanton hospital

STANTON TERRITORIAL HOSPITAL RENEWAL PROJECT

CARILLION PLC LIQUIDATION

ISSUE

Carillion Plc, the UK-based parent company of Carillion Canada Inc. (or “Carillion Canada”), has entered into liquidation.  Carillion Canada is an equity investor and key partner in the consortium that is developing and operating Stanton Hospital.

Key Messages

  • Construction activities are not affected. The design and construction of Stanton is being undertaken by a joint venture of Bird Construction and Clark Builders.  As Carillion Canada is not involved in the design-build phase, the liquidation of Carillion Plc will not impact current construction activity and timelines.
  • Carillion Canada is not in liquidation. Carillion Canada holds a 50 per cent equity interest in Boreal Health Partnership (“Project Co”).  Although not directly part of the liquidation, Carillion Canada is a profitable subsidiary of Carillion Plc, so is likely subject to a potential sale by the Receiver as part of the liquidation.
  • Service Contract with Carillion Canada remains ‘business as usual’. Carillion Canada remains fully operational and continues to deliver services on its existing contracts, which includes planning for the provision of services in new hospital after substantial construction is completed in late 2018.
  • P3 model and structure is functioning properly to protect the GNWT. Project Co is required to be a separate legal entity which isolates the GNWT from external shocks to any of Project Co’s parent companies.  It is Project Co’s responsibity to remedy any adverse operational or other impacts being faced by any member of the consortium.
  • Project Co partners remain committed. The other Partners of the consortium, Bird and HOCHTIEF, have confirmed their commitment to the project, which have confirmed their commitment to the project, which included assessing options related to Carillion Canada’s equity share in Project Co.

CURRENT Status

  • Carillion Canada Inc. holds a 50 per cent equity interest in Boreal Health Partnership (“Project Co”). The other equity investors and partners are Bird Construction Inc. (“Bird”) and HOCHTIEF Canada (“HOCHTIEF”), each of which holds a 25 per cent equity interest.
  • Project Co entered into a project agreement with the GNWT on September 22, 2015, to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the new Stanton Hospital. Under the Project Agreement Carillion Canada will operate and maintain the hospital for a 30-year period.
  • The Project is currently in construction, with commissioning of the new hospital scheduled for November, 2018.
  • The GNWT met with project Co on January 16, 2018 for an update on the status of Carillion plc’s receivership proceedings. Carillion Canada confirmed that Carillion’s Canadian operations have not been impacted by the receivership and continue to fullfil its contractual obligations to its clients.  BHP confirmed its obligations under the Project Agreement, spefcially, the requirement to have a service provider in place if Carillion Canada is subsequently unable to fullfil this role due to receivership.  Going forward, the GNWT has regularly scheduled meeitngs with Project Co to ensure it is kept up-to-date on the situation.

Potential Outcomes

The GNWT to needs to plan for three potential outcomes: Carillion plc will be unable to continue to provide its guarantee of Carillion Canada’s obligations under the Project despite its commitment to do so.

    1. Carillion plc will be unable to continue to provide its guarantee of Carillion Canada’s obligations under the Project despite its commitment to do so.

     

    1. Carillion Canada will fail to perform its obligations as Service Provider under the Project Agreement.

     

    1. Liquidation of Carillion Plc will otherwise impair the Project (i.e. through reputational harm to the GNWT, delays, or withdrawal of other Project stakeholders).

Failing a resolution by Project Co, project lenders have recourses available to them within the lending documents, which include: letters of credit; seek recourse to the Service Provider parent company guarantee and utilize step-in rights.

The GNWT also has recourses available such as: indemnities, termination of the Project Agreement, forcing Project Co to replace the Service Provider and step-in rights (which can only be exercised after the lenders exercise their step-in rights, or forego that opportunity).

It should be emphasized that the GNWT contracted with Project Co, and not directly with the subcontractors.  The responsibility therefore lies with Project Co to find a replacement Service Provider if the Services Contract ceases to be in full force and effect, for any reason.

Given that all DBFOM obligations ultimately remain with Project Co, Bird and HOCHTIEF are economically incentivized to implement appropriate mitigation strategies in the event that Carillion Canada is unable to perform as the Service Provider.

Appendix A:  Public Private Partnerships

Public-Private Partnership Policy

 The GNWT’s Public-Private Partnership Policy allows the GNWT to enter into partnership agreements with the private sector to procure services and public infrastructure when:

  • the total projected threshold for procuring those services, including capital, operating, and service costs over the life of the agreement exceeds $50 million;
  • there is appropriate risk sharing between the GNWT and the private sector partners;
  • the agreement extends beyond the initial capital construction of the project;
  • the arrangement results in a clear net benefit, as opposed to being merely neutral in comparison with standard procurement processes.

What does “P3” mean?

  • P3 is an acronym for “Public Private Partnership.”
  • Public Private Partnerships are a type of agreement that have become common in government infrastructure projects.
  • While there are a number of different models of P3 agreements, they are characterized by a transfer of risk from the government (public partner) to the private partner.
  • In most cases, the government does not pay anything until the project has been completed. This means that the private partner puts up the money for construction and does not start getting paid back until construction is finished.

What are the benefits of a P3?

This approach brings private-sector expertise, ingenuity, and rigor to the process of managing and renewing the GNWT’s public infrastructure, but preserves public ownership of core public assets. It works towards:

  • minimizing cost and schedule overruns;
  • better integration of design, construction, and long-term maintenance and building services;
  • more accountability throughout the planning, construction, and maintenance phases of each project;
  • building infrastructure that will last for years to come, be maintained to high standards, and support the delivery of quality health care for residents of the NWT; and
  • providing value through innovation, which manages costs, enhances program delivery, and generates economic benefits.

P3 projects in Canada and around the world have yielded many benefits. The most consistent of these include cost savings, faster construction, and improvements to plans. Evidence shows that Canada’s P3 model brings more transparency, rigorous analysis, and accountability to procurement, construction, financing, and maintenance than traditionally procured projects. The results are roads, hospitals, recreation centres, etc. that are delivered faster, on budget, and maintained to high standards over several decades. With almost everything being measured in a P3 project, there are more mechanisms to identify lapses in service quality and impose penalties according to the contract.

 

 

 

Reflections on the Mid Term Review

According to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in politics. That makes the two years since the 18th Legislative Assembly was elected an eternity.

During the campaign, accountability and transparency were much-discussed issues, and voters made good their desire for change by electing an unprecedented 11 new MLAs, including me. One of the ways all Members  decided to increase accountability was to hold a mid-term review on the performance of the premier and cabinet.  The review would be the first in 20 years.

The rules and procedures committee worked hard to create a process that was open and fair. For me, it was important to create a process that was evidence-based and removed from the self-serving “let’s make a deal” process that leads up the election  of the premier and cabinet by the territorial leadership committee.

The mid-term review took place on Thursday, Oct. 5. The first sign of trouble came right at the start when the MLA for Hay River North asked cabinet if they would honour the results of the confidence motions that would be passed after the question and answer session.  Each cabinet minister said no, not unless they were forced to by motion in the house during a regular sitting.  Their position reflects the minority report filed by the cabinet minister – Justice Minister Louis Sebert – who is on the rules and procedures committee about the mid-term review. The report notes that confidence motions are not binding unless they are passed in the house. It goes on to say, “the recommendation proposed here can be interpreted as one meant to embarrass or shame a minister into resigning without having the knowledge of which of their colleagues lack faith in their abilities

It’s important to note that members are elected to executive council by a secret ballot and then confirmed by a motion in the house. But in the reverse, rather than leaving when asked, cabinet ministers want to be thrown out the door. This approach is not compatible with the accountability all members made a big deal about at the beginning. It reveals that arrogance comes with power. It turns out that consensus government has nothing special to offer when it comes to accountability.

Why does any of this matter? It’s easy to write Oct. 5 off simply as a day of political drama. But what’s at stake is the quality of services government provides to NWT residents.  It’s about whether there is an effective program for men who want to learn how to respond to anger without violence; whether schools are adequately funded for their multiplying jobs; or whether cutting spending to create a surplus of funds for road construction is a vision shared by most members.

The job of a minister is an important one. Ministers are held responsible for their leadership and the work of their departments in the assembly. If the members of the legislative assembly believe ministers are not effective in his/her role after a fact-based process members have agreed to respect, then it is clear that minister’s leadership is no longer wanted. Having every member of cabinet say they don’t care what the members think about their performance is not only disrespectful of the will of  the majority of the assembly, it defends bad performance and poor public service using the kind of tactics that give politics a bad name.

I’m disappointed that the mid-term review didn’t produce the change I wanted to see for constituents and for the territory as a whole. We tried to do politics differently and we failed. Was it worth a try? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably not.

My Response to the Open Letter on Downtown Issues

Here is my response to the open letter received regarding issues in the downtown:

 

RE: Open Letter on Downtown Issues

Dear Mr. Seiler:

Thank you for your letter of February 9, addressed to myself, other political leaders and media.

As you point out in your letter, there have been repeated requests for action to alleviate the situation in the downtown.   A number or positive steps have been taken recently, and further action is underway to alleviate a situation that has deteriorated dramatically in the last two to three years.

Shelter hours have been extended so that there is no period when a homeless shelter is not open and available for refuge from the street.  The first of the Housing First housing placements is proceeding, providing 10 chronically homeless people with their own accommodations in the last six months and with more to come. 

The City of Yellowknife’s Homelessness Roadmap was developed in consultation with territorial partners, and new financial resources devoted to its implementation in the recent territorial budget.  The search continues for a new location for the day shelter, which will be moved once an alternative is secured.  A street outreach service will be introduced, to locate and pick up people on the street, and take them to a shelter if that’s what they need.  One such shelter will be a “sobering centre” planned in the Homelessness Roadmap, providing a warm and safe place for intoxicated persons to recover.  The proposed introduction of a managed alcohol program is expected to reduce the need for persons to be on the street looking for a source of alcohol.  I will be in touch with the Justice Minister to urge more policing patrols.  I am also continuing to work with the ministers of Housing and Homelessness, and Health and Social Services to implement solutions for the street population and their neighbors.

I am very conscious of the frustration and harm caused by the presence of intoxicated persons, concentrated in the downtown core and in your shopping mall.  I addressed this issue at length in my reply to the Budget Address given February 6.

I believe the actions outlined in the Yellowknife Homelessness Roadmap are a vigorous response to these conditions and demonstrate how governments have listened, acted and intend to act.  Once introduced, these well-considered actions   will go a long way towards improving this situation.  I know this is not an immediate solution, and ask for your patience as the program of actions is rolled out.

Signed,

Julie Green

MLA Yellowknife Centre

Premier: please explain how the new health deal meets our needs

NOV.22, 2016 FILE PHOTO Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Bob McLeod, Premier of the Northwest Territories, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. McLeod says the provinces and territories are pushing to make health care spending a priority when they sit down next month with Trudeau. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Health and Social Services budget is the largest in the GNWT at $414 million for this fiscal year and – incredibly – it’s not enough to meet existing and future health needs. The NWT health and social services budget has been growing at an average of four per cent a year since 2011-2012. It’s a sad fact that it’s probably never going to be enough. And the new health care funding deal announced Tuesday isn’t going to make a huge difference to the bottom line.

Canada transfers health funding to provinces and territories calculated on a per capita basis. That’s an automatic disadvantage for northerners. Canada had been increasing the health transfer at a rate of six per cent a year but that rate ends March 31. Thanks to a decision by the previous federal government, beginning April 1, the Canada Health Transfer is going to drop to three per cent. Despite walking out of talks in December, saying Ottawa wasn’t offering enough, Premier Bob McLeod has now settled for a three per cent annual increase for the next ten years. That’s half of what we get today

Ottawa is offering some extras, but they are not going to make up the shortfall. There is $7.4 million targeted to health care infrastructure, and $6.1 million for mental health initiatives for youth. These amounts are totals for ten years. McLeod told CBC that there is going to be additional money for medical travel and innovation, extending a current bilateral agreement, but didn’t provide any other details.

In December, the Premier signaled a need for more cuts to keep up with spending. “I guess a decision will have to be made whether we take the money from other programs to pay for health care,” he told Yellowknifer. Where do we stand now? The premier hasn’t said, but there’s obviously going to be a need to find money for the forced growth in the health and social services budget from others sources, whether making cuts or increasing revenue. Anxious northerners want to know.

Health care is a hot button issue with voters, and rightly so. But as of today, the Premier hasn’t spoken to regular MLAs or local media about the new health deal. The GNWT hasn’t even issued a media release of its own on the deal. Contrast this approach to the hoopla that accompanied the announced federal funding for the road to Whati last week. Is the Premier not proud of deciding to walk back his commitment to negotiate with his colleagues on a national health deal rather than participate in a bilateral agreement? Is he not proud of the money he’s bringing to the territories for health care?

McLeod told CBC’s Power and Politics of the negotiations with Ottawa that “we got what we wanted and needed.” If that’s the case, Premier, tell us now how this health care deal is going to accomplish those goals because the math that’s public now doesn’t add up.

Roads Aren’t a Good Investment

Members of the Priorities and Planning Committee met in Behchoko, and met with Tlicho Government leadership.

Today the federal and territorial governments announced their plan to spend tens of millions of tax-payer dollars on a 97 kilometre all-season road from Highway 3 to Whati. Ottawa will pay up to 25 per cent and the territorial government will pay the balance of the estimated $150 million in a public-private partnership. I realize that Chief Alfonz Nitsiza and the Tlicho Government support this road and believe that it will do great things for the community, but I think they have been sold a bill of goods.

First, significant economic activity related to the road will only come if and when Fortune Minerals develops its NICO deposit located 50 kilometres northwest of Whati. One mining industry veteran described the mining project to me last week as “sub-economic” meaning  that while its shares are trading at 14 cents each (on the afternoon of the announcement),  the prospect of raising the $589 million required for development is dim.

Without the mine, the road is just another short-term make work project. The economic lift of road construction will be intense. There will be dozens of jobs available over the four-year construction period. If Tlicho companies partner with a southern contractor to obtain the P3 contract, Tlicho residents may be the ones who get these jobs. But after construction, only a handful of people will be required to provide ongoing maintenance. Government is perpetuating the boom and bust economy by building this road, and not investing in sustainability.

The GNWT’s investment in this project is $6.7 million dollars this fiscal year and next to cover start up costs. What could that money buy instead? For a start, it could buy at least dozen houses in a community that has one of the territories’ highest numbers of houses that are overcrowded or in need of major repairs. Or it could buy The Tlicho Community Services Agency a reprieve on having to making cuts to schools in the region in order to help government pay for the implementation of junior kindergarten. Or it could buy a greater investment in education at all grade levels to bring Whati’s graduation rate up from 43 per cent to the territorial average of 73 per cent (2014 numbers). Or establish an Aurora College learning centre. Whati also needs a half million dollar upgrade to its sewage lagoon.

The GNWT assures us that the road will reduce the cost of living in Whati. Would investment in hydro-electric power generation have the same effect if NTPC customers didn’t have to pay for diesel generation? About ten years ago, there was a huge effort to develop a community-based plan for mini hydro on the La Martre River near Whati.  This development would get the community off diesel for ever.   And when people drive to Yellowknife regularly to shop, will the cost of the vehicles and gas be offset by the savings on goods they buy at the big box stores?

Yesterday, Chief Alfonz Nitsiza told the committee of regular MLAs that the community expects challenges from the road as well as the benefits access will bring. I encourage him to talk to other small communities that have year-round road access to assess what those benefits are. Fort Resolution is a community of the same size, and it’s on a road. Its employment rate is 46 per cent while in Whati it’s 40 per cent. Its average employment income is just $1,500 more than it is Whati (2014 numbers). The food price index, which compares communities to a Yellowknife baseline, shows that costs are only slightly higher in Whati than in Fort Resolution using 2015 numbers.

The evidence is clear: roads are not an efficient engine of economic growth in and of themselves. Look no further than the $300 million road from Inuvik to Tuk. Now that the Beaufort Sea is closed to exploration, the direct economic benefits of the road are limited to the construction period that is almost over. Today there’s no reason to believe the road to Whati will be any more sustainable as an engine of economic growth. It’s time to rethink our investments and choose projects that have better and longer-lasting returns for our people.

Given the choice, I will always spend money on people over roads.

 

No End in Sight for Poverty in NWT

antipovertynov2016-cropSeveral national anti-poverty advocacy organizations released reports in November. The news for both Canada as a whole and the NWT is pretty grim: both nationally and in the NWT, one in five children live in poverty, food bank use is going up and so is use of emergency shelters. The latter point was starkly confirmed when CBC North reported that emergency shelters are so full that people are being turned away. Their options are to ask to sleep in RCMP cells, walk to the hospital to sleep in a chair in the lobby or sleep over a warm air vent. A cold exposure death is almost inevitable. It’s also preventable.

All of this news coincides with the 4th annual GNWT Anti-Poverty Round Table, held November 29-30 in Inuvik. Many of the delegates run non-profits on a shoestring, providing short-term solutions to immediate problems such as hunger and homelessness. Others in municipal and aboriginal governments do what they can. The responsibility for funding the reduction of poverty lies with the territorial and federal governments.

The Minister of Health and Social Services, Glen Abernethy, led the charge on the creation of an anti-poverty strategy and action plan in the 17th Assembly. I took part in this work on behalf of the non-profit sector, with high hopes it would make a difference. So far, I’m disappointed. The major takeaway from the gathering in Inuvik is that the department has launched a new anti-poverty website and it will continue to administer the $500,000 GNWT Anti-Poverty Fund. Neither initiative is anything like the transformative action we need.

The APF has funded some good work, mostly related to providing short-term help, and often in the form of food. But providing food is not the answer to hunger; increasing local food production is a better alternative. As the saying goes, “give a man a fish, he’ll eat today; teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Investments in housing and homelessness have also been meager given the size of the fund.

The Minister is fond of saying “government can’t solve the problem [of poverty] on its own.” That’s true, but only government has the capacity to make investments that will create systemic solutions to poverty. We need more housing, a basic income guarantee to the needs of those on low income, and investments in food production and distribution. The GNWT has obtained money from Ottawa to fund emergency shelter renovations and assist Housing First but has yet to make a substantial investment of its own beyond the Anti-Poverty Fund.

This week in Inuvik delegates looked at indicators suggested by the minister’s staff that will tell us whether there is progress being made in six areas of poverty reduction including housing, food security and income assistance. Unless and until there is significant government investment in poverty reduction, the indicators will show that nothing much has improved and some people are worse off, as the national reports reveal. The band aids we now provide are not a solution; they trap people in poverty, sometimes for generations. It’s time – well past time – for that to change.