Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise to, of course, make the case that there is no point of privilege. What we are dealing with here is the fourth year of a drought. We are dealing with the circumstance of extreme weather that has put enormous potential burden on the people of the Northwest Territories at a time when the Assembly wasn’t in session or wasn’t with committee sitting. Yet, we had indicated clearly in the letter of August 31st that we would be bringing this forward for final decision in this House.
As the government, we are required to act in the best interests of the people of the Northwest Territories. In this case the question was, do we allow the rates to go up because the Public Utilities Board wanted to know what was happening with the charges with low water? Do we let the rates go up 24 percent, or do we intercede to protect the cost of living and protect Northerners from this extreme weather event?
As a government, we acted as a government should, in the best interests of the people of the Northwest Territories. We notified the committee; we honoured our protocols; and the Member, of course, has that final say here in this House in this session. If it’s determined that we do not have the support of the House for that supplementary appropriation, then the money won’t be spent and the rates will go up 24 percent. We’ll have that discussion. We have nothing but the highest regard for the operating of this House, just as we have extreme responsibility as government, as legislators, to respond to critical events in a timely way, in a way that protects their interests and our interests, which is making sure that the cost of living doesn’t go up so high that it makes life in the Northwest Territories unaffordable.
So, there was no impairment of freedom of speech. There was no attempt to obstruct the final decision of this House, which will be to vote on that particular amount of money, and the reason it was brought forward in the interest of the people of the Northwest Territories by the government acting in a timely way at a time when there were no committees sitting, there was no opportunity to wait that long because we had to respond and reply. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Miltenberger. I will allow debate on this point of privilege. Mr. Hawkins.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Actually, it’s interesting that we are talking about this. It’s not about the power and it’s not about the rate increase. I think this is about the procedural step that Members feel denied. We shouldn’t cloud the issue with whatever goodwill and intent was provided by the Minister and his argument based solely on the fact to shelter constituents would be an argument worth any opportunity to make time and time again.
Are we worried about why we did it or what method it was done by? I think the merits of why it was done perhaps says, yes, we had to find a way to ensure citizens were protected.
The crux of our Assembly is built around process, procedure and how we work together in the context of consensus government. That isn’t necessarily written letter by letter, page by page throughout the Assembly. It’s written in the ethics of how we do our business and how we relate with each other and how Cabinet members document that speaks about relationships.
I would say we should not cause ourselves to get caught up in why the action and the result it delivered. We should be asking ourselves what process was missed and how Members were perceived in that matter.
On that merit, Mr. Dolynny has a case by saying that Members were not informed through proper process. I give the government points for the initiative they were trying to tackle, yes. They deserve credit for that, but at the same time, I think Mr. Dolynny’s argument should withstand any criticizing and look at what was really missed here: the relationship, the opportunity for the two groups to work together properly. Members on this side of the House feel like their rights have been denied. That’s why Mr. Dolynny’s argument should stand. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I, too, rise in support of Mr. Dolynny’s point of privilege. For four years we’ve governed ourselves as an Assembly sharing as much information as we can. Having that announcement in the media without prior Member or committee involvement is a huge oversight of the way we’ve been running. I really feel that there was a misapplication of guidelines and procedures that we govern ourselves by in this case.
I don’t know why it is, but it seems to have happened more than once in the last month. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I also rise in support of my colleague. I appreciate him bringing this forward and I will speak to this later in the House. Specifically to the point of privilege, this is a one-time benefit, this expenditure of dollars, when what is needed is lasting benefits.
Unfortunately, what we’re dealing with here is a repeat. This was done last year, less than a year ago, and we raised the same issues then. Yet, here it is again. This is robbing the voice of duly elected people who were put in place to speak on behalf of our representatives in major decisions such as this.
Again, there are principles that we have in consensus government that demand that when there is a significant decision to be made, Cabinet or the government will involve all Members of the House. My concerns are, first of all, that it fails the principles of consensus government requiring input into any significant decisions, as I just said. Our fiscal status is indeed tentative, or weakly stable you could say, and sensitive to such large, unplanned expenditure. Therefore, this is a significant expenditure, and under our principles, we should have been consulted.
Secondly, it is inefficient and a poor use of scarce resources. A one-time expenditure benefit with essentially zero lasting benefits such as might come from more useful investments which could be discussed if Members of the House were provided with the opportunity to contribute to that discussion. Finally, it’s a repeat concern, Mr. Speaker.
It’s time to do something about this. The Minister said he was required to work in the best interests of people of the Northwest Territories. What does the Minister think our mandate is? Indeed, it is to work in the best interest of the Northwest Territories. We were prevented from having that opportunity by not being involved in that decision-making.
The Minister said it prevents a 24 percent increase in rates. Well, it might have prevented a 23 percent or 22 percent or a 21 percent with those other 1, 2 or 3 percent or 10 or 15 percent put into actions that would have lasting benefits. Without, again, the opportunity to contribute to the discussions, I think the Minister has failed that test.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the MLAs have put Cabinet on notice less than a year ago that such behaviour without committee input wasn’t acceptable and that we needed to invest such dollars in a way that return much more than a momentary benefit, gone in a puff of global warming smoke.
I think there are many opportunities, solar, which the Minister is well aware and supportive of, where consumers’ capital could have been put to work.
I will leave it at that and say we have the opportunity to provide 25 years of lasting benefits with guaranteed equipment these days. Instead, we’ve provided that much benefit because our voices were restricted from participating in such a debate. Mahsi.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I, too, am supportive of my colleague’s point of privilege and I would like to thank Mr. Dolynny for bringing it forward.
My colleagues have made some very valid points. This is the second time this has occurred. A year and a half ago we went through the same situation where we were advised after the fact, or basically through the media, that the government intended to spend money. In both instances the way that it was stated, as Mr. Dolynny put it, the government has decided. It was decided well in advance of any money coming to the Assembly floor for verification. That basically removes any involvement of the Regular Members of this House from that decision because it has already been made by Cabinet.
The Minister stated there was no overt attempt to obstruct, but I have to disagree. It may not have been an overt attempt, but certainly the actions and the wording implied that there was an action taken to obstruct Regular Members from having a hand in the decision.
Realistically, when there is a statement made and the headline in the paper screams that the government is going to put $20 million or $30 million into power rates to reduce our cost of living and three months later the amount of money comes to the floor for discussion, what Regular Member is going to vote against that? We’ve been put into a corner. The way that this money was put out to the public without the knowledge of Regular Members backs us into a box and it makes us look like absolute idiots if we’re going to say, “Sure, my residents would be happy to accept a 25 percent increase in electrical rates.”
There was another statement by the Minister that the committee had been notified, and I have to challenge the Minister to provide committee with the documentation that notified us of this decision to spend $30 million on lowering our water rates in advance of the headline that I saw in the paper.
So, Mr. Speaker, I do support the point of privilege and I look forward to your decision. Thank you.