Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 5 - Evidence - February 19, 2008 - Morning meeting
YELLOWKNIFE, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES, Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:59 a.m. to examine and report upon
rural poverty in Canada.
Senator Joyce Fairbairn (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, honourable senators and good morning to all who have come to listen and hopefully
participate in the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee's hearing on rural poverty and rural decline.
I would like to add that we are particularly delighted to have with us today our colleague, Senator Sibbeston who
has flown by himself all the way up. We are very glad to have you with us.
To start off this morning, we are honoured to have with us the Mayor of Yellowknife, Gordon Van Tighem and two
members of the territorial legislature, Kevin Menicoche and David Krutko. I believe they are being called to action in
their jobs, so we will be very crisp with our questioning.
In May 2006, our committee was authorized to examine and report on rural poverty in Canada. Since that time, we
have released an interim report, travelled to every province in Canada, visited 17 rural communities and talked to over
260 individuals and organizations, including experts from other countries.
Yesterday, we were in Whitehorse, and the committee members were truly touched by the stories of hardship and
challenges that persist even in a booming economy. Today, we are very pleased to be in Yellowknife. We all brought
warm clothing to ensure we could stand it out like our colleague does. We are very pleased to be here in the United
Church to listen and gain perspective of the unique circumstances of people in the Northwest Territories, which has
experienced more dramatic economic growth thanks to the booming mining sector.
We are in the final stages of our study and want to make sure we get it right. That is why the committee wants to
hear your stories first-hand, your concerns about your communities and the people who experience hardship within
On that note, I will turn it over to you, Mayor. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Gordon Van Tighem, Mayor, City of Yellowknife: With respect to our weather, we do not take credit for that. We see
that as a federal thing. If it is very bad, we can criticize it with much aplomb.
Welcome to Yellowknife. Thank you very much for including us in your trans-Canada research.
I have a couple of observations about the stories in the North. We all admit there are many problems, but I would
like to focus more on solutions.
Several years ago, I was flying from Inuvik to Yellowknife, and there was a young lady sitting beside me who had
ordered from a menu that was not typical. We got talking, and I learned that she was with Health Canada. She had
spent six months with the Inuvialuit looking at ways to home care the elders and at the distribution of our population
and our seniors' and elders' centres in each community; it was seen as challenging. She had been graciously allowed by
her department to spend a long time, almost a year, studying off and on among the Inuvialuit people to look at ways
that they could home care their elders. With their assistance, she put together what she thought was a very thorough
and detailed report. She went back to Ottawa and made her presentation.
She was quite upset on this trip because she had just come back from advising these people that she had worked for
a year and after having made her presentation, she was told that they had accepted a national model that would be
based on the Huron people, which differed dramatically.
When we look at solutions, we must consider one size does not fit all.
My second observation will tie in maybe with your study. I am a retired banker. I was in Leduc, Alberta when the
GST was being created. This gentleman came from Ottawa to tell the farmers how they would administer the GST. He
assured them that if the government did not get their rebates to them quickly enough, they would pay them a penalty.
A farmer, in his wisdom, stood up and said, ``Sir, where will that money come from?''
Therefore, it is very good to consult with the rural people in the communities because that is where the wisdom
Another observation is that we talk about how an economic boom typically brings increased social hardships for
our smaller communities and those who are marginalized. For about 10 years prior to this current role, I was involved
in a community capacity-building organization that prepared people for the workforce and worked with communities
to devise ways to deal with the boom. We came up with a community employment assistance program. The community
identified important issues, such as the only telephone available for the public was in a grocery store. If someone
wanted confidentiality to consult on something, confess to something or get help in some area, it was not really
confidential. Therefore, we put in telephones. We made partnerships with agencies that provided information. We were
called to task by a more regional government, the Department of Health and Social Services, who told us that we were
interfering with their work and that they could handle it very well, thank you.
We were working in Fort Liard, which is in the far southwest corner of the Northwest Territories. The community
that the Department of Health and Social Services worked out of was Fort Simpson, which was about 150 miles north.
We were called to task in front of the deputy minister and told that they had everything looked after. Our
representative quite rightly turned to the regional director and said, ``Okay, ours is a 1-800 telephone call and then
somebody intervenes. How does yours work?'' They turned to the deputy minister and said, ``All they have to do is
come to Fort Simpson.'' The deputy minister realized that people who were inebriated would probably have difficulty
in making the trip, and it would not be safe.
Again, the consultation of the local community is important.
In Yellowknife, our population has been increasing, vacancy rates have dropped dramatically and rents have risen.
The economic boom is leaving some individuals and families out in the cold or living in untenable situations.
Homelessness in the North though is not observable on the streets necessarily. There is overcrowding in houses, couch
surfing; it is hidden from view. Women and children fleeing violence become homeless as soon as they enter a safe
shelter. Our community of almost 20,000 people has 826 adults, youth, children and seniors who make up shelter
populations. That is a very significant percentage.
The majority, unlike the city's demographic, is made up of men, but women and children take much longer to get
back into mainstream systems. Those under the age of 19 are ineligible for income support, so they cannot go into
assisted living programs. Those over the age of 16 do not qualify for child protection services. Therefore, our challenge
is ages of 16 to 19, which is the key age group for people to move on in careers and decide how they will plan out their
Seniors make up about 2 per cent of those who rotate between shelters and the health care system. Without a social
safety net, these people are further marginalized or forced onto the streets, a place that no one can call home.
We currently have four emergency shelters: one for single men, one for single women, one for women and children
and units for homeless families. Additional beds are added to homeless shelters during the winter months. We also
have a drop-in centre where youth can drop in overnight and longer-term transitional apartment units for homeless
families. We are just completing a transitional unit for single men. We are also now working on transitional housing
options for women and women with children.
Many people rely on services from agencies, and population projections point to a 10 per cent increase over the next
five years. We really trust that current services will be maintained.
A study released in November 2007, with which you must be familiar, entitled You Just Blink and It Can Happen:
Women's Homelessness North of 60, interviewed homeless women from across Canada's three territories and identified
determinants for women's homelessness to include poverty, family violence, dramatic change in life circumstances, lack
of a support system, cost of living and societal indifference. Programs and services can be inaccessible, confusing,
inconvenient and unsympathetic.
The Yellowknife Homeless Coalition envisions a community where nobody is homeless or marginalized. It was
created in 2000 to promote partnerships and cooperative approaches to address homelessness. The coalition believes,
with government cooperation, private sector support and public participation, that the vision can become a reality.
Service providers such as the YWCA, the Salvation Army, sidebar ministries and the Centre for Northern Families are
the backbone of the current safety net. It is key that they are mentioned because they are all non-governmental
The coalition has been able to access almost $4 million in federal funding for capital projects, programs and services
for homeless people. Capital projects include two homes for adults with disabilities, one for women's transition and
Bailey House, which is the soon-to-be-completed, 32-unit transitional men's shelter.
The federal government has committed $800,000 to coalition projects over the next two years. This will be used to
focus on further strengthening community service providers and to improve the range of services, increase the
transitional and supportive housing for women and women with children, and build public awareness in order to create
an effective and efficient continuum for homeless people.
The bottom line messages are that operations and ongoing maintenance are a challenge. You may hear from our
territorial government that they are looking at some reductions to right-size their economic health. We have concerns
in that area. You need to continue to consult with the people, find out what works in the local areas and try to bring
that into a national master plan.
The bottom line to me is that everyone in the country has a role to play to ensure the well-being of every individual
in every community.
Kevin Menicoche, Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories (Nahendeh), as an individual:
Welcome to all the senators, and a special hello to my senator, Mr. Nick Sibbeston.
We are very glad that you are here. When I saw the advertising for your committee and the committee work on
which you are embarking coming up north, I said I would like to be in on that and make a presentation; thus, here I am
I wanted to be here to reflect. As a member of the legislative assembly, MLA, I often do member statements in our
legislature. The subjects of many of my member statements are exactly the issues in which you are interested — the
needs in our communities. My riding, the Nahendeh riding, has the most communities. There are six very small
communities, which would be in the classic definition of ``rural.''
As I do my community tours and talk to the people, I would say that we are a have-not region. Much has been said
about the Northwest Territories being one of the hottest economies with the diamonds and resources. However, that is
just in the urban centres such as Yellowknife, and the mayor spoke about some of the plagues that come with that.
In the smaller communities, we have fixed economies; not too much new money goes in there. Most of it is
government contracting, be it the territorial government or the federal government. When a buddy loses a contract, he
loses it to his cousin across the street. Therefore, the money just stays. It is a fixed economy; it is not growing.
Consequently, it shows up in some of the statistics. My riding is predominantly Aboriginal, about 80 per cent. Because
it is a fixed economy and not a hot economy, the statistics that we provided to committee members show that we have
an employment rate of 62 per cent, whereas Yellowknife is at 82 per cent.
The biggest single need in the communities right now is housing. It is one of the most pressing issues. It has been for
quite some time. It is a big challenge for our government to provide housing. At the same time, there is much
overcrowding in our smaller communities. Some of our policies with respect to evictions are not palatable to the
people. I just had a case, in one of our smaller communities, of a young lady who owed $1,000. She and her whole
family were thrown out. I was very upset about that. I brought it to the attention of government; but for a $1,000 bill, it
will cost us how many thousands to care for that family needs until we find a solution to the woman's problems? It
would have been cheaper to keep them in their existing unit until we resolved it.
It is also a stress on our government that the federal government was providing some social housing, but that
program will end soon. That is something that I believe should continue for the Northwest Territories.
Out of all the cost centres with respect to living in the North, the most obvious is transportation, which is the second
highest cost next to shelter. Much of it is probably due to the price of gasoline. However, we have many communities
that are fly-in, where we have to travel in, especially in my riding. Many of them are drive-in communities, too. The
rural communities are quite spread out.
Those are some of the issues that I wanted to bring forward.
Policing services are very much needed in our small communities in the North. Our government is doing what it can;
we recently approved six positions. However, we need federal assistance to provide us with as many policing services as
possible. We need much policing as there are many causes of stress in our communities, such as housing issues and
overcrowding. If we can work toward alleviating that particular segment, we would be at least one step closer to
helping our people to better their lives and lead more productive lives.
Getting through the education system is a significant barrier for our Aboriginal population in the North. Our
Aboriginal people, on average, have about a grade 9 education level. We have made huge strides in providing
education in the communities, but we need more assistance in providing regional education centres. It is much better
when people are educated at home.
Because we are small communities, we often have to travel to larger communities such as Yellowknife or Fort Smith
for an education. Often, it is more a negative endeavour than a positive one.
David Krutko, Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories (Mackenzie Delta), as an individual:
My name is David Krutko. I am the MLA for Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories, which is up near the Beaufort
As Mr. Menicoche mentioned, a big cost drivers to poverty in the Northwest Territories is the isolation with which
we have to cope. One of the biggest drivers is the cost of generating power and energy in our communities. Our power
system is basically what we call a posted-rate system, where we determine the rates of communities on the basis of every
community; the rates are based on what it costs to generate that power in that particular community.
I handed out a chart that shows the rates for the communities that are on hydro, communities mostly in the
southern part of the Northwest Territories. Yellowknife, Hay River and Fort Smith are on a rate that is roughly 15
cents. However, in isolated communities, such as Colville Lake, a community with about 100 people, it costs $2.45 a
kilowatt to generate power. It is very expensive to pay a power bill based on that kilowatt. The groups that we hear
most from on this issue are the co-ops, the northern stores who go in there and provide grocery services in those
communities. The cost to recoup their costs is passed on to the consumers or the residents of those communities. For
example, two litres of milk in Tulita costs almost $4.66; a gallon of ice cream in Norman Wells is $10.15.
Many people who move up from the South into our communities are totally appalled when they buy groceries. The
biggest cost drivers in the community are energy, food, fuel and shelter costs. With respect to shelter, the housing
corporation has to recoup their costs being that there are higher energy costs to operate and maintain those homes in
isolated communities than there would be in a regional centre. Prices are based on the economic costs to operate those
homes, which are passed on to the tenants of those units.
As a result, many people do not want to go into communities to provide the basic programs and services. We have a
problem attracting teachers and nurses. As Mr. Menicoche touched on, 10 of our 33 communities in the Northwest
Territories are without policing and a number of communities are without nursing. If we do not have those
fundamental program delivery agencies, we will not have a sustainable community.
We also deal with the issue of generating an economic base for many of these communities. A number of these
communities were built around a renewable resource economy, which is mostly trapping, fishing and hunting.
However, the focus has shifted to the non-renewable industries of oil, gas and diamonds.
We find that many people from the smaller communities that are not part of the North Slave region where the
diamond region is are not hired because of the socioeconomic agreements that were signed with the diamond industry.
They do not hire people from outside the North Slave region, yet they import people from other parts of Canada, and
$300 million in wages is leaving the Northwest Territories. We have high pockets of unemployment in many
communities that are outside that geographical area.
It is important to realize that any community, regardless of where it is, in Eastern Canada or Western Canada, in
order to generate an economy, has to have a sustainable economy. In the Northwest Territories, we have seasonal
economies on which we depend. The summer season is the most thriving period because of the housing and
government contracts that take place during this period. In winter, we have either oil or gas activities by way of seismic
drilling programs, but these programs are only for about two or three months. Again, we have to find ways to
stimulate our economy so that it is year round.
Statistics show that the population in the Northwest Territories is very young. Almost 40 per cent of our population
is under the age of 15. Because we have such a large youth population, we have to find ways of stimulating our
economy. Most importantly, people who want to work have to go where the activities are, and we are losing that
resource. We also see that in other parts of Canada, especially in Eastern Canada where many young people have
moved to the West. It is a critical problem in small communities. That capacity to build is lost. Eventually the resources
are lost when the people in our communities who run the programs and services leave, such as teachers, counsellors
My previous portfolio was the Minister Responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, and I had
the opportunity to work with Minister Fontana in developing a housing trust for the northern part of the Northwest
Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon. Out of that, we were able to put on the ground some 500 units that will increase
the core needs in the Northwest Territories. When we have 30 per cent of core needs in communities, we realize that the
500 units will help, but they will not solve the problem. We still have a very high core need in the Northwest Territories.
I believe 1994 was the last time we had an economic development agreement with the federal government that is
similar to the Atlantic Accord or the Western Diversification Program, which is in the rest of Canada. However, the
three Northern territories do not have an economic agreement with the federal government in Ottawa to stimulate our
different economic sectors, agriculture, non-renewable and renewable resources, small business grants and so on. We
had that in place in the past, and I believe it did help us by way of diversifying our economy, but the focus in the
Northwest Territories right now is strictly on the diamond industry. We realize from other parts of the country that we
cannot build our economy on one-industry towns. It is important that find ways to diversify our economy, but also
look at federal agreements which have expired, lapsed or no longer exist for one reason or another.
Another issue in the Northwest Territories is the battle we have been fighting for almost 20 years. The agreement
was signed in 1988 with the federal government to negotiate the Northern Accord, yet today, there is almost $200
million of royalties flowing to Ottawa. Many people are appalled when they find out that there are only two
jurisdictions in Canada, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, that do not receive resource royalties from the federal
government. A hundred per cent of those royalties flows to Ottawa. That has to change so that those resources stay
with the people in the Northwest Territories to stimulate their economy.
A change in taxation would be one way to stimulate the North. We have a northern residents' tax deduction, but,
again, it has not been increased in some time. That needs to be done to give the people in the northern parts of Canada
a tax break to offset the high cost of living, and to help them retain more of their earnings.
With respect to the other areas, we touched on the cost of living, but a more important aspect is infrastructure. My
colleague, Mr. Menicoche touched on it. With global warming, we are running into the problem of access to our
communities. We usually have a six- to eight-week window to get into our communities. That window is slowly
shrinking because of global warming, and, in some cases, we have to fly in many materials, fuel and goods and services.
We need a means of developing our infrastructure to connect our communities through a transportation grid. By
doing that, we will find a way to deal with the aspects of improving our infrastructure. Ottawa is saying that
sovereignty is an issue. If they want sovereignty, build a road to the Arctic Ocean. That is the way to get sovereignty
because that is where the challenge is. It would reduce the cost of living in many of our communities that are facing the
challenges, as government and as communities, of sustaining communities, such as to get the fuel products in to run
our power generators, heat our public facilities and also to ensure that we are able to deliver on our housing programs
and services. Therefore, we do need to do a better job improving our infrastructure.
In closing, I would like to thank you for coming to the Northwest Territories and taking the time to hear from us
about the issues that we raised with you today.
The Chair: It is much better to be here listening to you than being in Ottawa. It is not at all the same. That is why we
Senator Mercer: Good morning, gentlemen. Welcome to our meetings. It is great to be here in the Northwest
Territories. Your hospitality has always been terrific.
The problems are similar as we go across the country, but the emphasis changes. Transportation is a problem in my
province, in rural Nova Scotia, but people can still get a bus somewhere or hitch a ride with somebody. It is not the
same here because of the distances and the lack of roads.
Give me an example, Mr. Krutko, because you are in the northern part of the territory, of what happens when
someone is sick and needs medical attention. You have told us that there are communities that do not have nursing
services, so there are no doctors or nurses.
Mr. Krutko: In most cases where we have an isolated community with no services, people are usually taken out by a
medevac. In most cases, the person will contact their chief, local politician or councillor and they will phone a regional
centre, such as Inuvik, Hay River or Norman Wells, and state the situation. It will cost the government. In most cases,
they will have to send in a medevac.
Senator Mercer: How much does that cost?
Mr. Krutko: You are probably talking tens of thousands of dollars for every medevac that goes into a community.
There is a high cost for that. In most cases, it depends on the urgency of the situation. They will either medevac the
person to Inuvik to a regional centre or directly here to Yellowknife. Then, if the patient has an emergency, they will
medevac him or her all the way to Edmonton.
Senator Mercer: You also mentioned that there was no economic development agreement between the three
territories and the federal government as there is with the Atlantic provinces through the Atlantic Canada
Opportunities Agency, ACOA; the Western provinces with Western Economic Diversification Canada; and FedNor
for Northern Ontario.
Have the three members of Parliament and the three senators from the North — although there is one vacancy in
the Yukon that the Prime Minister has chosen not to fill — met with the territorial governments and asked how to do
this together and perhaps collectively twist the arm of the government of the day to face this? One of the solutions to
the economic development agreements appears to me rather quickly when you talk about 100 per cent of the resource
royalties. I come from Nova Scotia. We know a little about fighting with Ottawa on resource royalties and would be
happy to lend our expertise.
Has that happened? Has there been type of a Northern grand council of territorial and federal representatives to
discuss how to tackle this problem?
Mr. Krutko: I believe it has been on the agenda with the premiers in regard to the government council and our three
premiers in Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories to try to get the federal government to develop an agreement.
As I stated, it has not been in place since the mid-1990s. The whole idea of the economic diverse region agreements
across Canada was to have an arrangement where we can develop a diverse economy. That is something that is lacking,
and for small communities and isolated parts of Canada, this is something that can stimulate the economy where there
is not the privilege of having a diamond mine or oil and gas drilling at your back door. We have to find ways to
stimulate those communities.
We have raised it in the past, and I believe we are meeting with our MP later on this morning in our caucus. It is an
issue that we will bring up, but again, it ties together with the taxation issue, a diversification agreement and also our
Senator Mercer: You mentioned that the main source of revenue being generated in the territories is going off some
place else. We learned yesterday, in Whitehorse, that the Government of Yukon has indexed the minimum wage, and
there is pressure on the government to index social assistance rates. They have not done that yet. The announcement
has been made, but it actually has not happened. It is an old trick of government that we see all the time; they will make
an announcement but never put it into place. It sounds awfully good on the news. Has there been any discussion of that
in the Northwest Territories?
Mr. Krutko: I believe we raised our minimum wage last year in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest
Senator Mercer: Is it realistic? We discovered that in the Yukon raising the minimum wage was fine, but it has no
effect in a city such as Whitehorse because costs are well beyond that, and even the fast food outlets, which are entry
level jobs, are paying beyond the minimum wage. Is that the case here as well?
Mr. Krutko: I will let the mayor answer, but I know it is an issue in Yellowknife.
Mr. Van Tighem: Definitely, similar to everyone in this country, we struggle with the term ``affordable'' housing.
Yellowknife and the North Slave Region that was mentioned had the highest family income in Canada until Fort
McMurray passed us. With that level of income, it was just barely able to have affordable housing. In the communities,
housing is less of an issue with the other costs, the utilities and the basic food necessities. In a community, there is a
base line that has been established that one has to earn, and it is beyond the minimum wage.
Senator Mercer: With respect to housing — and it has been mentioned by all three of you, particularly you, Your
Worship, in Yellowknife — how many units of social housing would there be? What is the breakdown between seniors
and family units?
Mr. Van Tighem: That is an excellent question that we are just looking into right now. In my history, which is short
— I have only lived in the North for 16 years — we have increased from one to three seniors' compounds. I use that
term loosely because they are sort of off the road. The number of shelters has increased dramatically, as I mentioned,
and the number of socially assisted homeless people averages 826 people at any given time. There are two housing
corporations each with a large number. Therefore, I would estimate the number at probably 1,500 to 1,750 units.
Senator Sibbeston: I want to thank all the senators on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee who have come to
the North. It is so good to have members of the Senate come up here. It provides for a better understanding of what the
I agree that coming through the bigger centres in the North, such as Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit, does not
give you a precise image of the North because these are that much bigger and very active. Yellowknife is, of course, the
biggest centre in the North and has one of the highest incomes in the country because of the government and the
diamond mines north of here.
From my own experience, I find that Yellowknife is a very busy, dynamic place. Everyone who is here generally has
a job. People come from the south and also from the rural communities to Yellowknife because there are jobs
available. Most Aboriginal people from the North who come to Yellowknife have a job. Despite all this, there are
people on the fringes, and I recognize that there are some people who fall by the wayside.
Mr. Van Tighem, you mentioned the shelter population being at 826. Could you expand on that? How is it that in
Yellowknife, which is such a prosperous city with one of the highest incomes in the country, we have people who are
not faring very well and have to have shelters provided to them by charitable organizations such as the Salvation
The other question that I would pose to both Mr. Krutko and Mr. Menicoche deals with poverty. Poverty is relative
in the sense that Yellowknife has many big houses, vehicles and offices. In the smaller communities, such as Deline,
Trout Lake or Fort McPherson, there is not the extent of big houses. People have houses and people live. Some areas
have access to wildlife, caribou, fish and so forth.
Does that mean that people in the small communities are poverty-stricken compared to people living in Yellowknife
because they do not have those big houses or fancy cars?
Mr. Van Tighem, what is happening in Yellowknife that there are 826 people who cannot, by themselves, provide
for their own housing and have to instead depend on charitable organizations to keep them out of the cold to survive?
Mr. Van Tighem: It is interesting. About a year ago, the Tlicho grand chief phoned me and said, ``I cannot
understand that our central community, Behchoko has developed the problem of homelessness. We have people who
have no place to live.'' I believe that is the key answer. Behchoko became the regional centre. It was where the Tlicho
Government was established, and, in our case, Yellowknife is a regional centre. This is where people have access to
those types of services. It is a larger centre. They can come here and join in.
The majority of the people who make up the shelter population include the following: those who have followed
relatives; those who have moved from the traditional economy to the wage economy and fallen into some challenges or
problems in doing that; those who have a longstanding challenge with substance abuse, and those who have a need for
assistance with their mental health.
The people who come here are from Yellowknife, the communities and the South. We are at the end of the road
basically. People who come North looking to work in a mine and something happens that they do not get that job
sometimes get trapped here as well.
I would like to take a shot at your housing question sometime too.
Mr. Menicoche: That is a good question, senator. I believe that urbanization is happening in our communities. The
mayor referred to it. The very small communities are moving to a regional centre in Behchoko, and the same is true for
Fort Simpson. I do have one community in my riding that has a declining population. The overall population is
increasing in the North, but there are three communities with declining populations. I have one of them. Much of it has
to do with the professional services not being available, such as nursing and policing. Therefore, people move out only
because they want to care for their elders and follow them to the larger centres.
In terms of poverty, my largest community, which is Fort Simpson where I am from, has a population of roughly
1,200 people. In their community, they have an employment rate of about 62 per cent for Aboriginal people, but it is
much higher for the non-Aboriginal people as they are pretty well fully employed. When I visit them, they are looking
for training opportunities. They are looking for other opportunities only because there are none right now. Their
fridges are empty because the jobs are not there in our region.
Returning to my earlier point about education levels, the best educated have the most jobs; and who are the best
educated? Typically, the non-Aboriginal people in our community have most of the jobs.
In our very small communities, people live a simple life. We call them poor, as Senator Sibbeston alluded to, but
they are happy because they are living off the land and doing what they want. They have very small houses; big houses
were never in their dreams. The working class dream of big houses and white picket fences, but these people dream of a
nice little cabin by a lake and just living quietly off the land.
The problem comes when making the transition from the trapping economy to the wage economy, which is
necessary because of declining fur prices and for many other reasons that I will not get into. However, that impacts the
people who want to live off the land. Therefore, it is not a struggle for those living on the land, but they still need an
income to get by.
I was doing some research in the last couple of days. Canada does not have a definition of poverty. I notice that they
use ``low income'' or ``cut off'' levels or something similar. In that sense, if we use that as a statistic or as a line, many
people in my riding would be just about at that level or maybe just below it. In that sense, statistically, I would say
poverty exists in the North. Just because we have a hot, or what I call an imbalanced, economy, it does not mean that
the North does not suffer from poverty.
Mr. Krutko: The average wage in most of our small communities is $31,000 annually. They will not be too
comfortable maintaining their lifestyle on $31,000 after taking into consideration the cost drivers, factors that they do
not have control over, such as the cost of diesel fuel, which is very high — in some cases, $1.58 a litre for gas. Other
people are complaining that it is $1.10 at the pumps. The high cost of energy is a factor that one has to deal with in the
communities. The cost to fill a diesel tank or to heat a home in a community is $1,700. At that price, no one can afford
too many fill-ups to get groceries and keep the house warm with an annual income of $31,000. That is where the
It is important to realize that we have a high number of residents who depend on income support to get by in our
communities, and they do not have social housing. Many people cannot maintain or even own a home. In the last two
years, the price of construction in the Northwest Territories has risen from $185 a square foot, which was the original
cost estimate from the housing corporation to build a house, to $330 a square foot presently. The cost of that house has
almost tripled. It will cost three times as much now as it would have to purchase the same home two years ago. There is
a 300 per cent increase.
People cannot afford to own big homes in small communities because the cost of building a big home. Even the
houses we are delivering in our small communities, to get them on the ground and try to sell them on the open market,
they are selling small three- or four-bedroom units in communities in the range of almost $330,000. People cannot
afford that on a wage of $31,000. That is the challenge with which we are faced.
We have to find a way to stimulate those economies year round. We have a construction season in the summer
months, so there is employment in building houses in the communities and dealing with the infrastructure. In winter,
people might have jobs working on a seismic line, or, if lucky, a job in the diamond mines. That is the reality of many
communities. As Mr. Menicoche says, maybe a handful of jobs exist in those communities, and, if a person has one of
those jobs, he or she is very fortunate.
We have to find ways to generate more jobs in our communities and build business opportunities for people either in
the non-renewable sector or the renewable sector. We have to find ways of stimulating small communities by way of
make-work projects. Presently, we have a forestry industry in the Northwest Territories, but we do not have an
industry producing forest products — and this government spends in excess of $13 million putting out fires.
We have to do a better job of stimulating the forest, oil and gas, and mining sectors. We must look at all our sectors,
such as tourism, and see how we can put money into expanding those. That is why it is so critical to have an economic
diversification agreement to stimulate those different sectors.
Senator Mahovlich: You mentioned tourism. Is the government doing enough for the Northwest Territories with
tourism to make it attractive for people to come up here? I know the Nahanni River, Fort Simpson, is a popular spot.
Prince Charles went down that river once, and Trudeau used to canoe quite a bit up here.
What are we doing to attract people?
Mr. Krutko: On tourism, personally, I do not feel the government is doing enough because we hear quite often from
the tourism industry that we are not supporting them enough financially. We support them in good gestures and say
that we support their industry, but in most cases, the industry has been sustaining itself. However, the problem we are
running into now is that it has become a competitive market. In the past, we used to get about 10,000 tourists from
Asia by way of aurora tourism. There are also naturalist tours, but most of those tour operators are from Southern
Canada. They market themselves out of Southern Canada and bring their tours in by way of Vancouver, Edmonton
and, in some cases, through Whitehorse to paddle our river systems.
Again, through the economic diversification agreement, there was money there for that type of business. However,
as government, I believe the tourism industry asked for a million dollars, and we have given them a couple of hundred
thousand here and there. It is an important part of our economy, and we need to find ways of putting more resources
into it. In most cases, as I say, those industries have been surviving on their own. We have to look at a way to deal with
our economy in Northern Canada.
Mr. Menicoche: Indeed, the Nahanni River is one of the most talked about tourism attraction in the world. In terms
of our government and their support, I just came from the Yukon, and they doubled their tourism budget from $2
million to $4 million or something similar. At the same time, we doubled ours; we went from $500,000 to $1 million.
That does not buy much advertising.
We just rebranded ourselves. The government has used extensive branding that we call ``Spectacular,'' and that is a
really good name. Now, how do we champion that? How do we get that into the national and international
communities? It will take much more than a million dollars.
Part of the tourism aspect is a tourism strategy. Just recently, a fellow who used to live in Fort Simpson came back
after a 15-year absence. He told me that people want to come to the North and all these other areas, but they have
trouble getting here. In my riding, as well as in Mr. Krutko's riding, we have gravel roads. If people have large motor
homes, which are very expensive these days, as soon as they get on the rough roads, they are turning around and telling
people back home that the infrastructure will not allow them to come up here.
One of our strategies is to develop and improve our road systems. Many of our roads are subjected to permafrost
mount, and it takes a great deal of effort. We approached the federal government about the infrastructure deficit.
Global climate change is a reality, and it is affecting our infrastructure. This is one small way it affects us and tourism.
Mr. Van Tighem: You are not the first person to notice this. We will be back in this room with Minister Ablonczy to
discuss tourism in the North. Maybe the radar is starting to turn a little.
Senator Mahovlich: I know that in Europe, Germany for example, the people just love the North. They like to get
out of their country and travel up North to visit our Aboriginal people up here. They seem to find the North very
attractive. Therefore, if we could get over there and encourage them a little more, it would be a good project. There is
much to see and much to be offered here in the Northwest Territories for tourism.
Mr. Van Tighem: Our major tourism draw is from Canada; second, from the United States; and, third, from
Southeast Asia, primarily the Japanese and then the Europeans are after them. They are coming. I have an invitation
on my desk right now to go to Switzerland to tell them all about us. It came with a bill for a trade show, so I do not
know if I will go.
Mr. Krutko: One of the challenges we face is that the State of Alaska now has direct flights by way of aurora tours.
We are seeing direct flights to Germany from Whitehorse. The Northwest Territories has to consider direct flights
rather than going to Vancouver, Edmonton and back up. The cost of taking that loop is very expensive. Because those
other jurisdictions have made that political decision, they have seen an increase in their tourism numbers.
Mr. Van Tighem: It is handy that we have the Minister of Transportation here because we need a longer runway.
Senator Peterson: Mr. Krutko, I was looking at your chart; specifically the cost of utilities in Colville Lake and milk
at $10 a litre. What would the monthly costs be for a family there with these prices?
Mr. Krutko: I was the previous administrator of the power corporation, and I was in Colville Lake on one of my
tours. We had a public meeting where we talked about the cost of power rates and ways to bring down those rates and
possibly replacing the existing power generators. We made them aware that if we were to replace their power generator,
they will have to pay for it. At that time, an elderly lady came up to me with a power bill for $1,600. She was a
pensioner, a widower. She left her range on in her house to heat her home because she did not have any firewood to
keep her woodstove going. That really hit me, and made me realize that we have a real problem.
The government subsidized power in the Northwest Territories for the first 700 kilowatts based on the Yellowknife
rate, which is about 10 cents. However, as a government, we spend $8 million through this subsidy program to
subsidize power rates for the first 700 kilowatts. In most cases, people in the smaller communities try to make it
affordable, but they also cut back on some essential services. Most people now will use a woodstove in their home and,
depending on their furnace, try to find ways of bringing down that cost.
I have a motion in the House, which I will probably deal with in the next few days, to level power rates similar to
other jurisdictions in Canada where there are two distinct power systems — a hydro system and diesel power — in
many of the isolated communities. Most of those jurisdictions, such as Newfoundland, Quebec, Manitoba and
Saskatchewan, have level power rates in the northern part of those jurisdictions. I am suggesting that we look at that.
There was a report out a number of years ago about establishing a one-rate zone, to which many hydro communities
were opposed. With a one-rate system right across the Northwest Territories, we were looking at rates in the range of
28 cents per kilowatt. We could have put the $8 million subsidy toward ensuring that we could afford that rate system.
It is probably one of our biggest cost drivers. Right now, we do not have a subsidy program for our commercial
customers. I talked to some commercials customers out of Winnipeg, and the cost for them to run their stores in many
communities is in the range of $30,000 a month. We are talking about half a million dollars to run these facilities in the
communities to provide goods and services to the residents. We have been pushing to have a subsidy for the
commercial customers, but, right now, it is just not there.
Those are just some examples of the realities of the costs in our communities.
Senator Peterson: Mr. Van Tighem, you talked about affordable housing. Of course, we have talked about that for
years. Until all three levels of government address it in a serious manner with innovative solutions, we will not get
anywhere because we still only talk about it. Costs keep rising, and we should find ways to remove all the taxes on
input materials and finance it some way.
In your city, how big a challenge is infrastructure for you?
Mr. Van Tighem: We have been very fortunate here in that this community was made up of 19 different mines.
Therefore, there was much sporadic development. It was solidified when the federal government came here in 1967.
Infrastructure was put in to attract people up here.
If you look outside, you cannot tell right now, but we have very few roads that are not paved. We have highrises. We
have underground services in granite and very little debt. Therefore, we are not doing that badly.
Having said that, much of what they put in was seen as temporary because we are the North, so we replace it as it
bursts and bubbles around us. We are working toward being a very sustainable, compact city. We hope not to have
huge expansionistic thoughts. Within this community, which is really the only critical-mass, self-sustainable
community in the territory, it is challenging, but it is not overly challenging. In other communities, it differs a bit. It is
probably two thirds of the mass within the city that is serviced by trucks, truck water for example, which is actually
quite efficient in the North.
Senator Peterson: How much are the taxes for the houses down on the lake? They look as though they are out on the
Mr. Van Tighem: You would need to ask Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
Senator Peterson: You do not know?
Mr. Van Tighem: They do not pay any taxes.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I know that we have taken a good chunk of time out of your life today, but we
very much appreciate your appearance here. We are very glad to be here in Yellowknife.
We would be very grateful, as you move along on some of these issues that you are concerned about, if you see
movement, please let us know. Good luck to you all.
Colleagues, we will now start a very interesting discussion with our people from the Government of the Northwest
Territories. We have a good group before us.
Hon. Bob McLeod, M.L.A., Minister of Human Resources, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment and
Minister Responsible for the Public Utilities Board, Government of Northwest Territories: Madam Chair and committee
members, welcome to Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories. I especially want to recognize Senator Sibbeston for
coming back home.
Senators, it is my pleasure today to be able to address the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
on behalf of the Government of the Northwest Territories. I commend you on your work to conduct a cross-Canada
study into the causes, consequences and solutions to rural poverty in Canada. We are pleased that you have taken the
lead to visit the three territories and hear the views of Northern Canadians.
The Northwest Territories is a large and important part of Canada. While our population of 42,000 people may
seem small, we are challenged by the size of our territory. Geographically, the territory is larger than Ontario. If
Toronto had the same population density as the Northwest Territories, there would be about 200 people in that city.
This means our communities are remote. We have five or six larger centres that are the economic centres of our
territory. The approximately 28 remaining communities are remote. Most of the Northwest Territories is rural. Not the
rural that many southerners are familiar with, with pictures of farm roads coming to mind. Rural in the Northwest
Territories has a different meaning. Rural means isolation, limited transportation options and, therefore, challenges in
creating economic development opportunities for rural residents.
Most of our 33 communities developed from a rural, traditional harvesting economy. The harvesting economy is
still important to Aboriginal peoples and many local communities. Fish are harvested for food, furs for cash and
clothing and wood for heat.
While connected by water and air, there is no north-south highway connection beyond Yellowknife other than the
Dempster Highway to Inuvik, which goes through the Yukon Territory. Communities north of Yellowknife, in the
Sahtu and north of Inuvik have to rely on seasonal winter road connections or are reliant on air travel or sealift for
transportation and goods resupply.
The North, and specifically the Northwest Territories, is a powerhouse of resources. The Northwest Territories is
the fourth largest diamond producer in the world by value. The oil and gas resources are extensive in the Northwest
Territories and most have been undeveloped. The Northwest Territories has significant mineral potential and has had
some of the world's richest base metal deposits. We also have significant hydro potential, potential greater than James
The economy has benefited significantly from diamond mine development. The gross domestic product, GDP, has
almost doubled and is almost as large as that of Prince Edward Island. High production values, coupled with
significant investment, have translated into the highest average incomes in Canada for Yellowknife and the North
Slave Region. For example, Behchoko and three surrounding communities are benefiting from diamond development.
These communities are experiencing higher employment rates and more students completing high school and post-
secondary education. This is not the case across the Northwest Territories.
Many communities and regions have limited economic options, and some of these regions are bigger than New
In the handout material I have provided, you will note that it is the smallest, most remote communities that have the
lowest incomes. These same communities tend to have the highest cost of living.
As mentioned, the rural experience in the Northwest Territories is different than in the South. I am hopeful that this
Senate committee will take this into account when making recommendations.
The common elements that characterize our smaller communities are as follows: They are remote; have limited
infrastructure and transportation access; small populations and resultant limited internal business opportunities;
limited wage employment opportunities; lower education levels than larger communities; a majority of Aboriginal
residents; a stronger reliance on traditional harvesting for income and food; and significantly higher costs of living than
any rural area in Southern Canada.
While we know what the challenges are, the solutions are more difficult. The Government of the Northwest
Territories has made significant progress in areas such as health care, education and municipal infrastructure.
However, our communities still struggle with the high cost of living. To really improve the quality of life in our small
communities will require significant investments in basic infrastructure, roads, hydro development and airport
Electricity and heating are dependent upon fuel from Southern Canada. Electricity and fuel costs in smaller
communities are the highest in Canada. We need to examine new options for electricity and basic services where
distances prohibit transmission lines. We cannot expect people to pay more than 10 times the national average for basic
Diversity of rural and Northern economies is another challenge. As mentioned, some of our communities in the
Yellowknife area have been fairly successful in terms of building on the success of mining development. In many
Aboriginal communities outside of North Slave, incomes are well below national and Northwest Territories standards.
Business development and employment options are limited.
Our territorial government envisions a day where our communities have access to benefits and standards of living
that southern Canadian communities take for granted. This means access to lower-priced goods and services, increased
inter-community trade and improved opportunities for tourism development. In order for this to occur, we need
improved infrastructure. A good example would be the creation of a road that provides access up and down the
Mackenzie Valley; a Mackenzie Valley highway that allows industry to access our abundant natural resources. This
would also provide much needed employment opportunities and business opportunities.
The development of the Mackenzie Gas Project is also expected to be a major contributor. This project is proposed
to deliver an estimated 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Mackenzie Delta region to the North American market.
Direct investment associated with the project is expected to range from $16.1 billion to $37.3 billion.
Development of the project will see a significant increase in natural gas production and a significant economic
impact in the Beaufort Delta region. It will also establish the infrastructure necessary to bring additional volumes of
natural gas to market. It will act as an energy corridor from the Mackenzie Delta in the North up the valley and into
Alberta. Done right, it has the potential to improve the social and economic future for all northerners.
As I mentioned, we know tourism holds some economic promise for our rural regions, but our ability to promote
the industry and develop supporting infrastructure is limited. Most tourism impacts are currently limited to larger
regional centres with road access. We need assistance to expand the market, both in terms of numbers and its impacts.
Improved road access would be a major step to help to develop this sector. An answer is a Mackenzie Valley highway.
In our recent context, major infrastructure projects are beyond our fiscal capacity. Diamond and oil royalties go
entirely to the federal government, and our own revenues are limited. Provision of such infrastructure requires a long-
term, national commitment. The Government of Canada is needed to make this dream a reality.
Thank you for coming to Yellowknife. I hope my comments and material will provide you with a better insight into
the economic circumstances of our Northwest Territories communities. I look forward to reviewing your report.
The Chair: Thank you. You are giving up some valuable time to come here today. We are very pleased that you have
taken the time to be with us today.
Jill Christensen, Manager, Integrated Services, Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority, Government of
Northwest Territories: Welcome to Yellowknife. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today and present on behalf
of Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority.
Personally, I have been a proud resident of the Northwest Territories for 34 years. I came as a very young health
professional and have now branched out into integrated services with our region.
I would like to echo some of the Honourable Bob McLeod's words when we look at rural and urban. It is very
difficult here because Yellowknife is perceived as an urban centre to our smaller rural communities. However, if we
compare ourselves to urban centres such as Edmonton or Toronto, we are definitely rural.
Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority provides services to residents in the communities of Yellowknife,
Dettah, N'Dilo, Denninu Kue, also known as Fort Resolution, and Lutselk'e. Our clients make up a very culturally
diverse population of approximately 22,000 people representing Aboriginal groups as well as many residents who have
emigrated from other countries. Yellowknife is home to over 100 different cultural groups.
Yellowknife, with a population of 20,000, is the capital of the Northwest Territories. By some definitions,
Yellowknife is considered an urban centre and, to many people from the smaller communities, we are certainly looked
to as the city with most of the programs and services, not to mention other amenities such as shopping, sports and
cultural opportunities. Yellowknife, however, is not accessible by road on a year-round basis as determined by the
weather and the freeze-up and breakup of the Mackenzie River. The length of time that we cannot cross the river
depends, but can vary from two to four weeks in the fall and again in the spring. It used to be about six weeks. Air
access to Yellowknife is year round. When the ferry cannot run and the ice road is not in, all freight, including produce,
needs to be flown in. Costs always rise during breakup and freeze-up and often, there is a shortage or complete lack of
some foods, such as milk and produce, for a period of time.
N'Dilo and Dettah are small Dene communities within Yellowknife's Dene Band close to Yellowknife. N'Dilo is on
the main road system within minutes of downtown Yellowknife. Dettah is the more isolated of the two communities. It
is accessed by road — about a 20-minute drive — and the ice road depending on the time of year. Each community has
a population of approximately 200 people. There are between 600 to 800 additional Band members living in
Yellowknife. There are no stores in these communities.
Lutselk'e is an isolated Dene community of 400 people, accessible by air, a five- to nine-hour boat ride across Great
Slave Lake in the summer, depending on the boat, and a five- to nine-hour snowmobile ride in the winter months,
depending on the snow machine. The community has one store and food costs are high, for example $20 for four litres
The other community, Denninu Kue, Fort Resolution, with a population of 500, is across Great Slave Lake. It is
accessible by road, the closest communities being Hay River and Fort Smith. Air travel to and from the community is
by charter only. To fly to Yellowknife, people must drive to Hay River and fly from there.
Services provided through our organization are divided into two main areas: community health services, which
include clinic services, and community and family support services. In Yellowknife, community-based non-
governmental organizations, NGOs, also provide key services to the same population, addictions counselling for
example. Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority is implementing an integrated service delivery model which
is forging links and partnerships with the community. There is a health centre in each of Lutselk'e and Denninu Kue,
and services such as a community health nurse and nurse practitioners are provided in Dettah and N'Dilo, but there is
no clinic in either community.
Similar to so many Canadian communities and cities, Yellowknife has an at-risk population, which includes youth,
Aboriginal and immigrant families, the mentally ill, the homeless or working poor, special-needs children and adults,
families in crisis, at-risk pregnant women and those with sub-acute, non-urgent or chronic illnesses. Because
Yellowknife is the capital, services are often territorial in nature and Yellowknife is often looked on as a territorial
centre. Small communities do not have safe houses or shelters, and we find that people will travel to Yellowknife to
escape family violence or other abuses. Similarly, people may come to Yellowknife to access services at the medical
clinics, hospital or counselling services.
The significant challenges for service provision are remoteness, geographical size, cultural diversity and difficulties
retaining expertise and staffing. Due to these geographical and demographic factors, northern communities are often
isolated from services normally enjoyed by southern Canadian communities. Furthermore, the Northwest Territories
has 11 official languages, which further impairs the provision of effective services. Interpreter and translation services
do not meet the demands of the growing and changing population.
Yellowknife has a visible homeless and street population. Shelters are provided at the Salvation Army for men and
the Centre for Northern Families for women. However, these shelters cannot keep up with the demand and not
everyone is welcome if they are under the influence. The YWCA has a shelter for women with children fleeing abusive
situations. Many street people, both men and women, live in tents. Even at minus 40, some couples do not want to be
Yellowknife also has an invisible homeless population. These are people who may have one or two jobs, but are not
able to afford housing or housing is not available. They may seek accommodation on a short-term basis with another
family or a relative and move on to another place when the welcome has been worn out. There are children in
Yellowknife who do not have a permanent address. Children are particularly vulnerable and their ability to succeed
and enjoy activities such as sports is compromised.
In the smaller communities of the region, the sight of people living on the street is not common. Substance abuse is a
problem, but people have homes to go to, friends and relatives to impose on. With the substance abuse often comes
violence, and the people living in the home find themselves in a dangerous situation, but with no place to go. There are
no shelters in our smaller communities. Homelessness is an issue for those who are working, but cannot make ends
meet. People in subsidized housing find that when they get jobs, such as at the mines, their rent increases and they are
no better off. Affordable, acceptable housing is an issue.
Food in the North is expensive. In the smaller communities that are reliant on food being brought in by air, the costs
rise even more. Transportation costs drive the price of market food. In addition to costs, there are many food security
issues, including availability and quality of fresh food and transportation. Food security is recognized as one of the top
three public health issues in the North.
While traditional foods, such as caribou, are still preferred and enjoyed, migration routes have been affected by
climate change and resource development. Often, the caribou are too far away and expensive to obtain. When a hunt is
successful, the meat is shared in the community. The move to employment at the mines impacts the traditional way of
life as well and, often, the men are not at home when the caribou are close by.
Sharing food, in fact, sharing all possessions is the traditional way of life. If a family does have food, it is not
uncommon for a relative or friend to come to the house wanting food. This makes budgeting, planning and bulk
buying difficult as traditionally food is shared and not hoarded. Food banks are not common in the smaller
communities. In the community of Lutselk'e, Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority staff regularly use an
intervention fund to provide families in need with food money.
Yellowknife has two food banks and food such as day-old bread products are regularly donated to the Centre for
Northern Families and the Salvation Army. People are very generous in their support of the food banks and at
Christmas for the food hamper program. Due to cost and storage limitations, food banks do not provide fresh
produce, milk, cheese and meat. Food banks, as we know, are not sustainable solutions and fall short of meeting the
needs of people living in crowded, shared accommodation and the homeless people living on the street or in tents.
Transportation to collect food, variety and nutritional quality of foods provided, lack of fresh foods and loss of self-
esteem are some of the issues faced by food bank users. In Yellowknife, over 50 per cent of food bank users are under
the age of 18.
Many people in need of services, such as food banks, face multiple problems. Some have addictions issues, housing
problems, lack of education and employment skills, low literacy, chronic health problems such as mental illnesses and
poor home management and budgeting skills. It is difficult and inappropriate to take one issue in isolation as all issues
Urbanization is increasing its pace in the Northwest Territories and economies are becoming more dependent on
resource extraction. Because there is so much concentrated poverty in rural areas, moving to the city is more attractive.
This has a negative impact on traditional livelihoods and cultures. Life in the city also comes with its share of
disappointments and challenges. Development should not focus only on the larger communities as this accentuates an
already existing problem of uneven development in the North. More effort and investment could be made to building
up smaller, more isolated communities with improved infrastructure and other amenities.
The drain of people to the larger centres could be stopped, in part, if there was more concentration on and
development of local resources; local development based on traditional arts and crafts and tourism for example.
Sustainability is key. Diversifying the economy will help to cope with the booms and bust of extractive activities, such
as oil and gas, and diamond mining. We can challenge rural poverty by putting some of the immense amounts of
money brought in by extractive activities toward research and development of alternative industries — alternative
energies and eco-tourism.
We are facing a very complex problem. Taking action on the complex interactions between the causes of the
problem should use a population health approach: Focus on the root causes of the problem; support efforts to prevent
and/or address the problem; improve the situation of the society as a whole while considering the needs of vulnerable
populations; focus on partnerships and intersectoral cooperation; find flexible and multi-dimensional solutions; and
involve the public and community in all aspects.
Jeanette Savoie, Barrister and Solicitor, Savoie Law Office: I am a private practitioner, and I am glad that Ms.
Christensen spoke before me because the issues that she has addressed are the reason that I can talk about a
community legal clinic today. All these issues mean people end up in dealing with the justice system, whether it be the
civil or criminal justice system.
I would like to thank the members of the Senate Committee for allowing me to share my experience with rural
poverty in the Northwest Territories. I am not a northerner. I have only been here a year, but I enjoy the challenges
that I am facing. There are many opportunities to help people.
It is of no surprise to anyone that providing legal services to small isolated communities is a major challenge for
those whose job it is to provide these services. However, the legal issues faced by the poor in small communities are
often based on the same problems that exist in a more urban centre, such as Yellowknife. These challenges are
somewhat magnified by the isolation, lack of transportation means, lack of reliable communication means, to name a
few, that exist within smaller isolated areas. Therefore, with this in mind, we have been researching a poverty law clinic
model for urban Yellowknife. My research is quite thick. We anticipate that this model can be adapted with some
flexibility to address the needs of the isolated and rural communities in the Northwest Territories.
The term ``poverty law'' describes the broad areas of law and legal needs which arise by virtue of an individual's or a
group's poverty. As the Honourable Mr. Justice Osler noted in his 1974 Report of the Task Force on Legal Aid — I
believe that was in Ontario — ``The poor have many problems peculiarly their own.'' He continues, the poor ``are
tenants not landlords, debtors not creditors, purchasers not vendors.'' In general, the legal needs of the poor have
traditionally included housing law; income-maintenance law, including Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension
Plan, welfare or social assistance, family benefits and workers' compensation; many work-related issues, including
employment standards and occupational health and safety; and, of course, consumer-debt problems.
The interpretation of the complex and frequently changing statutory and regulatory schemes in these fields often
requires legal assistance even though these programs are intended to be user-friendly. Unlike much civil litigation,
poverty law cases often involve what seems like very little money. Unlike criminal law cases, immediate loss of physical
liberty is not always a consequence of an unsuccessful poverty law proceeding. Unlike many traditional legal
proceedings, most poverty law matters involve proceedings before government bureaucracies or administrative
tribunals, not courts.
For poor people, access to justice means asking the following questions: do I get to eat and pay this month's rent, or
should I hire a lawyer for this or that reason? I can give you a few examples.
In the traditional practice of law, a client identifies his or her own legal need, brings a problem to the lawyer, and
instructs the lawyer as to his or her wishes. By way of contrast, the economically disadvantaged often lack information
about their rights and entitlements. They may also be unable to bring forward their legal claims because of the
destabilization of their lives by abuse or homelessness, or because of their illiteracy, lack of education and often the
discrimination they suffer in their day-to-day lives around those social conditions, or the fact that they often do not
speak English or French as a first language, or the inability to access resources and communication facilities in isolated
communities. Much of what Ms. Christensen mentioned leads to all this.
Here in the Northwest Territories, the isolation that is the result of the great distances that must be covered to have
access to legal services, the lack of weatherproof means of communication, and the lack of resources often forces
people to give up on their rights.
Generally speaking, among the most vulnerable and the poorest are Aboriginal people, particularly aboriginal
women who are single mothers or victims of violence, senior citizens, homeless children, and homeless adults. Jill also
mentioned the working poor, disabled persons, visible minorities, often newcomers to Canada.
As Canadians, we are aware of the systemic cultural issues surrounding the residential schools tragedy and the
effects this dark chapter in Canadian history has had on the aboriginal people's stability, self-esteem and ability to
carve out their place within their own society, and within ours. We understand that the process of reconciliation will be
long. We also understand that the confidence of aboriginal peoples in the Canadian legal system has been seriously
undermined, and as such, access to justice has been made even more difficult.
Providing legal services that meet Aboriginal peoples' justice and legal needs requires awareness, sensitivity and a
commitment not to duplicate this history of control imposed from the outside and to work closely with Aboriginal
peoples in seeking solutions through a holistic approach as already exists traditionally in Aboriginal communities and
Many individuals will, at some point, come into contact with the legal process, whether it is because of the condition
of their housing, an inability to access essential services or problems paying their bills and so on. Good advice and
assistance at an early stage can prevent a problem from getting any worse and, hopefully, lead to its early resolution
and justice being done. Early intervention can avoid the need to go to the expense and trouble of involving the courts.
I will speak about some of the barriers faced particularly by Aboriginal peoples in the Northwest Territories.
Socio-economic and cultural factors that impact Aboriginal peoples' ability to access and use legal services include
lower rates of literacy. Also, a history of institutional abuse at residential schools and within the child welfare and
criminal justice systems leads to an increased level of distrust and difficulty in dealing with the courts and the legal
system. There is also the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I am not a medical professional, but it is a growing area of
concern amongst Aboriginal clients. This affects their capacity to understand, comprehend instructions and follow
legal advice, and it is very tragic. Higher poverty rates amongst Aboriginal people pose significant problems related to
family problems, alcohol and drug abuse, illness, lack of appropriate housing, nutrition, health care, transportation
and limited access to telephones and computers.
Lower levels of literacy among Aboriginal people prevent many from fully accessing or using public legal education
materials. Often, as mentioned earlier, the higher-educated people will be able to access those, but unfortunately, that
is not the majority of Aboriginal people.
However — and I have a to mention this though — while Aboriginal literacy rates are low, Aboriginal people are
highly literate in oral traditions, and this fact suggests a need for greater audiovisual content and person-to-person
interactions in providing legal services to Aboriginal peoples.
Unlike more traditional fields of legal practice, it is difficult to calculate current needs based only on measures such
as expressed demand or numbers of unrepresented litigants. This is the case because many potential poverty law clients
are either unaware of their rights or unable to act upon them.
The Centre for Northern Families, operated by the Yellowknife Women's Society, became aware of the lack of
access to justice — and here, I am specifically talking about civil justice rather than criminal justice at this stage — over
a decade ago and has attempted to help northerners since its inception. The Centre for Northern Families has tried to
meet these needs as best it could with limited financial and human resources primarily through providing referral and
lay advocacy services. Lay advocates could not, however, provide legal advice or legal representation, and when legal
matters did arise, they had to rely on the availability and the generosity of a few pro bono lawyers who would provide
information and assistance upon request.
The centre also began to research how poverty law services were delivered by community not-for-profit
organizations elsewhere in Canada and began advocating for the establishment of a formalized community legal clinic
based on the model that exists in Ontario.
How do we proposed to achieve this?
We are therefore proposing the creation of a private, independent, and non-profit legal clinic that will house several
types of free legal services that will be easily accessible. This legal clinic will be headed by a board of directors
responsible for establishing various services and programs based upon the recommendations of an advisory council
comprised of elders, chosen by the participating communities of the various regions of the Northwest Territories.
What services would the community legal clinic offer?
We are now in the planning stages. The areas of clinical law in which the society desires to work are those areas of
law that particularly affect low-income individuals or disadvantaged communities, including legal matters related to
the following: mediation and negotiation on housing and shelter, income maintenance, social assistance and other
similar government programs; immigration law, human rights, health, work and disability, employment legal advice,
representation and advocacy on these matters; test case representation on a poverty law issue if a case is found to be
meritorious of such action; public legal education, production and translation of legal information, materials and
workshops; independent legal advice, representation in court, duty counsel services, wills and powers of attorney, some
contracts, some family law and child welfare law — I would like to note that many of these services are provided by the
current legal aid civil program, but on a limited basis at this time; in family law, a third-party intervention service
would be offered when a no-contact order, peace bond, emergency protection order or a civil restraining order prevents
opposing parties from having direct contact when the court orders access to the children by the non-custodial parent —
by that, I mean that a court may order that the non-custodial parent have access and to facilitate this and to avoid
conflict, we would offer a third-party intervention, a place where the non-custodial parent could be with his or her
children in a non-adversarial and non-threatening manner; an outreach component, including a 1-888 number to
provide telephone-based legal assistance to low-income households across the Northwest Territories; a poverty law
website of legal information in order to establish partnerships with isolated communities; and, very importantly, a
community outreach advocate training program and policy that would be under the supervision of a lawyer.
We are proposing concrete measures to make access to justice easier for poor people. We will certainly have many
challenges to overcome. It is impossible for me to explain the entire organizational process and funding for this project
in a span of five to seven minutes. Nonetheless, we would be very pleased to send this committee updates and further
details upon request.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
We will now move on to Simon Lamoureux, President, Northwest Territories Economic Development Council. He
is supported by two of his colleagues.
Simon Lamoureux, President, Economic Development Council of the Northwest Territories: Madam Chair, on behalf
of the Economic Development Council of the Northwest Territories, I am pleased to table this submission on the
causes and consequences of rural poverty in northern communities, as it affects the francophones of the Northwest
Territories in particular.
The Economic Development Council of the Northwest Territories is a non-profit organization that was founded in
2003. Its mission is to promote, develop and support economic development among francophiles and francophones in
the Northwest Territories. Our main areas of activity are community economic development and promoting
employability. This is why we are here today.
I sincerely hope that this modest contribution will serve up food for thought and make a positive contribution to
Eldorado of the North: from myth to reality. For time immemorial the boreal immensity of the Northwest
Territories has captivated Canada's collective imagination. Since the 16th century, people have been venturing into the
mythical northwest, driven by their sense of adventure, seduced by the call of nature, by the exaltation of freedom, but
above all driven by the hope of grasping the dream of economic prosperity that was absent in these people's native
The hunters, or coureurs des bois, of yesteryear, are the migrant workers of today. Exiled from provinces where jobs
are scarce, people arrive in Yellowknife, Inuvik or elsewhere, often with nothing more than an idealized vision of what
the Far North represents, drawn by the promise of an almost excessive per capita income, this country's highest
average salaries, and an almost endless pool of job vacancies.
But above and beyond these enticements, the wealth of the Eldorado of the north is quickly overshadowed by a
socio-economic reality which is sometimes comparable to the misery of a third world country. Lower life expectancies,
a low level of education, rampant criminal activity, increased housing problems: Those are but a few of the factors
which are chipping away at the façade of prosperity and traditional economic indicators.
This imbalance between economic wealth and social poverty can be attributed to a host of factors which we will
discuss today: isolation, the cost of living, lack of access to post-secondary education, the labour shortage, the situation
of aboriginal peoples, and the breakdown of the boom and bust model.
With respect to isolation and the cost of living, geographic isolation is probably the major cause of poverty in the
Northwest Territories. Given the distances between our communities, and the associated additional in the
transportation costs, the cost of living is prohibitive for too many northern residents.
Historically, Northwest Territories consumers have always paid and continue to pay between 5 to 25 per cent more
for fuel than other Canadians. These additional costs have been absorbed entirely by businesses and residents. Each
increase in the price of gas has a dramatic consequence on our residents' purchasing power.
Housing is also expensive. The average rent in Yellowknife for an apartment is $1,640 per month, which does not
include heating or power costs. Those costs are much higher here since we live with eight months of winter.
For the 16.3 per cent of families whose income falls below the low income threshold, this means being deprived of
essential goods, not being able to live decently, and falling deeper into the pit of debt.
Both in quantitative and qualitative terms, transportation infrastructure leaves much to be desired. Many
communities are not accessible by road during all four seasons, and are forced to resort to planes and ice roads in order
to reach other communities. With respect to airport infrastructure, the Northwest Territories have 29 small airports,
none of which are international, which severely limits opportunities for development of the tourist trade and economic
Some possible solutions: develop road, airport, port and marine infrastructure; promote local production and
purchase to reduce our dependence on products imported from the south; carry out economic development plans with
the communities of the Northwest Territories in order to mobilize many stakeholders and point them in the same
direction; provide tax incentives to businesses that chose to settle in the north.
With respect to the lack of access to post-secondary education and the lack of workers, Canada is the only country
in the circumpolar world that does not have a university within the arctic zone. The majority of young people from our
territory who wish to pursue post-secondary studies have no other choice than to leave their home if the few local
college programs do not meet their academic ambitions. According to the most recent data on the enrolment of our
residents in post-secondary education, 41 per cent of those receiving financial aid all registered in academic institutions
located outside the territories.
We are convinced that that factor is significant in the exodus of our most educated young people. Unfortunately, the
Government of the Northwest Territories has not published any data concerning the rate of return of these young
people once they have completed their post-secondary studies. It is therefore impossible for us to accurately measure
For young francophones, the situation is even worse because of the lack of French-language post-secondary training
in the Northwest Territories. Last year, for the very first time, we celebrated the graduation of the first class of the
Allain St-Cyr School, the francophone school in Yellowknife. Among these graduates, only one person expressed
interest in remaining in the north. We are very concerned over this situation.
The lack of skilled labour is the problem which most limits business development. Therefore, we must train our
young people and increase recruitment from outside the territory. It is also important to make sure that workers have
access to training and on-the-job professional development in the official language of their choice.
Some possible solutions: broaden the number of available post-secondary study programs and vocational training
programs available in the Northwest Territories; support the ``Formacentre'' project for post-secondary education in
French in the Northwest Territories; carry out a quantitative and qualitative study to better understand the
phenomenon of rural exodus; promote careers in the North to young people in the territories; increase immigration
and provide vocational training to workers in the official language of their choice.
With respect to aboriginal people, their relative numbers are inevitably decreasing as the number of migrants
arriving in the Northwest Territories increases, but nevertheless, aboriginal people, the Métis and Inuit still make up
50.2 per cent of the population of the Northwest Territories. One out of every two residents in this territory is
aboriginal. Here, as is the case elsewhere, the socio-economic gap that separates aboriginals and non-aboriginals is
Even though we too often separate francophones and aboriginals, and even pit these groups against one another, the
number of aboriginals whose daily language is French is three times higher here than in the rest of the country.
According to the 2006 census, aboriginal people make up 11.5 per cent of French-speakers in the Northwest
Territories, and one out of every five unilingual francophone in this territory is aboriginal. These figures would be
much higher if we were to include those who speak Michif French, a local aboriginal language that is so similar to
French that it is possible for a francophone and a speaker of Michif French to hold a conversation.
Some possible solutions: Provide anti-poverty programs that are adapted to local cultural sensibilities; make sure
these programs are provided fairly in the official language of choice of the beneficiaries; provide funding to establish
partnerships between aboriginal organizations and the Economic Development Council of the Northwest Territories.
With respect to the breakdown of the boom and bust model, the economy of the Northwest Territories depends
essentially on one single area of activity: the extraction of mining and gas resources. In 2006, the mining industry and
the oil and gas industry contributed 49.6 per cent of the Northwest Territories' GDP.
While we recognize the clear contribution of these industries to our communities' economic development, we must
ask ourselves how we intend to build a sustainable economy on finite resources.
We are well aware that our mines and our wells will not yield resources endlessly. Our diamond mines will produce
their last gem by 2030. Deposits of the Mackenzie gas project are expected to last 30 years. In the past, we have had our
share of unhappy endings: Discovery, Port Radium, Pine Point, were all once vibrant communities that have become
ghost towns once the deposits dried up.
To create a sustainable economy, it is important that we diversify our horizons. The tourism sector provides the
greatest number of benefits in that regard. It is based on the preservation of ecosystems rather than on their
exploitation. Tourism allows our people to work on the ground, which is something very dear to the hearts of the
people living in the Northwest Territories. Whereas our wide-open wilderness spaces present a definite appeal for some
visitors, the potential of this industry remains largely untapped.
In the meantime, there is a healthy culture of entrepreneurship within the population. More and more people living
in the Northwest Territories are going ahead and creating their own companies in various areas which are not limited
to non-renewable resources. French-speaking residents of the Northwest Territories are particularly active in this area.
In 2001, 60 francophones had their own company and we believe that that number has increased since. Further, SMEs
in the Northwest Territories contribute greatly to the community. According to a recent study conducted by the
Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the vast majority of SMEs in the North has contributed time and
money to charity organizations.
Some potential solutions: support the development of sustainable sectors of the economy, including tourism,
services and culture; support northern-based companies; reach an agreement on the transfer of federal responsibilities
to the territorial government and on the fair sharing of resource revenues; provide small business services in French;
support organizations working on the economic diversification of the Northwest Territories; and support the new
action plan for Official Languages by specifically including economic development.
Madam Chair, honourable senators, I hope you all have a pleasant stay in our community.
Senator Mercer: A question I asked our first panel this morning deals with the lack of a regional economic
development agreement between this territory, the Yukon and Nunavut and the Government of Canada for economic
development. All of you have some ideas on development.
I asked the question of the two provincial MPs who were here before and the mayor. Have there been thoughts or
are there plans to have a Northern council of some sort to come together to agree on a method of negotiations with the
Government of Canada involving the three MPs, the three senators as well as the three territorial legislatures?
In the two territories we have visited so far, there are some common issues there, and I suspect when we go to Iqaluit
on Thursday, we will hear a similar story, if not more profound. It seems to me that with the Atlantic Canada
Opportunities Agency, with FedNor in Northern Ontario and with the Western Economic Diversification Canada,
there is a large gap here. We have seen the problems that you have all outlined.
At the same time, I want to add this question. Minister McLeod, you talked about the Mackenzie Valley highway. It
is an intriguing idea. If we are to have a Mackenzie Valley pipeline, it would make sense that while we are doing one
part of the work, we might as well do the other.
What are the estimated costs, and who should be paying?
Mr. Lamoureux, I was surprised, although I imagine I should not be, and shocked by the $1,640 average rent in
Yellowknife. It seems to be increasing as we move eastward in the North. You mentioned the infrastructure in the port.
I also have another role in the Senate. I am a member of the Transport and Communications Committee. We are doing
a study on ports. I want you to tell me a bit more about that.
Collectively, Minister, if you can comment on the opportunities that the extraction of gas might provide for the
generation of cheaper electricity in the Northwest Territories. I understand that generating does not mean it is
delivered to the people who need it. I am not naïve enough to think that it happens instantaneously, but it seems to me
there might be some opportunities.
Mr. McLeod: I like your question because it gives me the opportunity to raise some of my pet peeves.
Starting with economic development, the federal government's performance in this area has been very spotty. We
had economic development agreements with the federal government whereby it was cost-shared on a 2-1 basis, 70-30
with the Government of the Northwest Territories, and then for a period of nine years, we were the only region in
Canada without any regional economic development programs.
Three years ago, there was a Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development program that was put in
place, but it was different than previous economic development agreements because the federal government kept the
money. It was an application-base process. There were many political reasons for that that I will not get into.
Economic development is very important for the Northwest Territories. We work very closely with our colleagues in
Nunavut and Yukon. There are both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that we can have a louder voice
by working together. The disadvantage is that generally, they want a cookie- cutter approach, all three territories
treated the same when we are not the same.
There are other issues as well. The federal government presence in the Northwest Territories has decreased
significantly over the last 15 or 20 years. Quite a large number of federal departments are no longer based in the
Northwest Territories. Therefore, we have situations where if we want to reach a federal department, we have to
contact Sarnia or Sudbury for example. It makes it inconvenient.
Sorry, I forget your other question.
Senator Mercer: It was about gas.
Mr. McLeod: We see the Mackenzie gas pipeline as a basin-opening project. Alberta and Saskatchewan have drilled
20,000 wells on an annual basis. The Northwest Territories, on the other hand, were lucky to have drilled maybe 50
wells over the past 20 years, which is probably on the high side.
The surface of the potential for accessing oil and gas has not even been scratched yet. That significant potential for
oil and gas bodies that have been identified is still there.
Senator Mercer: Who should pay for the highway?
Mr. McLeod: Through the process of devolution, the federal government has devolved large parts of the highways
program. However, the responsibility for new highway construction has not been devolved and remains with the
federal government. Our fiscal situation is such, as you know, that we have a borrowing limit of $500 million.
Therefore, we cannot finance the construction of the Mackenzie Valley highway.
Originally, our estimates included in the reports Corridors for Canada and Connecting Canada, were approximately
$700 million. Recently, more accurate estimates would put the cost at about $2 billion to build a highway up to the
Arctic Ocean. We feel this is an unfinished job to connect the Northwest Territories to the rest of Canada, and the
federal government should pay for it.
Batiste Foisy, Researcher, Northwest Territories Economic Development Council: As far as the port is concerned, in
fact, what is happening is that with the opening of the Northwest Passage, we expect an increase in maritime traffic in
the Arctic. We do not know exactly when this will happen, but it is best to be prepared before it actually does.
Of course, if the gas industry expands in the area of the Mackenzie Delta and the Beaufort Sea, it will also increase
the maritime traffic on our rivers. So in the interest of meeting infrastructure needs, it would be a good idea to have a
port in the Delta region. For example, a good site might be Tuktoyaktuk or Bathurst Inlet on the Nunavut side; these
could be alternative entry points to the ice roads leading to the mines. From there, the diamond mines would be
Of course, it is important to increase the mobility of goods and people. It is the central challenge to decrease the cost
of living in the Northwest Territories. And as Mr. McLeod said, this of course goes hand in hand with the construction
of a new road through the Mackenzie Valley, as well as new road and airport infrastructure because there is no
international airport in the Northwest Territories.
Senator Mercer: Ms. Christensen, in your presentation, you talked about food security as being one of the top three
public health issues in the North. I do not believe you enumerated exactly what the other two were. We could probably
guess and be accurate, but could you put on the record what the other two are?
Ms. Christensen: I am the former president of the Northwest Territories-Nunavut Branch of the Canadian Public
Health Association. We did a scan in the spring.
Another issue is capacity-building within the communities. Therefore, in that, we are looking at the fact that our
health expertise comes from the South. Not many northern people are being trained in the health fields, and we would
like to examine that.
Generally, community resources are lacking in the smaller communities. We look at public health issues, such as
crowded housing, infrastructure and communicable diseases that result because of that.
Senator Mercer: My last question is to Ms. Savoie. If the Court Challenges Program of Canada, which was cancelled
by the current government, were still in place would that have helped with some of the services that you talked about
providing through the non-profit legal clinic, and would that have alleviated some of the need?
Ms. Savoie: Yes, it would have, especially for court challenges. That program definitely would have helped with
Charter issues and constitutional challenges.
Senator Mahovlich: When I was a young boy in Northern Ontario, I was very poor, but it was the happiest time of
my life. I come up here and read Robert Service; he wrote a poem about the joys of being poor. Maybe some people
like to be poor. I do not know. There is much joy in being poor.
We find that where there is good education throughout Canada there are fewer poor people. Up here in the
Northwest Territories, we do not have a university, but we do have mines. Are they contributing anything to the future
of a university in Yellowknife? Do you see any future for a university?
If we had a way to educate in the North, we would not find an exodus of youth from this part of the country.
Patrick Lachapelle, Economic Development Officer, Northwest Territories Economic Development Council: I will do
my best to answer in English.
Definitely, the mines provide training to the people in different communities. As my colleague mentioned, we do
believe the mines could be a lever for economic development for our communities. However, we need to look further
than that; we need to look at diversification.
A university would bring different knowledge to the region and would help people foster their own development
with different initiatives.
I do not want to speak for the mining companies, but I feel that their training is really limited to trades for their
specific projects presently under way. Is there a transferability of those skills to other areas if we know that the mines
will eventually close in the future? That is also a question that we could ask.
Senator Mahovlich: That is true because we need sustainability for Northern Ontario, and we have to look toward
the future. We heard that the diamond mines may be finished in the year 2030. Therefore, we have to ensure that they
do not leave without leaving a sustainable North. In Sudbury, Laurentian University, I believe, is well established. It is
booming. Timmins has hospitals now. For the North, people look toward Timmins for sustainability.
Mr. Lachapelle: Retention is really important. Form my own experience, I have been here for a couple of years, and
I am actually leaving because there is no way I can study here. That is one of the reasons that many people leave.
Senator Mahovlich: It is a very good reason.
Mr. McLeod: That is one of the downsides of living in the North; we do not have post-secondary education
institutions. We do have the Nunavut Arctic College and Aurora College and links with universities and community
colleges in the South that have credit-granting.
The diamond mines have been very creative in supporting the workforce. They have introduced literacy programs
for some of their Aboriginal employees. That has really facilitated their progress. They have negotiated access and
benefit agreements with Aboriginal governments whereby they provide scholarships. As I mentioned in my
presentation, the community of Behchoko, in a period of five years, went from 5 to 148 post-secondary students. They
have come a long way.
In terms of universities, there is a virtual Arctic circumpolar university that has been developed through the
circumpolar countries of the world.
In terms of infrastructure and of developing a university, I would think that our population is such that it would
probably be some time before we do have a university in the North.
Senator Sibbeston: I just want to make the statement that the witnesses here have given information about
Yellowknife. I certainly do not want the senators or the public to think that Yellowknife represents the whole of the
North. The situation in Yellowknife, I believe, is very different from the remote communities.
Talking about poverty, I believe it is a relative concept. The average income in Yellowknife in 2004 was $51,506. In a
little community such as Wrigley, it is $21,500. In Good Hope, it is $28,000. I do not doubt that in even more remote
communities such as Trout Lake and Deline, it is less.
When I go to Trout Lake or Deline, I feel as though I am going into a land of abundance. People live, in my view,
similar to kings. It might be the same with Lutselk'e because they live by Great Slave Lake. People who live in the more
remote parts of the North do not feel impoverished, do not feel poverty.
I see a lady frowning at me. I certainly do not want to give the impression that Yellowknife is the epitome of life in
the North and that everyone who is making money looks down on those who make less.
In Trout Lake and Deline, people live by a lake where they can set a net. Sometimes, they can look out their window
and see caribou traveling right by that they can shoot. In the last few days, I had people come to Fort Simpson and give
me caribou in exchange for a room. I have had people give me fish in exchange for a room. I look to these little remote
communities for food that cannot be found in other places.
Maybe I can get everyone to say something about that. What you are talking about is not the North, it is
Yellowknife. As Senator Mahovlich said, one can live in remote communities, make much less income but be very
happy. Therefore, we must not look at people in remote communities and say, ``These pitiful people, these poor pitiful
Native people who do not make an average of $51,000 a year.'' That would be a mistake because our culture, the White
culture as it were, insists on having big houses, making $100,000 a year, having transportation and services, and going
to Edmonton frequently, going to the South.
People who live in Willow River, for example, and in these little remote communities live very happily. They are very
content. I do not like the idea that because they do not make $51,000 as do people in Yellowknife, that they are
somehow pitiful, that we should look down on them and that we should feel sorry that they live in a world of poverty.
I would say that they are happier. They are better off than most people in Yellowknife. There is less stress. They are
close to their relatives. They are not homesick for their relatives. They are not homesick for their land in the South
because they are right there on the lake or in that area.
Think about that. What is your opinion? Am I right, or am I really off somewhere? Maybe I have been in Ottawa
Ms. Christensen: With all due respect, when I prepared my submission, I did talk to people from Lutselk'e about
some of the situations there, and the feeling is that, as I described it, they may not use the word ``poverty'' to describe
their situation, but they certainly see that young people are pulled away from the community. One cannot stop the
influence of TV, et cetera, on their lives.
In preparing, I did talk to people from the communities that we represent. I understand that poverty is such a broad
definition, and there are very many riches in life. That is why I had made some suggestions as far as maintaining the
traditional livelihood and culture because it is really important to the communities.
Mr. Lamoureux: Senator Sibbeston said something very interesting. As he said, it is true that you don't need to be
rich to be happy, except that there are many problems like the ones described by Ms. Christensen and I am sure that
she would support me on this.
I have a friend who is a nurse and there are a lot of problems with drugs and alcohol at the community level. Some
people don't need a lot of money to be happy, but we have to talk about the drug and alcohol problem, we have to
assess the situation, and not just skirt around it.
Mr. McLeod: Both Senator Sibbeston and myself grew up in small communities, so I do not need to debate with
him. Some of the happiest people I have known grew up in the small communities. However, from a public policy
approach, I do not want to give the committee the impression that everything is fine in the communities and people are
happy, so they do not need support.
As a government, we provide much income support to the communities. There are many challenges living in these
communities. In Sachs Harbour, for example, someone making $95,000 would still need support in order to make ends
Over the years, wildlife populations have declined. The caribou are in grave danger. We really have to keep in mind
that people in small communities are still practising that lifestyle, but it is getting harder and harder to practise it.
Ms. Savoie: I happen to agree with the senator on his remarks. In the communities, we find that people are much
happier living a simple lifestyle.
I studied the dynamics around that to try to develop and adapt a clinic model, which was mostly studied in
Yellowknife, to the communities. I believe that to get the communities on board will require visits to those
communities and sitting around a table similar to today to determine their issues. For some communities, those might
be drugs and alcohol or economic issues; for others, it might be that they still need to look at the problem of the
residential schools and so on. We would base our test cases on the particular issues of the communities. If they have no
issues, then we offer the services we can to them. We hope that by doing that, by seeing that we are sincere, they will
want to come on board.
Senator Peterson: Mr. McLeod, why do you send your resource royalties to Ottawa? What can you do to change
Mr. McLeod: We do not send resource royalties. We are a territory, so we are different than a province. A province
owns its lands and resources, so they can set and collect their own royalties. In the Northwest Territories, the federal
government owns the lands or administers the lands until such time as land claims are settled and devolution occurs.
As one previous federal minister said, the federal government's job was to issue permits and collect royalties.
Therefore, the royalties all go to the federal government.
We have been negotiating devolution of resource-revenue sharing for some 20 years, and the last government of the
Fifteenth Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories probably got the closest to securing a deal on the
devolution of resource-revenue sharing. There were four financial issues to be resolved, but we were not able to resolve
them. Therefore, with this Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, we will take another run at it.
Resource revenues have been tied to the negotiations on equalization. The federal government has come up with a
new process for equalization where they include 50 per cent of resource revenues in the equalization process with the
provinces, and they have extended that same formula to the Northwest Territories. Resource revenues, by their very
nature, change from year to year; sometimes, they are up, sometimes, they are down. Two years ago, $250 million a
year was going to Ottawa from resource royalties. More recently, it is in the neighbourhood of $150 million from the
last Public Accounts of Canada. If we take the community of Norman Wells out of there, which the federal
government has indicated to us that they do not see as resource royalties, then the numbers get very small.
Senator Peterson: It appears that you are asked to provide the services of a province, yet you are financially
constrained. Does the equalization even come close to balancing it off?
Mr. McLeod: No, it does not. We have a territorial formula financing arrangement that was negotiated. As a new
government, we are in the process of going through a budget-reduction exercise right now because it certainly does not
go far enough.
The Chair: We will now hear from the Status of Women Council of the Northwest Territories.
Sharon Thomas, Executive Director, Status of Women Council of the Northwest Territories: I have tried to shorten
my presentation, but it is a huge topic.
I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to present our concerns and recommendations with respect
to rural poverty in Canada and, in particular, poverty in the Northwest Territories.
Poverty is definitely not a new issue for the Status of Women Council of the Northwest Territories. Ever since the
council was established under the Northwest Territories Status of Women Council Act in 1990 with a mandate to
promote the political, economic and social equality in the Northwest Territories, we have been grappling with ways to
The council works closely with community women and organizations in identifying barriers and solutions related to
improving the status of women and attaining gender equality. Examples of the councils objectives are as follows:
increase the availability of affordable, quality licensed child care in Northwest Territories communities; address
poverty and the Income Assistance Program, including to advocate for major changes in this program to take place;
increase the number of women in trades and technical occupations; reduce family violence and violence against women
and girls; support the leadership development of women and girls; address socioeconomic impacts of major resource
development projects; address work place harassment that falls outside the scope of human rights legislation; and
advocate for the development and implementation of the Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission, which
was enacted on January 1, 2004.
The council has also initiated many projects that have contributed to addressing poverty, including employment and
training. The council believes strongly that programs must be put in place to ensure that interested women can be
trained, recruited and employed in these sectors. This will be in line with federal and territorial policies to promote the
economic equality of women and will also increase the number of Northwest Territories residents available to fill the
many new jobs that are being created.
Preparations for the socio-economic impacts of increased activity around the pipeline development need to start
now with attention given to those communities most affected. We are pleased to hear that the federal government is
following through on its $5 million commitment for a socio-economic impact fund. We are advocating for community
committees to be implemented to monitor the progress of the communities in regard to preparing for the impacts.
In March 2007, we were awarded $1.7 million by Human Resources and Social Development Canada, HRSDC, to
carry out a three-year research project called Northern Women in Mining, Oil and Gas Project. Other funding has been
received from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, INAC, the Government of the Northwest Territories, GNWT,
Aurora College and the three diamond mines, De Beers Canada Inc., BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc. and Diavik
Diamond Mines Inc. We are now providing introductory trades training programs and wraparound support services
for disadvantaged women who are interested in working in the trades.
Women continue to be left out of the economic boom in the mining, oil and gas sectors of our economy. Lack of
child care, recruitment not targeting women and inadequate training programs are still areas of concern. This project
will attempt to answer the following research question: Given the current population of unemployed and under-
employed women in the Northwest Territories, will a dedicated women-only, partnership-based, strategic approach to
training and development be successful in increasing the interest level, participation and retention rates of women in
industrial and trades-based occupations in the Northern mining and oil and gas industries?
The council realizes that in order to move ahead with our mandate to promote the political, economic and social
equality of women in the Northwest Territories, many more women must be able and willing to participate in
leadership positions at the local, territorial and federal levels of government. We encourage all levels of government to
participating in making this a reality.
The Status of Women Council believes that family violence is an important risk factor in poverty. According to the
study Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006, one in four Aboriginal women are abused by their
partners. Ultimately, partner violence is five times the national average. We encourage the GNWT to continue to
provide the needed resources to implement the NWT Action Plan on Family Violence — A Framework for Action
Phase II and continue to work in partnership with the NGOs to find ways of reducing the high incidence of family
violence in the Northwest Territories.
The federal government has a role to play in this as well. Money that is available for family violence initiatives
should be made available to off-reserve as well as on-reserve populations. This has been brought to the federal
government's attention on several occasions.
The council has always recognized that a major barrier to women's education, training, employment, healing and
recovery is the lack of affordable quality child care. We have consistently advocated the GNWT to increase operating
grants to make running child care centres viable, ensure that the buildings are adequate, increase wages of child care
workers and provide adequate training for workers. This has not happened yet.
In 2007, the council attended a consultation on the federal government's Child Care Spaces Initiative and provided
similar recommendations as noted above. We have yet to see the report that was to be sent to us and yet to see any
action on the part of the Conservative government to implement any recommendations that came out of this
consultation. It is our belief that child care is the most needed resource in being able to find a job and that the lack of
affordable, quality child care is the greatest barrier to employment for women.
The council continues to be frustrated by the lack of gender analysis in the development and implementation of the
Government of the Northwest Territories programs. Under Canada's international commitments to the equality of
women and the GNWT's policy on the Equality of Men and Women in the Northwest Territories, the GNWT must
examine all programs and policies through a gender lens. The council believes that the GNWT is not following its own
policy and has not integrated gender analysis into its ongoing work. This work was intended to be funded by Status of
Women Canada and has been delayed since they lost their funding for research and advocacy work under the present
Conservative government. We strongly believe that gender analysis should be fully integrated into all government
planning and program delivery.
It is the council's belief that all the above-named issues have a tremendous impact on poverty and continue to
disadvantage women in general, but, in particular, single parents, including teen mothers specifically. For many years,
the council has expressed concern over the level of homelessness, and the lack of affordable housing, adequate number
of shelters, affordable quality child care and funding to address these issues. We see a definite link between poverty and
housing and other needs, such as child care and transportation.
Research funded by Status of Women Canada has shown that employment-related problems and childhood and
adulthood adversities are factors involved in the poverty cycle. Although research on the effects of adversities in
childhood and adolescence on individuals in later life is far from complete, few would disagree that there is a
These research findings have very significant meaning for many of the residents of the Northwest Territories. The
rate of post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma is exceedingly high and has serious negative effects on the health and
well-being of those individuals suffering from these effects, but also on the socio-economic development of the
A look at the Northwest Territories statistics provided by the NWT Bureau of Statistics gives us a good indication
of the extent of the problems that we are facing here. In 2001, single-parent families represented 20 per cent of families
in the Northwest Territories. Seventy-five per cent of all Northwest Territories single parents are female. Northwest
Territories women have children at a younger age than Canadian women in general. In 2002, this was three times the
national rate of births to mothers aged 15 to 19. The average daycare fee for one child is $600-$700 per month. In 2002,
15 per cent of Northwest Territories employed women worked part time versus 8 per cent of employed men.
In 2000, women were the majority owners of 16 per cent of Northern businesses. The average income of Northwest
Territories women from all sources, in 2000, was $29,911 or 75 per cent of the average income of men, which was
$39,795. In 2000, 38.8 per cent of Northwest Territories women had incomes of less than $15,000 and 15.5 per cent
earned $50,000 or more. In 2000, the average income for Northwest Territories single-parent families headed by
women was $34,178, compared to $44,366 for male single parents and $94,637 for married-couple families.
In 2005, 13 per cent of Northwest Territories women over 15 years of age had less than a grade 9 education, 21 per
cent had a high school diploma, 29 per cent had another diploma or certificate, and 15 per cent had a university degree.
The unemployment rate in larger centres is approximately 6.8 per cent but can reach as high as 50 per cent in smaller
communities. Thirty-five percent of the population in the Northwest Territories, 15 years and over, does not have a
high school diploma, and the graduation rate is 40 per cent as opposed to 74 per cent nationally.
Although the Northwest Territories has experienced more economic success in the last few years and personal
disposable income per capita has increased, for many women, this increase has not translated into prosperity or, for
many, even an adequate standard of living. The extremely high cost of living means that in many cases, salary dollars
are paid out in high rents and utilities, including heat, high cost of food, transportation, child care, fuel and other
essential items such as clothing and other imperatives of living.
Low-income women have limited job opportunities and are most often employed in part-time, minimum-wage
occupations with few benefits. The current work options for single mothers are limited, and non-existent in some
communities in the Northwest Territories, and typically do not provide a realistic means to become and remain
economically self-sufficient. The jobs most readily available are several occupations at the lower level of the pay scale,
including child care workers, servers, janitors and cleaners. The opportunities to work in non-government agencies are
greater in the Northwest Territories, but these positions do not yield much higher salaries. In order to increase their
salary, many women are forced to work in more than one job thus putting their health and well-being into jeopardy.
Landed immigrants, temporary workers, live-in caregivers, refugees and other newcomers to Canada and their
families who live in the Northwest Territories face many barriers. Barriers include access to employment, housing and
other services, getting credentials accredited, learning English, racism, climate and cultural changes and many more.
Both the federal Citizenship and Immigration Canada and territorial government are responsible for newcomers. The
capacity to provide needed services is minimal, and there is no focus within the GNWT where newcomers' issues are
brought together or dealt with. Many of our advocacy clients are dealing with immigrant and refugee issues.
Because we do not have reserves in the Northwest Territories, it is difficult to see communities where poverty is as
blatant as when we look at reserves and rural remote communities in the South. Even when these groups come to
Yellowknife or hear about the economic boom in the Northwest Territories, it is not recognized that there are small,
mainly Aboriginal communities where poverty is a very real day-to-day reality. In many cases, the economics of
transportation, cost of goods moving in and out of the North and no roads increase the costs thereby increasing
poverty levels. Basic needs such as nutrition and adequate housing are, in many cases, not being met. Social problems,
such as addictions and mental health issues, only exacerbate the situations in many communities. There are few or no
resources to deal with these issues. Some communities do not have RCMP officers, social workers, nurses and
The high cost of living and lack of affordable housing puts many at risk of not being able to meet their basic needs
of food, shelter and clothing. According to a recent study on homelessness, thousands of women and their children in
the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut are already experiencing either absolute homelessness — that is living
on the street or in an emergency shelter — or hidden homelessness, having no options but to live in a situation that is
unsafe, unhealthy and insecure.
As the territorial report entitled Being Homeless is Getting to be Normal: A Study of Women's Homelessness in the
Northwest Territories indicates, ``few understand the complex constellation of factors'' including the full impact of
residential schools and the loss of the Aboriginal culture and language for many families.
When most people in the North lived off the land and moved around working on trap lines and other seasonal work,
there was no opportunity to build a pension fund and pay into the Canada Pension Plan. Now, those people are
without that resource when they are 60 years of age. If older adults are unable to work at the age of 60 due to any
number of personal circumstances, there is only the income security net. This is minimal at best and often only
provides the bare essentials for living.
I will conclude by saying that although the Northwest Territories is experiencing more economic success and many
individuals are thus enjoying tremendous financial success, there is an ever-widening gap between high-income wage
earners and low- or no-income wage earners. The demographic group most affected by poverty continues to include
Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, single parents and their children, recent immigrants to Canada and the
elderly, especially elderly women.
This translates into serious social problems in the Northwest Territories with consequential negative effects on the
health and well-being of many residents. It will not only take tremendous financial resources but also vision, leadership
and great determination and persistence from Aboriginal, territorial, federal and local leaders to tackle these complex
and sometimes elusive problems. Bold and creative approaches are needed to address these complex social issues. This
should become a priority not only for the territorial government but also for the federal government.
Our recommendations are as follows. It is fundamental for Canada to have a national anti-poverty strategy, with a
long-term vision and measurable targets and objectives. Consultation with the territorial and Aboriginal governments
in the Northwest Territories should begin in the near future.
It is imperative that the federal government work swiftly to resolve the outstanding land claims and treaty rights of
First Nations and other Aboriginal groups. It has been shown in the Northwest Territories that the settlement of these
claims enables the Aboriginal governments to focus more intently on solving the problems that exist in their
communities. There should be more attention and research directed to these positive initiatives.
It is imperative that the federal government provide to the Northwest Territories an increase in revenue sharing. The
new territorial government is in the process of reducing the budget by $135 million. The non-government sectors and
community groups are struggling now to maintain their services. They need increased financial support to provide the
only services that are presently available for the homeless and low-wage earners, the abused and the down and out.
Without these groups and the volunteer sector, the situation will get much worse. More credit needs to be given to
groups who are giving over and above the call of duty to ensure people do not freeze on the streets or in the bush
because they cannot afford the cost of living in the Northwest Territories.
It is imperative that the federal government implement a national child care program. Consultation has already
taken place across Canada. The report should be released and immediate action taken.
Stop penalizing the Northwest Territories for not being a reserve. The Northwest Territories should be able to
access the federal monies that are available for reserves. For example, the money that is available for prevention of
family violence should be distributed to the territories so that they can implement much-needed programs and services
in the area of family violence.
Enhance federal pension systems so that people are not living below the poverty line.
Encourage other levels of government to provide benefits to those who try to live independently. Examples include
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Continue to partnership with organizations in the Northwest Territories that are working to improve the quality of
lives of the residents of the Northwest Territories. The Northern Women in Mining, Oil and Gas Project is an excellent
example of how all levels of government — including federal — non-government organizations and industry can work
together to tackle complex issues, such as providing support and training for women who tend to be marginalized, yet
are keen to learn if given the opportunity of a learning environment. Reducing or eliminating barriers that have kept
them from succeeding in the past are imperative. We have an obligation to continually work to remove the systemic
barriers that keep women from participating in and succeeding in financial security and prosperity.
Reverse the federal budget cuts to the Status of Women Canada so that further research and advocacy work that is
so needed can continue. Further research is needed so that the root causes of poverty can be understood and solutions
found. A Status of Women Canada office should be made available for the Northwest Territories so that they can
easily access resources to help implement research and other projects, and so that programs and services, including
gender-based analysis, can be implemented and evaluated. Those programs that prove to reduce the incidence of
poverty and homelessness can then be made available to those most in need of these services and programs.
Endorse and support the recommendations that are suggested by the research partners of the Being Homeless is
Getting to be Normal: A Study of Women's Homelessness in the Northwest Territories. This report was prepared by the
YWCA Yellowknife and the Yellowknife Women's Society, March 2007.
Mira Hall, Chair, Women's Committee and Territorial Representative, National Anti-Poverty Organization: I sit
before you as a practical example of the necessity of implementing the recommendations that Ms. Thomas has
presented. I am the Territorial Representative for the National Anti-Poverty Organization. I hold that position because
I have spent much of my time on this planet being extremely poor. I have lived in the public housing fenced ghettos of
Yellowknife. I have traveled to the communities and spoken to other people who live in poverty. I am here to represent
what they are saying.
It is not joyous, and it is not easy. I have been in overcrowded conditions and have dealt with the communicable
diseases that result from having 15 to 20 people in a two-bedroom house. I left home at the age of 15 and had babies by
the age of 20. After having my children, I had to seriously consider the pros of being homeless with my children versus
the cons of remaining in an abusive household. I had very little resources to fund my education. I currently take
university courses as I can afford them and have often worked more than one job, sometimes pulling in over 100 hours
a week in paid employment to the detriment of my children.
To demonstrate the importance of having a national affordable child care program, my son lost the tip of his left
index finger when I could not access affordable or quality child care and was forced to choose between not having food
available for my children and bringing them to work with me.
I have sat in parks, in the public housing ghettos and smelled crack cocaine wafting past the children, too fearful to
chase away the drug dealers and the drug abusers. This situation is mirrored in the communities where the levels of
substance abuse are steadily rising. It is recognized as one of the cons of the economic development of the mining.
I experience structural barriers from accessing employment that would benefit me because I have children and have
no one to look after them. I cannot obtain work in the mines because I have no one to spend the two weeks caring for
my children on a 24-hour basis. Therefore, I have to search and access employment within Yellowknife or Behchoko.
That employment is not enough to support me and my two children. I remain dependent on a relationship for my
housing, a situation that is reflected in the lives of many of my peers.
I have gone to the grocery stores and witnessed other parents loading the coats of their children with juice boxes and
granola bars so that their children can have food when they go to school the next day. We have five- and six-year olds
being trained to shoplift so that our Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority does not apprehend them
because of a lack of proper food that would be reported by the schools.
I have seen, in my paid employment as a community outreach worker at a medical clinic, elderly and disabled people
funnelled to Yellowknife from the communities because the communities do not have the health resources to care for
these people. They send them here under the illusion of Yellowknife being a place where they would have the resources
to be cared for. We do not have a dementia facility, and, at times, our hospital has been understaffed and overcrowded
to the point where elderly dementia patients are housed in our psychiatric ward. That results in the psychiatric ward
not wanting to accept psychiatric patients because some of those psychiatric patients could prey on the elderly.
Our resources are strained. It is resulting in serious social problems that are to the great detriment of our
community. Yellowknife is a separate example from the communities. However, we feel the brunt of what happens in
outlying communities because those people who are incapable of fishing, hunting and providing for themselves
through the natural resources are sent here.
The problem of not having RCMP in each community is demonstrated by women phoning my office, looking for
emergency protection orders. They have phoned RCMP stations to be told that it will be dealt with the next time they
fly in. That leaves the women at risk. I am incredibly surprised that our murder rate is not higher.
I have met women who are brought into Yellowknife after being badly abused in their communities, but they have
not been able to access support from a community base because their abusive partners are related to everyone there.
I have met people who have had difficulty accessing income support in their communities because they have to
access it from an income support officer who is the brother, sister or grandmother of an abusive partner whom they
It would be seriously negligent for the federal government to continue to ignore these problems, to think that they
have survived in a capacity for so long and have developed their own internal ways of dealing with these problems
because it is simply not true. When an outlying community is incapable of dealing with a social problem, the person
perceived to be the root of that social problem is sent to Yellowknife. Yellowknife shelters are already overcrowded. I
personally worked in a shelter and have been one employee servicing 30 women often with substance abuse and
psychiatric difficulties; it is not safe. Federal funding has to increase in order to properly provide these people with
We have already experienced the death of one of our probation officers a few years ago. Since that point, safety
measures for helpers have increased to a certain degree, but it is always a balance between having the resources to
implement those safety measures versus the need in the community having to be met whether or not the resources are
I am sorry that my speech is little scattered. I did write it out but left it somewhere in the craziness.
I would like to really stress that funding to the NGOs needs to increase. We are the people on the front lines
responding to people who have emergency needs. We cannot have people freezing on the street. We have come across
situations where one shelter resident would attack another shelter resident. Then one of them gets left outside. We
cannot have people left outside when it is minus 52.
In Behchoko, there was an incident many years ago that has always stood out in my mind and that was of a woman
running from her partner, naked down the street and having to go to a house, any random house, to get protection.
That particular instance was addressed by vigilante justice because the RCMP was not available at the time. In my
residency in Yellowknife, I have come across two other women fleeing to the streets in the dead of winter from abusive
partners. At one point, I was one of them.
We need to have increased funding to address these issues. As far as I am concerned, Canada is not living up to its
promises made at the UN in regard to human rights as long as it continues to allow Canadian residents to live in that
type of poverty and lack of personal security.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mira. That was quite an incredible call you have given us. We certainly will be
including that in our own report when we are finished with our hearings. Thank you, and all the very best to you.
Spencer Heslep, Program Coordinator, SideDoor Youth Centre: I must admit I am a little heavy-hearted, partly
because of some of the stories my colleague, Ms. Hall, has shared but also because I have some personal experience
with the topic that I will be talking about, as well. I will share a little on the connection between youth poverty and
I was personally involved in both of these particular topics as a young teenager growing up in Yellowknife. I ran
away from home when I was 15 years old and got involved in selling and using drugs. I promoted drugs and the
lifestyle that went along with it. I graduated and became a lieutenant in a Vietnamese crime ring and experienced a
severe downfall in my life — emotional, physical and economic bankruptcy — and watched my family fall apart.
Through that, I was able to have a spiritual experience that brought me to a place of wholeness through a personal
relationship with Jesus Christ.
However, through my experience in Yellowknife, I have come to notice that some of the common causes associated
with youth poverty and youth crime have to do with upbringing. I believe that you are well aware of the impact of
residential schools, racism and various issues with our local people. Not just Aboriginal people, but people in the
North as a whole have passed on certain issues that are impacting our youth today, such as drug and alcohol addiction
and abuse in the home. People who operate in a poverty-victim mentality pass that on to children.
Also, with peer pressure, we are seeing more involvement in crime and organized crime. Many of our youth are
being influenced by organized criminal structures — I am sure none of this is new to you, but we see an increase of this
in the Northwest Territories.
I work at a youth centre in Yellowknife, and we see youth getting involved in different activities; they think it is cool
and that it is okay. We talked to parents whose 13-year old son is now dealing drugs. The consequences of that within
the family and so forth are definitely important factors to consider in some of the causes of poverty and youth crime
Within the common crimes, we see many break and enters — many youth will get involved in this for shelter, money
and access to food; shoplifting to find clothes and to trade different items for drugs and money; and prostitution,
especially among female youth, who will use sex to get money or as a tool to have a safe place to stay, or to acquire
drugs for their addiction.
I am heavy-hearted, but I am also encouraged because I believe that with every problem, there is an opportunity for
a solution. I believe that as we address these problems, we can work together to provide solutions. One fact that is on
my heart is that I believe the government has their part to play. Funding is important, but I also believe that as a
society, we have become selfish. It is very easy to always look to the government, and I am not negating what my
colleagues say about the importance of government involvement. However, I want to stress the point that without the
community's involvement as a whole, we cannot change the situation. Money is not the only answer. We need social
involvement and people who are willing to stand up and address our local brothers and sisters within the community to
say that it is not something that we can push off. These issues are real, and we need to come together as a whole to
provide not just money but also our own personal time to address them so that we can see changed lives.
I propose the following recommendations to help prevent youth crime and decrease youth poverty. First and
foremost, we need to recognize that every youth has a need. We overlook the fact that youth are making some of these
bad choices because they have a need that is genuine. I did not steal just to steal. I stole because I had a need and was
trying to fulfill that need. Obviously, it is the wrong way, but we have to recognize that these needs are real.
We also need to promote relationships within the youth that are healthy. I believe that youth are being influenced in
negative ways to make negative choices, and that needs to be reversed. We can do that by having more awareness
workshops that identify the importance of healthy relationships in schools, such as the Centre for Northern Families or
the SideDoor Youth Centre. We must let youth know that it is important that they hang around people who are will
influence them to make healthy choices.
We lack in this area and, consequently, youth turn to the wrong sources, such as gangs and different types of
organizations or people who will steer them astray.
I believe that mentorship is essential. One of my saving graces was the people who were willing to take their time to
invest in my life, to help me be the person who sits before you today. Without opportunities for youth to establish
mentorship relationships, they will fall flat on their face every time.
We have sporting events, coaches and guidance counsellors in schools and various ways that youth can develop
mentorship relationships with people. However, we need to address the youth who are falling through the cracks, and
these are the youth who are more susceptible to poverty and crime. The mentorship relationship needs to be addressed
more within our community and the Northwest Territories.
We need to continue to provide opportunities for youth to be trained in the necessary life skills, such as healthy
eating, budgeting, proper hygiene and healthy relationships. If they have not been getting this in their home, then it is
our responsibility to provide this information and equipment for the youth. Otherwise, we are to blame.
We need to provide more education. Youth need opportunities to be educated and equipped, specifically the
susceptible ones who are falling through the cracks. They need to be educated and equipped with knowledge and
experience that will help them enter and stay in the workforce. One specific example of that is a youth who attends our
youth centre. He dropped out of school and got involved in drugs and alcohol and began to be very depressed. His
mother came to talk to us, and we worked together with his mother and through a mentorship relationship with one of
our staff. We were able to help him get into the Aurora College trades training program. He is now attending. He is
now making money, and we are seeing a significant change in this life. This is just one example of what we should strive
for within the lives of our youth to help encourage them to make healthier choices.
Funding is required to train those people willing to take the time to reach out to youth who suffer from poverty and,
consequently, are involved in criminal activity. We need to rally people who are willing to influence youth's lives, offer
leadership training and provide more opportunities for those willing to invest time and money in the lives of these
youth in order to influence them to change.
I believe that front-line workers from such organizations as the Centre for Northern Families, the Salvation Army
and the SideDoor Youth Centre have the heart to do this. However, more money needs to be available for these
organizations to provide this training so that this can happen.
It is important for us, in the North, to continue to tap into organizations and agencies that have had more
experience in these areas so that we can learn and benefit from that experience instead of using trial and error, and
trying to reinvent the wheel.
In closing, I want to say that our youth are more valuable than any other asset we have, whether it is in the
Northwest Territories, Canada or around the world. We must do our part to influence them to make healthy choices.
Otherwise, youth poverty and crime will continue to increase, and we, as a society, will have failed to help them to be
all that they can be.
The Chair: I thank all of you. You have done an extraordinary job here in this room today. You can rest assured
that your voices will not be forgotten by this committee. There will be undoubtedly a part of our report, when we get
down to it — although, we will probably need a carriage to pull all the information we have — that will include your
thoughts, ideas and your hurt. We thank you for taking part.
Senator Mercer: It is very frustrating that our colleagues in the other party in the Senate are not here today. These
presentations have made the trip entirely worthwhile, and I want to thank you for that.
You may not have taught us many new facts, but you have reminded us of much. Indeed, Ms. Hall, your comment
that we cannot have people left outside, I believe we will see that phrase come back, and, hopefully, it will make it into
Everyone has talked about child care. Ms. Thomas, apart from the money to create child care spaces, there is always
the issue of opportunities for early childhood educator training. Are there enough here, or is there a program in the
Ms. Thomas: There are not enough trained child care workers. The numbers are extremely low, and that is partly
because of the low salaries of child care workers. The incentive is not great. I have two children, and I would not want a
whole daycare full of them. It is an extremely difficult, but very important, position. We have not done very much in
this area; we need to more.
Aurora College has provided some training. I hate to say it, but it is hit-and-miss, which does not sound very good.
It is definitely not a well-coordinated, substantial program.
Senator Mercer: Therefore, if there were funding for the programs, perhaps the training would come.
Ms. Thomas: It is hard to say. It is similar to the chicken and egg.
Senator Mercer: I want to draw a reference, for our researchers, to your 10 recommendations, some of which we
have seen in other forms before. I want to get them on the record so that we are forced to read them again and so that
they do not get lost. Some of them are very important.
Ms. Hall, your comments about an abused spouse being abused by the entire community, we have heard this
yesterday in Whitehorse. The term used by the presenter then, and it is a term that is going to stick, is ``mobbing.'' She
referred to it as mobbing because whether they mean to or not, they become party to the abuse by supporting the
We talk about this being an issue in the smaller communities. Is it an issue in a community the size of Yellowknife?
Ms. Hall: It is because we have a very limited number of shelters in the North. Abuse can occur between a lesbian
couple, for instance — there were examples of that in the shelter where I worked — where the two partners are both
staying at the same shelter. When abuse happens in that type of relationship, for the safety of the single shelter worker
who is there, we have to remove one of those partners. One of those partners has no other option, so, essentially, they
have to be outside. They have to sleep in the bank lobbies.
For a long time, we would clear out a little camping space beneath the porch of our shelter every morning where
people, who, for whatever reason, were required to leave the shelter, would then crawl underneath the deck and could
have sleeping bags and blankets.
Recently, you may have noticed that the temperature was minus 54 with the wind chill, which leads to something
called 30-second-skin-freeze warnings — any exposed skin will be frozen in 30 seconds. I cannot imagine having to
sleep outside in those circumstances, although I have slept outside in similar circumstances.
Senator Mercer: Mr. Heslep, you did not tell us how the SideDoor Youth Centre is funded. By the way, the name is
great; I like the name. Tell me, how is the centre funded? Where do you get your money?
Mr. Heslep: We get some money through the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority to fund our
homeless youth program. We get money from the corporate sector, the mines, various businesses within the
Yellowknife community, the churches, the City of Yellowknife and anybody else who will give us money to continue
Senator Mahovlich: Ms. Thomas, were you referring to training women to go down and work in the mines?
Ms. Thomas: Yes, I was referring to that. There are a number of places here that offer training. There is the Mine
Training Society, and they actually work with some subcontractors to train in the mines. There are more and more
women entering those training programs.
We have a program called Northern Women in Mining, Oil and Gas Project. The mines hope that women will go
into the mines, but I know not all of them will. For many of them, as Ms. Hall mentioned, it is two weeks in, two weeks
out, and there is no child care available. Therefore, many women just would not be able to access that employment.
However, they are interested in other non-traditional areas, such as carpentry, welding, small engine repair, et
cetera. Just recently — and I do not know if you will hear them — on TV and radio, we have had advertisements for
what we call ``short exposure'' courses. We have a course in carpentry, and we have about 50 women who have signed
up for 10 spots. We are trying to work with our Kimberlite Career and Technical Centre, which is connected to the
high school, to provide more of these courses for women. The interest is definitely increasing.
Senator Mahovlich: That is interesting.
Tell me, Mr. Heslep, do you give much religious instruction to the youth?
Mr. Heslep: I believe one Christian person said it this way, ``Preach the gospel at all times and on occasion, use
words.'' I believe, now more than ever, the church needs to speak with their actions more than with what they say. I do
not believe in shoving the Bible down anyone's throat, but I do believe that the principles and the word of God are
sound principles to base one's life on. We do our best to mirror those principles in the lives of the youth that we serve.
Senator Sibbeston: Your presentations are certainly sobering and bring us back to the reality of poverty in
Yellowknife. I have to commend you. We have heard from government people and MLAs, and, certainly, their
presentations, while good, do not really come right down to earth in terms of what it really means. In that sense, you
have all brought me back into a very sobering reality of what we are talking about.
I commend particularly Ms. Hall and Mr. Heslep, you both have life experience with poverty. You know what it is.
It is similar to an alcoholic in that it takes an alcoholic to help an alcoholic; one can never get it from a professor or an
academic type of person because it is only theory. They know the theory, but they do not know from experienced. I
appreciate your experience and your being able to tell us about it. I would say that that has more of an effect on me
than others who speak about it. I thank you for that.
I will ask all of you a question. For Ms. Thomas, everything that ever needs to be known about women is contained
here. It is the definitive statement of women in the North. I appreciate there are people such as you, that all you do is
press and champion the cause of women. Obviously, we need that in our society.
I have always wondered about the issue of daycare. With the Conservative government — and I am not being
partisan when I ask this question — there was a linear approach with respect to daycare where they gave families $100
a month for each child. On a rational basis, it makes sense to have every woman being given $100 so that she can do
what she wants with that money for the child as opposed to the state, the government providing daycare spaces. Has
the effect of that been good or bad?
Ms. Thomas: If we think about the cost of child care at $600-$700 per child per month, if you have four children,
what is the possibility of actually going to work unless you make $100,000 a year? The taxable $100 does not go very
far. I just do not agree with that system at all.
Ms. Hall: That $100 that is taxable makes me ineligible for the daycare subsidy. It is essential that public policy
target the group that they are trying to help. That $100 is not helping. It was, in my opinion, a very foolish thing for the
government to undertake.
Because I lived in a fenced ghetto, I got to know how people deal with their poverty. If tools are not provided to
address poverty in a concrete manner, people will come up with their own ways of dealing with it. I know women with
four or five children dealing drugs to put milk in their fridge. It is not a choice. They cannot go to work. They cannot
afford to go to work. The levels of income support are not sufficient to put oil in their tanks. Therefore, a situation is
created where people have to make the choice to shoplift, beg, borrow and steal to make ends meet and to provide for
Senator Sibbeston: My question is for both Ms. Hall and Mr. Heslep and is about the issue of drinking, alcoholism
and using drugs — I am not so familiar with using drugs because I was born a long time ago when drugs were not
common, just alcohol. However, the plight of young people when they are using alcohol, drugs and so forth, if a person
can get over that, can a person then make it in life? Drinking or drug use just keeps people down, but if they can ever
get over that, then how much of a chance is there of them getting up on their feet and making their way in life? I am
curious to hear from both of you because you have obviously been there.
You look good, yet you have had problems. You have come up, and you are exactly the type of people who need to
work with others because there is a greater chance of success working with you than with someone who does not have
first-hand experience. You have made it now. Can other people make it in the North as you have done?
Mr. Heslep: I believe so, yes. I believe if there is hope for me, then there is hope for every other person out there. My
personal experience is that I died twice in overdoses. I completely lost my family. I was completely bankrupt in all
different ways. I was able to be restored to my family and also financially. I am now happily married and going on four
years clean and sober.
Therefore, I would say, yes, absolutely. I consider it a real honour and a privilege, and I am also humbled to be in a
place where I can be an example to youth. I also give thanks to God, who I believe has helped me to do that.
Ms. Hall: I will mirror Mr. Heslep's testimony in that I know women who were involved in prostitution in
Edmonton or Vancouver, came back to Yellowknife to clean up and got very good positions with the government.
I perceive drugs and alcohol as similar to a shackle that stunts growth and development. Therefore, if people have
spent five years around the ages of 18 or 20 involved with drugs and alcohol where they should have been attending
university and developing themselves professionally, then, in some aspects, they will be lagging behind their peers who
did not engage in those substances.
It will always be with us, and it is something that we have to be conscious of, but it will not stunt us for life, in my
opinion. I know plenty of people who have overcome those problems. Much of that is based on having solid
foundations in the home and in the community to which they can look for mentorship, advice and support.
Senator Sibbeston: Is the North a gentler place? Do you have a better chance of survival, of getting up on your feet
in the North than in a big city in the South?
Ms. Hall: In the smaller communities, that would depend on what family one comes from. In Yellowknife, it
depends on whether or not someone was born and raised here. There is a stigma with the Yellowknifers. We bear the
stigmas of everything we have ever engaged in because a large portion of the population has seen us go through all of
There are people in the community who see me as I was over five years ago, and, to them, I will never be anything
more. Therefore, that restricts my employment opportunities. It restricts my ability to access housing. However, there
are also other people who have seen the growth and change and are willing to lend a helping hand. In larger city
centres, I would imagine that situations would go unnoticed by many. I have been in larger city centres, and there are
always people in those communities who have lent a hand to me to help me out.
Mr. Heslep: The saying that comes to my mind is, ``Where there's a will, there's a way.'' I believe that in every place,
there are opportunities for people to connect with others to get help to be free.
I cannot necessarily speak for all the smaller communities, but I know that in many, there are programs such as
Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. There are other churches and other spiritual connections that
people can use to find some support and encouragement to be free.
I believe that if there is a will, there is a way. I do not know specifically about the difference between Yellowknife
and larger cities because I do not have any personal experience with that.
Senator Sibbeston: You just have personal experience in the North.
Mr. Heslep: In the North, yes.
Ms. Hall: I was reminded of something when Mr. Heslep just closed and mentioned that he was in bankruptcy. I am
currently in bankruptcy with thousands of dollars owed to me in back child support payments. I bring that up because
I wanted to include in my recommendations that there be federal implementation of the maintenance enforcement
program. It is virtually impossible for parents to access child support from absent fathers who are skipping from
province to province. There are holes in the way the legislation matches from each province to each territory. That is a
very real problem that many single parents face.
The Chair: Thank you very much, all of you.
The committee adjourned.