MS & Q: Is the GNWT giving up on the fishery?

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I spoke about the commercial fishing industry. The proposed budget released today means that I’m talking about it again. Noticeably absent is the $1.4 million dollars that had been set aside for the last 2 years to revitalize the commercial fishing industry, and to build the fish processing plant in Hay River. The Minister told me yesterday, in this House, that there were plans for that money. Today, we see that it’s not included in his Department’s proposed budget.

Does this mean that revitalizing the fishery is no longer a priority of the Department? Or are they just giving that particular line item a rest for a year? I don’t know why it would need one, it hasn’t been doing anything for the past two years. Whatever it means, the Honourable Minister of ITI owes an explanation to his community, and especially to the fishermen who’ve partnered with ITI in the Revitalization Strategy, and have been working hard and doing their part.

If the Department just needs ideas on how to spend the money, I’ve got plenty: we need strategic investments to help bring back the winter fishery; we can start providing fishermen with affordable financing, which is hard to come by in their profession; we need to provide administrative support so that the fishermen can get out on the lake and fish, and don’t have to deal with filing paperwork and returning emails; and, so we can end the subsidies and let the commercial fishery thrive on its own, we need to work with the fishermen to develop markets so they can sell their product once they decide to leave Freshwater.

Mr. Speaker, I’m very confused. I sought, and was given, assurances from the Department during the business planning sessions for the this budget AND the capital budget, that the money would be carried over into 2017 – 2018. One way to avoid these types of miscommunication might be to make some internal reorganizations in ITI.

I suggest moving the Manager of Fisheries and Agriculture out of Yellowknife, and into Hay River – the heart of the fishery and agriculture in the Territory. The Manager is responsible for developing, expanding, and setting the direction of these sectors, and for consulting with industry organizations while doing so. Mr. Speaker, the President of the NWT Fishermen’s Federation had no idea this position even existed. If this position was in Hay River, where it logically should be, I’m confident that we’d be much further along with the revitalization strategy. At the same time, we should probably also move the Agricultural Consultant position in that unit BACK to Hay River, and while we’re at it create a Fisheries Consultant position. I appreciate the great work the ITI employees in the South Slave do, but if there are positions dedicated to particular industries, they should be where the industries are.

At the appropriate time, I’ll have questions for the Minister of ITI. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Questions

SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In regard to the money that the government had put aside to help revitalize the commercial fishery, two days ago when I questioned the Minister of ITI about this he said, “The important thing about the $1.4 million is for the Department of ITI to use that as leverage for the funding that we are putting forward to CanNor to give us the best potential to help build that plant in Hay River,” and he said, “We’re getting very close to an agreement with Freshwater regarding the plant.”

So, Mr. Speaker, because this $1.4 million isn’t in next year’s budget, is it because the Minister is confident that, before the end of this fiscal year, that money will be spent because we will have a deal for a new fish processing plant in Hay River? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That is exactly what I’m hoping is going to happen with our deliberations with CanNor and Freshwater Marketing Corporation. Things are moving along, and when we make a deal I will announce it in the House. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR SIMPSON: He had me pretty nervous, there. If this deal isn’t struck and this money isn’t spent by the end of this fiscal year, can this community have a guarantee that this $1.4 million will be put back into the 2017-18 budget?

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: As this is a mandated item for this Government of the Northwest Territories and it is my file and it’s very important to me, if we don’t make a deal before the end of this fiscal year I will be asking to carry this over the summer.

SIMPSON: An ask isn’t a guarantee. I assumed the Ministers had the power to do more than just ask, but I’ll take it for now. ITI has an Agricultural Consultant position. I spoke about it earlier. It’s located here in Yellowknife. You know, with the beautiful, fertile ground in Yellowknife it only makes sense, right? Well, no, this used to be back in Hay River, you know, the heart of agriculture. I don’t even know why I have to ask this, but can I get a guarantee from the Minister that this position will be moved back to Hay River? Better yet, can it be re-profiled so it’s agriculture and fisheries, because we do have the two big industries in Hay River?

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: First of all, this position still remains in Hay River (NOTE: Despite the Minister’s statement, government records indicate that as of Feb 2, 2017 the position is staffed in Yellowknife), and to update the House, actually this job is at Human Resources. It’s looking to become filled in the coming weeks, and with consultation on the job description moving forward we want to switch this job to an analyst position where it can look after agriculture and fishing. So this job remains in Hay River and it will look after both strategies.

SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My final question. I won’t put the Minister on the spot by asking him to justify why the manager of Fisheries and Agriculture is in Yellowknife. We know it can’t be justified. So can I get the Minister to not just look into moving this position? It doesn’t even need to be looked into. Can we just have this position moved to where it logically should be, in Hay River? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This manager position is located in Yellowknife. Its duties are a pan-territorial responsibility and it’s best fit here in the ITI headquarters, and we have no plans on moving this position to Hay River.