MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As we all know, last year health and social service authorities amalgamated into the NWT Health and Social Service Authority. The rationale for this move was to improve coordination, communication, and the use of resources, including staff, among the regions. The Hay River Health Authority was one of the two that were left out of the amalgamation because it was engaging negotiations, but the primary reason appears to me, anyway, to be the costs associated with bringing it on board, due to their under-performing pension plan.
This pension issue has been going on for over a decade, and the price tag is growing. Every time I bring it up, it is a different number: $20 million, $15 million, $25 million. I am bringing it up again because I see the negative effects of being excluded from the NWT Health and Social Service Authority in relation to issues like medical travel, staffing, and mental health. I want to see if we can bring some sort of conclusion to this issue. My first question to the Minister of Health is: how much would it cost to bring the Hay River Health and Social Service Authority into the NWT Health and Social Service Authority? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Health and Social Services.
HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I don’t know. I know that when we looked at bringing the health authority in during the last assembly, the cost estimates were about $20 million. Things have changed since then. We have put in 12 new positions in Hay River. There have been some other changes. There has been staff turnover. The bottom line is: I can’t tell you what the number is today, but it is likely still around that number, maybe slightly higher. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SIMPSON: I can add “I don’t know” to the number of responses I have gotten to how much it is going to cost. I know every that the department tops up this pension plan, and I was wondering if the Minister has the numbers about how much the department has already put into this pension plan over the past 10 or 12 years, however long it has been going on.
HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: In 2005, when I actually worked for the Government of Northwest Territories, we were looking at bringing in the Hay River Health and Social Services into the public service at that time, and I was actually working on that file. At that time, it was estimated to be around $5 million to bring the Hay River authority into the public service. Since then, because it was decided not to move forward at the time because of the cost, we have had to top up their pension every year. Last year, the top-up on the pension was about $872,000 and, for this year, we have an early estimate that suggests we’re going to have to top up their pension $1.2 million. All in all, it’s about a million a year average since 2005. If you do the math, Mr. Speaker, we’re talking $12, $14, $15 million just to keep that pension alive in Hay River.
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I think the Minister is making my case for me. Clearly something needs to be done. I mean the government is just throwing good money after bad here. What’s being done right now to make this happen? What’s in progress?
HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: Late in the life of the last government, it was decided to move the Hay River authority into the public service because there were unknown things at play. There was no finalized collective agreement with the UNW for GNWT employees. There was also no finalized collective agreement with the Hay River employees. It left a lot of questions up in the air as far as what exists in one body, what exists in the other, and how do we make those come across seamlessly so that we don’t adversely affect the employees. At that time, I accepted that logic because we didn’t know those things, but I also believed at that time that it was going to happen much faster than it has as far as reaching some terms on collective agreements.
I’ve had an opportunity to travel to Hay River. I’ve seen the challenges that the Member has raised and I agree wholeheartedly with what the Member is saying. I’ve made commitments to Hay River in the past in the previous Assembly and again in this Assembly, but this is something that we must do. Rather than waiting for the collective agreements to be done, I’ve already directed the department to do an updated analysis on what it would cost but also to develop a plan on how we can move forward prior to having these agreements concluded so that we can move forward to find a way to bring health units in the Hay River into the public service. This is something that I’d like to see happen. This is something that many of us would like to see happen, but we have to be cognizant of the fact that it is going to cost a large amount of money. We’re going to have to work together to find that money if we if intend to move forward with Hay River.
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It sounds like there’s a lot of work on that. That’s great to hear. The Minister says it must be done, and so I just want to ask the Minister: now that the second assembly has been dealing with it, can we get a commitment that the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority would be brought into the NWT Health and Social Services Authority before the end of this Assembly? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: I badly want to say yes, but I recognize that any financial hit is going to have to be considered in line with all other costs that this government is faced with. We need to do the business case.
I’m looking forward to working with the Member. I’m looking forward to working with all my colleagues on both sides of this House to find a way. Recognizing that, if it has a significant cost, I will not have commit to have it done in the life of this government, but I commit to making significant progress by working together to find a way. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.