Mr. Speaker, let’s talk about dredging. When I was growing up, there used to be a sandbar at the public beach in Hay River maybe a couple of hundred feet out. You couldn’t really see it from the shore, but seagulls would land on it, so it became known as Seagull Island. To get there, you would have to wade out waist-deep in water. About 10 years ago, a former Hay River MLA stood up in this House and talked about how Seagull Island had changed because of the build-up in sediment, saying, “You could practically walk halfway to Fort Providence now without getting wet.” Obviously, she was exaggerating, but Seagull Island hasn’t been an island in a long time.
A while ago, you could have probably called it Seagull Peninsula. Then it turned into Seagull Point. I was out there just a couple weeks ago, and what was once a submerged sandbar is now hundreds of metres of dry land. It juts out into the Great Slave Lake, curves west and then south, resulting in a brand new body of water, thousands of square feet in area that is physically separated from the lake. Let’s call it Seagull Lagoon.
On the other side of the island, the West Channel is increasingly becoming isolated from the lake, as sediment is deposited at the mouth of the channel, merging islands with the mainland, and creating the perfect barrier to block ice that would otherwise flow out of the channel into the lake during breakup.
Mr. Speaker, things have gotten worse since I stood up in this House three and a half years ago and asked this Cabinet how they were going to work towards fulfilling the GNWT’s mandate of getting the Hay River dredged. The statement I made that day was similar to the one made by the previous MLA from Hay River North at the beginning of his term. His statement was similar to the one made by the former Member for Hay River South the term before that. The answers that all three of us have received over and over again from the three different Ministers of Transportation have all been the same. They say dredging is not the GNWT’s responsibility, but they’ll work with the federal government to see if they’ll pay for it.
Well, Mr. Speaker, over the last quarter century, the feds have made their position clear by denying applications put forth by the GNWT and, in some cases, outright ignoring letters sent by our Ministers related to this issue.
Mr. Speaker, they say the Government of Canada pays attention to our proceedings, so instead of asking our Cabinet to lobby the feds, I’ll address the rest of my comments directly to the federal government: start doing your job and resume dredging operations in Hay River. This is an economic issue, this is a public safety issue, and, as far as I’m concerned, this is a federal election issue. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Dredging the Hay River
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have some questions for the Minister of Infrastructure related to my earlier statement about dredging. In my earlier statement, I was talking directly to the federal government because people tell me they listen to what we are saying here, but I am sure, like most people, they tuned out while we were reading that report, so I have some questions about what our government is doing.
It’s been tough to get someone to take responsibility for dredging. In 2015, the then Minister of Transportation said:
“I wrote a letter to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and asked the federal government to consider putting money into dredging the Port of Hay River, and I indicated it was vital to the territories for resupply of fuel and food to some communities. I did not get a response.”
In a letter to me from the Minister of Transportation, he has stated that Transport Canada has indicated generally that it does not want to fund dredging activities. Given their investment in dredging in the last 25 years, it’s clear that they do not. That is because they have ended, the Government of Canada has ended, their national dredging program. They ended it years ago. I would like to know what this government is doing. Like other governments, the Government of Manitoba has a dredging program, so clearly it’s within the responsibility of the other territories or provinces, so what is this government doing? Can I get an update from the Minister on dredging the Port of Hay River? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Infrastructure.
HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. To update the House or to remind the House, I guess, more than anything, last year, I wrote a letter, actually we applied, Infrastructure applied under the Ocean Protection Plan. If all Members remember that, that is one of the programs the federal government has listed in their mandate going forward. We applied under the 2018 application form for the fund for marine facility planning studies. In that study, in our application with the federal government under the OPP, we asked for planning studies to identify dredging requirements in the Port of Hay River and the Port of Tuktoyaktuk. Both of these facilities are federal facilities. However, this funding application at that time was not approved.
MR. SIMPSON: I have a pile of papers here. I have been doing research, and this file goes back a long time. The Minister said that there was an application for a study to find out where it needs to be dredged. Mr. Speaker, we know. The Minister has given us statements before where he said that there has been surveillance-aircraft reported imagery over the harbour. The coast guard has done sounding operations. There is a price tag for dredging. He tells me it’s about $10 million. There is an estimated volume that needs to be dredged of about 100,000 cubic metres. So it seems like this work is here. When I flew over the West Channel the other day, I could see the sand bars in the water. I think that we need to move past studies and we need to move towards dredging. Has the Minister submitted or is submitting any application to the federal government for dredging, not just planning studies but for dredging? Can he elaborate on that?
HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: The Member is making his point here. We’ve talked to different Ministers. Different Assemblies have talked to the federal government about this dredging issue in Hay River and the Port of Tuktoyaktuk. It’s an ongoing issue. The federal government got out of this racket in about 2012. That was when they cancelled their program, and they left the jurisdictions hanging. Members and Ministers from that point forward have pushed this issue for a long time. We have in this Assembly, I myself particularly since I have become the Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Infrastructure, have been pushing this issue with different Ministers, and, at the end of the day, they are not that interested. They do not even like the word “dredging” mentioned. What we are doing, our new approach now, is we are working closely with our partners, the Canadian Coast Guard, to explore possibilities of restoring the former federal remote marine resupply sites MoU with our government. We have got an ask in with them, and I am waiting to hear back from the Minister on that. Actually, with any luck here, we are going to be setting up a call, and that will be one of the things I will be discussing with the federal Minister here in the coming weeks.
MR. SIMPSON: That response is similar to one that was heard in this House on February 4, 2011, when actually the Member for Great Slave at that time asked our then Transportation Minister or now MP a similar question. He said there was going to be some discussions with Coast Guard; they are going to look into getting some dredging done. Hopefully, these discussions are a little more fruitful.
There is another working group that has been put together, and I believe the government is part of it, and it has been led by the harbour authority. It’s been around since 2016. Can the Minister give us some updates about what’s been going on with that group?
HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: The development of the working group is intended to facilitate joint work on issues of common interests concerning marine transportation and marine infrastructure in the Northwest Territories. The Department of Infrastructure will continue to emphasise the importance of dredging in the Port of Hay River and other federal port facilities in the Northwest Territories and particularly Tuktoyaktuk, which is of some concern going forward, too, and to Canadian Coast Guard, but cannot guarantee these efforts will increase the likelihood of dredging.
Now, as I have said in this House and the Member has made quite clear, a number of people have approached the federal government on this issue. They clearly do not want to be involved in this thing, and they are trying to download it as much as they can to the jurisdictions. This is an important issue going forward, particularly this year. My concern already is the low water we see. Great Slave Lake is already down. Many of the Members here who live in Yellowknife can testify to that when they go down to how low the level is. The river system is low. So this is going to be an issue that is going to be of significant importance going forward, particularly with the MTS stationed in Hay River that has to use that port facility. We also have to use the part going into Tuktoyaktuk.
We are going to have to try to find a way with the federal government to help support this initiative because, without their support, it’s going to end up on our lap and it’s going to cost us a significant amount of money. As all Members in this House know, the financial resources of the 18th Legislative Assembly have been taxed right to the max, and the 19th Assembly is going to be in just as tough shape going forward, so we are going to have to find a way to partner with the federal government and all the people and players in this industry to try to make this happen. I will continue to do that.
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I agree that the 18th Assembly is in rough financial shape. I think that the 19th is going to be in even worse shape and the 20th in even worse than that. The fact remains that, when something has to get done, it has to get done. We hear about dredging Hay River. We hear about it in Tuktoyaktuk. We hear about it for the ferries. There are some ferries that are in a few inches of water, and that is not sustainable. Will the Minister stop waiting for the federal government to come to the table after 25 years and just pony up and buy some dredging equipment that we can use all across the territory? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Yes. We can postpone a lot of capital projects to do that. That is going to cost a lot of money. That is not something I am willing to do without an analysis of what this thing would even fathom what this would cost, never mind the permitting that would have to be obtained to do this type of thing. At this point, I am going to continue as the Minister of Infrastructure to work with my colleague in the federal government on this issue. I will update the House when I have a call with him in the coming weeks. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.