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Notes from the legislative assembly
GNWT to pick your brain about pot

Kirsten Fenn
Northern News Services
Monday, June 12, 2017

The justice department plans to kick off online consultations on cannabis legalization by the end of June before hosting public meetings in seven regional centres and two small communities in September.

NNSL photograph

Mark Aitken, assistant deputy minister of justice, left, Justice Minister Louis Sebert and Kelly Bluck, director of fiscal policy for the finance department, speak at the legislative assembly June 7 about upcoming public engagements on the legalization of marijuana. - Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo

Officials are looking for feedback on possibly increasing the federal age limit for cannabis consumption above the age of 18, and reducing the federal carry and home-growth limits, according to Mark Aitken, assistant deputy minister for the justice department.

The GNWT is exploring distribution models similar to liquor commissions in other jurisdictions where sales are controlled by government, or restricting sales to licensed retailers.

In terms of taxation, Kelly Bluck, director of fiscal policy for the finance department, said the GNWT shouldn't tax cannabis too high off the bat, "otherwise we'll be back into the black market situation."

Justice Minister Louis Sebert added the government isn't expecting a "windfall" of tax revenues.

MLAs also raised concerns about youth access, mail orders and how jurisdictions that have self-government will be able to govern cannabis policy.

Federal marijuana legislation is expected to take effect next July.

The GNWT plans to have a legislative proposal ready in October.

Role of Public Utilities Board comes under scrutiny in committee

The purpose of the Public Utilities Board was called into question June 5.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly raised the issue during a committee meeting about a policy directive the GNWT issued to the independent, quasi-judicial agency earlier this year.

He asked Glen Abernethy, the minister responsible for the board, why the board exists if the GNWT is going to keep telling it what to do.

The board has been pushing the power corporation to equalize cost recovery levels in NWT communities, as some pay as little as 75 per cent of what it costs to provide power there.

But the government fears sudden changes in power rates could cause sharp increases in residents' power bills.

For that reason, it directed the board in February to limit power rate increases to an additional one-per-cent change annually.

"The Public Utilities Board does have the ability to interpret this (directive) as they see fit and they could interpret it differently than we were suggesting," said Abernethy. "They do still have a significant amount of independence."

Elections report suggests changes to financial reporting

The NWT's chief electoral officer made a number of recommendations to reduce barriers for election candidates during a meeting with a standing committee of MLAs June 7.

In a report on modernizing election administration, Chief Electoral Officer Nicole Latour suggested the government do away with requiring candidates provide statements from banks in their candidate financial reports.

Her rationale is that more than a quarter of NWT communities do not have a chartered bank or institution where candidates can acquire the statements.

"Unopened bank accounts and missing or late statements are the leading cause of delayed or unfiled Candidate Financial Reports," states Latour's recommendation.

Latour suggested having candidate financial reports certified by a designated accounting official of some kind and reimbursing candidates later for the cost.

Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson said there may not be a chartered accountant in every community and wondered if this would add another barrier.

Latour's report also recommends increasing penalties for failing to file candidate financial reports and changing the term for returning officers to a lifetime appointment rather than four years.

After the 2015 territorial election, News/North reported about one-third of the 60 candidates failed to meet the expense reporting deadlines, a figure Latour believed to be unprecedented at the time.

In January, two candidates - Arnold Hope and Dennis Nelner - and one candidate agent - Gaylene Moses - were charged with criminal code offenses related to the filing of their financial reports in January.

MLAs grade mandate progress

The GNWT is making "considerable" progress meeting its mandate commitments, although there is much room for improvement, according to a committee of MLAs.

A report released last week in the legislative assembly gave 21 of the GNWT's commitments a "good" rating.

Another 67 were rated acceptable, 49 were rated poor and three were given a failing grade.

One of the failures rested with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment for developing a long-term strategy to attract oil and gas development to the NWT.

The justice and health departments were also given a failing grade on reducing family violence.

More leadership is needed to prevent, rather than respond to, family violence, the report states.

It also criticizes the GNWT for not including individual shelters in its work to address their needs.

On the other side of the spectrum, the government was rated well for its work on advancing transportation infrastructure such as the Mackenzie Valley Highway and all-season roads. MLAs gave the government a thumbs-up when it came to making land available for affordable housing, supporting RCMP with policing action plans, and increasing cabinet's accessibility by organizing meeting in different regions.

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