Debates of Oct. 31st, 2018
This is page numbers 4621 - 4676 of the Hansard for the 18th Assembly, 3rd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was communities.
- Oral Questions
- Members Present
- Minister's Statement 125-18(3): Growth of Tourism in the NWT
- Minister's Statement 126-18(3): Advancing a Northwest Territories Physical Activity Strategy
- Union of Northern Workers and Government of the Northwest Territories Negotiations
- Mould in Housing Units in Nunakput
- Childcare Agreement
- Fort Providence Fire Department
- Newly Elected Council in Norman Wells
- Municipal and Community Affairs Funding
- Tourism Regulation
- Passing of Charles "Sunshine" Larocque and Jay Larocque
- Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery
- Question 481-18(3): Childcare Agreement
- Question 482-18(3): Municipal Funding Gap
- Question 483-18(3): Union of Northern Workers and Government of the Northwest Territories Negotiations
- Question 484-18(3): Tourism Regulation
- Question 485-18(3): Mould in Housing Units in Nunakput
- Written Question 14-18(3): Non-Renewable Resource Production and Royalties
- Tabled Document 281-18(3): Community Access Program 2017-2018 Results Report Tabled Document 282-18(3): Follow-up Letter for Oral Question 370-18(3): Mackenzie Valley Highway Environmental Assessment
- Tabled Document 283-18(3): Northwest Territories Hydro Corporation and Northwest Territories Power Corporation Annual Report 2017-2018
- Tabled Document 284-18(3): GNWT Culture and Heritage Action Plan - Strong Cultures, Strong Territory, 2019-2022 Tabled Document 285-18(3): 2017-2018 Annual Report Status of Women Council of the Northwest Territories
- Tabled Document 286-18(3): Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission Annual Report 2017-2018
- Motion 22-18(3): Coordinated Cannabis Taxation Agreement, Carried
- Recorded Vote
- Motion 23-18(3): Revocation of the Appointment of the Honourable Member for Hay River South, Defeated
- Recorded Vote
- Motion 24-18(3): Revocation of Appointment of the Honourable Member for Great Slave to the Executive Council, Defeated
- Recorded Vote
- Bill 31: Northwest Territories 9-1-1 Act
- Bill 32: Naturopathic Profession Statutes Amendment Act
- Bill 30: An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act
- Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
- Committee Motion 83-18(3): Committee Report 10-18(3): Standing Committee on Government Operations Report on the Review of Bill 20: Ombudsperson Act - Public Awareness Campaign for Opening of the Office of the Ombud, Carried
- Committee Motion 84-18(3): Committee Report 10-18(3): Standing Committee on Government Operations Report on the Review of Bill 20: Ombudsperson Act - Investigations by the Ombud of Tlicho Community Services Agency, Carried
- Committee Motion 85-18(3): Bill 20: Ombud Act - Deleting subclause 15(1) and substituting the following, Defeated
- Committee Motion 86-15(3): Ombud Act - Deleting subclause 15(1) and substituting the following, Defeated
- Committee Motion 87-18(3): Bill 20: Ombud Act - Deleting subclause 17(3) and substituting the following, Carried
- Committee Motion 88-13(3): Bill 20: Ombud Act - Amended in subclause 37(1), Carried
- Report Of Committee Of The Whole
- Bill 18: An Act to Amend the Cities, Towns and Villages Act
- Recorded Vote
- Orders Of The Day
Motion 24-18(3): Revocation of Appointment of the Honourable Member for Great Slave to the Executive Council, Defeated
Daniel McNeely Sahtu
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My earlier presentation or statement is relatively the same. I have experienced the improvements of social services in my riding. I've engaged in phone calls to the department after hours, on weekends, to remedy situations of critical concern to the family. They were always answered, and in all of the cases, a resolution in favour of my request was always there. It was comforting to know the system, although it may need improvements like anything else, was there to support me.
An example of child welfare would be an example I've seen in one of the communities that I represent. In the remote, smaller communities, lots of challenges, lots of problems, disturbing family, social services removed the children from that unstable environment but kept the children in the cultural environment of their community; not like residential school, which took them out of the community. They remained in their community to see and hear the traditions of family, uncles, and supporting ones.
I will make my presentation short. As I mentioned in the previous motion, I did consult on both motions with our leadership from the Sahtu, and I feel comfortable in saying, Mr. Speaker, in this position, I've seen unbelievable socially related, disturbing issues, both here in the medical centre and at the home community medical centre. Things that I didn't believe existed, but in this public life, we serve everybody in the community, despite the fact that they voted for you or against you. I've learned to accept representing everybody, even though we encounter previous difficulties in situations of differences. In short, I work with all my colleagues on both sides of the House, but I work for the residents of the Sahtu. All of Cabinet, both Ministers in question, have done nothing wrong, but rather good for the people that I serve.
In consultation and collaboration with leadership, we have many challenges out there. We have such a short time remaining, as previous speakers have mentioned. I don't feel like going down that road. I want to face the solutions knowing the fact that we've got trust and a working relationship to put our heads and departments together to resolve those problems, problems that I've seen. As I mentioned earlier, I don't want to go there and expose what is actually happening, things that we, I think, in most cases, have seen in representing small communities.
I represent five communities, all uniquely diverse with positive and negative things which come with a community of remoteness and isolation.
I'm sorry that I didn't mention this to the earlier motion, but I thank the Minister from Hay River South for all the contributions and how he has supported our community and our region of the Sahtu. Again, I thank that Minister.
I can't support this motion for the reasons being, as I mentioned, we have to move ahead, collaboratively, jointly, building relations, facing those challenges head on. We have limitations, we have physical limitations operating in a high area that creates extra burden to the judgment that we need to solve those resolutions. It can be said in the old saying, 'Together we rise, alone we fall.' Masi.
Motion 24-18(3): Revocation of Appointment of the Honourable Member for Great Slave to the Executive Council, Defeated
The Speaker Jackson Lafferty
Masi. To the motion, Member for Kam Lake.
Motion 24-18(3): Revocation of Appointment of the Honourable Member for Great Slave to the Executive Council, Defeated
Kieron Testart Kam Lake
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I stand in support of this motion because I believe the Department of Health and Social Services has made mistakes, mistakes that have adversely affected all NWT residents and have cost this government dearly. The GNWT's credibility as the guardian of children has been severely questioned by our citizens, and public confidence in the administration of these programs and services is practically non-existent.
Fortunately, the first steps to remedying this mistake are easy. It is the steps we take after this motion that will be more challenging.
In our system of consensus government, it is not the department that is accountable for these mistakes; it is the Minister who stands responsible for the performance of the departments under his portfolio. This failure of the government to provide adequate protection to the children in its care is so serious and has been known for so long that someone must be held accountable for this. In our system of government, that person is the Minister responsible.
The subjects of the Auditor General's report are children, children under the care of the government. These children are already living in high-risk situations, which is why they are under care to begin with. Let me be clear, Mr. Speaker, yes, this motion is about holding the Minister responsible, but we must not lose sight of those who are directly affected. They are living, breathing children, and family members. They are the ones who are affected the most, not the Minister in question, not me, not any other Member of this House or public official in the Northwest Territories. This is about children. We must not forget that, as this motion arises from the mismanagement of the care of our children.
Our job as elected Members is to do more than ask questions and make statements. Our job is to take action to ensure that those with power in our society are held to account for their actions and the performance of the exercise of that power.
Moving forward, I want to remind Members of this House, as well as the public at large, that the last time a vote of non-confidence was successful in this legislature, it came because a Cabinet Minister made several disrespectful comments and followed them up with a threatening hand gesture. I worry that some Members might forget that those most affected by the inaction of a Minister, especially in the matter that we are speaking of right now, are not Members of this House and do not have the same privileges we do to hold a Minister to account, and youth at risks ought to have someone speaking up for them to address this systemic and long-standing crisis.
The questions and observations I encourage all Members to reflect upon as I go through the remainder of my statement are as follows: who is the Minister ultimately accountable to? This Assembly, the public, Cabinet, the Premier? Does or should the timing of the next election have any real bearing on the House's duty to hold the Minister to account? Should elections be the only time Members are truly held accountable? Has the Minister accepted that the buck stops with him? If not, who? In what circumstances does the buck stop getting passed around? Good intentions, Mr. Speaker, do not provide these children with any solace, nor does it work to make them safe or work to help ensure they are healthy and that their families are able to break the cycle borne out of some of the most; a reflection of the most terrible policies of colonization, residential schools.
I am disheartened at the state of our democracy if the best defense for the Minister responsible for this alarming failure of government is that he is a hard worker and he means well. Well, that sort of "better the devil you know" mentality is at the core of what is eroding responsible government.
Mr. Speaker, Cabinet has the right to design and implement policies, programs, and regulations. They aren't required to request the House's approval to do so, and aren't even required to share that with the Members of this side of the House if they don't wish to. Fortunately, most programs, policies, and regulation changes won't adversely affect residents of the NWT. Bringing them into the legislature approval debate isn't always going to be necessary. In fact, it could be considered a waste of time in many situations, Mr. Speaker. In this case, this is not one of those situations.
Yes, from time to time, these types of failures of management can be significant. It has major ramifications for the GNWT and the NWT as a whole. I believe that the moments of failures of management currently in question fall into this crisis category.
When assessing or reassessing policies, programs, and regulations that will have consequences for our people, Ministers ought to be expected to demonstrate a standard of care, which involves actively engaging Regular Members and other stakeholders who may be affected by this new information. It does not mean that the Minister should sit on the results of an internal audit for a period of months before they are brought forward for consideration by the rest of the House.
Mr. Speaker, the first time the Standing Committee on Social Development, which reviewed this file, was made aware of it was by press release shortly after the Auditor General's report came out. The severity of the situation was well-known internally to government and kept from those who are actively working together to make consensus government work on behalf of the residents of the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Speaker, for the government to meet its fiduciary obligations on behalf of Indigenous people to serve the interest of Dene, Inuvialuit, and Metis, as well as other peoples and residents of the Northwest Territories, a significant amount of information and facts are required in order for Regular Members to make responsible and informed decisions. The accessibility of information is required to plan and ensure that past mistakes are not repeated, perpetuated, shrugged off, or swept under the rug.
Unfortunately, it's clear that, in this case, the government felt more comfortable taking the easy route out, hoping that, as tradition and as status quo, this matter would be forgotten in a few weeks and all would be well, given enough time until the next election.
Does the committee and the Members of this House understand the ramifications of maintaining the status quo in a culture of inaction towards ministerial accountability? Do we fully comprehend the consequences and costs as we continue to fail to protect the health and safety of children in the GNWT's care?
Many Members of this Assembly, including myself, are fully aware of the uphill battle we engage in all too frequently with select Ministers, having to continually ask for open dialogue and forthcoming information on files with such potentially sweeping and long-term consequences.
I ask: does the Minister in question believe the children in his department's care are well-served by the laissez-faire attitude which has plagued this file from Assembly to Assembly? How much will it cost the NWT when these children become adults? To them and to their communities, to the GNWT, and to all people of the Northwest Territories?
Does the Minister comprehend the scale of this repetition of failures and the echoes of a dark chapter of our shared history? The terror and neglect faced by Indigenous people to the policies of colonization in residential schools? In fact, we have another Minister who won't accept personal responsibilities or even apologize to the people of the Northwest Territories for these systemic and unacceptable issues that have occurred under his mandate. I don't believe the plans were actioned with the care and attention they needed and deserved.
How can we as Members and how can members of the public feel confident that this government has demonstrated a reasonable standard of care or due diligence if the Minister can't answer these types of important questions when they are put to him before the House? Or at least return with a complete and uncensored information to the House in a timely fashion and to the Members of this House, who are working on behalf of their constituents?
Mr. Speaker, here is what should have happened. It's clear this government needs to do something to help the children in its care. It's clear this is not an easy file with a simple solution. It's clear these problems continue to reoccur. It's clear that the Minister should have consulted with all Members of the House and given a thorough and complete report on the matter. A secret, unrecorded meeting would have been better than a press release. Again, I ask how this public institution, this democratic institution, can properly function if those outside Cabinet are kept in the dark?
The department has researched this issue. The Office of the Auditor General has audited this issue twice, Mr. Speaker. The Child Welfare League of Canada in the year 2000 recommended the department develop a caseload study, which is still incomplete. Again, in 2014, the same Child Welfare League was commissioned to do a workload management study to help identify what resources were required to deliver Child and Family Services. The Minister has had five years to act on these recommendations, but now they have a plan.
Mr. Speaker, too little too late. If the information had been shared openly with MLAs and affected children actually contacted and effectively followed up by the GNWT, then this Assembly might have been willing to find innovative solutions to this perpetual cycle of abuse and the failure to our minors. The Standing Committee on Social Development could have followed the footsteps of its predecessor committee from the 16th Assembly and reviewed Child and Family Services to work with the Minister on bringing meaningful solutions to these persistent failures to protect children in the government's care. Instead, the department compromised the best interests of children under its care due to limited resources, outdated legislation, and poorly implemented management tools.
Mr. Speaker, the Minister must be responsible, for there is no one else who can be. Rest assured that the credibility of this government in the eyes of the public are fed up when they hear another instance where government-sanctioned institutions failed to meet the basic rights of Indigenous children. The Minister did not prepare a comprehensive brief and consultation with Regular Members, neither when the department conducted its internal audit from five years ago, nor in 2018 with the most recent OAG audit has been made public.
The failure of this case, the failure of Health and Safety deserves to be shamed, and that is without question.
Mr. Speaker, it's clear from the impassionate and emotional responses from a member of the public that this is not a situation that can be seen as a mere complicated situation that requires complex solutions and limited resources. There needs to be more done, especially considering the nature of this issue coming forward again under the same Minister's watch, a Minister who is widely seen as very hard working, as very confident in his portfolios and has personal and intimate knowledge of this file.
That is what brings us here today. There is outrage from the citizens in the Northwest Territories that these problems persist and there seems to be no way forward. In fact, things are worse today. We must take action to hold the government to account so the message is set clear to the entire system of the GNWT that, when failures of this magnitude continue to go unchecked, there are political consequences to the people at the top. That should encourage everyone, every one of us, to work diligently to ensure that they never happen again, that they are not swept under the rug, and a culture of silence does not persist around those who are most vulnerable in the government's care. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The Speaker Jackson Lafferty
Masi. To the motion. Member for Frame Lake.
Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake
Merci, Monsieur le President. As I said earlier, I have tried to choose my words very carefully. I take the issue of removal of a Cabinet Minister very seriously.
While I personally like the Minister and often agree with him, this motion is about leadership and priorities. I have no doubt that this Minister works very, very hard in managing one of the largest and most important departments. The Minister has led some very important initiatives, and I give him full credit for the accomplishments that he will no doubt raise. I also find the Minister to be very receptive and responsive to the numerous constituent issues I have raised with him.
When all of us were fresh and new, we outlined our priorities. My three were reducing the cost of living; getting our resource management house in order, which is largely what I talked about in my last statement on the previous motion; and healthy communities, with a focus on children and housing. I want to stress my stated priority on children.
I sat in on the briefing done by the Office of the Auditor General on Child and Family Services last week. I was expecting to hear that we had made some progress, even if it was minor, on improving these areas. Mr. Speaker, I have sat through a lot of briefings over the last three years, but to say this one was disturbing would be an understatement. I am not going to repeat the audit findings here, but I just don't accept that we could have failed our children and families so badly. How could things possibly get worse in four years, under the same high-energy Minister?
While I have heard some explanations from the Minister, and he has plans now in place for improvements, what I haven't heard, and what some of my constituents haven't heard, is some ownership and responsibility, and perhaps most importantly, an apology. We have collectively failed the most vulnerable people in our society, and for that, I am truly sorry. I am also willing to learn and to take action.
I have thought long and hard about how and why we have ended up in this situation and what needs to be done if the ultimate objective is to improve our services and supports for children and families. We don't want to lose any more of our staff who work in these difficult and challenging services. They, too, need and deserve our support.
I accept that the Minister has said that the right plans, systems, and resources are in place or about to be put in place to allow us to start to head in the right direction. If so, then the question is whether a change in Ministers would make any difference. I have no doubts about the passion of the current Minister on Child and Family Services and the other challenges within his department, but the path for improvement seems to be set in motion no matter who is at the helm.
I don't blame the Minister for where we got with Child and Family Services. This motion is not about blame, but leadership and priorities. I believe that more resources, energy, and focus can and should have been devoted to Child and Family Services. For example, supplementary appropriations to carry out the much-needed overall needs assessment or more staff and training. I have no doubt and have seen that this Minister is not shy and has the ability to extract funds from the Financial Management Board with good business cases. However, I don't understand why this wasn't done sooner with Child and Family Services.
In my view, this all boils down to the priorities of Cabinet as a whole. I have openly disagreed with Cabinet's priorities from the very beginning of this Assembly. Clearly, the focus of Cabinet has been on its fiscal strategy above all else, at the expense of the needs of our residents, including our children and families most in need. The focus on managing expenses, cutting programs and services to fund infrastructure, large projects, departmental amalgamations, and a looming labour dispute with an unfair wage offer have created a distraction from the real and immediate needs of our residents. This difference in priorities has sapped enormous amounts of our time and energy in this Assembly. It has created a huge gulf between Regular MLAs and Cabinet and strained consensus government to the breaking point.
As I support this motion, it is not about the performance of the Minister. He is good and perhaps our best Minister. My vote is about leadership and priorities. Leadership is about taking responsibility, and that includes making apologies. I have raised the issue of priorities, and in my view, Cabinet's priorities are not my priorities and have not brought the attention or focus that we need on Child and Family Services, economic diversification, housing, climate change, and the other pressing needs of our residents. I believe that our best chance at resetting Cabinet's priorities, and that includes greater attention and focus on improving Child and Family Services, is by supporting this motion. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.
The Speaker Jackson Lafferty
Masi. To the motion. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.
Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh
Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I truly understand the difficulties of Child and Family Services. I have been involved with the Minister on this file for a long, long time. The Minister and I have travelled together on the Standing Committee on Social Programs. In 2009, we developed a report that I think set the pattern for what should be done for Child and Family Services, and I also understand how difficult it would be to carry out those responsibilities.
My issue is the fact that that Member is not listening to the Members on this side. When I say that, I say that for a reason. I am from a small community. I think everybody knows that in here because I talk about that almost every day. I represent small communities, although I live in Yellowknife. I also represent the two communities that are here in Yellowknife, the two Indigenous communities, and I often speak about things that maybe people over there are not really understanding why I am talking about them.
I often speak about homecare and how I am asking this Minister to put a lot of money into homecare. For what reason? To keep elders in their homes. Why? So that elders in the communities can help the families. They are seen as important members of families, Aboriginal families, Indigenous families. I talk about homecare. There is no connection made. We will put money in. Some money goes in. Meanwhile, we are still building these huge long-term care facilities that are going to warehouse our elders. I want to keep them at home so that they can help the families.
Sometimes in our Indigenous communities, the only income in the whole family, and people from small communities know that, is the pension, and they take that away. The elder goes into long-term care. It makes that family basically reliant on income support. It is very difficult to raise children on income support, very difficult to provide the necessities on income support. We need family units in our communities.
I talk about alcohol. I talk about alcohol a lot here and how we need to put programs in place in small communities to stop alcoholism. Alcohol is destroying our communities, and the people who feel that the most, Mr. Speaker, are the ones who can't do anything about it, because they are just little kids. They can't do anything about that. Who can do something about that are the adults, and who can work on that is this department. We need to work on that so that we could help the children, so that we don't get this kind of report again. I recognize that some of the stuff that this Minister is trying to do is positive, is exactly what the small communities want, but they can't have it, because of alcohol. What we need to do is we need to prevent. We need to work on prevention.
We just heard a report a couple of months ago about how our hospital here has hospitalization of people because of alcoholism at six times the national average. It is no wonder that things are getting worse in the communities, and children are worse off. It is because we are not working with the people to prevent some of these things from happening. If we could keep the family together, and we could prevent the families from going deep into alcohol, if we could hire the people, if we could have homecare workers in the small communities, working with the adults, keeping the elders in the community and having jobs and providing for their families, then we are not going to have to collect the kids and send them to a home.
When I speak, I am speaking almost as an expert, because I represent Aboriginal communities. That is what I do. My communities are 95 percent Aboriginal; Indigenous, if we use that term. Those are the people who have their children in care. Our people have children in care. It is not people who have high incomes. It is not people who sit there in big homes. They are the ones who have the kids stay with them. They are the ones who are available.
We have talked. I know that the Minister's desire was to have the families stay in their own communities with their own families. The actions to make that happen were not there. I don't know. I feel like not making the connection. What I am asking for all the time in the House are jobs, homecare spending, early childhood development, alcohol treatment, alcohol work, trying to follow a plan. We developed a plan called Healing Voices where a committee of people travelled all over the Northwest Territories and talked to people. They asked the people, "How do we resolve this issue?” and they came up with 70-some-odd recommendations and presented to this department.
I don't think things have improved. If we believe the reports, I think things have gotten worse. I see that there is a little more work in the communities, but we need to have a lot of work in the communities. We need to be able to put people to work so they can take care of their own kids. I often use the term "All boats shall rise." That is because when you have pumped money into small communities, it will have a positive impact on the regions, which will have a positive impact on our capital city.
"All boats shall rise" basically means that everybody is going to benefit from it, and the people who can't defend themselves, cannot help themselves, will get help because they will have adults who love them, who are going to be there for them, and they are the ones who are going to be resolving this issue. It is going to take the people to resolve the issue and listening to the people and having individuals like the government, this Minister to listen to people go into the communities and help families stay together so that we don't have this.
These are horrible numbers. We hear that there are more children in foster care now in Canada than there were children in residential school at the height of residential school. Residential school destroyed a society of people right across this whole country. We are bringing people in.
I have asked the Minister before. I said, "Let's check the incomes of the people on foster care. Let's find out. Are they in poverty? Are they too poor to have kids? Is that what it is? Is that why everybody is in care?" I think it is. Let's check the people who are in institutions. Let's check the correction facilities to find out if they are former foster kids. I think they are.
Nothing is going to change. This next group is coming in. The next group is going to be the same way. Kids who get taken away from their homes, get taken away from their families think they are not loved. Once somebody feels that they are not loved, then they don't care about society and they become institutionalized. That is where we are headed. That is what we are trying to prevent.
We are doing this as a drastic action. Mr. Abernethy is a wonderful person and a good Minister. This is drastic action because it requires drastic measures. This is a drastic measure because we are in drastic times with our children. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The Speaker Jackson Lafferty
Masi. To the motion. Member for Hay River North.
R.J. Simpson Hay River North
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am pretty even keeled, and I don't make decisions based on emotion. The visceral reaction that I have to the willful neglect and disgraceful mismanagement of a system that was meant to protect vulnerable children means I couldn't look myself in the mirror if I didn't support this motion. Shame on those who don't. I don't know how they'll sleep at night. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The Speaker Jackson Lafferty
Masi. To the motion. Member for Deh Cho.
Michael Nadli Deh Cho
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this motion. I will keep my statement very brief. The Health and Social Services Department, Child and Family Services, was audited in 2014 by the Auditor General of Canada and then again this month in 2018.
Mr. Speaker, what the 2018 Report on Child and Family Services stated is very clear. Changes or improvements were not made in the protection and care of children since the last report. The Minister of Health and Social Services and his department failed to address the fundamental issues of addressing the need for changes.
Mr. Speaker, if a family member's child or even my child was removed from me and taken to a strange home, bounced around here and there, was further traumatized and hurt again rather than protecting and nurturing that child, then I have to speak. Therefore, I support the motion of revocation of the Minister of Health and Social Services. Mahsi.
The Speaker Jackson Lafferty
Masi. To the motion. Member for Mackenzie Delta.
October 31st, 2018
Frederick Blake Jr. Mackenzie Delta
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, to the motion, I cannot support this motion. Yes, our first reaction is to get rid of the Minister. Mr. Speaker, moving forward, it seems like every time -- you know, I have dealt with the Minister many times. He has helped in a lot of situations with my constituents. We are in a crisis, Mr. Speaker. We can't blame solely the department. You know, it is very challenging. Many people here don't understand it because they don't come from a small community.
Mr. Speaker, in our small communities, we lack capacity. Even for taking over children, whether it is our own family, a lot of people aren't in that situation to take on more children. Not only that, they have to pass a criminal records check.
Mr. Speaker, it has been brought up in our committee that that is what we are struggling with. We have a lack of foster parents in our communities. You know, we can't force people to do that. We have to encourage them. We have to give them the resources. We can't force them, Mr. Speaker.
I think the Minister gets the idea that we have to put more focus on this. I know there has been a big turnover in his department. I think that they now have the resources to see this through.
Mr. Speaker, I know it is very challenging with this department that is so huge. It is the biggest department we have in this government. Maybe one thing we need to look at is whether we divide these two departments, have one department of health and one as social services. They have been amalgamated since 1995. Maybe we have to ask ourselves the question: is it working for our territory, for our children? We haven't looked at that.
Mr. Speaker, as we move forward, you know, there are many changes that we have to do in this department. I know the department has been struggling since we began our 18th Assembly with the recruitment of more doctors and nurses in our territory, which they have done.
It is pretty clear that we need to focus on our children. There is a lack of social workers. I believe strongly that what we need to do is bring back our social work program with Aurora College. It is pretty clear we don't have the capacity in this field right now, and we need more because I have seen in my riding, you know, the stress that our social workers face.
You know, many people may think that they enjoy taking children away from families, but to the fact, it is in the best interest of the child. We hear clearly in our committee that it is tough, but like I said, we need to encourage more families in our communities to be foster parents. We all want our children to stay within our communities. Mr. Speaker, I believe that, throughout the rest of our term, that is something that we need to work towards. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I won't be supporting this motion.
The Speaker Jackson Lafferty
Masi. To the motion. Member for Yellowknife Centre.
Julie Green Yellowknife Centre
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, when the Auditor General's report on Child and Family Services arrived last week, it ignited a fire that had been smouldering for years. With an average of a thousand, one thousand, children in care at any given time over the last 10 years, almost everyone in the NWT has a connection to the child welfare system, and that includes me. All of them have an opinion of how well it is working or, as the Auditor General told us last week, not working. I welcome the conversations that this report has forced us to have.
Mr. Speaker, it is always worth repeating that the Auditor General reports on whether a department is following its own legislation. It is not a report card; it is not a job evaluation. It is an assessment not of what is going right, but what is going wrong.
Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General concluded that there is a lot going wrong. As I said last week, Child and Family Services is failing children in care; not just failing them, but sometimes putting them at risk of even greater harm than the circumstances that brought them into care in the first place. Investigations into reports of children in unsafe situations are behind. Mandatory interviews with children and parents aren't happening. Homes for children are not screened. Children whose parents are unable to care for them are the most vulnerable people in our society, and too many times they are not getting the care that they need. For me, these findings are profoundly upsetting.
Mr. Speaker, the audit results came as a shock to me, but the Minister said that they weren't a shock to him. He said that they confirmed internal audit results that he received in May. These results were not shared with the Standing Committee on Social Development. Why not? The committee has been briefed by the Minister about previous audit results. We didn't ask, and he didn't tell. This is a serious oversight.
Once the Auditor General's report came out, the Minister didn't take responsibility for the findings or apologize, as he should have done, but rather, he said that his department has already started taking action to fix the issues identified by both audits. The details are sketchy, but two points stand out for me. The first is that asking social workers to do more paperwork by involving them in more reporting to the department is not what I want to see or what the Auditor General suggests. The Auditor found that social workers are already burdened by paperwork and reporting. More of the same will further diminish the limited time available to work with clients. The Auditor General made it clear that social workers need more time to work with children and their families, not less.
A second point that stands out for me is an issue that has been identified as a problem as far back as the year 2000. It was repeated by the standing committee reviewing the Child and Family Services Act in 2010 and repeated again by the Auditor General in 2014. The Department of Health and Social Services must perform a detailed assessment of the financial and human resources to deliver the Child and Family Services mandated by the act.
The Minister, the very same Health and Social Services Minister, said the department would contract the Child Welfare League of Canada to conduct a workload study as the first step in assessing the human resource requirements of Child and Family Services. The report was supposed to be delivered in March 2015. I don't know whether the report was completed or what it said, but the Auditor General has again recommended that the Minister assess the financial and human resources to deliver Child and Family Services.
As I said in my statement last week, until this work is done, we won't know why the Tlicho Community Services Agency has half as many child protection workers as Yellowknife when the size of their caseload is similar.
Mr. Speaker, the Minister has said that he is going to step up the recruitment and retention of social workers, hire more workers in anticipation of the approval of the next operations and maintenance budget, double fill staff positions, and create eligibility lists. Presumably, this could have been started, and announced, when he received the undisclosed report back in May. All of this hiring and budgeting is great news, but where is the caseload study or research that shows how many positions are needed and how they should be focused? More importantly, why has it taken so long to get to this point?
Further on this point, where are the social workers going to come from? There are graduates of the Aurora College Social Work Diploma Program working in NWT communities now. More are needed, along with social workers who have degrees. The Minister has said little to nothing in support of retaining the Social Work Program and expanding it into a degree program. That must change. Replacing northern social workers with southern social workers is not likely to be helpful or result in better retention.
I have a sinking feeling that the answer has to do with this government's wrong-headed approach to budgeting, making cuts in the first two years of this assembly to fatten the surplus and thus increase the budget for building roads. The fact that needs of children and families have played second fiddle to constructing a road to a gravel pit galls me. I don't know how hard the Minister worked to change this focus, but the fact that he didn't win is now a ball and chain around his ankle, and a major reason that we are having this debate today. All of Cabinet must stand indicted in this motion.
Mr. Speaker, in spite of being short-changed of resources in this Assembly, the Minister and his staff have made headway on the goals set out in the Building Stronger Families action plan. Legislation has been amended to eliminate the gap in services for youth who are 16 to 19 years old. The new structured decision-making tool has been introduced and provides guidance on issues that relate to child abuse versus those that stem from neglect. The old information management system has been replaced. An effective tool is now in place for annual compliance audits.
Mr. Speaker, these are significant changes, and they needed to happen, but they have required social workers to spend extra time training, and even more training is needed, according to the Auditor General. As a friend of mine said recently, "There is no amount of training that will help if you are overwhelmed." The remedy is more staff and smaller caseloads so that people are less likely to quit and can function more effectively.
In the rapidly changing and high stress environment of social work, and child protection in particular, there are times that social workers haven't had enough time to meet all of their clients' needs, or at least that is how I understand the Auditor General's findings. I have no doubt that they are as distressed by this situation as I am. Some people may say the Minister hasn't done enough, while others say that he has done too much in too short a time. As another friend of mine said, "The action plan has fixed the system, but it has not fixed the kids."
Mr. Speaker, I want to turn now to the big picture. The Child and Family Services Act represents an institutional, western perspective on caring for children when their parents are unable to do so. It represents a nuclear family, middle class ideal, where enforcing standards, limiting liability, and avoiding risk are fundamental principles. It does not adequately account for the population it serves, most often Indigenous children and families with large extended families, who are rooted in small communities with a strong sense of culture and identity.
Mr. Speaker, in her 2010 report on the NWT, child advocate Cindy Blackstock found that the overrepresentation of children in care is "fuelled by neglect, which, in turn, is driven by poverty, poor housing, and substance misuse, as well as domestic violence. Abuse reports do not account for the dramatic overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in care in the NWT."
The Minister and his staff have tried to address this resourcing disparity with tools that support families to care for children within their homes. This is a tangible response to the neglect Ms. Blackstock addressed in her report, but we as a society have a long way to go before low incomes, overcrowded housing, and food insecurity aren't the background of most child protection issues.
Even better than these tools would be to create a preventative or proactive response to families that are struggling. Create an integrated case management approach to family well-being where community-based social workers join teachers, elders, and families in figuring out how to help them before their needs bring them to the attention of authorities.
The enormity of kids in care is the result of wrong-headed priorities. What Cabinet doesn't get, or doesn't care about, and what this Minister has apparently been unable to budge them on, is the need for resources to ease our social pain, as the precursor to successful engagement in the economy.
Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the priority needs to be keeping families together in their own communities if at all possible. Separating families, sending children to other homes and other communities isolates them, and diminishes their sense of culture and identity. The goal here is to prevent the child welfare system from inflicting the same harm that the residential schools did.
Senator Murray Sinclair, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, told a conference last week that if the child welfare system existed in its current form, he would have been apprehended and cut off from his extended family and community. His grandparents' house didn't have running water or electricity, and both food and wood were sometimes in short supply. He looks back with gratitude for his grandparents' love despite the compromises on physical comfort they had to make. When I read his remarks, I thought about how few foster homes there are in some communities. Would they even pass a standard screening? Sometimes the department's approaches to help don't fit clients' needs, and this is a systemic rather than human resources failure.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Minister of Health and Social Services talked about the new buzzword in health, cultural safety. While I don't care for the term, it is an important concept. Government has acknowledged that, as a result of colonization, residential schools, and cultural bias, the health system hasn't been a place of healing for Indigenous people. The Minister said, "Our commitment to cultural safety recognizes that Indigenous clients should not have to adapt to our system, but rather, it is the responsibility of the system to change and transform to meet the needs of clients." This system transformation needs to take place within Child and Family Services as well, and for the very same reasons.
Mr. Speaker, a lot of what I have been talking about here today goes to general issues, spanning ministries and showing the deprivation of budget resources that are instead being spent on roads and other infrastructure. These are not to be parked with one minister. I think the Minister of Health and Social Services understands the challenges that I have outlined. I think he has made a start on making necessary changes. I don't see any benefit to removing him at this point in our mandate. With the year remaining, I want him to make good on his promise to analyze caseloads and staff offices appropriately. I want him to focus on outcomes for children rather than inputs for management, and I want to see him create a two-year action plan to address the Auditor General's recommendations. I believe he is capable of doing this work, and so I will be voting against the motion to remove him from Cabinet. Mahsi.
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