This is page numbers 1253 - 1276 of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd 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 work.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr, , Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Lafferty, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. Norn, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek.

The House met at 1:41 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1253

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Members, as your Speaker, it is my pleasure to welcome you back to the Legislative Assembly today. Our Chamber remains physically distanced, and we continue to operate in this COVID-19 environment. I want to thank all Members for their cooperation. Although physically distanced from each other, we must continue to work together. That is how we can best serve the people who elected us to represent them. I look forward to the debate and discussion you will have over the next few weeks. These decisions will have a direct effect on our residents.

I remind all Members to conduct themselves in keeping with the rules of this Assembly. Show respect for one another and for this institution. As your Speaker, I will do my best to lead by example. However, it is my role to enforce our rules, and I am prepared to do so.

Although the Assembly remains closed to the public, media are welcome in the gallery. We continue to broadcast and live stream our proceedings. It is important residents see and understand the work being done.

Throughout this sitting, interpretation will be offered into Chipewyan, French, North Slavey, South Slavey, and Tlicho. I thank the interpreters for their hard work. Please be mindful and try to talk slowly so they have time to interpret.

Interpreted video of our proceedings will be broadcast on our television channel and will be available on our YouTube channel.

Members, on October 8, 2020, it was Ombud Day in Canada. This year, the Northwest Territories marked this day with an ombud in place to serve residents. Later today, I will table the first annual report of the ombud.

Now, it is my duty to advise the House that I have received the following message from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories. It reads:

Dear Mr. Speaker,

I wish to advise that I recommend to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories the passage of:

  • Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), 2021-2022;
  • Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 2, 2020-2021

during the second session of the 19th Assembly.

Yours truly,

Margaret M. Thom, Commissioner

Thank you, Members. Orders of the day, item 2, Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 63-19(2): Sessional Statement
Ministers' Statements

Page 1253

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I also want to welcome Members back to the Legislative Assembly as we resume the second session. I look forward to working together as we endeavor to keep residents safe from COVID-19, support industry and residents, and make progress on our mandate commitments.

Mr. Speaker, when I delivered my first sessional statement in the House last December, no one could have predicted what the future was going to hold. This pandemic has been like nothing many of us have ever experienced. Over 37 million people worldwide have contracted COVID-19, and over a million people have died since the pandemic started. More than 9,000 Canadians have lost their lives to this virus in less than a year. Every country, community, and family is being impacted by COVID-19.

In Canada, provinces and territories grappled with how best to contain the spread of the virus. All jurisdictions took immediate steps to protect the health and well-being of residents in the face of a challenge we are still learning about.

In the early days, our efforts were swift. Our government responded to the orders of the Chief Public Health Officer and made protecting the health and well-being of residents and our communities a top priority. We implemented travel restrictions, launched ProtectNWT and 811, established border controls and isolation centres. We invested millions in personal protective equipment for both health and non-health workers, testing and contact testing, and ensuring the health care system was equipped to handle an increase in cases.

Mr. Speaker, our early interventions have paid off. Residents of the NWT have been safe; our communities have not experienced loss of life as a result of this virus; and our biggest risks are being managed. Like Atlantic Canada and other territories who implemented strict controls, we were able to limit COVID-19 in the NWT.

It is important to mention that our success in maintaining the low numbers would not have been possible without the collective support from all of us. Indigenous and community governments who supported our measures: MLAs, the media, and community leaders who helped spread the messaging; mines, private enterprise, and non-governmental sectors who put the lives of residents first, the many individual employees in various sectors putting their own lives on the line to help, and all the residents who abided by the Chief Public Health Officer orders were all critical to keep our numbers where they are today.

Mr. Speaker, the measures the Government of the Northwest Territories took, however, did not materialize on their own. Hundreds of public service workers stepped up to help in our efforts. Over 180 employees helped on the front lines, but behind this hundreds more within departments helped with the organization, policy development, and implementation of our COVID-19 response. Our employees are the backbone of this government and their dedication showed as they worked tirelessly to ensure our response was as effective as possible. I am extremely proud of our civil service and I sincerely thank them for all of their hard work.

Mr. Speaker, parts of the South have recently announced that they have entered their second wave and the number of cases in Canada is increasing to levels we haven't seen since the early days of the pandemic.

While our response to the initial outbreak of COVID-19 was successful to prepare for the second wave, we have to use what we have learned from what we experienced. One of the things we learnt was that having necessary resources housed in multiple departments was challenging. Many of the requests and enquiries involved various departments which sometimes resulted in less than timely responses. We also heard that, as much as possible, people want the supports provided by the GNWT pre-pandemic. As well, we heard that our employees and departments were stretched thin trying to help with the pandemic response and doing the best they could to complete their normal work duties.

Keeping NWT residents safe during the ongoing pandemic continues to be our priority, and it is why we proposed the COVID secretariat. The secretariat will house the border patrols and enforcement team, isolation units, distribution of personal protective equipment to non-health care providers, 811, and ProtectNWT. The secretariat will focus on the COVID response which enables departments to focus on service delivery and implementing our mandate commitments.

Mr. Speaker, as was stated by the Governor-General during the Speech from the Throne recently, the last six months have laid bare the gaps in our society. As well as implementing the controls to enforce the Chief Public Health Officer's orders, we have also provided supports for residents and businesses to help during this pandemic. We invested in child care for returning workers, and financially supported our municipalities and Indigenous communities. We provided supports for businesses, employers, schools, students, and income assistance participants. As well, we invested millions in support of our most vulnerable members of our communities. Our response to COVID-19 will cost money, real money. But as one Indigenous leader reminded me, "How much money is one life worth?"

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on our territory and economy and has created new challenges for pursuing the GNWT priorities. Recovery is key, and we need to ensure our people have jobs and our businesses are thriving. We also have to keep health and safety, housing, food security, and education, top of mind to improve the lives of all NWT residents. Now more than ever before, we need to be investing in our people and support them through this challenging time.

We know this will cost money and we clearly cannot do this alone. We have been meeting regularly with other jurisdictions and the federal government throughout this pandemic. Canada recognizes our unique realities, and the recent Speech from the Throne identified the exceptional needs of the North.

We will continue to work with all governments to ensure that when we talk about economic recovery, investment in housing, transportation, broadband, energy infrastructure, and protecting the most vulnerable, the North continues to be recognized as needing special consideration.

We need to close the gap between northern and southern Canada, one that existed long before COVID-19. Canada's commitment to ensuring people aren't left behind aligns with the priorities outlined in our mandate to ensure a prosperous territory where our residents can thrive for generations to come. That's why, Mr. Speaker, we need to get on with the business of government. The COVID-19 pandemic is not going to end in the immediate future. While we must ensure we keep the health and well-being of residents at the forefront we cannot lose sight of the work we were all elected to do by residents of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, our relationship with Canada is critical to our success as a territory. This morning, alongside Indigenous leaders, the YWCA, and Member of Parliament Michael McLeod, and Minister Chinna, we met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a roundtable discussion on northern housing needs. This issue is important to our government, and we hope this meeting has kicked off a broader discussion for how we can find innovative ways to address the dire need for housing in the Northwest Territories. This is an example of our commitment to building strong, collaborative relationships with our stakeholders, Mr. Speaker, and we will continue to find ways to work with Canada, Indigenous and community government partners, and the NGO sector to improve the lives of our residents.

We must continue to work towards a strong North and a resilient economy. As we move forward, we will continue to pursue economic and social opportunities that provide sustainable benefits, as well as address the direct impacts of climate change that our territory is experiencing. We need to advance our long-term priorities, particularly when it comes to growing our economy and ensuring a healthy, vibrant, and educated territory for years to come.

Of critical importance as well, we must continue to work with Indigenous governments to conclude negotiations, define the implementation of the United Nation's Declaration of Indigenous People, and work with the federal government in the development of a National Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Action Plan.

COVID-19 certainly has taken the focus of this government. However, departments have still made progress towards meeting our mandate objectives, and I am confident that we will be able to complete a number of our mandate areas during this term. During the February 2021 sitting, we will document in detail the progress we have made on our mandate commitments.

Mr. Speaker, it was just over a year ago that we were all elected as the 19 MLAs to represent the people of the Northwest Territories. Who knew when we began that we would face challenges like no other government. Because of the seriousness of this pandemic and the needs of our residents, it is essential that we all work together. It is critical that Ministers and MLAs work together, along with Indigenous and community governments, businesses, non-government organizations, and residents, to find solutions to ensure the future prosperity of the Northwest Territories.

By working together on areas of shared priorities, we will advance our objectives and better serve the people of the Northwest Territories. Mr. Speaker, we must move forward collectively and collaboratively. We have no choice. The safety of our residents and future of the Northwest Territories depends on it, and, by working together, I am confident that we can find success as the 19th Legislative Assembly. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 63-19(2): Sessional Statement
Ministers' Statements

Page 1255

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Working Together
Members' Statements

Page 1255

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am proud to say I was born and raised in the NWT. I was taught to respect all people, whether or not I agree or disagree with them, and most importantly, I was taught to be principled in my beliefs and to believe in others. What has this got to do with being a politician? I would say: everything. It reminds us that we are here not for ourselves but to represent those people who placed us here, the same people who are just trying to stay healthy, trying to raise a family, trying to put food on the table, and trying to keep a roof over their head.

Mr. Speaker, it has been a little over a year since we were sworn into office. When we first came together as newly elected MLAs, we all discussed the need to work together, the need to be respectful, and the need to be open and transparent, all so we could provide effective and meaningful representation for the people of the NWT. We agreed to standards we would follow. We have not lived up to those standards.
At the outset, we all appeared to get along, and everything was friendly and respectful. It took only a short period of time to realize the first sign of splinters developing between Members. It had little to do with how we were going to work for the people of the NWT but had more to do with egos and personal aspirations. It is apparent we have experienced some turbulence. However, collectively, it is now up to us to work through it while moving forward.

Mr. Speaker, I, or any of us for that matter, do not have time to child-mind Cabinet or Regular Members. We all know there are limited financial resources. We all know the priorities. We all know the mandate. Most importantly, we all know the issues facing our constituents and communities. We are here to address those very issues by providing collaborative solutions that will use our resources efficiently while providing positive and long-lasting benefits to the residents and businesses of the NWT.
Mr. Speaker, it is time to put our personal differences aside, be respectful, work together, and, most importantly, listen to each other and our constituents. We have only three years left to actually advance the priorities we set for ourselves. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Working Together
Members' Statements

Page 1256

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Land Leases
Members' Statements

Page 1256

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, one of my first Member's statements in this House was about the Department of Lands and their recent increase on the minimum price of lease rent cost for leaseholders on territorial lands, which is administered and managed within the lands department.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Lands increased the minimum rent cost for territorial land leases by $690. It went from a minimum cost of $150 and jumped to a minimum land-lease cost of $840 annually. This is a huge rent increase to absorb all at once. The rationale from the lands department for this large increase in rent minimums for territorial leaseholders is because the rates had not been adjusted for 20 years, so the Department of Lands decided to apply 20 years' worth of unchanged rent minimums and increase the cost all at once rather than staggering the increase at a nominal annual rate, as done with property taxes for example.

Moreover, Mr. Speaker, earlier this year, amid our government's initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Lands put out a statement which waived the land-lease fees for all existing surface dispositions for the fiscal year 2020-2021. Cabin Radio reported on this story further on May 11, 2020, stating that the Government of the Northwest Territories would collectively save residents and businesses $2.7 million, $1.4 million of which was provided relief to all the mines.

Mr. Speaker, I suspect that the Department of Lands would not have waived these costs if it only affected smaller leaseholders by regular people. I am convinced that the Government of the Northwest Territories only applied this waiver across the board because it primarily benefits the mining sector and large businesses.

Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, I firmly believe that all rights-based land-lease holders must be exempt from this policy and that all permanent and long-time residents of the NWT must be dealt with fairly. A 5- to 10-percent increase is sufficient for all residents I just mentioned. If anything, I think the bulk of the rent increases should rest with the non-NWT leaseholders. I will have questions for the Minister of Lands later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Land Leases
Members' Statements

Page 1256

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Thebacha. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Working Together
Members' Statements

Page 1256

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, today is the first sitting day of our second year. The air outside is fresh, and after seven long months of COVID, today is a good day to hit the reset button. Last night, I spoke with a bright young student named Maggie, preparing for today's class presentation on the NWT. I asked her about her favourite NWT thing, and her response was, "The ice castle." Her favourite thing is a local "king" in Carhartt's who cuts his castle from our frozen lake to create a community that vibrates with excitement, and I love that.

A year ago, I stood here and congratulated my colleagues because together we made history. I said last year was not only a turning point in history for the NWT but for the world. 2019 was indeed a global turning point. It gave us the non-refundable gift of COVID-19. This year, we have all been challenged and tasked with looking at our world differently. However, Mr. Speaker, while the GNWT is tasked with keeping Northerners safe, this Assembly cannot lose sight of our individual and collective commitments to the people we serve. We are all ready to see COVID go, but we need to continue to find ways to work with it.

Northerners have long been known for their resilience and ability to care for one another. This year, government has shown its ability to react to changing policies, finding funds and working differently in record time. While it may feel like COVID has slowed much of the world to a screeching halt, it has also created momentum and opportunity. It is up to us to keep that momentum going. COVID is still a top concern, but I speak daily with constituents concerned with northern procurement benefit retention, training skilled workers, economic drivers for the NWT, as well as addictions and wellness supports. We have work to do, Mr. Speaker.

A year ago, we shared what we wanted to accomplish, and I asked us to define our collective "why." Listening to my colleagues, it is clear that we know our "why." Every day, we share stories of Northerners determined to survive and thrive, and with them, we work for a stronger North not for just ourselves but also for the next generation who want to be leaders in their own communities, this territory, or maybe even the ice castle. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Working Together
Members' Statements

Page 1257

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. Members' statements. Member for Deh Cho.

Northwest Territories Housing Corporation Energy Strategy
Members' Statements

Page 1257

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. The Government of the Northwest Territories has a living, breathing document titled 2030 Energy Strategy. The goal of this strategy is to guide the development of secure, affordable, and sustainable energy for transportation, heat and electricity, support energy efficiency and conservation, and promote renewable and alternative energy solutions for the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, it is quite exciting to see the Department of Infrastructure's energy division create such a document which shows promise of savings to cost-of-living items such as power costs and which could very well create long-term employment in the communities. The infrastructure department is incorporating this plan via wood-pellet boilers to most of the GNWT's infrastructure, such as schools, health centres, and airports, thus creating savings in fuel use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Speaker, what I note is that the energy plan is not being put to action within the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation considering their stock of approximately 2400 units spread out across the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the housing Minister at the appropriate time. Mahsi.

Northwest Territories Housing Corporation Energy Strategy
Members' Statements

Page 1257

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.

Fire Services on Ingraham Trail
Members' Statements

Page 1257

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Firstly, I appreciate MLA Cleveland's passion for, she called it the "ice castle," but I feel I'd be remiss if I did not correct that. It is a snow castle. The Snow King would not allow me to get away with that.

Mr. Speaker, starting April 1, 2021, the City of Yellowknife's fire department will no longer respond to calls along the Ingraham Trail in my constituency, leaving residents of that area without fire protection.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I want to reflect on how we got there as I believe, if many systemic problems were not solved, my constituents still would have access to fire services. I believe, if we properly funded our municipal governments according to the funding formula we agreed to, they could probably find it in their budget to continue to provide emergency services. I believe, if we entered into proper MOUs with municipalities to provide emergency services outside of their boundaries, they would continue to provide this service. I believe, if we had settled Akaitcho and gave them the nearly half million square kilometres of their land back, we probably could have found a few square kilometres to give Ingraham Trail residents title to their properties, and they can, in turn, pay taxes and get services. I believe, if we address the fact that there are people living in recreational leases and we know that and we accept it, yet we do not address the problem, we probably could have found a way to provide them services.

However, Mr. Speaker, we have failed to do all those things, and as such, my constituents, after decades of service, will not be able to call 911 and get a fire truck if their house is on fire. I don't blame the City of Yellowknife for the decision. That is their mandate. I blame the Department of MACA for not responding quickly enough to resolve this issue such that we have six months to try and find a way such that none of my constituents picks up their phone and their house is on fire and no one comes.

Mr. Speaker, I am afraid the GNWT won't move fast enough to solve this problem, just as they have not moved fast enough to solve all of those previous problems that led us here today.

Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of MACA, and I hope we can get an agreement in place with the City of Yellowknife and give them some funding such that my constituents can continue to have fire services. More importantly, I hope this government can make some action on all of those issues that got us here today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister at the appropriate time.

Fire Services on Ingraham Trail
Members' Statements

Page 1258

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife North. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.