This is page numbers 1277 - 1298 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 911.

Topics

Question 360-19(2): Indigenous Procurement Process
Oral Questions

Page 1293

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

I was happy to hear from the Minister responsible for the COVID secretariat that there is an effort being made to contract services and supplies from northern businesses. What I would like to just stress to the Minister responsible is perhaps also finding ways to use our businesses involved in manufacturing in the Northwest Territories and making sure that they have the opportunity to bid on any form of a contract that comes through.

My next question is in regard to policies. I hear frequently from constituents, and probably the thing that they are most frustrated about is inconsistencies or inequities between policies, and a feeling of unfairness between who policies apply to and who they don't apply to. I hear frequently from businesses and also constituents that they are frustrated by the disjointed communication between the health and safety, the rules, and the government operations around COVID. Can the Premier speak to how the COVID secretariat is going to address these and is going to make changes to better serve the people of the Northwest Territories?

Question 360-19(2): Indigenous Procurement Process
Oral Questions

Page 1293

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Again, one of the major issues that we had and why we wanted to bring it under one agency, the secretariat, was because the components were all in different departments and sometimes the right hand was not keeping the left hand aware of what was going on. Under the secretariat, it does bring it into one area so that we are on track and we all know what's going on, working together. Communications within the secretariat, we have three positions, I believe, that were in that because, before, communications were spread between every department and, again, it was an issue.

With the secretariat, you will see that we will have better communications getting out there to the public. We will be emphasizing the services, reinforcing the orders, reinforcing the requirements, the safeties, et cetera. However, Mr. Speaker, there always will be some exceptions, and there will always be some things that people will say, "It's not fair." For example, compassionate exemptions, a lot of communities will call and say, "Why is this person self-isolating in my community?" and not realize -- and I will not get into some of the compassionate. However, there are real concerns that sometimes people have to be, for example, end of life, with their family members, so there are exemptions that are made. That will still happen is my expectation.

Question 360-19(2): Indigenous Procurement Process
Oral Questions

Page 1293

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

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Final supplementary. Member for Kam Lake.

Question 360-19(2): Indigenous Procurement Process
Oral Questions

Page 1294

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. This year, I am sure we will see differences in the actuals of departments versus what they had originally budgeted for, especially, for example, in the area of or the line item of travel. Public servants are not travelling as much as they probably anticipated that they would. Conversely, other departments are going to have much higher line items. For example, Health and Social Services is a great example of that. They are doing a lot more rapid testing and investing in areas that they did not anticipate having to invest in. What I am wondering is: what direction has the Premier provided to GNWT departments to protect against end-of-the-year spending and to address ongoing budget concerns of "if you don't spend it, you lose it," in order to be able to redirect these funds to COVID-19? Thank you.

Question 360-19(2): Indigenous Procurement Process
Oral Questions

Page 1294

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

The end-of-the-year funding is not an issue new to this government. It's an issue that I think people have known about for years and complained about. When I was in the NGO world, before I came here, actually, I noticed that we always got contracts at the end of the fiscal year and did not have enough time to fulfill those contracts. It was always an issue. Therefore, I brought that up in the 18th Assembly when I was a Minister at that time, and I was assured by the Finance Minister in the last Assembly that they were on it and that they were watching it. I challenged them all the time, and I do take heart that that was done. In this government, as well, this has been monitored. Right now, currently, Finance is in the process of doing a detailed review of each department's second quarterly variants, after which a formal direction may be given by the Minister of Finance about unnecessary expenditures. We are watching. We are reviewing it. This is not something that we just started this government. It was started at least in the last government. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 360-19(2): Indigenous Procurement Process
Oral Questions

Page 1294

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

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Oral questions. Member for Monfwi.

Question 362-19(2): COVID-19 Secretariat
Oral Questions

Page 1294

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Masi, Mr. Speaker. [Translation] The COVID secretariat, I have questions. I had made a previous statement. There is a lot of information that the Northwest Territories do not know about. It is indicated that they will hire 150 new positions and $86 million towards it. [Translation ends]. Mr. Speaker, I wish to question the Premier regarding the new COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat that will cost us approximately $87 million total today, today's cost. Mr. Speaker, the COVID secretariat is the government's original cost-effective COVID response in favour of burdensome bureaucracy that promises no improvement at vastly increased expense. Mr. Speaker, would the Premier please list other options that she considered before deciding on the costly expansion of our government to form another bureaucracy in the Northwest Territories? Masi, Mr. Speaker.

Question 362-19(2): COVID-19 Secretariat
Oral Questions

Page 1294

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

Thank you, Member for Monfwi. Honourable Premier.

Question 362-19(2): COVID-19 Secretariat
Oral Questions

Page 1294

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Absolutely. The COVID secretariat was not something that just came up and we said we are going to have a new agency because we had nothing better to do. It came out of trying to do the best we could. Again, when COVID-19 struck, every single department -- and again, I give nothing but credit to those employees who stood up and said, "I will help to try to save our residents of the Northwest Territories." They were doing it off the sides of their desks, some of them doing that full-time and trying to do their normal jobs off the side of the desk. It was unsustainable. Again, I know that I heard that we did not talk about MLAs, we did not talk to the Indigenous governments.

As soon as COVID-19 hit, Mr. Speaker, we met regularly. EIA met regularly, every single week, with the Indigenous governments. We had weekly meetings every Friday, and I know that the Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs met regularly with the municipal governments, as well, because I went to some of those meetings, as well, Mr. Speaker. Every meeting we went to, Mr. Speaker, they said, "Provide more. We are scared. Please help us. We want firmer, more border controls. We want more isolation. We do not want them in our communities. We need to have PPE. We are scared. Tell us what to do. Give us a connection." We tried to accommodate, Mr. Speaker, and so, yes, the money did rack up. However, Mr. Speaker, we are talking about safety.

Then again, Mr. Speaker, when I went to the airport -- I still owe an MLA some money for masks -- to pick up some masks, and I had the opportunity to talk to the border patrol at the airports, they were very humble, but they said to me, "Premier, we cannot keep it up. It's not sustainable. We are working seven days a week. Sometimes, we are working double shifts trying to do it." I heard that, Mr. Speaker. I think that the role of this government is really to make sure that the health and safety of people comes first, and I take that seriously, my role in that.

The secretariat is not something that came up because it was something to do. We have not even had time to think of things to do. We have just been go, go, go. The secretariat came up because the Indigenous governments and the people of the Northwest Territories were asking for more supports, and the people who were providing those supports said they could not do it. At the same time, Mr. Speaker, businesses were saying "Open up the GNWT." We had pressure that was saying, "Use your resources. Keep the borders controlled. Keep the isolation," but, "Get back to business." We can't do both, so we make a choice. If the secretariat does not go through within this supplementary, we go back to making a choice, Mr. Speaker: do we have business as usual, continue with these mandates, or do we focus on the secretariat, on the isolation and the border patrols? Those are tough choices I have to make. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 362-19(2): COVID-19 Secretariat
Oral Questions

Page 1295

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

This is an area that obviously a lot of concern at the community level and public. I did not hear any support from the general public or Aboriginal governments to create an $87-million bureaucracy, $87 million that could be better well spent in housing, lack of teachers, special needs, all those issues at the community level, a real issue, Mr. Speaker. It boggles me that we are creating this "Taj Mahal" bureaucracy. It's unthinkable. Mr. Speaker, this was not part of 22 mandates. Mr. Speaker, did we engage the public prior to the prospect of creating another form of bureaucracy for the COVID secretariat?

Question 362-19(2): COVID-19 Secretariat
Oral Questions

Page 1295

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

The Member is absolutely right: the secretariat was not in our priorities or mandate, and COVID-19 was not in our priorities or the mandate. I think, if it was, we might have changed our priorities and our mandates. However, we have what we have, so we go forward. Mr. Speaker, again I take ownership because some things we were trying to get off, we were trying to do, everybody was scrambling to make sure we had services in place, and we knew that some of the services on our side were breaking down. Things were coming really fast. The structures were not as good as we were used to. I made the wrong assumption and assumed on the other side that the structures were still the same, so we did offer to standing committee -- in fairness, it was buried between a letter that said, "This is what we're doing, if you'd like to see more about how we need to reorganize the structure." I take ownership for that; that's true, but we did offer one. It said, "We don't have a lot of stuff. We don't need this briefing." When it came back to me from my staff and they said, "We don't need the briefing," I said, "That doesn't make sense. How can they not need the briefing?"

Again, I would say it was buried in a letter, and I think it was misinformed. So we sent another offer to standing committee. At that time, standing committee accepted it and we presented. The normal process back in the day used to be that we would go to standing committee; we would provide the documents; they would give us feedback; we'd take it back; we would work on it; we would go back to standing committee, give the details, give and take; and then we'd go public. We didn't have the benefit of that. The first instance of going to standing committee, it was live, so we didn't have a very good communications plan. We didn't go to the public yet out of respect, due process, is that we usually work with our MLAs first. Again, I take ownership on our side, but I also say that we tried.

Question 362-19(2): COVID-19 Secretariat
Oral Questions

Page 1295

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

"Tried" is not good enough. The Minister of Finance made a statement earlier today talking about not directly benefiting all NWT businesses. We can have direct benefits to all NWT businesses if we are open-minded to boost our economy. I'll give you an example. There are 3,000 businesses throughout the Northwest Territories. Out of the $87 million, $87 million in my language is [English translation not available]. That is a lot of money. Seriously, just imagine granting $29,000 to each business in the Northwest Territories. That will cover all Northwest Territories businesses to boost our economy. That's what we should be focusing on, not this secretariat. MACA has been doing well since March. Creating another 150 positions; the Premier is saying, "It's not new positions." Obviously, it's new positions, newly created bureaucracy. This, I don't think, came in August or September. I'm sure it's been talked about, but just the lack of engagement and consultation with the public just boggles my mind.

The next question I do have is: how does the Premier reconcile this massive expense with an urgent, unfulfilled needs of our business sector that I spoke to earlier, that can boost our economy, that can do a lot more than what we are proposing here as a government?

Question 362-19(2): COVID-19 Secretariat
Oral Questions

Page 1295

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

I said that you will see that the supps will be coming later, and if the Members don't decide to support it, then we have to go back to doing what we can. Yes, we could give $29,000, I think the Member said, to every business and not have border controls, not have isolation units, not give out PPE to our students, to our kids at most highest risk. We can do all that, but does it make sense? COVID-19 is raging in the South. They're in their second wave. The numbers every day are increasing. Should we not put our isolation units and our border controls and our enforcement and our PPE for people first? That's the question. If MLAs think that I should stop everything else that the secretariat is doing and give $29,000 to each business, tell me that.

Question 362-19(2): COVID-19 Secretariat
Oral Questions

Page 1295

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

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Final supplementary. Member for Monfwi.

Question 362-19(2): COVID-19 Secretariat
Oral Questions

Page 1296

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Masi, Mr. Speaker. Obviously, I am not getting anywhere with this. The Premier and the government need to start listening to the people of the Northwest Territories and the Members around the table, here. We are here to make a difference. We have identified 22 mandates. We are not here to dictate and say, "This is good for you." I, for one, feel that our Premier is doing that to our Northwest Territories, that this is good for you and we need to do this. I totally disagree with that process. Again, I'd like to refer back. This Assembly identified 22 priorities to be pursued over the next four-year term, priorities such as increasing graduation rates, which is badly needed. It's a huge challenge in our communities, small isolated communities especially. Increasing affordable housing is another one. I can go on and on with the list of the 22, but I do have a last question: what consideration has the Premier given to the effect of this $87-million expenditure on the prospects of advancing those critical priorities? How will the Premier account for these massive expenditures if they set back those 22 priority areas? Masi, Mr. Speaker.