This is page numbers 1317 - 1346 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 million.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, 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

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1317

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

Colleagues, before we begin, I just want to say a few words. Today is a difficult day in Fort McPherson. We have a funeral there for Deborah Kendi Blake. Thoughts and prayers are with the community. During these times, our communities, especially here in the North really pull together to help one another. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and I'm sorry I couldn't be there today as I usually am when I can be. Just know that we're thinking of you all, especially through the days ahead. Keep them in prayers. Mahsi.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.

Minister's Statement 67-19(2): Water Monitoring
Ministers' Statements

Page 1317

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is responsible for the implementation of the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy, including transboundary water management agreements and water monitoring throughout the Northwest Territories. Together with our partners, we track long-term trends and monitor changes in water quality, quantity, and biology.

In March of this year, the Government of Canada shut down its labs and suspended long-term water quality monitoring across Canada due to concerns related to COVID-19. The Alberta government also suspended monitoring water quality at that time throughout the province. This included some key monitoring sites that are part of our transboundary agreement with Alberta. These sites are part of an early warning system which lets us know about changes to the water before the Northwest Territories border.

Mr. Speaker, as soon as we heard about this decision, I along with Environment and Natural Resources officials reached out to the governments of Alberta and Canada, to explain the importance of reinstating this very important monitoring. We also worked closely with the Government of Canada to resume water monitoring at key federal long-term monitoring sites.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report that the monitoring that makes up our early warning system is now back up and running. The Alberta government resumed its monitoring in June, and oil sands monitoring has been in place since August. Environment and Natural Resources quickly adapted its fieldwork procedures so it could continue to monitor water in the Northwest Territories safely during the pandemic with only slight delays, and for this, the department should be commended. Our transboundary agreements are the most comprehensive of their kind. In addition to the commitments on water quality and quantity, these agreements also recognize the importance of biological indicators and traditional knowledge. Triggers set under the agreements, which are reported on in annual reports, help ensure that any issues that could put Northwest Territories waters at risk can be addressed early on.

Mr. Speaker, water levels this year across parts of the Mackenzie River Basin have been very high. Water levels on Great Slave Lake were higher than we had seen. This has caused changes in the water. More dirt or sediment is being washed into the lakes and rivers, and there was a larger plume of sediment in Great Slave Lake lasting later in the season. Higher sediment has also resulted in higher concentrations of metals, in some cases the highest levels ever recorded in the Slave and Hay Rivers. Although total metal concentrations are higher than usual, they are not in a form that is readily available to be taken up by aquatic species. The work to analyze water samples gathered this summer is ongoing, and we plan to release the results as they are available. Environment and Natural Resources is working with our neighbours in Alberta and British Columbia to better understand the contributions from upstream watersheds to water levels in Great Slave Lake, including the role of the Bennett Dam in British Columbia.

Many Northerners are wondering what will happen to water levels this winter. We already know the high-water levels are mostly due to more rain and snow across Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories; some areas received up to twice as much rain this year. Environment and Natural Resources is taking a closer look at the factors affecting water levels and will release the results of this work once complete.

Mr. Speaker, the health of our water is of critical importance to the residents of the Northwest Territories. Environment and Natural Resources will continue to collaborate with our transboundary partners to manage water resources in a sustainable manner to maintain the ecological integrity of the Mackenzie River Basin, for present and future generations.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 67-19(2): Water Monitoring
Ministers' Statements

Page 1318

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

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.

Minister's Statement 68-19(2): Supporting Municipalities
Ministers' Statements

Page 1318

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Mr. Speaker, I would like to update the Members on the progress we have made with our mandate commitment to reduce the municipal funding gap by $5 million in the lifetime of this government. We recognize the important role that the community governments play in our economy and the provision of core programs and services. Community governments are essential partners in delivering programs and services to meet the needs of NWT residents, and they require adequate resources for this important work. I am pleased to confirm that we are making progress on this mandate commitment. In the fiscal year, we added $2.6 million to community funding, and we will continue to seek additional increases in future budgets.

Mr. Speaker, this additional community government funding is welcoming news to our community governments. Since its beginning, MACA has worked with the Northwest Territories Association of Communities and its members on the funding strategy. As part of the ongoing engagement, we are determining how best to allocate the $2.6 million. The Government of the Northwest Territories is matched by the federal investment in safe restart funding for municipalities. This winter, we will be rolling out approximately $4.7 million to help our communities put in place appropriate precautions to manage public spaces and critical services and safely restart operations. Reducing the municipal funding gap is not only just about adding funding. It is also about supporting communities to provide new opportunities to raise additional revenues and to reduce or stabilize the cost of delivering core services.

Mr. Speaker, three key initiatives the department is advancing to support community governments in these areas are:

  1. MACA is working with other Government of the Northwest Territories departments on processing guides on how to transfer land within municipal boundaries. I expect to share the draft this winter. This guide will set the path for providing community governments to acquire ownership and manage land currently held by the GNWT within their boundaries. Community governments will have the ability to take over management functions and enforcement and, if it desires, sell land, which offers an opportunity for own-source revenue.
  2. The department is supporting communities to find efficiencies in their program delivery. Assisting communities to put in place response plans through the asset management system will improve maintenance and lower the costs of equipment failures and emergency repairs. This will allow community leaders to have access to improved information when making investment decisions and be able to maximize their available resources.
  3. The Northwest Territories waste water resource management strategy has a strong focus for community governments. MACA will be working with communities to eliminate hazardous waste stockpiles within their solid-waste sites. Resources and supports that have for community governments in solid waste management are being adapted. Through better management, better operations of their solid-waste sites will not only improve environment stewardship but can significantly increase the lifespan of community sites and defer the needs for costly investment.

Mr. Speaker, some community governments face significant pressures to deliver quality programs and services. We see that. We get it. Through our increased investment and support for land management and facility management, we are working hard to help communities manage these challenges. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 68-19(2): Supporting Municipalities
Ministers' Statements

Page 1319

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

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

Bear Attack in Hay River
Members' Statements

Page 1319

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Most of us in the NWT understand that we co-exist with the wildlife that surrounds us. At times, the two worlds collide, which can result with the injury or worse, a fatality.

Mr. Speaker, last Friday, we all received notice that, in the early hours of the morning, a young lady in Hay River was mauled by a bear in a residential area. What transpired is nothing short of heroism. Shelley Wood, a female occupant of the residence who just received her knitting supplies earlier that day, decided to stay up late and start the process of making use of those supplies. Whether or not it was fate that she stayed up, it was fortunate that she did. It was around 2:30 am in the morning that she heard a commotion outside.

Mr. Speaker, upon looking through a window onto the deck, she witnessed a person being viciously attacked by a bear. At that point, she picked up some boots, went outside, and threw them at the bear. Realizing the bear was not backing down, she ran back in, yelling for help from her spouse, Roy Helmer. Roy, unaware of what was really happening, awoke from a deep sleep and sprang into action. Without hesitation, he ran outside and saw that the bear was dragging the girl down the stairs. He grabbed another boot and threw it at the bear. The bear would not back away from the young lady. Roy grabbed a heavy cement statue and went after the bear. He threw the statue at the bear, hitting it, causing the bear to release the young lady and momentarily retreat. This provided Roy the time he needed to pull the young lady to the safety of his home.

Mr. Speaker, the combined actions of Roy Helmer and Shelley Wood saved this young lady's life. The young lady was fortunate to have survived such a vicious bear attack. She has since been transported to Edmonton for medical treatment. I would like her and her family to know that they are in our thoughts and prayers.

Mr. Speaker, without thought for their own safety, Roy Helmer and Shelley Wood rushed to the aid of the young lady in distress. If ever there was an event that shows heroism, this is such an event. I would like to recognize and have this House show our appreciation to both Roy Helmer and Shelley Wood for unselfishly placing themselves in harm's way to save the life of this young lady. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Bear Attack in Hay River
Members' Statements

Page 1319

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

Members' statements. Member for Deh Cho.

Audit Report on Education, Culture and Employment
Members' Statements

Page 1320

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. The Department of Education, Culture and Employment is responsible for the Northwest Territories education system from junior kindergarten to grade 12, which includes all of the small communities. I realize the department does not deliver the education services directly to the students. As they have stated on many occasions, that is the responsibility of the regional education boards. This is like passing the buck so they would not have to take responsibility even for oversight.

Mr. Speaker, the Education Act states that students must have access to the highest possible standards of education programs. The department is responsible to ensure that all students have equal access to education programs and services. High-quality education delivered by well-trained and knowledgeable educators prepares students for success throughout their schooling. The Auditor General's report on education noted that the department did not determine what needed to be done to ensure that students in small communities had equitable access to education and programs and services compared with larger regional centres. The Auditor General's report also states: "the department did not take sufficient steps to collect and use data to understand how it might make changes to address persistent gaps in student outcomes." The report goes on to state that the findings matter because high-quality education programs can have a significant impact on children's developmental, educational, cultural, emotional, and social outcomes. The report also states that planning and supporting the delivery of education are important to help students succeed.

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

Audit Report on Education, Culture and Employment
Members' Statements

Page 1320

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

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.

Health Care Staffing
Members' Statements

Page 1320

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I would like to talk about another one of our priorities, increasing the number of resident healthcare professionals by at least 20 percent. Mr. Speaker, the GNWT funds Aurora College. GNWT funds students through student financial assistance to attend not just Aurora College but other post-secondary institutions. Aurora College has been providing the nursing program, successfully having graduates for over 20 years, and they have run the practical nurse program sporadically over the years, as well as the personal support program.

Mr. Speaker, NWT continues to struggle to hire permanent healthcare staff throughout the territory. We all know this. We fly in short-term contract nurses to staff vacancies, some as short as two weeks, especially during peak holiday season. They are flown in to the NWT from all over the country into our health centres, who already distrust our healthcare system. This is unfair, not only for our residents but the nurses in the community, for such short periods where they are never there long enough to build any relationship with the community.

Mr. Speaker, we have a disconnected system. We pay to provide programs and to train healthcare staff, and yet we do not have a way to bridge them into our healthcare jobs that we are struggling to staff. We have Indigenous residents who have been funded to attend our Aurora College and been screened out of jobs. This should not happen. We should have human resources, department of health, and Aurora College working together, not working in silos. We should be recruiting them right out of school.

Another area we are not doing so well in is actively looking at our new nursing graduates and permanent staff we now have, finding out if there are any of these nurses who want extra training so they are able to meet the criteria needed for health centres. How will they ever get the training and be able to meet this is it is not provided to them through mentorships or internships focused on giving them exactly what they need to be successful in these areas that we are filling right now without a territory staffing?

Mr. Speaker, with more local residents working in our healthcare system, we will be able to provide culturally sensitive care for our residents of the NWT. I will have questions for the Minister of Finance over the human resources. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Health Care Staffing
Members' Statements

Page 1320

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

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Mental Health Supports during COVID-19 Pandemic
Members' Statements

Page 1320

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. Look at that. After one year, I'm having trouble with my first button. Is that a good sign or not? I'm not sure.

---Laughter

Today, I would like to talk about mental health supports in the NWT, particularly in relation to the ongoing pandemic. In my opinion, we are in a mental health crisis in the North that needs immediate attention from this government.

Mr. Speaker, the issue of mental health has become front and centre amid the COVID-19 pandemic for a few reasons. The main reason, as we have come to know, is just the sheer amount of time that people have had to remain indoors during their self-isolation. This pandemic has caused many disruptions to everyday life, so it's no real surprise that people's mental health has been suffering throughout the course of this pandemic. I have heard some of my colleagues mention suicide and relationships in the home. All of those have been weighing on the minds of a lot of Northerners.

However, even before this pandemic began, mental health had been a long-standing issue for people in the NWT, so COVID-19 has only amplified this issue further. To give an example, in early September, I drove down to Alberta to grab my daughters. I took them back in time for school. I'm glad I did because they would probably want to still be staying down there. When I came back, I did my 14 days here at the Chateau Nova, and I have to say I keep pretty active. I keep pretty busy mentally and physically, but it was a real challenge. By day seven, I was getting pretty stir crazy, and I guess for lack of a better word, I started to feel cabin fever after a while. I could only imagine what that burden is like on people who have to make repeated medical visits down south. They have to come back and do their 14 days every time.

On that note, Mr. Speaker, there is another, darker aspect to these self-isolation centres that we never really considered. I was approached by some elders and got some reports that, during this self-isolation, they went in, they were herded in, for lack of a better word, and they were given meals, specific diets, and some of these people said that it felt like residential school all over again, re-traumatizing for our people.

I'm not saying this in a disparaging way towards our staff, because, by all accounts, they are doing a good job. Mr. Speaker, I request unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Mental Health Supports during COVID-19 Pandemic
Members' Statements

Page 1321

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, colleagues. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'll be brief. Going back to what I was saying, by all accounts, the staff here at the self-isolation centres are doing a great job, given our circumstances, but there is definitely a need there for mental health supports. I think that we can improve this quality of service for our people, but there are all kinds of adversities we have to face and we can do more to help with them, with health supports for Northerners. I will have questions for the Premier. Marsi cho.