This is page numbers 1347 - 1388 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 going.

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 1:32 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1347

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 69-19(2): Update on COVID-19 Cases
Ministers' Statements

Page 1347

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to inform the Members that the Chief Public Health Officer has released two public health advisories today. The first indicates the two positive COVID-19 tests in Yellowknife, first announced as presumptive cases on Friday, have been confirmed. The individuals continue to safely isolate. We appreciate their cooperation with the investigation into contacts, and we wish them well. A thorough contact investigation continues; initial signs are good.

This morning, we received notice of another presumptive case at Gahcho Kue diamond mine. All contacts onsite have been safely isolated. The individual is a resident of Yellowknife, and contact tracing has been initiated. A number of steps have already been taken by public health staff to minimize any potential risk to communities. Immediate household members of the individual and identified contacts were quickly informed and directed to isolate and given appropriate public health advice. Public health has arranged for immediate testing of these contacts. The contact investigation is ongoing and further updates to Members and to the public will be provided once more information is available.

There are two crucial things each of us must do to help in this situation. The first is that we need to be kind and respectful to one another. Stigmatizing behaviours hurt us all because it places the focus on individuals instead of focusing on doing our part to manage the virus appropriately. It has the potential to discourage people from accessing healthcare and being honest with health professionals.

Second, we need to remember that we all have control in this situation. No matter the situation in the community, you are empowered to practice routine public health precautions which keep you and others safer:

  • Prioritize physical distance of at least six feet or two metres;
  • Wear a non-medical mask when keeping distance is difficult;
  • Keep crowds small and spaces large to reduce the risk of transmission;
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer;
  • Maintain self-isolation if you are required to do so;
  • Stay home if you are feeling sick, even if your symptoms are mild; and
  • If you develop any symptoms, contact your local healthcare centre to be assessed for COVID-19.

As I receive more details from the Chief Public Health Officer, I will provide additional information to this House and to the public. I encourage everyone to be kind and stay safe. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 69-19(2): Update on COVID-19 Cases
Ministers' Statements

Page 1347

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Infrastructure.

Minister's Statement 70-19(2): Supporting Community Employment and Economic Development in Small Communities
Ministers' Statements

Page 1348

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, increasing employment in small communities is one of the priorities outlined in the priorities for the 19th Assembly. Now, more than ever, as we begin to plan for social and economic recovery from COVID-19, we need to ensure that there are opportunities for meaningful employment and economic development for our people to keep our communities and territory strong. I grew up in a small community, Aklavik, where I learned the importance of having a strong community. While our large strategic infrastructure projects are often in the spotlight, we need to give credit to our regional operations and smaller-scale projects for making an impact on the lives of Northerners with the opportunities they present.

Part of the Department of Infrastructure's core business is the delivery of programs, services, and projects by our staff in all regions of the territory. Almost two-thirds of Infrastructure staff work outside of headquarters in regional offices, with 329 employees based in regional centres and 46 located in smaller communities. Infrastructure's regional operations work hard to keep our 863 GNWT-owned buildings running smoothly. They also oversee the construction, operations, and maintenance of the highway system, including over 2,400 kilometres of all-weather roads, 1,400 kilometres of winter roads, and four ferries.

Mr. Speaker, that is a lot of work, and we cannot do it alone. Many projects and operations are contracted to local communities and/or businesses, which allows the government to operate efficiently, while creating employment at the local level. Some of these contracts include our ferries, where three of the four ferries are operated by local contractors. We also have contracts in place with 14 businesses for highway maintenance, some of which are with Indigenous and community governments. Out of 27 airports in the territory, eight are operated and maintained by Infrastructure staff, and operations at the 19 smaller airports are contracted to local businesses. Motor vehicle issuing services are also provided at the regional level through a mix of GNWT staff and contractors.

On top of our operational work in the regions, the Department of Infrastructure is also making strategic investments in our territory's future. In partnership with the federal government, we are advancing several significant infrastructure projects. The 2020-2021 Infrastructure Acquisition Plan will deliver 152 capital projects in 28 NWT communities. This includes schools, long-term care and healthcare facilities, and major transportation projects.

Mr. Speaker, to help our residents benefit from these projects, we must increase training and employment. Led by the Department of Infrastructure, the GNWT is working with its project partners to incorporate training opportunities that will lead to maximized benefits for residents. For example, the GNWT and the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation together established the Wrigley Mackenzie Valley Highway Training Committee to identify training opportunities for that project, to facilitate development and delivery of training programs for the residents of Wrigley, and also to facilitate access to funding for these programs.

Similarly, we worked with North Star Infrastructure to include training requirements in the project agreement for the Tlicho all-season road project. As of late this summer, almost 9,000 hours of training have been provided to Tlicho citizens in different areas, such as heavy equipment operator, cook, crushing operation, and job readiness training. Now that the end of its construction is in sight, these individuals will be able apply the skills they have developed onto other jobs.

Mr. Speaker, providing employment and economic development opportunities will help support our communities as we recover from the economic impacts caused by the pandemic, and beyond. Providing employment opportunities are important for the cultural preservation of our communities, so we can continue to engage in our traditional activities and pass on teachings to the next generation. The GNWT will continue to work and support our residents of our small communities. Quana, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 70-19(2): Supporting Community Employment and Economic Development in Small Communities
Ministers' Statements

Page 1348

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 71-19(2): Child and Family Services Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 1348

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Taking action to improve services and supports to reduce the number of Indigenous children and youth in care is a priority for this government. The 2019-2020 Annual Report of the Director of Child and Family Services that I will be tabling later today, shows a continued trend of overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth receiving protection and prevention services under our legislation. This is a national issue, Mr. Speaker, and was raised in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Calls to Action, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children.

To advance the calls for action, the federal act respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children, youth, and families came into force on January 1, 2020. The federal act recognizes the inherent rights of Indigenous communities to provide care for their children and youth. It aligns with work that the Government of the Northwest Territories has already been doing. This includes supporting Indigenous children and youth by helping them stay with their family and community, and reducing the number of children and youth separated from their families only because of financial, health or housing challenges.

Mr. Speaker, we fully support the federal act, and we are affirming our commitment to having an ongoing dialogue with Indigenous governments and communities to ensure that our system advances the best interests of children, youth, and families. We will continue to work collaboratively in supporting communities and families to preserve family and cultural continuity for our territory's children and youth.

Mr. Speaker, work is already underway in supporting the implementation of the federal act. The Department of Health and Social Services has added a new action into its quality improvement plan to enhance practice standards that align with the federal act's national principles. The quality improvement plan, which was released in August 2019, sets out actions that the department is taking to best meet the needs of NWT children, youth, and families. The measurement I am most proud of is that over 90 percent of children receiving support from Child and Family Services live with their family or in their home community.

Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the department has made steady progress with the actions identified in the quality improvement plan. This is important to the GNWT so we have made additional investments to add 20 new positions that ensures we have the appropriate resources to help improve compliance and support for children, youth, families, and foster caregivers.

Mr. Speaker, the 2018-2019 audits for the Child and Family Services division were completed across the system in June. The audits identified pressure points within the regions that need to be resolved to ensure continued service improvements. The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services authorities submitted their action plans in response to the audits and are actively working on addressing key areas for service in each of the regions.

The department has provided funding to foster caregivers and foster care staff from across the NWT to participate in training on best practices on how to better support children and youth, particularly those with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Last year, we saw a decrease in the vacancy rate for staff from 25 percent to 8.6 percent. The department and authorities also expanded staff engagement opportunities through all staff regular meetings, implementation of an anonymous feedback mechanism, and satisfaction surveys. This allows for opportunities to better support staff, which we hope will lead to better staff retention. Having a stable workforce in Child and Family Services is instrumental to overall improvement strategies.

Because of the resources required for the GNWT COVID-19 response, the Child and Family Services system experienced delays in the ongoing completion of some quality reviews. However, the pandemic also created opportunities for the department and authorities to work with partners on some new initiatives. We partnered with the Foster Family Coalition of the NWT to implement a respite program to support foster caregivers during the pandemic. The department also expanded support services for families by providing short-term financial support to purchase necessities such as diapers, food, and fuel to meet their basic unmet needs. The department also extended support services for youth in care and young adults who would have aged out of the Child and Family Services system in the midst of this global crisis.

We will monitor the effectiveness of these initiatives and how they might be added into the service delivery as part of its commitment towards continual quality improvement.

Mr. Speaker, each year the department presents an Annual Report of the Director of Child and Family Services. The report enables the department and the public to monitor trends to assess whether actions are making a difference for the well-being of NWT children, youth, and families. Findings from the report help to grow a more responsive system to the evolving needs of children, youth, and families.

In the 2019-2020 Annual Report, it shows some positive indications that we are on the right track. Over the past ten years, we have seen a decreasing trend in the number of children and youth under a permanent custody order. We are seeing a positive movement in the strength and resiliency of communities to support families and their children. Over 90 percent of children and youth who received prevention and protection services were living in their home or with a foster caregiver in their home community, a statistic that bears repeating. This change allows for continued connections with family and community while ensuring cultural continuity, which is so important in protecting the identity of the child.

Mr. Speaker, as a government, we have a legal and moral duty to protect the well-being and safety of children and youth, and ensuring their families receive the right kinds of support. To accomplish this, I will maintain an open dialogue with Members, Indigenous governments, and communities, as well as key stakeholders to explore opportunities to better support children, youth, and families.

Mr. Speaker, October is Foster Family Recognition month, and I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere gratitude and appreciation to all foster caregivers across the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 71-19(2): Child and Family Services Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 1350

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

Minister's Statement 72-19(2): Pivoting to Support NWT Businesses through COVID
Ministers' Statements

Page 1350

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, in addition to describing times as being unprecedented, the need to "pivot" business models and methods has become one of the buzz words during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost all businesses in the Northwest Territories have had to adjust the way they operate or do business. In turn, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment continues to respond to the changing needs of the NWT's business community. New COVID-focused Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development guidelines were introduced early on in the pandemic, favouring projects that would help businesses recover, and contribute to the recovery of others.

An additional new funding option was introduced for Northwest Territories artists and commercial film and media arts producers whose activities and revenues were restricted due to physical-distancing requirements. In June, as our government moved to Phase 2 of the Emerging Wisely Plan, the Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development program was adapted again, to specifically support businesses re-opening or pivoting to meet new operating requirements. In an already challenging year for mineral exploration, we were able to make changes to our Mining Incentive Program that helped companies navigate COVID, related costs, and by prioritizing Northwest Territories-based service providers. Through this program, we distributed $1 million to seven companies and 13 prospectors.

Mr. Speaker, it is not only businesses who have had to change direction. With less than a year to go until the release of our 2021-2025 tourism strategy and with a sudden and necessary new focus on recovery, we went back to the drawing board this summer, re-engaging with the tourism industry on a new set of questions and seeking opportunities for both short- and long-term rebuilding through a COVID lens.

In order to help support this particularly hard-hit sector, ITI, in partnership with CanNor, created the Growth and Recovery by Investing in Tourism, or GRIT, as a new initiative that helps respond to the needs of Northwest Territories businesses. By moving budgets away from international marketing, the $1.5-million GRIT fund was introduced in August. By September, it was clear that the initiative was going to be over-subscribed, so we have since taken additional steps to meet this demand.

Mr. Speaker, back in July, the BuyNorth Campaign was also introduced, in partnership with Northern News Services Limited Media, to support and promote businesses as they pivot, re-open, and start to recover from the impacts of COVID. This, too, was a new approach to business support. ITI sponsorship allows all Northwest Territories businesses to have a presence on the BuyNorth web page for free and provides an umbrella for other initiatives, like the Northwest Territories Chamber's #shopNWT campaign to heighten the importance and appreciation for shopping local. In April and May, at the height of the pandemic and with strict economic lockdown measures in place, Northwest Territories businesses saw revenues decline by an average of 63 percent, and almost 70 percent were in the challenging position of being closed or partially closed. Yet, 93 percent of businesses surveyed from the Northwest Territories at the time still felt they would be able to survive.

Mr. Speaker, I have described a few ways businesses have pivoted and ways that ITI has helped support some of those efforts. The government, too, will continue to adapt its response and supports to changing needs. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 72-19(2): Pivoting to Support NWT Businesses through COVID
Ministers' Statements

Page 1350

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Supports for Small and Medium Businesses
Members' Statements

Page 1350

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial losses to our small, medium, and large NWT businesses. As our priority has been the health of NWT residents since the outset of the pandemic, businesses have also been provided some support to assist them in weathering the storm that this pandemic has created. However, we have seen some businesses close their doors for good while we know others to be holding their own and some appearing to be prospering. We have seen many jobs disappear, including those from all levels of business. I am looking for this to be a wake-up call to this government.

Mr. Speaker, we all know what it costs to live in the NWT, but it is our choice to live here. Our residents need more than government support. They need employment to meet basic expenses such as housing, utilities, and food. To obtain this employment, our businesses need work, as well. At this point, the only real game for work in the North is government. Therefore, it is important that this government does everything it can do to put government contracts out in a timely manner and that those contracts go to northern businesses.

Mr. Speaker, although it is great to put contracts out, if these contracts are going out to southern firms, then we are not doing our job to protect our businesses. This government needs to strengthen our legislation and policies around procurement to the benefit of our northern businesses, but needs to ensure that northern businesses are the beneficiary of those contracts. It is northern businesses that employ Northerners. Too often, we see southern contractors show up, take the work, take the jobs, and take the cash and leave.

Mr. Speaker, it is Small Business Week in Canada. It is an opportune time to stand up for our northern businesses. Not only do they provide jobs, they are often the go-to people when community fundraising is required. Many business owners refuse to be recognized for those very contributions and supports. I have known business owners who have gone out and paid utility bills for those who were struggling, those who have provided free fuel just so somebody had heat during the winter, those who have taken food to a family in need. The list goes on. When we talk about supporting northern businesses, let us remember all that they do beyond the contracts they receive from this government. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Supports for Small and Medium Businesses
Members' Statements

Page 1351

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Northwest Territories Mining Fiscal Regime
Members' Statements

Page 1351

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. Yesterday, the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment launched the long-awaited review of the royalty and taxation regime for the NWT mining industry. These are some of the first steps of our devolution "baby," to look at how much we get as a government from mining and whether it is a fair share. The Minister released a so-called benchmarking study. This is a theoretical review of royalties and taxation for an imaginary diamond and base-metal mine, assessed under 21 different regimes, including the NWT. The study concludes that the Northwest Territories is competitive against all these other regimes. Although no recommendations were supposed to be offered in this report, it also states that the best way to increase mining revenues is to promote more mining by public investment in big infrastructure to subsidize the industry. This study is apparently going to serve as the foundation for the review of the royalty and taxation regime for Northwest Territories mining. Clearly, Cabinet appears to have little interest in changing the status quo.

There are many limitations and problems with this study. Factors such as political stability and regulatory certainty were not considered as part of competitiveness. Our fiscal arrangement with Ottawa was also not considered in terms of whether we actually get to keep a fair share of resource revenues. This study should not frame or limit the much-needed public debate around whether we are getting a fair share from mining.

The biggest problem, Mr. Speaker, with carrying out this review of mining royalties and taxation is secrecy. How can we have a meaningful and informed discussion of public revenues from mining when our legislation and regulations prevent this information from being made public? This isn't just a thin veil of secrecy, Mr. Speaker. It's a brick wall. This government refused to fix this secrecy during the development of the Mineral Resources Act in the last Assembly and in the time this Cabinet has been in power. Without analysis of the actual taxes and royalties paid by the mining industry, how can we possibly know whether we have achieved a fair balance between industry profit and competitiveness versus a fair return for this one-time natural wealth? Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Northwest Territories Mining Fiscal Regime
Members' Statements

Page 1351

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

I will not have any questions later today for the Minister. The Minister knows well what needs to be done to fix this fatally flawed review process of the NWT mining fiscal regime: fully disclose the actual revenues from mining to our government as best business practices require and an increasing number of countries around the world do as part of internationally accepted standards; take the review out of the department that is responsible for both promoting and regulating mining and ensure that the process is truly public, independent, fair, and evidence-based. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.