This is page numbers 1389 - 1412 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 communities.

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

The House met at 1:31 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1389

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Mr. Norn. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Minister's Statement 72-19(2): Aurora College Transformation Progress and Benefits
Ministers' Statements

Page 1389

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. One year ago, Members of this House made the transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic university a priority of the 19th Legislative Assembly. Today, I would like to provide an update on some of the progress that has been made toward this goal.

Earlier this month, Aurora College released a three-year strategic plan, which sets out the vision, mission, values, and strategic direction that will guide the college's operations for the next three years and helps set the stage for key transformational changes. Two of the four strategic pillars of the new plan are Academic and Research Excellence and Learning-Centred. In support of these pillars, Aurora College is introducing a Centre for Teaching and Learning pilot project that will promote academic excellence through the professional development of faculty and staff in the practices of adult education, instructional design, educational technology, and will promote proven ways to engage students in learning. The centre will foster a learning-centred environment to help ensure student growth and success. It is a key step in strengthening the foundation of the college, and transforming it into a world-class institution.

Mr. Speaker, polytechnic universities provide hands-on, technology-based programs that are often developed in collaboration with partners. We have already heard from a number of potential co-investment partners, from industry to community-based organizations, who have told us that they need a northern workforce with the academic background and technical skills to meet the challenges of today's economic realities. We will continue to foster these relationships and build the partnerships so that we can meet the needs of the labour market and our residents.

To support transparency and meaningful engagement, we have engaged with Indigenous governments, campus communities, post-secondary and industry stakeholders, students, college employees, and the public on key aspects of the proposed approach. Engagement with Indigenous governments is being guided by our Indigenous Engagement Approach, which is grounded in the principles of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action. I have made a commitment to ongoing and meaningful engagement with Indigenous governments throughout the transformation.

Mr. Speaker, the polytechnic university will expand the scope of quality programming offered in each of our small communities and provide a clear path for Northerners to achieve their education and career goals. Understanding the benefits and limitations of online learning during the pandemic has strengthened the resolve of the college to transform into an institution that will meet the needs of residents in all communities.

Increased access means leveraging our network of community learning centres to ensure residents can get a foothold in the education system and receive more training closer to home. This will also allow the institution to better meet students where they are in their educational journey. This means, among other things, introducing laddered programming that allows students to begin their education at a level that is right for them, so they are able to build their skills and advance onto degree programs if they choose. Increasing access will also increase professional development opportunities across the territory that will empower our residents to advance in their careers and help fill northern jobs with Northerners.

As the polytechnic university emerges from transformation, it will be stronger, more accessible, and have more programs which will attract more students from the Northwest Territories and beyond. This investment in the education of our residents is an investment in our territory and its future. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 72-19(2): Aurora College Transformation Progress and Benefits
Ministers' Statements

Page 1390

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 74-19(2): Update on Strategic Infrastructure Projects
Ministers' Statements

Page 1390

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, the 19th Legislative Assembly has identified making strategic investments that connect communities, expand the economy or reduce the cost of living as one of its priorities. This includes a focus on the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Slave Geological Province Corridor, and the Taltson Hydro Expansion Project. It is important that these development projects are advanced in a balanced and sustainable way that supports our government's goal to manage and conserve wildlife, and protect and provide for the health and well-being of the people of the Northwest Territories.

The establishment of strong relationships with Indigenous governments and organizations is imperative to the successful advancement of these important projects. We are achieving this by working closely with affected groups from project initiation through to the construction and operations phases. The Government of the Northwest Territories has four major initiatives currently progressing along the Mackenzie Valley Highway alignment from Wrigley to Norman Wells. These are the Prohibition Creek access road, the Mount Gaudet access road, the Great Bear River bridge, and the Mackenzie Valley Highway environmental assessment. The Department of Infrastructure has been working closely with Indigenous governments and communities, with multiple visits to the Sahtu Settlement Area and the Dehcho Region. We have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Sahtu Secretariat, and we are working closely with the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation, including the establishment of a training committee.

Mr. Speaker, regulatory applications have been filed for the construction of both the Prohibition Creek access road and the Mount Gaudet access road, with the plan to start construction in 2021. The next major step in the Mackenzie Valley Highway environmental assessment is filing the developer's assessment report. The department is gathering data and completing studies, with the target of submitting the report to the Mackenzie Valley Review Board before the end of the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

The construction of the Great Bear River bridge will increase our infrastructure's resilience to climate change by providing an all-season alternative to the ice road crossing at the Mackenzie River and the Great Bear River. In 2018, engagement and consultation for this project began with public engagement sessions in all five Sahtu communities on the route selection and design of the bridge. The Tulita Renewable Resource Council has completed a Traditional knowledge study on that area, and we will continue to work closely with the hamlet mayor and council moving forward. The project team is considering all options for the tendering process so that we maximize local and northern content.

Mr. Speaker, our next large strategic infrastructure project is the Slave Geological Province corridor, which will enable future mineral exploration and development in a region with significant resource potential, and assisting with reclamation of mines in the region upon closure. The long-term vision includes a corridor that supports road, communications, and hydroelectric transmission line infrastructure. In the near term, the GNWT will be focusing on advancing the Lockhart all-season road, an all-season road from Tibbitt Lake at the end of Highway No. 4, which is the Ingraham Trail, all the way to Lockhart Lake.

Building partnerships with Indigenous governments is crucial to the success of this important project. Establishing a memorandum of understanding with Indigenous governments and organizations would set the stage to begin the collective development of a project plan that will not only chart a path forward, but will also help Indigenous partners to identify and prepare in advance for opportunities the project will present for contracts, jobs, and training.

Mr. Speaker, finally, the Taltson hydro expansion is the most promising option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide renewable energy to the territory. The new generation and transmission infrastructure will provide a stable, drought-resistant, and accessible combined system for 10 Northwest Territories communities. It will also position existing and future resource development projects to use clean energy to support more sustainable economic growth, while reducing fossil fuel use and meeting the Northwest Territories' environmental commitments under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

Transmission from the 60-megawatt hydro expansion could head north and connect Yellowknife's Snare and Bluefish hydro systems and set the stage for new and existing industrial customers to access clean hydro power north and south of Great Slave Lake. The Government of the Northwest Territories is working with NWT-based Indigenous governments and stakeholders to create a collaborative partnership approach to project development. To assist with that work, the federal government allocated $18 million over three years from Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to advance the Taltson Expansion project. Part of that funding was provided in grants to each of the Indigenous government partners, including the Northwest Territory Metis Nation, the Salt River First Nation, and the Akaitcho Dene First Nations, to support their participation in project development, which includes defining the structure and business case, guiding upcoming field work, and development of a memorandum of understanding to define our working relationship. We continue to work with other affected parties to address their concerns and find a way forward on the project.

In summary, the Department of Infrastructure has and will continue to work closely with Indigenous governments and organizations as we advance our many projects to connect our communities. While we do sometimes have tough issues to discuss and resolve, we are working with our partners to ensure that as much of the benefits on industrial development stay right here at home and benefit Northerners. Quyanainni, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 74-19(2): Update on Strategic Infrastructure Projects
Ministers' Statements

Page 1391

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Emergency Measures
Members' Statements

Page 1391

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Every year during spring, the town of Hay River prepares for flooding, although the town has not experienced flooding as it did in 1963, which forced the relocation of many to higher ground. The flooding that year caused such devastation to the West Channel and Old Town that homes were damaged and residents were forced to relocate to what is now the New Town. This year, as in other years, the town was once again prepared. Luckily, flooding never occurred, and the residents and their homes were spared. However, this fall this has been different. The Hay River and Great Slave Lake experienced high water levels throughout the summer and into the fall. The town found itself on a water advisory alert for much of it.

Mr. Speaker, within the town boundaries of Hay River and extending along the shores of Great Slave Lake, we find private-run tourist facilities, water-treatment plants, the airport runway, residential homes, and public beaches. We anticipate flooding in the spring. This year, it came in the fall. This was due to the higher-than-normal water levels in the lake combined with severe north winds. The shores were battered by the waves, and some of the private infrastructure experienced damage.

Mr. Speaker, those impacted are asking where the support was during this emergency. In the Emergency Management Act, it states that, under the direction of the Minister, the Emergency Management Organization shall:

  1. lead the Government of the Northwest Territories in the coordination of emergency management activities;
  2. support the emergency management activities of local authorities.

Mr. Speaker, an emergency, as defined in the act, "means a current or imminent event that requires prompt coordination of action or special regulation of persons or property in order to protect the safety, health or welfare of people or to limit or prevent damage to property or the environment."

Mr. Speaker, the high water levels combined with high winds caused damage to infrastructure and the shoreline along the lake. This, in my mind, fits the description of an emergency. The coordination and response appeared to be disjointed, with no one organization wanting to take responsibility. Those impacted were mostly left without answers and limited or no support until it was too late. We have to take these situations seriously. It impacts the lives of our residents and the livelihood of our local businesses. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of MACA later. Thank you.

Emergency Measures
Members' Statements

Page 1391

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Emergency Services on Highways
Members' Statements

Page 1391

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Last week, Parks Canada issued a warning related to bison collisions with cars, and returning to the NWT recently after a trip to BC, I was fortunate enough to encounter several of the majestic creatures, myself. This made me think about what would happen if I struck one with my truck, resulting in a crash. Who would come to rescue me? How long would it take? Over a prolonged period of time, would I die from my injuries?

Mr. Speaker, I get it. If you are an hour down the highway, it will take emergency services at least an hour to get to you. The "golden hour" rule when extrapolated to our territory will always be the "golden couple of hours," simply because of the distances between communities on our roadways. How many people over the years could have been saved or had better health outcomes if there had been the political will to resolve the lack of highway rescue?

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories has had interdepartmental reports and plans since 2012. That is eight years, eight years with no on-the-ground, tangible improvement to service, at all. The Premier, while Minister of MACA in the 18th Assembly, further cut the already meager highway-rescue budget from half a million annually to under $200,000 annually. Even then, the money was only being spent on reports, strategies, and web-based toolkits that didn't impact the saving of lives anyway. As we recently saw with the City of Yellowknife, community governments are unwilling to do the territorial government's job anymore and have withdrawn fire and rescue services outside of community boundaries.

Mr. Speaker, when I look into the silos of the GNWT, I see immediate solutions for funding emergency-response capabilities on our roadways. The Yellowknife Airport has GNWT firefighters who are trained as medical responders. Highway patrol trucks on our roadways could carry some fire and rescue gear to support victims until fire crews arrive. The School of Community Government had a firefighter cadet volunteer program it piloted with the city, whose graduates are now employed by the city. 911 is already dispatching ambulance services.

Mr. Speaker, our rural jurisdictions in Canada ensure their medic trucks have light rescue equipment on them, including the jaws of life, so they can rescue citizens. These tangible solutions are already available and require limited new funding. There must be political will to get it done. Mr. Speaker, I propose using some of the huge pot of capital funding to purchase a combination fire/rescue truck to be placed at the Yellowknife Airport for fire and rescue services along the Ingraham Trail; over the next few years, use the highway rescue budget of $200,000 to purchase combination medic/light rescue units for the communities. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Emergency Services on Highways
Members' Statements

Page 1392

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

The first should be placed at Yellowknife Airport for doing out-of-community services, and GNWT air ambulance, and billing for this service. The next ones could support the Hay River Fire Department and Inuvik Health Authority, and so forth. Mr. Speaker, my point is that solutions are available right now that can and would make our roadways safer today. I will have questions for the Minister of MACA related to protecting citizens along our roadways. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Emergency Services on Highways
Members' Statements

Page 1392

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Great Slave. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Trades Education
Members' Statements

Page 1392

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, this year, Health and Social Services tabled the Home and Community Care report, which gave an earnest view of how ready we are to care for our aging population. As we live through a global pandemic with an aging population, an economy of care is most definitely a viable and valuable investment sector. Currently, there are over 6,000 seniors and elders over the age of 60 in the NWT, of which over 1,000 are over 75. Within 15 years, seniors and elders over 60 are projected to increase to over 9,700 and the demand for Home and Community Care services in the NWT is projected to increase by 80 percent.

Staffing is one of the greatest challenges as all NWT communities reported difficulty recruiting and retaining staff to care for their community's knowledge-keepers. Who better to provide love, care, and support than someone who was raised in the community and has a personal connection and vested interest in the success of the patient? Healthcare professionals are wanted worldwide, and like everywhere else, we too have an aging population. However, we also have communities full of people who love home, their families, and want quality employment opportunities in their home communities. Aging in place with dignity isn't only a goal for our elders. It is also one for our youth, who consciously choose the North as their home, so why not combine these goals?

Mr. Speaker, there are many reasons why students leave school, but more often than not, I hear that it is because they do not find value or purpose in staying. ECE's career and education advisors are helping northern students find that value and to establish a path, but we need to make sure that these paths are available. High school graduation isn't just about a piece of paper. It is about being prepared for your next step, whatever that step may be. Over the next decade, 33 percent of upcoming NWT job vacancies will require a college diploma, skilled trade, or occupational certification level of education. ECE's SNAP program supports high school students to earn credit and pursue a career in trades, so why can't we also start preparing students for our economy of care within these same high schools, placing equal emphasis on the care economy as we do, for example, on the plumbing economy? I will have questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Trades Education
Members' Statements

Page 1393

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Polytechnic University
Members' Statements

Page 1393

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, today, I am going to talk about the future of the polytechnic university in the NWT. Mr. Speaker, as I have said numerous times, having the main campus of Aurora College along with the future polytechnic university headquarters remain in the town of Fort Smith is essential, and not just for the town itself but for the entire Northwest Territories.

For too long, Mr. Speaker, the capital has prospered at the expense of all other communities in the NWT. It's true there are divides in this House on many issues, but by far the issue that causes the most division is deciding what Yellowknife gets in exchange for something else in the budget. In this particular case, though, I am referring to the Mayor in Council of Yellowknife, who in their arrogance is already operating under the assumption that the headquarters of the future polytechnic university will reside in the capital. Mr. Speaker, as MLA for Thebacha, home of the current main campus of Aurora College and home of the education capital of the territory, I take issue with the city's current approach on this matter. In the absence of any formal announcement by the Government of the Northwest Territories. I find it inappropriate and premature for the city of Yellowknife to operate under that assumption.

Mr. Speaker, given the extent of the external movements outside of ECE on this subject, I think it would be prudent of the Government of the Northwest Territories to make the announcement soon so that the future headquarters of the polytech university remains in Fort Smith. Mr. Speaker, the three recently published documents by the Department of ECE regarding governance, research, specialization, and the department's three-year Aurora College strategic plan are all good first steps of the polytech university transition. However, Mr. Speaker, as we move forward on this topic, I would like to once again remind this House of the great historical legacy that the educational facilities of Fort Smith have brought to the Northwest Territories. For example, most well-known northern politicians, professionals, and a highly educated workforce have attended school in Fort Smith, including former Premiers Bob McLeod, Stephen Kakfwi, our current MLA Michael McLeod, our former MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew, and many current Members of this House among many others. Mr. Speaker, we cannot forget the historic legacy, education legacy, that Fort Smith has imprinted in the fabric of the NWT. I will have questions for the Minister of ECE at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.