This is page numbers 1443 - 1480 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 housing.

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 1443

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

Paulie Chinna

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It has always been my belief that partnership between our communities, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and other levels of government is the key to increase affordable housing in the Northwest Territories. Through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, we have an opportunity to make this a reality.

The co-investment fund has the potential to bring significant investments into communities across the Northwest Territories, working in partnership with all levels of governments, private market investors, and non-governmental organizations.

Working with the federal government to improve the programs in the Northwest Territories is ongoing. Although, we have had a number of successes, including the dedicated "carve off" of $60 million under the fund, in the Northwest Territories. There is still more work that needs to be done to ensure that this funding works for the Northwest Territories. We have heard that applications can take a long time to process. The applicants are in favour of northern applications. In both 2019 and 2020, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation met and worked with the federal government to discuss identified problems with the National Housing Co-investment Fund and to seek clarity around easing the restrictions and the process of making applications more accessible under the fund.

Mr. Speaker, achieving the goals of the national housing strategy will only be realized once applicants can successfully access these funds. The number of applicants coming into the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is increasing, and we are hearing more and more interest from community partners.

The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is continuing to support and implement these federal programs throughout the Northwest Territories. We are conducting joint presentations with CMHC at the community level. The NWTHC and community housing corporation have formed a joint review committee for the program, which will work to ensure applications are handled in a timely manner. The Housing Corporation also assists the CMHC by taking a "no wrong door approach" that field introductory questions by stakeholders, providing an overview of the process, and funneling proponents to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation specialists.

Additionally, we recognize that the proposal and application approach of the National Housing Co-investment Fund is a barrier for smaller communities, that they face challenges due to limited proposal development capacity. As such, as creating community engagement advisor positions to promote and market the program, assisting developers with applications, and help communities to be clear and develop project ideas.

The territorial government, through the Housing Corporation has the potential to be a primary partner in the co-investment fund projects with the CMHC, and other housing stakeholders. This could include partnership in co-investment projects through access to NWTHC's Community Housing Support Initiative.

However, the Housing Corporation is not required by CMHC to commit upfront 25 percent of the project costs without first having an opportunity to review and develop a business case and a resourcing plan that has fully vetted all possible sources of funding. For example, a proponent's application could have them accessing up to 95 percent of federal financial assistance through a combination of both low-cost financing and grant or additional partner contributions. Maximizing federal partnership and other partners' contributions is critical to ensure that GNWT funds can be leveraged across numerous projects.

Mr. Speaker, we are also making progress in the community housing plans. As we get further into the completion of those plans, we will be identifying other opportunities of investment. This will help with the creation of the business plans and needs assessments that will assist in the selection of projects under the co-investment fund.

This is the future of suitability, adequacy, and affordability for affordable housing in the Northwest Territories. With our limited resources, we cannot do this alone. The National Housing Co-investment Fund will allow the community-led responses to housing development that will need to meet the needs of Northerners. I encourage all the interested partners to reach out to the NWTHC and CMHC, and I look forward to seeing all the new applications come in. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, I move that this statement be moved into Committee of the Whole for further discussion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you. The motion is in order. To the motion.

Some Hon. Members

Question.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Question has been called. All those in favour? All those opposed? Any abstentions? The motion is carried.

---Carried

The Minister's statement will be moved into Committee of the Whole. Thank you. Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Increasing the number and variety of culturally respectful, community-based, mental health and addictions programs, including after-care is a mandate commitment of the Government of the Northwest Territories. Addictions continue to be a prevalent issue in the Northwest Territories and one that affects far too many of our residents. This government, led by the Department of Health and Social Services, continues to work towards addressing residents' unique needs and to reduce addictions by providing access to treatment, after-care supports, and recovery.

Addictions recovery looks different for each individual. There is no "one size fits all" approach. As such, the department is working to improve options and choices for individuals and families as they pursue recovery in a way that works for them. The Stepped Care 2.0 Model provides rapid same day access to mental wellness and addictions recovery supports that include e-mental health apps, online self-help services, and skill-based programming options. The implementation of a Stepped Care 2.0 Model and approach to care will provide residents with a range of options that they can choose from as and when needed. Stepped Care 2.0 aligns with the seamless care pathway approach. The seamless care pathway, which is the foundation of the Mental Wellness and Addictions Recovery Action Plan, ensures individuals and families have timely access to the right level of care that is solution-focused and based on their present needs.

Mr. Speaker, as part of the larger Stepped Care 2.0 approach, we are continuing to enhance the community counselling program. We are now offering same day appointments across the territory to increase access and reduce wait times for residents seeking counselling. The department is also continuing to support regional and community Indigenous governments to deliver land-based programming for mental wellness and addictions recovery. Beginning this year, the department will also be working with communities to establish peer support programming like Alcoholics Anonymous and Wellbriety at the community level. Additionally, because the availability of safe sober housing close to home is a key piece of supporting individuals in their recovery, we are also exploring options for a transitional housing model that will meet the needs of NWT residents in recovery.

Mr. Speaker, one of the ways we are enhancing services for addictions recovery is by adding more options for facility-based addictions treatment. The department recently issued a request for proposals from southern addictions facilities to provide treatment programming to NWT residents.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that as a result of this RFP process, the number of treatment facilities contracted by the GNWT has increased from four to six. Effective October 1, 2020, the department has contracts with Thorpe Recovery Centre, Renascent, Poundmaker's Treatment Lodge, Fresh Start Recovery Centre, Edgewood Treatment Centre, and Aventa. I have toured some of these facilities myself, and I can confirm that services provided are excellent and much appreciated. By increasing the number of service providers, we can ensure we provide a wide range of specialized services, including gender-specific programing, family programming, programming for individuals with FASD, medical detox options, expedited intake of pregnant women, and extended care options.

Mr. Speaker, we also anticipate that the addition of these two new facilities will help to reduce wait times for treatment. However, because of the pandemic, every treatment facility is currently operating at reduced capacity. While we anticipate better access in the future, we will likely continue to see longer wait times until these facilities return to full service. In addition to the expansion of these facility-based options for residents, the department is also working to implement several eMental Health options. One of these options is an interactive after-care recovery app. This will be available for NWT residents to support them in their recovery and wellbeing.

Expanding the range of options, Mr. Speaker, means more choice for residents. The availability of additional options for facility-based treatment, and the enhancement and introduction of other addictions recovery and after-care programs and support options will ensure residents have access to the right combination of supports at the right time.

These are important steps in providing an improved ability to support mental wellness and addictions recovery, thereby creating meaningful change for individuals, families, communities and the territory as a whole. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

Paulie Chinna

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Appropriate community engagement is vitally important to all Government of the Northwest Territories departments and agencies, including the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation. I know first-hand the value of having the voice of small communities heard at the political level. It is also important to me that, instead of having community representatives come into the capital to discuss their issues and concerns, that I come to them to speak to our people in their home community, to see housing conditions for myself, to speak with the staff on the ground.

Mr. Speaker, this summer, I travelled to 14 out of the 33 communities. I had the opportunity to discuss with local and Indigenous leadership in those communities and took those opportunities to highlight the many opportunities of the Housing Corporation programming and promote the community housing plan process and also the co-investment federal funding opportunity. During these community visits, I toured assets and ongoing construction to see what we are putting on the ground. It is one thing, Mr. Speaker, to read in briefing notes about good work that the corporation is doing, but it is another to see that infrastructure come to life. I also had the opportunity to talk with district and local staff, congratulating them for the work that they have done and discussing areas of improvement. These people on the ground, the LHO staff in our communities, are working hard to get this work done.

Mr. Speaker, it was very critical for me to highlight on these trips that one of the most effective tools for the community engagement is the community housing plan process. These community housing plans are developed hand-in-hand with local and Indigenous governments to ensure that locally and appropriate housing solutions are developed for all communities. When completing these plans with the guidelines and support the housing aspirations of all communities in the NWT. Mr. Speaker, at this time, one of these plans for the community of Whati has been completed. Further, the Housing Corporation staff have met with representatives of 15 other communities to discuss their community housing plans. Despite the difficulties that the pandemic can present to the community engagement activities, I am pleased to say that four more community housing plans are close to completion.

We recognize that the development of community housing plans for all 33 communities in the Northwest Territories is ambitious, and it's an undertaking we are committed to work with, all of our partners and the community members in a meaningful and a respectful way. Developing these community plans can take time, especially while ensuring that all of our staff, partners, and community members are following appropriate COVID-19 precautions. However, these plans are too important. I am confident that these plans will be tremendously of benefit, a huge benefit, to all the communities of the NWT. I look forward to sharing the completed plans with the Members as they become available, and importantly, I look forward to the improvement of housing outcomes these plans will bring to our communities.

In closing, I want to thank the community leaders, the residents who are able to meet with me and simply greet me on the street. Schedule with our leaders, schedule with our Indigenous groups and governments are jam-packed, but we were able to be everywhere and not to be everywhere at once. I want to get the point sometime in our four years that, when an appearance by the Housing Minister is given on the street and the community does come forward with ideas, that I take them seriously. I take them seriously to enhance our programming that we display as the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, and I look forward to continuing my trips throughout the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Colleagues, just before we continue, please be mindful of the interpreters. I think they are in overdrive right now. Just take your time. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the North, we have a severe deficit when it comes to housing for our residents. Although the NWT Housing Corporation is responsible for upwards of 2,400 public housing units, we still know of families and individuals living on the streets, in shelters, or with relatives. In the southern part of the NWT, this is costing this government on average approximately $600,000 per unit to build. While in the North, it can be around $1 million per unit. This, in many instances, does not take into account the cost of administration, land, and land preparation.

Mr. Speaker, the NWT Housing Corporation is planning for a combination of 22 new and replacement units across the NWT. I am pleased to hear that two new units are for Hay River. However, these two units will be used to replace the six that were demolished to make way for RCMP housing in the community. That is correct, Mr. Speaker. Hay River lost six units and received two. It does not take a mathematician to figure out that the community is now in a deficit compared to last year.

Mr. Speaker, without the support of the federal and territorial governments, housing problems facing our northern residents would be worse than they are now. However, saying that, it does not take away from the fact that we are not utilizing our funds as efficiently as we could. There is $60 million in the co-investment fund provided by the federal government, and approximately two years later, not a penny has been accessed. In September, the federal government announced the rapid housing initiative, a $1-billion program. These funds, if accessible, would not only provide much-needed housing but also provide safe places for family to access services from organizations like the Hay River Family Support Centre and others.

Mr. Speaker, from the outside looking in, the NWT Housing Corporation appears to have become stagnant and lost sight of its purpose. It appears to have raised a white flag and surrendered. I know that people employed by the Housing Corporation are good people. I know they have great ideas, are passionate and enthusiastic. I look to the Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation and this government to show leadership and provide that encouragement and support.

Mr. Speaker, times are changing; family sizes are changing; lifestyles are changing; the NWT is changing. It is reasonable to expect that the NWT Housing Corporation will embrace this change and consider adopting a new business model for public housing delivery. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Housing
Members' Statements

October 28th, 2020

Page 1446

Katrina Nokleby

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As the 19 of us gathered this time last year to discuss our priorities for our term in office, we had a rare moment of actual consensus where all of us agreed the Northwest Territories was dealing with a housing crisis. One year later, we have not moved the needle on this critical issue as our government continues to focus mainly on COVID, creating additional layers of bureaucracy, rather than on the needs of our vulnerable citizens and how we have been failing them.

My home is my sanctuary. It is my refuge where I calm my soul and recover from the stresses of my day. It is my legacy and my security, the means to one day help my nieces and nephews or my plan B should life throw new challenges my way. I am proud of my home, that I was even able to purchase it, given I arrived in the North with nothing in my pocket 14 years ago. I am proud that it is a place to entertain my friends as well as to offer them comfort and solace in their times of need.

When people do not have the security of a place to safely lay their head at night, it affects all aspects of their lives. Without safety, sleep is elusive. Without sleep, people cannot function, and the mental health effects ripple throughout their lives. The stress of not having a home often leads to mental and physical abuse, addictions, and public health matters. Embarrassment of one's home or lack thereof can lead to depression and suicide. Intimate partners will stay in domestic violence situations longer rather than risk being homeless by themselves or with their children.

Mr. Speaker, this is not right. This is a situation we can start to deal with immediately. Throughout our territory, there are numerous empty housing units awaiting repair or retrofits. Why is this not a priority of this Cabinet, to get these units into circulation? Elsewhere, contracts are awarded for new units that often cost the public purse double what a private sector developer could build for. Why does this continue to happen? Why are we not being smarter with our dollars and ensuring we get quality work for what we pay for? Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of housing. Thank you.

Housing
Members' Statements

Page 1447

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Great Slave. Members' statements. Member for Deh Cho.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. I would like to paint the picture of the plight, struggles, addictions, and a host of other mental health issues of many of the vulnerable demographic of my community. Mr. Speaker, my community is no different than many of the other Indigenous Dene communities, where people are dependent on income assistance or are fortunate enough to find a job, eking out a living, and living from paycheque to paycheque. Because of the lack of jobs in a stymied local economy, my people are very susceptible to addictions such as alcohol and drugs. With this comes a myriad of issues, including the mental health of the vulnerable population. When faced with a bleak future and threatened, the mental health of these people escalates, and more often than not, they are driven deeper into their addictions and depression.

Mr. Speaker, we have to understand the local situation in terms of what is available to combat the addictions in our community. There is nothing. Let me repeat that again: there is nothing. My community does not have an addictions treatment centre. My community does not have a family violence centre. My community does not have a woman's shelter, nor do we have an alcohol and drug counsellor, which I may add is a much-needed position for our community. What I know most of all is that we don't have a homeless shelter for people who are facing evictions or have been evicted from a public housing rental unit.

Has this government ever contemplated trying to deliver these resources into the community, to help my people to try to better themselves or have places to go, rather than walk the streets? I will have questions for the housing Minister at the appropriate time. Mahsi.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Members' statements. Member for Nunakput.

Jackie Jacobson

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I am bringing up our northern airlines. On September 10, 2020, the federal government and our territorial government gave the airlines $31.9 million, which we are really grateful for. This funding was intended to support northern airlines to continue essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The airlines provided essential services to the NWT residents, especially living in the remote communities which we represent.

I am glad that the federal government and our territorial government stepped up with this COVID funding as this will make the northern airlines continue to provide essential services such as medevacs or food resupply chain and providing medical travel for the people up and down the valley. The funding is meant to ensure that northern airlines can return to their full schedules, now; minimize layoffs; and stay financially viable during this long pandemic crisis that we're in.

This is not enough, to throw money at the airlines and make sure they are spending it for the right reasons. Nine point three million dollars was given to the Canadian North, Mr. Speaker. I fly that airline. You fly that airline back home to the Delta. At this time, I'm seeing no evidence of improvement of service. We give them that money. We fly in overcrowded flights, which people are already scared of getting COVID-19, travellers at greater risk, and not seven-days-a-week service. What's up with that? We're not even getting jet service, now. We're getting turboprop and smaller jets when we should be getting 734 service. We paid for it. We're paying for it. It's plus, plus, plus for them. They get government travel, medical travel. It's ongoing.

Nunavut also, Mr. Speaker, gave $24 million to Canadian North, so that is doubling up. Earlier this month, the Nunavut government assured Nunavut MLAs of their agreements that prohibit the airlines from using COVID-19 money to pay out bonuses. I want to make sure that their executives are not using it to do the same with our funding that we're giving them. Mr. Speaker, it is important to support our essential services sectors. The government needs to ensure accountability on how the money is spend. Later today, I will have questions for the Minister of Finance at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. The Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment launched the long-awaited review of the fiscal regime for the NWT mining industry last week. It got off to a rather rocky start with the release of a review of taxation and royalty rates across a number of jurisdictions that did not deal with actual revenues or even a full comparison of competitiveness.

I said in this House last week that it's hard to envision a fair and balanced approach to reviewing government revenues from mining when those amounts are kept totally secret. There is a solution that does not compromise the financial competitiveness of the mining industry: the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, or EITI, was started in 2004. It is a partnership among governments, companies, and civil society with an office located in Norway. A global standard to promote the open and accountable management of oil and gas and mineral resources has been developed and adopted by 54 countries. The corporate supporters of the EITI standard include Anglo American and Rio Tinto, that are owners or operators of two of the three NWT diamond mines.

The standard requires the disclosure of information along the extractive industry value chain from the point of extraction to how revenues make their way through the government and how they benefit the public. The initiative and its standard seek to strengthen public and corporate governance, promote understanding of natural resource management, and provide the data to inform reforms for greater transparency and accountability in the extractive sector. Canada is a supporting country, along with others such as the US, UK, the Scandinavian countries, and European states. Although Canada is not an implementing country, the federal government's Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act provides an equivalent level of reporting to the EITI standard.

The public and the Minister can already see the revenues paid to GNWT and Indigenous governments by the three mines currently in production, although there are problems with the way this is reported. Cabinet could change the Mining Regulations to require public reporting of mining royalties next week, if there was the political will. Private multinationals seem more committed to transparency than our Cabinet. What democratic government doesn't support openness and transparency in public reporting of resource revenues? I will have questions later today for the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, my Member's statement today is about unity. As someone who served as an elected leader for 14 years, most of which within Indigenous governance, I have come to know a thing or two about working together. As a public government and as elected officials in this House, we have certain expectations by the public that we must fulfill and uphold. Among our many responsibilities as leaders, first and foremost is about the importance of relationships, whether it's the relationship between us and our constituents, the relationship between Regular Members and the Cabinet, or the working relationships that all MLAs must maintain while in the Legislative Assembly.

After serving in this House for just over a year, I have come to see a growing division among many Members, and I find it very concerning. I know that disagreements on policy, programs, and services are a given. That is expected. However, I am seeing certain disagreements being taken to new heights, resulting in unnecessary personal attacks and mudslinging done constantly.

Mr. Speaker, the media always thinks that this House is disorganized and chaotic, so I think it's extremely important that we as MLAs rise above that sort of behaviour to ensure we maintain public confidence in their government. People who demonstrate good leadership skills can put aside their differences and work through animosity for the sake of the people they serve. At this time, I am not seeing that being done in this House, at least not enough. We should be able to respectfully disagree and provide constructive criticism to one another while still being able to govern the territory effectively. We should not just attack each other for the sake of attacking or for getting a good news headline.

I will admit, Mr. Speaker, I have had some disagreements with people in this building. However, I don't carry it around with me all the time wherever I go. That isn't healthy, for either my personal health or for the health of the government. Therefore, I always ensure that any animosity that comes my way is left in the room where it has occurred. I seek unanimous consent to complete my statement, Mr. Speaker.

---Unanimous consent granted

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I want to reiterate the importance for leaders to always treat all staff members with respect and dignity and to be thankful for the work they do. Everyone deserves to work in a safe and healthy environment, and I hope we can set a good example of that in this House. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.