This is page numbers 1523 - 1562 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 10:02 a.m.

---Prayer

Members Present
Members Present

Page 1523

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Minister's Statement 83-19(2): Our Languages Curriculum
Ministers' Statements

Page 1523

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment is celebrating the official launch of the Our Languages curriculum. This launch marks an important milestone for Indigenous languages in the Northwest Territories.

Our Languages is a competency-based curriculum that provides Indigenous language instructors with curricular outcomes, instructional strategies, and assessment tools to foster language growth in classrooms. It promotes a whole-school approach to language learning to ensure that Indigenous languages are heard and spoken throughout schools, at assemblies, and during routines in all Northwest Territories classrooms. Our Languages was made in the Northwest Territories in collaboration with Indigenous elders, teachers, language champions, neurolinguistic experts, curriculum coordinators, and community advocates and was informed by national and international curricular documents. Our Northern language experts helped to ensure that Our Languages aligns with the two foundational curricula of the Northwest Territories' education system, Dene Kede and Inuuqatigiit, which ground teaching and learning in Indigenous traditions, culture, and place.

In order to achieve this long-awaited milestone, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment worked with regional Indigenous language coordinators from the participating regional Indigenous governments to ensure that promising community practices and cultural connections were included in the Our Languages curriculum.

The department also worked with education bodies to advise and support Indigenous language instructors through each of their unique situations during COVID-19, including offering online and video-based professional development. All Indigenous language instructors have been trained and continue to have follow-up in-servicing in the Our Languages curriculum and associated supporting resources.

Additionally, a revised version of the Indigenous Languages and Education Handbook was recently released to support schools in using the curriculum effectively. This handbook outlines actions and promising practices that principals, teachers, Indigenous language instructors, and educational assistants can undertake to deliver quality education that promotes and enhances Indigenous languages and culture-based education in our schools, homes, and communities.

As of the current school year, 42 out of the 49 schools now offer Indigenous language programming as a second language. In addition, four schools now offer Indigenous immersion programming in the primary grades.

Mr. Speaker, it has been an incredible year for Indigenous language revitalization initiatives in the Northwest Territories, and there is more excitement to come. The new Our Languages curriculum, supplemented by the Indigenous Languages and Education Handbook, provides an opportunity to carry on the legacy of our Indigenous languages and traditions. This ground-breaking initiative, made in collaboration with our Indigenous language revitalization partners across the territory, is something that we should all be very proud of. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 83-19(2): Our Languages Curriculum
Ministers' Statements

Page 1523

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.

Minister's Statement 84-19(2): 2020 Northwest Territories Environmental Audit
Ministers' Statements

Page 1524

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We have a strong and effective regulatory system in the Northwest Territories that relies on Indigenous, territorial, and federal governments working together to make wise decisions about the use of our land and water. This system is always evolving to serve the people of this territory better.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has a mandate to support the sustainable use of natural resources. Every five years, an independent auditor is appointed to conduct an environmental audit, as required under legislation and land claim agreements. The 2020 Northwest Territories Environmental Audit is the second audit commissioned by the Government of the Northwest Territories since devolution. It was conducted by a team of independent consultants and guided by a steering committee of Indigenous, territorial, and federal government representatives. The auditors focused on how environmental trends were used to make decisions, the effectiveness of cumulative impact monitoring, how the regulatory system is working, and the response to recommendations from the previous audit.

The 2020 audit found the environmental regulatory system in the Northwest Territories has continued to improve since the last audit in 2015. There were no new significant issues identified in the 2020 audit, and there was progress across most regulatory components. Certain recommendations of the audit were already recognized as priorities of this government, supported by the mandate priorities to settle and implement treaty, land, resources, and self-government agreements and increase regional decision-making authority and employment in small communities. The audit recognized the Government of the Northwest Territories for making progress on climate change policy and action planning, as well as working with Indigenous governments and organizations to make new laws and improve existing laws related to land, water, and resource management since devolution.

While there has been progress over the last five years, there is still work to do. The audit found that there are improvements to be made in the areas of community wellness, land use planning, finalizing land claims, and engaging communities. In total, the 2020 Environmental Audit provided 40 recommendations directed at decision-makers. All responses to those recommendations are included in the 2020 Audit Technical Report. The Government of the Northwest Territories has committed to implementing our responses to the audit recommendations and continuing to improve our environmental management in the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, the 2020 Environmental Audit is an important tool the government and its partners can use to improve our resource management systems, while meeting our obligations under land claim agreements and devolution. Later today, I will be tabling the audit and look forward to working with all responsible parties over the next five years to follow through on the recommendations in the audit. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 84-19(2): 2020 Northwest Territories Environmental Audit
Ministers' Statements

Page 1524

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 85-19(2): Government Renewal
Ministers' Statements

Page 1524

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, in February, during the delivery of the budget speech, I said it was time to use creativity and innovation to find internal efficiencies. Since then, our government has had to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in my last two fiscal updates since the onset of COVID-19, I have again said that now is the time to use creativity and use this moment of heightened awareness around our fiscal situation to consider how we want to emerge from the pandemic as a government and as a territory.

The Department of Finance's mandate is to "obtain, manage, and control the financial resources required to implement the Government of the Northwest Territories' policies and programs." Those responsibilities are not new; neither are our many fiscal challenges. We are going to use the current climate of recovery and renewal as an opportunity to reimagine how we obtain, manage, and control those financial resources.

Mr. Speaker, over multiple Legislative Assemblies, the data shows patterns of budgeting and spending that have impaired the long-term sustainability of the GNWT. Our expenditures and the public service continue to grow; our planning is often reactive instead of proactive; and the significant capital investments which the territory absolutely needs have driven up our short-term debt. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to these fiscal pressures, and the GNWT needs a stable fiscal footing to support the territory's recovery. We are far from alone in these challenges. Other governments have similar challenges, and fortunately, new ways of budgeting government finances have emerged to respond.

The Department of Finance is planning to shift the way our budget is developed. The Government Renewal Initiative will rely on value-driven budgeting principles to review GNWT programs and services department by department and allocate resources to areas that are most critical and valuable to residents. Value-based budgeting, also known as priority-based budgeting, is both the idea that underlies the building of the budget as well as the method. It is founded on the common-sense idea that government financial resources should be allocated based on how effectively programs and services give value to residents.

This is a fundamental shift from how budgets are currently developed, where a large focus is on incremental increases and decreases from the year before. Using incremental budgeting, most of the budget is not actually subject to the same level of scrutiny as new spending, and it can be difficult to respond to new or changing priorities. Incremental budgeting is more about where we have been; but now, we want to shift to define our fiscal foundation by where we want to go.

Some of the key principles of this approach are to:

  • Provide better transparency to territorial priorities and how services and programs contribute to those priorities;
  • Prioritize and allocate budgets at the program and service level;
  • More directly question our past spending habits;
  • Evaluate the true cost and benefit of programs and services as part of budget development, rather than only looking at incremental changes; and
  • Build more accountability for results into funding decisions.

This is a significant undertaking. Over the next few months, the Department of Finance will finalize the framework for how government renewal will be implemented early in the new year. We have already established the strategic priorities of the 19th Legislative Assembly and are actively working on additional priority needs resulting from COVID-19 in our Emerge Stronger work. With those priorities in mind, we will undertake an evidence-based evaluation of where government resources are spent.

For a budget development process that is based on the values of our residents to be meaningful, engagement with my fellow Members of the Legislative Assembly is critical. The work will be difficult. Defining and ranking often competing priorities is challenging, but that is the work of governing. Applying the work of priority and value balancing to government budgeting is an opportunity to better reflect the diversity of the values and needs of all residents of the NWT. This is an opportunity to work together to ensure the government continues to have the resources required to deliver the programs and services that are important to the residents of the NWT.

I stated in June and it holds true: "If ever we needed creative problem solving to achieve responsive and effective results, it is now." I am confident that the Government Renewal Initiative will bring out this creative problem solving and help us maximize effectiveness, support the territory's pandemic recovery, and build a sustainable foundation for the future of the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 85-19(2): Government Renewal
Ministers' Statements

Page 1525

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Rapid Housing Initiative
Members' Statements

Page 1525

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, in September, the federal government launched the Rapid Housing Initiative, a $1-billion program to help address urgent housing needs of vulnerable Canadians through the rapid construction of affordable housing in partnership with municipal and territorial governments, Indigenous governments, and non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, Cabinet has not updated this House about this new funding opportunity, so I will.

The initiative will support up to 3,000 new permanent, affordable housing units across Canada and cover the construction of modular housing, the acquisition of land, and the conversion or rehabilitation of existing buildings to affordable housing. The housing must be either standard rental, transitional, permanent, or supportive housing, single-occupancy, or seniors' housing, with a minimum of five units or beds. Each application must be a minimum contribution request of $1 million. The Rapid Housing Initiative will support both the construction of modular, multi-unit rental projects and conversions or rehabilitations of existing buildings that are in a state of disrepair or have been abandoned.

This grant program has core mandatory minimum requirements that include expediency and affordability. Affordable housing projects are meant to happen as quickly as possible, using modular-type construction to provide affordable housing to Northerners as quickly as possible. Affordability means that the rent is less than 30 percent of the gross income of targeted tenants and that affordability is maintained for a minimum of 20 years. In addition to meeting speed and affordability requirements, the initiative prioritizes northern housing applications with subsidies or supports from municipalities; territorial or Indigenous governments; favourable land status; energy efficiency; and accessibility.

Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories has entrepreneurs that manufacture modular housing and tradespeople ready to work on projects like this. What is the Housing Corporation doing to connect them with this funding opportunity? CMHC has started accepting applications for the Rapid Housing Initiative this week and will accept applications until December 31st. This means there is no time to waste. The federal government aims to commit all funds before March 31, 2021, perfectly ahead of our construction season. The lack of progress by the Housing Corporation on the co-investment fund has me worried, Mr. Speaker. I am concerned that they do not have the resources to act quickly on this new federal initiative to ensure that the NWT gets its fair share of the funding. I want to remind the Minister that access to affordable housing and reducing core need is the key priority of this assembly. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation at the appropriate time.

Rapid Housing Initiative
Members' Statements

Page 1526

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Halloween 2020
Members' Statements

Page 1526

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. October 31st. Halloween. All Hallow's Eve. A day and night of magic and mystery when ghouls and goblins walk the streets and astronauts roam the earth. Growing up, Halloween was always one of my favourite times of the year. I can still remember the smell and feel of the pumpkin guts as my siblings and I carved jack o'lanterns, roasting seeds and burning our fingers playing with candle wax after our mom clearly told us not to.

This year the children of the Northwest Territories will experience a different kind of Halloween, one filled with numerous doses of hand sanitizers, masks that have nothing to do with their costumes, and innovative ways of candy delivery, such as chutes or honour system bowls where our youngest citizens will have their ethics tested. Do they take more than what they're allowed to, or do they follow the rules?

In my neighbourhood, I don't generally get a lot of children come my way on Halloween. Preference is given to the areas with higher density housing, efficient and smart thinking on the part of the kids. This speaks to my engineering heart, so I don't take the lack of interest in my neighbourhood personally.

Mr. Speaker, on this day before what is arguably one of the most popular holidays of the year, I wanted to take a moment and wish everyone a safe and fun celebration. I am so pleased that, despite the strange, new world that we find ourselves in these days, we continue to live our lives and allow our children to build their own memories, like those I remember fondly from my own childhood. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Halloween 2020
Members' Statements

Page 1526

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Mackenzie Place High-Rise
Members' Statements

Page 1526

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Hay River, as with other communities, is in a housing crisis, more so with the closure of the Mackenzie Place high-rise due to the fire over one-and-a-half years ago. Fingers were pointed, and blame was placed. Now, the person responsible for causing the fire has been long forgotten. The real losers have been those that were displaced overnight, some of whom moved away from the NWT, while others were lucky enough to find accommodation. Some continue to couch-surf, and others find themselves homeless. Although the finger-pointing is ongoing today, my concern is not who is at fault but, more importantly, how we can open this building and have apartments available to those in desperate need of housing.

There are individuals, some in tears, who contact me daily, voicing their need for accommodation. These apartments were much needed in the 70s when the building was constructed and are needed even more so now. I have been working on moving this file forward since I was first elected. At this point, if the owner, who also has responsibilities to address the orders placed against the building, is not provided approval to reopen some of the apartments fairly soon, then the integrity of the building may be compromised due to the absence of heat and electricity. The loss of electricity will eliminate the aircraft warning beacon atop the building thus impacting air traffic and passenger safety. Our local radio and TV stations have stopped broadcasting and, along with other service providers, have removed their equipment from the building because of uncertainty with the electricity.

There were numerous safety orders placed against the building which have been satisfied, my understanding is that the final outstanding order right now is that issued by the department of health. I know that the department of health has the best interest of our residents in mind as they review the detailed abatement report submitted by the owner. I do appreciate the fact that the department and owner's representatives are working together to satisfy the order in a timely manner.

It is obvious that the NWT Housing Corporation has no plans to construct any significant number of public housing units in Hay River anytime soon. Therefore, re-opening of the high-rise is important. It will alleviate some of Hay River's immediate housing issues and take some pressure off the NWT Housing Corporation. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mackenzie Place High-Rise
Members' Statements

Page 1527

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Addressing the Nunakput Housing Crisis
Members' Statements

Page 1527

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Addressing Nunakput's housing crisis, Mr. Speaker, young families have no place to go. We have not enough units in the community. Housing is not adequate for my elders, such as no backdoors in some of the units that are built now. Overcrowding, causing illness, which is a ticking timebomb for COVID-19 and for not enough water for the people inside the unit for water delivery. Houses are in despair. When the wind blows in a certain way, you've got snow coming in through the windows, and you've got snow coming through the doors, Mr. Speaker. Heating costs go through the roof. People can't pay their bills or make them when they're living in poverty. Don't forget that.

We have no units coming into the communities. I at least need 10 units for Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok, and Tuktoyaktuk, and I need at least five for Sachs Harbour. That's how short we are with the young families that we've got coming up. We have LGOs doing the best they can with what they got, Mr. Speaker. The resources they have, the staff, the maintenance staff that go tirelessly day after day, fixing up all the units that are in despair. The first thing this government has done is the Arnica Inn project, the 42 beds for the territories here in Yellowknife, which I'm very happy for Yellowknife, and I supported that.

At the time, the Member for Monfwi asked the Minister when is the Housing Corporation going to wake up, Mr. Speaker. We have a $60 million fund sitting there that we have to tap into. I feel the Housing Corporation has to start doing more in taking this sense of urgency. Where is the planning? It's been eight months since we tapped into that money. The project officer delayed the application process, and the co-investment fund may not get done until Christmas. At a level position not going to cut that they won't have the authority to ensure the $60 million funding gets approved. Someone has to have the authority to rally the Indigenous governments and NGOs to get them application processes, working with our community corporations and IRC in my riding, Mr. Speaker. This House is encouraged to see the Minister seek more funding. We're going to support that Minister in getting more funding. I'm here to help her. We're all here to help her to help our people. The people need housing, and in my riding, Mr. Speaker, it's an urgent matter. Thank you.