This is page numbers 1563 - 1592 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 work.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, 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 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1563

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Welcome. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Madam Premier.

Minister's Statement 86-19(2): Benefits of the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat
Ministers' Statements

Page 1563

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Madam Speaker, as COVID-19 approached at the beginning of this year, our government was preparing our institutions to respond to the threat of a generation. Before a case even reached our borders, we pulled together a team from across our public service to stand up for our emergency response. As the threat grew, so too did our response.

We declared a public health emergency; we restricted travel; we required self-isolation planning; and we put restrictions on businesses and people as the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in our territory. We stepped up contact centres like ProtectNWT and 811 to process more than 21,000 self-isolation plans and get people the information they needed; placed border staff at airports and highways and enforcement officers across the regions; and we established safe spaces for isolation in communities with enhanced medical care.

Madam Speaker, our initial measures paid off. We were able to keep this virus under control and bring stability to our territory. Achieving this stability means we are able to keep looking forward, even as many across the country look at tightening up. Now that we know more about COVID-19 and its effects on the Northwest Territories, we can build a stronger response that better serves communities, residents, and businesses. Madam Speaker, this is what the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat will do.

It will bring together the pandemic services thousands of residents have counted on since March under one roof and bring in the leadership and investment required to allow us to better prepare for the second wave. We know the majority of residents, businesses, and communities want these services, and they want them to work well. The dedicated team at the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat will be able to deliver more seamless services for residents and businesses.

Madam Speaker, these services are necessary. COVID-19 is not going to go away any time soon. We need the services to continue to operate so departments can better focus on their normal daily functions and the priorities of this Assembly. Rising to a challenge like this pandemic means making real investments. Every jurisdiction across the world has done it. Our territory is no different. We know that these investments in isolation requirements, border controls, and enforcement work, not just from our own experience but from the experiences of fellow successful jurisdictions like Nunavut, Atlantic Canada, and Yukon, who are all investing in similar services to keep their jurisdictions safe. Madam Speaker, we must also balance the need for these services with fiscal responsibility and bringing the delivery of our pandemic response under one structure will make controlling costs easier.

The work to find savings has already begun. We are currently reviewing the territory's approach to isolation costs and considering equitable and fair ways to reduce the financial burden that makes up over half of the costs of our pandemic services.

Madam Speaker, Indigenous governments and communities continue to play an important role in our efforts to protect the health and safety of residents. We will continue to engage with Indigenous governments and community leadership as well as business stakeholders as we consider important changes to self-isolation requirements and other secretariat functions. We know isolation in designated hubs has been tough on people. We have heard of the mental and social harms, and we are in a better position to resolve them. Now more than ever, we need to be talking about our mental health and well-being. If you know someone who is having a hard time, a difficult time, reach out. If you are struggling, please reach out for help. You are not alone.

Madam Speaker, with strong territorial pandemic response plans, we have built the resilience and capacity we need to respond to cases across our communities. With expanded rapid-testing capacity, enhanced surveillance of wastewater, and improved contact tracing, we are able to consider new ways to mitigate risk for communities while allowing people to return home sooner.

Madam Speaker, what this secretariat will not do is take away from the territory's investments in our health system. It will instead support these efforts and the work of Chief Public Health Officer by taking on pandemic services which in the past have divided the attention of health officials as everyone worked to rise to the early challenges of COVID-19. Investments like those in new testing devices, wastewater surveillance, nurses and laboratory expertise, and strong pandemic planning will continue, and our government will continue to get our health system the resources to respond to mental health and medical needs for all of our residents as we move forward.

Madam Speaker, recently, it was announced we have several active cases, the first cases the NWT has seen since the spring. With the arrival of a second wave in Canada, we must do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 now more than ever. That includes treating individuals who test positive, either presumptive or confirmed, with respect, empathy, and kindness. Even with taking every precaution, people may still get COVID-19, and we need to be diligent in our own precautions and support our friends, families, and neighbours. We must be ready, and we must stay ready. The guidance, advice, and orders of public health leadership, the expertise on our front lines, the operational support of the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat, and the work of each resident to abide by the Chief Public Health Officer recommendations will work together to keep residents as safe as possible.

So far, the spread of COVID-19 has been managed, not because we are lucky, but because we took action. We elected to invest in the health and safety of our territory, and the establishment of the secretariat allows us to still focus on containing COVID-19, as well as committing to economic and social recovery and to delivering on our mandate. When considering our way forward in this pandemic, I ask all Members to support our actions because investing in health, safety, and stability is always the right choice. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Minister's Statement 86-19(2): Benefits of the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat
Ministers' Statements

Page 1564

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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

Minister's Statement 87-19(2): Continued Housing and Homelessness Response to COVID-19
Ministers' Statements

Page 1564

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Madam Speaker, supporting vulnerable residents in need of housing or facing homelessness continues to be an essential part of the Government of the Northwest Territories' response to COVID-19. The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is working diligently to meet the needs of our residents as we move through the COVID-19 pandemic. The need to physically distance remains with us and continues to significantly impact our interactions with each other and has highlighted the need for all of us to work together, think innovatively, and simply be kind to others.

Madam Speaker, as the pandemic unfolded last spring, the Housing Corporation enhanced its Transitional Rent Supplement Program by streamlining the process and simplifying participants' requirements. Prior to the pandemic, this program served approximately 40 participants. Now, that number has expanded up to 150 households. This program has now been extended through November to continue to support our residents.

We recognize the impacts of COVID-19 have been felt across our territory and country. Among the many unfortunate realities of the pandemic is that a sudden loss of income could lead some individuals to being at risk of experiencing homelessness. In light of this reality, we increased the budget for the Homelessness Assistance Fund from $125,000 to $300,000. This program supports people with financial assistance to find private rental market housing. We understand the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19 can be extremely stressful, and we are working to ensure that the application processed can be done as quickly as possible.

Madam Speaker, the GNWT remains committed to ensuring that our residents are able to access appropriate housing and shelter to self-isolate effectively, as needed. The GNWT has committed $5 million to help our most vulnerable residents to be able to effectively self-isolate. This includes $1.4 million to support the self-isolation needs of individuals at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness. The funding also included $3.6 million to bring online 108 units that were mostly in need of renovations in order to meet core housing needs. At present, these units are not required by the emergency management organization. They are in the process of being re-allocated by the Housing Corporation to rental programs, such as public housing, market rentals, affordable rental, or to support homeownership. At this time, 36 of these newly renovated units have been allocated and are serving as safe, affordable, and appropriate homes for Northwest Territories residents. As more units continue to be re-allocated, we expect to see a decrease in waiting lists in many communities, which should help in preparing us for a second wave of COVID-19.

Madam Speaker, we must continue to work with our community partners to access buildings to serve as self-isolation centres for our most vulnerable residents, as necessary. In Yellowknife, we have leased the Aspen Apartment complex from the Government of Canada in order to provide 32 units for vulnerable residents to self-isolate. Also in Yellowknife, we have supported Spruce Bough, the former Arnica Inn, which provides up to 40 supportive housing units and have assisted the Salvation Army to utilize more of its space. In Hay River, along with the Hay River Committee for Persons with Disabilities, we opened a new emergency overnight shelter and in Inuvik we used Aurora College student housing over the summer months to provide temporary housing.

As the Northwest Territories begins to recover from COVID-19, the Housing Corporation will be an important economic contributor to economic recovery. We will be working with communities all across the NWT to ensure the construction, renovation, and repair work that needs to be done is done in a safe and considerate manner that provides the greatest benefit to the local communities and their residents.

Madam Speaker, many residents across the Northwest Territories who are homeless or at risk of being homeless require housing stability and person-centred support. We know that addressing housing stability is critical to the success and overall well-being of our residents, and it is an issue that this government takes seriously. As we move into the anticipated second wave, we need to remember to look after one another, provide supports, and continue to listen to the advice provided by the public health officials, keeping all of our residents safe throughout this pandemic. Mahsi, Madam Speaker.

Minister's Statement 87-19(2): Continued Housing and Homelessness Response to COVID-19
Ministers' Statements

Page 1565

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

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

Minister's Statement 88-19(2): Procurement Review
Ministers' Statements

Page 1565

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Madam Speaker, one of our government's guiding principles is to ensure that the expenditure of public funds maximizes economic benefits to Northerners and supports northern business. This is consistent with our long-standing commitment to support Northwest Territories businesses and grow a strong, diversified economy.

We put that commitment into practice through the Business Incentive and Manufactured Products Policies, which help ensure that government purchases are made from, or through, Northwest Territories-owned businesses wherever possible, and to leverage this investment back into our economy. Similarly, our Negotiated Contracts Policy exists to increase the capacity of northern and Indigenous-owned businesses, supporting them to be more competitive in the northern business environment. We have committed in our mandate to work with Northwest Territories businesses to strengthen GNWT procurement policies and practices. By the end of November, we will formally begin this important conversation.

Madam Speaker, reaching consensus on the subject of preferential procurement is going to require that we work together, be open-minded and flexible, and adopt a whole-of-government and territory-wide mindset. Leaders from across levels of government and from businesses will be asked for their input on where and how to strike a balance between supporting Indigenous and Northwest Territories businesses and widely accepted principles of responsible public procurement, including transparency, fairness, and realizing competitive value for public dollars spent.

There are many difficult and contentious questions to face. For example, under what circumstances should the GNWT pay more for goods and services if they are provided by a northern business? How much more, and how do we define a Northwest Territories business? Should the objective of our policies be to level the playing field between Northwest Territories businesses and those in other jurisdictions? Is it to attract jobs and investment to the Northwest Territories? Is it to help minimize the cost of living in our territory? Likely, the answer will be "yes" to more than one question, so the challenge will be finding a way to balance these sometimes-competing objectives.

What should an Indigenous procurement policy look like? How do we achieve a measured level of participation and benefit to Northwest Territories Indigenous governments and businesses? Through interviews, written submissions, targeted engagement opportunities, and online surveys, we will give every opportunity for Northwest Territories leaders, Indigenous governments, business interests, and communities to share their perspectives and ideas on how to answer these many questions and help advance the collective interests of our territory.

Madam Speaker, our mandate states that government procurement and contracting is a source of economic activity throughout the Northwest Territories, and residents and businesses should benefit as much as possible. At the end of the day, we want more Northwest Territories residents working and advancing their careers and more businesses thriving and growing in our territory. It is time to revisit the policies we have to support these goals and face these sometimes complex and competing questions.

While the GNWT mandate commits to the completion of this review in 2022, I have asked the Departments of Industry, Tourism and Investment and Finance to do their very best to have this review completed by the end of next summer. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Minister's Statement 88-19(2): Procurement Review
Ministers' Statements

Page 1566

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Ministers' statements. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.

Minister's Statement 89-19(2): Water Treatment Plant Upgrades
Ministers' Statements

Page 1566

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Thank you, Madam Speaker. In the spring of 1999, a small community in southern Ontario called Walkerton made national news because of the deaths and sickness that were linked to contamination in the municipality's drinking water supply. This incident served as a wake-up call for all municipalities and governments across Canada to take stock of the state of drinking water supplies in communities across the nation. Here in the Northwest Territories, three levels of government, including the Government of Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and community governments, are jointly responsible for ensuring that drinking water is safe for human consumption.

I would like to update the Members on the efforts to upgrade NWT water treatment plants to meet the requirements of the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. The GNWT formed an interdepartmental committee called the NWT Drinking Water Committee. This committee focuses on water-related issues and provides a forum for communication, cooperation, consultation, and information exchange, as well as to provide a link to other governmental and non-governmental agencies with interests in drinking water. The committee set a goal early on to see each community with a modern water treatment plant that would meet the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to announce that, as of October 5, 2020, this goal has been achieved. When Wekweeti's new water plant was approved for use, all communities in the NWT that operate a water treatment plant are now capable of meeting the filtration requirements of the national guidelines.

Since 2001, partnerships between the federal government, the GNWT, and community governments have resulted in:

  • 23 upgraded water treatment systems;
  • 16 communities have constructed new modern water treatment plants; and
  • an additional seven have gone through mid-life retrofits or upgrades to meet the standards.

Community governments have been successfully utilizing federal infrastructure programs over the years, such as the Build Canada Plan, Small Communities Fund, Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, and Gas Tax Agreement to supplement their community public infrastructure funding from the GNWT to build these water treatment plants.

Success can also be seen in community governments' investment in their staff. All 30 NWT water plants are now operated by local residents, and 23 of the plants have certified local operators. MACA is actively working with the remaining seven to upgrade the certification of their operators and provide more oversight and support while these operators are training.

Madam Speaker, I am proud of the accomplishments we have made to date, and all NWT residents can be confident that their drinking water is safe. Our work is not done. MACA continues to work with community governments to assess their systems, plan for upgrades, and continue to support operators with ongoing training. Our interdepartmental team will continue to support our communities. The GNWT is committed to providing a coordinated approach that supports water systems including intake, treatment, and distribution. We will continue to ensure that safe drinking water for all NWT residents is a priority. Mahsi, Madam Speaker.

Minister's Statement 89-19(2): Water Treatment Plant Upgrades
Ministers' Statements

Page 1566

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Illicit Drug Use
Members' Statements

Page 1567

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Madam Speaker. Today, I want to talk about the adverse impact and influence which illicit drug trade is still having within our communities amid the ongoing global pandemic. Madam Speaker, another common theme that I've noticed in my constituency is the increase of crime, violent crime, and hard drug use within our communities. During the early stages of the pandemic, the federal government distributed CERB funding. I believe this was a mistake as many of our residents used these new funds to feed their addictions to new levels. All we've seen is many of our bootleggers, drug dealers, and even our liquor stores profit immensely from this influx of money. I know now the federal government had tightened up their rules surrounding allocations of money for those out of work during the pandemic, but there still needs to be clear rules about what these monies are meant for.

Madam Speaker, while there have been some minor wins this year in terms of successful drug busts executed across the country, the issue of illicit drugs plaguing our communities has remained unchanged. I know the bulk of our attention and focus on COVID-19 this year. However, we must remain vigilant against other harmful threats to our people, as well. Pandemic or not, people are still selling, getting addicted to, and dying from illegal drugs. Dying. We in this House need to get ahead of this.

Madam Speaker, according to the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse and Addiction, "people use substances report a loss of social connection and supports, as well as an increase in isolation, fear, and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to the general population, they are more vulnerable to the health impacts of COVID-19 and the hardships of physical distancing."

Madam Speaker, they say it takes a village or a community to raise a child. In my opinion, it's going to take a village or a community to combat this huge problem of drugs in our communities. We cannot solely rely on our law enforcement community to tackle these by themselves. We need to work with the leadership at the local level to start fighting back at the distribution of drugs in our communities. We need to send a clear message to the drugs traffickers out there that their actions will not go unpunished. With that, Madam Speaker, I'll have questions for the Minister of Justice at the appropriate time. Marci cho.

Illicit Drug Use
Members' Statements

Page 1567

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act Implementation
Members' Statements

Page 1567

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Madame la Presidente. Today, I am going to return to the issue I first raised in the winter session regarding the implementation of amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. As I pointed out then, a lot of good work and cooperation went into the new legislation with excellent changes introduced as a result of extensive consultation with GNWT departments, public bodies, the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and the general public. Improvements included the reduction of mandatory exemptions, the power of the Information and Privacy Commissioner was also increased to allow the issuance of binding orders, and the legislation will apply to municipal governments as suggested over many years.

Eight months on from my last statement and questions and 15 months after the passage of the amendments, we are still waiting for the legislation to be brought into force. These changes are supposed to also include fee reductions, training, identification of classes of records that do not require an ATIPP application, and many more. At the passage of the bill in June 2019 and as result of my questions, the then Minister of Justice committed to: reduce the initial fee for general information requests from $25 to $10; provide 10 hours of free processing for general requests; photocopy charges were to be dropped to 10 cents per page; and the personal information requests information free pages were to be increased from 100 to 200.

These basic and simple adjustments have not yet been made. It's not clear why the delays continue. We have to pin our hopes and fears on the new Minister of Justice to finally bring this legislation into force. I'll have questions for the Minister of Justice later today on when he will bring this long ordeal to an end and finally bring the new and better Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act into force. Mahsi, Madame la Presidente.

Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act Implementation
Members' Statements

Page 1567

The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.