This is page numbers 1593 - 1652 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 money.

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Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Chair. As the Minister of Finance and the Minister responsible for the public service, Mr. Chair, I believe over 400 members of the public service have put their names forward volunteering at various times to take part in the government's response to COVID-19. Not every one of them can necessarily be positioned somewhere as part of a direct COVID response. Although, I believe at one point, we hit 188, if not more, that were, in fact, redeployed. Again, every time you redeploy someone, you take them away from their home position, and you take them away from the programs and the services that I understand the Member is wanting us to be so mindful of. I agree with the MLA that we cannot interrupt the programs and services that people of the Northwest Territories are depending on and relying on, which is why you can't simply redeploy everybody without filling those positions or without finding a way to otherwise provide those services.

That's, again, part of the reason why there have to be new positions created to respond to COVID-19. I think a lot of people are tired of hearing it, but it is unprecedented. It is something that no one in the world knew what to do and how to respond to. Different governments in different jurisdictions are still figuring that out, but it takes new positions to do it. Otherwise, you wind up interrupting the programs and the services of government.

Mr. Chair, I want to make one last comment again with that lens of being responsible for the public servants is that it's not only those that were deployed under the front lines or deployed to respond under the secretariat's functions. Every single public servant, in my view, over the last several months have been responding to COVID-19, and every single one of them should take pride in the work that they've done. Every single one of them should take pride in being on the front lines of a response from the government, whether they were working at a desk to ensure that invoices were paid to governments or to businesses that were struggling, or whether it's people who are working in the health department. I know the Member is concerned about, and has spoken more than once, and I think I remember hearing the statement in the House, speaking about people's desire to be involved. I just wanted to acknowledge that, indeed, I do think the public servants really have risen to that occasion, so I appreciate that he's bringing attention to that. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair Rocky Simpson

Thank you, Minister. Member for Nunakput.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Chair. We could look back and say this wasn't rolled out properly, but at the end of the day, it happened so fast. It shut down our territory. It shut down, global. It was global. I didn't agree with it at the start, but when I think about it, I have to be here to represent my people as the MLA for Nunakput. I am going to support this in regards to priority one, safety of the people of the Northwest Territories.

When you look back, like this past week, I asked in the House, our community bubbles, we need to be supporting. The funding that we're getting, I hope they can really look at helping our community, local community governments in regards to what's happening here. With everything that's been going on, money from the start in April when the local community government, for instance in Tuktoyaktuk, they did a roadblock. I wish that they could get their funding back, that they did outreach because everybody was scared. As an Inuvialuit beneficiary, we did have a pandemic, Kittegaryumiut. Three thousand families, 3,000 Inuvialuit beneficiaries died there in Kittegaryumiut, 17 miles away from Tuktoyaktuk. For this, when they say pandemic, it means a whole different thing from where I'm from. What we did, the government didn't roll out this the way they should, but they did do something. They acted on it, shooting from the hip, but we're dealing right now. Right now, we're in the whole COVID-19 world.

Basically, the safety of the people is priority. Don't care about the money. The local community bubbles that we should be looking at in regards to helping our local community governments again with funding that they expended upon COVID-19, which should be looked at and should be helped. Our elders in my riding, we should be funding them. They're doing a good job. Our local community government, the community corporation and stuff like that, they're doing good work with helping, sewing kits and stuff like that to keep people busy, but dark days are coming. We've got nothing happening in the community because of COVID, so we should be looking at helping them more. I know the federal government's really been doing their best. They've been doing a pretty good job, and I'm not Liberal. That's the truth, though. They've been doing good work. Thank you.

The schools' safety is priority. The schools, our elders, because if one gets in the community, I don't know how many respirators we've got, but the last time, I was told we had five, and it's all here in Yellowknife. Our small communities are really relying on this COVID secretariat for the safety of our people. Like I said, it's not about the money. I don't care about the money. It's the safety of the people in my riding. They're doing good work at the airport. I see when I land there, when we're allowed to go home for the weekend, they're doing good work. They are doing the best that they can with what they've got, and they're driving really nice trucks, too. We've got to take it easy on that.

The biggest thing for me is medical travel. That's affected us. It's been really hard on some of my constituents. They come down. They do a two-day testing or whatever they're doing in Edmonton, and they're back here, up to Inuvik for two weeks. If there's any way, for medical travel that I've said in my Member's statement yesterday, that we could shorten it up by doing that rapid testing when it's available, it should be done. Like I said, I'm in support of this. It's safety of the people of the Northwest Territories and in my riding for sure. I thank all who are doing the job, the front-line workers. I want to thank the front-line workers, the RCMP, the health centres, the store workers, the storefront workers, everybody, the hamlets, their staff. I want to thank them for all the work that they're doing under stressful times. Like I said, Mr. Chair, I am in support of this, and we'll just go from there. Thank you.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair Rocky Simpson

Thank you, Member. Minister.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I don't have any comments or response. Thank you.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair Rocky Simpson

Thank you. Member for Great Slave.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Chair. A little while ago, in this session, I believe that the Premier made a statement that she had overwhelming support from the Indigenous governments. Then we hear today that many haven't even gotten back to her. I think this is just an example of the confusion that surrounds the creation of this unit and how the misrepresentation of the facts seems to be happening. I can't support increasing government employment at a time when there are so many other needs in our territory. We spent the last few weeks here in session discussing our housing crisis and the last six months on how inadequate our healthcare system is to deal with this pandemic, and our government's solution is to take funding provided by the federal government to deal with COVID and create more layers of government, more bureaucrats.

I understand Cabinet isn't too worried about job losses or businesses going under, since it appears their solution is just to ensure that everyone works for the GNWT. The statistic of 4,000 jobs lost, a staggering statistic given our population and demographics, rolled off the tongue of the Finance Minister pretty easily. You know why? Because they're all private-sector jobs. Coming from the private sector, it's absurd to me that we considered spending millions of dollars on more office space and a handful of senior bureaucratic positions. I believe we were told those items alone would cost a few million dollars. When employees returned to work, why did we not rejig the offices then, create the needed space at that time, and reconfigure? Especially if this is a temporary department and a lot of the GNWT employees are continuing to work from home, the rental of new space seems like a waste of money to me.

I would like to see the federal COVID money used to hire nurses, purchase equipment and PPE, support the private sector, create a public safety department instead of this secretariat, and bring together all the varying departments that protect our people under one department so that, when another crisis hits, we will already have all our services coordinated. That would have been way more useful than something so reactive that is way too late and past the time it was needed. If it had already been in place for so long and you've already gone ahead and spent all this money, how come nothing is improving? You've gone ahead, you've done this, so what good did that do for us in the recent cases? In the situation of the gym exposures, contact tracing wasn't even performed. Instead, a panic-inducing public announcement was made hours after a list of contacts could have been obtained and called, reducing the potential spread by hours. Instead, that did not happen, and we were only lucky that other cases didn't occur as a result.

The Cabinet hides behind the CPHO in deflection of any questions around contact tracing and such. I don't understand, then, why creating more GNWT employees and more bureaucracy is supposed to improve that, when really, that's where we want to get our answers from. That's where the issues lie. There are no communications between you as the Cabinet and the CPHO. I don't see that creating more bureaucratic layers and crap is really going to do any good. Thank you.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair Rocky Simpson

Thank you, Member. Minister.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I also came from the private sector before I arrived here. This is the longest I've spent working in the government, other than a stint when I was about 20 years old as an intern. I do also take seriously the situation that is being faced by the private sector right now. That said, Mr. Chair, let me go through a number of the other items that I heard.

Increasing government employment. Again, Mr. Chair, it is very difficult to fight a pandemic when you are redeploying staff who have other jobs to do. The money that we received from the federal government was not money that we could take and drop down wherever we chose to drop it down. The federal government was extremely specific about the types of things they wanted us to do with the funding that they were providing, and not only to us; to every province and territory across Canada. They had very specific intentions. For example, PPE for health workers and non-health workers; support for vulnerable populations; testing; contact tracing; and data management. These were the ways in which the bundles of funding that we received from the federal government were to be allotted.

We had some increased flexibility with respect to the way we spent the airline funding. Although, again, that was negotiated on the part of the northern territories, and specifically our territory, so that we could support every single airline in the Northwest Territories and not only the commercial carriers for passenger flight services, as was given to some of the other provinces, because we wanted to support every single airline in the sector. We've been trying to negotiate that kind of flexibility, and the federal government, to their credit, Mr. Chair, have been doing a lot in terms of trying to ensure that funds are flexible. The wage top-up is another example, for instance, where, even though the way things work here, that wages are higher and, therefore, some of the wage top-up wasn't necessarily working the way it was envisioned in Ottawa, we were given the flexibility to adapt it to our needs.

However, that's not the case across the board. The money that is coming in from the federal government, significant amounts of money, millions of dollars of funding that has come in from the federal government, a lot of it has come in for specific purposes, and the money that is being put towards the work in the COVID secretariat is no different. It's not that we can go in and just spend it on more nursing positions. It's not that simple; I wish it were.

As for the job losses, Mr. Chair, we have experienced job losses. So has everywhere else in Canada or the world experienced job losses. We are quite fortunate here in the Northwest Territories to be comparatively insulated such that, by the end of this particular calendar year, we are expecting to be back up at around 90 percent of our pre-COVID job numbers. The exception to that is in the tourism and hospitality industry. I said that earlier today, Mr. Chair. That industry is going to be continuing to be struggling and suffering, and that is not new or different here than it is anywhere else. That is the message I've heard from other Ministers across Canada, and all of those Ministers across Canada are asking for funding specific from the federal government and are looking for ways that we can use best practices one to the next.

That doesn't change the fact that we have to continue to respond to COVID-19. It doesn't change the fact that we have to continue to keep the people in the Northwest Territories safe. Nobody is going to have jobs in the way that they want to have jobs if we have to shut everything back down because there is a community spread that develops. So far, we have not had community spread in the Northwest Territories, Mr. Chair, and it is our intention to do everything we can to continue that. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair Rocky Simpson

Thank you, Minister. Premier.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

November 3rd, 2020

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Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to talk about the reporting back from Indigenous governments, and make that very clear. It's not that the Indigenous did not report back to me. It's that I didn't get hold of all the Indigenous governments. I had a meeting and eight Indigenous governments were there. Seven of the Indigenous governments, on that call, vocally stated that they support the secretariat, once I explained what it was. I had one in that call who said, "I need more information." That chief actually, once we gave the information, replied back to me and didn't say, "I didn't support it." All she said was, "You need to get this out more. You need to communicate more."

Since then, I met with two other Indigenous governments, and both of those Indigenous governments gave me support for the secretariat. Nine out of 10 Indigenous governments that I connected with gave me overwhelming support for the secretariat. One, I don't know, because she just said, "Communicate better." Then the other ones, it's not that they didn't reply back. It's that I hadn't had the chance to get back to them because the secretariat has only been operating for less than a month. I've been in session, so my time has been really tight, too.

The other thing I want to say is about stepping up to the plate. We had people stepping up to the plate. I think every one of you knows enforcement people, and I heard and I believe them. If we had had a forest fire this summer, we would have had to make a choice: fight the fire or do the enforcement. That's the decisions that we would have had to make. It's not about "just as easy." We took out most of MACA. We took out most of health. Those departments stepped up, and they can't keep doing it. About stakeholder engagement, yes, I didn't engage with everyone, but I did talk to the staff. I wish that MLAs would also talk to the staff because they said it wasn't sustainable. Sometimes, we have to listen to the people who are providing the services, as well.

As for coordinating, that's what we're trying to do. The secretariat has only been in place for less than a month, now. I don't know what kind of miracles you're wanting. Before that, absolutely, it wasn't coordinated well. That's why we said we had to do this. It's only been in place for less than a month, and we are hoping that we'll get more efficient. Like I said, for this year, it's around $9 million, and we are hoping the federal government will give us more money. Also, we're looking at ways to save money on the isolation units, which you'll see coming forward very soon, because we already presented to committee on our plans to do that. We will bring down the costs, but you have to remember that this is for the people. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair Rocky Simpson

Thank you, Premier. Member for Great Slave.

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Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Chair. As my colleague explained, there is $8 million extra that has not come from the federal government that you are asking us to approve, and I would like to actually see that money spent on better things than Russ Neudorf's salary and some office space. Sorry, my apologies. I apologize. That being said, also, I do recognize and understand what the Finance Minister explained about payments, around what the money was used for. However, as mentioned, you are asking us to approve other and additional funding, which I think would be better spent to all of the myriad of issues that we have been raising for the last three weeks in session.

When it comes to the Indigenous governments, I have heard from many. I have heard from a chief who says they do not support this. I do not hear that comment or any of those discussions coming from Cabinet or any explanation of that side of things. You have been talking about the COVID secretariat for a very, very long time. If you did not have time before session to reach out to the Indigenous governments, then you clearly don't know how to do consultation. Thank you. No questions, Mr. Chair.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair Rocky Simpson

Thank you, Member. Member for Yellowknife North.

Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Can I just get some more information on the parameters of the COVID secretariat federal funding, what exactly we could and could not spend it on? Thank you, Mr. Chair.