This is page numbers 1653 - 1688 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 indigenous.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, 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

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The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Item 2, Minister's statements. Minister of Finance.

Minister's Statement 92-19(2): Indigenous Representation in the Public Service
Ministers' Statements

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Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Madam Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to maintaining a professional and representative public service. Increasing Indigenous representation within our public service has long been a goal of the Legislative Assembly. The first and most visible tool used by the GNWT to support this goal is the Affirmative Action Policy. This policy and its implementation are often criticized as being ineffective because the percentage of Indigenous Aboriginal employees in the GNWT has remained at around 30 percent for the last several decades. Madam Speaker, the Affirmative Action Policy alone cannot address the root causes that contribute to this lack of growth in Indigenous representation among public servants. We acknowledge that this is a complex issue that will not be solved by a one-size-fits-all approach. Challenges to improved Indigenous representation exist at every stage of a public servant's career path, including hiring, retention, promotion, and succession planning.

Over the years, the GNWT has implemented several programs with the intent of increasing Indigenous representation within the GNWT. The Indigenous career gateway program, the regional recruitment program, the internship program, and the Summer Student Employment Program each take a different approach to bringing Indigenous residents into the public service. Cultural awareness training supports an inclusive workplace culture, and the Indigenous management development and training program helps Indigenous employees access funds for professional development. Each program has its own benefits. However, there is always room for improvement to ensure these programs are used to their full capacity and are as effective as possible.

In response to call for action number 57 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Department of Finance, in collaboration with Education, Culture and Employment and Health and Social Services, is redeveloping the cultural awareness and sensitivity training for public service employees. The goals of this training include: the creation of awareness and understanding of the impact of colonization; to have all GNWT employees recognize our collective roles in reconciliation; and to provide all employees with the necessary foundation and tools to be culturally competent.

With the knowledge acquired by participating in this new training, managers and employees will be supported to reflect on ways they can address the root causes of systemic discrimination within their workplaces, personal circumstances, and communities. This training will be mandatory for all GNWT employees and will be released in the winter of 2021. We recognize the benefit this training can have within our communities and believe it will help our government set an example for the rest of Canada. As such, this training will be available to not only GNWT public servants but to the public, as well.

Madam Speaker, we recognize that these programs are just the first steps on a long road towards addressing the imbalance in Indigenous representation in the GNWT. There is still much work to do. In addition, the Department of Finance is currently developing an Indigenous recruitment and retention framework that will include departmental Indigenous employment implementation plans with distinct targets. This framework will begin with a look at best practices from other jurisdictions, the development of an Indigenous labour force analysis of the Northwest Territories and a thorough review of current programs, tools, and resources. We will incorporate feedback received through engagement with Indigenous governments and internal partners, and will ultimately assist each department in reviewing their recruitment and retention to ensure that barriers to employment for Indigenous peoples are identified and addressed across the whole of the GNWT.

Madam Speaker, our people are our territory's greatest resource. Investing in the skills and qualifications of Northerners provides employment for our people and benefits all residents and our economy. Through this important work, we will begin to identify, address, and dismantle the systemic barriers that have prevented the actualization of a representative public service. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Minister's Statement 92-19(2): Indigenous Representation in the Public Service
Ministers' Statements

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The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Ministers' statements. Minister of Lands.

Minister's Statement 93-19(2): Compliance and Enforcement Activities on Northwest Territories Public Land
Ministers' Statements

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Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Land is the foundation of the Northwest Territories, both figuratively and literally. Our government is responsible for managing 1.15 million square kilometres of it. Setting and enforcing clear rules and regulations for how public land is used is a critical part of ensuring that the Northwest Territories' land and resources are well-managed. Clear, well-communicated rules help the Government of the Northwest Territories make sure that everybody understands what can and cannot be done on public land. They also give the government a fair and consistent basis for taking action against anybody who breaks them.

The Department of Lands uses a number of pieces of territorial and federal legislation to help clearly and fairly set and enforce rules on land use. These pieces are further underpinned by the Ministerial Policy on Compliance and Enforcement. The primary goal of compliance and enforcement under this policy is to deter, minimize, and remedy non-compliance. The Ministerial Policy on Compliance and Enforcement also establishes that enforcement action should be timely and proportionate to the severity of the non-compliance and consider the actual or potential impact on the land and natural resources. Actions to manage use of territorial public land and resources under this policy include informing and educating the public about the rules and requirements and providing support and advice on how to comply with the rules.

The policy provides a fair and consistent approach to monitoring compliance. It is focused on education and building awareness. In short, helping to prevent non-compliance wherever possible and resolving any non-compliance before it impacts the land or natural resources. Where non-compliance cannot be resolved, the policy sets out a consistent approach that seeks remedies to fix any harm caused by non-compliance or to imposes sanctions, including laying charges under relevant legislation. Consistent with this approach, the department regards unauthorized occupancy as one of the more severe instances of non-compliance. Members of the public can report potential incidents of unauthorized occupancy by calling their local lands regional office. Contact information is available on the department's website.

The Government of the Northwest Territories recognizes that land and resources are of significant importance to Indigenous governments and organizations. Since 2018, the Department of Lands has supported interested regional Indigenous governments and organizations to identify and document cabins that support traditional uses of the land. As part of our ongoing enforcement efforts, the department will continue to post notices on untenured structures. This first notice is an opportunity for the occupant to come forward and identify or clarify any legal basis for their occupation. As the department moves this work forward, we are also working with Indigenous governments and organizations to ensure there is a clear process for when a cabin that is associated with an Aboriginal rights assertion is posted.

The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to the responsible management and use of NWT land, resources, and environment. To this end, the department will be bringing the Public Land Act into force that applies to all public land in the Northwest Territories and brings clarity to all land users. Madam Speaker, we are all stewards of the land. We all know our responsibilities. We want to ensure the people of the Northwest Territories know that the Department of Lands is continuing to take action by supporting a clear, consistent, and enforced land management regime. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Minister's Statement 93-19(2): Compliance and Enforcement Activities on Northwest Territories Public Land
Ministers' Statements

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The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Ministers' statements. Minister of Infrastructure.

Minister's Statement 94-19(2): Infrastructure Improvement Projects
Ministers' Statements

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Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Madam Speaker, the 19th Legislative Assembly is committed to making strategic infrastructure investments that connect our communities, expand our economy, and reduce the cost of living. From highways to airports to buildings, I would like to provide an update today on the significant progress our government has made to improve public infrastructure across the territory.

Our government has improved over 200 kilometres of highway this year. We have completed 105 kilometres of new chipseal surface on Highway No. 1, and reconstructed the Inuvik Airport Access Road. Residents can expect a smoother and safer driving experience. These improvements were made possible by funding from the Government of Canada's New Building Canada Plan. I thank our federal colleagues for their continued collaboration and support. In addition to improving the existing highway system, over 85 kilometres of embankment have been constructed for the new all-season road to Whati, which is scheduled to open next fall. This project is now more than 70 percent complete; a great accomplishment, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Madam Speaker, airports are an essential part of our transportation system. Communities across the North depend on air travel for the movement of goods and people, air ambulances, search and rescue, forest fire response, and much more. Airports also play a role in supporting economic opportunities. This fiscal year, over $16 million was invested to enhance operations and services at 13 of our airports, including drainage and runway improvements and the replacement of older equipment. Three major capital projects are in the works at the Inuvik Mike Zubko Airport. A new air terminal building is planned to open in 2023. At the same time, improvements will be made to the airfield drainage, which will increase the resiliency of the airport to the effects of climate change. The design of a 3,000-foot runway extension is moving ahead as planned on behalf of the Department of National Defence.

Madam Speaker, we will continue to invest in our public buildings. Several major projects are under way across the territory, including a multi-year project to replace the Ecole J.H. Sissons school in Yellowknife. Our department is working with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment on this project, which will result in a larger, more modern, and accessible facility for students. In Tuktoyaktuk, another school project is under way. Our government is in the process of renovating and expanding the Mangilaluk School. The project will increase the school's capacity, improve site access, upgrade aging buildings systems, and will include a community library space and a new gymnasium. A tender to complete the tenant improvements at the Stanton Legacy Building is scheduled to close on November 6, 2020, with an estimated completion schedule of spring 2022.

Madam Speaker, infrastructure projects will continue to play an important role in the economic recovery of the Northwest Territories post-COVID-19. These projects provide business and employment opportunities for our residents, boosting the economy while delivering the critical infrastructure that this territory needs to provide key programs and services to our residents. Quyanainni, Madam Speaker.

Minister's Statement 94-19(2): Infrastructure Improvement Projects
Ministers' Statements

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The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Government of the Northwest Territories Affirmative Action Policy
Members' Statements

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Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Madam Speaker, I rise today, along with my colleagues, to speak about the Affirmative Action Policy in the Northwest Territories. My focus in this Member's statement is to talk about the many gaps that exist within the policy. The Government of the Northwest Territories created the Affirmative Action Policy to hire under-represented groups of people in the public service. To ensure that the government is representative of the population it serves, the designated groups are Indigenous Aboriginal Persons (P1); Indigenous Non-Aboriginal Persons (P2); Resident Disabled Persons (P3); and Resident Women (P4).

Madam Speaker, while the Affirmative Action Policy has existed in the NWT since March of 1989, it remains an imperfect policy. There are gaps in this policy which people have been falling through since it was created. The gaps I'm referring to, however, are generally harder to measure and can be susceptible to manipulation through statistics, which hides many of the problems.

The main problem with the Affirmative Action Policy is not the policy itself, but rather the people who are doing the hiring. Everyone in the North knows that there is a huge issue of nepotism; of people hiring their friends or their managers' friends or relatives; or people tailoring job descriptions to match a particular person's resume; or people who put the qualifications for certain jobs very high because they assume and Indigenous person could not meet those qualifications, and so on. The problem with affirmative action is that it is so easy for interviewers to find weaknesses in applicants, which is then used to rationalize to screen out certain applicants from job competitions. More often than not, Madam Speaker, it is the Indigenous candidates who get screened out the earliest and in a greater degree than non-Indigenous candidates. Madam Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Government of the Northwest Territories Affirmative Action Policy
Members' Statements

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Frieda Martselos Thebacha

In closing, Madam Speaker, at the end of the day, I am happy that the Government of the Northwest Territories has the Affirmative Action Policy. However, as I just outlined, there are still some real gaps within this policy that must be filled. This policy was meant to provide Indigenous people an equal footing with non-Indigenous people in the public service. It has helped with that, but until Indigenous employment reaches 50 percent to match the overall Indigenous population of the NWT, we have not hit our mark. I will have questions for the Minister of Human Resources later today. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Government of the Northwest Territories Affirmative Action Policy
Members' Statements

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The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Government of the Northwest Territories Affirmative Action Policy
Members' Statements

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Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Prior to 1989, this government recognized an inequity with respect to the lack of Indigenous representation in the GNWT public sector. In an attempt to address that inequity, the Affirmative Action Policy was established. The policy was designed to offer priority hiring to candidates belonging to eligible designated groups that are underrepresented within the public service. These groups include not only Indigenous persons, but also recognize Indigenous non-Aboriginal persons, resident disabled persons, and resident women.

The intent of the Affirmative Action Policy goes further than just trying to meet quotas for an eligible target group. Included is the need for training, promotions, and counselling of potential candidates. Subsequently, in 2009, this government further established the Indigenous Employment Advisory Committee with the intent of actively increasing representation of Indigenous persons at all levels of public service.

To this day, even with the policy and committee in place, our government has failed to meet its intent and goals for Aboriginal people. Our inclusion of Indigenous Aboriginal employees in the public service has advanced slowly, and it appears to have stalled. I hear concerns from potential candidates who I know possess the experience and education for the position they applied on but who then say they are routinely turned away or screened out of the interview process. I then asked myself: what is the real stumbling block to recruitment of Indigenous people into the public service? I know it's not the lack of qualified Aboriginal peoples in the NWT.

This brings me to the matter of the interview process and format. I am of the belief that our failure starts at the first stage of recruitment and, as with the qualification requirement, interview format and interview process. Due to cultural differences, the current process and format does not acknowledge, give way to, and respect Aboriginal Indigenous knowledge and the way we learn, communicate, or present ourselves during the interview process.

No matter how many policies we have in place, no matter how many committees we have in place, we will not make a difference without the political will; political direction to bureaucracy; a policy that is clear, concise, and unambiguous; and a process that adopts and recognizes Indigenous people and our culture. If we expect success in increasing Indigenous Aboriginal participation in the public sector, then we must review the existing Affirmative Action Policy and recruitment process and be willing to commit that political will. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Government of the Northwest Territories Affirmative Action Policy
Members' Statements

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The Deputy Speaker Lesa Semmler

Members' statements. Member for Nunakput.

Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway
Members' Statements

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Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Madam Speaker. As you know, after more than 30 years of lobbying and planning the design, the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway opened up in 2017. Since the opening, the ITH has been a lifeline for the community of Tuktoyaktuk. It has reduced the basic needs such as food, clothing, and supplies. Importantly, we can get to Inuvik hospital quickly for medical services. It has also been to visit family, friends, and relatives and to use the facilities there.

I am proud to say the project was built on budget and on time by local contractors, Madam Speaker. It's the highest amount of Indigenous local employment participation in any major project undertaken by our Northwest Territories government. It was built due to care on our Arctic permafrost environment. However, at that time, with the tight budget, the GNWT had to reduce overall height of the road in several locations along the highway. During construction, engineers advised the government that this would require additional maintenance and upgrading in the future. It's time for upgrading, Madam Speaker.

Since it opened, the ITH only needed regular maintenance, such as grading, resurfacing, gravel, and snow plowing. After three years, there are some areas where the embankment is now sinking, and it needs to be lifted. A few sections of the road need levelling to adjacent to the permafrost, causing melting in many potholes and washboards during driving the surface. This situation is urgent, Madam Speaker. It will only become worse and increase the next few years, especially when the Inuvialuit project development of a gas project gets under way and starts utilizing that road 365 days a year with LNG trucks, tankers.

I don't see where the funds have been allocated in the capital plan to deal with this critical upgrading. Recently, the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk and the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation sent a joint letter to the Minister with these concerns. I am following up on their behalf, Madam Speaker. The work can be done with our local contractors and workforce. It's critical to bring forth projects that are shovel ready. We could help our residents and businesses survive during this pandemic. We need urgent action to protect our valuable asset, ensuring maintenance is done this coming year. Madam Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister at the appropriate time. Thank you.