This is page numbers 79 - 104 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.


Members Present

Hon. Frederick Blake Jr, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Ms. Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Lafferty, Ms. Martselos, Hon. Katrina Nokleby, Mr. Norn, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Diane Thom, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:30 p.m.



Page 79

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Colleagues, I would like to congratulate one of my constituents, Ms. JenniLee Vaneltsi-Pascal, on becoming a contestant on the Food Network's new show Wall of Chefs, which aired last night, February 10, 2020. Along with four other home cooks from across Canada, she competed in a cook-off for $10,000. Originally from Fort McPherson, JenniLee, a busy mother of three, is currently living in Tsiigehtchic overseeing the daycare. Taking part in this series, JenniLee has drawn awareness to the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd as well as the protection of the Peel River watershed. It is a great opportunity for one of our own to be selected for the Wall of Chefs. JenniLee has encouraged others to reach for their goals and will be using the skills that she has gained to further her cooking abilities. Once again, congratulations, JenniLee.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Government of the Northwest Territories knows that climate change is an important issue to Northwest Territories residents and all Canadians. That is why strengthening the government's leadership and authority on climate change and ensuring climate change impacts are considered when making government decisions are two of the 22 priorities identified by the 19th Legislative Assembly.

Climate change affects our environment, our economy, and the traditional way of life. Our communities continue to face impacts to their winter roads, shorelines, and harvesting practices. A long-term and coordinated response in collaboration with all of our partners is needed to address climate change in the Northwest Territories. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is proud to lead this work.

The 2030 NWT Climate Change Strategic Framework sets out our government's long-term plan for addressing climate change. This includes actions in response to the 2017 report of the Auditor General of Canada. The framework was developed with input from Indigenous governments and organizations, NWT residents, and stakeholders, and is a government-wide response to climate change.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report that this work is well underway. Last April, Environment and Natural Resources released the first five-year climate change action plan under the framework. Ninety-five percent of the actions led by the Government of the Northwest Territories are either on track or completed.

As well, in the last year, the Government of the Northwest Territories has:

  • released a Sustainable Livelihoods Action Plan to support access to country foods and being on the land;
  • funded a number of projects focused on climate change research, monitoring, and adaptation;
  • worked with our Indigenous partners to establish two NWT protected areas; and
  • delivered a course to bring climate change into community decision-making.

This is in addition to the Government of the Northwest Territories' work to implement the NWT 2030 Energy Strategy.

Mr. Speaker, these are important accomplishments that the Government of the Northwest Territories and our partners should be proud of. Still, we know that there is more to be done. That is why, over the next year, we will continue to work with our partners on the climate change action plan. We look forward to releasing our first annual progress report, alongside annual reporting on the 2030 Energy Strategy. Our government will continue to show leadership on climate change throughout the 19th Legislative Assembly, including the establishment of an NWT Climate Change Council with our Indigenous partners to help guide government actions.

Mr. Speaker, relationships are key to advancing this agenda. This means honouring our partnerships with Indigenous governments and organizations and sharing what we know about climate change across northern and southern jurisdictions. It also means continuing to advocate for federal funding to address climate change and build strong, resilient communities. Environment and Natural Resources remains committed to its leadership role on climate change. We will report on our progress and work together with Northerners to ensure our unique way of life can continue in a changing climate. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, for my Member's statement today, I would like to address the Department of Health and Social Services on their medical travel policy. In the past week, I have dealt with two separate cases for intervention; one case dealt with a stage 3 cancer patient, and another patient with possible serious outcomes. Both patients were approved for medical escorts by a doctor, and then overturned by the medical travel staff here in Yellowknife. This is a very concerning situation for the residents of the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, the policy is quite vague when it comes to medical travel escort criteria. Worry and trauma for a patient who is authorized for an escort by a doctor should not be interfered with. Providing the best care for people of the NWT should be our priority.

Compromising people's well-being is unacceptable. Many people, when facing serious medical problems, do not want to face and fight the department for what they believe is a right. Compassion and respect for a doctor's authority must be respected and honoured. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Thebacha. Members' statements. Member for Nunakput.

Jackie Jacobson

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the Northwest Territories, there are 2,400 people living in public housing units across our 30 communities. Most of these people are good, hard-working people who require housing assistance in the most difficult circumstances. I believe that our job as a government is to lift these people up and to help improve their situations, not sit in judgment of them to contribute to the stigma that is attached to social housing.

Mr. Speaker, because public housing rent is geared to income, public housing tenants are required to prove their income to their local housing organization, or the LHO. A number of my Nunakput constituents in public housing are frustrated with the NWT Housing Corporation's practice of using T4 slips to confirm their income.

As you know, employers provide T4 slips once a year, Mr. Speaker. The purpose of that T4 slip is to show what the income was the previous year, and not the current situation that they are in.

The practice of using T4 slips has a result of clients being assessed at a much higher level on the rent scale, based on past income when unemployed or seasonal and not making nearly as much income as in the current time period. To make matters worse, if they want to appeal the LHO's decision, Mr. Speaker, it takes 20 days, in writing, before the decision can be made.

As an MLA, I am getting mighty tired of hearing complaints from my constituents who are running into bureaucratic red tape. The Minister says a lot of nice words about the GNWT and how it is working for the people, but in the front lines, Mr. Speaker, it's a different story. This government acts like it has the authority to sit in judgment of the poorest, most vulnerable citizens of our territory. It seems like everything can try to prevent people from accessing services, rather than helping them.

Mr. Speaker, it's time for the Ministers sitting across the floor to commit to putting the concept of service back into the public service. I urge my Cabinet colleagues to show the leadership needed to ensure that all GNWT employees put public service first and remember at all times that they are working for the people of the Northwest Territories. That's who we serve, is the people of the Northwest Territories, and not the other way around. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation has a number of housing programs for the benefit of residents. If you have access to a computer, one only needs to look on the internet to find the NWT Housing Corporation website and continue navigating to see the various programs and services available. This is, if you have access to a computer and are computer literate.

Mr. Speaker, for the people who don't understand how to navigate the internet, or even have access to a phone, it is very trying and frustrating, to say the least, in finding what the NWT Housing Corporation has to offer in terms of their programs and services. I understand that, a few years ago, the local housing organizations were funded by the corporation or a programs advisor position. This person assisted people with information on the programs available, the services, and provided assistance with the various applications and forms. Sadly, the positions were phased out of the small communities, at the same time losing much-needed local employment.

Mr. Speaker, 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 Inuvik Twin Lakes.

Lesa Semmler

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We are closing in on nine months since the final report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released. In that report, Mr. Speaker, are calls for justice that are crying out to be fully implemented and for real action to be taken by all levels of government in order to have the calls for justice realized.

The final report speaks to many issues that we have already been discussing in our 19th Assembly:

  • Indigenous rights in section 1; our priorities list settling land claims and implementing UNDRIP.
  • Indigenous culture and language, in section 2; we are losing our language and our own people are being forced to answer the phones in our government departments in French.
  • Health and wellness, in section 3; equitable access for all in our communities.
  • Human security, in section 4; we have a lack of shelters and transitional housing in our communities, with the North having the highest rate of violence against women.
  • I'll jump over to section 11, which talks about education and educators to be teaching Indigenous history, law, and practices from Indigenous perspectives, and the use of Their Voices Will Guide Us with children and youth.
  • Section 12 speaks to child and family services, which at this time has 100 percent Indigenous kids in the care of the NWT.
  • Correctional service; in this section, 100 percent of the women incarcerated in the NWT are Indigenous and, from the recent CBC, we know that over 80 percent of the males incarcerated are Indigenous. How can we integrate them back into the community with supports?

Mr. Speaker, the full implementation of the calls for justice is key to helping to ensure that our women and girls are safe and protected in Canada and here at home in the NWT. The report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls cannot and will not be put on a shelf or referenced with just words, Mr. Speaker. It demands full implementation and respect to those families who put their trust in this inquiry, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister responsible for the Status of Women later.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. The largest population of seniors in the NWT lives in Yellowknife, and their numbers continue to grow. In fact, elders are the fastest-growing segment of our population. Services for them have not kept pace with growing needs. As an example, we are now in our fourth year without a social inclusion program for older adults.

I am going to provide some background on this issue. Loneliness is a major issue for older adults. For all kinds of reasons, including health, mobility, income, and transportation, seniors may spend a lot of time at home alone. Some may choose to feel more connected to their community by taking part in social activities. Providing social activities is a key support for elders who want to stay in their own homes. Assisting seniors to age in place is a priority of this Assembly, but they need additional supports to make this a reality.

Adults who need this service are generally divided into two groups; elders who are physically frail are one group, while those with cognitive issues such as dementia comprise the other group. Avens used to host a program that got elders out of the house to enjoy activities and companionship and gave their caregivers a few hours off, but Avens found it difficult to serve both groups at once and decided to close their program in 2016.

Since then, the Department of Health and Social Services has been working on a replacement. One non-profit offered an adult day program for a few months before deciding it wasn't feasible for them to continue. The department has advertised twice for a service provider but got no takers. The latest initiative was a survey of seniors about their social activities that took place in August.

I am part of the target group, so I completed the survey as well. The questions were simple and focused on how much social activity I wanted and what activities interested me. As I was sitting at my computer, I wondered how many older adults, who may be much older than I am, have a computer and filled in the survey. I also wondered how many with dementia would be able to complete the survey.

Mr. Speaker, the previous Minister was committed to finding a solution to helping older adults meet their social needs. I am hopeful that the new Minister will make that same commitment to Yellowknife seniors. I will have questions for her. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the 2013 NWT economic opportunity strategy prepared by this government, it identified the Great Slave commercial fishery as a priority opportunity to advance regional economic development and diversification. The 18th Assembly then followed up with developing a strategy for revitalizing the Great Slave Lake commercial fishery.

The strategy from the 18th Legislative Assembly has the expectation that lake production will increase by encouraging Northerners and Aboriginal persons to enter the fishery, and further through the relocation of new fishing assets and fishers from Alberta to Great Slave Lake with the promise of higher prices.

Currently, we have several grant and contribution programs to assist our NWT fishers. These programs are designed to assist NWT fishers who require financial assistance with various business components that include costs related to start-up, freight, equipment, packaging, marketing, and capital investment.

Mr. Speaker, these grants and contributions are for our NWT commercial fishers: fishers who reside in the NWT on a permanent basis. Access to the program is clearly set out in the GNWT's own commercial renewable resource use policies.

The policy states that only a northern resident may access the program and goes on to define a northern resident as a person who has been ordinarily residing in the NWT for at least three years. I am pleased to see we have set this residency requirement of three years as it does provide some protection for the limited funding available to our NWT fishers. It is important that we protect that funding from fishers who do not meet the residency requirements.

Mr. Speaker, I look to this government to first promote and support Indigenous peoples and Northerners who want to enter the commercial fishing industry in the NWT. This is who the contribution and grants are for. They are not for southern fishers who reside in the South or do not have a bona fide interest in the NWT.

If we want economic diversification, then, let us reach out to the Indigenous peoples of the NWT and our northern residents, to encourage and support their entry into the commercial fishing industry, and not continue to look south for the answer.

I would request that this government take care of its own by following the policies it has established. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Steve Norn

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. We are at a time when schools are facing budget shortfalls and need to either cut services or programs. I really do not understand why ECE does not allow for budget surpluses to be carried over and utilized by schools at the start of a new fiscal year. Presently, when the fiscal year is coming to an end, and there happens to be monies left over that was not spent, it is mandatory for all school boards to hand back all of their money to the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, or to the FMB, depending on the surplus amount.

Mr. Speaker, I strongly disagree with this way of doing business. I believe that we could be better utilizing our leftover education dollars. Why not allow schools to spend this leftover money to use how they see fit? After all, these allocated funds were budgeted for their use, so I don't see why we can't allow them to carry over any unspent money into the new fiscal year.

If schools were able to carry over these surplus funds and spend it as they saw fit, I believe that our schools would be better off because of it. Just think of it. Schools would be in a better position to plan for long-term spending on things like new support staff, funding bus services, or for simply buying new classroom supplies, such as computers for students.

In closing, we had this scathing auditor general report on education in the North. I think that we need to be innovative, and we need to use the spirit of our youth to assist in whatever we can. With that, I will have some questions for the appropriate Minister in a short while. Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Mahsi, Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. In March 2017, the Department of Health and Social Services released its Caring for Our People Strategic Plan for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services System. The vision laid out in that document is "Best Health, Best Care, Best Future" with one of the goals being "care and services are responsive to children, individuals, families, and communities."

Following a complaint from a constituent, I was advised by the Minister of Health and Social Services that, in July 2019, Stanton Territorial Hospital changed its practice with respect to support people accompanying pregnant women in the ultrasound room. The support person was no longer able to accompany a patient into the sonogram room. I was told that this change was based on the Sonography Canada Professional Practice Guidelines, which were updated in September 2018.

I have reviewed that document and could find nothing against the use of family members as chaperones. The guidelines state: "A chaperone will ideally be a member of staff, but in some departments and circumstances, a member of staff with chaperone training may not be available, and institutional or facility policies may allow a relative or friend of the patient to be used as a comforter, care, or informal chaperone if this is acceptable to both the patient and the practitioner involved."

Given that our healthcare system is supposed to be client-centred and moving towards cultural safety, the current practice of excluding family members, especially fathers, during ultrasounds would seem to run counter to our stated vision and goals.

I will have questions later today for the Minister of Health and Social Services regarding the policy and practice of ultrasounds at Stanton Territorial Hospital which is in my Frame Lake riding. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Community Housing Plans
Members' Statements

Page 81

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, for the last 40 years, Canadians have determined core housing needs based on adequacy, suitability, and affordability. Core housing refers to a national set of measures developed in collaboration with the United States. Based on core housing metrics, in 2019, over 50 percent of housing in small communities required major repairs; and in Yellowknife, our greatest challenge was affordability. One in three Yellowknifers are spending more than 30 percent of their household income on housing costs. Over 900 people are currently on the waitlist for public housing across the NWT.

Things are getting worse, Mr. Speaker. In 2009, 32 percent of the NWT had at least one housing problem. In 2019, a decade later, that number has risen to 43 percent. Our needs are growing. Our housing is aging and becoming inadequate, according to core measures.

Understand that what is measured defines the crisis. When housing, community wellness, economic prosperity, education, and personal health are all linked, are we really measuring the right things? When northern housing is now linked to the National Housing Strategy, to human and Indigenous rights, and to global sustainability, are we really measuring the right things?

While Canadian jurisdictions raced to be the first at the table for billions in federal housing dollars, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Chiefs-in-Assembly started creating their own modern self-determined housing strategy. This strategy will define housing needs based on community values and priorities and will work toward creative community-based solutions to solve the housing crisis. This strategy was born in response to housing programs that are not meeting their needs today, have not addressed future needs of changing demographics, and do not promote or create community wellness. This acknowledges that a more holistic approach to housing is needed. This holistic approach challenges the narrow metrics of the core housing policies and includes new, more meaningful data. This approach focuses on how everything is connected.

Our four-year mandate recognizes a half-dozen initiatives related directly to building homes in thriving communities. To increase effectiveness, to save money, to focus our efforts, these initiatives must work together. On Friday, the Premier acknowledged conversations committing this Cabinet to work with the Indigenous governments to secure funding from the federal government. This is a great beginning. We must also work across all levels of government, all sectors and NGOs, to tell a new story of dwelling in this land. I seek consent to continue, please, Mr. Speaker.

---Unanimous consent granted

Community Housing Plans
Members' Statements

Page 81

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

This is a great beginning. We must work across all levels of government, all sectors and NGOs, to tell a new story of dwelling in this land. We need robust funded plans to achieve it, through integrated community land use stewardship, community renewable energy plans, housing and community wellness metrics, and reconciliation planning, with our whole social system engaged at the table, facing new issues in a new way. We need to start measuring what matters. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Community Housing Plans
Members' Statements

Page 81

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.

Iron Law of Bureaucracy
Members' Statements

Page 81

Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I would like to speak about the iron law of bureaucracy, a term coined by Jerry Pournelle, a researcher on legacy institutions. The law states that, in any bureaucratic organization, there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in the GNWT would be those who work hard and sacrifice their time to serve our public, and I thank them for that, versus those who avoid accountability, consider their main role to push paper, and ensure that they hold the department record for being cc'd on the most emails.

The iron law states that, in all cases, the type of person whose primary goal is to climb a bureaucratic ladder, as opposed to serve the public, will always gain control of the organization and will always write the rules under which the organization functions. This is the challenge of legacy institutions, Mr. Speaker, such as government. If government were a business, it would have failed long ago. It would have been forced to declare bankruptcy and try again with new ideas. Yet government bankruptcy, despite what our fiscal situation might say, is not an option.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to clarify: government can't be run on profit motive, and all of our goals in this House is to have the GNWT succeed, not fail; but, if we are not speaking honestly about problems that persist in any legacy institution, then we cannot serve our citizens.

This is not me speaking, Mr. Speaker. There is no shortage of research on solutions on how to address systemic problems in public service institutions. One way in which the iron law is solidified is the avoidance of making decisions, also known as "paralysis by analysis." The reality is that we all have to make decisions in uncertainty. There will always be trade-offs. We can't pretend that we live in a perfect world with all of the data. If you are in a department and the sixth briefing note on a subject has been requested, perhaps it is time to just make a decision.

Mr. Speaker, I struggle with this because, on this side of the House, we constantly ask for more power, for more input, for more information, yet we all have to realize that the goal here is to empower the experts in our departments to make decisions; to empower those on the front line to serve our citizens. It may be time to ruffle some feathers, but it is our job to make those tough decisions. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.