This is page numbers 483 - 520 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. Frederick Blake Jr, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Ms. Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, 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.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 483

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 29-19(2): Northern Distance Learning
Ministers' Statements

Page 483

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I want to focus on one of the successes that has come from the education renewal and innovation framework. The Northern Distance Learning program, otherwise known as NDL, is a way to offer higher-level academic courses to high school students in small communities, to help prepare them for post-secondary. By the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, this program will be available to students in up to 20 small communities across the territory.

The Northern Distance Learning program began at East Three School in Inuvik, under the leadership of the Beaufort-Delta Divisional Education Council. The program proved that, when students had opportunities to interact with each other, had access to in-class support staff, and had dedicated, knowledgeable teachers, they were able to be successful whether sitting beside each other in the same classroom or separated by hundreds of miles.

There are currently 75 high school students in grades 10, 11, and 12, from small communities enrolled in Northern Distance Learning, taking academic, "-1" courses in mathematics, science, English language arts, social studies, and art. Mr. Speaker, the course completion rate for traditional correspondence courses is just 30 percent. However, the completion rate for Northern Distance Learning courses is approximately 75 percent. This is a game changer, Mr. Speaker. Two years ago in Ulukhaktok, for the first time in the community's history, three students graduated in their community, with the courses they needed to advance directly to university. This was a historic moment for the community.

---Applause

It was made possible by a combination of Northern Distance Learning and a lot of hard work by those dedicated graduates. The expansion of the program also into the South Slave allowed Laney Beaulieu, a student from Fort Resolution, to stay in her community and complete the courses she needed to get into Western University in Ontario, where she is currently studying medicine.

Marie Lennie, a current Northern Distance Learning student from Deline, voiced her support for the program in an online video made for one of her NDL classes, saying, "The experience so far is great,” she said. “I'm learning new things every day and succeeding in getting quality education without the need to move somewhere else for schooling. I highly recommend NDL for other Indigenous students who want a better education."

In addition to creating new learning opportunities, Northern Distance Learning is now also being used to allow parents in small communities to attend parent-teacher conferences with teachers in Inuvik. The first conference was held this past December and connected parents, teachers, and in-class support staff spread across different communities.

Mr. Speaker, finally, I want to celebrate Northern Distance Learning's first ever Post-Secondary Bridging Experience that was held this past October with a group of 12 NDL students. The Northern Youth Abroad program organized and supervised a trip to Calgary, to help students get a better sense of what to expect in a post-secondary setting outside of the Northwest Territories. Students visited the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Mount Royal University and took part in workshops and activities that will help prepare them for the transition to post-secondary life.

Akesha Hardisty-Norwegian from Fort Simpson commented, “I really liked the planning part because there is not much help in small communities. When they do help, they do not have as much info as what we got on the trip. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. It helped raise my awareness and confidence going into post-secondary.” Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to share that, on November 22, 2019, Akesha was accepted to the University of Alberta in the combined kinesiology/education program for September 2020. Others are looking at post-secondary options across Canada in psychology, architecture, justice studies, veterinary medicine, and recreation management.

Mr. Speaker, we all know that we have to do a better job delivering equitable education across the territory, and Northern Distance Learning is helping us level the playing field by giving students in small communities opportunities that did not exist only a few short years ago. The data and the individual experiences show us that this program is working. We still have a long way to go, and the achievements of Northern Distance Learning students are proof that we can and will continue to improve educational outcomes across the territory. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 29-19(2): Northern Distance Learning
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.

Traditional Counselling Model at Arctic Indigenous Healing Camp
Members' Statements

Page 483

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wanted to talk about an experience I recently had. I left the Legislative building after a very busy week. I decided I would see if I could drop in at the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation healing camp located behind the Yellowknife field house. As I began the walk along the trail, I came to the bridge. There were the teepees and the canvas tent. As I walked up to the canvas tent, I heard some voices and knocked on the door. There, I was greeted by a familiar face, who is a counsellor, and other camp staff, who were all so welcoming. As I sat there, it brought me back to my childhood and to my happy place as a child where everyone gathered together and everyone was happy. As I sat and talked with the staff, they told me what they did. They had their roles as we did when we lived in our camp. The staff there are there because they care. Little did I know that was exactly what I needed that day. No one asked me about my feelings. No one talked to me about why I was there. We just talked and laughed and provided. Before I left, they provided smudging. Although this is not my culture, they were very respectful to me, that I could just watch.

Mr. Speaker, this made me think about a time I went to a counsellor in the hospital, in an office, that I had booked for myself. After I testified in the missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry, I thought, "This is what you need to do to debrief after an emotional, stressful situation," because this is what I learned in school for my career, and this is what I told people to do in my past career. I feel now I was doing them a disservice. Not all the people in the NWT may benefit from one way of counselling, Mr. Speaker. Let me tell you that I did not leave that counselling appointment feeling as good as the way I felt after I left the healing camp after just one visit. I actually left feeling worse that I opened up and I got nothing in return.

The Arctic Indigenous Wellness healing camp fulfills a broad focus of counselling needs: grief and loss, anger, depression, family, relationship, emotional, spiritual needs, and anything that a client comes to them with. They provide breakfast to the homeless but only until March 31st because that is what they are only funded until by the City of Yellowknife, which is great. I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement, Mr. Speaker.

---Unanimous consent granted

Traditional Counselling Model at Arctic Indigenous Healing Camp
Members' Statements

Page 483

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

This shows that we need a variety of ways to heal or options like the Indigenous Wellness Foundation healing camp or similar options in all regions now. We need to work to have this type of model in all communities, the same as we do counsellors who work in the health system currently.

Mr. Speaker, it reminded me of what the residents were telling me when I was campaigning. They wanted a local healing and after-care support, not a building with western-trained professionals but our own traditional people who will support us and nothing more than a tent and a teepee and Mother Nature as their office. They were the ones who elected me, and I will not forget them and forget what they told me. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Traditional Counselling Model at Arctic Indigenous Healing Camp
Members' Statements

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The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Fisher Safety
Members' Statements

Page 484

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On September 29, 2019, four experienced fishers lost their lives on Great Slave Lake while they were making a living. I mention the words "making a living" because it seems that the fishers who provide a necessary food supply for NWT and our country are the most vulnerable workers there are, and we are not recognizing this. No one should be at risk while engaged in their livelihood. Certainly, it is time to recognize this issue. The fishers have not been recovered, and families are left in grief. Extreme weather on the lake and seasonal changes prevented a recovery of those fishers and the vessel. In addition to bad weather, there were equipment and safety failures that also prevented this from happening but also, more importantly, the lack of safety gear to help the fishers survive what we can only assume was the capsizing of the vessel.

Mr. Speaker, the Coast Guard and Department of Fisheries and Oceans made their best efforts to try to recover the vessel, but it was impossible, considering the weather and depth of water the boat was found in. We acknowledge their effort to assist the fishing families and the South Slave communities who aided the grieving families.

Mr. Speaker, some of us watch the Discovery TV series, the Deadliest Catch, and are aware of the danger of fishing the waters of the Bering Strait. What we don't know is that this program illustrates that fishing is dangerous no matter where the fishing takes place. Great Slave Lake is a large, dangerous lake to the uninitiated. The fishermen take their lives in their hands daily when they work on the lake. There have been many tragedies and losses of life on Great Slave Lake over the years, and that is not changing. We need to ask why.

Mr. Speaker, the International Labour Congress recognizes that fishing is the most challenging, hazardous occupation and identifies that the failures to protect the fishing community through convention and regulations on work conditions are a violation of basic human rights. We need to improve the safety of this work, and we have an obligation to our fishers.

Mr. Speaker, the commercial fishing revitalization strategy which was produced by ITI in the past Assembly places heavy emphasis on the production and sales of fish but very little or no emphasis on fishing safety. Are we willing to trade more lives to meet the production targets set by this strategy in this government? We need to address that. I'll have questions for the Minister of ITI later. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Fisher Safety
Members' Statements

Page 484

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Cost of Not Having Preventative Oral Health Care
Members' Statements

Page 484

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, I identified an important change to the NWT Dental Auxiliaries Act that I would like to see the Minister of health make to improve access to and delivery of oral health services for residents of the NWT. As the Member for Kam Lake, I speak for my constituents. Every dollar spent by this government, whether in my constituency or across the NWT, impacts the cost of living for the people of Kam Lake. However, I also feel a responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interests of all residents of the Northwest Territories.

In 2020, the Department of Health and Social Services will spend half a billion dollars on healthcare for NWT residents, and these costs continue to rise. One of the key factors driving the department's cost is that Health and Social Services is stuck in a reactive cycle of paying for emergency care rather than preventative care. Enabling dental hygienists to be self-initiated creates a more client-centred system. It allows dental hygiene services to make their way into less-serviced areas, addressing a need that has long been recognized by other jurisdictions in Canada and is desperately needed in our remote communities. With this amendment, new dental hygiene practices can emerge in the less-traditional settings. Dental hygienists could set up mobile practices to visit clients who are homebound or set up practices in community health centres.

Over the last five years, government spending on dental extractions has cost Northerners $300,000 and over $1.1 million on medical travel. Improving access to dental hygiene services will reduce the need to provide costly emergency health services, such as medical travel and day surgeries. With prevention, we can reduce the demands on our health system to treat diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer's, and cardiovascular disease caused by untreated oral health disease.

I have spoken to dental hygienists in the NWT who want the authority to be self-initiated. Mr. Speaker, repealing Section 6 of the Dental Auxiliaries Act would remove the requirement that dental hygienists operate under the direction and control of a dentist.

I am willing to consider bringing forward a private Member's bill to enact this change, but I am anticipating the Minister of health's full support of this change. It costs the government significantly less to make these small system changes to improve oral health outcomes throughout the territory than it does to continue to provide services using a model that is not responsive to the needs of the NWT residents. This is an example of good government that places the needs of the public first, and I look forward to making this change with the Minister's support. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Cost of Not Having Preventative Oral Health Care
Members' Statements

Page 484

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Supports for Parents
Members' Statements

Page 484

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Many of our conversations around Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD, are centred around making sure mothers stop drinking during pregnancy, but, in fact, there is much work to be done. The science has shown for years that there is a causal relationship between FASD prevalence and fathers drinking. Putting all of the responsibility on the mother means we are not fully addressing the problem. We need to build up support around our mothers, not isolate them.

The Foster Family Coalition of the NWT has done great work flipping the narrative around, and I will table a report by them later today, but it isn't the end of the conversation around FASD awareness. There is much work to be done to prevent FASD and to end the stigma for those living with it. National studies suggest that 4 percent of our population, or roughly 1,800 people, are living with FASD. These people need support and structure in childhood and throughout their entire lives. We need to ensure that our front-line workers are sympathetic to the complex needs of these individuals, not just our healthcare workers but our teachers, our Housing Corporation employees, and our general population. The most effective way to do this is through advocacy and continued conversations that break down stigma. I will stand in this House and continue to talk about FASD awareness for that reason, to break down stigma, Mr. Speaker.

Currently, the GNWT relies on data from the rest of Canada, but I wonder how that information holds up to northern realities. We don't have any data on prevalent rates in the NWT, and so we can't know if we are successfully addressing this issue. It is difficult to advocate for an issue when we are only guessing at its scope, Mr. Speaker. In 2018, the department released its Disability Action Plan, which indicated they would review existing data sources to validate the prevalence of risk factors in incidents of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Without northern data, I don't see how we could possibly achieve this. I believe it is important that our department implement, at the very least, some basic research on prevalence. We've come a long way in the last couple of years, developing an adult FASD diagnostic clinic, and there is even training going on in Yellowknife right now on FASD and neurodiversity for social workers and caregivers, aimed at improving client relationships.

It's good work, but we have to keep going, Mr. Speaker. I would love to see more screening for those in the justice system, reduced wait times for youth diagnostic clinics, housing strategies, and stronger language in our departmental action plans around FASD. I hope we are on track to some of these things, but I will have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Supports for Parents
Members' Statements

Page 484

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Cap on Absolute Liability for Oil and Gas Operations
Members' Statements

Page 484

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. Our government continues to promote hydrocarbon development through a May 2018 strategy document; in fact, Cabinet wants to spend $1 million over three years to promote oil and gas development. One thing that has not changed in our post-devolution oil and gas regime is a cap on absolute liability for spills or accidents. This cap is found in the Oil and Gas Spills and Debris Liability Regulations that set absolute liability limits of between $10 and $40 million, depending on the location of the spill or debris caused by onshore oil and gas development. Mr. Speaker, that means that, if you can't prove fault or negligence, the public pays for whatever disaster may be created. Such liability caps are definitely not a good idea, given the recent disaster in the Cameron Hills, where our government failed to ensure adequate financial security.

In reviewing changes to the oil and gas legislation in August 2019, one of the recommendations from the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment was that there be "a comprehensive review of oil-and-gas-related regulation, with the express purpose to increase the cap for absolute liability." There was never a response to that recommendation. The same caps were in place in federal legislation for the offshore for over 30 years. The Auditor General of Canada recommended in 2012 that the caps on the Canadian offshore be reviewed and removed. This was done in 2015, through the Energy Safety and Security Act, where the "polluter pays" principle is expressly incorporated, and there is now unlimited liability for at-fault operators and an absolute liability limit without proof of fault or negligence that has been significantly increased to $1 billion. Countries such as Norway and Greenland have no such liability caps. As a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that cost British Petroleum more than $90 billion in fines and settlements, lost tourism revenues alone totalled more than $23 billion.

Clearly, the liability caps set in GNWT regulations for oil and gas operations are not consistent with the "polluter pays" principle, other jurisdictions, and international experience. Why has Cabinet not changed to remove the liability caps in more than five years since devolution? I will have questions later today for the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.