This is page numbers 767 - 824 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 going.

Topics

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 1:34 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 767

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Members, welcome back to the Legislative Assembly. Our Chamber looks very different. There are more seats and tables, to allow Members to physically distance themselves. I thank Members for their cooperation. These steps and others, such as hand washing, hand sanitizing, and changing how we move around in the building, have been taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

Before we begin today, I would like to extend the condolences of this House and my personal condolences to all who have lost a loved one recently. Such a loss is never easy. During these uncertain times, it has become particularly difficult as families and friends have been unable to come together to support one another and grieve their shared loss. Although you have not been able to get together to celebrate the lives of your loved ones, I know that you have continued to grieve their passing and honour their memories individually.

These are challenging times. However, there is essential work to do. Members must review and adopt the government's 2020-2021 budget. Also, this sitting allows Members to ask questions and review the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the Assembly is closed to the public, the media can still attend. We continue to broadcast and stream live our proceedings. It is important residents can see and understand the work being done. This sitting will have interpretation into Chipewyan, French, and Tlicho. These proceedings will also be interpreted into all official languages and posted online. I want to thank our interpreters for their hard work.

To our residents, thank you. The restrictions required to stop the spread of COVID-19 have been hard. Now that some restrictions have been lifted, we must remain committed as we enjoy spring and summer.

Members, the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories has recommended to the Assembly the passage of Supplementary Appropriations Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 2, 2020-2021. Thank you. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 40-19(2): May-June 2020 Sessional Statement
Ministers' Statements

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Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome all Members back to the continuation of our Second Sitting of the 19th Legislative Assembly.

Much has changed in the Northwest Territories and around the world since our sitting was interrupted by the declaration of a global COVID-19 pandemic this past March. Governments across Canada, including our own, have had to take swift and strong action to protect the health and safety of Canadians from this disease.

COVID-19 is a disease that no one in the world has a natural immunity to. There is no vaccine, and there is no effective anti-viral treatment for it. The best way to prevent its spread is to ensure people are not exposed to the virus.

Physical distancing was and still is the best protection against COVID-19, and that is why governments across Canada moved quickly in mid-March to close businesses, restrict travel, and put limits on gathering of people.

Mr. Speaker, while these strict limits were absolutely necessary for protecting everybody's health, they were devastating for the national and territorial economy. The situation has left our government, like all governments in this country, grappling with two challenges at the same time: a public health crisis and a socio-economic crisis.
On the public health side, we have relied heavily on the work of the Northwest Territories' Chief Public Health Officer as well as the Department of Health and Social Services and the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority.

Along with public health officials across Canada, the Chief Public Health Officer was monitoring the progression of COVID-19 in other countries and taking steps to make sure the Northwest Territories was ready for it even before the global pandemic was declared on March 11.

The day before the pandemic was declared, the Chief Public Health Officer issued an update on COVID-19, and gave extensive advice to Northwest Territories residents on how to keep themselves safe. Recommendations included avoiding non-essential travel outside the territory, self-monitoring for people who had recently travelled, reconsidering plans for public gatherings, and keeping a two-week supply of food and medicine at home.

As COVID-19 began to spread in southern Canada, the Minister of Health and Social Services, on the recommendation of the Chief Public Health Officer, declared a public health emergency in the Northwest Territories on March 18, 2020. The following day, the Government of the Northwest Territories took the unprecedented step of directing its employees to begin working from home in an effort to help encourage physical distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Two days later, on March 21st, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Northwest Territories and a public health order prohibiting travel into the territory was put into place, except for residents returning home and workers providing essential services. All people entering the Territories from outside were also required to self-isolate for 14 days in one of four regional communities where appropriate medical care was available in the case that they developed COVID-19.

On March 22nd, the Chief Public Health Officer recommended that all mass gatherings be cancelled immediately and that certain businesses, where it would be impossible to maintain physical distancing, be closed. These recommendations were made into binding public health orders on April 10, 2020.

To assist with the implementation of the Chief Public Health Officer's orders, the Government of the Northwest Territories set up regional self-isolation centres for people returning from outside the territory and established a compliance and enforcement taskforce, drawing on staff from across the Government of the Northwest Territories with enforcement experience.

To better coordinate the whole-of-government response, the Municipal and Community Affairs Emergency Management Organization was fully activated and a territorial state of emergency was declared on March 24th.

While all these measures were necessary to protect residents and communities from the spread of COVID-19, our government recognizes that these decisions also had serious economic consequences for people, businesses, and communities. We also recognized that we had an obligation to not just protect public health, but to help the territory weather the financial and economic storm that COVID-19 had caused. This would require a whole-of-government effort with all departments involved in the response.

On March 20, just days into the crisis, the Ministers of Finance and Industry, Tourism and Investment announced on behalf of our government the first set of measures designed to help reduce the impacts of the COVID-19 shutdown on the NWT and its residents.

Valued at $13.2 million, this first economic package included measures like providing low-interest loans through the Business Development and Investment Corporation to help businesses offset the impacts of COVID-19.

The Government of the Northwest Territories also agreed to advance resource revenues to Indigenous governments that are signatories to the devolution agreement and to allow Indigenous governments, non-government organizations, and community governments to carry over unused contribution amounts into the current fiscal year. Increased funding was also made available through Education, Culture and Employment for Income Assistance clients and seniors to help address the impacts of COVID-19.

In addition to new funding, the Government of the Northwest Territories also decided to suspend or defer the collection of fees and revenues owing to it. This was another way to relieve the financial burden being experienced by people, businesses, and communities as a result of COVID-19. These measures included removing transportation fees by the Department of Infrastructure, deferring Business Development and Investment Corporation and student financial assistance loan payments, pausing most collection efforts, and extending the due date for Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission employer fees. The Northwest Territories Power Corporation contributed to these relief efforts by removing load limiters and ceasing disconnections, as well as pausing its collection efforts.

A second economic relief package valued at almost $8.3 million was announced on March 31st, including additional supports for Income Assistance clients and further fee reductions.

This package also identified $5 million for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to create temporary housing for homeless persons, including housing in Yellowknife and 130 units in communities outside of the capital.

Further announcements saw Education, Culture and Employment allocate $5 million to support childcare for essential workers and decide to exempt federal emergency benefits from Income Assistance eligibility calculations. The Department of Finance also introduced a wage top-up plan for workers earning less than $18 an hour.

The Department of Justice also instituted a moratorium on residential evictions, allowed for rent deferrals for residential tenants affected by the pandemic, while the Housing Corporation enhanced the Territorial Rent Supplement Program.

Leaseholders on public lands were also seeing relief in the form of a $2.7-million decision to waive rent on existing leases for the 2020-2021 fiscal year from the Department of Lands.

Support to businesses has been a joint effort of our government and the Government of Canada, with Government of the Northwest Territories efforts being designed to complement immediate relief available to territorial businesses from the federal government. In addition to working capital loans provided by the Business Development and Investment Corporation, $4 million is available to territorial businesses through Industry, Tourism and Investment's SEED Program to help businesses recover as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

In the first of two planned announcements, the Government of the Northwest Territories, in partnership with the Government of Canada, is helping four northern passenger-based airlines access $8.7 million in funding. Further funding announcements with Canada are expected for additional airlines.

Of course, the Northwest Territories is not alone in facing this pandemic, and all Members of Cabinet have been working closely with their federal, provincial, and territorial counterparts to help coordinate efforts and advocate for the Northwest Territories. All Ministers are working hard to ensure that the Northwest Territories' needs are clearly understood so federal assistance programs benefit our residents and businesses. We are also coordinating on key issues like securing the national supply chain so the territory continues to have access to essential goods and participating in national bulk orders for personal protective equipment.

While the threat of COVID-19 is not over, our government also recognizes that a complete shutdown of the Northwest Territories economy and society is not sustainable or affordable. Although our priority in the past two months has been on managing the immediate threat to public health, we have also been working on plans for recovery and for emerging wisely.

Mr. Speaker, I am sure all Members felt the same relief I did when the Chief Public Health Officer unveiled her phased plan for carefully relaxing the public health restrictions that have kept Northwest Territories residents safe during the first stages of the pandemic. To be clear, emerging from those restrictions means taking on greater risk that there could be new COVID-19 infections, but the gradual relaxation outlined in Emerging Wisely will help us manage that risk together.

With a plan in place for managing the public health risk, the Government of the Northwest Territories is now focusing on emerging stronger with a plan for broader social and economic recovery.

This will not be a plan the government develops in isolation; the pandemic hit all sectors of the Northwest Territories, and all sectors need to be involved in designing the recovery. As outlined to Members previously, we will be working closely with Members of the Legislative Assembly to design a plan, advised by committees representing business and industry, Indigenous governments, community governments, and community organizations.

COVID-19 presents a shared challenge like none this government has faced before, Mr. Speaker. No previous territorial government has had to respond to a global health threat so quickly and with so little time to prepare. I am proud of the work this Government of the Northwest Territories has done to design solutions on the fly; protect public health; manage and mitigate the social and economic impacts on individuals, businesses, and communities; and keep essential services running safely.

I want to thank all the staff who worked tirelessly to help support the government's response to COVID-19, especially our front-line staff in the healthcare system, staff managing the self-isolation centres, and the compliance and enforcement staff protecting our borders and making sure people are following public health orders.

I also want to thank and recognize all the essential workers who have continued to come into work throughout this pandemic, like the truckers, grocery store and pharmacy workers, childcare workers, law enforcement, and airline employees, who have continued to keep the Northwest Territories moving.

While the entire territory has risen to the challenge of COVID-19, there are more challenges to come. We are a strong and resilient territory, and I am confident that we can successfully manage our way through this pandemic and emerge even stronger, by working together with the same kind of spirit and determination that Northwest Territories residents displayed over the past two months. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 40-19(2): May-June 2020 Sessional Statement
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 41-19(2): COVID-19 Public Health Response
Ministers' Statements

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Diane Thom Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the past few months, we have asked people to change the way we live, work, and socialize in order to protect our territory against COVID-19. This is by far the most significant public health crisis we have faced in decades. Today, I would like to reflect on the public health measures that we have put in place and how we will continue to protect our territory, while bringing some stability back to our lives.

Mr. Speaker, our response to COVID-19 began well before the public health emergency was called. In early March, the Department of Health and Social Services and the Chief Public Health Officer activated the Emergency Operations Centre. This allowed for rapid COVID-19 system planning and preparation. We also began enhanced testing of residents and visitors for COVID-19 who presented flu-like symptoms and had travelled outside the Northwest Territories well before the pandemic was declared. This allowed us to take quick action if a positive case was confirmed and ensure that our testing capability was in place across the NWT.

The Chief Public Health Officer also issued guidance to all long-term care facilities to protect our elders against the spread of the virus. Additionally, our healthcare system initiated enhanced infection control practices in all healthcare facilities to protect front-line healthcare workers. Our public outreach was also increased to provide residents with truthful, evidence-based information on the virus, and how to keep each other safe.

Mr. Speaker, as the situation in southern Canada began to escalate, it was apparent that stronger action was required. I declared a public health emergency on March 18th on the recommendation of the Chief Public Health Officer. This allowed the Chief Public Health Officer to issue the necessary public health orders to protect our territory. These orders prohibited non-resident travel within the territory, mandated two weeks of self-isolation for residents returning from anywhere outside our boundaries, and that self-isolation plans be submitted in order to ensure compliance.

As we began to get positive cases, we made the difficult decision to close businesses where physical distancing could not be maintained. At the same time, we provided the necessary advice for essential businesses and employers to stay open safely. We also acted to limit the risks from essential workers entering into the Northwest Territories to play crucial roles in our society and our economy by getting measures in place to track them, monitor their health, and have them self-isolate whenever possible.

Mr. Speaker, a significant amount of work went on behind the scenes to build the necessary systems to fully implement the public health measures. Within hours of restricting travel, our government instituted a public call centre, staffed check stops on our highways and airports, set up self-isolation hubs, and implemented a self-isolation planning and assessment process.

The Chief Public Health Officer has also established a compliance and enforcement taskforce trained to respond to public health risks in our communities. This team is working across the Northwest Territories and has visited more than half of our communities to provide outreach events to educate residents about the public health measures, as well as enforce.

Mr. Speaker, the results from our initial response have allowed us to contain the spread of COVID-19. We currently have no active cases and no community spread. That is a testament to the effectiveness of the orders in keeping us safe, and it is a credit to everyone in this territory who followed the orders and advice to contain this virus.

While implementing timely and aggressive public health measures was necessary to contain the spread, the need to gradually and wisely ease our restrictions was always part of the overall plan. We were just waiting until it was safe to do so.

Two weeks ago, the Chief Public Health Officer released Emerging Wisely, our path to emerging gradually, safely, and wisely from our strictest public health measures and bringing some stability back to the territory. It reflects the caution and care that our residents expect in order to continue to protect our remote communities and our healthcare system.

Through the four phases of easing, restrictions are gradually lifted to allow for residents to visit their friends, family, and neighbours; do more activities; and re-open more businesses, and doing it all safely, but we also made it clear that this is not a return to business as usual, and it will not be until this pandemic has run its course. We are calling on residents to accept that some measures will be in place for a long time.

Travel into the territory will remain restricted, and self-isolation requirements will remain in place for residents who choose to travel outside of the Northwest Territories and for those entering on an essential or exceptional basis. Until there is a vaccine, we must keep physical distance of two metres and continue to wash our hands more than we ever have; wear non-medical masks in crowded spaces; and keep our most vulnerable safe. That is what will keep this territory strong and healthy.

Mr. Speaker, all Northwest Territories residents have a role to play. We must remain mindful and use caution as our restrictions are lifted, because this pandemic will continue, and so will our response.

Lifting restrictions comes with some risks. It is likely that we will get more cases and we may experience community spread. To rise to the challenge, we may need to call on everyone to make sacrifices again, but, with these months behind us, I am confident that Northerners have the strength and resiliency to do what is necessary to protect themselves and their family and friends and communities to remain healthy. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 41-19(2): COVID-19 Public Health Response
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Recognition of 90th Birthday of Alex Morin
Members' Statements

Page 771

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is with great respect and admiration that I stand here today and recognize Mr. Alex Morin, a respected elder and a long-time resident of Hay River who recently celebrated his 90th birthday on May 22nd.

Mr. Morin grew up in a commercial fishing family, and it was the allure of the Great Slave Lake and the resources it had to offer that brought him to the NWT at the young age of 17. Alex, as he prefers to be called, is originally from Ile-a-la-Crosse, a small commercial fishing community in Saskatchewan. Alex and his wife made Hay River their home, where they raised three children and were blessed with many grandchildren. Alex still resides in the west channel in Hay River, which is the heart of the commercial fishing industry.

Alex fished the big lake until his retirement. He is a strong supporter and advocate for fishers on the Great Slave Lake. He is well aware of the problems that have existed in the commercial fishing industry and continue to exist to this day. If you want history on the Great Slave Lake commercial fishery, then Alex is the person to talk to.

In addition to fishing, Alex found the time to help establish the Metis Association in the NWT. He was president of the local Hay River Metis Association for a number of years, where he advocated for Metis rights and programs.

Alex, I know you enjoyed your birthday, and I look forward to having coffee with you when I get back home. As the commercial fishing industry is a priority of this government, I will be looking to you for some guidance. Happy birthday. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Recognition of 90th Birthday of Alex Morin
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Pandemic Lessons Learned
Members' Statements

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Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, monsieur le President. Like many residents of the Northwest Territories, I have been mulling over the dramatic changes to our lives as a result of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Very few of us could have predicted in January where we are today. Many have lost their jobs or had their income severely reduced. Students have lost the opportunity to fully complete their studies this year. Many parents and guardians are struggling with adapting to work from home.

On the positive side, there have been significant government assistance programs developed and delivered in very short order. We are on the verge of a guaranteed basic income. We have found housing for homeless people, including a managed alcohol program here in Yellowknife with remarkable results.

Here are some of the concerns that have been foremost in my mind during the COVID-19 public health emergency. They are largely a result of the concerns brought forward by constituents and residents across the NWT:

  • Need for better communications from Cabinet;
  • Stronger and better-coordinated border controls, follow-up, and enforcement;
  • Clearer definition and communications around essential service workers; and
  • Appropriate precautions being taken to ensure that southern workers do not put northern residents at significant risk.

There are still some gaps in the assistance programs including:

  • Financial assistance for renters and small landlords;
  • Targeted assistance for seniors and vulnerable populations;
  • More tools for communities around liquor restrictions;
  • Improved benefits and wages for essential service workers;
  • Better-coordinated financial assistance for small businesses;
  • Financial and other assistance for critical supply chains, including regional air carriers and trucking services; and
  • Greater support for those activities and sectors that build greater self-reliance and economic resiliency, including food security.

We also need to start to turn our minds to what life can and should be like in a post-COVID world. We need:

  • A thorough and public review of GNWT's pandemic planning and response;
  • A re-evaluation of 19th Legislative Assembly priorities and Cabinet mandate;
  • A thoughtful discussion of how to restart our economy without losing some of the significant assistance and program gains; and
  • Increased initiatives to build a more self-sufficient economy.

As Northerners, we always help each other. We will get through this together and be that much stronger for it. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Pandemic Lessons Learned
Members' Statements

Page 772

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Frame Lake. Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.

Reflections on COVID-19 Pandemic
Members' Statements

Page 772

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, we return to this House for our first day of our regular spring session, but this is anything but regular. We have our seats six feet apart, and Brian has the measuring tape to prove it. We have become accustomed to following arrows, not only in the Legislative Assembly, but everywhere in public, it seems. We have been recommended to wear masks in public, and we cannot fly without one. Like I said, Mr. Speaker, this is anything but regular.

Mr. Speaker, when we left here after session on March 16th, things changed so fast. On March 18th, the public health emergency was declared. Our first case of COVID was diagnosed. Travel was restricted to non-residents. The education leaders across the territory closed the schools for the remainder of the year. Then, on my birthday, I got a state of emergency declared. All this within less than two weeks, but on April 1, 2020, it really hit home for me. Inuvik got its first and only case of COVID-19. I thought my phone was busy when the day the first case was announced, but when it arrived at home, it scared everyone. My community was afraid. They were angry. They wanted to know who it was. I tried my best to answer the questions, give them as much information as I could on how to keep themselves and their family safe.

I want to thank my community for staying safe by following the recommendations that were given by Dr. Kandola. I want to thank the groups of people who got together to help out those in isolation, elders, and high-risk. I want to thank the Indigenous groups and their staff in my community for continuing to provide food, gas, and supplies for families to get out on the land. This year, I saw so many families' pictures out on the land.

Thank you to all the essential workers who continued to work in Inuvik to provide the needed supplies, groceries, and services. Thank you to the Ministers who took my calls and emails and made quick decisions and policy changes to assist our residents. I hope we can continue to make those quick changes.

I also give my condolences to you, Mr. Speaker, you and your family on the loss of your father, and to the families of my community who lost loved ones during this time. Even having a funeral was not normal, but they managed to pay their respects as best they could, and celebrate the lives anyway. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Reflections on COVID-19 Pandemic
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

COVID-19 Pandemic Overview
Members' Statements

Page 773

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. We are all Northerners. As Northerners, it's our very nature to mingle, hug, and shake hands, to be physically close with each other, especially true in our small communities. During this time, we normally had our carnivals. We had our jigging. I could hear the jigging in my head right now. I could hear the drums and people having a good time, but that was all disrupted by COVID. You know what? I believe we are all resilient. We are a resilient bunch, and we can get through this. We got through other scourges. I said in an online address on my social media that the key to getting through this is through patience and discipline, and I stand behind that. I still believe that. We're not through this. This isn't over, and we need to stay the course.

Mr. Speaker, again, I mentioned that we went through the Spanish influenza way back, before World War I. When I left my home community, Deninu Kue, there is still a mass grave marker there. I hope we never have to go through that ever. I want to thank all the medical staff and all the workers, what they need, what they did to protect our people and to make sure everyone got through this without dying.

Our small communities, they took measures to protect themselves, i.e. security checkpoints. I stood behind them. I think that we could have done a little bit more as a government, but right now, this is a process. We are still going through this process. Where we are sitting right now is a perfect example of it, with our masks and our arrows now, our new protocols now because of COVID.

It did bring out some experiences through all this. It made us think, reflect. During this time, as a people, we managed to house our homeless during this pandemic. It made me think about basic universal income that we are giving to people through this. It made me think of how we give Mother Nature a break, some breathing room here, some reduction in greenhouse gases. Those kind of things really, really, brought some things to light, and how we can proceed as a government in the future. I would ask unanimous consent to finish my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. I will be brief. In closing, I wanted to say that a lot was disrupted. There were no weddings, or anything like that, and our funerals aren't even the same. My condolences to all those who lost their loved ones, all our elders. Hopefully, when all this is done, we can have a good, proper celebration, a good feast, and pay our respects the right way as a group like we always do, because that's what we do as Northerners. We're going to get through this, and I want to pass the message on to everybody in the North. Marsi cho.

COVID-19 Pandemic Overview
Members' Statements

Page 773

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife Centre.