This is page numbers 845 - 886 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 services.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Frederick Blake, 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 1:33 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

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

Thank you. Please be seated. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

Minister's Statement 43-19(2): Tourism in NWT Post-COVID
Ministers' Statements

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Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thanks, Mr. Speaker. Businesses across the Northwest Territories have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps none more so than our tourism sector. The tourism sector was one of the first hit by the pandemic and will likely be amongst the last to recover from its effects. Northwest Territories tourism is reliant on national and international travel. However, for the time being, our borders must remain closed to protect the health of our residents and our small and remote communities. We recognize that this is happening at a cost to business owners and entrepreneurs in the Northwest Territories. For those whose livelihoods are built around attracting and welcoming visitors to our territory, the impacts have been significant.

As we mark National Tourism Week this year, we continue to work with the Government of Canada to identify a measure of relief for the Northwest Territory tourism industry that is reflective of the impact that is being felt and the significance of the tourism sector to our economy. The advocacy of our territory's tourism association on behalf of our tourism industry has been instrumental in helping us increase the overall awareness in Ottawa of the need for specific and regionally appropriate support programs.

The federal government is listening. As a result of our work, CanNor's Northern Business Relief Fund was introduced and significantly expanded relief options for Northwest Territories and Indigenous businesses. We were also able to secure additional support for the North's airline industry, which a large portion of our tourism sector relies on. We know that some of our tourism operators have accessed relief from this fund, but we still have work to do. In the coming weeks, Premier Cochrane will be bringing the challenges faced by our tourism sector to the attention of the Prime Minister, asking for more funding under the Northern Business Relief Fund to address the specific needs of our operators and tourism businesses.

Meanwhile, as Northwest Territories businesses begin to resume operations across the territory, and we take steps to recover our economy, we have re-introduced our Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development program, also known as SEED for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. It represents $4 million dollars of investment into businesses in our communities.

Similarly, we will inject almost $4.4 million into parks infrastructure, tourism product development, and community infrastructure projects this summer; supporting local suppliers, contractors, and employees as we improve our tourism products for the future. We will be waiving tourism insurance requirements and licensing fees for the 2020¬21 season as another means of short term relief.

Mr. Speaker, in the wake of COVID-19 the landscape of tourism in the Northwest Territories has changed. We are already considering how our next tourism strategy can be adapted and its funding approach redefined to support the economic recovery of our tourism sector. To this end, we are once again engaging with our tourism sector specifically to understand the level to which their businesses and operations have been changed.

As we do so, we can take some comfort in what hasn't, and will not, change. With its wild natural beauty, rich cultures, midnight sun, and Aurora Borealis, our North remains as attractive as ever before.

Northerners will always be warm and welcoming; our industry vibrant and resilient; and our tourism product spectacular. It will take time, and it will take work, but we will recover. Our borders will open and our North will once again take its place as one of the world's most spectacular tourism destinations.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 43-19(2): Tourism in NWT Post-COVID
Ministers' Statements

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

Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Tourism
Members' Statements

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Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was happy to hear the Minister just now speak of SEED funding, and I'd like to take that a step further with her today.

Mr. Speaker, our NWT businesses need aggressive, innovative stimulus programs and an influx of cash so they can start the long journey of regenerating our northern economy. I was pleased to hear that ITI has topped up its SEED program by $140,000, to $4 million, to support new, innovative proposals that reflect the realities of the post-COVID-19 economy.

The program guidelines provide that funding should support forward-looking business proposals aimed at supporting employment, creating new business opportunities, or positioning businesses to recover and grow. Applicants should also demonstrate innovative approaches, ideas or solutions to the current economic operating environment. This top-up is welcome, Mr. Speaker, and I congratulate the Minister for finding the funding from within. However, I am concerned that the program, which was not designed to support existing businesses, will do little to help longstanding NWT businesses in this COVID-19 world.

SEED stands for Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development, and the new program was specifically designed to give new businesses the opportunity to take root. As it stands today, the policy guiding the SEED program contains a market disruption clause which gives ITI the authority to deny funding to anyone offering services similar to another business. Unless this is remedied, Mr. Speaker, most of our long-time established northern businesses will not qualify for SEED program funding. Most marketplace evolutions take place gradually, allowing entrepreneurs the time to determine how to make their businesses into living organizations that grow with the world around them so they do not risk losing out.

Mr. Speaker, COVID did not offer a gradual evolution to business owners. One day, the North was operating business as usual, and then, the next day, businesses were forced to close their doors. In this context, market disruption should be the least of our concerns.

Mr. Speaker, GNWT programs must be fluid, capable of change in a new world that shifts daily in response to COVID-19. SEED is a great opportunity to use existing GNWT dollars to regenerate our economy, but it needs further tweaks to ensure that as many northern businesses as possible can access the program.

I look forward to a productive discussion with the ITI Minister on how we can work together to evolve SEED to best support the regeneration of NWT businesses. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Tourism
Members' Statements

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

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

Interpretation Services in Hospitals
Members' Statements

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Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Masi, Mr. Speaker. [Translation] When we look at the hospital, there's a lot of people in the hospital. We wonder sometime how they are being taken care of. When you're hospitalized with an illness, there's the discomfort of the treatment and worry about the recovery, and the heightened fear of the COVID-19. When you're a unilingual Dene elder in an English-speaking medical world, it's more stressful for the patient. During the daytime, the Stanton Hospital provides interpreters, but once their shift is over, the interpreters are not available. What happens after 5:00 p.m., when there are no interpreters? What happens to the elder, and how are they to communicate? Who is interpreting for them after hours? Sometimes in the evening, the patients are asked to take medication, and they are not able to communicate anything to the nurses. This is a very important issue. A lot of elders had brought this concern to me. They said that, once they are in the hospital, the interpreters are not available after hours, and they say that they are not able to talk to the nurses, at all. I think it's important that an interpreter should be available after 5:00 p.m. because we have a lot of elders who speak their language, and they are unilingual. I will ask the Minister of Health and Social Services on how Stanton Hospital operates with the interpreters after hours. Masi. [Translation ends]

Interpretation Services in Hospitals
Members' Statements

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

Thank you, Member for Monfwi. Members' statement. Member for Deh Cho.

Alcohol Prohibition
Members' Statements

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Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

[English translation not provided] ... prohibition order in place. I'll use the short form as "TPO" for that. This is the prohibition of all alcohol within the area of the community. There is a means to stop the flow of alcohol into the community as the consumption of excess alcohol leads to many social problems.

Mr. Speaker, it is known that the continued use of alcohol for prolonged periods of time eventually puts a strain on the healthcare system and has a significant impact on the resources of the RCMP, not to mention significant impact on the lives of friends and families.

In my community, the RCMP were doing double duty. They are not only tending to their regular duties, but include chasing down party-goers who were in contravention of the Chief Public Health Officer's orders banning all gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic. The RCMP were dealing with a host of alcohol-related incidents, including physical assaults and sexual assaults, all from the excess consumption of alcohol stemming from the free-flow of funds from the COVID-19 initiatives.

My community of Fort Providence, a population of around 750 people, requested the TPO, but according to the NWT Liquor Act, if there is a liquor establishment within the community, then there would be no issuance of a TPO; the community would have to go to the community-wide plebiscite route. This takes up a lot of resources to pull off, and it does take some time, the same formalities as an election, and we know how long that would take, and all of that during the time of a pandemic.

Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of Finance at the appropriate time. Mahsi.

Alcohol Prohibition
Members' Statements

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

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

Corrections Rehabilitation
Members' Statements

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Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, during my response to the Commissioner's opening address the other day, I outlined the need for the Fort Smith corrections complex to resume the rehabilitation focus that was once offered there. Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, the majority of the facility's inmates are Indigenous people and are products of the multigenerational impacts of residential schools and colonialization. Given this history, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC, provided calls to action outlining the need for rehabilitation to be a key part of the correctional programming for all levels of government.

Mr. Speaker, to carry this idea further, I also mentioned in my speech that, since part of the rehabilitation process includes an educational component, I think that the town of Fort Smith has a very unique opportunity to offer inmates the chance to attend Aurora College to help themselves improve the quality of their lives. This would give inmates a chance at a fresher start and possibly to return to their home communities with new skills and certifications.

This idea would be a win-win for everyone involved as it would benefit Aurora College, the corrections complex, as well as the inmates themselves, and since this program has already existed in the NWT, the logistical infrastructure to enact this program should not be too cumbersome to get under way. Therefore, the only barrier is a matter of the political will.

Mr. Speaker, the people in our corrections systems are important, too, and they deserve good care, treatment, and rehabilitation, just as anyone else. I will have questions for the Minister of Justice later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Corrections Rehabilitation
Members' Statements

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

Thank you, Member for Thebacha. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Tourism Businesses
Members' Statements

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Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Downtown Yellowknife is home to many businesses that have been hard-hit by the lockdown resulting from the pandemic. The Chief Public Health Officer ordered some businesses to close, such as restaurants and bars, hair salons and barbers, dentists, and yoga studios, to name a few. Our once-thriving international tourism industry is on its knees. Other businesses have adjusted their operations to comply with the public health orders by allowing a limited number of people in and reducing hours to accommodate extra cleaning.

Mr. Speaker, the result of these changes has been dramatic. Some businesses had no revenue coming in at all and still don't. Tourism operators have no hope of seeing international visitors for at least a year and have started to close. Businesses that stayed open have seen their revenue fall by as much as 90 percent. Owners are worried about how to keep their staff, how to pay their rent, and what to do about inventory on order.

To put it bluntly, the GNWT has been less than helpful in this situation. The Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment announced a business advisory council would bring the business sector together to chart a course through this unprecedented shutdown. More than two months later, we are still waiting for the Minister to launch the council. Meanwhile, in the Yukon, their council of businesspeople went to work within days of being announced. They created a unique $10 million business support program three weeks later. Here, in the NWT, the Minister's efforts to support business with BDIC has resulted in a total of $1.6 million being spent. That's in spite of the fact that BDIC has a surplus of over $30 million. Other new initiatives for small business amount to fiddling while Rome is burning.

Mr. Speaker, we often hear that homegrown small business is the heart of our economy, but the GNWT has not treated the sector in a way that acknowledges the value it provides. Sure, BDIC is offering loans and interest deferrals, but many businesses are leery about going further into debt because they don't know how they will repay the money. Fortunately for northern small business, the federal government has taken up some slack by providing grants through the Northern Business Relief Fund, but that doesn't let GNWT off the hook. The GNWT has been missing in action when it comes to putting its money where its mouth is by supporting small business. I will have questions for the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Tourism Businesses
Members' Statements

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

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