This is page numbers 887 - 916 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 10:02 a.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 887

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

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

Minister's Statement 44-19(2): Northwest Territories Housing Corporation Capital Delivery 2020-2021
Ministers' Statements

Page 887

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Good morning, Mr. Speaker. The COVID-19 virus has affected economies all over the world. On our home ground, it has hit us hard: our communities, our businesses, and our people. We know that the public is ready to get the NWT economy moving again. There are very few sectors that translate investment so quickly and directly into tangible benefits for our communities than housing. Housing investment supports local and regional contractors, apprentices, building trades-helpers, homeowners, and households needing housing. The investment isn't fleeting; it leaves behind critical and important infrastructure that will provide a social benefit year-after-year.

Housing is an issue that is best addressed by being person-focused. Person-focused is how we approach the delivery of our programs, but it is also important in how we deliver infrastructure and capital projects. Our 2020-2021 housing capital investment plan will bring in much needed employment and apprenticeship opportunities. For many in our small communities, COVID-19 has left them in either economic hardship or economic uncertainty. As we try and get back to a semblance of normality, our goal when delivering our housing capital plan is to bring back some financial certainty and opportunities to our residents.

Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation's 2020-2021 capital project delivery represents a total investment of over $43.8 million in the NWT. Approximately 90 percent of this amount is targeted for housing projects outside of Yellowknife, with the focus being on our smaller communities. It will include the construction of 89 units and repair projects for 160 owned public, market and Homeownership Entry Level Program housing units located throughout the NWT.

Highlights of our new construction include:

  • 22 new and replacement units across the NWT, including: six market and public housing units in Behchoko; two market housing units in Hay River; four market housing units in Tulita; six public housing units in Deline; two public housing units in Fort Smith; two public housing units in Ulukhaktok;
  • nine seniors units in Fort Good Hope;
  • eight single occupancy public housing units in Yellowknife;
  • four New Home Program units in Fort Resolution, Tulita, Deline, and Tuktoyaktuk;
  • 45 market housing units for RCMP: six in Fort Smith; three in Norman Wells;17 in Inuvik; seven in Fort Simpson; and 12 in Hay River.

This year's unit repairs also include a major energy project in Yellowknife for the conversion of oil-fired furnaces to biomass heating. We are undertaking this project with significant assistance from the federal government under the Low Carbon Economy Fund federal program.

The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation will be supplementing this $43.8 million with a further $3.6 million investment to deliver additional unit repairs by utilizing the internally funded $5 million COVID-19 reserve. The aim of this additional investment is to bring on stream approximately 130 vacant housing units. Approximately 60 of these units are available for allocation in the short-term. Many of the remaining units will require some minor or major repair. When repaired, these units will be allocated for use within the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation's public housing, market, and home ownership programs. The introduction of these units, as well as the construction of new units, forms the basis of the housing response for any subsequent waves of the COVID-19 virus and is also a step towards fulfilling our mandate commitment to increase the number of affordable homes and reduce core housing need. While we expect that the vast majority of the planned capital investment will be delivered in this fiscal year, some projects, such as those involving winter road and barge transportation, may require a two-year delivery.

The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation has a long history of supporting community businesses. In 2018-2019, 94 percent of our contracting opportunities were awarded to local and northern businesses, and we expect similar results for this last year. We have also worked closely with community leadership to obtain support to proceed with the majority of planned delivery for 2020-2021.

Mr. Speaker, housing will be a key element of the economic recovery of this Territory. The construction, repair, and other contract work around housing brings in much needed income to the Northwest Territories, and to our smaller communities. This capital investment will support local and regional contractors, provide opportunities for apprentices and building trades, and ensures that a large portion of investment stays in the Northwest Territories. I look forward to seeing these new projects and opportunities for our people of the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 44-19(2): Northwest Territories Housing Corporation Capital Delivery 2020-2021
Ministers' Statements

Page 888

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

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

Minister's Statement 45-19(2): COVID-19 Health and Social Services System Response
Ministers' Statements

Page 888

Diane Thom Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, earlier, I spoke about our public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, I would like to highlight how our health and social services system is responding to this unprecedented challenge.

The Chief Public Health Officer is leading the public health response and providing subject matter expertise to the health and social services system and Government of the Northwest Territories on pandemic planning requirements. Our first step in responding to the threat of COVID-19 was to activate the Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, on March 11, 2020.

The EOC assesses risks, identifies mitigation measures, and coordinates the health and social services system response and recovery. It includes representatives from the Department of Health and Social Services, the health and social services authorities, the Department of Finance, and the Northwest Territories Emergency Measures Operations, led by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.

Mr. Speaker, this early coordination of our Health and Social Services system response allowed for the necessary service adjustments to support the public health orders. This included reducing non-essential health services in order to ramp up testing, contact tracing, and care for those who may test positive for COVID-19. We also put in place measures to manage our Personal Protective Equipment inventory for front-line healthcare workers, and we are working closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada to secure our supply. To safeguard residents living in long-term care facilities, guidelines were implemented to reduce visits and to institute daily temperature checks and health screening. Service providers also implemented protocols in relation to the use Personal Protective Equipment and enhanced disinfection practices well before we had any cases in the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, in order to meet the requirements for physical distancing and provide timelier access to care, our health system has expanded virtual care. This enables practitioners to meet with each other and with a patient over distance. It also reduces physical patient interactions in waiting rooms, with clinic staff, and with providers through the use of phone visits and video conferencing, as well as providing remote access to the electronic medical records. We have also accelerated Primary Health Care Reform in Yellowknife in order to support the roll out of virtual care and to maintain continuity of services while physician resources are redeployed to other parts of the system. We have now moved to an integrated care team model, which gives clients access to a dedicated primary care team rather than just a doctor. We are also testing some outreach approaches to provide primary care services to individuals being served by shelter organizations in Yellowknife.

Mr. Speaker, at the same time, the three health and social services authorities have been working diligently to address and prepare for the surge of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. This coordinated approach across the Northwest Territories healthcare system is crucial to ensure all resources are aligned in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for patients, staff, and the residents of our territory at various stages of this pandemic response.

This four-stage response plan is based on principles that acknowledge that the pandemic response is our government's primary priority, that all response activities are coordinated and all resources must be managed system-wide. It also focuses the response within the capabilities of our system: maximizing and mobilizing staff where needed; moving patients to where care can be provided; redistributing supplies and equipment where and when needed; and the appropriate triaging of care, including centralizing hospitalizations in Yellowknife and Edmonton for patients with severe symptoms. This plan demonstrates a thorough and realistic approach to respond to COVID-19. The Health and Social Services Pandemic Response Plan is being shared with Members of the Legislative Assembly and will be made public as soon as possible.

Mr. Speaker, the safety of children and youth in our care has been central to our COVID response. We are taking every opportunity to improve the quality of our child and family services to positively impact outcomes for children and youth while working within public health measures. During the containment phase of the pandemic, most face-to-face visits were temporarily suspended. These temporary suspensions were in place to make sure children, families, and frontline workers are safe. Child and family services staff made use of virtual technology to keep children and their families connected with each other and with frontline workers. With the release of the Emerging Wisely Plan, we are now assessing how to safely, gradually introduce face-to-face visits once again.

We are offering one-time, short-term financial support to help families with their basic needs if they cannot get enough assistance from other programs, and we have extended support services for youth in care and young adults who are aging out of these services during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are also working with the Foster Family Coalition of the Northwest Territories to respond to the needs of our foster caregivers and to provide ongoing support and communication. We have established respite services for foster caregivers in the Northwest Territories to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic and have established clear protocols should a child in their care require testing or care for COVID-19.

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our front-line health and social services workers for their hard work and dedication to the people they serve. I recognize that there are many challenges ahead and know that you will continue to serve our residents as you always have, with professionalism, compassion, and commitment. Our health and social services have responded quickly and effectively to the COVID-19 challenge to date. I am confident that we are well prepared to respond should there be a surge in COVID-19 transmissions into the future. However, it remains critically important that we all remain vigilant in following the public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the demand on our health and social services system. We are stronger and healthier if we act together. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 45-19(2): COVID-19 Health and Social Services System Response
Ministers' Statements

Page 889

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

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

Taltson Dam
Members' Statements

Page 889

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. For my Member's statement, I am going to talk about the importance that the Taltson Hydroelectric Expansion Project continues to have for the economy of the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, in my response to the Commissioner's address the other day, I discussed the Taltson expansion as a key priority of mine for the 19th Legislative Assembly. However, this priority is not only my own as it is actually an official mandate item on the priorities list of the entire 19th Assembly. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us in this House to ensure that this major infrastructure project gets built.

Mr. Speaker, we must also consider that, given the economic fallout from COVID-19, the Government of the Northwest Territories should be more interested than ever to pursue this project in order to help spur economic growth and ultimately the reduced power rates for the people of the NWT. This pandemic has caused a serious downturn in our economy, so it is extremely important that we stay the course with this hydro expansion as it will be vital in our economic recovery for the long term.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, I want to add that I find it very concerning that several Members in this House have repeatedly talked down toward this project and hopefully wish that it will never get built. It seems like nearly every time I mention the Taltson expansion, people get defensive and shoot down the idea right away. Well, that should not be happening anymore because we MLAs have already decided as a group at the beginning of the Assembly that this project would be pursued and go forward during the life of the 19th Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, as I have said in previous statements, this project has the capacity to nearly double the NWT's current hydro capacity output and would help save our territory's power needs for years to come. This hydro expansion would provide the NWT with more renewable energy, create job opportunities, and will set the pace for a vibrant economy in the future. This has to remain a priority in order to secure any significant long-term investments to the NWT. We need this infrastructure if we want to sustain and grow our territory's economic development, especially during a time of economic recovery as we are now in. I will have questions for the Minister of Infrastructure later. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Taltson Dam
Members' Statements

Page 890

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

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

Transportation Safety
Members' Statements

Page 890

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In February 2018, a former Member, Wally Schumann, Minister of Infrastructure at the time, gave a statement of planned improvements, he said, in airport runways across the territory. There are many studies that have been done across the NWT for subsurface and drainage problems that we have in our small communities. Mr. Speaker, Sachs Harbour has a problem. We cannot land King Air 350s for medevac service. The only planes that can come in are Twin Otters now, with tundra tires, because of the saturation in the airport runway. I worry for my constituents. The Minister pointed out that day that the work was going to be done, and it still has not been done.

In February this year, Mr. Speaker, the current Minister of Infrastructure gave an update to airports which pointed out GNWT's intention to fix the airport drainage problem in Sachs Harbour. Minister Nokleby pointed out that many communities across the North have essential services to this region and maintenance and improvement activities are particularly important to ensure effective travel. "This work," she noted, "will increase the resiliency of these airports to the effects of climate change."

Mr. Speaker, my question to the Minister today is simple: why hasn't the work been done? When is it going to get done? Let me know why.

Mr. Speaker, why is it so important? Last week, I had spoken with our Aklak Air local carrier that flies into the community. It's costing them $58,000 to bring in a Twin Otter with tundra tires, with an aircrew, per month on them, when our government is supposed to be giving a runway that is accepting to land any aircraft. By the government's own admission, maintenance and work is essential to operations in the airfield. I am concerned. The safety of my constituents is a priority: no medevac planes. When are you going to get your mail? When are you going to get your food in regard to it because Aklak Air does not have a Twin Otter right now? What is happening? I don't know. I am waiting for a call from the president of Aklak Air.

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned, as MLA for Nunakput, hearing about this problem and prefer my constituents, being advised by the Minister's problems or delays. I want to remind the Minister in the House for keeping Regular MLAs informed in ongoing projects in our constituencies. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister at the appropriate time. Thank you, sir.

Transportation Safety
Members' Statements

Page 890

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

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

Addictions Counselling Services
Members' Statements

Page 890

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Masi, Mr. Speaker. Over the last few months, there have been so many deaths in the Monfwi riding. Most of them involved alcohol or other drugs. My constituents are very concerned about the well-known fact that our people are passing away one by one, all because of addictions.

Mr. Speaker, the last treatment facility in the Northwest Territories shut down in 2013. Almost immediately, the people of the Northwest Territories began requesting, again and again and again, a treatment facility to be reopened up in the territory. That has obviously fallen on deaf ears for all these years.

Mr. Speaker, let me paint a picture for you. The last Tlicho citizen who passed away tried his best to deal with his addiction issues. Yes, he did. He worked very hard on himself, signed up for and got accepted in the Fresh Start program in Calgary. Upon his return home, there was no follow-up or after-care program. He was homeless, ended up back on the streets in Yellowknife, and back, of course, to the bottle. His sister did a radio interview following her brother's unfortunate passing. She mentioned her own journey, going back to 1995. She completed her own treatment program in the South, returned home to Behchoko, and immediately had to move to Yellowknife, Mr. Speaker, because there were no after-care programs or support services in Behchoko.

As you can see, addiction is affecting entire families and communities. Sadly, this is a familiar story to far too many. Our people deserve better, and most certainly deserve better from ourselves as the 19th Assembly Members. When will enough be enough, Mr. Speaker? I will have questions at the appropriate time for the appropriate Minister. Masi.

Addictions Counselling Services
Members' Statements

Page 890

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

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

Supports for Northwest Territories Businesses
Members' Statements

Page 891

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The International Monetary Fund is calling the pandemic's devastation of the global economy "the great lockdown." Its impacts are predicted to be worse than both the 2009 great recession and the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to the Conference Board of Canada, Canada's economic contraction during the second quarter of 2020 is estimated to be a staggering 25 percent due to COVID-19 shutdowns. The Conference Board is at least optimistic that a rebound will start later in the year, but by this time many businesses and the jobs they bring will be beyond devastated.

As I said yesterday, NWT businesses need aggressive, innovative stimulus programs and an influx of cash to start the long journey of regeneration of our northern economy. Today, I urge Cabinet to do more for northern business. I understand the GNWT has chosen to complement the federal government's COVID business relief measures. While this makes sense, it also makes it difficult for NWT business owners to know exactly what programs are available. Some of the federal programs available to NWT businesses include:

  • the temporary wage subsidy for small employers and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy;
  • the Canada Emergency Business Account;
  • the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance;
  • the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Loan and Guarantee Program; and
  • support for jobs and businesses coping with the economic impacts of COVID-19 through CanNor and Community Futures.

The GNWT has paired a waiver of transportation fees until the end of June for the Deh Cho Bridge tolls, truck permits, and airport landing fees; improved payment terms by the GNWT for government vendors; a due-date extension for WSCC employer premiums; a waiver of airport fees for all businesses at NWT airports, including leases, licences, and concession fees; and the buy-back of unopened liquor from licenced establishments. I don't claim that this is a full list of supports currently available, because I cannot find a list on the GNWT website. This list was built by tuning into the Prime Minister's daily federal updates. I strongly urge the government to pull this information together and make it easily visible and accessible for NWT business operators.

I must echo my colleague from Yellowknife Centre, who asked why the GNWT isn't making grant money available to NWT businesses through the BDIC's $30-million surplus. Many business owners simply cannot afford to take on more debt, no matter how favourable the terms of the loan. I would like to see the GNWT take an inventory of business supports being offered by other Canadian jurisdictions to inspire more innovative and impactful recovery supports. For example, the Alberta government subsidizes WCB to cover 50 percent of employer premiums for 2020 and deferred premium payments until 2021. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Supports for Northwest Territories Businesses
Members' Statements

Page 891

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that the GNWT may not be in a position to afford a subsidy of this $350-million magnitude, but it could perhaps offset some employer premium costs, improving the WSCC's current offer. The current business supports offered by the GNWT are not enough, and the GNWT must do more now. Thank you.