This is page numbers 1111 - 1152 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 1:33 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1111

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

Members, I have received two letters from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, the Honourable Margaret Thom.

Assent To Bills
Assent To Bills

Page 1111

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

The first, dated June 10, 2020, reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise that I assent to the following bills:

  • Bill 6, An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act; and
  • Bill 7, Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2020-2021.

The second letter, also dated June 10, 2020, reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise that I recommend to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, the passage of:

  • Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 1, 2020-2021

during the second session of the 19th Legislative Assembly.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 53-19(2): COVID-19 Travel Restrictions
Ministers' Statements

Page 1111

Diane Thom Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, COVID-19 has affected all areas of social and economic activity in the Northwest Territories and around the world. As the pandemic has evolved and jurisdictions have been able to manage its spread, all governments are looking at the public health measures that have been put in place and are continuing to adjust them. One area of significant interest to our government and to all the people and the communities in the Northwest Territories is travel. Due to the restrictions the Chief Public Health Officer had placed on travel early on, we have been fortunate in the territory to have only seen five cases of COVID so far.

While our strategy of restricting travel has clearly been a success when it comes to protecting public health, we have to recognize that it is a serious step and there are some significant legal limits and considerations that need to be respected. One of those legal limits is the requirement to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees on freedom of mobility. The charter gives all Canadians the right to travel freely throughout Canada, and the Government of the Northwest Territories does not have the legal authority to override that. Although this means that our government cannot close the borders to Canadian residents, it does not prevent us from placing restrictions and conditions on travel by people once they are in the Northwest Territories.

This is what we have done under the public health order issued by the Chief Public Health Officer. Under the current orders, all travelers entering the NWT are greeted at a checkpoint by a border officer. The border officer collects their information, and if they do not meet an identified exemption, informs them of the NWT's public health travel restrictions, including the requirement for anybody entering to self-isolate for 14 days. Travellers have the opportunity to voluntarily turn around. If they choose not to, they are informed that they must seek an exceptional circumstances exemption and immediately self-isolate if they wish to proceed further in the Northwest Territories.

This is a shift in how the current order was being implemented. Mr. Speaker, before May 29, border officials asked people to turn around and return to their destination if they did not fit an existing exemption in order to meet our objectives. Following legal developments in southern Canada challenging similar actions in Newfoundland and Labrador, we realized we needed to take steps to more closely align implementation of our order with the mobility provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When I, or the Premier, have spoken about travel restrictions, we have spoken about different aspects of the same order. The bottom line is that our government cannot prevent people from entering into the Northwest Territories, but we can restrict and prohibit their movements once they are in the Northwest Territories.

Travel restrictions are a legitimate and necessary measure to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate its impact on Northwest Territories residents, communities, and the healthcare system. We will continue to maintain travel restrictions so long as they are necessary to protect our residents. We will continue the requirement for people to self-isolate in one of the four regional self-isolation communities, if they have entered from outside the territory. Our plan is to continue to cover the costs for people who need to access one of our self-isolation centres for Northwest Territories residents, but we will be asking non-Northwest Territories residents to cover the cost of their stay themselves.

Mr. Speaker, we recognize that our public health measures have been adjusted to meet the realities on the ground and the threat of the pandemic challenges. We will review our measures and adjust them to reflect the current situation. We will also continue to strive to make sure our orders are in line with the necessary legal requirements and that the way we describe them are clear and accurate. COVID-19 is a dynamic situation, and how we have responded has changed. It will continue to change, Mr. Speaker, and so will the way we describe our response publicly. We recognize that this can be confusing for people, but we commit to doing a better job to explain those changes as soon as we make them, and speak about them as clearly and directly as possible.

We have two different changes coming this Friday, Mr. Speaker. One change is to the travel restrictions that I have been speaking about this afternoon. As I have said, these changes will line up better with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and will more clearly address leisure travel within the territory. The second change will be the implementation of phase 2 of relaxing restrictions under the Emerging Wisely plan. I know that all Members and all residents of the Northwest Territories are looking forward to phase 2. We will be briefing Members on phase 2 tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, and making a public announcement on Friday afternoon. While we are able to start revising our public health measures as the pandemic evolves, I want to remind all residents that COVID-19 is not over and we must still be cautious and follow the direction and guidance issued by our Chief Public Health Officer to keep our territory safe. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 53-19(2): COVID-19 Travel Restrictions
Ministers' Statements

Page 1112

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

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.

Minister's Statement 54-19(2): The Emergency Management Organization and Community and Indigenous Engagement on COVID-19 Response
Ministers' Statements

Page 1112

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis on a level the world has not seen in generations. Taking action to slow its spread and protect public health has required leadership from all levels of government. Today, I would like to highlight the work that has been done by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and the Emergency Management Organization in response to COVID-19. The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, or MACA, has the mandated responsibility for public safety within the Northwest Territories. To accomplish this, MACA houses the Emergency Management Organization, which provides guidance and coordination for our government and our partners to respond to territorial emergencies.

Each government department and external agency continues to be responsible for its own operations and decisions, but by having members of each department attend the meetings, the Emergency Management Organization provides a forum for discussing what they are doing and making sure that their plans align in a coordinated manner. The Emergency Management Organization, or EMO, is also responsible for making sure that all members have good, timely information about the full scope of the emergency response and for identifying potential gaps or the need for additional resources.

Typically, the focus for the EMO would be emergencies like floods or fires that only affect a portion of the Northwest Territories and are over relatively quickly. The COVID-19 pandemic is different in that it has affected everybody in the territory, has gone on for many months, and is projected to last for some time. This has required the EMO to take on additional tasks and responsibilities that are unique to this pandemic. Specifically, the EMO has established and maintained all isolation centres in the four regional centres: Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, and Fort Smith. In addition, EMO is supporting checkpoints at airports and highways to keep track of who is entering the territory and make sure they know about our public health requirements.

The EMO also supports the 811 Support Line. Residents can call this one, easy number and select one of three options: general information on COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories; Protect NWT to raise issues of compliance for the enforcement task force; and the third is to inquire about available services and support in the communities. EMO operators answer the calls on community supports. The EMO is also working to obtain and distribute personal protective equipment for non-medical essential workers, non-government organizations, community governments, and Indigenous governments. Community and Indigenous governments have supported these efforts by completing needs assessments to identify their personal protective equipment needs.

Mr. Speaker, community and Indigenous governments have also been affected by COVID-19 and have needed to adjust their operations and how they serve their residents. Since mid-March, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs has worked with senior administration officers and band managers to identify and monitor impacts to communities as a result of COVID-19, share information, update community emergency plans, and ensure continuity of emergency and essential services. These have included practical challenges such as holding council meetings remotely and making the required changes to bylaws to do so and helping community governments understand how the Chief Public Health Officer's orders affect them. As well, I have held weekly virtual town hall meetings with community and Indigenous government leaders since the beginning of the pandemic to provide a forum to hear and answer their concerns. Other Ministers and GNWT officials have also joined me at these meetings to answer questions that leaders have had about specific topics. Our government is extremely grateful for the support municipal and Indigenous governments have provided residents since the beginning of this pandemic. These governments are doing all they can to assist residents, and we would not be where we are without their support.

I would also like to say "thank you" to all the staff from the various departments who are involved with the EMO; all those who have voluntarily redeployed from other departments and agencies to support the response efforts; regional MACA staff who are continuing their direct engagement with communities; our management team who have worked non-stop since this began; and all those supporting the EMO and health efforts. Only by working together to identify and address gaps in our plans have we been able to keep this pandemic at bay and protect the residents of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, we have faced many emergencies in the past, but none have measured in comparison to COVID-19. This pandemic is not over, but by each of us doing our part to abide by the Chief Public Health Officer's orders and all stakeholders working together through the Emergency Management Organization, we will be better prepared as we plan for a potential second wave in the fall. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 54-19(2): The Emergency Management Organization and Community and Indigenous Engagement on COVID-19 Response
Ministers' Statements

Page 1113

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

Thank you, Minister. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Racism
Members' Statements

Page 1113

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. Today, I chose to wear my moccasins to feel a little closer to the ground for what I'm about to say. Yesterday, I listened to a few of my colleagues talk about police brutality, racism, and racial inequalities that people are still experiencing and are feeling out there. The key word out there is "feeling." During session yesterday, somebody sent me a photo of my daughter, and I'm looking at it now. She looks so beautiful, Sine, my youngest daughter, taking part in a march against racism yesterday here in town. I felt incredibly proud. I talked to her a bit about it afterwards, and I could have shared some stories that I've experienced. I could have told her some of the racist notes I used to get in my locker as a Mountie. I could have shared some stories of me being followed around and being asked, "Are you going to buy something?" in a store in Lethbridge by store staff, being hovered over. I could have shared some stories about saying, "We don't necessarily need Aboriginal people in your job," in a boardroom not too long ago in a mining boardroom. I could share those stories with her, but I'm not.

I think that it is important, Mr. Speaker, that I want to teach togetherness and love above all else to my daughter. I asked her, "Why did you walk there?" I want to know what she felt. She said, "I walked it for my eldest sisters, because they still experience racism in the classroom." That really struck home. I felt a lump in my throat, but I'm glad we're teaching them the right way. I want to focus on a positive. I didn't want to share those negative stories with her because I want those stories to die with me. That's it. Move on, and we'll focus on the positives.

Mr. Speaker, we're now in the year 2020, not 1492, not 1867, not 1968, so why are we still feeling this way? Why are people still experiencing hatred and ill-will? I always turn to what the elders taught us and what my great-grandparents taught me, and I mentioned it in a social media post last week: they taught me to always be respectful, to listen, and they directed this at me specifically, they said, "Speak slowly. You speak too fast, my boy." Never laugh at people. You really think about that. Elders have a way of speaking to you, and it doesn't click until maybe 30 years down the road. It's important that we get that message across, what the elders taught us, and to pass it on to our children. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to finish my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Racism
Members' Statements

Page 1114

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi, Mr. Speaker. Marsi cho, colleagues. Through all this, how does this all tie in with what we're doing here? Again, we need to learn from this. In this House, within the GNWT, for me, I question myself, "Why are we still experiencing high unemployment rates in our small communities across the territories, low graduation rates, disproportionately high incarceration rates? How do we get better at this?"

I look at the history. You look at the dark ages; you had the renaissance. People fought through the way. They opened their minds. I think it's still doable. We just need to fight through that and change some of our policies. I could probably go on about some of the struggles that we are still having, but I'm going to focus a little bit on our Affirmative Action Policy. With that, I will have some questions for the Minister of Finance during oral questions. Marsi cho.

Racism
Members' Statements

Page 1114

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

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

Salt River First Nation Claim Implementation
Members' Statements

Page 1114

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On June 22, 2002, the Salt River First Nation treaty land entitlement claim was signed by several signatories, which includes both the Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories. The Salt River land entitlement claim was signed 18 years ago; yet its full implementation remains undone. This is not okay, Mr. Speaker. In fact, it is unacceptable. This is clearly an outstanding matter that the people of Salt River and Fort Smith have been waiting to see fully implemented after nearly two decades of constant delays, excuses, and trilateral negotiations that amount to nothing.

As former Salt River chief, I can attest personally to these roadblocks because I had to deal with them for 12 years while in leadership there. Salt River has faced endless roadblocks in implementing provisions of their agreement, which has strained good faith negotiations between Salt River and the Crown and has halted advances on infrastructure, housing, wellness, and other potential services on reserve lands. For example, the stalling of this claim has prevented Salt River from developing basic and critical infrastructure, such as water and sewer and filtration, among others. This means that, despite Salt River being shovel-ready to build critical infrastructure, they aren't able to because the federal and territorial governments have stopped it from happening.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, since the territorial government is an equal signatory to the claim, they have the judiciary responsibility to carry out this claim in a timely manner, in good faith, and to push the federal government to do the same. Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, listed number one on the top of the 19th Assembly's list of 22 priorities is "settle and implement treaty, land, resources, and self-government agreements." That is also re-affirmed in the 2019-2023 mandate of the Government of the Northwest Territories. Thus, we in this 19th Assembly have a mandate to implement the several outstanding Indigenous land entitlement claims and other self-government agreements that have been ongoing in the NWT for many, many years. I will have questions for the Premier later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Salt River First Nation Claim Implementation
Members' Statements

Page 1114

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

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

Claw-back of Income Assistance from Inuvialuit Claimants
Members' Statements

Page 1114

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is my understanding, Mr. Speaker, that, prior to September 2007, the Income Assistance regulations specifically exempted the value of any payments received by the Inuvialuit Final Agreement beneficiaries from being clawed back to those who are also on income support as clients. When this change happened, payments to beneficiaries of the land claim agreements were suddenly reclassified as unearned income. According to regulations at the time, an unearned income over $1,200 a year would be clawed back.

I spoke in this House against this in June 2008, Mr. Speaker. I pointed out that clients who receive dividend cheques from the community corporation can easily go over the $1,200 limit if they receive the GST rebate, the federal Child Tax Benefit, and small gifts from relatives. I argued that this change in regulations does not keep in spirit of the intent of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. The government specifically exempts payments to the Inuvialuit from taxation by level of government. Although the government might argue that, technically, income support clawbacks are not taxes, they have the same impact as taxes, Mr. Speaker, for those clients who are affected.

I also argued the benefits that the Inuvialuit receive under the land claim are a result of traditional rights and the final agreement negotiated in good faith with the Government of Canada. They cannot be put in the same category as gifts and federal programs that Canadians receive, which can be stopped at any time. I understand that the GNWT has fixed that problem, but now I see that, according to Section 20(4) of the Income Assistance regulations, "money, or the value of goods, in excess of $500 per year, received by a person under a self-government agreement, a land claims agreement, or an impact benefits agreement," will be classified as unearned income and contribute to the $1,200 cap of unearned income.

Mr. Speaker, our low-income residents need the breaks that they can during this COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Why aren't we trying to get them back on their feet? The GNWT exempts residential school compensation from unearned income; they should do the same for these claims and beneficiaries. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment at the appropriate time. Thank you.

Claw-back of Income Assistance from Inuvialuit Claimants
Members' Statements

Page 1115

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

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