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

Question 321-19(2): Border Restrictions
Oral Questions

Page 1126

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

That wasn't an answer to the timing and the communications. Communications have been a really huge challenge during this pandemic, and now there's this added challenge of the change at the border. The reason it matters is because people have made choices since May 29th to not have people come to visit them because they didn't think they were eligible to come, to make a number of adjustments in their lives that they would not have made if they knew that the border restrictions had changed. I'm going to repeat my question because it is important to my constituents. Why did it take until today to learn about this change?

Question 321-19(2): Border Restrictions
Oral Questions

Page 1126

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

I do want to go back a little bit. While that order was written to restrict travel within the territories, which is the power granted by the Chief Public Health Officer under the Public Health Act, we came to realize that the communications and the actions at the border were not keeping with the Charter and the Order. That happened back in April, and then in May, we realized that we need to take into consideration the recommendations from the Canadian Charter of Rights. People took our communications to act, actions to mean that the borders were closed. Our Office of the Chief Public Health Officer took that into consideration. Yes, I agree it's taken some time for us to communicate that, but as soon as we did find out within our Cabinet, that's what we did.

Question 321-19(2): Border Restrictions
Oral Questions

Page 1126

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Unfortunately, the effect of this Q and A session is to create more confusion. What I understand is that the borders never were closed, even though we were told they were closed, and that the Chief Public Health Officer made a change. For whatever reason, we weren't told until today about that change. There are real things at stake in telling people that the border is closed. People who were looking forward to family visits and, in some cases, family reunification have been waiting for a relaxation of restrictions. I don't know if that exists now or not. I just know that whatever change was made wasn't communicated to us for almost two weeks. Can the Minister tell us again why it's taken this long to get here and whether there can be more efficient communication between the CPHO and her department?

Question 321-19(2): Border Restrictions
Oral Questions

Page 1126

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Absolutely. I recognize that there is room for improvement in communication, and that is something that our department is working with Chief Public Health Officer to ensure that the communication, when any of the actions that are being made out of the Chief Public Health Office, that we have a process to follow. Therefore, our Cabinet has come up with a communication plan. Going forward, there are steps that are in place so that we can ensure that there is a process before it gets out into the public. We recognize that.

Question 321-19(2): Border Restrictions
Oral Questions

Page 1126

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

Thank you, Minister. Final supplementary, Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Question 321-19(2): Border Restrictions
Oral Questions

Page 1126

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you to the Minister for that answer. When constituents ask me questions about whether their mother can come to visit or whether they can have their partner relocate here, I usually say to them, "You should call 811 or email Protect NWT," but what I'm hearing is that it can take days, even weeks, to get an answer to their questions. They're looking for a more immediate response. My question to the Minister is whether Protect NWT needs more staff in order to provide a tighter turn-around to residents of the NWT for their questions about who is and isn't allowed in. Thank you.

Question 321-19(2): Border Restrictions
Oral Questions

Page 1126

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

The Member is correct. Our Chief Public Health Office and our enforcement and our compliance enforcement are quite busy. Just to put this in perspective, on average, we get 1,106 new calls per week, average follow-up calls on a weekly basis, about 228 calls. Average new emails are about 353, follow-up emails 321. Average self-isolation plans that we have processed and closed is about 337 plans a week. I'm just saying our office is quite busy. We recognize that because some of our enforcement staff are having to be repatriated back into their government jobs. Fire crews are going back to fight the fires soon. We recognize that, but there has never been a gap in our system. We continue to work hard to make sure that we have enough people in place. We're actively recruiting. There are a number of things that our department is doing in collaboration with all the other departments. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 321-19(2): Border Restrictions
Oral Questions

Page 1126

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

Thank you, Minister. Oral questions. Member for Yellowknife North.

Question 322-19(2): Communications within Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly
Oral Questions

Page 1126

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As we often do in this House, I'm going to ask some question that I believe I already know the answers to. I, as a Regular Member, am unable to pick up the phone and call a public servant and ask them a technical question. My question for the Premier is: why is that? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 322-19(2): Communications within Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly
Oral Questions

Page 1126

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

Thank you, Member for Yellow North. Honourable Premier.

Question 322-19(2): Communications within Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly
Oral Questions

Page 1127

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I've only been in the Assembly here, this is my second Assembly, but I think this is probably an age-old question, in my opinion, because even in the last Assembly, they were talking about asking the Assembly before. When I first was in the Assembly four years ago, I thought it was okay. Anybody could pick up the phone and call my staff. In fact, I think I gave that direction to an MLA. It soon bit me, Mr. Speaker. The reason that we try not to, there are two reasons. One is accountability. It's really important that Ministers know the issues that are going on the departments because if we don't know, how are we going to change things? That's one thing. The other thing that was even more important to me, and maybe not at the same level, but it was critical for me in making a decision in the last Assembly was the intimidation of staff. Staff complained about it. They said that when an MLA goes to their office and asks them, they feel tense. They don't know what to say to them. They automatically see them as an MLA; they can take their job away. There is a whole bunch of power and inequalities with that. Those are the reasons, Mr. Speaker. It's about accountability and protecting our staff. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 322-19(2): Communications within Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly
Oral Questions

Page 1127

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

What I believe has happened here is that there have been some very egregious examples in the past of MLAs really crossing the line and getting political with staff. I believe the spectrum has swung to the full other side of the spectrum where simple, technical questions that are better suited to a phone call go through multiple email chains. I would encourage the Premier to look at this policy and try and change the culture such that, sometimes, the nuanced conversation can happen over the phone. My next question is: I recognize some of the limitations in myself as an MLA in talking to public servants, but I believe also this limitation has been more and more imposed on journalists. My question is: are journalists allowed to pick up the phone and talk to any member in the public service? For example, could a journalist talk to the lead negotiator for Akaitcho, a member in the Premier's own department?

Question 322-19(2): Communications within Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly
Oral Questions

Page 1127

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Journalists often pick up the phone and phone our departments. In fact, they sometimes get a hold of me. Again, it's not about trying to keep secrets. It's about processes. When you talk about the Akaitcho, when you talk about land claim agreements and stuff, there is a risk that those are partnerships between my department, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and Indigenous governments. We have to be very careful what we're saying in those. It would be more appropriate to go through a Minister for that to make sure, if there is anything controversial, then I'd certainly want to call the chief and say, "Is this okay?" There are processes with that, probably wasn't the best example to use. Again, it's about keeping track of the questions. We do have a whole communications department. When the media do go through the communications department, a lot of them can get quicker answers. They get better quality answers, and we can keep track of the issues. Keeping track tells us what we need to change.

Question 322-19(2): Communications within Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly
Oral Questions

Page 1127

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

I believe many journalists may disagree with the statement that they get better answers, but I'll leave them to advocate for themselves. I recognize that we have to have processes in place and track them, but I believe that this culture has then trickled onto members of the public. I consistently get constituents that have unanswered phone calls, unanswered emails. My question to the Premier: is a member of the public allowed to pick up the phone and talk to any single person in the public service?

Question 322-19(2): Communications within Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly
Oral Questions

Page 1127

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Absolutely. Any member of the public can phone any department to the Government of the Northwest Territories and ask about our programs and services that we provide. However, in saying that, our employees, there is a balance, again. It's between confidentiality and informing them about programs. If it's only about asking, "What programs, services do you have?" go ahead, call. If you're phoning to ask about somebody's income support or somebody in housing, you're not going to get that answer. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.