This is page numbers 1153 - 1196 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 seniors.

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 1153

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

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Justice.

Minister's Statement 55-19(2): Justice During and Beyond COVID-19
Ministers' Statements

Page 1153

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, like other departments across the GNWT, the Department of Justice saw its operations, administration programs, and service delivery impacted by COVID-19. Some functions or activities were delayed as more urgent tasks took over and staff were redeployed. Yet, as we begin to take stock of the last few months, there are challenges and opportunities that have appeared. I want to speak today on the response and emerging opportunities within Court Services and Corrections.

Our correctional facilities have implemented numerous measures, including modifying intake assessment procedures and practicing physical distancing. The department worked closely with the Chief Public Health Officer on developing these new protocols. One of the first and more critical responses to COVID-19 was to reduce the number of inmates at the correctional facilities. With support and cooperation from all those who work within the justice system, including the judiciary, the Federal Public Prosecution Service, and the Defense Bar, there has been a strong focus on some of the core principles of both judicial interim release, or bail, and sentencing to ensure that only those who must, by law, be separated from society are directed to the correctional facilities.

Within the Department of Justice, we are ensuring that inmates who are eligible for temporary absence release are aware of their opportunity to apply, have support from case officers to make those applications, and will have those applications examined promptly. The application process for temporary absences includes a thorough risk assessment, because one of the goals of the correctional service is to preserve public safety; but it has been an opportunity for many individuals nearing the end of their formal custodial sentence to complete their period of rehabilitation outside the walls of the correctional facility. All of this work monitoring access to bail and supporting applications for temporary release can continue past the current COVID-19 measures.

Another challenge that we are still facing is the lack of Internet services available to inmates. For safety reasons, inmates do not have unrestricted access to the Internet. With visits cancelled in order to reduce the risk of an outbreak in our correctional facilities, this created a very real challenge to ensuring that inmates can keep in contact with their loved ones. The Department of Justice has responded by bringing in dedicated lines that can be set up to facilitate virtual contact sessions. Looking forward, this improved connectivity could also help facilitate access to new and innovative education and programming opportunities.

Court Services have also implemented measures to allow court operations to continue in accordance with the protocols set by the Chief Public Health Officer and as directed by the judiciary. To reduce the number of people present in a courtroom, hearings are only being held for urgent matters, and video appearances and videoconferencing are being utilized where feasible. Court circuits have been postponed to protect our communities. Additionally, we have reduced the hours of our court registries and installed depositories for the safe drop-off of court documents to protect both staff and the public.

Like other jurisdictions across the country, we are now examining how technology worked for us during the pandemic and considering how we may be able to continue to provide the court with flexible tools so there are options available in the future. The pandemic forced an increased reliance on technology for the delivery of court services, but, going forward, we have an opportunity to decide how technology can mean better service for the people of the Northwest Territories. That can include not only the efforts made to date, but also looking at where we can continue to grow, including improvements to video and other telecommunication processes and electronic filing opportunities.

Mr. Speaker, Court Services and Corrections were not the only divisions within the Department of Justice impacted by COVID-19 and that worked to deliver a swift response. Lawyers in the Legal Division have been called on to provide opinions and draft documents in a situation without precedent; Community Corrections has worked to deliver their programs, even when our method of community engagement has been upended; Legal Registries and the Public Trustee developed new work processes and found new ways to interact with clients. In every case, we are seeing some of our challenges more acutely, but also seeing opportunities for improved service delivery and innovative responses. The Department of Justice will continue to ensure health and safety first for all residents and will also continue to grow the creativity and innovation that has been a part of our response to COVID-19. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 55-19(2): Justice During and Beyond COVID-19
Ministers' Statements

Page 1154

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

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

Minister's Statement 56-19(2): Mining Week 2020
Ministers' Statements

Page 1154

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Every June, the Government of the Northwest Territories, together with the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines and the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, mark Mining Week in our territory. This year will be no exception. From June 21st to the 27th, we will once again recognize this industry that is a foundation of our economy.

What will be different this year is that, with COVID-19 restrictions in place, Mining Week will take place entirely online. A robust calendar of social media content is being planned. A dedicated Mining Week page on the Mining North website will provide access to geologist-led virtual rock walks, an opportunity to engage with representatives of the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, short videos, a kids' activity booklet, and links to feature stories, infographics, and a list of resources and information.

For its part, Mr. Speaker, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment's Mineral and Petroleum Resources Division will be introducing an app with two guided walking tours that we hope will encourage the public to explore our local geology. One walking tour will feature the Ranney Hill Trail, while the second will walk participants through downtown Yellowknife. Both will highlight and offer information on this region's varied geology and the rich mining industry that it has sustained.

Mr. Speaker, as we prepare to mark Mining Week this year, I would also like to recognize the importance of not just our diamond mines, but the exploration companies and prospectors that also make up our resource sector. Just as it underpinned our economy before the pandemic struck, we will need mining, exploration, and development to anchor our economic recovery from COVID-19.

Mining and exploration have always been the biggest source of private-sector jobs and income for our residents. When they return to full operations, or when new projects advance, they will once again be major buyers of products and services from Northwest Territories companies and employers to our residents.

We recognize that these are trying times and, beyond addressing health and safety concerns as a first priority, we have worked to protect the livelihood of Northwest Territories residents and the many associated businesses working in our resource industry. Like we have with all sectors of the NWT economy, we continue to consider how we can best support our mineral sector through this period of reduced or limited activity.

We initially suspended payment and work requirements to protect mineral tenure holders until the end of June. I am happy today to announce that this relief is being extended for another three months until September 24th. This is an ongoing interim measure while we continue to work on more fulsome relief measures that require legislative change and consultation with our Indigenous partners, including those who share in the NWT's resource revenues. We have also made changes to our Mining Incentive Program to strengthen our support this year for proposed mineral exploration projects.

Overall, priority will be given to projects that offer the greatest potential to advance both mineral exploration and economic recovery in the Northwest Territories. Applicants are being advised to improve the attractiveness of their applications by committing to use services provided by Northwest Territories businesses and contractors to conduct most or all components of their work.

Mr. Speaker, through this COVID pandemic, our resource companies and their contractor partners have, once again, proven themselves to be strong corporate citizens. In particular, our diamond mines have worked with the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer and the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission to identify and put into practice very stringent guidelines and conditions governing the movement and interactions of their workforces. I want to thank them for their continued commitment to our territory.

Mr. Speaker, I have committed to being a strong advocate for our mining sector, and I stand by that today. I encourage all Members of the Legislative Assembly to seek out the online presentations and resources events that will mark Mining Week beginning on June 21st, and to take some time to acknowledge the opportunities and benefits which have been afforded to our territory by our historic relationships with mining. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 56-19(2): Mining Week 2020
Ministers' Statements

Page 1155

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

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Minister's Statement 57-19(2): Immigration and the Northwest Territories Nominee Program
Ministers' Statements

Page 1155

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We will defeat the scourge of COVID-19, and when we do, we will be better prepared to attract and welcome new residents.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to provide an update on the new immigration-related initiatives that the Department of Education, Culture and Employment has implemented or undertaken in the past six months, including an immigration settlement and integration pilot project, development of a new immigration stream, the creation of new resources for newcomers, and a refreshed website. I am also happy to officially announce the launch of the all new online application portal that will replace the current paper-based application process.

ECE delivers the employer stream of the Northwest Territories Nominee Program, which assists employers in filling workforce gaps with skilled and semi-skilled foreign nationals when local workers are not available. While the vast majority of nominees supported under the Nominee Program are already working in the territory, we continue to receive requests for information from people around the world who are interested in coming here. The entry of foreign nationals into Canada is a federal responsibility, so, like other provinces and territories, we work with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to ensure that processes and supports are in place when we welcome new residents to our territory.

In order to assist employers to build a skilled workforce while also supporting the immigration of foreign nationals who contribute to the economic development and success of the NWT, the Government of the Northwest Territories developed an immigration strategy, titled "Building a Skilled Workforce and Vibrant Economy 2017-2022."

Recent progress on the actions from the strategy include the development and implementation of a comprehensive marketing strategy to promote the NWT and the Nominee Program to both employers and foreign nationals at the local, national, and international levels. We are also working to introduce a new program stream specific to francophone foreign nationals, which we hope will encourage new residents to become a part of our vibrant francophone community in the North.

With the input of local community organizations, we have developed a "Welcome to the NWT" resource booklet to provide key information to foreign nationals and newcomers on the services that they need to settle, integrate, and succeed in their new communities. This booklet shows newcomers what it is like to live here and describes everything from initial checklists to information on schools, community and government services, employment, healthcare, and weather. It is a very comprehensive, plainly written resource in both English and French and available on the ECE and immigratenwt.ca websites.

Mr. Speaker, the immigratenwt.ca website has been refreshed to a more vibrant story-centric site with testimonials, narratives, and multimedia. It is one stop for all of the information we have on the Nominee Program, and now includes an online application portal.

The new online application system will be more user-friendly for the applicant, allow the departments to better track and manage the lifecycle of an application, and enhance accountability. It will eliminate the need for paper applications, while maintaining efficiency and improving the collection of information under the program.

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to note that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Conseil de development economique des Territoires du Nord-Ouest, and the Federation Franco-Tenoise are piloting the delivery of immigration settlement and integration services through an integrated service centre for newcomers in Yellowknife. The goal of the pilot is to enhance the coordination and delivery of settlement and integration services, provide a one-stop shop for these services, and support the success and retention of newcomer immigrants in the NWT. The centre officially opened in December 2019 and will continue in pilot for the remainder of the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

To improve partnerships with immigration stakeholders, we are holding semi-annual meetings with federally funded settlement service providers and offering information sessions and resources to newcomers and employers.

Mr. Speaker, from 2009-2019, the employer stream of the Nominee Program has welcomed 427 nominees to the territory. With their families, the total number is 819 people attending school, shopping at our stores, and contributing to their communities.

Since 2016, the business stream of the Nominee Program, delivered by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, welcomed 17 business nominees. Five are currently operating their businesses in Hay River and 12 are operating in Yellowknife. Together with their family members, these nominees bring new business services and a number of new residents to the territory.

Mr. Speaker, we continue to have requests for information from potential new residents to come to the NWT to live, work, and contribute to a growing economy. Now more than ever, addressing workforce gaps and supporting the development of a strong labour market is critical to the territory's economic future. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 57-19(2): Immigration and the Northwest Territories Nominee Program
Ministers' Statements

Page 1156

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

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Seniors.

Minister's Statement 58-19(2): Senior Citizens Month - June
Ministers' Statements

Page 1156

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The month of June is designated as Senior Citizens Month in the NWT. It is a time to recognize and show appreciation for the contributions made by seniors and elders to our communities, our families, and society in general.

In the Northwest Territories, seniors continue to be the fastest growing demographic in our population. In fact, it is projected that seniors and elders will comprise approximately 20 percent of our territorial population by 2035. This presents opportunities as well as challenges, Mr. Speaker.

We must ensure our seniors have a good quality of life that enables them to thrive and continue to be respected and contributing members of society.

One of the priorities of this 19th Legislative Assembly is to enable seniors to age in place with dignity. We must ensure that seniors have the necessary supports that allow them to live at home for as long as possible.

The GNWT is working across all levels of government and with community partners to ensure a wide range of social programs are available to meet the needs of our seniors, including housing, financial and income supports, healthcare supports, and accessible community infrastructure and transportation.

Mr. Speaker, one serious challenge that negatively affects many of our seniors' quality of life is elder abuse. June 15th is designated as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to bring awareness and encourage dialogue around this important issue.

This is a topic that is uncomfortable to acknowledge or discuss, as elder abuse, financial, emotional, or physical, can happen in a senior's own home. We must continue to address this to ensure vulnerable seniors are protected.

The NWT Seniors' Society has worked closely with the GNWT and has been instrumental in taking the lead on elder abuse prevention initiatives by way of awareness workshops and by providing a toll-free Seniors' Information Line. To complement this support, the NWT Help Line service offers confidential counselling support for residents of all ages in need of support.

Mr. Speaker, one of our first responses to the COVID-19 pandemic was to ensure the safety and well-being of our seniors, particularly those residing in long-term care facilities. We implemented a range of protective protocols and worked with families to ensure that residents could stay connected to those who love and care for them.

As the COVID pandemic response carries on, we will continue to deliver the services that seniors rely on. We are collaborating with community agencies and non-government organizations to ensure they are aware of the federal funding available to provide local support to seniors during this challenging time. We are also working with the NWT Seniors' Society to ensure communication material related to COVID-19 gets out to seniors in their Indigenous languages. This material will hopefully increase their awareness of the situation and how they can protect themselves, as well as reduce their anxiety about contracting the coronavirus.

The Department of Health and Social Services is also currently revising and updating the Seniors' Information Handbook, Mr. Speaker. This is a valuable resource for seniors and those who support them that provides listings of available services and numerous helpful resources. This handbook was developed in partnership with the GNWT departments and the NWT Seniors' Society and is updated periodically. It is available as both a hard copy handbook and online now, and the updated version is in process.

In closing, I would like to assure our NWT seniors that the GNWT remains committed to protecting their health and safety during the uncertain times as well as moving forward. We will continue to work cooperatively with Indigenous governments, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations to achieve our goal of applying quality services for our seniors to ensure they are able to enjoy long and healthy lives here in the NWT. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 58-19(2): Senior Citizens Month - June
Ministers' Statements

Page 1157

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

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

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
Members' Statements

Page 1157

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The United Nations General Assembly designated June 15th as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It is to bring attention to the world that abuse of elders is a public health and human rights issue that must be addressed.

The issue of COVID-19 has brought the treatment of elders to the forefront as we hear of the appalling treatment that some are being subjected to in both public and private care homes. It is not only care homes. We know of elders being abused by government through outdated policies and lack of support by family and friends. I am not saying this is an epidemic, but it is a reality.

Mr. Speaker, we hear of incidents of bullying, insults, abandonment, belittling, humiliation, harassment, isolation, privacy breaches, financial exploitation, and withholding of basic necessities of life all being revealed across the country. Most elders, out of love for their family or for a number of other reasons, almost never complain about this treatment. Because of health issues, they may not be in a position to vocalize how they are being treated, no matter what their living arrangement.

Elders, like the rest of the population, are looking for social interaction, a sense of belonging, and a sense of worth. It is important that we, as a society, as family, and as friends, provide that social aspect while safeguarding the protection these elders require. COVID-19 has forced the lockdown of many elders in government and other care facilities. This limits their opportunity for social interaction and visits from family and friends. We are fortunate in the NWT that our facilities are staffed with competent and caring staff, but loneliness continues to exist and needs to be addresses.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask all persons throughout the NWT to visit with elders, talk with them, sit with them, and above all else, listen to them, because one day, it may well be you in that exact position and wondering why you have been forgotten. It all comes down to showing respect and standing up for elders and not just on June 15th of every year, but every day of every year. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
Members' Statements

Page 1157

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

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Elder Abuse
Members' Statements

Page 1157

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Most of us love and respect the elders in our lives, yet abuse of this growing population is a problem all across the country. The detail of the problem is documented by Statistics Canada. NWT has the second highest rate of elder abuse in the country, and that rate is rising.

What is "abuse" in this context? The World Health Organization says it's a single or repeated act, or the opposite, a lack of appropriate action, which causes harm and distress to an older person, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust. It's a sad fact that all across Canada, elders are most likely to be victimized by those who are closest to them, namely, their own adult children.

Elder abuse can take many forms, but financial abuse and neglect are the most common in the NWT. It is important to note that overcrowded houses, poverty, and the legacy of residential school experience can make matters worse. The end result of any and all abuse is the same. It compromises the dignity, independence, health, and security of elders. It diminishes and frightens them. It's not what any of us want for our parents or for ourselves.

In 2015, the NWT Network to Prevent the Abuse of Older Adults released a five-year strategy with the title "Creating Safe Communities for Older Adults." The purpose of the strategy is to acknowledge and educate us about how widespread abuse is. The strategy starts from zero tolerance and offers 20 recommendations in four areas. Those four areas are public engagement, education and training, community responses, and policy and legislation. We all have a role to play in preventing elder abuse and creating safe, secure, and caring communities.

In the last four years, there have been some successes. The network itself is dormant, but the NWT Seniors' Society has been providing workshops called Creating Safer Communities for older adults. The workshops reflect NWT cultural practices and preferences. The goal is to empower communities to take on the issue of elder abuse themselves. Naming and speaking out about the abuse of older adults is one of the first steps to prevent it, and that's what today is about.

As Members of the Legislative Assembly, we have a special role to play. We can advocate in all four areas, but particularly those recommendations directed to government. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Elder Abuse
Members' Statements

Page 1158

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

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