This is page numbers 957 - 1010 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, 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 957

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.

Minister's Statement 47-19(2): 2020 Wildfire Season
Ministers' Statements

Page 957

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. The wildfire season this year is off to a slow start thanks to cooler temperatures in May, right across the territory. It has only been in the last week or so that things are finally starting to warm up. Hot weather is predicted through June and July, with temperatures well above normal. These are prime conditions for wildfires.

As of this week, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has responded to one wildfire in the Northwest Territories. This fire is suspected to be human-caused and is under investigation. Mr. Speaker, it is critical that residents use extreme caution with campfires while out on the land. This is especially important early in the season, when the land is often dry. People planning to do spring brush or grass burning must get a burn permit and make sure they have water and tools on hand to put it out.

Mr. Speaker, COVID-19 presents some unique challenges this fire season. Staff at Environment and Natural Resources have been preparing for months, learning from other parts of the country whose fire season begins weeks or months before ours, and have established best practices to keep our fire crews and communities safe.

Large fires require a large response, Mr. Speaker, many people working closely together, eating and sleeping in close quarters. Physical distancing is not possible on your way to a fire, whether you are travelling by aircraft or by vehicle. Setting up pumps and pulling hoses around a fire needs teamwork and people working alongside one another.

That is why we have put in place new health and safety measures for our wildfire operations this year. Fitness testing and training and camp protocols have been modified to limit group sizes; new briefing formats keep face-to-face interactions to a minimum; and surfaces are more frequently cleaned and sanitized. We are also monitoring the health of our fire crews and staff on a daily basis.

Mr. Speaker, wildfires also produce a lot of smoke, which can be hard on residents with existing health conditions. In a worst-case scenario, wildfires can require community evacuations. Physical distancing would be extremely challenging while evacuating large numbers of people, and add additional stress on the communities, residents, and emergency responders.

This is why we have adjusted our wildfire response strategies this year to take into account the additional challenges of COVID-19. To limit the risks to our fire crews and communities, we will aim to catch fires earlier. We will also be more aggressive in how we fight fires to keep them as small as possible. As I mentioned, large fires require a large response, and we want to keep the number of crews on a fire to a minimum and try to avoid bringing in crews from outside the NWT. Under certain conditions, we may also need to put in place fire bans to reduce human-caused fires and consider restricting burning when the fire danger is moderate or higher.

Mr. Speaker, it is important to recognize fire as an important and necessary part of the forest ecosystem. Historically, Environment and Natural Resources responds to less than half of the wildfires on the landscape in any given season. Each fire that is actioned increases the risk of fire in future years. This is because forest fuels build up to a point where controlling new fires becomes more challenging and can result in greater human, financial, and ecological impacts. While more fires will be actioned in 2020, not every fire will be fought.

Environment and Natural Resources has reviewed the additional COVID-related measures for the 2020 season with the Chief Public Health Officer and the Departments of Municipal and Community Affairs and Health and Social Services, which are in support of the plan. Environment and Natural Resources will continue to work collaboratively throughout the season to ensure a coordinated effort.

Mr. Speaker, it is so important, perhaps now more than ever, that each one of us does our part to prevent wildfire. This year, Environment and Natural Resources launched a new contest to encourage residents to FireSmart their properties while maintaining physical distance from others. I encourage Northwest Territories residents to take part. Clearing brush, raking leaves, even cutting your lawn, can help keep your home safe.

Finally, I would just like to remind everyone to be careful on the land. Do not let your campfire become a wildfire. By reducing the number of fires in the Northwest Territories this summer, we can all help keep our fire crews and our communities stay safe and healthy. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 47-19(2): 2020 Wildfire Season
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.

Flooding in the Inuvik Region
Members' Statements

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Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. April and May are a time in my region and my community that everybody is out on the land, going out ratting, spring hunting. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of our residents have taken it upon themselves and have been encouraged to take their families out on the land. Many in my community have been out and headed out onto the Mackenzie Delta to seek refuge and safety to help stop the spread early on in the COVID-19. There has been some financial support to get more families out for supplies. People have built some new cabins along the Delta, and some have been there since even before my time.

Over the last couple of days, I have been hearing and seeing residents in my community watching the water levels, worrying about their cabins. Water levels in the Beaufort-Delta are the highest levels recorded in the past 17 years that Environment Canada has on record; it was up to 16.5 metres. Last time, in 2006, it was 16.35 metres. Many residents in my community have been forced to leave their cabins. Some had water rising in the middle of the night and had to plan to get out the next day by helicopter as a result of the water rising.

Mr. Speaker, in some cases, people have had to leave a lot of their personal belongings and have suffered great loss to their cabins, their personal property. Today I will have questions for the Minister of MACA on the resources available to our communities who are suffering as a result of the high water levels in the Beaufort-Delta. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Flooding in the Inuvik Region
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Territorial Fire Centre
Members' Statements

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Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the issue of capital spending in the NWT, specifically for Fort Smith. I would like to see a new territorial fire centre for the NWT to replace the existing fire centre in Fort Smith. As we all know, the NWT fire centre has the important role of being the first responders to any territorial forest fires. Not only does the fire centre operate across the NWT, but the fire centre also has signed agreements to assist with large forest fires across Canada, as well as internationally.

Geographically, the South Slave region is the northern-most part of the Boreal forest, making this area the most vulnerable to large wildfires. While all NWT communities can be affected by forest fires, most of communities within this area are also surrounded by miles of Boreal forest, which has the potential to create problems within the communities, especially when it involves emergency evacuations.

The NWT fire centre must be state-of-the-art and contain the highest degree of technology and equipment, including fibre optics. The fire centre needs to have modern technologies to assist any communities who require assistance with wildfires. The new facility will also require a large warehouse to contain all the essential equipment that is needed to export personnel responding to wildfires.

Mr. Speaker, it is essential that our NWT fire centre be on par with national fire centres across the country. The territorial fire centre not only serves all of the NWT but has agreements about assisting national and international fire centres when needed. In return, the NWT fire centre also relies on national and international firefighters to assist here at home when wildfires turn out of control, threatening our communities and resources.

The fire centre has the essential role of containing and maintaining the locations of wildfires, firefighters, and national and international exports. Mr. Speaker, for those very significant reasons, we must ensure that we continue to provide both Northerners and southerners with the most up-to-date technologies and equipment in regard to fire centres. I will have questions for the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Territorial Fire Centre
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

On-the-Land Treatment Programs
Members' Statements

Page 959

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Masi, Mr. Speaker. [Microphone turned off].

[Translation] Mr. Speaker, there has been success in the regions. I would like to say they have had on-the-land addictions programming in the past. One such program was held in Gameti at Faber Lake in the '90s. An elder ran the program for inmates, with a focus on both counselling and teaching survival skills.

Mr. Speaker, another project that was very successful was in the Sahtu region in the early 2000s. It was also operated by an elderly couple, with a focus on traditional skills and lifestyle. They did a lot of helping and healing. We know, in that sense, that they would be able to help and to motivate our people by teaching our ways of life. [Translation ends]

[Microphone turned off] ...operated by our respected elders, our teachers, our counsellors, and our mentors. Our elders are considered traditional doctors, specialists, and professionals out on the land. They are able to provide advice, life experiences, and continuous support. They have been successful in the past, Mr. Speaker, and can fill the gap that this government has been unable to fill, specifically aftercare programming. I will have questions for the Minister of Health at the appropriate time, Mr. Speaker. Masi.

On-the-Land Treatment Programs
Members' Statements

Page 959

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Marine Transportation Services
Members' Statements

Page 959

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the previous sitting, I discussed Marine Transportation Services, or MTS, as it is referred to. It is time to review the management and operations of MTS. It has been three years since the asset purchase, and we have stuck our head in the sand and let it operate as is. MTS was purchased to ensure uninterrupted freight services to the communities along the Mackenzie River and the coast. It quickly morphed into something more that includes providing services such as vessel repair and private charters.

Mr. Speaker, it is time this government identify what we are trying to achieve with MTS. I would like to see an up-to-date business plan confirming business structure options for MTS and planned areas of service it offers to third parties. I need to know how the current relationship this government has with ORSI will impact the future of MTS.

ORSI appears to have unfettered discretion in how it operates MTS based on a contract that I have not seen. How many extensions have been made to the contract, and have there been any concessions made by either side? I would like the contract to be made available, if not to myself, then to the Standing Committee on Economic Development. We have to understand where we are headed. As it affects Hay River and the communities it serves, it is of importance to me, other MLAs, and the residents of the NWT.

In a subsequent Member's statement, I stated that ORSI is currently supplying MTS with marine management and other personnel. Constituents continue to raise concerns with hiring practices, contracting practices, purchasing practices, and to date, it appears minimal improvement has been made to address those concerns. Furthermore, we may now see negotiations between the union and ORSI take place in the very near future. What impact will those negotiations have on this government and delivery of goods and services to the communities?

My overall concern continues to be oversight, or lack of it, that this government has with respect to the management relationship between MTS and ORSI. These concerns have been unaddressed for too long, and we need answers now. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Marine Transportation Services
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Emerging Wisely Plan and Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission Capacity
Members' Statements

Page 960

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our GNWT staff and the Chief Public Health Officer for all their work and sacrifices during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Our residents have also endured a lot and deserve our thanks for their patience and calm during these unprecedented times. On May 12, Emerging Wisely was released by the Chief Public Health Officer. It is the phased approach to easing of restrictions for the NWT. I have some personal experience with risk assessment, having developed a plan for the small NGO I worked with before becoming an MLA. I support the rigorous, systematic, and comprehensive approach taken with our plan and certainly appreciate the amount of time that went into its development. I also support the conservative and staged approach that it takes. It is very complex and has the level of detail that I would expect to see. Thank you again to all of those who put what I imagine to have been countless hours into this detailed and well-thought-out plan.

Plain language materials and information in all the official languages will be critical to the public understanding and accepting the plan. I am still waiting for the communication plan, Mr. Speaker. The graphics and material on the Department of Health website are helpful. We also need these or similar materials in all our official languages. My greatest concern is the reliance on Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission for reviews and/or inspections to develop risk assessments and mitigation measures. I want to make sure that the Commission has adequate capacity to do the amount of work that is headed its way. We don't want a lack of capacity to cause delays in businesses, facilities, NGOs, programs, and services from opening. I will have questions later today for the Minister Responsible for the Worker's Safety and Compensation Commission. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Emerging Wisely Plan and Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission Capacity
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Frame Lake. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.