This is page numbers 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 know.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek. Ms. Weyallon-Armstrong

The House met at 10:02 a.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for -- Honourable Premier.

Ministers' Statements

Minister's Statement 183-19(2):
GNWT COVID-19 Response and COVID Secretariat Activities

Prayer
Prayer

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, the health and well-being of the Northwest Territories and residents has been our number 1 priority. Today, we are slowly emerging from the worst outbreak of COVID-19 our territory experienced. At one point, the NWT had the highest number of active COVID-19 infections per capita in Canada. However, through collaboration and partnership between GNWT departments and authorities, community governments, and Indigenous government partners, we have been able to support residents and communities in need.

ProtectNWT is responsible for many of the measures put in place to minimize the risks to residents, including managing 8-1-1 phone lines, self-isolation plans, and the various exemptions for employers and employees. At the start of the outbreak in August there was a backlog in self-isolation plan review and delays in getting through on the phone. Mr. Speaker, the team at ProtectNWT worked diligently to improve response times and the recent launch of a new self-isolation plan process and technology update will ensure we continue to make life easier for residents by processing and responding to submissions in a timely manner.

Mr. Speaker, since mid-August the Secretariat has hosted those who are medically advised to self-isolate in our isolation centres in regional hub communities. There were challenges, including finding suitable isolation arrangements for people from the underhoused community. In these instances, we worked with the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authorities to offer additional wraparound supports.

During other outbreaks in small communities, the efforts of communities to provide isolation supports for those requiring these arrangements is to be commended.

Isolation spaces have provided a valuable service for residents that would otherwise have no other place to safely isolate. Providing this space has lowered our collective risk of ongoing community transmission of COVID-19 infections in our communities.

Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat continues to operate our border checkpoints providing necessary information to residents returning to the Northwest Territories, helping to ensure that residents understand and are following the self-isolation guidance.

Our compliance and enforcement officers have provided support to residents, community governments, and leadership in the response to community outbreaks. The team does more than just enforce compliance with public health orders; they have also been on the front lines educating the public on their obligations under the public health orders.

The educational approach, whether it was passing out flyers or one-on-one conversations, has helped to increase knowledge and compliance with the requirements to keep us safe.

Similar to other remote communities that experienced an outbreak, in Tuktoyaktuk compliance and enforcement officers are on the ground supporting the public health orders. Teams are in the community to ensure public health orders are understood by community members to increase the level of safety and reduce the risk of continued spread of COVID-19. The focus on education has helped keep residents safe throughout the pandemic.

Mr. Speaker, as we look to the future, we can see a time where the pandemic winds down and risks of COVID-19 will become further minimized due to a high national vaccination rate as well as a successful immunization program here at home in the Northwest Territories. It is at that time that we will begin to shift our focus from a pandemic to an endemic response. This response to COVID-19 will likely require a significantly scaled down version of the Secretariat to manage and respond to the virus efficiently and effectively. Functions that may continue to operate include

  • an 8-1-1 call centre to respond to COVID-related questions from the public;
  • compliance and enforcement to provide support during local community outbreaks;.
  • continued coordination of communications in support of outbreak response and public safety;
  • logistics to rapidly respond to outbreaks and provide isolation facilities; and,
  • policy support to assist in the development of public health orders and other policy measures.

The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to providing these services, as long as is needed, to ensure our residents remain safe and we can minimize the risk of future COVID-19 infections and outbreaks.

Mr. Speaker, Northerners should be proud, proud of our collective response to the pandemic. It has not been easy. Our territory has come a long way since the first infection of COVID-19 was announced inside our borders on March 20th, 2020. It's important we all continue to do our part and continue to follow the public health orders so we can stay as healthy as possible navigating this public health emergency to its end. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause


MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, Honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Health and Social Services.


Minister's Statement 184-19(2):
GNWT COVID-19 health and social services update


HON. JULIE GREEN: Mr. Speaker, it has been nearly two years since the first COVID-19 cases emerged in China and rapidly spread throughout the world. Throughout the course of this pandemic, we have faced many challenges yet we have been able to adapt quickly and respond when and where needed as we continue to learn about this disease.

Vaccination has been an essential part of our COVID response. In June, we released Emerging Wisely 2021, a road map with specific vaccination targets that allow for the safe and measured easing of restrictions. This plan is based on data and in the early part of summer 2021, the data allowed us to reduce or eliminate self-isolation requirements for NWT residents based on their vaccination status.

We continue to work in collaboration with Indigenous and community governments to implement vaccination campaigns at the territorial, regional, and community levels. Through this collaboration, and by providing additional community vaccine clinics, 81 percent of the NWT population 12 years and older is now fully vaccinated. We have also had good uptake on third doses or booster shots for eligible residents over 18.

This summer, Canada, and many other countries around the world, experienced a rapid rise in the Delta Variant, a more infectious variant of COVID-19. Due to increased travel in August, as well as larger gatherings taking place across the territory, the NWT began to see surges of COVID infections in some communities.

And I just want to mention, Mr. Speaker, that there is now another new variant, a South African based variant, that is on the move and we expect announcements regarding the response to this variant from the federal government today.

The Sahtu region was the first to experience large scale outbreaks with community transmission. Surges followed in Behchoko, Whati, Yellowknife, N'dilo, Dettah, Hay River and K'atl'odeeche First Nation. To contain these outbreaks, the Chief Public Health Officer placed temporary restrictions on gatherings. By following the temporary measures and public health recommendations, case counts in these communities came down, and public health measures were lifted.

We know the measures were challenging, and I want to commend residents and local leadership for their commitment to following the orders and advice.

I also want to commend the healthcare system which was quick to mobilize increasing testing clinic hours and redeploying staff to affected communities to support contact tracing and care for those infected. Due to staff shortages, we asked for and received additional staffing support from the federal government and the Canadian Red Cross.

These outbreaks, including most recently in Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, combined with the fact that the seven-day average of daily new cases in Canada remains over 1000, means that Emerging Wisely 2021 is still on pause. The Chief Public Health Officer is watching case counts here and across the country to assess the risk of importing COVID to the NWT via travel.

Mr. Speaker, to improve early detection of COVID-19 and to help reduce the spread, we have implemented two new programs.

The COVID-19 at-home student screening program, which launched last month, detects early infection among asymptomatic children, that is children without symptoms, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The program is being offered in 13 schools across the territory, including schools in Yellowknife, Behchoko, Hay River, Inuvik, N'dilo, Dettah, and Tuktoyaktuk. These schools were selected because they are among the largest or most vulnerable to outbreak centres and high housing density.

Over 1000 tests have been completed by student volunteers as of November 16. We are grateful to the families who have volunteered to take part in this program. It helped in the early identification and containment of COVID-19 cases among students at the East Three Elementary School in Inuvik. And it is our hope that additional schools may be added in the future.

The second program DetectNWT, also implemented last month, provides an option for businesses and organizations to apply for rapid antigen tests, allowing them to run their own COVID-19 screening programs. Priority is being given to those who work in high-risk settings and workplaces, essential services, sectors that support economic and social activities, and to those who work with vulnerable populations. Over 40 businesses and organizations are taking part in this program to date. And this program is available to any business in the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, as we have seen over the past few months, the COVID situation can change dramatically at any time. This is why an NWT-wide Mandatory Face Mask Requirement and Gathering Order continues to be in effect this winter. Under the gathering order, for non-essential businesses and organizations, gatherings are limited to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. Businesses and organizations may increase these limits by applying to vary from the public health requirements. This measure requires applicants to implement a proof of vaccination program in order to increase their gathering capacity. Residents attending the gathering or entering the business or organization's space have to be fully vaccinated. To date, over 340 requests to implement the proof of vaccination program have been approved. And once again, this is a territory-wide initiative.

Mr. Speaker, the surge in cases in communities across the territory, along with the public health orders issued to address these outbreaks, have not been easy for anyone. This is especially true for health care professionals across the NWT who have been working tirelessly as part of our COVID response. Other parts of the healthcare system have felt the strain from COVID as well As staff have been redeployed and shuffled around to assist where they are needed, everyone has had to adjust and adapt. I thank our nurses, doctors, technicians, administrators, and all the healthcare workers in the NWT for their dedication and commitment to keeping us all healthy and safe.

To do our part, we as residents must continue to follow public health measures and get vaccinated. I encourage anyone over 18, who was vaccinated six months ago or longer, to get a COVID booster shot. Booster shots give our immune system a boost and provide greater protection against COVID-19.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, the federal government has recently approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children over the age of five, and we are beginning our vaccination campaign for this age group today. We know that schools are high risk environments for the spread of COVID. Vaccinating school-aged children is vital to protecting them from the virus and to protecting others in their household, family, and community.

This important step in our COVID response will help to keep children safe and will help to ensure schools remain open for in-person learning in the Northwest Territories. It will also protect the capacity of our health system and ensure it remains available for everyone who needs it. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause.

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, this Assembly speaks frequently of the need for fundamental change to how our government does business, most notably in how we care for one another. This work is progressing through government renewal, pushes for holistic reviews of income, security, and medical travel, and a call for a shift to client-focused trauma-informed wraparound integrated service delivery. This kind of change doesn't get your name on your bridge or a building but is necessary for a prosperous NWT that closes gaps, is equitable, and readies us for growth.

To effectively care for Northerners, we need a balanced system that sustainably supports both social programs and services and innovative business development.

During our 2019 election, over 400 businesses identified five key pillars to strengthen northern business - grow our population and contribute to long term NWT prosperity and coined it "vote growth". Fibre redundancy was one of those five pillars.

Mr. Speaker, we live in a digital age where business and care supports rely on internet access. COVID has further expanded our broadband reliance in education, health care, and access to public health, and therefore, safety information.

Yellowknife serves over half the territory with only one fibre line and no redundancy. A one day outage in Yellowknife is said to result in an estimated GDP loss of 4.75 million and much more in missed health appointments and educational opportunities.

2019's vote growth asked the GNWT to fund and build redundant fibre lines by December 31st, 2021. While completing this project in the next 35 days is not possible, yesterday Deton Cho announced its intention to pursue public funding for an Indigenous-owned submarine fibre line under Great Slave Lake. The company signed a memorandum of understanding with Northwestel to collaborate on the fibre project and bring greater telecommunications resiliency to nine communities in the Great Slave Lake region.

The new fibre loop would provide added protection to services in nine NWT communities: Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, Hay River, Fort Providence, Behchoko, Whati, Dettah, N'dilo and Yellowknife. But while both entities committed to significant financial resources, they require public sector funding to make this work, Mr. Speaker.

This is a great news story for the whole territory, and I look forward to speaking with the Minister of Finance about achieving this milestone through an Indigenous-led partnership that results in Indigenous-owned infrastructure. Thank you.

---Applause

Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's statement on fort smith airport
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I'm going to speak today about a familiar issue, which is the Fort Smith airport runway width. The last time I spoke about this I brought forward a petition that was signed by 550 people and the entire elected leadership of Fort Smith, all of whom support my position in advocating for the reinstatement of the airport's runway's former width.

Mr. Speaker, one thing that's very frustrating about this whole issue is hearing our government rationalize for making this move. I had a discussion with the parties at all levels about this issue, and something just does not add up with what I'm hearing from Northwestern Air Lease, the Department of Infrastructure, and even from our Member of Parliament.

Our government has said time and time again that it did not receive direction from the federal government to change the width of the Fort Smith airport runway. That argument, however, is somewhat misleading because our government has repeatedly pointed to the Transport Canada TP312 Aerodrome Standards and Recommended Practices as the reason for the runway changes. These standards are part of Canada's aviation regulations which helps identify runway requirements for airports across Canada.

Mr. Speaker, Transport Canada is a Department of the federal government and when they change or alter any aviation standards or regulations, it's federal law that all airports must comply with those new standards. I don't know what I'm missing, Mr. Speaker. Does that not constitute a federal directive of our government to act upon?

Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, I understand that the Fort Smith airport runway surface still remains at 60 meters in width. All that changed is the placement of new lights along the runway which has created and artificially narrower airport than before. Maintenance costs remain the same.

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted.

Mr. Speaker, proper consultation was not done with the community of Fort Smith on this airport runway width change. The people of my community remain upset for how many -- for how these changes were done. We feel that the government was not upfront with the intended changes that were to occur to the airport runway. I still believe that our government ought to reinstate the airport runway width to its former specifications. Logical, reasonable, and common sense decisions, are they possible with this department and this government? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Member's statement on fort smith airport
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

member's statement on student bussing in hay river
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I want to raise the issue of student busing. As you may be aware, student busing was suspended in Hay River for the first month of this year, school year.

Mr. Speaker, it was fortunate -- it was unfortunate how the cancellation of busing materialized. What it did was create a possibility that some students would have no means of transportation to get to school. This forced the Minister of Education to conduct an investigation as to whether or not the decision by the Hay River DEA to suspend busing was a sound one.

Mr. Speaker, the decision by the Hay River District Education Council was cited by the investigator as political. This -- the decision failed to consider the student transportation regulations and lacked community consultation.

Mr. Speaker, the Hay River DEA referenced a lack of funding for their decision, and there is no doubt in my mind that due to the drop in student enrolment over the years that the Hay River DEA is underfunded when it comes to student busing. However, we have legislation in place that provides the DEA and the DEC with authority to offer or not offer student busing, and we also have a set of criteria that must be considered when reaching such a decision.

Mr. Speaker, regardless of the funding issue, the student transportation regulations sets out specific criteria when assessing whether or not busing should be provided. These regulations appear to have been ignored otherwise the decision by the DEA would have been to -- would not have been to cancel busing.

It was fortunate that the DEA and the DEC were able to find 400,000 which allowed busing to restart.

Mr. Speaker, the issue of busing not only impacts the community of Hay River but from what I hear, also communities such as Inuvik are grappling with the issue as well. It may be time to rethink how busing is managed. It may be that the department needs to remove it from the DEA's and the DEC's authority and operate as part of the department's overall infrastructure.

---Applause

Mr. Speaker, busing is an integral part to student learning. Without it, many students may not make it to school - something we want to avoid. I do not want the DEA to have to go through this every year as it puts stress on students, parents, the busing contractor, and DEA members. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

member's statement on student bussing in hay river
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

member's statement on fuel prices in nunakput region
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I want to talk about cost of living in my riding and the cost of fuel that's going up. Everywhere across the NWT we know this means the cost of living is going to be going up when the fuel is essential. Fuel transportation is to heat our homes, to hunt.

Mr. Speaker, we need fuel. And Mr. Speaker, we need the fuel prices. When it gets bad in the southern markets we know it's just a matter of time before it comes north.

Three out of four of my communities in my riding have fuel set by our Government of the Northwest Territories. As September 27th, 2021, gasoline prices set by the GNWT for Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok, and Sachs Harbour were $1.94, $1.95, $1.93 respectively. Mr. Speaker, these prices are nearly fifty cents more than at the gas pumps here in Yellowknife. Even compared to last year, gasoline in Sachs Harbour was only -- it was 17 cents cheaper. These prices are limiting the ability to my constituents to go out on the land - to hunt, to fish - to feed their family, to travel, and to keep their homes warm. Every cent in increase of the price of fuel, Mr. Speaker, has a serious, negative effects to the people of Nunakput.

Mr. Speaker, already we face the high cost of living in our communities. We have the highest cost in the Northwest Territories. We need our government to respond to the rising cost of living to the residents of Nunakput, Mr. Speaker. They need to address the cost of fuel, is a good place to start. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the appropriate Minister at the appropriate time. Thank you.

---Applause

member's statement on fuel prices in nunakput region
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's statement on fibre optic line redundancy
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

November 26th, 2021

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'd like to echo some of the comments made by my colleague from Kam Lake of the importance of fibre redundancy. Even before COVID, we all know the world was quickly moving online but I think, as we have seen with any emergency, access to the internet is essential for communication and the continued efforts of essential services.

Mr. Speaker, right now if there's a forest fire or some idiot shoots the fibre line, we run out of internet. The creation of a fibre redundancy loop allows us, and the communities around the lake, to have a secondary point of access. As already noted, a single day of losing access to internet results in a $4.7 million loss of GDP.

Mr. Speaker, many of us who have stood up in this Chamber have asked for better internet services. We know that our government owns the Mackenzie Valley fibre link, just yesterday we passed money to extend it to Tuktoyaktuk. There's lots of great work to be done by our government but more importantly now, we have Det'on Cho and Northwestel working together with a MOU to build their own Indigenous-owned fibre line.

Mr. Speaker, we have some expertise. We've created P3s. We know how to get some money out of the federal government in this area. Really all I'm asking is for a nice political win here, and I'll have questions for the Minister of Finance whether we can get all the parties together and work together to create that fibre redundancy. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Member's statement on fibre optic line redundancy
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife North. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.

member's statement on staffing shortage at stanton territorial hospital
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onfibre Optic Line

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.


MS. NOKLEBY: Mr. Speaker, I'm tired. It's been a very long and exhausting week with serious debates in the House that have taken a lot out of me and my colleagues. Last night, after an extended sitting in the Ledge, I was looking forward to heading home, snuggling in with my cats, and putting on some escapist TV to help myself unwind. However this is not how my evenings seem to go these days. Rather, my evenings are spent speaking with constituents and residents over the impending staffing crisis at Stanton Territorial Hospital.

This week in the House, I have tried to ask questions of the Health Minister as to how we've found ourselves in this situation, referencing questions I sent her in the spring asking what the department was doing to address the increasing burnout of nursing staff I was hearing about. Fast forward seven months, and those concerns and the warning I raised have now come to fruition.

The Minister indicated this was something that could not have been prevented, citing high wages and requests for vacation as the reason our OBS ward was being shut down, disrupting numerous families across the territory.

I ask, how could this be a surprise, or not preventable, given healthcare staffing was something we discussed over two years ago and felt was an important enough issue to include it in our priorities as an Assembly.

Healthcare workers have told me of survey fatigue and a lack of faith that any further surveys will have any effect on their working conditions. Conditions that include an increased workload due to COVID, that they no longer have the opportunity to take any breaks while on shift, or even have time to take a sip of water. An issue I may add is further compounded by the ridiculous requirement that the containers used meet a certain specification. I have to ask myself, with my knowledge of cronyism in the North, is someone's relative out there who sells these bottles and they are getting a cut? Or Otherwise I can't see any rationale for treating our professional staff like children.

Issues at Stanton have been long in the making, transferring right along with the staff into the new building - preferential treatment of locums, a toxic workplace and management, and inadequate staffing long predate COVID which is a favourite excuse for this Cabinet when they fail to perform.

Now is the time for this government to take action and do what is right by our healthcare staff and for the people of this territory, and stop making excuses for their inaction. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of HR as I am hoping that I will actually get some answers today. ---Applause