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 indigenous.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., 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 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Finance.

Ministers' Statements

Minister's statement 187-19(2):
Family Violence Prevention MontH

Prayer
Prayer

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, today I am speaking about family and gender violence. This is a painful subject for so many people. I will now pause for a moment, Mr. Speaker, to give survivors the opportunity to choose whether they would like to listen.

We are in the midst of Family Violence Prevention Month. I would like to recognize that November 25th was the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The 16 Days are an opportunity to come together as Canadians and with partners around the world to call out and speak up about gender-based violence, and to renew our commitment to ending violence against women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA+, and gender diverse individuals.

In Canada, we also observe the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, remembering the women who were murdered during the tragic mass shooting at Polytechnique Montréal on December 6, 1989.

These months and days of recognition, action, and activism tell us that we are not alone in this problem. We see it elsewhere in Canada and across the world. But family and gender-based violence is pervasive in the Northwest Territories. We have the second highest rate of family violence in Canada. It is clear that colonization continues to have cascading impacts on Indigenous lives in the Northwest Territories. Because of intergenerational trauma, the legacy of residential schools and the systemic racism that continues today, we must work even harder to educate ourselves and learn from each other to broaden our understanding of this history and the work that must be done.

The impacts of colonization are illustrated not only by high rates of family and gender-based violence but by high suicide rates, overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the child welfare and the criminal justice systems and the pervasiveness of addiction and poverty in Indigenous communities to name a few. These issues are interrelated and compounded by one another.

To interrupt the cycle of family and gender-based violence, we must not only take an integrative whole-of-government approach but also a territory-wide approach that includes Indigenous government partners. Our strategy must meet the unique needs and be reflective of the voices of Northerners. I am proud to say that the Government of the Northwest Territories is working to reconcile Indigenous experiences by taking steps to acknowledge and address the profound impact colonization has had on the Indigenous population. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Action Plan will highlight several innovative ways that departments are delving into the work required to begin and promote healing in the communities in the Northwest Territories.

The transformation of our Women's Advisory Office into a better resourced gender equity division is supporting improved cross-departmental coordination on gender issues, including family violence. To inform this approach, the GNWT plans to engage Indigenous governments, community stakeholders and service providers over the next few months. The goal of this work is to identify best practices, align existing GNWT work and, based on community input, identify priority areas for investment over the coming decade.

Mr. Speaker, within the Government of the Northwest Territories we are reaching across departments to bring programs, resources, and support together. We are listening to experts, partners, and allies like the Native Women's Association of the NWT, the Status of Women Council of the NWT, the Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife, the YWCA, shelters and victim service providers to inform our approach and continue to engage and listen.

Mr. Speaker, this is critically important work. Survivors have identified a need for overlapping, person-centered supports and services that make them feel comfortable when reaching out for help. We need to ensure our frontline service providers are trauma and violence informed and have a thorough understanding of the history of Northerners. We also need to shift perspectives when determining what those who use and perpetuate violence in their relationships need.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has many programs and services to support survivors of family and gender-based violence and those who have used violence in their relationships. There is a need to coordinate the many programs we fund and offer. The Territorial Family Violence Strategy that will be developed will take this into consideration and recommend ways in which to improve our current approach.

Mr. Speaker, we are making progress, but we have much more work to do. I commit to keeping the Members of this House advised on the progress of this initiative. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Education, Culture and Employment. Thank you, Minister.

Minister's statement 188-19(2): Update on Key Departmental Initiatives
Prayer

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this government has committed to transforming our education system with the goal of improving the lives of all our residents. The Department of Education, Culture and Employment has some exciting initiatives being undertaken in collaboration with education partners, industry, Indigenous governments, and the federal government.

Mr. Speaker, it can be argued that the greatest returns on investment come from investing in early childhood education. That is one of the reasons that this Legislative Assembly has made it a priority to advance universal child care by expanding availability and affordability. We have gathered perspectives from Indigenous governments, licensed early learning and childcare programs, and early childhood educators, and have completed a review of our current funding programs. We will report on these engagements and findings in the coming weeks, and these reports will inform the development of the 2030 Early Learning and Child Care Strategy.

This strategy, along with the soon-to-be finalized Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, will mark a monumental step toward improving the quality, availability, and affordability of licensed child care throughout the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, increasing education outcomes in the NWT to the same level as the rest of Canada is our mandate, and while investments in early learning and child care will go a long way to achieving this, we must do more. That is why we are also modernizing our Education Act and renewing our junior kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum.

Modernizing the Education Act is critical to ensuring we are able to make coordinated, system-wide improvements to meet the needs of students across the territory, so that we can better prepare our youth to succeed in life. As part of this work, we have conducted a first round of engagement with Indigenous governments, education leaders, the Northwest Territories Teachers Association, parents, special interest groups, and the public.

Mr. Speaker, during these engagements we heard clearly that this process should not be rushed, and we agree. In order to create an education system that truly reflects, engages, and supports all our residents, we will need to take our time and work collaboratively, and we are committed to doing both. That means that the development of a truly modern Education Act will extend into the 20th Legislative Assembly. During this Legislative Assembly, we will pursue minor legislative changes to address many of the operational issues identified during public engagement, while also continuing that broader conversation.

In addition to our legislative work, we are renewing our junior kindergarten to Grade 12 school curriculum. ECE began exploring and evaluating the curricula of the western Canadian provinces in 2019. Over the last several months, the department invited Indigenous governments and key education partners to attend consultation and engagement sessions, and welcomed public input through an online form. Five main themes have emerged as priorities through that engagement process:

  • the importance of Indigenous ways;
  • high school transitions;
  • rigor in curriculum;
  • accountability for learning; and,
  • key learning for life.

In the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing the results of these engagements, and a decision on our future provincial partnership. As we move forward with this renewal, ECE will continue to engage with our education partners and will include them in planning for curriculum adaptation, teacher training, classroom resources, and large-scale assessment tools.

Mr. Speaker, learning does not stop after high school. The Skills 4 Success initiative aims to improve employment success by addressing gaps in skills for in-demand jobs and by more effectively responding to employer, industry, and community needs.

Over the past summer, the department held virtual roundtables, interviews and online surveys with residents and stakeholders to find out how well the current programs and supports are working, and what we could improve. This feedback will shape the development of a new four-year Skills 4 Success Action Plan that we will release in the new year.

Mr. Speaker, careers in trades offer good pay, ample opportunities for advancement, and lifelong learning. ECE is always working to improve supports and opportunities for residents in the trades. For example, the department recently launched the Blue Seal Program.

A Blue Seal certificate holder not only meets the NWT's high industry standards in a skilled trade but also has the knowledge and drive to succeed in business. Last week I had the honor of signing the first two Blue Seal certificates ever issued by the Government of the Northwest Territories.

---Applause

This program will increase opportunities for NWT residents to advance their careers and highlight their professionalism.

I am also pleased to announce that the department has released new trades entrance requirements, which will come into effect January 2022. This change, which is a result of our work with Indigenous governments and industry, will better align the requirements with our high school curriculum and will increase opportunities for our residents.

Mr. Speaker, we have made great progress on these key initiatives, and I look forward to updating the Legislative Assembly as they continue to move forward.

I also want to thank both the department staff, who have dedicated countless hours pursuing the ambitious goals we have set, as well as everyone who we engaged with over the past year. Their time and energy is laying the groundwork for the future prosperity of the Northwest Territories.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our JK to 12 and post-secondary educators, as well as our early learning and child care staff across the territory, for their hard work and dedication in supporting our youth, families, and residents throughout the pandemic. Your resilience has been inspiring, and I am grateful for your professionalism during this challenging time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Minister's statement 188-19(2): Update on Key Departmental Initiatives
Prayer

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's statement 189-19(2): Minister Absent from the House
Prayer

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise the House that the Honourable Julie Green will be absent from the House later today to participate in a conference call with federal/provincial/territorial Ministers of Health. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's statement 189-19(2): Minister Absent from the House
Prayer

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Members' Statementsmember's Statement Oncovid-19 Safety In The Workplace
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Oncovid-19 Safety In The Workplace

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Mr. Speaker, today is the day where most government departments will require proof of vaccination from employees who wish to continue working, and for those unvaccinated employees not willing to follow PPE protocol, tomorrow they may be sent home.

Mr. Speaker, questions are asked of me as to how this government, as an employer, is going to guarantee the safety of those that are vaccinated in the workplace when working alongside someone who is not vaccinated. Could this be considered an "unusual danger" as defined in the Safety Act?

Mr. Speaker, any employee or contractor has the right to have this matter addressed in accordance with the Safety Act. The Safety Act, in section 13(1) defines "unusual danger" to mean, in relation to any work, "a danger that does not normally exist in that work."

Based on that premise one can then argue - because COVID-19 is new, was not something present in the workplace prior to the pandemic, it is a risk that does not normally exist in any workplace - COVID-19 may then be deemed an unusual danger.

The Safety Act, in section 13(2), further states that "a worker may refuse to do any work where the worker has reason to believe that (a) there exists an unusual danger to the health and safety of the worker."

Mr. Speaker, the Safety Act then goes on to state that "On refusing to work, the worker shall promptly report the circumstances of his or her refusal to the employer or supervisor who shall, without delay, investigate the report and take steps to eliminate the unusual danger in the presence of the worker and a representative of the worker's union...”

Mr. Speaker, upon completion of the investigation, and if the employee believes that the unusual danger is still present, can continue to refuse to work and the employer, worker or supervisor, is required to notify the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee; or, where no such committee exists, then a delegate of the chief safety officer. Upon such notice, a review by the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee or delegate is required.

If the employee is not satisfied that the "unusual danger" in the workplace has not been eliminated or reduced, an appeal to the chief safety officer, who would then be required to conduct a further investigation as soon as possible. The decision of the chief safety officer is final, with the exception of an appeal to the Supreme Court of the NWT.

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

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the point is that it may be likely we will see some employees consider the risk of COVID-19 to themselves, their family, and contacts, when working alongside those that are not vaccinated, and deem themselves to be at risk thereby utilizing to Safety Act as a means of protection. Are we prepared for this course of action? I will have questions for the Minister Responsible for Finance at the appropriate time. Thank you Mr. Speaker.

Members' Statementsmember's Statement Oncovid-19 Safety In The Workplace
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Oncovid-19 Safety In The Workplace

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's statement on Education Leave for Public Servants
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Oncovid-19 Safety In The Workplace

Clevland

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, before COVID, we sat as equals and set the priorities for the 19th Assembly. Even then, we recognized the shortage of resident healthcare workers and tasked the government to reduce the number of health worker vacancies and our reliance on locums.

Mr. Speaker, there is significant strength in Northerners serving Northerners, providing trauma informed care. This not only fulfills our priority, it creates sustainable succession plans and recognizes the primary role education and meaningful employment play in connecting all community health indicators. I believe that, in essence, the GNWT recognizes this. But the

existing process is subjective, inequitable, and not serving Indigenous northerners.

Over the last year, multiple public servants have been denied education leave to pursue nursing, or education leave supports for nurses pursuing higher certifications required by other units, or to work in remote northern communities. But while they continue to pursue their education goals on their own, they landed in courses with non-Indigenous non-Aboriginal public servants who were receiving the support of the GNWT to be there.

One of my constituents found themselves in this situation. An Indigenous northerner from a small community graduated Aurora College nursing through the University of Victoria, employed by the GNWT, now raising a family and supporting trauma-informed client-focused nursing with a desire to increase education levels and ultimately their skill set leveraged by the people of the Northwest Territories.

It took five months of ongoing advocacy to get this Northerner the same supports their colleagues were receiving. These approvals are at the discretion of each employee's supervisor and often based on operational requirements. But from the perspective of the public servant, this leaves room for inconsistencies and inequitable distribution of education leave and government support.

This failure is a symptom of the GNWT silos with a clear lack of process to operate as one government supporting professional development of Northerners for hard-to-fill positions. Constituents either accept the ruling of their supervisor or enlist their MLA to advocate on their behalf.

Mr. Speaker, we are in a global shortage of healthcare workers. If we want recruitment to meet the priority set by this Assembly, we need to retain the ones we have and support the public servants who want to fill these roles. Thank you.

---Applause

Member's statement on Education Leave for Public Servants
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Oncovid-19 Safety In The Workplace

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

member's statement on Marine Transportation Services to Nunakput Communities
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Oncovid-19 Safety In The Workplace

Jabobson

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I would like to thank the Minister of Infrastructure and the Marine Transportation Services. I know the ice is frozen right now but I'm thanking them because we're only sitting now. Thank them for the service that they did for my riding of Nunakput. The communities of Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok and Sachs Harbour received their shipments in good order however the timing was delayed, Mr. Speaker. We have a limited number of barges in operation and in some cases it looks like contracts to generate revenues may have been prioritized over servicing my communities. This is a concern.

Mr. Speaker, a window of service to our communities and the barge is so short. The barge services if declines get prioritized over the communities, delays in schedule, the barges may have to fight against the ice our delivery essential for bad weather.

I don't need to think back too far when these barges didn't make it into the communities in 2018. Some of the -- all the communities that didn't receive any shipments of freight cost us -- due to ice blockages and weather, cost this -- former government millions.

This year the barges arrived in Nunakput at the end of September, before freeze up. Mr. Speaker, they have arrived but were delayed. Hunting equipment and boats that were supposed to come in the start of June only come in September so no use.

I will echo the Member's statement from last year to remind the Minister of the importance of barges for Nunakput, that these barges give people access to lower cost of fuel, food, building materials, shipments. Mr. Speaker, there's nothing less than an essential lifeline to the region. And this is part of the reason that the GNWT assumed the management of MTS at the time.

I would like to thank the Minister, again, and her staff for servicing our community successfully this season. I am concerned about timing, deliveries and priority to serve these communities ultimately at the residents' cost, Mr. Speaker. We have six and a half months before this next barge sails north so we have six and a half months to plan to get it right. I will have questions for the Minister at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

member's statement on Marine Transportation Services to Nunakput Communities
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Oncovid-19 Safety In The Workplace

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.