This is page numbers 1903 - 1944 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 work.

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, Mr. Lafferty, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. Norn, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

Members Present
Members Present

Page 1903

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Point of Personal Privilege
Members Present

Page 1903

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise pursuant to Rule 21(1) of the Rules of the Legislative Assembly to make a personal explanation. Yesterday during question period, during an exchange with the Member for Great Slave on question 526-19(2): Medical Detoxification Services, I made the following statement, "She has been soliciting horror stories on Facebook and, apparently, has been very gratified with that." The subsequent exchange with the Member for Great Slave further led me to raise a point of order.

Mr. Speaker, I am a long-time advocate for mental health issues in the Northwest Territories and supporting residents who need help is important to me. However, upon further reflection and having reviewed the Hansard transcript from yesterday's exchange, I acknowledge that my comments went beyond the ordinary and healthy level of tension between Regular Members and Cabinet that is practised in this Chamber. I would like to withdraw my remarks and apologize to the Member and to the House. Mr. Speaker, I further wish to withdraw my point of order. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Point of Personal Privilege
Members Present

Page 1903

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Speaker's Ruling
Members Present

Page 1903

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Colleagues, I want to thank the Member for Yellowknife Centre for her words. Heated debate and strong words are to be expected in this place. When we step over the line, it is important that we take responsibility for our words and actions and make amends. Thank you for the respect you have shown to your colleagues this afternoon and to this institution.

Colleagues, one of the first things we're told when we first come here is that we have the right to say whatever we want in this Chamber. That is true, but we have, through our own rules, placed our own limits on what we can and can't say. Those rules are made in the North, and they are different from what we see in party-based systems to the South. We operate by a higher standard here, and I will do my best to hold us to that standard in a fair and impartial way.

Events of the last year are taking their toll on all of us, both in this Chamber and in the communities we represent. Residents are on edge and suffering. Many have lost loved ones and haven't been able to grieve properly. We are separated from friends and family, worried about the safety of ourselves and our neighbours, and anxious for life to return to something closer to normal. The dark and cold winter months are not helping. I ask each of you to make a commitment to yourselves and to each other to use respectful language and actions in this House. It is okay to disagree, but let's try harder to do it without being disagreeable. Most importantly, let's show strength and courage in this place by modeling the behaviour we want to see in our communities. Our words and actions matter. As MLAs, we need to demonstrate leadership through these challenging times and show that we can lean on each other and work together to get through them. Thank you, Members. This matter is now concluded. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 109-19(2): Improvements to COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat
Ministers' Statements

Page 1903

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. When the Government of the Northwest Territories established the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat, we committed to bringing our pandemic services under one roof to improve our services and seek cost efficiencies. I am proud to stand here today and say we have done what we said we would do. Jurisdictions that established travel restrictions and made early efforts to protect their residents have shown the most success in limiting the number of COVID-19 cases. As the second wave has forced many jurisdictions into lockdowns and implementing stricter measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, we have not. Despite a record high number of cases around the world, a surging second wave, and recent new variants, our territory continues to successfully contain COVID-19, due in large part to residents and businesses doing their part and following the orders of the Chief Public Health Officer.

Our government's proactive move to establish the secretariat has also played a significant role in our ability to limit the spread of the virus in the Northwest Territories. Consolidating the government's pandemic response has allowed the secretariat to view operations through a wide-angle lens. The result, Mr. Speaker, is coordinated and improved pandemic services that thousands of residents have relied on during this pandemic. This has allowed us to protect the health and well-being of our communities and the integrity of our healthcare system. The secretariat has been able to expand services, purchase in volume for efficiencies, and more effectively support communities and the healthcare response led by the Chief Public Health Officer.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share some examples of the operational efficiencies, coordinated services, and communications expertise the secretariat has brought to the Government of the Northwest Territories' pandemic response. The Government of the Northwest Territories amalgamated our Compliance and Enforcement Operations into a single entity from what used to be three departments. This allowed us to move to dedicated full-time officers, which has increased the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement functions.

Our ProtectNWT and 811 Information Line operations have been combined into one business area to deliver more efficient and consistent services, greatly decreasing the wait time for individuals requesting services. Expanded software and technological capacity now allow us to route telephone calls to employees whose skill sets and expertise are most relevant to questions.

In November, we announced that we would change our approach to who pays for isolation centres. We heard from Indigenous leaders, community governments, the business sector, and residents that we needed to find a way to reduce these costs, which made up half of the secretariat's budget. The new policy, which came into effect in January, requires residents to pay for isolation centre stays resulting from discretionary travel. Since this change, we have seen a significant decrease in isolation centre stays, which in turn means a considerably reduced expenditure for taxpayers.

We recently completed a transparent public tendering process and awarded 76 standing offer agreements to NWT businesses providing lodging, transportation, food services, and security to isolation centres. These agreements will allow us to better serve guest needs and involve more northern businesses in delivering our services while reducing costs.

Mr. Speaker, the people and businesses of the NWT are resilient and have found ways to adapt during the pandemic. The secretariat has positively contributed to our government's ability to better protect NWT residents and safeguard our economy, while allowing other departments to focus on their mandates and continue to deliver on the important priorities of the 19th Legislative Assembly. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 109-19(2): Improvements to COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat
Ministers' Statements

Page 1903

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Minister of Lands.

Minister's Statement 110-19(2): Unauthorized Occupancy
Ministers' Statements

Page 1903

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Last fall, I spoke to you about how enforcing the rules on how public land is used is a critical part of making sure that land and resources in the Northwest Territories are well-managed. We know that unauthorized occupancy, or squatting, is a longstanding land management issue across the Northwest Territories and has been for over 50 years. The Government of the Northwest Territories has taken steps to address this issue since taking over the responsibilities for land management after devolution. Last fall, I highlighted that we have stepped up our enforcement efforts to act upon all unauthorized occupants identified since devolution. The department often receives reports of unauthorized occupancy from the public. We appreciate these reports and follow up on the information provided, taking legal action toward removal where appropriate.

Today, I am here to share with you the approach that the Department of Lands is taking to address the historic unauthorized use of public land. Specifically, Mr. Speaker, I would like to share our plan to address the unauthorized structures that have existed outside of the built-up area of communities since before devolution. It is now time to take action to tackle this difficult issue within the life of the 19th Legislative Assembly.

Unauthorized cabins built before April 1, 2014, will all be evaluated on a case-by-case basis against standard criteria. These criteria are based on our land management practices, legislation, and policy and include items such as how far a cabin has to be from the water and highways, the maximum footprint and size of the buildings, and whether or not the land is available. If the structures do not meet the criteria, the department will initiate legal action to seek removal. If the structures meet the criteria, the occupant may be able to apply for a lease, which will then undergo consultation with Indigenous governments and organizations.

Mr. Speaker, it is important to remember that the Government of the Northwest Territories does not condone the unauthorized use of land. From the outset, the Government of the Northwest Territories has recognized that some untenured cabins, both new and old, may be associated with Indigenous occupants who are exercising their asserted or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. We will continue to work with occupants and Indigenous governments and organizations to identify and confirm these potential rights-based cabins. These cabins will not be subject to current evaluation or further legal action at this time. Instead, the department will continue to work with Indigenous governments and organizations to identify these structures and work toward an appropriate process for potential rights-based cabins in future. This is a separate but important stream of work that I have committed to work on collaboratively with Indigenous governments.

As lands inspectors post initial notices on all untenured cabins across the Northwest Territories, occupants who receive notices are encouraged to follow up with the department directly. Contact information as well as information on how to identify if a cabin may be associated with an Aboriginal or treaty right will be attached to the initial posting notice and available on the department's website.

Mr. Speaker, this is a big undertaking, and it will take time. We estimate there are upwards of 700 untenured structures on public land, and it will take time to reach every untenured structure on public land across the Northwest Territories. We are getting tough on those who are breaking the law and who have no legal right to build on public land, but we also need to follow due process and do it right. We also need to ensure the process respects Aboriginal and treaty rights.

The Government of the Northwest Territories recognizes the need for residents to access and enjoy the land, now more than ever. This plan is about making a difference for residents of Northwest Territories and bringing about transparency and accountability for access and use of public land for everyone. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 110-19(2): Unauthorized Occupancy
Ministers' Statements

Page 1904

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe Wiilideh.

Economic Compensation for Trappers
Members' Statements

Page 1904

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. I would like to revisit my Member's statement from last week regarding a flooding in the Taltson and Slave River areas. I am doing what I can to advocate for the harvesters in the area to help them recover lost revenue, equipment, and inability to practice their harvesting rights and livelihoods simply because of the environmental disturbances that are occurring in the area.

Mr. Speaker, today's theme was on the economy. Today, I will speak to the traditional economy and the economic force that was once the backbone of the NWT; that's the fur industry. I did mention last week that this is now largely a supplemental and cultural practice. To many of us, it might not seem too impactful, but it really affected me and my constituents.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share a short story about my upbringing. My great-grandfather hunted and trapped all of his life in the area and worked right up until the day he passed on. I remember, as a small child, waiting for him at home in the window of our small little house in Deninu Kue, a little half house in the middle of a winter storm. I also recall him being ecstatic when he rolled up in a little small Elan skidoo, a very efficient machine that got through any sort of storm. I wish that machine would run like our government, but it is what it is.

From here, he would bring his catches of muskrats, beaver, martin, and lynx. I also remember how hard he worked, and I remember going with him to the base and bartering with the manager to get the best price on his furs and get as much money for his family. It was like this for many generations, but of course, times have changed. I want to let you know that trap season, for a lot of my constituents, is a wash. It's done. The cost of living is much higher in our smaller communities, and any income helps pay the bills and put food at tables.

I'm really concerned about this, and I want to drive this point home. How would we feel if we lost our next paycheque? I imagine, for a lot of us, it would be an inconvenience, and many of us would go on with our daily lives. For our people in the small communities, it's much more devastating.

Mr. Speaker, later today, I will table a document that shows some of the photos in greater detail of the damage that occurred. I also want to speak to the loss of equipment and damage to cabins. One image last week was a cabin sitting partially submerged in ice. Since that time, I was given more photos in the area. Mr. Speaker, I got to see some of the sentimental damage this causes, as well. Aside from camp gear, a lot of keepsakes were damaged, too. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Economic Compensation for Trappers
Members' Statements

Page 1904

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, colleagues. Continuing on, a lot of items passed down for parents and grandparents were lost and damaged. No monetary payment can replace these losses. Another image that stood out was photo of an old .30-30 lever-action rifle, I bet it could tell a lot of stories, which was damaged irreparably.

Mr. Speaker, I am hoping this government and particularly the Department of ENR can step up to the plate and do everything it can to assist my constituents and keep this tradition alive and strong into the future. With that, Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources at the appropriate time. Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker.

Economic Compensation for Trappers
Members' Statements

Page 1904

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Trades
Members' Statements

Page 1904

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. All of us are aware of how cold it has been this past week. We all felt it, and some of us probably experienced issues in our homes and with our vehicles. Losing our heat or power, having our water and sewer pipes freezing or our vehicles not starting or breaking down on the highway in the middle of the night is not a good feeling.

We are fortunate that, in this building, there are staff responsible for ensuring the building is warm and all utilities are in working order, a luxury the homeowner does not have and even less so in the communities outside Yellowknife.

What happens when issues arise due to the cold weather? We are fortunate that we have a group of trades and service people such as plumbers, electricians, gas-fitters, oil-burning mechanics, carpenters, mechanics, water-delivery personnel, sewer pump-out personnel, and tow-truck driver operators at our disposal, although somewhat limited in numbers.

When an emergency arises, we as residents understand the value of the trades and essential services. We expect these trades and service persons to attend to our emergencies no matter how cold it gets or what hour of the day it is. They are often forced to work in weather most of us want nothing to do with. I would ask the residents of the NWT to be understanding and not demanding when requesting services during weather-related emergencies. As there are only a limited number of trades and service providers to address cold-weather issues, they have to prioritize the requests coming in and need our understanding and cooperation. Because of the importance and limited number of essential personnel who look after us during cold-weather emergencies, I will have questions for the Minister of Education. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Trades
Members' Statements

Page 1904

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Economic Outlook
Members' Statements

Page 1904

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Staying on the economic outlook for the Northwest Territories, Mr. Speaker, I would like to paint a picture of some of the actions taken by this government to place our territory in an unstable situation economically.

The GNWT only collects approximately $2 million a year in royalty or taxes from the diamond mines. The diamond mines extract approximately 14 million carats every year of diamonds, which could equate in the hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions, and all this is shipped out of the Northwest Territories, never to be seen again. In the Finance Minister's budget address, there was no mention of the diamond mines' financial contributions, through royalties or taxes, to our bottom line.

This government has also lowered the small business tax from 4 percent to 2 percent, further lessening the revenue stream to our bottom line. Even the much-touted Business Advisory Council lost faith in the GNWT, stating they were just not serious enough about the economic recovery plan for the Northwest Territories, so now we have no movement nor any clear direction as to economic recovery or our economic future. Even my dog left me. I don't know how much worse this can get.

---Laughter

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance stated she is cautiously optimistic about the future of our economy and fiscal outlook. I, too, will remain cautiously optimistic in the hopes we can pull through this turmoil and show the residents of our territory that we are serious about our economic future and fiscal outlook. There are many ways to accomplish this feat or, at the very least, to try. There has to be a willingness to all work together in this House and butt heads for the betterment of our residents and for our economic future. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.