This is page numbers 1945 - 1988 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

Mr. Blake, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Ms. Cleveland, Ms. Chinna, Ms. Cochrane, Ms Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Lafferty, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. Norn, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Mr. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Ms. Thom, Mr. Thompson, Ms. Wawzonek

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1945

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 111-19(2): COVID-19 Health and Social Services System Response
Ministers' Statements

Page 1945

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Good afternoon. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us all in many ways but none of us more so than within the Health and Social Services system. The protection of our residents is our number one priority. In order to meet the challenge, our system quickly mobilized a number of critical pieces that enabled our territory to respond effectively to the pandemic. We did this through the implementation of decisive public health measures and a coordinated approach to health services. We provided the necessary testing, tracing, and care to manage cases, and make best use of our limited health resources.

The public health measures and orders put in place by the Chief Public Health Officer and the diligence of our residents and businesses in following them has meant that we have been able to contain cases in the NWT. These measures have not been easy and have had a significant impact on everyone, but we have been successful in protecting our residents from the spread of COVID-19 and avoiding the return to more stringent measures.

Mr. Speaker, the expansion of territory testing and analysis within the territory has been critical in order to respond quickly to positive cases and implement the necessary care and safety precautions to individuals and community members. We now have rapid point of care testing capacity in all of our community health centres which can deliver initial results in as little as 15 minutes. Confirmatory testing is completed using the "gold standard" polymerase chain reaction testing, or PCR testing, methodology at the Stanton and Inuvik hospital lab sites, significantly improving turnaround times to an average of 24 to 48 hours.

Mr. Speaker, wastewater testing has proven to be an effective early warning system detecting COVID-19 in our communities. To date, we have implemented this testing in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Simpson, Inuvik, and Fort Smith. This surveillance program is a collaborative effort between community governments, Environment and Natural Resources, Municipal and Community Affairs, Health and Social Services, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Wastewater testing has enabled us to detect COVID-19 in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, and Hay River.

When we identify positive results, public health officials begin contact tracing and implementing other essential public health prevention measures to manage the spread of COVID-19. We saw how this works last month as part of the public health response to contain the cluster of COVID-19 cases in Fort Liard.

When wastewater testing in Hay River picked up a positive viral signal, we launched a coordinated response that included enhanced sewage surveillance, targeted testing for people who had been self-isolating, and dedicated clinics and extended hours to test individuals for COVID-19.

When the source of infection was traced to Fort Liard, a rapid response team was immediately deployed to assist with contact tracing, self-isolation logistics, and other essential tasks to contain the virus and help protect vulnerable people.

Mr. Speaker, the responses to prevent exposure and transmission of COVID-19 among our residents have had unintended impacts on our mental health and sense of well-being. The Health and Social Services system is committed to assist residents to cope with these impacts through improved service delivery, community partnerships, and ongoing communications.

Some of the actions that we have taken to support individuals and families include providing short-term financial support to families who cannot get assistance from other GNWT programs and providing services to vulnerable residents in Yellowknife, Inuvik, and Hay River. We have also increased the frequency of our advertising campaign to raise awareness of the availability of key services like family violence shelters, community counselling programs, and help lines. To support residents with mental health or addictions concerns, we established the territorial COVID Navigator in partnership with 811 and ProtectNWT. The COVID Navigator can help residents connect or reconnect with the appropriate health and social services resources, including their local community counselling program.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, on behalf of Cabinet, I want to thank residents and businesses for staying the course, for following the public health orders, and for coming forward for COVID-19 testing when asked through the public health advisories. Our current success would not be possible without the commitment made by every resident of the NWT. I am impressed and inspired by Northerners. I also want to provide thanks to all the Health and Social Services staff. The response to this crisis is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all these professionals to protect the health and safety of NWT residents.

I am asking residents to continue to follow the recommended measures to keep us protected while we work through the vaccine roll-out. Please continue to practice the healthy habits that we know work to stop the spread of COVID-19. These measures include self-isolating when required; staying home if you are sick; getting tested at the first sign of symptoms; wearing a mask when you're out; washing your hands frequently; and keeping a safe distance from others, even if you have had your vaccine. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 111-19(2): COVID-19 Health and Social Services System Response
Ministers' Statements

Page 1945

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 112-19(2): Aurora College Transformation Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 1945

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. When this government committed to establishing a polytechnic university, we did so with the promise that we would be transparent in the process. Guided by the NWT Post-Secondary Education Framework, there were a number of key documents released last fall that explain the process of transformation and those documents, the implementation plan and areas of specialization for the polytechnic university, continue to guide the process, but transparency does not stop there.

In October, we launched the Aurora College Transformation website to meet that promise of transparency and accountability, and visitors to the site can track the progress of the transformation. Today, I am pleased to announce another way to keep up to date on the progress of the transformation with the release of the first quarterly report. This report adds another level of transparency and accountability for partners, key stakeholders, and the public.

Mr. Speaker, the transformation process is a multi-year initiative that includes meeting 81 commitments and more than 100 milestones over the course of six years. The quarterly report released today tracks the progress of these commitments and milestones in the five focus areas of the transformation: academic program management, accountability, governance, operations, and recruitment and retention of students. The report illustrates the number of key milestones that were completed in 2020 and key milestones that are planned for the duration of the transformation. It shows how many milestones are completed, in progress, and not yet started, in addition to highlights from each area of focus. Indigenous governments, the public, our partners, and key stakeholders can expect to see this level of transparency and accountability in quarterly reports until we launch the polytechnic university. Between publication dates, those interested can track our progress on the Aurora College Transformation web pages to get monthly updates on specific milestones, on engagement opportunities, and to learn more about the transformation in general.

Mr. Speaker, 2020 was an important year for the transformation. Many critical milestones were completed and many key documents were developed and released. In 2021, there are two critical milestones scheduled, amendments to the Aurora College Act and the development of the first ever three-year academic plan. There is also a great deal of work taking place on the other 106 milestones currently planned. That is why we have created the quarterly report. With an initiative as important as the transformation, it is important to celebrate all of our successes.

Our commitment to transform Aurora College into a sustainable, effective, and efficient polytechnic university will provide more post-secondary education opportunities for residents, right here in the territory. Those opportunities will include increased access to learning in every community, laddered programming from literacy to upgrading to certificate to degree, and new programs in the coming years that are aligned with the polytechnic university's areas of specialization. All of these changes are to ensure that Northerners are first in line for in-demand jobs and that we can leverage our strong connections to land, tradition, community, and people.

Mr. Speaker, in addition, the successful transformation to a polytechnic university will result in significant and wide-ranging economic recovery for the NWT, including preparing Northerners for employment; supporting business by supporting changing labour demands; expansion of infrastructure; development of co-investment partnerships; focusing on finding innovative solutions to northern issues; and capitalizing on northern opportunities. The quarterly report delivers on our promise to be transparent and accountable. I hope that it will also help to deepen understanding of what the polytechnic university will mean to residents, to communities, and to the territory. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 112-19(2): Aurora College Transformation Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 1946

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Summer Student Employment
Members' Statements

Page 1946

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I am going to talk about the NWT summer student program. Last year, the Government of the Northwest Territories hired far fewer summer students than they normally would in an average year. Last year, however, was not a normal year, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic forced the government to re-evaluate its hiring practices and partially restructure their human resource procedures. In essence, the government needed more time to prepare itself to operate under pandemic conditions. Therefore, the government hired fewer students so they would have a smaller workforce to oversee during COVID-19.

Mr. Speaker, the government has had only one year now to prepare itself for the large influx of incoming summer students. By now, I expect the government to have a concrete plan in place for the Summer Student Employment Program for 2021. During Committee of the Whole the other day, the Finance Minister mentioned that some job offers have already been sent out to potential summer student hires. This is very promising news for our students.

As I said in a Member's statement last May, COVID-19 or not, our students need to continue to be supported with employment opportunities and work experience. I realize that working in the public sector is not a shared goal for every summer student, but regardless, these summer student opportunities offer some level of employment choices for students in the NWT. Our students deserve every opportunity they can in order to find work to support their studies and transition into full-time employment within our workforce. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I strongly hope that our government will maximize the number of summer students hired by the Government of the Northwest Territories for 2021. We must signal to our students that they are not forgotten and they are valued. I will have questions for the Minister responsible for human resources later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Summer Student Employment
Members' Statements

Page 1946

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Moosehide Campaign
Members' Statements

Page 1946

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I would like to bring recognition to the Moosehide Campaign Day, which is now in its 10th year since it began, to bring awareness to stand up against violence toward women and children. Violence against women and children in the North is 10 times the national average, and that is only what has been reported. Many instances go unreported for many reasons. The root cause of this violence against women comes from various impacts of colonialism, residential school trauma, lack of employment, housing, adequate health and mental health supports, education, addictions; I could go on. There are things my colleagues and myself have raised in this House during every sitting. Women and children in the North cannot seem to escape this trend. I am positive every one of us in this room, at some point in their life, has been witness to, knows someone, or even experienced it themselves.

Mr. Speaker, it is so common in Indigenous communities, it's almost considered normal. I would like to be loud and clear. This is not normal. We need to speak up for ourselves, for our women, and for our girls.

The Moosehide Campaign, as I mentioned, is to raise awareness, and its goal is to end violence towards women and children. Those who wear the moose hide square are taking the pledge to stand up and speak out against violence towards women and girls, to support each other as men, and to hold each other accountable, to teach our young boys about the true meaning of love and respect, and to be a healthy role model for them, to heal themselves as men, and to support their brothers on their healing journey.

Mr. Speaker, the Moosehide Campaign supports any effort to raise awareness and bring an end to gender-based and domestic violence across all sectors of society. I encourage everyone to take the pledge. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Moosehide Campaign
Members' Statements

Page 1946

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Colleagues, before we continue, I just want to remind Members to please ensure your devices and your phones are shut off. It's actually why I don't bring my phone in here. That goes for everyone. Thank you. Next, we have Member for Kam Lake.

Men's New Day Program
Members' Statements

Page 1946

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, this year marks a decade since the annual Moosehide Campaign began efforts to end family violence through education, support, and healing. This week, I introduced you to Avery, a real NWT resident with a fictional name, whose story includes family violence. The NWT has the second highest rates of family violence in Canada, and the Department of Justice funds the men's New Day program to help men learn new coping mechanisms to improve their relationships with their partners and families. It is the NWT's only support service focused on men who use violence in intimate relationships.

Once run by the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre as an open drop-in support service, the New Day program was moved to the John Howard Society in 2017 following a $40,000 report commissioned by Justice on the state of the program. The report recommended that the program needed to be more fluid, more than just a curriculum, and that community outreach should be considered as part of any future program plans.

Mr. Speaker, I have three significant concerns. Program participation dropped significantly after its move to the John Howard Society; the dwindling New Day program remains this government's flagship support for men; and support programs cannot continue to solely exist in Yellowknife. Like many Members in previous Assemblies, I am concerned about the future of this program. John Howard's four-year contract with the New Day program ends next month, and there is uncertainty about its future.

In Avery's case, the family called the John Howard Society. They were told they needed to book an appointment, but before that, the participant had to be screened by a counsellor to be admitted to see a wellness counsellor. Men face stigma about seeking help, Mr. Speaker. Pre-screening seems to be an unnecessary barrier to those seeking help. If the family has gotten so far that they have convinced a father, husband, or son to get help, that should be all that is required for program admission.

Family violence is not isolated in Yellowknife. It is found in every community, in every income bracket, and sometimes behind curtains you least expect. I look forward to learning about the future plans for this program from the Minister of Justice. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Men's New Day Program
Members' Statements

Page 1946

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. Colleagues, I just want to remind Members to please slow down. Our interpreters are having trouble keeping up. Just keep that in mind. Don't worry about the clock. We will always make time. Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Priorities as a Member of the Legislative Assembly
Members' Statements

Page 1946

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I think maybe we should all walk out of here, come back in, and start over.

---Laughter

Anyways, Mr. Speaker, this morning, as I sat in front of my computer thinking about my Member's statement for today, I reflected on a question recently posed by one of the media outlets. The question asked was: what are my priorities going into this session? I did not respond to the media. However, I will answer the question here.

Mr. Speaker, my priority has been, and will continue to be, the constituents of Hay River and those who reach out to me for support no matter what region they are from. The issue or issues each constituent brings to me is of importance to them; therefore, it is of importance to me. When I reach out to any one of you on the other side of this floor with a constituent issue, I would ask that you please take the issue seriously and, prior to your response, place yourself in their shoes.

When someone comes to me because they are about to be evicted from their home; find themselves homeless; have been on a housing waiting list for up to eight years and still holding out hope; cannot pay their rent or utilities; have no food for their children; being mistreated due to the colour of the skin; having their health issues dismissed by healthcare workers because of perceived notions; a P1 being overlooked for a job or promotion because management "does not want to see them fail," then find out it was filled with a P2, P3, someone's spouse or a friend from the South; employees crying because they are being bullied and harassed at work; losing contracts to southern firms because of a storefront office; losing a contract to a southern firm and hearing the standard government line that "we followed our policy and the process was fair" or your bid was "non-compliant;" receiving a Standing Offer Agreement and not receiving any work; contractors not being paid in the 20 and 30 days we established; these are only some of the real issues that matter to me.

We were elected to make a difference and solve issues that matter to our constituents. We need to start making change where it counts, and that change has to start at the grassroots level. I do not see that happening. Mr. Speaker, if we can improve the lives of our constituents and ensure our northern business are benefitting from government contracts and resource development, only then can we say we are doing what we were elected to do. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Priorities as a Member of the Legislative Assembly
Members' Statements

Page 1947

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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