This is page numbers 1989 - 2018 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 need.

Topics

Funding for Bus Service in Reindeer Point
Members' Statements

Page 1990

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The residents of Tuktoyaktuk who live in Reindeer Point are 7 kilometres outside of the community. Like other municipalities in the Northwest Territories, Tuktoyaktuk is underfunded; they stretch every dollar. The hamlet has been running the busing service for the last few years at a capital loss and using their funds, $57,000 a year. That is the cost of running the bus for people with no vehicles. Our government promised to provide the busing funds, Mr. Speaker. The hamlet asked MACA for funding assistance. The previous Minister told them, "Prioritize your money and your spending." The current Minister has offered to help the hamlet to develop a business plan. That response is not good enough. It was a GNWT decision to re-establish Reindeer Point, and the hamlet says that the GNWT made a commitment at the time to fund bussing. According to MACA's own research, we are underfunding our community governments by $25 million a year. They expect small communities to keep making up the shortfall.

Today, Mr. Speaker, I will be seeking commitment from the Minister to provide money, and not moral support, to help Tuktoyaktuk provide bussing to Reindeer Point. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Funding for Bus Service in Reindeer Point
Members' Statements

Page 1990

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Government of the Northwest Territories Summer Student Employment
Members' Statements

Page 1990

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I would like to discuss GNWT summer student employment and affirmative action. These jobs are extremely important for our post-secondary students, not only to assist with the cost of school, but these jobs provide opportunities to gain valuable work experience that will assist them when they have completed their studies.

I have experienced what the hiring process of the summer students from my previous roles. This process includes the hiring manager filling out an application to request to hire a summer student. The hiring manager would then receive a master list of all of the students who had submitted their resume. This list would include students' first and second choice of department where they would like to work and whether they are P1, P2, or P3. Then the manager would scan the entire list to identify their top choices and send the names of the applicants back to HR and receive their resumes. The hiring managers would then set up interviews and did not need to include human resource officers on this interview.

There was no mechanism in place to ensure hiring managers considered GNWT affirmative action policies when choosing who they will interview. I have heard many Indigenous students not getting summer student jobs or not even being interviewed for jobs in their field of study when the job was filled by a P2 student. In some cases, I have even heard a P3 student getting a summer student job ahead of a P1 candidate.

Mr. Speaker, the summer student hiring process needs to have strict mechanisms in place to ensure that government's Affirmative Action Policy is followed. I will have questions for the Minister of Finance. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Government of the Northwest Territories Summer Student Employment
Members' Statements

Page 1991

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Making a Holiday in February
Members' Statements

Page 1991

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am so glad it's a long weekend. I am so glad we are heading into Friday with Monday as Family Day. Oh, wait, Mr. Speaker, I thought for a second we were in Alberta, or BC, or possibly Ontario, maybe Saskatchewan, or even New Brunswick, but we're not. We are in the Northwest Territories, and we don't get a statutory holiday in February. In fact, after new year's, I have to wait over three dark months until the next holiday.

It doesn't need to be Family Day, Mr. Speaker. PEI has Islander Day. Manitoba will be celebrating Louis Riel Day. Maybe we could have Elders Day or NWT Days. I'm not picky. I will even compromise on the date. The Yukon celebrates Heritage Day on the 26th. I will even take a St. Patrick's Day in March, if it's good enough for Newfoundland to make it a stat. It's been a long year, Mr. Speaker. February has been a hard month for all of us, and with the highest suicide rates in this month, I believe we need to give our workers a break.

In a weird twist of fate, most schools have PD or sick days on this day, leaving parents to scramble to find childcare at their work anyways: a family-free Family Day. We don't have a single piece of legislation before us in this House this sitting, nothing for us to do. I can't think of anything more politically palpable than creating a holiday called Family Day. I will have questions for the Minister of Justice, or in this case, the Minister of holidays, about whether we can get a Family Day. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Making a Holiday in February
Members' Statements

Page 1991

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Appreciation for All Residents of Fort Smith
Members' Statements

Page 1991

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to use my Member's statement today to give my thanks and appreciation to all of the residents of Fort Smith. Specifically, I would like to thank all workers from both private and public sectors, as well as all business owners within the community. Places like Kaeser's grocery store, the Northern Store, Wally's drugstore, Fort Smith Construction, Petro Canada, Tim Hortons, and the staff at the Bank of Montreal, TDC, Berro's pizza, and Anna's Home Cooking, to name a few.

It has been a tough and uncertain year for many people as we navigated through this pandemic. Therefore, I just want to thank my constituents for the strength, determination, and resilience that they have demonstrated since last March. I also want to thank my constituents for their continued support and need as MLA for Thebacha. As I have said before, it is truly an honour to represent Fort Smith in this Assembly, and I will continue to do my best to serve the people and interests of the amazing community I come from, Fort Smith.

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I would like to once again say thank you to the staff here at the Legislative Assembly. Thank you to my two capable CAs, Pascal Erasmus and Priscilla Lepine, for their hard work as well. I wish my colleagues in this House a restful week ahead. I also would like to thank the Speaker for always being so patient. Happy Valentine's Day to everyone, and I hope everyone has a good week. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Appreciation for All Residents of Fort Smith
Members' Statements

Page 1991

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Members' Statements

Page 1991

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to thank listeners for following Avery's story this week. It represents the experiences of many NWT residents. Avery's search for government help highlights the shortcomings of our system. The GNWT's current service delivery model is failing clients and costing taxpayers. We serve dozens of Averys and many more turn away in despair because they cannot get the help they need. This government must learn from Avery's experiences and implement preventative client-focused care before more Averys fall through the cracks.

Avery's journey included the FASD diagnostic clinic. According to Government of Canada 2017 estimates, more than 3,000 babies a year are born with FASD, and about 300,000 people are currently living with it. Research suggests that the occurrence of FASD is significantly greater in Indigenous populations and in rural and remote northern communities. We don't really know how much higher the rates are here in the NWT, but we do know, Mr. Speaker, that transgenerational trauma and substance abuse is staggering in our small territory.

FASD and complex developmental behavioural conditions sit on a spectrum without a one-size-fits-all solution. Treatment requires case-by-base management with compassionate trauma-informed wraparound care. British Columbia has an entire division focused on FASD and complex developmental behavioural conditions. Key workers provide assessment and life planning programs, educational resources and materials, family nights, regular check-ins with staff, therapeutic and skill-building groups, short-term counselling, support for schools and other community partners, and referrals to other support services.

The NWT currently has one FASD diagnostic clinic for children and one for adults. Each clinic has one employee. One, Mr. Speaker. This is not nearly enough. Once a person receives an FASD diagnosis, there are no case workers and no support. NWT adults need regional trauma-informed wraparound case managers providing clients with one-on-one supports for employment, housing, and life and financial skills. To reduce recidivism, we also need supports within our correctional facilities to provide care while people are incarcerated and after they are released.

Mr. Speaker, we also need supportive housing for families. I would like to see the GNWT develop a comprehensive plan for expanding future services, and I will have questions for the Minister later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Members' Statements

Page 1991

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Travel during COVID by Public Servants
Members' Statements

Page 1991

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

[Translation] Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Since the COVID, it has been over year now. Again, we are getting orders from the Chief Public Health Officer. To be going around for travel has also been restricted since COVID, with doctor's orders, time to take their orders, but some of the front-line workers are also doing some travel, and we really do not believe that is right because we all know there the high are people for all people of the -- so this is what I want to speak on. [Translation ends].

Mr. Speaker, the people of the Northwest Territories should be very proud. Through self-sacrifice, community spirit, and civil-mindedness, they stood shoulder to shoulder to keep COVID at bay. As a result of that courage and commitment, Mr. Speaker, we stand among all provinces and territories in our success in battling the COVID-19 virus. It came at a heavy price. Families were separated. University students were stranded. Weddings were postponed. Even the funerals were unattended. Vacations were cancelled.

Sadly, Mr. Speaker, not everyone shared the burden. Some people felt it beneath them. Remarkably, We find those shirkers at the high level of our COVID bureaucracy. While Northerners were doing their part and staying home, these privileged bureaucrats were quietly travelling across the country, visiting families instead of setting the good example Northerners have the right to expect from these highly qualified bureaucrats. Even more sadly, we have a Premier who excuses such behaviour and tells us even in public that it is none of our business, even when faced with a groundswell of public displeasure. She justifies these double standards by her stonewalling. That is instead of moral courage and leadership by example that Northerners deserve out of a Premier.

Mr. Speaker, this raises questions about her abilities and about the transparency. We are talking about public funds and public servants. There has to be an accountability from this government. At an appropriate time, I will have questions for the Premier. Masi, Mr. Speaker.

Travel during COVID by Public Servants
Members' Statements

Page 1991

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Monfwi. Members' statements. Item 4, returns to oral questions. Item 5, recognition of visitors in the gallery. Member for Nahendeh.

Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery
Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery

Page 1992

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you. Sorry about that, Mr. Speaker. I would like to recognize the interpreters here, who are doing a great job. Yes, I speak fast, and I apologize, but I want to specifically recognize Mary Jane Cazon, a constituent from the Nahendeh region. She has been a strong advocate of Dene Zhatie in the region and in the Northwest Territories, so I would like to welcome her here to the Legislative Assembly. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery
Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery

Page 1992

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nahendeh. Recognition of visitors in the gallery. Item 6, replies to budget address. Member for Yellowknife North.

Mr. Johnson's Reply
Replies To Budget Address

February 12th, 2021

Page 1992

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking the Minister of Finance for her budget address last week. I also want to thank all of my colleagues for their dedication and hard work over the last year. We executed a model response to a pandemic, and, with vaccines well distributed, relief is in sight. Our Cabinet and public servants can hold their heads high in our response to COVID-19.

Mr. Speaker, it's hard to disagree with much of the new-initiative spending in this budget: $1.7 million for a small business tax cut which brings us in line with other jurisdictions and is most certainly needed for our small businesses these days; $7 million for Child and Family Services, long overdue money for that system; 27 new counsellor positions and a travelling mental-health team for our public schools; additional funding to expand our healthcare systems capacity. These are all much-needed supports and will directly assist the residents of this territory. A few initiatives, I could probably live without, but, all around, the new spending aligns well with the mandate of this government.

However, my job is not to stand here and sing Cabinet's praises. My job is to hold them to account for the change they promised in taking their positions. We cannot lose sight that this budget is a moral document. Each dollar spent is a choice, $2 million, each weighed against the other, $45,000 for every person in this territory, we are entrusted to spend, one of the highest per-capita spendings of any government on the planet, Mr. Speaker. There are no easy decisions in allocating this money. There is no easy metric to value nurses over teachers over road-builders, but we must conduct that hard work.

In our system, we don't vote on parties, we don't vote on platforms, we don't vote on the mandates or the workings of departments. That power lies with our Premier and executive Cabinet. However, we do vote on budgets. We do not necessarily have confidence votes in a consensus government, but deciding whether to approve the budget as presented by this Cabinet is about as close as we get to one. Before this fiscal year end, I must vote yes or no to this budget, a cruel simplicity.

Mr. Speaker, I believe it is easy to find money when a clear vision is put forward. When cuts are made for a clear vision for funding other priorities, then we can put together and accomplish what we set out for the people of the Northwest Territories. I do not believe this budget looked into the core spending and the base spending of departments hard enough. A year and a half ago, when Caroline Cochrane make her bid to become Premier, she stated, "Our economy is in trouble," and pledged a 10-year plan to turn the NWT's economic fortunes around; "we need to act fast, and we need to act now." I could not agree more, but I have still not seen that 10-year plan. I still have not seen an "emerge stronger" plan. Apparently she and I have a different interpretation of "fast."

Additionally, we were promised during her "bid for Premier" speech that we would rename the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment the "Department of Economic Diversification and Development." We were told the territory's environment ministry would become the "Department of Environment and Climate Change." Mr. Speaker, name changes signal a new mandate and a new direction for those departments. We were told the Department of Lands and the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs would be amalgamated. This budget does none of those things, another broken promise of change.

I am in daily fights with lands, who then point to MACA, who then point to ENR. I actually believe the silos have gotten worse under this Cabinet. I will not be voting for this budget unless the Premier lives up to her promises. I want to see the plan for corporate restructuring that we were promised. I want to see the economic plan that we were promised.

As an added benefit, every time you get rid of a department, we save a few million dollars in duplication, and the GNWT is presently a top-heavy organization, with many managers with not enough staff to actually manage. I believe we must take a look at our management-to-staff ratio for some further cost savings.

Despite my frustration, I believe there is a path for a vision forward. I believe we need to revisit our priorities and mandate and truly come to a consensus. Finding consensus is difficult, but I believe this Assembly has a clear agreement that housing is a priority and has a true willingness to address our housing prices. When I ran to be an MLA, I have to admit housing was not my number one priority, but, in listening to my colleagues and listening to the struggles of the people of the NWT, I believe we need to do more for housing. In fact, we have a Premier who spent her entire life trying to advocate for housing, as she often says. I believe this is the appropriate legacy for this Assembly, so maybe we can actually invest the amount of money it needs. If we are ambitious, I believe we can cut our housing wait list in half in the life of this Assembly, not simply settle with 25 units a year.

During the course of this pandemic, a spark emerged, the notion that we could truly operate differently as a government. We moved thousands of civil servants home, and changes were made in days rather than months. We passed more regulatory changes in a year than I expected us to do in an entire Assembly. We have seen what a motivated civil service can do under strong leadership, and I was inspired that we might see that change into the future of this Assembly. Yet, Mr. Speaker, we are dialling back that promise. When we pass this budget, some 2,000 low-wage workers will have their wages cut from $18 an hour to an unjustifiable $13.46 in cases, with no increases to the minimum wage in sight because apparently those works are no longer essential.

During COVID-19, we begged childcare operators to remain open so our essential workers could continue to work. We subsidized their costs. We saw how childcare was essential to keeping the economy open. Yet, this budget comes nowhere close to addressing the childcare needs in this territory, which are only getting more expensive, let alone implementing a universal daycare. We have added $500,000 to our childcare infrastructure, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the $20 million we need a year to truly support the children of the NWT.

In addition, this government has doubled down on its love of P3 contracting. Despite knowing we can't afford much of the infrastructure, we are pretending we are actually going to build. A program can always be cut, but a 30-year P3 contract binds the next generation of Northerners. It is undemocratic financing at best and determination to bankrupt our budget at worst.

Mr. Speaker, our current infrastructure is crumbling, and our goal seems to be to let it collapse while we build more. Our deferred maintenance budget is out of sync with reality. Not to mention, our municipalities infrastructure is in the same state. I would gladly pour more money into maintaining what we already have as opposed to continuing to pretend that we can afford to build more.

This government needs to come back and ask that our priorities and mandate be assessed in light of the largest global event of many of our lifetimes. The sad reality is that we can't afford the big three infrastructure projects. We probably can't even afford one of them. I honestly wish we could afford them all, but let's pick one and actually get it done. The Mackenzie Valley Highway makes the most sense to me, considering we build it every year, and then it melts.

During COVID, our Cabinet was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They were given a full pass to reform the GNWT, to change how it operates, how it is funded, and leave a truly nimble public service, but much of that opportunity has gone to waste. We moved our public service to remote work in weeks. Instead of capitalizing on that and creating a proper work-from-home policy, we called them back at the first sign of criticism. I may also add that remote work means lower leasing, office, and travel costs in our budget. As well, it is proven to improve productivity. It's a no-brainer, Mr. Speaker.

Instead of addressing the fact that a person is just as capable of not working from home as they are from an office, we kept the same measurement of productivity in our public service: hours in a chair. We have not seized the opportunity to switch our public service to a results-based workplace instead of one measured purely by time in an office.

Mr. Speaker, the core budget of the GNWT, which we have failed to really delve into and change, is one that has been designed by committee over consecutive Assemblies, where too many competing interests and mandate items have often led to the safest bet: not moving too strongly in any direction.

We are trying to be leaders in climate change while also pushing for offshore development of Arctic reserves. I believe at one point we had more people working in the GNWT regulating oil and gas than were actually producing it in the Northwest Territories. With the exception of Norman Wells, we are more likely to take on liabilities in both Cameron Hills and the Beaufort-Delta from oil and gas than we are to make any money off of it. Not to mention, all major Canadian banks are rapidly divesting oil and gas from their portfolios and have refused to fund other Arctic drilling projects.

We have made no progress on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. We don't even have a terms of reference or a working group yet. My dream is one day I will see a budget where half of the money is missing because we gave it all away, and half of the power is gone because we legislated it to the Indigenous governments to whom it rightly belongs.

We have no significant legislation this sitting. Nothing. We are going to sit here for two months as legislators and not pass legislation because no department over there can think of anything they want to do.

We can't afford many of the things that this Assembly wants without giving others up. If we are going to make cuts, we need to buy ourselves some political capital first, and I think a good place to get that political capital is to reduce the generous ratio of all of our pension plans. For some reason, I get a pretty good pension if I do this for eight years, a pension it would take many in the public service 25 years to earn. This isn't short-term servings, but, in the long term, an adjustment saves millions.

Additionally, top pay for a deputy minister is $268,000 plus bonuses. I don't think we can continue to justify the long march to paying all of our DMs at the highest rate. I propose capping it at $250,000, conducting a public review of all of the bonuses senior management make, and starting all new deputy ministers at the first pay level, of which none are currently at.

Next, I believe we need to drive a harder bargain at the negotiating table. I don't believe our two-tiered system of medical travel benefits are warranted, where GNWT workers get full per diems for medical travel and the rest of the citizens get a lesser service. I believe the GNWT can cut its travel budget in half. The next year, we should be limiting all travel internationally and out of territory. We should be switching to an online model of meetings. COVID has already done this for us. Let's keep it up. Maybe we can actually cut the number of meetings in half in government, as I am confident many of those meetings actually could have been an email.

Next, Mr. Speaker, I believe we need to create a high-income tax bracket. Our current tax bracket stops at $142,000, meaning someone who makes $142,000 is paying the same rate as that deputy minister making $268,000 plus bonuses. There is room for one or even two high-income tax brackets.

I also believe that we can identify numerous jobs that can be replaced or combined. I believe a reasonable target in this area is 100 positions. I will note that that is less than the amount this current budget is adding permanently. In the context of this budget, this would still be a net gain of public service jobs. As a place to start, I am convinced that, by adopting a Service GNWT model, government service officers, Income Assistance officers, housing officers, and many other positions can be moved into one single position to eliminate duplication. We may need to actually simplify the applications and rules to make that work. Perhaps payroll more people, or even a basic income model. I have a dream of, one day, a single form for such services on an online portal, but that's just me being radical.

Our work on e-services is not adequately funded nor ambitious. When we bring more services online, we create a more user-friendly government and reduce the overall labour needs of our GNWT. As an example, as we bring most of the DMV services online, I hope to see a change in the amount of labour that office needs. Let's get the rest of our services online and adjust staffing needs accordingly.

Not to mention, a cultural change is long overdue to actually empower our frontline workers to make changes without running up and down a bottlenecked bureaucratic ladder. We need to empower our frontline staff to actually make decisions. As we free up time in passing up and down decisions, we free up more labour.

We have a GNWT operating on an HR manual from 1980, an obsession with hierarchy. The days of running a public service where a manager can actually use the word "insubordination" with a straight face are long gone, but instead, we have a series of people fighting over power while pushing paper. We are nowhere near to delivering the change that is required with our outdated bureaucratic model.

Mr. Speaker, I tried to speak of a number of ways I believe we can find efficiencies in this budget. This is not to just find efficiencies for efficiency's sake, because the reality of our fiscal situation is that we will need to find them, but I also believe that, if we work to find cuts, with a clear vision for housing, we can actually make progress on this issue, which I believe is shared by all Members.

I believe we have been pulled in too many directions at once. I propose a new direction, one where housing is first, one where we make the tough decisions in pursuit of housing. Housing is a win for everyone. It saves us money in Health when people are housed. It saves us Justice costs when people are housed. It helps students succeed, and it breaks cycles of poverty. It employs northern contractors, and it can fuel a building industry that creates more tradespeople. It can spur a whole economy based on trades and building.

I am proposing that this Assembly readjust its priorities, its budget, and its mandate to make the tough decisions we need and come back with a new and powerful vision for housing. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.