This is page numbers 1799 - 1842 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

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, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:32 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1799

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 106-19(2): Indigenous Language Month 2021
Ministers' Statements

Page 1799

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories is home to a diverse group of people who live in a vibrant landscape shaped by rich culture and heritage. Our nine official Indigenous languages and our cultures bear sacred values and traditional knowledge that have been passed on through generations, shaping our identity and defining what makes the North truly unique. As leaders and residents of the Northwest Territories, we share the responsibility of revitalizing our Indigenous languages through celebration and practice to preserve our traditional ways of life. As Minister of Education, Culture and Employment, I would like to wish all Members of this Legislative Assembly and the residents of the Northwest Territories a happy Indigenous Languages Month. This month is an opportunity for residents to honour the rich culture and heritage embodied by the Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Territories and our nine official Indigenous languages.

The theme for Indigenous Languages Month 2021 is Cook With Me, which supports the mandate of this government to increase food security and is inspired by the United Nations' International Year of Fruits and Vegetables in 2021. This unique theme was cooked up in partnership with the NWT Literacy Council and embodies messages of warmth, home, family, and cooperation. Food and cooking are at the heart of our traditions, memories, identities, and togetherness. Food brings people from different cultures together, allowing us to learn about one another's backgrounds. We share our cultural heritage when we share food with others. Saying "cook with me" to our families and friends is an invitation to strengthen our togetherness, traditions, and customs.

Mr. Speaker, throughout February we encourage Northwest Territories residents to engage in the exciting activities and resources that have been organized for Indigenous Languages Month. In partnership with the NWT Literacy Council, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment has prepared a number of initiatives. You will see a social media campaign featured on the NWT Indigenous Languages and Education Facebook page that will support the theme, Cook With Me. In addition, a regional recipe book featuring recipes from individuals and families across all the regions of the Northwest Territories has been translated into all official Indigenous languages and will be made available over the course of the month on the ECE website and social media. This week, you can view recipes in Tlicho and North Slavey on our Facebook page. Lastly, digital Indigenous language Valentine's Day cards will be available for sharing with friends and loved ones.

This month, we are also offering regional Indigenous governments celebratory grants to produce videos and other creative projects that promote, celebrate, and engage in Indigenous Languages Month. We have also engaged with schools across the territory to encourage them to celebrate by creating food-themed lesson plans that are linked to the Our Languages curriculum by using Indigenized approaches to culinary arts classes and by organizing celebrations of traditional foods in schools. Promoting food-preparation-themed language education supports the Our Languages curriculum and provides the opportunity to learn Indigenous languages and culture while also promoting food security for youth.

Mr. Speaker, it fills me with pride to live in and represent our territory, which has an abundant living history full of vibrant culture. Mahsi cho to the elders, community leaders, language advocates, and teachers who continue to promote Indigenous language revitalization efforts across the Northwest Territories. I encourage all Northerners to advocate for Indigenous languages and join me in celebrating Indigenous Languages Month. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 106-19(2): Indigenous Language Month 2021
Ministers' Statements

Page 1799

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Cell Phone Service between Hay River and Fort Smith
Members' Statements

Page 1799

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Highway No. 5 is the road between Fort Smith and Hay River, and it spans 273 kilometres. It was constructed in 1966 as a gravel road, but it is now a fully paved highway that passes through Wood Buffalo National Park. Missing from this highway, though, Mr. Speaker, is a cellular service along the entirety of the road. This is a long stretch of road to have no cellular service. I would like to enhance my colleague's request to build cellular infrastructure along Highway No. 3, servicing Behchoko to Yellowknife, and include with it a cellular service along Highway No. 5. This is a much-needed infrastructure that needs to be built in order to increase the level of safety for all travellers who use Highway No. 5. In the event of an emergency, unless travellers have a satellite phone, they are obliged to depend on other bypassers along the highway to get any rescue assistance. Again, this is a 273-kilometre highway.

Mr. Speaker, this is not okay and is not acceptable. In this day and age, I think we have reached a point where this is considered critical infrastructure, and building it ought to be a no-brainer. It's a busy highway, and it is the only highway in and out of Fort Smith. It is also the NWT's entryway into Wood Buffalo National Park, which is the second-largest park in the world, making it a great tourist destination. A project like this would serve twofold. It would both enhance our highway safety and help increase the prospects of tourism in the South Slave region of the NWT. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, if the government is planning to enter into any new service contracts to install cellular service along any NWT highway, I would like to request that Highway No. 5 be considered in any future negotiations. I will have questions for the Minister of Finance at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Cell Phone Service between Hay River and Fort Smith
Members' Statements

Page 1799

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Online Patient Portal
Members' Statements

Page 1799

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In November, I passed a motion in this House asking the Northwest Territories health system to stop using fax machines to send health records. This is from a 2018 report where the Chief Information and Privacy Commissioner asked the same thing. There have been numerous breaches over the years, including some egregious ones such as health records being sent to CBC North in 2010 and 2012.

Mr. Speaker, I hope that the Minister in the reply can finally put an end to us sending health records. However, Mr. Speaker, there is a lot more to do in the area of electronic medical records. Specifically, I would like to see an online patient portal. In fact, our electronic medical records system was initially set up with one, but the department never turned it on due to privacy concerns, an ironic answer considering their consistent breaches of health information.

Mr. Speaker, in BC, a patient can log on and they can see their x-rays, they can see their MRIs, they can see status of the lab tests, they can see status of all their reports, including doctors' notes about their medical history. This allows patients to own their information and know when something is missing. In Alberta, which uses a very similar system to ours and which is our number one sharing-of-information jurisdiction, you can log in and you can see the status of any COVID tests. It has been crucial to their pandemic response, having people see where their lab tests are. I have had numerous concerns from constituents who are one week out from a COVID test, wondering where it is. They simply could have logged on to a patient portal, in Alberta, and seen that information.

Mr. Speaker, I understand there was work being done to upgrade our electronic medical records; I understand there is work being done to end the use of fax machines, but this work is long overdue. I will have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services when this work will be completed and when we can let patients truly see all their health records so that we can put an end to the faxing, the CDs, the USBs, and the numerous ways we try to share our health information with our Alberta that leaves patients' files often incomplete and in a confused state of disarray. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Online Patient Portal
Members' Statements

Page 1799

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife North. Members' statement. Member for Deh Cho.

Conflict of Interest for Government of the Northwest Territories Employees
Members' Statements

Page 1800

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Today, I will speak on an all-important matter regarding conflict of interests in respect to GNWT employees. As employees of the Government of the Northwest Territories, everyone is held to high ethical standards in complying with the GNWT Code of Conduct and GNWT Code of Ethics. This is to ensure that GNWT employees are maintaining public confidence and maintaining the integrity of the public service in the execution of their duties.

Mr. Speaker, one of the guidelines states that it is a condition of employment with the GNWT to respect the code of conduct in respect to the conflict of interests. It also states that employees who fail to comply with these standards may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.

Mr. Speaker, a conflict of interests exists where there is an actual or perceived situation between the employee's duties and responsibilities of office and the private interests of the employee or an immediate family member, which can include but not limited to pecuniary interests including investments and business involvements. Outside employment service, whether voluntary or otherwise on the board, council or committee or any other organization and personal relationships, including immediate family or spouse.

Mr. Speaker, it is very important that GNWT employees be held to highest ethical standards to ensure the integrity of the public service. There are many rumblings and hearsay that GNWT employees are allowed to do as they please without any discipline whatsoever. GNWT employees who may be in an actual or perceived conflict of interest are being protected by the GNWT itself. Mr. Speaker, that is not being impartial when the GNWT dictates who is or isn't in an actual or a perceived conflict of interest. Mahsi.

Conflict of Interest for Government of the Northwest Territories Employees
Members' Statements

Page 1800

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Member's statements. Member for Great Slave.

Importance of Roads in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 1800

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We always talk about how the North is such a unique place, and one thing that makes it so is our reliance on our winter road network. The allure and mystique of these multi-million-dollar annual ventures is so powerful it even spurred an entire television series, helping to put the NWT on the international stage. However exciting these roads are and how beautiful they are to drive, it must be pointed out that we spend millions of dollars every year building infrastructure that melts, not exactly a fiscally responsible situation.

The Mackenzie Valley Highway was completed to Fort Simpson in 1971 and the federal government, which was responsible for highway construction in the territories, promised the following year that it would continue up the east shore of the Mackenzie River and on to Inuvik. The highway would follow the natural route to the Beaufort Sea and provide outside connections to Norman Wells. It seemed only a matter of time until the road would complete the Trans-Canada Highway system. However, that was not the case, and the NWT still awaits the connection of this vital infrastructure corridor.

In the North, we need roads for every facet of our lives. If permanent roads connected northern communities, supplies could be replenished year-round. An established, constant and steady supply chain would reduce the cost of living for our people. Additionally, with travel limited outside the territory for the foreseeable future, a connected all-weather road system would allow for residents to travel internally, taking territorial vacations that would help improve mental health while stimulating the economy. An often-overlooked aspect of having connected communities is that of personal safety. Will a person fleeing a domestic violent situation be more likely to leave if they can drive away? A tank of gas is much cheaper than purchasing an airline ticket.

Given the current state of our environment, both physically and economically, permanent roads in the North are now a necessity. Millions could be spent on the construction of the Mackenzie Highway through to the Beaufort-Delta, ensuring contractors, consultants, and construction service providers stay in business. It would bring in tourism, internal to start, while the international travel situation recovers. It would cut 800 kilometres off the trip from Edmonton to Inuvik, lowering freight costs because trucks would no longer have to go through the Yukon, all leading to a reduction in the cost of food and other essentials in remote communities. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to finish my statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Importance of Roads in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 1800

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

If I sound like a broken record, it's because I have often spoken about the need for all season roads. However, I do so again to urge my colleague, the Minister of Infrastructure, to go back to her federal tables and demand better for us; demand that we receive 100 percent funding to build our roads. They are literally the road to economic recovery for many northern businesses. Given the infrastructure deficit the federal government has left us in, the promised highway in the 1970s that never materialized, it is time we remind the Government of Canada that this was not our doing, and that it is an issue we can no longer afford to pay for at the expense of our people. Thank you.

Importance of Roads in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 1800

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Great Slave. Member statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Northwest Territories Heritage Fund
Members' Statements

Page 1800

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. Since its inception in 2012, the NWT Heritage Fund has grown to a very small amount of less than $30 million. During that time, the value of our petroleum and mineral production was about $18 billion. Of course, there were and continue to be benefits from resource development, but $30 million is not a lot to pass along to future generations for this one-time natural capital. That is less than 0.2 percent of the value of these resources. The purpose of the Heritage Fund is set out in legislation. It is "to ensure that future generations of people of the Northwest Territories benefit from ongoing economic development, including the development of non-renewable resources." I am not convinced we are doing a very good at that. The problems with the fund are well-known and were identified even during the discussion paper back in 2010:

  • There is no defined revenue stream for the Heritage Fund; and
  • There is no public governance and minimal reporting.

The Heritage Fund is so neglected that the last annual report posted on the Finance website is for 2014. Although there is a legal requirement for the tabling of an annual report on the Heritage Fund in this House, the Assembly website only shows annual reports for 2013, 2014, and 2016. In the last Assembly, there was even a promise of a discussion paper to revitalize the Heritage Fund and its legislation. That promise, too, was never fulfilled.

The only changes that seem to have been made to the original legislation and regulations since 2012 were to loosen up the very conservative investment requirements set in the regulations. The change was apparently made because the Heritage Fund was actually losing money against inflation. The management of the Heritage Fund was also contracted out to a third party.

The one saving grace is that there is a legal requirement for a ten-year review that must report at the first sitting after August 1, 2022. We must begin preparing for that review now. The review must include:

  • the operation of the act;
  • how to obtain public input and advice on expenditures from the fund;
  • independent oversight and management of the Heritage Fund; and
  • any other amendments that should be made to the act.

I will have questions for the Minister of Finance on improving intergenerational equity for residents of the Northwest Territories. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.