This is page numbers 1843 - 1902 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 1:33 p.m.

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Prayer
Prayer

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 107-19(2): COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in the NWT
Ministers' Statements

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Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and good afternoon. Today, I am going to provide an update on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Northwest Territories. As Members are aware, the NWT started delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to priority residents on December 31, 2020. Rollout began only a week after Health Canada approved the use of the Moderna vaccine in Canada and only three days after the territory received its first shipment.

Since the beginning, the GNWT's approach to delivering the COVID-19 vaccine has been grounded in five core values: equity, cultural competency, evidence-based decision-making, flexibility, and trust. These values are outlined in detail in Immunity for our Communities: The Northwest Territories COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy, which was released last month. Department of Health and Social Services and Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority staff have worked alongside local healthcare staff and community members to bring vaccines to residents across the North.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to share that the NWT has delivered 12,833 first doses and fully vaccinated 299 residents against COVID-19. I also want to highlight that our vaccine teams visited all 33 communities in just under a month. Given the significant logistical and geographical challenges of this rollout, not to mention the cold chain requirements of the vaccine, this is an incredible achievement. Throughout this process, the GNWT has made every effort to translate our vaccine communications into all 11 official languages, through informative handouts, videos, or audio on local community radio stations. Local interpreters, knowledge keepers, and community leaders have been offered to be champions of the vaccine campaign and encourage its uptake.

Mr. Speaker, we continue to meet with Indigenous and community governments on a regular basis to keep them informed of our progress with vaccine delivery and listen to the needs of their communities. In line with our reporting to the Public Health Agency of Canada, vaccine dose data continues to be updated weekly on the GNWT COVID-19 website. Helpful information and resources can also be found there, including videos, fact sheets, and frequently asked questions about the vaccine.

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of Cabinet, I would like to take this opportunity to thank local health care staff, travelling vaccine teams, communities, and residents for making our vaccine delivery so successful to date. One of three NWT adults has already received their first dose. With every dose given in the NWT, we boost our territory's defense against COVID-19. The NWT is, in fact, leading the country with our ambitious delivery of first doses and has recently been commended by the federal Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, who stated: "Given the geography and the challenges of our winter weather, it is a credit to everyone involved in the vaccine rollout that it is progressing well and on track." We would also like to express our gratitude to the federal government for their generous allotment of vaccine we have received to date.

Despite the recent announcement of the temporary delay of Moderna shipments to Canada, the NWT remains well positioned to receive enough vaccine for 75 percent of the adult population by the end of March 2021. We knew that the allotment and delivery of doses were both outside of our control, which is why our team built a flexible vaccine delivery schedule to account for shipment delays, weather, or other logistical challenges.

Mr. Speaker, we want to reassure residents that we have a plan in place to optimize our vaccine supply over the coming weeks. We have received our third shipment of 4,700 vaccines, and we are waiting for an update about the fourth shipment. With that information in hand, we will announce any changes to our plan going forward. I remain committed to keeping the public informed through scheduled media briefings as well as communications channels online, on the radio, and through on-the-ground staff in person. It is important to remember that the public health measures and surveillance system that have protected NWT residents from COVID-19 so far are still in place and working extremely well.

We will continue to use every possible tool to protect our territory from COVID-19, including public health orders, effective wastewater testing, point-of-care testing, self-isolation, and vaccine delivery. Together, we can keep COVID-19 from jeopardizing our well-being and move toward loosening restrictions when conditions are right. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 107-19(2): COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in the NWT
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.

Minister's Statement 108-19(2): NWT Climate Change Council
Ministers' Statements

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Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Strengthening the government's leadership and authority on climate change, ensuring climate change impacts are specifically considered when making government decisions, and increasing the use of alternative and renewable energy are mandate priorities of the 19th Legislative Assembly.

Climate change continues to be a critical issue facing us today and is affecting the Northwest Territories in many ways. That is why the Government of the Northwest Territories is taking real action to address climate change through implementing the NWT Climate Change Strategic Framework 2019-2023 Action Plan. One of the commitments the Government of the Northwest Territories made to strengthen our leadership and authority on climate change is to establish the NWT Climate Change Council. I am pleased to say that we have made progress on that commitment with the finalizing of the council's terms of reference.

Mr. Speaker, the Climate Change Council will be a forum for information sharing, collaboration, and engagement between representatives of Indigenous governments and organizations, community governments, and the Government of the Northwest Territories. It will provide guidance and advice to inform Government of the Northwest Territories' climate change and environment programs. The council and the Government of the Northwest Territories will also be advised by industry, non-government organizations, co-management bodies, and academia.

Mr. Speaker, not only has the Government of the Northwest Territories worked to establish the Climate Change Council, we have also released our first progress reports on our territory-wide approach to climate change in January. Environment and Natural Resources, the lead department for climate change, along with the Departments of Infrastructure and Finance, jointly released four reports:

  • ENR's NWT Climate Change Action Plan Annual Report;
  • Infrastructure's NWT Energy Initiatives Report;
  • Finance's NWT Carbon Tax Report; and
  • ENR's Plain Language Overview Report summarizing our government and partners' activities to address climate change.

The reports will collectively help keep our residents informed on the progress we are making on this important issue. We are making progress. Almost all actions under the Climate Change Action Plan are underway, and we are well-positioned to continue to transition to a low-carbon economy, improve knowledge of climate change impacts, and build resilience and adapt to climate change.

Mr. Speaker, another mandate commitment our government has made significant progress on is ensuring that climate change impacts are specifically considered when making government decisions. The Executive Council and Financial Management Board decision-making instruments have been updated to ensure climate change factors are considered and documented, as applicable, in decisions moving forward. This is a substantial milestone as the Northwest Territories is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada to include climate change considerations in its government's decision-making processes. This means that, moving forward, Cabinet and Financial Management Board decision papers, submissions, and legislative proposals will include climate-change factors for consideration. Integrating climate change considerations will improve accountability in the Government of the Northwest Territories' decision-making process.

Mr. Speaker, Northwest Territories residents are profoundly impacted by climate change, and the Government of the Northwest Territories must show leadership in addressing its impacts and opportunities. By working together both within our departments and with our partners, we can transition to a low-carbon economy, strengthening our understanding of the effects of climate change, and build resilience and adapt to a changing climate now and for future generations. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 108-19(2): NWT Climate Change Council
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Midwifery Program
Members' Statements

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Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Midwifery Program in the NWT was first started in Fort Smith in 1993. Soon after, midwifery services also began to be an option in Hay River with a goal to one day service every community in the NWT. Unfortunately, this goal was never fulfilled, and Fort Smith and Hay River remain the only two NWT communities that offer midwifery services.

I support the expansion of the NWT Midwifery Program. I support midwifery to the fullest extent. I appreciate the fact that it offers a culturally relevant birthing option for people who want it. Not everybody wants their newborn delivered in a hospital many kilometres outside of their home communities. I know families who would much prefer to deliver their newborns within their own communities rather than a regional hospital.

In 2017, the Government of the Northwest Territories released a report titled "NWT Midwifery Stakeholder Engagement," which provided 10 recommendations for how the government could improve midwifery expansion in the Northwest Territories. Following this report, the Government of the Northwest Territories accepted all 10 recommendations, which include strengthening the Hay River and Fort Smith programs and establishing a territory-wide program to service Yellowknife as well as the Tlicho and Sahtu regions. Since then, two new positions were funded in 2019 to start up the territorial program in Yellowknife, but only one of them has been filled. An additional part-time position has been funded for Hay River, but no further support has been provided to the Fort Smith program.

Midwifery services have been a long time coming for most communities in the NWT. There is a growing interest among people all across the NWT who would like to utilize midwifery services. Therefore, I certainly hope our government will get a handle on developing the territory-wide program and have it operational as soon as possible. I will have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Midwifery Program
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minimum Wage and Top-Up Program
Members' Statements

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Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. The federal government introduced a wage top-up funding program on April 1, and that has been extended a few times, now to February 28, 2021. In most jurisdictions, the top-ups were restricted to the essential service sector. In the NWT, no such restrictions were applied and it is available to all employees who get less than $18 per hour, even if their employer doesn't want to enroll. As of November 3, 2020, 83 businesses are participating; 1,943 individuals have benefited; and the total cost for the program is about $1,700,000. That means the wage top-up program has been taken up by about 9 percent of the total NWT labour force, using numbers from the Bureau of Statistics.

The federal government is covering 75 percent of the cost of the wage top-up program. I support this program as it can support many of our service-sector workers who provide key programs and services, and it will assist with economic recovery. However, the need for this program is the clearest sign that our minimum wage is too low, far too low. $13.46 per hour is not enough to get by on. That's no surprise to many Northerners. In March 2019, Alternatives North released research reports that calculated each parent in a family of four would have to earn $23.95 hourly in Yellowknife, $24.75 in Hay River, and $23.78 in Inuvik for a basic standard of living.

In the NWT, the effective minimum wage has been $18 an hour, even though the official minimum wage was set at $13.46 an hour on April 1, 2018. Apparently, there is a mysterious Minimum Wage Committee that has been in place since 2013. It convenes every couple of years to review the minimum wage and make recommendations to the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. There is virtually no information on any GNWT website about this committee, who sits on it, and what they look at. Even the reports seem to be secret as they are not on the ECE website and have not been tabled in this House.

It would be unbelievable, if not completely unfair, if the effective minimum wage in the NWT is rolled back from anything less than $18 an hour, which is what people have been getting for the last 10 months. COVID hasn't changed the cost of living either, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions later today for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment about where we are going with the NWT minimum wage and whether he intends to roll it back. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Minimum Wage and Top-Up Program
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Northwest Territories Power Corporation Board
Members' Statements

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Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

It has been almost five years since the 18th Assembly Minister responsible for the NTPC replaced the public board of governors with a board made up of GNWT deputy ministers. At the time, the public was told that this was done to save $1 million. The GNWT also committed to undertake a review of governance structure. Members on this side of the House have pointed out that this is not best practice according to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Its report reviewing governance frameworks for Crown corporations pointed out that board of directors in Crown corporations should function independently of management. It has now been one year since asked the former Minister responsible in this Assembly to update the House on a plan for the NTPC board. Minister Thompson advised this House that the board of DMs had been instructed to come back with a governance model and that he would share with Members any progress made since 2016.

Mr. Speaker, I'm trying to be patient, but the GNWT is showing absolutely no progress on this work in five years. This makes me doubt their commitment in getting it done. I am also concerned that the deputy ministers may not have the necessary skills or technical expertise to tackle the governance of a highly specialized public utility. I am also concerned that they are doing this on the sides of their desk which we know that the government did not want that for those who are providing the work of the now COVID secretariat. The Power Corporation plays a vital role in the lives of all NWT residents. How it is governed and managed is something I care about on behalf of my constituents as it could help in lowering the cost of living. I am going to continue to press this government and the current Minister responsible to make progress on this important work with no further delays. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Northwest Territories Power Corporation Board
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Diabetes Programs in Small Communities
Members' Statements

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Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. I would like to bring to the attention of the health minister the need for an effective diabetes program to be offered at our small health centres. The First Nations people are known to be high risk for diabetes, and we have many scattered First Nations communities throughout the territory. Some are not accessible by highway and are completely isolated. It makes one wonder how do you manage without an effective diabetes program in place, even in my community of Fort Providence.

Mr. Speaker, let me tell you about my experience being part of such a program during my employment in Hay River. The regional health centre has a dedicated diabetes team made up of three staff. Every three months, they notify you to have blood work to determine your A1C level and most times for the kidney check. A week later, they call you in with a group of about four to five diabetics. You are weighed, measured for girth and height, and everything is documented in the passport log booklet, including other info required as a diabetic.

Through this system, you can upgrade or have refill prescriptions prescribed. They also have healthy, sugarless snacks and food available to sample. The goal is to ensure your sugar intake is kept to a very bare minimum, if at all possible. You have to remember that diabetes is an ongoing chronic disease. If left unmanaged, this can lead to serious complications with one's health. This is a very well-run diabetes program and, sadly, not offered in the smaller health centres in the small communities. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the health Minister at the appropriate time. Mahsi.

Diabetes Programs in Small Communities
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Members' statements. Member for Nunakput.