This is page numbers 2569 - 2602 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 community.

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, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.

Minister's Statement 145-19(2): Water Stewardship
Ministers' Statements

Page 2569

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The NWT Water Stewardship Strategy, guided by the Aboriginal Steering Committee, represents a shared path forward for water stewardship and preservation with NWT residents and water partners. Water partners such as Indigenous, federal, and territorial governments; non-government organizations; research institutions and universities; regulatory boards; communities; and industry work together under the strategy, to ensure our water remains clean and safe for future generations.

The success of the water strategy is based on four main areas that require concentrated efforts: working together, know and plan, use responsibly, and check our own progress. Examples of key responsibilities under each component include: negotiating and implementing transboundary water management agreements under the "working together" component; implementing research and monitoring throughout the Northwest Territories' lakes and rivers under "know and plan"; reviewing and developing guidelines and regulations to clarify regulatory and environmental assessment processes under "our responsibility"; and regularly reviewing and reporting on implementation of activities in our action plans under "check our progress."

Traditional knowledge is an integral part of the water strategy, providing valuable information and important guidance for all stewardship actions. Specific actions on the importance and inclusion of traditional knowledge are identified in all four components of the water strategy. The next action plan to support the water strategy will cover the period of 2021-2025 and will build on the momentum we have gained over the last decade. This new plan will address current priorities for water stewardship in the Northwest Territories. As part of the development of the next action plan, we have worked with and engaged our water partners to continue to understand NWT water priorities to ensure northern voices are reflected. We thank all those who have taken time to participate. Upon finalizing the next action plan, we will release a "what we heard" document that will show how this important engagement informed the plan.

Mr. Speaker, we are also making progress on modernizing the existing Yukon-NWT Transboundary Water Management Agreement signed in 2002. We have updated the agreement that commits us to responsibly manage shared waters in the Peel and Mackenzie Delta basins, and we developed a similar new agreement for the Liard River Basin. These new agreements are consistent with the water strategy and the 2015 agreements signed with Alberta and BC. Consultation has occurred, and public engagement ended on March 15. We are now reviewing this feedback to ensure that it is addressed.

Mr. Speaker, beginning last summer, the water levels on the Great Slave Lake reached record highs, as did water levels in many rivers flowing into it. We know Northerners have questions about why this happened, and we are actively working to provide answers. Our government, along with experts from the Governments of Alberta, British Columbia, and Canada, worked together on an analyzing of our major shared waterways, such as the Peace and Athabasca Rivers. We learned that these high water levels were driven by high snow and rainfall across northern British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Based on this information, we anticipate Great Slave Lake water levels will not likely return to normal for a while. Current conditions are unprecedented, and what happens over the next few months will depend on several things like the timing and volume of precipitation, the timing and the rate of snow and ice melt in the spring, and the thickness of river and lake ice.

Mr. Speaker, partnerships are what water stewardship is all about. This government is committed to working together to ensure that the waters of the Northwest Territories remain clean, abundant, and productive for all time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 145-19(2): Water Stewardship
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

Minister's Statement 146-19(2): Investing in Agriculture
Ministers' Statements

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Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, the season for planting may still be a long way off, but February 23rd was Agriculture Day in Canada. We have much to celebrate and work towards in support of agriculture in the Northwest Territories. I will also speak to the connection between the agriculture industry and efforts to strengthen food security. Despite the snow and still frigid temperatures, right now is, in fact, an important time of planning and investment for food growers and harvesters across our country and in the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, as we mark Agriculture Day this year, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment is preparing to implement the fourth year of the GNWT's Agriculture Strategy, The Business of Food: A Food Production Plan. Since 2017, we have invested in planning, training, capacity building, community partnerships, and regulatory improvements designed to position our commercial agriculture sector to increase its production of fresh, healthy, safe, and more-affordable locally grown food choices.

The industry has indeed grown, and as recently announced, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment has responded to requests for increased financial supports for large-scale development on established and growing commercial farm businesses. Three significant investments were made this winter in farms in the Hay River area under the federal Canadian Agriculture Partnership. We continue to take stock of the progress that is being made by farmers and harvesters in order to determine what investments and initiatives are needed to continue the evolution and growth in our territory's emerging agriculture sector.

Mr. Speaker, our government's first agriculture strategy was introduced as a means to advance regional economic development and diversification, but we also recognize that our agriculture sector can do much more than diversify and strengthen our economy. Our government's mandate includes a commitment to increase food security through locally produced, harvested, and affordable food. The growth of our agriculture sector is central to this commitment, and for the past year, the COVID pandemic has brought it to the forefront.

Food security is an issue that impacts everybody in the territory and, for too many of our residents, touches every aspect of their lives, particularly affecting health and education outcomes. It is an issue that rightfully is now commanding a collaborative all-of- government approach. While this work is being led by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, we are reliant on support from the Departments of Health and Social Services, Environment and Natural Resources, and Lands as well as our ongoing partnership with the Government of Canada.

The department has been working with these partner departments to consider how the GNWT can better support food security efforts across the territory. In doing this, the department has compiled an inventory of GNWT food security programming and developed a set of considerations to assist the GNWT in making meaningful progress on food security, and Health and Social Services lead an anti-poverty roundtable meeting focused, as well, on food security. All of these pieces will come together under a single document that we are currently drafting.

Canada's Agriculture Day is an important opportunity to celebrate the growth of this industry over the last few years, including initiatives by producers to adapt their businesses to the pandemic. It is also a chance to highlight the rising interest across the Northwest Territories to think creatively about local food production, such as shown at farmers markets, community greenhouses, and especially our small and vibrant community of commercial growers and food producers. Together, these efforts support the commitment that our government has made to addressing food security. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 146-19(2): Investing in Agriculture
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

Minister's Statement 147-19(2): Community Housing Support Program
Ministers' Statements

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Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Mr. Speaker, throughout the life of this government, I have travelled to many communities, and it cannot go unnoticed that every community in the Northwest Territories is unique and different and has different needs. Within 33 unique communities in the NWT, flexible programming is needed to ensure community needs are being met. The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation has a program to support Indigenous governments and community agencies to develop innovative, community-driven housing projects of their own design. The Community Housing Support program works to ensure that local priorities around housing and homelessness can be met with a variety of support options.

Mr. Speaker, flexibility really is key with this program. The Housing Corporation, under this program, offers support through grants and other contributions. Supports may be in the form of policy and program design, material packages, technical expertise, land management, or surplus units when appropriate. At this time the Community Housing Support program is supporting projects in eight communities across the NWT. In Fort Smith, the Housing Corporation has completed a project with the Salt River First Nation that has led to the creation of six new affordable housing units. In this case, the Housing Corporation provided the materials and the Salt River First Nation provided the land and labour. In both Whati and Jean Marie River, similar projects were completed. Two new units were constructed in each community, with the Housing Corporation providing a contribution for the construction.

Mr. Speaker, in Nahanni Butte and Fort Good Hope, the Community Housing Support program was also used to create community-driven housing repair programs. Through these community-managed repair programs, communities prioritize the residents whose homes they think are most in need of repairs. Funding allows them to inspect houses, create a scope of work, purchase materials, and hire local tradespeople and apprentices to conduct this work. In Colville Lake, the community expressed interest in log homes, so the Housing Corporation is working on a log home demonstration project in the community. The project proposed the construction of four log homes in Colville Lake, constructed with funding from the Housing Corporation. The community will supply the logs, and we will contribute to the design, land development, and construction.

Mr. Speaker, working in partnership with Indigenous governments and community agencies is a priority of this government. Partnerships like those supported by the Community Housing Support program are critical to making sure the Housing Corporation is working to meet the needs identified by the communities themselves. The community also works to ensure that supporting communities to identify their housing priorities through the establishment of community housing plans. The Community Housing Support program is a key tool and has a role to play in supporting communities to address their housing aspirations. I am looking forward to seeing the results of these partnerships and what the next innovative, locally driven projects are that grow from this innovative approach. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 147-19(2): Community Housing Support Program
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Emerging Wisely
Members' Statements

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Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. I want to talk about GNWT's Emerging Wisely Plan today. This document, which was released last spring in May, laid out the government's plan in how to deal with the pandemic response. First off, I want to say what a great job our medical teams have done in mitigating the spread of this virus and a big marsi cho to all our residents who have done their part by following all the current restrictions. At the moment, we have zero active cases, and this is definitely something to be very proud of.

Mr. Speaker, since last spring, a lot has happened. This pandemic is a fluid situation, and there are new developments happening daily. Over the last year, we have made some great strides in terms of vaccination development and delivery. However, we also now have to worry about the variant strains of this disease that emerged around the world.

Mr. Speaker, as of March 26th, according to the Department of Health and Social Services, the NWT has now administered a total of 23,722 first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Again, great job to the medical teams. That number, we're starting to closely creep up to that herd immunity number. I think one of my colleagues will be speaking pf that today later. The Emerging Wisely document released last year, simply says a vaccine needs to be available to the large portion of our residents. Northerners so far have done their part to battle this disease. With that, what is our direction moving forward in terms of relaxing restrictions? I will have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services at the appropriate time. Thank you.

Emerging Wisely
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Long-term Care Bed Needs in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 2570

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On March 11, 2021, the Minister of Health and Social Services made an announcement regarding long-term care bed projections for the NWT. Minister Green explained that the Department of Health had updated its data stream and worked with the Bureau of Statistics to redo the estimate of long-term beds needed for the NWT over the next 14 years. They concluded that the NWT does not require as many new long-term beds as they initially thought in 2015.

Mr. Speaker, as a result of this new estimate, the department also created a new prediction model to determine a new number of long-term care beds required in each NWT region. This new projection model has determined that the demand for the long-term beds in Fort Smith is greater than previous estimates. Therefore, the department has concluded that more long-term beds will now be built for Fort Smith. Fort Smith currently has 26 long-term beds in our communities. However, this new projection by the government will create another 24 new long-term beds for Fort Smith. This is a much-needed boost of infrastructure that will greatly benefit Fort Smith and the South Slave for many years to come.

Mr. Speaker, I was very happy to hear this news from Minister Green. The people of Fort Smith are also very happy with this decision. In fact, I'd like to share an excerpt from a letter I received yesterday from the president of the Fort Smith Senior Citizens' Society, Ms. Mary Pat Short, who said, "The Fort Smith Senior Citizens' Society wishes to thank Minister Green for her decision to award a 24-bed extended-care facility to Fort Smith. In Fort Smith, we have a large and steadily growing population of seniors. As each year passes, more of our seniors need the specialized care that an extended-care facility makes possible. The facility will benefit our current and future elders, and on their behalf, the Fort Smith Seniors Society expresses our deepest gratitude." Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Long-term Care Bed Needs in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 2570

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Lastly, the NWT Seniors' Society President, Mr. Don Webb, who is a Fort Smith resident, has told me verbally that he is also very grateful for the new long-term beds coming to Fort Smith. In addition, the entire community of Fort Smith wants to thank Minister Green and the Cabinet for their decision. As the MLA for Thebacha, I, too, wish to thank Minister Green and the Cabinet for implementing the renewal strategy and this decision. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Long-term Care Bed Needs in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Herd Immunity in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 2570

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to start off today by thanking teachers for taking my kids back today. Second, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank the health authority as they've done an incredible job vaccinating NWT residents and continues to do so. As we work towards 75 percent vaccination rate, NWT residents are wondering how this change to public health orders here in the Northwest Territories. While some question what this means for self-isolation, many NWT businesses and residents are asking what this means for within territory restrictions. In a recent letter to the Premier, the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce asked the GNWT to provide transparent criteria and metrics to give businesses the information required to plan their operations over the coming month. Within the NWT, the letter specifically asks about removing capacity restrictions on outdoor gatherings and increasing indoor capacity limits.

Mr. Speaker, businesses need time to rehire and train staff as well as purchase additional inventory to accommodate changes to public health restrictions. Scrambling to adapt means increased operating costs or the inability to adjust in time for seasonal work. NWT businesses have been adaptive, responsive, and responsible and need the government's support through transparent guidelines to continue to put Northerners' safety first while preserving their own ability to stay afloat.

Mr. Speaker, the Chamber also raises concerns about case-by-case business exemptions. This approach does not provide clarity or certainty for businesses, is inefficient and lacks transparency and accountability. I also feel this increases administrative burden for NWT businesses, and creates a system where those with a capacity to advocate for themselves end up with different rules.

The NWT's race for herd immunity and where its finish line truly lies is unclear. While we measure our success as a territory, not all 33 communities will achieve 75 percent vaccination rate at the same time. Given our vaccination success is based on the personal choices of our adult population, some communities may never achieve true herd immunity, and understanding the consequences of this is important to the mental health and economic potential of our territory.

Residents and businesses want to support the GNWT's efforts to keep Northerner's safe. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement?

---Unanimous consent granted