This is page numbers 2603 - 2636 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 1:31 p.m.

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Prayer
Prayer

Page 2603

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.

Minister's Statement 148-19(2): Municipal and Community Affairs Youth Initiatives
Ministers' Statements

Page 2603

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Mr. Speaker, with the recent announcement of the delay of the 2022 Arctic Winter Games, I wanted to reach out to Northwest Territories youth and offer some words of encouragement to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed or disappointed by this news. As Minister responsible for Youth, I want to point out that young people can accomplish many incredible initiatives when they are motivated and take charge. I would like to start by using the example of the Western Arctic Youth Collective's Local 2 Global Community Exchange held in Inuvik on March 2nd to 4th of this year. The organizers, a group of very dedicated young people, recently received an Arctic Inspiration Prize, which will help resource and highlight this event. It was a wonderful recognition of an inspiring effort by northern youth.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs also has resources that can assist with youth initiatives whether they are led by youth or youth supporting organizations. These include the:

  • NWT Youth Corps, including support for larger multiyear projects;
  • Youth contributions designed for smaller one-time events;
  • Regional youth sport events focused on schools and communities to support tournaments in our regional centres and our smaller communities; and
  • Children Youth Resiliency Program, which supports existing or new programs intending to help younger residents with learning the basics of physical literacy and mental health resiliency.

There are also dozens of programs that the department supports through other organizations, which includes:

  • Northern Youth Abroad;
  • Western Arctic Moving Pictures;
  • Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning;
  • Foster Family Coalition; and
  • smaller local and regional projects through community governments and school agencies.

I also want to encourage youth to consider the NWT Youth Ambassador Program. The program offers a guided and structured volunteer experience. Participants have the opportunity to develop life and job skills as well as to build the confidence necessary to deal with complex life challenges. Later this spring, the department will be announcing a 2021 online event. Youth can reach out to any Municipal and Community Affairs Offices for more information on available opportunities.

In closing, I want our youth to know that your communities and the Government of the Northwest Territories are here to support you. Please reach out to local staff and representatives to discuss ideas that you may have on what programs, activities, or initiatives may help you and other youth in your communities feel empowered and resilient. Some great initiatives have resulted from discussions like this in the past. It is so often the youth who show us what is possible. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 148-19(2): Municipal and Community Affairs Youth Initiatives
Ministers' Statements

Page 2603

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 149-19(2): Emerging Wisely - Vaccine Uptake in the NWT
Ministers' Statements

Page 2603

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As we approach the end of this sitting, I know that Members of this House and residents of the Northwest Territories are looking forward to spring and summer in the North and all that it offers. This is a good time for us to reflect on the past year to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a long haul for all of us.

The first case of COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories was confirmed on March 21, 2020. That was just shortly after the first Public Health Order restricted travel within the NWT and required all travellers coming in to isolate for 14 days in one of the four hub communities. In an effort to protect NWT residents and our health system, the Chief Public Health Officer also advised that all non-essential services and businesses would close. The Emerging Wisely plan, released in May 2020, provided a framework for how the NWT would maintain the strong public health measures developed to contain the spread of COVID-19 and eventually ease them.

Mr. Speaker, we are in a very different place than we were last year thanks to our collective efforts to follow the public health orders and measures for our own safety and the safety of our communities. While other provinces and territories have gone through repeated lockdowns, we have stayed the course to limit the spread of COVID-19 and avoid some of the most devastating impacts of the virus. NWT businesses, community groups, and other orders of government have created innovative ways to comply with the public health orders, or they have been granted permission to open up earlier than envisioned. Residents can enjoy sports such as hockey, squash, and curling. Businesses have increased their capacity, while still maintaining physical distancing and other controls.

Mr. Speaker, we have learned how to reduce and live with the risk of COVID-19. Over time, we have been able to enjoy relative freedom within our borders because of the orders in place and residents' willingness to follow these orders. We all recognize that this has not been easy. Restrictions on businesses, gatherings, travel, and the requirement for mandatory self-isolation have all taken a toll. We look forward to the day when all restrictions can be lifted, and we are getting closer.

The Chief Public Health Officer has advised that she is currently working with the COVID-19 Secretariat to assess the future and look at targeted initiatives to ease some restrictions. She has committed to review Emerging Wisely during the month of April. There are a number of variables that will inform her decision, including:

  • how effective the vaccine is to prevent transmission of the virus;
  • when vaccines will be approved to be administered to everyone. Some measures must be maintained to protect children under 18 and others who cannot take the vaccine for whatever reason; and finally,
  • how well the vaccine protects against the emerging variants such as those from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.

High overall vaccine uptake will be important to take into consideration as the Chief Public Health Officer assesses the risk level in the NWT. We strongly encourage all eligible residents to get vaccinated to help protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19.

Mr. Speaker, as of yesterday, March 29th, over 23,722 people have received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the NWT and 13,933 have had both doses. Vaccine teams are currently going for third visits to many small communities to reach those who may have missed the clinics before or are ready to receive the vaccine now. All residents aged 18 and over in all 33 communities across the NWT are able to book vaccine appointments. I anticipate a significant number of NWT residents will be fully vaccinated by the end of April, months ahead of many southern provinces. Having as many people vaccinated as possible is the key to moving forward. I am happy to be part of the group of NWT residents who are now fully vaccinated and would like to express my appreciation to the vaccination teams.

Mr. Speaker, with a vaccine uptake between approximately 58 to 62 percent, we will require higher vaccine uptake in order to relax public health measures. That could mean larger groups of people getting together at home, at community gatherings, or at business locations. The Chief Public Health Officer will then look at how to modify the self-isolation requirements and travel restrictions while we watch how the rest of Canada manages the spread of new variants and the rollout of vaccine. While the NWT has responded effectively to date to protect NWT residents, we need to remember that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. We will see more and more things open up this spring and summer nonetheless.

Mr. Speaker, we still must maintain some measures to protect those who are not able to receive the vaccine. I urge residents to remain patient, to do their part and get vaccinated if they are able to do so, encourage friends and loved ones to get their vaccines, and to keep up those healthy habits we have adopted since the beginning. It is through these collective efforts that we have so far been successful in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will count on these efforts as we move forward. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 149-19(2): Emerging Wisely - Vaccine Uptake in the NWT
Ministers' Statements

Page 2604

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.

Minister's Statement 150-19(2): COVID-19 Emergency Support Funding for Sport Organizations
Ministers' Statements

Page 2604

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to provide an update to Members on additional sport funding provided to community governments and sport organizations through a partnership between the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and Sport Canada. To date, the COVID-19 emergency support funding for sport organizations has provided a total of $1.8 million for communities and sport organizations in order to:

  • adapt their programs to meet public health requirements;
  • train and prepare staff and volunteers;
  • purchase specialized equipment; and most importantly of all,
  • continue to offer sport and recreation programming for the mental health and physical well-being of our residents.

This is an increase of $263,000 above the $1.5 million I announced last fall.

Mr. Speaker, many of our residents benefit greatly from the investments we make in sport and recreation. These additional investments, supported by the Government of Canada, are especially important for our elderly residents, those with disabilities, people living in isolated communities, and those who cannot afford program fees. The mental and physical benefits of participation in all types of physical activity, recreation, and sports are well documented. Those benefits include improved mental health, improved heart and lung capacity, better sleeping patterns, control over chronic diseases like diabetes, reduced stress, and increased self-esteem. Sport and recreation investments are also important for leadership development, by offering training for coaches and officials, developing role models, and by building administration and capacity for volunteer organizations.

Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 emergency support funding for communities and sport organizations has already supported many activities. I would like to share a few of those examples with Members today.

In Kakisa, the Ka'a'gee Tu First Nation has built a five-kilometer trail on the south side of the community for elders and all community members to get outside and enjoy the land. The trail is being used for walking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing at the river. It also gives community members easy access to firewood to heat their homes. Families also have been gathering at the river for cookouts, fishing, and other cultural practices. Community members are very happy with access to the trails and for the employment opportunities for the construction that it provided to the community members.

In Tuktoyaktuk, the hamlet's recreation department partnered with the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation, Aimayunga Woman Shelter, Jason Jacobson Youth Centre, and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation Student and Family Support Program on several activities, including a drive-through healthy foods feast with over 600 meals being provided for families before Christmas and an outdoor games day on January 16th as part of the Sunrise Festival with elders' story telling, a fishing derby, tug-of-war, and a harpoon-throwing competition.

In Fort Good Hope, the community used their funding to support outdoor sport activities that were well received because they allowed the participants to maintain physical distancing requirements and allowed for purchasing of new equipment so that fewer people were handling it.

In Tulita, the community used the funding to provide more programming, particularly for elders who have been greatly impacted by the pandemic.

The COVID-19 emergency support fund for sport organizations has allowed these and many other activities to occur during a very difficult time. This latest top-up will continue this support. The ingenuity and innovation of communities and sport organizations has been simply wonderful, and we thank them. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 150-19(2): COVID-19 Emergency Support Funding for Sport Organizations
Ministers' Statements

Page 2604

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 151-19(2): Tourism 2025: Roadmap to Recovery
Ministers' Statements

Page 2604

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, later today, I will table Tourism 2025: Roadmap to Recovery. It is the new five-year plan for the future growth of tourism in the Northwest Territories. It was originally conceived as a strategy that would build upon the success of Tourism 2010, Tourism 2015, and Tourism 2020. Each of these strategies set a goal for visitor spending, and every one of them exceeded their goal, with total visitor spending estimated to have risen from $130 million during the Tourism 2010 period up to an estimated $210.1 million during the time of Tourism 2020. The success of Tourism 2020 was in spite of the severe decline that began in the last part of the strategy, when COVID-19 arrived in the spring of 2020.

Mr. Speaker, Tourism 2025 is a strategy for the future. It does not change the reality that, until visitors return to the Northwest Territories, economic relief measures are still needed. The goal for Tourism 2025 has shifted from one of continued growth to achieving recovery, with an ambitious goal to be back to the high numbers seen in 2018-2019 for both visitor numbers and visitor spend. To achieve this in the medium term, we need our industry to survive the pandemic, so before I speak further about Tourism 2025, let me briefly note some of the short-term efforts being made.

We continue to work with the Government of Canada and Northwest Territories Tourism to find ways to meet the immediate needs of NWT tourism businesses and the industry as a whole. Federal Northern Business Relief and Regional Relief and Recovery Funds have been available to help tourism businesses cover operational costs. For those tourism businesses that exhausted this funding, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment filled the gap.

Thanks to our partnership with Canada's Northern Economic Development Agency, we have provided opportunities for tourism businesses to invest in, upgrade, or pivot their operations and services. Three million dollars is being invested in 99 tourism initiatives across the territory under the Growth and Recovery by Investing in Tourism, or GRIT, Fund. Together with Northwest Territories Tourism, we invested in training initiatives like digital boot camps for tourism businesses to learn and upgrade their online marketing skills. The promotion of staycations allowed tourism businesses to deliver their products to a new and overwhelmingly supportive local market. Our campaigns did more than generate some much-needed revenue; it awakened us as Northerners collectively to be better customers and ambassadors of our very own tourism product.

Just as the pandemic is not over, neither are the GNWT's efforts to continue finding opportunities to partner with other funders to maximize funding and to identify gaps in funding programs that we can help fill. The department conducted industry engagements in preparation for Tourism 2025 twice, first in the fall of 2019, but then again in the spring of 2020, in order to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the industry and to determine whether there was a shift in needs, opportunities, or priorities. What we learned may be surprising to some. While the reasons behind their priorities may have changed, the fundamental needs of the industry have not. The message from the tourism industry was clear and direct; government investment is needed, more now than ever, in tourism infrastructure, industry and product development, communication, and market research. From that engagement with stakeholders came four strategic priorities for Tourism 2025. They are:

  1. Invest in infrastructure, enhancements to products and services, and development of new products and services;
  2. Build capacity among operators and tourism staff through training and mentorship;
  3. Engage with tourism stakeholders, through enhanced communications and marketing efforts; and
  4. Gather and report key data, information, and insights to help guide and evaluate investments.

The Tourism 2025 strategy includes specific activities under each strategic priority and the anticipated outcomes of that work.

Mr. Speaker, the world wants to come to the Northwest Territories. The marketing efforts of Northwest Territories Tourism, our destination marketing organization, won international awards for their marketing efforts focused on telling the stories of the Northwest Territories. Yellowknife, as a gateway to all of the Northwest Territories, was named as one of National Geographic's 2021 places to visit. That designation is not tied to any single moment in time, and it will not be lost in light of the tourism delays imposed by COVID-19. Being a place to go is tied to the spectacular stories that we have to tell.

It will take time and it will take work, but we will recover. Our borders will open, and the Northwest Territories will once again take its place as a spectacular tourism destination. When we get there, and we will, Tourism 2025: Roadmap to Recovery will be in place to guide and grow our industry into the future. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 151-19(2): Tourism 2025: Roadmap to Recovery
Ministers' Statements

Page 2604

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Very good time management. You finished at zero seconds on the clock. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Small Business Supports
Members' Statements

Page 2605

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It has been just over a year since we entered the pandemic. It has been a year of living under orders established by the Chief Public Health Officer, orders that, for some, have limited business as usual in the NWT.

As we entered the pandemic, this government, along with the federal government, focused on addressing health concerns in order to ensure the safety of all citizens. As our borders closed, the negative impact on the economy and businesses became an immediate and harsh reality. There was little to no time for government to engage with businesses or spend months developing discussing papers on how to react. Timely decisions were needed to ensure immediate financial and in-kind support was provided to businesses that found themselves grounded and without a customer base. As businesses do every day, governments found they had to make decisions quickly, and to some surprise, they actually delivered.

Mr. Speaker, from where I sit, I sense that this government is becoming complacent and may even be starting to look at this pandemic as coming to an end, which is far from reality. Although governments have provided financial support, businesses that continue to operate will now, more than ever, require both governments to be creative with additional and continued support if survival is expected. This government is starting to roll back and eliminate some of the business supports, and I would caution that approach. As we now have somewhat of a track record and figured out how to respond in a timely manner, now is the time to engage with businesses and confirm what supports have worked, what supports need to remain in place, and what supports are required.

In saying that, it is important to remember that time continues to be of the essence in developing and implementing solutions if we expect businesses to survive. This may be as easy as getting more contracts, providing timely payments to northern vendors and contractors for goods and services purchased, or negotiating more contracts to ensure they remain in the hands of northern contractors. Whatever it is we have to do, we cannot take our foot off the gas pedal.

Mr. Speaker, this government talks about lessons learned. I would ask each Minister to consider those lessons and to build on what has worked and revise or eliminate what has not, but it has to be done quickly. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Small Business Supports
Members' Statements

Page 2605

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Lack of Mental Health Support in Nunakput
Members' Statements

Page 2605

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mental health is critical for the health and well-being for our people. We all have felt the impact from our measures to keep the spread of COVID-19 under control. Symptoms like anxiety and depressive disorders are said to be increasing, in particular in your younger adults. Some people even ask for a vaccine to deal with mental health side effects from COVID.

I'm concerned, Mr. Speaker, that, in the riding of Nunakput and the Beaufort-Delta, there is a lack of mental health support, particularly in Inuvialuit men and our youths. The struggle resulting from residential schools is not over. The impacts are still felt. Housing in small communities is limited. Some homes are crowded, which adds extra stress and frustration, which could lead to anguish and addictions. Sadly, food insecurity and poverty are no strangers to residents. Pursuing traditional activities or going out on the land are very expensive and difficult to afford.

Mr. Speaker, mental health is not a luxury. Our communities are small. We have limited health resources. Social workers, doctors, and counsellors are often based in other communities, usually in Inuvik, which can make access difficult for some residents in the communities. Online programs such as Mental Health First Aid or confidential online chats through the NWT Help Line Facebook page are important for Northerners.

This government has to get serious about reconciliation. It needs a more aggressive action plan for mental health supports in our communities. Reconciliation needs to be a planned action, with increased supports for crisis response, intervention, and healing. Mental wellness services need to include the culture and language of our people, draw on the wisdom of our elders, and be culturally relevant. I will have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Lack of Mental Health Support in Nunakput
Members' Statements

Page 2605

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.