This is page numbers 2659 - 2688 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 housing.

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. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 2659

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Members, I ask that you please remain standing. Since we last met, his Royal Highness Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, passed away. The Prince had a strong connection to Canada and visited the Territories from Inuvik in the North to Fort Smith in the South. The Prince even visited this very Chamber. On behalf of the Assembly, I offer our condolences to Queen Elizabeth and the rest of the Royal Family. I ask that you please join me in a moment of silence in honouring of his passing.

---Moment of silence

Prayer
Prayer

Page 2659

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, colleagues. Please be seated. Members, I also wish to offer condolences on behalf of the Assembly to the family and friends of the Honourable David Searle and Mr. Sonny MacDonald.

Mr. Searle was the first person to fill the role of Speaker of the Northwest Territories of the Legislative Assembly, a prominent lawyer, community leader, and a member of the Order of Canada. Mr. Searle passed away on March 1st, 2021.

Mr. MacDonald, an internationally recognized artist, was responsible for the loon carving that sits here beside me in the Chamber, a recipient of the Order of the Northwest Territories and former Chair of the NWT Arts Council. Mr. MacDonald died on April 20th, 2021. His talent will be remembered both here in the Chamber and in the homes of many Northerners. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, with their families and friends.

I would also like to acknowledge the resilience of the people of Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson, and other communities, like Fort Good Hope and Aklavik, who have faced or are facing flooding in their communities. Please know that the Members of the Legislative Assembly recognize the challenges you are facing and are working to help it.

Members, it is my pleasure to welcome you back today. It is an honour for us to be here on behalf of our constituents and all residents of the North - of this Territory.

Colleagues, this will not be a long sitting, but the work to be done is important. The decisions you make in this House have important and lasting impacts on our constituents and all our people of this Territory.

I remind Members to conduct themselves in keeping the rules of this Assembly. Show respect for one another, for this institution, and, most importantly, for those who elected us. This is a place of the people. We are here to serve as their representatives, and we truly look forward to their return. It has not been the same without them here. I look forward to being able to welcome the public back into this building; however, the current Covid-19 situation does not allow it at this time. Although the Assembly remains closed to the public, media are welcome in the gallery; we continue to broadcast and live stream our proceedings. Our people need the opportunity to see and understand the work being done on their behalf.

Colleagues, the days are growing longer and summer is just ahead of us. This is a beautiful time of year, and we are blessed to live in this Territory. I know that many of us and many of our residents have been fortunate enough to be able to get out on the land in recent weeks, and we are looking forward to the summer.

To all Members and all people of the Territory, I want to remind you to be respectful and appreciate our land and resources. As we continue to take care of Territory, it will continue to take care of us.

And now it is my duty to advise the House that I have received the following message from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories. It reads:

Mr. Speaker. I wish to advise that I recommend to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories the passage of

  • Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures) No. 1, 2021-2022;
  • and Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 1, 2021-2022, during the Second Session of the 19th Assembly.

Yours truly, Margaret M. Thom, Commissioner. Thank you, Members.

Orders of the day. Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 155-19(2): Sessional Statement
Ministers' Statements

Page 2659

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by welcoming all my colleagues back to the Chamber for this sitting of the 19th Legislative Assembly. I look forward to providing updates on key issues and mandate priorities, as well as hearing from Regular Members on issues important to residents over the course of the next seven sitting days.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take some time to talk about community, about how that term has a renewed meaning not only with trying to address COVID- 19, but also in the last few weeks due to the impacts of flooding in many regions in the Northwest Territories. It has been incredible to watch residents support one another during such a challenging time.

Hundreds of residents have been impacted by the flooding, some hav lost everything, others facing significant repairs and efforts to replace possessions they lost. Some of which -- of what has been lost cannot be replaced.

Mr. Speaker, no matter the challenges we are faced in the Northwest Territories, there is a sense of community that is special and unique to us alone. No matter the emergency we are faced with, a global pandemic, forest fires, or flooding, no one can take that sense of community away from us. Every single person in the Northwest Territories has been negatively impacted by this pandemic, and yet the communities still came together to support others in need.

During the early days of the flooding, residents, businesses, and organizations stepped up and volunteered their time and money to help those who were impacted by the floods.

You opened your doors to your neighbours who needed a warm bed to sleep in since they couldn't sleep in their own. You donated airplanes full of groceries and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the United Way. Let us not forget the 2,500 pieces of Kentucky Fried Chicken as well, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, People came together to support those who needed it the most.

Our government, Mr. Speaker, was there to provide support however it was needed. Local leadership on the ground with the support of Municipal and Community Affairs Emergency Management Organization and volunteers worked day and night to ensure that residents were safe and had what they needed. A multi-departmental effort helped to provide staff and supplies, including a temporary medical centre to support the efforts on the ground.

The responsibility for managing a community emergency rests with local governments, and when they made requests for additional support, we were there to ensure they were able to take care of their residents. And as recovery continues and the flood damage is assessed, I want residents to know that we will be there to support you in your recovery.

Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories is vast, twice the size of Texas. Our 33 communities are spread out, and in many instances, separated by great distances. But when one community needs our support, the Northwest Territories stands strong with them.

To everyone who contributed to the flood relief efforts, you are what makes the Northwest Territories such a special place to live. Thank you.

Mr. Speaker, the strength and resilience of our communities and residents across the Northwest Territories shines brightly as we continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The response to the NJ MacPherson outbreak in Yellowknife is an example of over a year of work preparing for the possibility of such an event. Safety and preparedness have been our top priorities since the pandemic began, and the response to contain this outbreak is an example of the hard work of so many to protect residents and communities.

The response of our health care and support professionals has been incredible. They have continued to go above and beyond to protect our residents and loved ones from the virus. I am extremely appreciative for their continued dedication to keeping our communities safe.

As well, Mr. Speaker, this response of our whole community has been overwhelming. Everyone worked together to support one another, and those self-isolating or tested positive. This community always comes together when times are challenging, and this has been no different. Because this outbreak impacted our youngest residents, the GNWT worked diligently to secure doses of the Pfizer vaccine to begin administering to those aged 12 to 17. Our youth were some of the first in the country to get the vaccine, Mr. Speaker, a true testament of our efforts to protect as many residents as we can from COVID-19.

Since the first case was confirmed, a tremendous amount of work has gone on behind the scenes to understand the extent of the spread and to contain it as quickly as possible. Because of this hard work, not only by our Chief Public Health Officer and her team, but by our incredible residents and businesses as well, we were able to prevent community transmission in Yellowknife and surrounding areas.

However, it's important to put things into perspective. While we are encouraged to see residents getting vaccinated at a higher rate than most jurisdictions in Canada, we still have work to do, especially in some of our smaller communities.

Mr. Speaker, getting vaccinated is the right thing to do. It protects yourself, your family, your neighbours, and those most vulnerable, including our children, and the important knowledge keepers in our communities, our Elders. If we all do our part, we can begin to get back to the things we love, like community feasts, hand game tournaments, and travelling.

Every person who gets vaccinated plays an important part in our effort to beat COVID-19, in our combined efforts to protect the health and well-being of our communities and our loved ones. Please, get vaccinated. The Government of Canada has talked about a one-dose summer, where 75 percent of residents across Canada getting their first dose means things may start to return to normal. We all want that, Mr. Speaker. So let us keep doing our part.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories is ready to turn its attention to the economic and social recovery of our great territory. The pandemic has brought into sharper focus the urgent need to act on social and economic development. Like every other jurisdiction, residents and businesses were asked to make great sacrifices to help protect the NWT from COVID-19. While we have largely escaped the worst of the health impacts, residents did suffer economic, financial, and social losses, and the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to helping the Territory recover and come back stronger than before.

The majority of our economic and social challenges are not new, though. Many of the efforts of the pandemic were a result of social and economic gaps and challenges that existed before the pandemic and which the Government of the Northwest Territories, businesses, and communities were already working to address. Continuing that work and accelerating where it makes sense is going to be a key part of how the Government of the Northwest Territories helps to promote recovery.

Mr. Speaker, we're committed to working on the social and economic recovery of the Northwest Territories so we can emerge stronger, and we have been engaging with multiple sectors on a plan. We'll be tabling this plan later in this sitting and will continue the discussion about how we will work together as a territory to promote recovery over the coming months and years.

Mr. Speaker, the partnerships we have forged during this pandemic have shown us the importance of collaboration and community in a time of crisis. Our success depends on partnerships with all levels of government and working closely with all stakeholders. The support of Indigenous and municipal governments, residents, and businesses has kept the people of the NWT largely safe from the waves of the virus that continues to affect other parts of the country and the world.

Mr. Speaker, we are fortunate, fortunate to have not experienced the same level of health impacts we see elsewhere. With the guidance of the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer, we have been able to keep many businesses open while still protecting NWT residents. At the same time, we know that some areas of our economy have been particularly hard hit and that many residents have been suffering.

As we have responded to the pandemic, residents, communities, and businesses have been very open in identifying the impacts and actions most needed to position ourselves to seize the opportunities that the post pandemic expansion will offer. By working closely with stakeholders to implement our mandate and the Emerging Stronger Plan, we have the opportunity to set the NWT up to be in a position to thrive. This includes continuing to build on our strong relationship with the federal government.

Mr. Speaker, Canada understands the impact the pandemic has had on the North. Covid-19 has laid bare the gaps in our society, and the federal budget released in April addresses several shared priorities and reflects that they are listening to what our needs are.

Investments in housing, child care, climate change, the green economy, and job creation are examples of their commitment to closing these gaps and ensuring a prosperous Northwest Territories for generations to come.

Canada's commitment to ensuring people are not left behind as we move forward aligns with our own efforts to create a better future for our territory and its residents.

Mr. Speaker, Canada is investing in areas that are important to our future and will benefit our efforts to meet the commitments outlined in our mandate.

Mr. Speaker, in the federal budget, we were heard. Our government had identified a number of areas for potential funding, including infrastructure, housing, connectivity, health, postsecondary education, climate change, and early childhood education. Working closely with Canada and continuing to strengthen an already positive relationship will help support our goal of social and economic recovery.

Mr. Speaker, I am optimistic that we share common goals between our governments, and I look forward to learning more about how we will benefit from the commitments made by Canada in the coming months.

We have faced one of the most difficult challenges our society has faced in the last century. It has not been easy, but I am confident that in the coming months, by working together, we will begin to emerge from the pandemic and return to the things that we love.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Government of the Northwest Territories has been committed to protecting the health and well-being of residents, and to this point, we have been successful.

Mr. Speaker, we are also committed to ensuring a social and economic recovery that will make the Northwest Territories stronger and support the success of residents now and into the future.
If we have learned anything in this pandemic, it is the importance of strong and collaborative relationships built on mutual respect, trust, and understanding. We have learned the sense of community.

Mr. Speaker, as we go forward, we will continue to work with Indigenous leaders, community governments, the federal government, stakeholder groups, the business community, and residents to ensure a holistic approach to our collective efforts to emerge from this pandemic a stronger Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 155-19(2): Sessional Statement
Ministers' Statements

Page 2660

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Madam Premier.

Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Flooding
Members' Statements

Page 2660

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the potential for spring flooding for communities situated along our rivers is a reality. For the community of Hay River, it is an annual event that must be prepared for.

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to recognize and thank the Town of Hay River, mayor and council, staff, along with the Hay River Community Emergency Management Committee and volunteers for the great work they did to plan, coordinate, and carry out activities to respond to potential spring flooding. The committee, under the supervision of Ross Potter, Director of Protective Services, makes the whole process appear effortless; however, we all know that it is not as easy as that, and for that, I commend Ross and his team for their dedication and the hard work that they do to keep the residents safe while protecting property and keeping us informed.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to recognize and acknowledge the residents of Vale Island for the preparation each made in the event evacuation was required, and this year a temporary evacuation was required, which I am pleased to say went smoothly. It is always difficult to leave your home not knowing whether or not you will have a home to come back to. The residents of Vale Island looked to friends, relatives, and businesses for support, whether it was for temporary shelter, a place to set-up an RV, or somewhere to drop of their pets while they manage the stress of the situation.

Mr. Speaker, it takes a compassionate and well-organized community working together to ensure the safety of those that may be affected by any potential disaster. Hay River has proven time and time again it is that community, and for that, I again applaud the residents, businesses, town employees, volunteers, mayor and council, and all who worked to keep us informed and safe throughout spring breakup.Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Flooding
Members' Statements

Page 2660

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Member statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.

Closure of the Inuvik Homeless Shelter
Members' Statements

Page 2660

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In a previous members statement, I stated that housing is a basic necessity that everyone needs, especially here in the North where the temperatures swing dramatically. And at home right now, currently, it's snowing.

Mr. Speaker, I raised the issue on October 28th, 2020, regarding the struggles that the Inuvik Emergency Warming Shelters was having. At that time, the Minister stated her department was working on a homelessness strategy but the draft was still not complete.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister also committed to sending in staff to assist with the operations and staff support. I know this happened, but from what I know, that they came, and they left back to Yellowknife. The Inuvik warming shelter continues to have its struggles to the point where the board closed the shelter again in mid May.

Mr. Speaker, before the COVID pandemic, the shelter did normally close in the summer to overnight shelter, except for last year, due to Covid. And, Mr. Speaker, I don't know why the GNWT is not supporting the emergency warming shelter board and staff this summer as we have not moved out of phase two of the emerging wisely plan. At this point, it feels like we're going to be in the phase for eternity.

Mr. Speaker, you know as well as I the nights in Inuvik continue to get below minus zero. Where are they supposed to stay? Last year the town passed a bylaw about no loitering, no urinating on public streets in Inuvik. So now with the facility closed, down for the summer, where are we like, we're forcing them to break the law. Where are they supposed to use the washroom when there are no public washrooms available? Where can they get a meal and something to drink?

It's time the Minister who is responsible for Homelessness, who is also the Minister of Housing, work with the Minister of Health and Social Services, step up and begin a long-term plan for housing and really, truly assisting our residents with addictions and providing a place to sleep 365 days a year.

Mr. Speaker, it is vital to have dedicated staff to support and fund these NGOs and volunteer boards that are doing the work in each community that has a shelter. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister responsible for Homelessness.

Closure of the Inuvik Homeless Shelter
Members' Statements

Page 2661

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Members statements, Member for Thebacha.

Human Resources
Members' Statements

Page 2661

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have made several statements in this House about the Affirmative Action Policy and how it is not working as it should to help Indigenous people be employed by the Government of the Northwest Territories. Lately, however, I've realized the issues within the Human Resources Department go much deeper than just the Affirmative Action Policy. I'm seeing now that there are several structural issues around hiring in general that is impeding all people from attaining employment with the Government of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, last week I heard from many constituents with concerns around employment hiring within the Government of the Northwest Territories. It seems more and more that barriers are being put in place not only for Priority One individuals but for all applicants to the Government of the Northwest Territories positions. For example, two people spoke about two different issues, and both situations were identical. The government put out a job description, the constituents applied, some time passed, and the job was suddenly cancelled. The person called human resources and was told no one with proper qualifications had applied, thus the competition was cancelled. Then a new job was re-posted with identical descriptions and qualifications. I believe this was done to indirectly screen them out of competition in order to avoid screening them out officially on the record.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, I attended a public meeting last week on the Special Committee on Reconciliation and Indigenous Affairs. There was something said by the guest speaker which resonated with me. The speaker was a Metis lawyer who teaches law at the University of Manitoba, named Professor Brenda Gunn. She said, government employees need training and clear direction from Ministers, deputy Ministers, and assistant deputy ministers. Mr. Speaker, I seek a unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Human Resources
Members' Statements

Page 2661

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, that quote appealed to me because I don't think that our government has done enough of that when it comes to addressing the various hiring issues within human resources in the Government of the Northwest Territories. Direct intervention by the Minister of human resources is necessary. Continuously friends will take care of friends, families hire their families, and they protect each other from any potential repercussions because of it.

There are many people who want to better themselves and to seek employment by the Government of the Northwest Territories, but if there's no room to get their foot in the door and if there are gatekeepers protecting an exclusive club, then very few will ever get ahead, let alone get hired.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I strongly believe that a renewal strategy needs to be implemented within the entire human resources department of the Government of the Northwest Territories. Structural changes must be done to address the hiring practices, the hiring culture, and potential off-the-book decisions that are made that adversely affect applicants.

I will have questions for the Minister of human resources later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Human Resources
Members' Statements

Page 2661

The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Economic Supports and State of the Economy
Members' Statements

Page 2661

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In recent years, northern tourism and the economy have been challenged by disasters like forest fires, the pandemic, and now flooding, causing this fledgling economic sector to become virtually non-existent. Through no fault of their own, our tourism operators require even more support than they ever have before.

Despite recent news that NWT lodges are allowed to bring visitors from southern Canada, this is not enough for our suffering tourism and hospitality sector. Many businesses do not have the means or capacity to adjust their business models to meet new safety requirements or aren't willing or able to take on the additional risks.

With the possibility of additional supports in the coming weeks, we must continue to work closely with partners like NWT Tourism, the Chamber of Commerce, and the business sector. Open dialogue with stakeholders and really listening to them is key to understanding the ongoing challenges, not just in regards to COVID impacts but with respect to the flooding and other natural disasters, as well as skyrocketing building costs.

From 2019 to 2020, there was a decrease of five Tourism Operators Licences or TOLs. Last year, the greatest declines were in the Beaufort Delta due to the loss of cruise ship tourism as a result of the restrictions on travel. If all TOLs are approved this year, there will be a total of 152 licences in place for 2021, a decrease of two from last year. However, many will likely not operate.

While this is the second year in which the GNWT has waived TOL fees, I don't believe this is enough. Fees will be waved for tourism operators who are not able to operate; however, some operators will continue to operate at a reduced capacity and will need support as well. How many will close if more assistance isn't available? What further supports will be provided during the post-pandemic recovery efforts in order to rebuild a successful and profitable tourism sector?

Relief programs from last season that have already been proven to help need to continue, as well, additional training and courses should be provided to help operators build their credentials, qualifications, and skills. These could include courses on plumbing, painting, or carpentry, as well as natural disaster and emergency response training; courses that have further benefit of helping people to maintain their own residences.

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Economic Supports and State of the Economy
Members' Statements

Page 2661

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I didn't try to just rush it in this time. Okay. Well, modern technology here. My apologies, Mr. Speaker. Oh, jeez. Sorry. I don't have it memorized. I apologize. Okay.

So, Aurora College could offer courses part-time or virtually so that small businesspeople and their staff can attend when it works for them. Safety training could cover areas like fire suppression and disaster training, including how to set up sprinkler systems, mitigate floods and fuel spills, and responding to other events that often occur as the result of our harsher and changing climate. All these workshops, short courses, and online training could also become tax deductible. The more we can help our small business sector and operators to survive the pandemic the better situated we'll be to recover. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.