This is page numbers 2689 - 2718 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 health.

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 2689

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 156-19(2): COVID-19 Response Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 2689

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Good morning, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented the Northwest Territories and its residents, communities, and businesses with many challenges. I know all residents are now well into the COVID-19 fatigue stage. We all want to see things back to normal and public health measures lifted.

Mr. Speaker, since the start of the pandemic, protecting NWT residents against COVID-19 has been this government's biggest priority. We have known from the start that vaccines would be an essential part of our strategy and it is one of the most important factors the Chief Public Health Officer is considering in her decision-making about easing restrictions.

Getting vaccinated is the most important thing people can do to protect themselves and their communities from the COVID-19 virus. Many residents across the territory continue to make the choice to get vaccinated to protect their loved ones and I want to thank everyone who has made that decision.

As of May 25th, 60 percent of NWT residents 18 years of age and older are fully vaccinated and 68 percent have received their first dose.

Additionally, since the announcement on May 5th to expand our COVID-19 vaccine program to include the Pfizer-BioNTech product, which is approved for the 12- to 17-year-old age group, almost 1200 young people from Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndilo and Behchoko have already received their first dose. I want to thank all the young people who have come forward to be vaccinated so far.

Not only are you protecting yourselves from COVID-19, but you are adding another layer of protection to your community and the territory. You should be very proud. Thank you, colleagues.

To the youth who are still considering whether the vaccine is right for them, check out the territorial medical director's video which will be coming out shortly. Dr. Pegg answers questions from NWT youth about COVID-19 vaccines to help you make an informed decision.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank the parents, guardians, teachers, and health care providers who have taken the time to talk with youth in their lives about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Now that an additional 3,510 doses of Pfizer have arrived in the NWT, we are ready to continue school-based clinics for youth aged 12 to 17 in all other communities. This week, we started with the regional hubs of Hay River, Fort Smith, and Inuvik, and teams will move on to other more remote communities in the following weeks.

The GNWT plans to offer youth in all NWT communities at least one dose of the vaccine before the end of the school year. Details will be updated on the online vaccine schedule on an ongoing basis.

Mr. Speaker, the NWT has just come through a difficult period because of an outbreak declared at a Yellowknife school. This outbreak resulted in schools closing for a short period in Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndilo and Bechoko and the introduction of new measures such as mandatory masking for indoor public spaces in these communities.

The decisive action by the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer contained the outbreak to 71 cases. There was no community spread and all COVID-19 infections from this outbreak occurred in students and staff from the school or their households while they were in isolation.

I would like to express my thanks to our dedicated health care staff for their work in this outbreak - working long hours to identify contacts of the outbreak and get individuals tested. Thank you, colleagues.

I would also like to express my gratitude to all the support staff, including 8-1-1 staff, communications and policy staff who worked hard to and moved quickly to get the information out to the public. There was a substantial amount of information and it changed quickly. These communications professionals did their best to support the needs of residents during that time.

Finally, I would like to thank the people who were required to isolate during the outbreak. I know this has been very difficult for many of you but without all of you isolating responsibly and doing what was required under difficult circumstances, this outbreak could have turned out much differently. For that, the government and residents thank you.

Mr. Speaker, while this outbreak demanded our focus for the past three weeks, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer continues to work on updating Emerging Wisely, the plan to ease public health measures gradually and safely.

I know we are all eagerly awaiting the release of this updated plan. The Chief Public Health Officer has said it will be released in June. It will remove the phased approach in the original Emerging Wisely and look at external and internal factors to determine what measures can be eased with an emphasis on personal responsibility for mitigation of an individual or household's risk.

Overall vaccine uptake in the NWT will be a key internal factor to determine what measures can be eased. This is the best measure to ensure residents are protected and we can re-open with confidence.

The updated Emerging Wisely will also look at final travel and border restrictions being lifted once COVID-19 cases decrease in Canada and vaccination rates rise across the country.

Mr. Speaker, I know keeping COVID-19 at bay has been a long and difficult battle and we have asked a lot of residents, communities, and businesses for the past 14 months. I would like to thank them all for stepping up.

With the COVID-19 situation improving beyond our borders and with the updated Emerging Wisely outlining the path forward in the NWT pandemic response, we can look forward to easing public health measures over the coming weeks and months. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 156-19(2): COVID-19 Response Update
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Environment and Natural Resources.

Minister's Statement 157-19(2): Flooding in the Northwest Territories
Ministers' Statements

Page 2689

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the recent floods have been devastating for many Northerners who have experienced damage to their communities, property, and their livelihoods. I witnessed the anxiety and stress in the voices and faces of people in my own community as water levels rose and homes and businesses were threatened and many were affected.

In the face of this adversity, I also saw firsthand how communities, leaders, Northerners can rise to meet challenges they must overcome. I am very proud of how our communities have met this challenge.

I am very thankful to local leaders like Mayor Whelly, Chief Sanguez, and Chief Masuzumi who remained focused and provide strong local leadership throughout this crisis. I am awed by the hundreds of volunteers from within our flooded communities and from across the territories who have stepped up to help their neighbours in need.

I also take pride in how all levels of government - municipal, Indigenous, territorial and federal - continue to come together to keep folks safe and to provide assistance. On behalf of Cabinet, I would like to say thank you to everyone. We still have a long road ahead to recovery, but we have proven just how strong we are in the face of adversity. We should all take some comfort in the fact we live in a place where people take care of one another.

Mr. Speaker, I am also proud of the role the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have played in the territorial coordinated emergency response to date. I believe that many ENR staff went above and beyond during this emergency. Department hydrologists have been instrumental in warning the territories of unprecedented high water levels on NWT rivers this year. They have been assessing water levels all year long and snow this past winter.

The team feels it necessary to raise awareness of the potential for floods in November, as well as in March and April, hoping to warn cabin owners, harvesters, and residents most at risk. They continue to analyze radar imagery and real-time data to give regional and local emergency measure management officials the information they need to plan for flooding and to prepare communities about what to expect.

Our regional offices and the staff within them played key roles in regional and local emergency operation centres in every region and community impacted by flooding. Coordinating with local leadership and community emergency management organization, ENR gathered and prioritized the communities' requests, providing relevant assistance and support wherever possible.

As a result, I am proud to say our wildfire crews were immediately redeployed to help with the flood response in Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson, and Fort Good Hope. Fire crews continue to assist clean up in NWT communities where flood risk remains. Local officers, and those redeployed from other region continue to support affected communities and have since the flooding began.

At the request of local EMOs and leadership, ENR officers, fire crews and other staff quickly sprang into action to help out with a range of on-the-ground actions to help people affected by these floods. From the start, they helped folks that had to leave their homes and assisted with any of the community's relevant requests and needs. ENR provided tents, stoves, and other supplies to people in Fort Simpson and Jean Marie, and helped them set up the temporary camps. To help keep residents safe during this time, officers conducted regular bear patrols around emergency camping areas and set up a mobile station in Jean Marie River.

After further assessing the needs of residents on the ground, ENR staff delivered food hampers and fish donated by the community of Deline to evacuees, and helped chop firewood for people's camps while they waited to return to their home. The department also assisted delivering donated supplies to communities of Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson.

When flooding occurred at Little Buffalo River, fire crews and the renewable resource officers ensured residents were safe, and assisted in securing their cabins and retrieving their belongings.

As breakup moves down the Mackenzie, ENR staff continue to support residents and fulfill critical emergency response roles, as part of the broader Government of the Northwest Territories coordinated effort.

I want to thank the staff for their tireless efforts to date, and for the work to come. Mr. Speaker, I also know that this department and our government as a whole will not stop its involvement in this response. As the focus shifts towards rebuilding from these devastating floods the GNWT will continue to play its role by supporting communities and residents in various ways. Mr. Speaker, we know there are harvesters and trappers who have had not only their home but their livelihoods significantly affected. Their cabins, traplines, and the equipment they rely upon have been damaged.

Indigenous harvesters and trappers who have been impacted by the flooding, please contact your closest regional Environment and Natural Resources officer as compensation may be available.

Mr. Speaker, the floods along the Mackenzie River have been devastating, but they have shown us that the northern spirit is alive and well. We take care of our own and we made things happen where working together for a common cause is needed.

I have witnessed firsthand the amazing resilience of Northerners and our communities. I have seen the sense of empowerment in residents, who know that we can work together to overcome events like this. I know we will continue to come together and rise to the challenge as we rebuild and recover. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 157-19(2): Flooding in the Northwest Territories
Ministers' Statements

Page 2690

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Municipal and Community Affairs.

Minister's Statement 158-19(2): Northwest Territories Community Flood Response
Ministers' Statements

Page 2690

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak today about the collaborative work of the GNWT's Emergency Management Organization and community governments to help ensure the safety and security of residents in the emergency response to the recent flood situation experienced by several of our communities.

These past few weeks have been an incredibly trying time for the residents who have been directly impacted by the flood in their communities. There is never a good time for emergencies involving natural disasters but responding to one during a pandemic has added to a trying and difficult time. The North is a place where residents come together during times of need with offers of help and assistance, and I am pleased to say this was the case during this flood season.

Mr. Speaker, the Emergency Management Organization was active during the spring months and has been and continues to provide assistance to communities as our flood season continues. The Emergency Management Organization is an active part in all emergency responses. In particular, I want to acknowledge the quick and effective response of the communities of Hay River, K'atl'odeeche First Nations, Jean Marie River, and Fort Simpson. Over the past few weeks, the Emergency Management Organization continues to monitor and work collaboratively with communities to address emergency needs on an ongoing and real-time basis.

The membership of the Emergency Management Organizations have been working to ensure that activities of services continues, including making accommodations available where possible for those impacted. As communities have seen the water levels drop and it has become safe to do so, staff have traveled to the affected communities to meet the residents to discuss their needs, start to assess damage and mitigate concerns and access for the GNWT to provide support.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the communities of Fort Providence and Fort Smith who have kindly hosted evacuee centres, as well as the Town of Hay River who, after undergoing an evacuation and a flood risk themselves, has opened up their community for evacuees from other communities across the territory. I would like to also show the appreciation for all of the donations that have contributed to communities. The deep connection that we have with one another is evident with these generous actions of Northerners.

Flood response is community driven and supported by the Emergency Management Organization became much of an important work that happens on the ground. Many actions taken within the communities may be overlooked as such. I would also like to recognize the significant contribution of the front-line workers and the hundreds of volunteers that offered their time and effort to assist with the flood response.

To our affected communities and residents, we know this is challenging, and we are working with community governments to ensure that they remain safe and have the support they need from this government. We will continue to work with the communities on an ongoing recovery effort, and again on behalf of Cabinet, I would like to thank everyone that was involved in the flood efforts to date. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 158-19(2): Northwest Territories Community Flood Response
Ministers' Statements

Page 2690

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Education, Culture, and Employment.

Minister's Statement 159-19(2): Improving Student Educational Outcomes
Ministers' Statements

Page 2690

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the health and prosperity of our territory begins with how well we prepare our children and youth to succeed in life. Making sure that every student from every background and region in the Northwest Territories has equitable access to relevant, culturally appropriate, and quality education will ultimately lead to improved well-being across the North and within all our communities.

The findings from both the Office of the Auditor General and the Education Renewal and Innovation Evaluation in 2020 are clear in outlining the main challenge we face: Key achievement gaps especially for Indigenous students and students in small communities.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share some of the priority actions that are underway to make the required changes to improve education outcomes for all NWT students to the same level as the rest of Canada.

Since March 2021, the department has been engaging Indigenous government, education leaders, the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association, parents, and the public on what will be one of our government's most significant undertakings to date: Modernizing the NWT Education Act.

The goal of modernizing the Education Act is to ensure that there are system-wide improvements to meet the needs of students across the territory. To date, we have received nearly 600 responses to our surveys, and held more than 25 meetings with Indigenous governments, partners and stakeholders, and held seven public virtual town hall meetings.

I encourage everyone to take part in this engagement, whether by participating in a virtual meeting, taking a survey, providing a written submission, or calling the department before June 30th. Hearing from NWT residents is crucial for ensuring a modernized education system reflects the values, needs, goals and aspirations of all NWT residents.

Another area of active engagement is our discussion regarding Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum. Our curriculum needs renewal to ensure that it continues to meet the needs and interests of our Northern students and our communities and aligns with the vision of helping all our students become capable people.

I am happy to share that to date the department has held over 30 engagement sessions, which have included Indigenous governments, education bodies, the NWT Teachers' Association, and the NWT Association of Communities. We have also been collecting input from the public online. All this feedback will be reflected in a “What We Heard Report,” which will help inform the decision on how to move forward and meet the expectations of the residents of the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, access to quality early learning and childcare opportunities is crucial to improving education outcomes for students across the entire education continuum. The department is meeting with licensed early learning and childcare programs, Indigenous governments, and other partners in the development of a 2030 Early Learning and Child Care Strategy for the NWT.

The development of the strategy will focus on improving the availability and affordability of early learning and childcare throughout the NWT, and highlight the elements needed to advance universal childcare in our territory by exploring solutions for reducing the costs while ensuring quality child care for families.

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

---Unanimous consent granted

Minister's Statement 159-19(2): Improving Student Educational Outcomes
Ministers' Statements

Page 2691

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thought I heard a late 'nay' but thankfully it was late.

Mr. Speaker, there is more. In a continued effort to offer high quality high school education to our small communities, the expansion of Northern Distance Learning is almost complete. We are excited to welcome the communities of Gameti, Wekweetii, Norman Wells, and Colville Lake to Northern Distance Learning, bringing the total number of participating small community schools to 19.

As well, the Indigenous Our Languages Curriculum has been approved and is being taught in all NWT schools that offer Indigenous language instruction. Ongoing teacher training is happening remotely, and resources continue to be developed to support this exciting new Indigenous language curriculum with a goal of revitalizing the traditional languages of our NWT residents.

Addressing gaps in student outcomes requires supports beyond the scope of education. Because of this, the department continues to work closely with the Department of Health and Social Services on initiatives that actively support the well-being and mental health of our students and their families. This includes the planning for the final phase of the rollout of the Child and Youth Community Counsellor program into the South Slave Region this upcoming school year.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to improving the education system and the outcomes for all our students. We are committed to effective and collaborative engagement on these critical initiatives so that together we will succeed in revitalizing our education system, achieving equitable access to education, and helping our children and youth gain the knowledge and skills they need to become capable people. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 159-19(2): Improving Student Educational Outcomes
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.

Members' Statements
Members' Statements

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Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

I think I am jinxed, Mr. Speaker. Could you please go to someone else.

Members' Statements
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

All right. Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Hay River School Bussing
Members' Statements

Page 2691

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I have been advised that due to inadequate funding, bussing for Hay River students will not be available for the 2021-2022 school year.

Mr. Speaker, the community of Hay River extends from Paradise Valley to the West Channel, a distance in excess of 30 kilometres. It is unrealistic to expect students to walk to school. This becomes an issue of not only student safety but that of access to education. The Indigenous students, and students from lower income families, will be the most affected by the cancellation.

The Hay River District Education Authority has a bussing shortfall of approximately $70,000 annually. Over the last several years, the bussing shortfall for three schools has been made up by reducing much needed school programming and charging bussing fees. This has resulted in fewer students taking the bus, lower attendance, and some students having dropped out of school altogether.

Mr. Speaker, upon review of the 2019-2020 financial statements of the South Slave Divisional Education Council, it appears there was a surplus of $3.3 million ending that fiscal year. It is not clear why a surplus of that size exists and why it is not available to cover the bussing shortfall. It begs the question of where the South Slave Divisional Education Council priorities are when programs and services are expected to be reduced when such a large surplus exists.

Mr. Speaker, the South Slave Divisional Education Council's answer to the shortfall is that the department's funding formula is not adequate and that the Hay River District Education Authority should look to further watering down school programs and services. Mr. Speaker, that is no answer. It says nothing about the importance of attending school. It says nothing about the importance of education. It says nothing about the work, effort, dedication, and compassion of teachers in Hay River who have shed tears over this decision. What it does say is that our children's education is not as important as the bureaucracy that is unwilling to release some of the $3.3 million surplus.

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

---Unanimous consent granted