This is page numbers 4545 - 4582 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 education.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Mr. Edjericon, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Ms. Weyallon-Armstrong.

The House met at 1:31 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you. Good afternoon, colleagues. Today is the first time this House has met since the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Before we begin, I ask you to join me in a moment of silence for our late Queen.

Thank you, colleagues. Please be seated.

Members, I also want to take a moment to reflect on the passing of Elizabeth Harnum and Elaine Keenan-Bengts. Ms. Harnum was the Northwest Territories' first Languages Commissioner and was an advocate for the revitalization of our Indigenous languages. Ms. Keenan-Bengts was the Northwest Territories' first Information and Privacy Commissioner and was a strong champion for the protection of people's personal information.

Since we last met, we have also lost a former Member of this Assembly, Alfred Moses. A Member of the 17th and 18th Legislative Assemblies, Alfred served as a regular Member, committee chair and Minister. Alfred and I worked together for eight years here at the Legislative Assembly. I am grateful to have become friends with him during that time. Alfred was a champion of our youth and healthier communities. His passing was a great loss for the town of Inuvik, the Beaufort-Delta and the Northwest Territories.

As a territory, we are a better place because of the service, dedication, and passion of Ms. Harnum, Ms. Keenan-Bengts and Mr. Moses. On behalf of this House, I offer our deepest condolences and gratitude to their families.

Many of our communities throughout the Northwest Territories are dealing with the loss of loved ones. It is, especially gratifying to see how our communities come together at times of tragedy. Continued prayers for all those throughout the Northwest Territories as we come together and show we care and help out as much as we can.

Colleagues, please join me in thanking the Aklavik drummers for joining us today.

---Applause

It was my pleasure to welcome them to this Chamber, and I feel blessed to be able to share their talents with you and everybody who is joining us in the gallery or following our proceedings on television or online. It is an honour to be able to see and hear our culture in this House.

I would also like to take a moment to advise Members that we will be providing interpretation into the following languages during this sitting: Chipewyan, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey, Tlicho, and French. Please join me in thanking our interpreters for the work they do; they make it possible for us to use and honour our languages. Mahsi.

---Applause

Members, I would now like to welcome you back. We last met in this Chamber on June 2nd. I know that each of us were busy with the ongoing business of government and committees; however, I hope that you also found time to connect with family and friends and recharge your batteries. Our jobs are not easy, and to effectively represent our constituents we need to take care of ourselves. It is an honour for us to be here on behalf of our constituents and all residents of the Northwest Territories.

Members, I would like to remind you to conduct yourselves in keeping with the rules of this Assembly. Show respect for one another, for this institution, and, most importantly, for the people we represent in this Chamber. We won't always see eye to eye with each other. That is not possible. But we can and must treat each other with dignity and respect. We are here to serve as representatives for the people that elected us and put their trust in us. Take pride in that work.

Now, colleagues, it is my duty to advise the House that I have received the following message from the Deputy Commissioner of the Northwest Territories.

It reads: Dear Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise that I recommend to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, the passage of Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), 2023-2024; Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 2, 2022; Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 2, 2022-2023 during the Second Session of the 19th Legislative Assembly. Yours Truly, Leonard Kenny, Deputy Commissioner.

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

Minister's Statement 262-19(2): Aurora College Transformation Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 4546

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic university is often presented as one project, but it is in fact a collection of over 100 projects spread out over three phases. The work has been a collaboration between Aurora College and the Government of the Northwest Territories, with wide-ranging and ongoing engagement throughout the process.

Significant progress toward achieving this mandate commitment has been marked by the completion of key milestones, bringing us closer to the accreditation and launch of an arm's length polytechnic university that responds to the needs of Northerners.

With foundational planning completed in phase 1, we are now in the second phase of the transformation, which includes finalizing a facilities plan, re-establishing the board of governors, establishing an academic council, and completing changes to the college's organizational structure.

Mr. Speaker, phase 2 is on track, and a clearer vision of the future polytechnic university is beginning to take shape. Over the summer, Aurora College began efforts to recruit the Aurora College board of governors. With recent amendments to the Aurora College Act, Aurora College's new governance system will have three bodies that together govern the college, at arm's length from the government. The board will serve the people of the Northwest Territories by setting the vision and mission for Aurora College, and eventually for the polytechnic university. Recruitment efforts will continue until enough nominations have been received and the required competencies have been met, and I hope to see the new board in place early in the new year.

Last month, we released the Polytechnic University Facilities Master Plan. The facilities master plan is a comprehensive, strategic document that provides a picture of what the polytechnic university could look like. It proposes enhancements and expansions to existing Aurora College facilities and includes information on teaching and research facilities at all three campuses and across their network of community learning centers. The Facilities Master Plan will be a key planning tool for the Aurora College board of governors, who are now ultimately responsible for the financial and capital planning decisions.

The Facilities Master Plan was informed by extensive engagement. A summary of feedback collected during that engagement can be found in the What We Heard report that was released this summer. Youth, Aurora College students, faculty and staff, Indigenous governments, community governments, post-secondary education partners, industry, GNWT departments, and local community members were engaged and provided valuable information that helped shape the document. I believe that the Facilities Master Plan captures the key themes heard during the engagement process and will support the needs of NWT students and residents.

Mr. Speaker, the polytechnic university will be an institution for all NWT residents. It will provide enhanced education opportunities to residents and create economic benefits across the territory with job creation and capacity building.

During this final year of the 19th Legislative Assembly, we can expect to see substantial progress on the Aurora College transformation, and I look forward to keeping Members of this House and NWT residents informed of the progress. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 262-19(2): Aurora College Transformation Update
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Infrastructure.

Minister's Statement 263-19(2): 2022 Flooding - Department of Infrastructure Response and Recovery
Ministers' Statements

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Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, for the second consecutive year, several communities throughout the Northwest Territories were impacted by flooding. That flooding caused significant damage not only to homes and properties of residents but also to the roads, buildings, airports and ferry landings they use regularly. Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories' response to the devasting impacts of this spring's flooding, particularly in the South Slave, Deh Cho, and the Beaufort-Delta regions, required effort from several departments.

As the Department of Infrastructure is responsible for the operation and maintenance of public buildings and transportation infrastructure and systems, today I want to highlight my department's tremendous efforts to respond and assist in the Northwest Territories recovery from the flooding. Many of the department's staff were responding while their own properties were being affected.

Air transportation is vital in the NWT. During this spring's flooding, the Merlyn Carter Airport in Hay River saw extensive flooding to its main runway, which led to erosion and damage to airfield lighting and slope along the runway. Crews and contractors worked hard for six weeks to restore the main runway to active service. Maintenance staff were also able to quickly get the secondary gravel runway open so emergency flights and air traffic could continue operating while repairs were made to the main runway. Mr. Speaker, the GNWT's buildings and infrastructure were also repaired as quickly as possible in Hay River and K'atl'odeeche First Nation. This work included repairs made to the damaged K'atl'odeeche pump house to be able to keep the water pumps operational and ensure the community had access to water.

Inspections staff inspected gas, boiler and electric systems in homes, schools, pump houses, regional offices, and other flood-damaged GNWT properties within Hay River and K'atl'odeeche during and after the flood. These inspections were conducted regularly to ensure these systems were operating normally and that properties were safe to the public.

Highway crews worked around the clock pumping water across flooded highways, keeping our highway systems open for safe travel, controlling traffic and escorting vehicles. Efforts included working with the Town of Hay River to build an access road to Paradise Gardens, restoring access through Vale Island in Hay River, Escarpment Creek on Highway No. 1, and dealing with the significantly flooded sections along the Dempster Highway. The highway transportation officers provided control at highway entrances to affected communities so that anyone entering these communities did so safely, understanding the risks.

Infrastructure staff also did outstanding work to restore and maintain ferry and highway operations, removing ice blocks at the Tsiigehtchic ferry crossing, at the Mackenzie River ferry crossing, and at the Liard crossing. Staff rebuilt and fortified washed-out ferry landings several times and actively monitored river conditions for debris and high-water levels to ensure ferry operations could resume as soon as it was safe. Marine transportation staff in Hay River were able to clear the terminal basin and synchro lift waterways of silt so that barges and boats could safely be lifted and loaded in and out of the water. After the flood, MTS crews successfully retrieved a sunken barge, cleaned up the shipyard and terminal yard of debris.

Mr. Speaker, this spring's flooding presented numerous challenges for the GNWT, residents, and our communities. At this time, I would like to recognize all the GNWT staff and first responders who did their jobs under demanding conditions in response to the flooding the territory experienced. Their efforts ensured residents could continue to access critical infrastructure, supplies, and services during a difficult time. I would also like to thank the NWT residents, some of whom had to leave their homes and possessions for safety. You showed tremendous resilience, courage, compassion, and patience during a difficult time. Quyananni, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 263-19(2): 2022 Flooding - Department of Infrastructure Response and Recovery
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 264-19(2): Response to the NWT Chief Coroner's Report on Suicide
Ministers' Statements

Page 4547

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to talk about a heavy subject impacting many northern residents, and I acknowledge that my statement may be triggering for some people as it includes subject matter around self-harm, suicide, and mental health in the NWT. I encourage anyone who may find these subject matters to be triggering to take the necessary steps for your emotional safety, which may include stepping out of this House or muting my statement until I finish.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a heavy heart. Last week, the chief coroner felt compelled to release suicide statistics for the Northwest Territories, earlier than usual, because of an alarmingly high rate of suicide deaths so far this year. There have been 18 suicides, most of them men between the ages of 20 and 29. There have been more suicides in a single year in the Northwest Territories than any previous year in the last decade.

I want to express my deepest sympathies to the families and communities who have lost loved ones. The grief that comes with the death of a loved one can be overwhelming, I am committed to providing communities with the support they need to heal.

Mr. Speaker, while I do not use the following term lightly, I do believe we are experiencing a mental health crisis in the Northwest Territories. The number of suicides we have seen so far this year, along with increased mental health hospitalizations, and increased staff vacancies, tells us that more attention and energy is needed to address this crisis. Thousands of NWT residents are currently struggling with their mental health. And while the GNWT is offering more mental health supports than ever before, we know that too often people in need of that support are not seeking it out. We need to step up our effort to reach people. We must respond to this crisis with the focus it demands.

We know that there are risk factors driven by poor mental health. Depression plays a role. The pandemic. Substance use. Trauma. The causes of despair may also include lack of access to employment and educational opportunities, a lack of healthy and safe recreational opportunities, poor housing, and inadequate food. These social determinants, combined with the inter-generational trauma caused by forced colonization, systemic racism and oppression, continue to weigh heavily on families and communities. Given this complexity, I believe a whole-of-government response is needed, and I have initiated discussions with Cabinet about how we can strengthen our approach to suicide intervention and prevention.

I would like to share some information about the approach of the Department of Health and Social Services. I have been working with the mayor of Tuktoyaktuk, whose community has experienced four suicides since June. In response to their requests, we have provided additional counsellors to work with residents in Tuktoyaktuk. We also expedited the community's Suicide Prevention Fund application, which provided the funding to bring Jordin Tootoo to the community last week as an inspirational speaker. Jordin is someone who the community felt they could connect with and who could connect with youth and others who are grieving. Communities understand best what they need in times of crisis, and we are working with them to tailor our support. Mr. Speaker, we have heard from some residents that they are most comfortable talking to counsellors from their own community, and we are trying to adapt to a community-based approach that will make this possible. We have provided funding to support the Dene Wellness Warriors program, and we are assisting communities to hire these Rhodes College graduates.

In addition to the community counselling program, there are child and youth care counsellors in schools across the territory, and residents can access helplines 365 days a year. The Suicide Prevention Fund helps communities deliver programming or to obtain training they believe is effective and appropriate to address mental health challenges.

Mr. Speaker, this issue is critically important for me and the Department of Health and Social Services. Offering effective and culturally-safe mental wellness and addictions programs and services is a priority of this government, and for me personally. While we are putting more resources than ever into mental wellness programming and resources, I am concerned that more people are not accessing these services. We are working to understand why that is, and on how we can achieve better uptake.

If you, a friend, or loved one is struggling with mental health or talking about suicide please listen to them and reach out for help. You do not have to be alone.

I encourage all my colleagues here today to share our mental health and community wellness support information with your constituents. I have posted links to these resources on my social media channels. These challenges affect more people than any of us can imagine, and we can all be part of the solution. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 264-19(2): Response to the NWT Chief Coroner's Report on Suicide
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Deputy Premier.

Minister's Statement 265-19(2): Premier and MInister Absent from the House
Ministers' Statements

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Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise the House that the Honourable Caroline Cochrane will be absent from the House for today and tomorrow to attend the 2022 Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland.

As well, I wish to advise the House that the Honourable Caroline Wawzonek will be absent from the House for today to attend the federal/provincial/territorial Canadian Council of Tourism Ministers in Vancouver, British Columbia. Quyananni, Mr. Speaker

Minister's Statement 265-19(2): Premier and MInister Absent from the House
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1152-19(2): Dredging in Hay River
Members' Statements

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Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I want to talk to dredging, a topic that has been discussed on the floor of this House for many years with no sitting government wanting to take responsibility for it. The federal government at one time provided the infrastructure and resources to dredge the harbour of the Hay River. That program ended in the early 90s, resulting in equipment being sold off and not replaced.

Mr. Speaker, the community of Hay River has the largest inland port in western Canada. It is home to a Canadian coast guard base, a federal department of fisheries and oceans office, our own marine transportation service, and a viable commercial fishing industry. As one can fathom, Hay River is a major and significant component of our northern transportation corridor and fishing industry. It is where truck and rail freight from the south converge to be loaded on barges destined for communities and mineral resource development projects further north. It is important we do not forget that fact.

Mr. Speaker, earlier this year the buildup of sediments at the mouth of the east channel of the Hay River reached a critical level. Last spring, and throughout the summer, MTS, coast guard, and commercial fishing vessels all experienced grounding of vessels on sandbars resulting in negative impacts on equipment, marine service delivery, and industry livelihood.

Mr. Speaker, I am aware that dredging is a federal government's responsibility as that has been the answer of the current and previous ministers have communicated repeatedly. I have said it before, and I'll say it again. Regardless of whose responsibility it is, the issue is in our back yard. So as far as I'm concerned, it is our problem. Is it our responsibility, and we must do something about it.

Mr. Speaker, this government, with financial support from the Government of Canada, has, over the last several years, spent well over $50 million on the commercial fishery, more than $50 million on the purchase, repair, and operation of MTS assets and property, and most recently we are anticipating $200 million plus to address flooding damage in the community of Hay River; costs that continue to rise when harbour access is compromised.

Mr. Speaker, therefore, I expect this government to action its dredging plan prior to marine vessels leaving the harbour this coming spring, and I expect to see dredging take place at the mouth of the Hay River this winter. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1152-19(2): Dredging in Hay River
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1153-19(2): Mental Health
Members' Statements

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Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about suicide. Just by saying this, I feel that I'm doing something I shouldn't. Growing up in the North my entire life, I've seen and heard of many suicides. What I never did was talk about it after a loss or be given the tools on what to do or how to talk about suicide after it happens. We seem to try to move on and then it happens again. The families or those close to the ones who lost to suicide never get over the loss of their loved one. Sometimes we think we didn't do something, and we didn't do enough. We ask ourselves, what could have I have done? The thing is there are so many social and cultural factors that contribute to death by suicide as well as underlying mental health conditions, addictions, and asking for help can be extremely difficult for those, as mental health is not looked at the same way as physical health.

Mr. Speaker, this was part of my Member's statement from February 28, 2020, long before we even knew what COVID was going to do to us, long before we closed down the world to COVID. And since then, it's only gotten worse in our territory.

Mr. Speaker, the most recent suicide rates just released say that in 2022, as the Minister stated, by the end of August, that's the third quarter, we have lost 18 residents. This is almost double than in the entire year of 2021. And since that quarterly report, in my region we have buried more, more young people in my region. It also shows that it's the highest in my region. It went from one to seven deaths since then. Most are male between 20 and 29. I want to help them. I want us to help them. How do we reach them? I'm at a loss, Mr. Speaker. As an MLA, what can I do? As a mother, as a friend, as an aunty, as a member of my community, what can I do?

We have our Aboriginal organizations, and they're trying to work on this to assist to come up with plans to prevent this because we see it; we see it in our lives every day in our own communities. We have GNWT trying to assist families in communities, but we continue to lose more, more people to suicide, Mr. Speaker. My heart goes out to all those families that are suffering from a loss and those who are suffering with depression or addictions. Please talk to somebody. You are loved. You are important.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister of Health.

Member's Statement 1153-19(2): Mental Health
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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