This is page numbers 4687 - 4726 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 know.

Topics

Members Present

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

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 4687

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Infrastructure.

Diane Archie

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, today I am providing an update on the Prohibition Creek Access Road Project to correct the public record, refute some misinformation, and also address some of the recent allegations raised in this House about the procurement process for this project.

First, the Prohibition Creek Access Road Project is, and always has been, advanced as a capacity-building project. The goal is to help prepare businesses, workers and residents to make the most of opportunities provided by the eventual construction of the entirety of Mackenzie Valley Highway.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories originally received federal funding to advance the design and construction of 13-kilometres of all-season road from Canyon Creek to Prohibition Creek, which is near Norman Wells, in June 2020. That same month, the GNWT announced this project would be procured through a public tendering process, following the receipt of a regulatory approval, and completion of final design. In November 2020, the GNWT obtained approvals to advance the project. However, prior to initiating the procurement process, an environmental and engineering issue was identified at the Christina Creek Crossing, which is approximately halfway between Canyon Creek and Prohibition Creek, which would require additional design and regulatory work. In an effort to keep the project and capacity-building in the region moving forward, a decision was made to split the construction project into two phases.

Phase 1 construction included building 6.7-kilometre all-season road between Canyon Creek and Christina Creek, and Phase 2, the construction would also include the remaining 6.3 kilometres from Christina Creek to Prohibition Creek.

The GNWT initiated a public procurement process for Phase 1 construction in October of 2021. The amount of time that lapsed between securing regulatory approval and initiating the procurement process was caused by the engineering challenges at Christina Creek and the change in project approach that I just described.

HRN Contracting Ltd. was the only business to submit a bid for Phase 1 construction through that public procurement process. Ultimately, the sole bid exceeded the available funding, and the procurement process was cancelled to re-evaluate the project's budget and financing.

The Prohibition Creek Access Road Project is one of several infrastructure projects that have experienced cost escalations recently. Large and systemic cost increases associated with the COVID-19 response, supply chain issues, inflation, material and labour shortages, and rising fuel prices have had an impact on project costs.

Following the cancellation of the public tender, the Department of Infrastructure engaged with Canada to revise the project delivery plan and very recently secured additional funding for Phase 1 construction, as well as design and engineering work required for the remainder of the 13-kilometre road, including the Christina Creek Crossing.

Mr. Speaker, I can also confirm that a negotiated contract request from HRN Contracting Ltd. for Phase 1 construction was also received following the cancellation of the public tendering process. This request is currently being advanced as per the provisions in of the GNWT's Negotiated Contracts Policy. HRN Contracting Ltd. is a GNWT Business-Incentive-Policy registered business in the Sahtu, owned by a Sahtu beneficiary and, as mentioned, was the sole bidder through this previous public procurement process.

Mr. Speaker, while it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the specifics of a contract on the floor of this House, I can assure you that it's our intent to advance this project to see the local and regional benefits maximized within the GNWT procurement and Negotiated Contract Policy, all of this to say, Mr. Speaker, this project has not been without its challenges. However, the allegations of nefarious dealings raised in the House are fundamentally untrue. It is our hope that procurement will be finalized in the near future, construction on this important capacity building project can begin this fall, and we are hopeful that this can be celebrated as the important milestone that it is, and that the years of work to get to this point are not tarnished by these recent allegations. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Housing NWT.

Paulie Chinna

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Mr. Speaker, partnerships are key to addressing the territory's housing crisis.
Through partnership with Indigenous governments and communities, we are effectively finding housing solutions that recognize the unique needs of communities across the Northwest Territories. As we advance the Housing NWT Renewal Strategy, I am pleased to report that these partnerships are already leading to real, meaningful work that will improve quality of life for residents.

When this House was last in session, I spoke about the memorandum of understanding on housing we had just signed with the Tlicho government. Today I am pleased to say that Housing NWT has also signed a memorandum of agreement with the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated. This MOA provides a framework for intergovernmental cooperation on housing-related matters, including community housing planning, procurement, coordinated program delivery in the Sahtu communities, and information and data sharing.

Housing NWT recognizes that the Sahtu region faces significant housing challenges. By working in partnership with the Sahtu Secretariat, we will maximize federal funding, increase affordable housing for residents, provide training opportunities, increase economic activity in the region, and build the capacity of Indigenous governments and communities. The MOA sets a path for a more collaborative relationship between Housing NWT and the Sahtu Secretariat, consistent with the Housing NWT's new approach to Indigenous partnerships under the new mandate.

Mr. Speaker, discussions between Housing NWT and other NWT Indigenous governments are also underway to develop cooperative agreements on housing. Last June, Premier Cochrane and I committed to a joint review of Housing NWT's policies and programs, with participation of the Council of Leaders housing working group, and it is already changing how we will be doing work with Indigenous governments. This is consistent with Article 23 of the UN Declaration that states that Indigenous people have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining social and other programs that affect them.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say through the renewal of Housing NWT and programs and policy review, we are putting those words into action. We are increasing our engagement with Indigenous governments about the location and design of housing units. We are having open discussions with Indigenous governments on how to maximize economic opportunities that come with housing construction and operation. We are also looking at new partnerships and innovative approaches for building housing across the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, this collaborative work is helping us develop housing solutions that will benefit residents and the communities in which they live in. I am pleased to see Indigenous governments seize an increasing role in housing, and that the federal government is now flowing distinction-based funding to Indigenous governments in the NWT.

Housing NWT recognizes that there is no "one size fits all" solution. Individual Indigenous communities and governments have different needs, capacities, and aspirations, and it is important that their housing solutions cater to their unique circumstances.

Mr. Speaker, through collaboration and partnership with Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations and communities, we will be able to effectively address the NWT's housing crisis and meet our mandate commitment to increase the number of affordable homes and reduce core housing need in communities across the territory. Housing NWT will continue to build its relationships with Indigenous governments so that together we can find housing solutions that fit the needs of their residents and all the residents of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank the staff of Housing NWT for working collaboratively with the Indigenous groups and helping us build our relationships. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' Statements. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, colleagues, it was my great honour to travel last week and early this week with the Premier and my colleague from Kam Lake to the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland. In an increasingly troubled world, Canada, and in particular Canada's North and its Indigenous people, need to work hard to strengthen our international bonds with the nations of the circumpolar world.

I had the opportunity to sit on a panel examining the potential benefits of public/private partnerships that include Indigenous governments and organizations and came away with a new and better appreciation of the full participation of our people in the modern economy.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Hay River South who, as deputy chair of Caucus, introduced motions last night in Committee of the Whole to implement the recommendations of two independent Commissions - one to review MLA compensation and the other to recommend new electoral boundaries in the upcoming general election.

With less than a year remaining until the next election, it is critical that we clarify the size of this House and its boundaries at the earliest opportunity. Residents, potential candidates, and our election management bodies need to know what the landscape looks like to make informed decisions in the run up to next October. I don't intend to reflect on the decision that was made in the Committee of the Whole last night to reject the recommendation of the 2021 Electoral Boundaries Commission, but as Caucus chair I think it is crucial that the public understands what that decision meant and could mean.

Had the motion carried, I would have introduced legislation next week to establish new electoral boundaries for the 2023 election. As it stands now, the status quo will remain. That leaves us with a number of ridings, particularly Yellowknife North and Monfwi, that are unacceptably larger than the average riding size. It remains to be seen whether this will result in a legal challenge. But as we all know, the boundaries have been challenged twice before.

In 2015, the House accepted the recommendations of the independent Electoral Boundaries Commission, and a challenge from the City of Yellowknife for more seats was unsuccessful; however, in 1998, in the infamous Friends of Democracy case, the Assembly, like last night, rejected the recommendations of the independent Commission. This successful court challenge is why the number of MLAs from Inuvik and Hay River increased from one to two and why the number of MLAs from Yellowknife increased from four to seven.

Electoral boundaries are very political and challenging to get just right. It's not just about the arithmetic. It's about how we organize our public government politically and constitutionally. Yes, Yellowknife has roughly half the population of the NWT and less than half the number of seats in this House. But that doesn't mean Yellowknife's underrepresented in our government or at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the NWT. Far from it. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to finish my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Mr. Speaker, the independent Commission's report wasn't perfect. It proposed a new and somewhat clever way to avoid adding seats to our legislature and avoiding increasing the numerical influence of Yellowknife Members in this House. In my view, the recommendation of the best possible outcome for small communities in the NWT who are always struggling for greater influence in the halls of government. Some may think that last night's vote was the end of the matter for another eight years. Mr. Speaker, I'd be surprised if that was the case.

Last night's decision has effectively turned this matter, a very political matter, over to the courts to decide for us. So far history has shown that the courts tend to defer to the Legislative Assembly when it follows the advice of an independent commission chaired, by the way, by a sitting or retired Supreme Court judge. History also has shown that results can be very unpredictable when we ignore that advice and let the courts decide for us.

I fear that we may find ourselves scrambling to implement court-ordered boundaries in the weeks and months leading up to the next election; boundaries that could very well see more seats added to this House and more seats for Yellowknife, Mr. Speaker. I hope that I'm wrong on that but in this uncertain world, political instability can spring up anywhere. As leaders, we need to see both the short-term and long-term implications of our decisions we make in this House and do our best not to sleepwalk into constitutional issues of our own making. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Thebacha. Members' statements. Member for Nunakput.

Jackie Jacobson

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Before I get started, I'd like to send thoughts and prayers home. Today they're laying my Uncle Henry Steen to rest. So thoughts and prayers are with my family back home.

Mr. Speaker, I've said in this House many times before, housing in Nunakput faces major issues. Residents in my riding deal with the highest cost of living in the territory. We face overcrowding. We don't have enough homes. And the homes that we do have are in need of major repairs.

In Nunakput, the riding as we know, 13 percent of our homes are overcrowded. 28 percent of our homes need major repairs. 25 percent of our homes are in core need. Mr. Speaker, I have constituents who have put blankets on their floors in the winter so the snow wouldn't come in from the door and the windows. So it's very confusing to me, Mr. Speaker, when residents in my riding want to purchase a housing unit that the corporation doesn't fast track these requests. These units in the Housing Corporation are barely maintaining with the wind and the snow blowing right through homes in the winter. If a resident wants to purchase a unit, shows interest, the Housing Corporation should make it happen.

It's been said in this House many times the Northwest Territories is in a state of housing crisis. One solution to housing is to increase the number of our homeowners. So it's very troubling for me, Mr. Speaker, and my constituents in my riding, that have been waiting, in cases for years, to advance homeownership options.

I have a couple in Sachs Harbour who have been waiting for two years since they submitted their complete application to the Minister and her staff in Inuvik on December 2020, an agreement to enter a rent-to-own housing option. Since December 2020, the couple's been waiting and paying rent with no assurance that the Housing Corporation is under the rent-to-own agreement. My constituents already the highest cost of living in the Northwest Territories. Now the local housing organization in Inuvik appears to be creating more financial hardship by delaying long-term housing solutions for this young family in Sachs Harbour.

Mr. Speaker, this is not only one example. There is a constituent in Paulatuk who has have been waiting for almost six months for an answer from the local housing organization. Mr. Speaker, this is unacceptable. I will have questions for the Minister of Housing at the appropriate time. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, over the last week I had the opportunity to attend and speak on a panel at the Arctic Circle Assembly. Arctic nations from around the world discussed the unique challenges and opportunities faced by circumpolar nations in the face of climate change. Youth, Indigenous leaders, bureaucrats, politicians, researchers, and even royalty, discussed an array of topics from Arctic biodiversity to green energy and mental health to critical infrastructure.

Infrastructure development is a key circumpolar focus as the world continues to warm. In September this year, the Arctic ice covering the Northwest Passage reached its lowest levels on record. Researchers noted it was pretty close to ice-free in major channels.

Mr. Speaker, 80 percent of the world's biodiversity is found in the Arctic and stewarded by 6 percent of the world's population, largely Indigenous people who have protected the land since time immemorial.

Today, the world is looking to the Arctic for its resource wealth, efficient shipping routes for legal and illegal trade, and military presence in the continued assertions of Arctic sovereignty. In response, circumpolar countries are evolving both their responses to climate change and Arctic infrastructure. Countries like Iceland now extract 85 percent of their energy needs using renewable energy infrastructures with lofty goals of reaching 100 percent. The US is pushing grant commitments to ensure 100 percent of Alaskans can access broadband internet. And Greenland is building three new international airports. The Arctic world is opening whether we want it to or not, and circumpolar nations are taking note and taking action.

Arctic sovereignty is reliant on Arctic security, Mr. Speaker, and Arctic security is reliant on healthy communities. Healthy northern communities rely on security in healthcare, education, employment, food, and yes, housing.

My biggest take home this week, Mr. Speaker, is that Canada's Arctic infrastructure drastically lags behind the rest of the circumpolar world. In 2019, the federal government released its Arctic and northern policy framework. But the policy lacked timelines, measures, and probably most importantly, Mr. Speaker, a budget to achieve its goals. While the way forward is a global collaboration and maintained Arctic zone of peace, Canada still needs social and economic infrastructure and healthy Arctic communities to maintain a seat at the table.

We are not ready for the future of the Arctic. Arctic security and Arctic sovereignty needs social and economic infrastructure in the Arctic today. If Canada does not offer the much-needed Arctic infrastructure to build healthy communities in the Canadian Arctic, we know that someone else will, but at what cost, Mr. Speaker? I will have questions for the Premier at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1196-19(2): Sale of MacTung Mine
Members' Statements

October 19th, 2022

Page 4691

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I have some good news. Our government says it has sold the Mactung mining property; a zombie that just keeps on giving.

The owner, North American Tungsten, went into creditor protection after GNWT agreed to take on this operation under devolution. GNWT allowed that company to keep the Mactung property as part of its financial security for its water license. Cabinet ended up buying Mactung for $4.5 million through a special warrant that bypassed the Legislative Assembly. Cabinet then spent almost $480,000 on a partial clean-up of that property, plus all the work trying to sell it, not including months of staff time. The GNWT hired a southern consultant to submit a land use application to the Yukon government for an imaginary exploration program to hype the value of the property.

Just after the May-June 2022 sitting and with no advance notice to Regular MLAs, Cabinet accepted a letter of offer from Fireweed Zinc Ltd., a Vancouver-based junior mining company, to buy the property for a total of $15 million subject to a number of strict conditions:

  1. Fireweed pays the GNWT the sum of $1.5 million on signing the letter of intent;
  2. Fireweed will pay GNWT an additional $3.5 million within 18 months of finalizing of a definitive agreement, apparently targeted before the end of this year;
  3. Fireweed will pay GNWT an additional $5 million upon announcing its intention to construct a mine at either the Mactung or any other portion of their mineral interests in the Yukon at Macmillan Pass; and
  4. Fireweed will pay GNWT an additional $5 million upon announcing its intention to construct a mine at Mactung.

I am doubtful that GNWT will ever get all the money and staff time back from the Mactung property, or that it will ever go into production.

In terms of lessons learned, there don't seem to be any. I was hoping that GNWT would recognize that mandatory financial security in forms that are irrevocable and liquid are required to ensure this kind of mess does not happen again. Eight years after devolution, GNWT has failed to fix the problems with resource mismanagement left for us by the federal government. It's past time that the Auditor General of Canada looks at the promise and practice of post-devolution resource management. I will have questions for the mining minister later today. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Lesa Semmler

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Mr. Speaker, in this House and throughout the territory, we've been talking about the need for a Mackenzie Valley Highway for decades. The Mackenzie Valley Highway has been in the planning stages since 1960 when the federal government was trying to advance the roads to resource programs. And to put this in perspective, my mother was one; status Indians were given the right to vote on July 1st, 1960; January 16th, 1960, Gordie Howe became the leading goal scorer in the NHL. That's how long ago.

The current proposed Mackenzie Valley Highway is just one part of what's needed for transportation in the NWT. The current proposed Mackenzie Valley highway is 321 kilometres from Wrigley to Norman Wells. The estimated cost of this project to get the highway corrected to Norman Wells was about $700 million in the last time it was made public.

In 2018, the government started building the road from the north side down from Norman Wells to Wrigley, a 14-kilometre long access road. So, Mr. Speaker, we still have 307 kilometres remaining to connect Norman Wells to Wrigley. We have the Inuvik to Tuk Highway that opened in 2017, but there's no all-season road connecting Inuvik to Fort Good Hope and Norman Wells.

Mr. Speaker, we know roads bring prosperity to people and communities, and we know that residents in the Beaufort Delta rely on the Dempster Highway to gain access to the south. And this is largely a Yukon road, which is poorly and inadequately maintained. It also provides the exit route for residents and business to go spend their money outside the territory. Residents in the Beaufort Delta want access to the southern part of the NWT. People in the Delta are ready and willing to build a road connecting the Dempster Highway outside of Inuvik with a road to at least Fort Good Hope where they can connect with the winter road in the winter months.

Mr. Speaker, we have a major critical piece of infrastructure that can reduce the cost of living, increase investment and resource development, increase opportunities for tourism, trade, businesses from the north to the south of this territory, and yet GNWT continues to advance this critical transportation corridor in a piecemeal.

Mr. Speaker, what is the plan to connect the northern portion of the NWT to the southern NWT? Why isn't the GNWT taking lessons learned from the Inuvik to Tuk Highway and extend this road further south? Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Where are the community plans to support the work to advance this road to connect and open up the communities? It is the mandate of the 19th Assembly to advance development of the Mackenzie Valley Highway. The government states it will do that through establishing collaborative partnerships with Indigenous governments. I will have questions for the Minister of Infrastructure later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Richard Edjericon

Richard Edjericon Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we are running out of time in this Assembly to make good on our promises to improve the lives of our residents. I have not had the privilege of a membership in his House for as long as my colleagues, but that doesn't mean I have been idle in advocating for the needs of my riding of the Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh riding. But I have had to look at what has been done before my time here to get a clearer picture of the resources available, budgets, action plans, policies, legislations, and a mandate having for my work and why I so often speak to how existing resources can be reprofiled to address pressing needs in our communities.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Finance tabled the 2023-2024 Capital Estimates for $328 million down from an average of $405 million over the last nine years. As per the Minister's statement, this was done to bring a more realistic approach to Infrastructure spending as the GNWT does not have the capacity to develop at all the projects budgeted for in the previous years.

I am not sure I completely agree with the Minister that this has created unrealistic expectations. It does not encourage good planning and necessitates an unnecessarily large borrowing plan. After all, everyone and their dog knows of the NWT chronic deficit and infrastructure that is holding back our economic growth. Not only that, but until very recently money was cheap to borrow. Of course inflation, supply chain shortages has made these projects more expensive. But the initial investment were and continue to be sound.

Mr. Speaker, let's talk about housing. I have made the serious challenge facing my constituents with homeownership and homeownership repairs my mission during this sitting of this House. I hope that the Housing NWT minister is starting to get annoyed with me because I am in desperate need to see how to get work on a real solution that helps the people I represent.

The capital estimates provides $35.5 million for Housing NWT. We know that the policies of Housing NWT are part of the problem getting these valuable resources into our communities. I will again propose that Indigenous governments are a better position to make immediate use of these funds than are centralized Yellowknife based bureaucracy. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. There are housing strategies and programs that work in all Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh communities. Lutselk'e is putting in trailers as we speak. Deni'nu Ku'e and the Fort Resolution Metis Council are working towards completing a housing need assessment and assets inventory. The Yellowknives Dene are soon to realize customized housing designs through federal funding programs that will yield a fresh take on housing development in other communities.

Mr. Speaker, I'm tired of seeing the best of intentions fail in the face of our housing needs. It's time to try a different approach, if only in the communities I represent. Let's take a small chunk of that $35 million and give it, no strings attached, to the Indigenous governments of Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh riding and help them move forward on their terms towards adequate and affordable housing in their communities. Mr. Speaker, I have questions for the finance minister. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in the last several years we have seen major flooding severely impact not only the town of Hay River, but other communities along the Mackenzie and Liard Rivers. There is considerable speculation and discussion as to why flooding appears more pronounced.

Mr. Speaker, we were to have lessons learned after the devastating flood in Fort Simpson two years ago and now, after the Hay River flood, it is apparent we have not learned a great deal.

This government sat back and provided limited to no pre-emptive analysis, indicators, or supports for emergency preparedness prior to any of that flooding. This government needs to develop systems and processes that protect lives, assets, and infrastructure. We need experienced and knowledgeable people at the table to provide guidance and planning.

Mr. Speaker, as of today, I have not heard of, or been made aware of, any post-flood assessments or reports completed or that are underway by this government to address shortcomings from flooding that took place over the last two years with the exception of a paper titled "Analysis of Regional Flood Risk Planning and Evacuation Procedures following the May 2022 Hay River Flood."

This analysis was prepared by local Hay River resident Matthew Miller, who has studied and worked in water resource management, flood modelling, and municipal and transportation drainage design. I thank Mr. Miller for doing what this government has failed to do.

Mr. Speaker, in addition to utilizing the services of those knowledgeable in flood plain management, flood preparedness, and emergency preparedness, we must look to include Indigenous knowledge of the area and climate history. Mr. Speaker, we also know the potential for flooding occurs well beyond community boundaries. This is not just a community issue; it is this governments issue, and it is an inter-jurisdictional issue as well therefore we need to collaborate with our southern neighbours to talk watershed management.

Mr. Speaker, for this government to place responsibility for flood management and preparedness squarely on the shoulders of communities is wrong and unacceptable. Flooding is our reality, and it is now that we need to establish a group, or team, within this government to deal with flooding. We need to provide, in collaboration with communities and Indigenous governments, flood forecasting, flood preparedness measures, evacuation plans and mitigation measures, for all communities on our river systems throughout the NWT. Anything less would be a failure on the part of this government. Mr. Speaker I will have questions for the Minister of MACA.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Katrina Nokleby

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in 2020, the GNWT expanded its Child and Youth Care Counsellor Program, or CYCC, to provide more mental health supports for students and families across the territory. On February 21st of that year, the Yellowknifer reported a total of 49 new counsellor positions had been created in the territory for the program. The purpose behind this expansion was to enhance and increase mental health supports for children and youth. The job description for a Child and Youth Care Counsellor states, quote, "The position is responsible for implementing specialized assessment and therapeutic programming. The CYCC is a Member of the community counselling team and provides integrated and therapeutic mental health and behavioural programming in collaboration with school personnel and other health and mental Health and Social Services professionals."

But Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that a licensed specialist, such as a licensed psychologist or professional counselor, is not the requirement for this position but, rather, it states typical qualifications of a Masters in child and youth care, counselling, social work, or education. The Minister committed, on May 26th, to increase the transparency of the acceptable equivalencies within the job description.

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that it is hard to recruit experts and specialists to the North, however these are the people who are dealing one-on-one with our vulnerable children and youth. I hear from residents that CYCC staff are mostly non-Indigenous southern social workers that are moving to northern communities, not trained counsellors. The young graduates are coming here and providing frontline service to our children with little to no understanding of the true impacts of intergenerational trauma and the residential schools. Layers upon layers of trauma, grief, addictions, and mental health challenges.

Mr. Speaker, it is no surprise that these workers don't stay long. They're paid less than teachers with less vacation time. The position isn't incentivized, and the lack of experience and commitment to the North is likely creating more harm than is doing good.

The Minister has stated in this House that the department is planning to evaluate the program this fiscal year. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Thank you

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, how is the department working with parents and school administration to evaluate the effectiveness of this service? What is the GNWT doing to ensure our children receive the best possible counselling care available, given how they've consistently failed them for years now, and it's only gotten worse under this Cabinet and Minister.

Mr. Speaker, I will be submitting my questions for the Department of Health and Social Services as written question tomorrow. Given this Minister's want to always shoot the messenger, I am not interested in giving her a forum any longer. Thank you

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Great Slave. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.

Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. A few weeks ago the Department of Health and Social Services launched a survey talking about some proposed changes to the extended health benefits. I gave it a quick glance, and I was pretty happy.

Mr. Speaker, multiple times in this House I spoke about the essential gap of the working poor in this territory who do not have any extended health benefits. It appeared the department had a plan to means test extended health benefits and provide them to those people. My only feedback at that time was that the income threshold was a little low, and we should perhaps increase it to provide this benefit to more people.

But it came to my attention, and was raised by a number of people, that we are actually doing something else instead of just providing extended health benefits. We're removing the specified disease conditions that currently give people benefits. At first, I thought this couldn't be true. I went back to the survey. I read it a number of times, and nowhere did it clearly state that this is what we were doing.

Mr. Speaker, if we're going to consult on the question of whether to means test extended health benefits, that's fine. But if we're going to consult on the question of whether to provide extended health benefits at the expense of those who presently have specified diseases, that is a completely different question.

Mr. Speaker, after I raised this in the media, the department reissued the survey and somewhat attempted to clarify what they were doing. But I still don't believe it is sufficient. And I am getting many questions that I simply cannot ask, and the survey and engagement do not ask - specific questions about how certain drugs work? How, if you have cancer but you get this specific prescription drug, is that covered; is that insurable? Very nuanced questions about how copayment will work. Questions about what if I have a specified disease and I can't find private health insurance?

Mr. Speaker, I've sent these people to the department, and I'm assured that the department is working with these people, but I think some much more targeted engagement needs to occur for all the people who presently have specified diseases and we're providing benefits to. That seems to be the main people we need to talk to.

And then from my end, Mr. Speaker, even more questions need to be answered. How many people are we presently providing benefits to? This is not presented. Is this actually going to cost us money or save us money? Mr. Speaker, I suspect that this is a cost saving measure in that providing benefits to people with specified diseases is quite expensive and generally just because you're poor, it doesn't mean you have a specified disease.

I will have questions for the Minister of Health about a number of these things and hopefully get some answers to people out there about what it is we're actually doing. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife North. Members' statements. Member for Nahendeh.