This is page numbers 3793 - 3836 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. 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 3793

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Colleagues, The Arctic Inspiration Prize has just celebrated its 10th Anniversary. It recognizes northern innovation and excellence and encourages teamwork for the betterment of life in the Arctic. It inspires, enables, and celebrates the achievements of the North. I'd like to congratulate a few teams from the Western Arctic who just received awards showcasing their projects.

For the theme of environment and science, located in Tuktoyaktuk, the Community Climate Resiliency Project. Congratulations, Team.

For the theme of healing, health and wellness, Hope House, located in Inuvik. Congratulations.

For the theme of children and youth, Congratulations to Indigenous Youth River Guide Training, using two territories, the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

Continuing with the theme under children and youth, the winner goes to Treaty Talks from the Northwest Territories. Congratulations.

And finally, for the theme of food security, revitalization of language and Culture, the award goes to Fish Camp at Happy's Landing, located in Fort McPherson. The project will host a fish camp offering the people of the community, as well as visitors, a chance to practice and learn their traditional activities such as harvesting, preparing and drying fish.

Congratulations, everyone, job well done. It's through projects such as these that our communities will become healthier and learn ways to help each other. Thank you, members.

Prayer
Prayer

Page 3793

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 224-19(2): Fort Smith Situation
Ministers' Statements

Page 3793

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, over the last three days, the community of Fort Smith and its residents have been faced with a difficult and scary situation that has shaken their sense of safety

to the core. As a result of a significant police operation in the community, residents were forced to lock themselves in their homes, businesses, or wherever they could seek safety, while the RCMP searched for an individual considered to be armed and dangerous. Thankfully the individual has been brought into custody.

Mr. Speaker, we have lost others to violent crimes in the NWT. We acknowledge that the impacts of crime on a person and a community have immediate and long-lasting impacts on those who had no choice in the matter.

On behalf of Cabinet and the Government of the Northwest Territories, I want to extend my sincerest and deepest condolences to the community of Fort Smith and the family and friends of the resident who has tragically lost their life in this incident. We will hold them in our hearts and honour their memory.

We all know just how close-knit communities in the North can be. When tragedy like this strikes, it tears at the very fabric of what it means to be a Northerner. Senseless violence that leads to the loss of life often leaves us with more questions than answers and immense pain and sadness. It is in moments like these that we must pull together and be there for those who have been impacted and support them the best we can. To the community of Fort Smith, our support for you, like the strength and resilience that you have shown during this difficult time and will continue to show, is unwavering.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the many members of law enforcement in the Northwest Territories who have gone above and beyond to ensure the safety and wellbeing of residents in Fort Smith during this difficult time. They put themselves in harms way on a regular basis and risk their lives to protect our homes and communities. I thank them, and all the first responders, for their unwavering dedication, professionalism, and service, and for always being there for us.

Mr. Speaker, I want to tell residents who may be struggling to make sense of what happened to reach out for support. There is no shame in asking for help. The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority has established a dedicated community crisis line for Fort Smith to provide mental health and community wellness services to children, youth, adults, and families in the community. This is available 24/7 and can be accessed by calling 1-867-872-0890. There are several other services available to residents so please visit the health authority's website for more details.

We will continue to work with leadership in the community, including the MLA for Thebacha, to ensure that the Government of the Northwest Territories continues to support residents and the communities as best we can during this time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 224-19(2): Fort Smith Situation
Ministers' Statements

Page 3793

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Our thoughts and prayers are with the community at this time. Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 225-19(2): Government of the Northwest Territories COVID-19 Response and COVID Secretariat Wind Down
Ministers' Statements

Page 3793

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, it has been two years since COVID-19 changed our lives here in the territory. When the outbreak started, we didn't know what to expect, how long it would last, when vaccines would be available, and how we would have to adapt. We also didn't fully understand the toll it would take on all of us, especially health care providers.

Our communities have been hard hit. We lost 19 residents, including elders and knowledge-keepers. Others have suffered from serious illness. Another reality is that we still don't know the long-term affects of COVID-19.

Mr. Speaker, it would be challenging to find a resident who is not tired of the pandemic and the restrictions that have been put into place. Early on, these restrictions were one of the few tools we had. That has changed. With vaccines and anti-viral medications now available, it is now time to give residents the responsibility to manage their own risk tolerance and make their own choices. We are ready to look past the pandemic and the public health emergency to our new normal.

Just as the Chief Public Health Officer followed an evidence-based approach to put measures into place, we will now follow the same evidence-based approach to end the public health emergency. This is the general framework provided in Emerging Wisely, all the while adapting to the delta and omicron variants we have experienced since the fall.

Mr. Speaker, we are in a good position to shift our focus to preventing severe illness from COVID-19 resulting in hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths. Better tools mean more options. It is important to note that this approach is not a new one. This is more in line with how we deal with influenza and many other seasonal viruses.

We all want to get back to normal and by now, we all understand it will be a new kind of normal. I can't stress this enough. The end of the territorial public health emergency is not the end of COVID-19, Mr. Speaker. Future scenarios and finalized advice regarding life with COVID-19 post-pandemic is still being discussed at the national level by chief medical officers of health across Canada.

COVID-19 is different than any virus we have had to deal with in most of our lifetimes, and we need to keep our guard up as we learn to normalize living with it. The shutdown of the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat will be timed to coincide with the end of the public health emergency. When this happens, there are several services provided by the secretariat currently that will no longer be required.

The existence of the secretariat was intended to be temporary, and its closure was always anticipated.
At the same time, we must ensure that we have resources available to deal with COVID-19 as an endemic disease. That means looking at the resources necessary to respond to COVID-19 post-public health emergency.

Mr. Speaker, as we have experienced and learned, our approach needs to be flexible enough to adapt when needed. The territory will still experience community outbreaks for some time into the future. The continued evolution of variants of concern introduces significant uncertainty, and the GNWT must remain prepared to respond in the coming months.

Mr. Speaker, when the public health emergency ends, we will no longer need border security and self-isolation plans. We have already removed the requirement for isolating in a regional hub community. What will be maintained within multiple GNWT departments is the ability to respond to outbreaks and protect vulnerable populations. This also includes being prepared to support communities through readiness planning and outbreak response. We anticipate this readiness response system to be in place for one year but it will depend on the COVID-19 situation as it unfolds.

This means maintaining some level of capacity in client services such as the 811 phone line. It means ensuring we have good public health policy around risk management measures while maintaining a level of compliance, community outreach, and education, and the capacity to effectively communicate.

We need to maintain effective testing and a public health early warning surveillance strategy. An example is our wastewater surveillance program that has garnered international recognition.

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, we need to recognize that this is now a community-based approach. We need to work with communities to support them with future outbreaks.

The Secretariat was established in September 2020 to bring together, within a single agency, the critical functions needed to respond to public health orders and recommendations related to the pandemic. It has always been an entity with an end date. Even so, I want to express my gratitude to the people who took up the challenge to work for the secretariat these past two years. Important work has been done to set us up for this moment and our future success.

Mr. Speaker, changes are coming in the next few weeks. I want to reassure all Northerners that the Government of the Northwest Territories remains committed to the goal of protecting their health and wellbeing. There may be a lingering sense of uncertainty, as there usually is when change happens. We have prepared for this day and will be moving forward with a plan for the future. We know we are asking residents to adapt again. We have gotten through the public health emergency together, and we will learn to adapt to our new normal together.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 225-19(2): Government of the Northwest Territories COVID-19 Response and COVID Secretariat Wind Down
Ministers' Statements

Page 3794

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Member's Statement 996-19(2): Message to Fort Smith Residents
Members' Statements

Page 3794

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the other day a very serious incident took place in my community of Fort Smith. A violent crime was committed, and it resulted in the death of someone in my community. The entire town was put on lockdown for at least 24 hours over the weekend, and a man hunt had ensued for the suspect who thankfully has now been apprehended as of yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the family of the deceased, the Webb family and the Tourangeau family, I want to thank all the residents of Fort Smith for the overwhelming amount of support that was given. The level of unity and support for one another during this crisis was warming to see. The residents of Fort Smith had demonstrated great strength and courage throughout this difficult time.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank all the first responders, especially the RCMP, who kept our residents safe throughout this whole ordeal. I want to acknowledge Inspector Barry LaRocque who is the officer-in-charge of the NWT RCMP South District. He and his team worked all throughout the weekend to locate and apprehend the suspect.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank the Cabinet but particularly the Premier, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health, for their attentiveness and assistance during this situation.

Furthermore, I want to thank all the leadership as well in Fort Smith, including the mayor, the Chief of the Salt River First Nation, and the representatives from the Fort Smith Metis Council and Smith Landing First Nation.

In addition, I want to thank the response provided by the Department of Health and Social Services. There was additional staff and mental health resources provided to Fort Smith over the weekend and into this week to help people deal with the aftermath of this incident. The extra help was welcomed and needed.

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

---Unanimous consent granted

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I offer my sincerest condolences to the family of the deceased. This is a true loss for the town of Fort Smith. I am glad that the situation is now over, but I'm shocked a saddened for it taking place at all. My thoughts and prayers go out to my constituents but especially to the family of the deceased. I want to thank, once again, all the constituents of Thebacha for their vigilance and perseverance during this serious incident in our community. I know we are strong and an united community during times of crisis, and we always pull together to assist one another however we can. The coming days will be hard for the entire community, but I know we will come out of this stronger and more united than ever. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 996-19(2): Message to Fort Smith Residents
Members' Statements

Page 3794

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Thebacha. Our prayers continue with the family and community at this time. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Member's Statement 997-19(2): Electricity Rates
Members' Statements

Page 3794

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, if I had to make a list of sentences I heard my dad say the most during my childhood "turn off the lights" would make top three. Now as a parent myself, I get it.

Northerners pay the highest electricity rates in Canada. According to Energy Hub, a social enterprise, the 2021 average cost of NWT electricity was 38.2 cents per kilowatt hour. That's more than twice the national average and even 2 percent higher than Nunavut.

High electricity rates put pressure on residents' cost of living and constituents tell me they can't keep up. Sky high power rates will bite us in the butt and hollow out our territory. One big challenge is its customer base. We are a small population spread out over a vast beautiful land, and our growth is stagnant.

The bureau of statistics projects that our population will remain basically flat through the 2030s and without a plan to change that, they are probably right. As a result, paired with limited new industrial activity, power sales have declined by about half a percent per year over the last ten years. And while demand tapers off, costs rise.

Mr. Speaker, when you look at NTPC's annual reports, total expenses grew from $70 million in 2011 to $112 million in 2021. This is equivalent to a 5 percent increase every year. Except for some federal dollars, these cost increases ultimately fall on Northerners through higher bills and tax dollars. And this trend isn't being mitigated as NTPC infrastructure continues to age and continues to drive costs.

Many of the NTPC's generating facilities were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Some assets like NTPC's hydro plants were built even earlier, Mr. Speaker. Before 2018, NTPC's capital expenditures were generally in the $20 million range. Now, NTPC's latest five-year capital plan budgets capital spending of about $60 million per year. Federal dollars only off set about 27 percent of this spending, Mr. Speaker. On top of all this, NTPC needs to make significant investments to get off diesel without compromising the entire system.

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

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this is why it's so important for NTPC to have a financially sustainable long-term plan. The plan needs to include dedicated staff to source 100 percent federal dollars, and the plan also needs proper oversight. The board needs more than DMs and MLAs need oversight. Coming out of a pandemic, facing increased cost of living, people need hope and people need power, and the government needs a plan to provide both. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 997-19(2): Electricity Rates
Members' Statements

Page 3794

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 998-19(2): Affirmative Action Policy
Members' Statements

Page 3794

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, prior to 1989, this government recognized an inequity with respect to Indigenous representation in the GNWT public sector. In an attempt to address that inequity, the government of the day drafted the Affirmative Action Policy. It was a spirited attempt to place Indigenous people into the public sector workforce.

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to discuss that intent with one of the original drafters. He explained to me that the intent was to increase Indigenous representation, period. Through vetting and additional drafting revisions, the objective lessened. For what reason, one can only assume.

Mr. Speaker, the reason Indigenous people are a minority in the public sector may be that Indigenous people acknowledge this government is colonial and want nothing to do with it; or possibly, that the intent of the policy has been forgotten and no longer relevant. It may be that we have too many categories. It could be that we are confusing the term "Indigenous" by using terms like Indigenous non-aboriginal. It may be that hiring is done by southerners and biased, or for that matter Indigenous and biased. Whatever the reason, Indigenous people are not being provided an equal opportunity.

Mr. Speaker, 30 plus years later we are still talking affirmative action as Indigenous persons continue to be unrepresented while attempts have been made to correct that underrepresentation.

In 2014, the Regional Recruitment Program was developed to target Indigenous employees by creating on-the-job training opportunities in their region. In October 2018, the Indigenous Career Gateway Program was created to target external Indigenous candidates for entry-level positions within the GNWT. In June 21st, the Building Capacity and Indigenous Governments Program was launched. And now we have an Indigenous Recruitment and Retention Framework and action plan looking to set new targets.

Mr. Speaker, no matter the number of policy revisions, no matter the number of committees, no matter the number of reviews, without explicit direction and holding bureaucracy accountable, the targets will remain unattainable. If we expect increase in Indigenous participation in the public sector, we need an effective policy and that policy must be clear, concise, and unambiguous unlike the one we have today. With profound change, then maybe, just maybe, we will get traction and buy-in from bureaucracy to reach equality for Indigenous people in the public sector. Mr. Speaker, I will questions for the Minister responsible for human resources. Thank you.

Member's Statement 998-19(2): Affirmative Action Policy
Members' Statements

Page 3795

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 999-19(2): Northwest Territories Fur Economy
Members' Statements

Page 3795

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the trapping season is coming to a close. This is a good time to look back on the season as to lessons learned and look forward to setting a new direction to stimulate the NWT fur economy. I can imagine, due to COVID, fur sales more than likely not as financially lucrative as other years. I can imagine the number of fur-bearing animals being caught is getting less every year. I can only surmise the dwindling number of trappers going out every year as many will age out.

If it's not the age, then problems with the mode of transportation - the snowmobile, as repairs are getting expensive and buying new machines may not be an option due to fur prices. The options to trappers are not many considering the ever-increasing price of gas, oil, and parts for the snow machine.

Mr. Speaker, if one doesn't have a full-time job to own and maintain a snow machine, then trapping is out of the question for many who would like the option to trap.

Trapping can provide a means of income and, most of all, self esteem. Many of my people, the Dene, tell us stories of their exploits hunting and trapping with just dog teams. In fact, it was a widely-known mode of transportation back then.

What this signifies is the ability of our people to provide for themselves, their family, and their community. The Dene back then were proud people when doing things for themselves. Today, we are weakened by a society that is reliant on government handouts; a society that is slowly killing our people, whether it be sickness from alcohol and drugs, or other illnesses. It is time for this government to chart a trapline forward to revitalize an industry that can and will do a lot for many residents of the Northwest Territories. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.