This is page numbers 6787 - 6868 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.


Lesa Semmler

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you. This will be my last question; I won't have a supplementary. Will the Premier commit to making sure that over these next few weeks that she's still there and her Cabinet that she will discuss this with her deputy ministers, that our regional superintendents, regional managers, all know what their authority is and they use their authority? Thank you.

Caroline Cochrane

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will definitely have -- I think have a little bit more before the next Assembly is sworn in, and as do the Ministers.

I will make the commitment in this House that I will speak to the secretary of Cabinet, who is responsible for all the deputy ministers, to make sure it reinforces, but I'm also telling all Cabinet Ministers while I'm standing here, to make sure you speak to your deputy ministers to ensure that regional managers have the authority invested under their job descriptions to make decisions that they are qualified and mandated within their job descriptions to do. So that, I've already given direction to my Ministers. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Madam Premier. Oral questions. Member for Yellowknife North.

Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In my four years to get the DMV to change their operating hours, I actually went backwards. It was closed for most of COVID, and it was closed for evacuation, and then they went to online booking only, and then they actually limited their hours and closed during lunch hours, and it's become harder and harder to use the DMV despite four years of asking. So one last time, will the Minister of Infrastructure try and buck this trend and look to open the DMV either on an evening or a weekend? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife North. Minister responsible for Infrastructure.

Diane Archie

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. One more kick at the can. As I've stated before, Mr. Speaker, we've looked at the Member's suggestion and determined it would be at a significant financial cost to extend the hours, or even just to open on weekends. I also want to emphasize that the impact that increased hours would have to the safety and work balance of our staff who already have a stressful and often thankless job.

Mr. Speaker, I do also want to note that you can get most of your services online. You could renew your registration at 3 a.m. in front of your computer, in your underwear if you want. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This happens.

Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

That's good.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Mr. Speaker, I have some further questions I'd like to pursue with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on this arsenic remediation guideline matter. It's not clear whether this new work went through any kind of an internal or external review or was discussed with interested co-management bodies, such as the land and water boards or even the Giant Mine Oversight Board. So can the Minister tell us who was consulted during the development of these new arsenic remediation guidelines, and can he summarize what happened or make a commitment to make that information public? Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Frame Lake. Minister responsible for ECC.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in developing the guidelines, input was provided by several academic arsenic researchers, a health risk expert with the Giant Mine Oversight Board, and the GNWT departments. GNWT staff will continue to discuss the guidelines with land and water boards as part of the current public engagement process. Public comments and concerns will be addressed in a What We Heard summary report. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Yeah, merci, Monsieur le President. I want to thank the Minister for that. These guidelines, whatever they look like and that get approved at the end of the day, I think they have some significant implications for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation that live on perhaps some contaminated lands or want to have some business opportunities there, the City of Yellowknife, the Northwest Territories Construction Association. So has the department actually done any kind of outreach to any of these governments? Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Governments or NGOs. Thanks, Mr. Speaker.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. For that detail, I'll have to get back to the Member. Thank you.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. If it's not the case that they've done that engagement, I really urge that this department do that work.

I guess my next question, Mr. Speaker, is once these are finalized, what sort of public communications is there going to be? Because this will have implications for people that buy and sell land, real estate agents, banks that do financing. This has got some pretty serious implications. So what is the department going to do to communicate these new guidelines to the public and interested parties? Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, as I said, I think it was his first question, we will address the -- part of What We Heard report will be provided. We will also put it on our website. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Final supplementary. Member for Frame Lake.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Yeah, merci, Monsieur le President. I want to thank the Minister for that, but posting this to a website I just don't think is going to cut it. I tried to read this stuff last night. It's highly technical stuff. And the document that's out there for public engagement right now is three pages. There's no references in it. It's not very well done in my humble opinion. It doesn't even explain that we're going from 2003 guidelines to a new set of guidelines. I think the Minister needs to beef up the public engagement/public communications component.

So can the Minister undertake to talk to his department about how they're going to improve communications of this now and moving forward once the guideline is finished? Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker I thank the Member for his encouragement, his advice, and I will reach out and have conversations with the department. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Colleagues, our time for oral questions has expired.

As it is the last day tomorrow, I know there may be a lot of questions, so we'll have to shorten up the preamble and the answers, to the point, just so everyone gets a chance. Thought I'd give you a head's up. Thanks.

Written questions. Colleagues, we will return after a short recess.


The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Colleague, we will continue. Oral questions. Just kidding.

Written questions. Returns to written questions. Replies to the Commissioner's address. Member for Yellowknife Centre.

Ms. Green's Reply
Replies To The Commissioner's Address

Page 6799

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to say goodbye to you and my colleagues in this House. It has been a privilege to spend the last eight years in this Legislative Assembly representing the constituents of Yellowknife Centre and for the last three years serving all residents in the NWT as Minister of Health and Social Services, Minister responsible for Seniors, and Minister responsible for People with Disabilities. I would like to start with some acknowledgements.

My parents made the decision to immigrate to Canada when I was a child. It opened a world of opportunities in education and employment I don't think I'd had if I had stayed in England. I am so very grateful to them. My dad, Stan Green, instilled the social justice values that have shaped my life. He has been a fervent supporter of my political career and I count on his constant encouragement. Thank you, Dad.

Turning to the people in the gallery today, I would like to thank my partner, Janice McKenna, for her steadfast help and encouragement through our many years together but especially in the last eight. She has inspired and supported me through the many challenges of political life. Thank you, Janice, for your patience, love, and wisdom.

I also want to thank Catherine Pigott who persuaded me to give Yellowknife a try as a place to live and work. And my brother from another mother, Don Babey. As well as my friend and champion, Audrey Henderson. Thank you all for your friendship.

The early days of my political career were overwhelming, indeed like drinking from the proverbial firehose. There was so much to learn about the government, about how the Legislative Assembly works, and getting to know colleagues.

A former MLA gave me a valuable piece of advice early on. He said, If you are well informed, you can be very influential. I took that to heart and continued to read as much as possible.

Regular Members can also make a difference in other ways. The one I found most effective was motions. I put forward five motions in my first term, and they all gained some traction. The one I am most proud of is my motion on International Women's Day 2018, creating targets for increased numbers of women MLAs in this House. In the 18th Assembly there were just two women elected, myself and the Premier. And in the history of this legislature, there had never been more than three women here at one time.

The motion came to life with the creation of a special committee to increase the representation in the Legislative Assembly. Five of us toured ten communities in the NWT to learn about the barriers women faced running for office. We made recommendations to remove those barriers in the special committee's interim report. Women said they needed a family-friendly workplace, information and training on the role of MLA, and financial assistance to pay for campaigns. My colleagues adopted all these recommendations.

The final report dealt with the question of introducing quotas to ensure change happened. While most women told the committee they didn't want quotas, they did want to see more women in the House. In the end, we recommended that if voters didn't vote for women in the 2019 election, we would revisit the idea of quotas through a plebiscite. The point, of course, turned out to be moot when voters elected nine women to the House in that October, and an additional woman in a by-election, creating a majority of women Members in the House. A first in Canada.

The result exceeded my grandest expectations. I am proud of helping to bring so many women into politics. I believe that having women here in the legislature has made a difference. There has been an unprecedented focus on housing, child care, education and health. At the same time, women have shown they can lead on the economy, finance, and infrastructure. My hope is that women's representation is now the norm and voters will again vote for women's equality on November 14th.

As well as having more women in the House, the 19th Assembly couldn't have been more different than the 18th. The COVID-19 pandemic had a lot to do with that. We were just starting the winter budget session when fears about transmitting the virus put public life on hold. People went home, worried about being isolated from family and friends, trying to help children and youth to get on with school, and pivoting to keep their businesses open. Those stressful days became stressful months as the lockdown continued, not only for businesses but also for students whose education was disrupted, seniors who were isolated for their safety, and people who didn't have homes. It was also a time of great innovation: Working from home, online education, and expanded telehealth, to name a few.

At the end of that summer, I joined the executive council and became part of the government's response to COVID.

It's worth remembering that we had few cases in the NWT in 2020 thanks to a comprehensive and controversial lockdown by the chief public health officer. The federal government provided us excellent support with testing, PPE supplies, and prioritizing the North for early access to vaccines.

On New Year's Eve 2020, staff started vaccinating elders in long-term care. After seeing COVID kill thousands of seniors in the south, I think we all shared a sense of relief. But our real COVID test was still to come as new more infectious strains swept through the community and other communities in 2021 despite continued precautions. I mourn the people who died - elders who were knowledge-keepers in their communities and the unhoused population.

I want to thank all the staff from the department and the health and social services authorities who worked so hard to make each of the steps along the way work. Your dedication and personal sacrifice made a difference to all of us. Thank you.

Mr. Speaker, in the 18 months since the public health measures ended have required a massive effort to catch up on other priorities. I am proud of the work the staff of the health and social services system have done to complete the alcohol strategy, the seniors framework, the Baby Bundle Program, the Indigenous Patient Advocates, the Office of Client Experience, and reaching a draft agreement with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation for them to take the lead in caring for their children and youth.

The initiative I am most proud of is the work to overhaul the Extended Health Benefits Policy. The ability to access benefits, such as drugs, medical appliances, dental and vision care, will no longer be tied to the diagnosis of a specific disease. These benefits will be available to all residents of the NWT. No one who has coverage under the old specified condition program will lose it. And 2,200 people who didn't have insurance before will soon have it. In short, we have developed a policy for universal coverage that includes everyone.

This new safety net requires income testing that considers family size and location in the NWT. If cost-sharing is required, it will have an upper limit based on income. These changes come into effect on April 1st next year, and staff are working hard to provide a seamless transition for clients of the old program.

I'd like to thank everyone who has had a hand in all these initiatives. I want to make special mention of deputy minister Jo-Anne Cecchetto and former deputy minister Bruce Cooper for their leadership, along with the rest of the team who give it their all every day. Thank you.

Mr. Speaker, now I want to talk about where we need to go from here with health and social services. Our biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining staff. NWTHSSA had a vacancy rate of 13 percent across all regions and departments as of this summer. We are especially short of nurse practitioners, midwives, registered nurses, and physicians in regional centers. While we haven't had to close any health centres, several of them have been, or are on, reduced services because of staff shortages. We have had good uptake from staff on the incentives that we've offered to strengthen retention, as well as hiring as many Aurora College nursing graduates as possible. But this national, even international, problem persists and challenges us to provide the level of care residents want and need.

Our second biggest challenge is the cost of delivering health care. It has escalated, along with everything else, in our lives. For example, the cost of a hospital stay in the NWT is almost twice the national average, and hospital stays are generally longer here. The health and social services budget is the largest in government at $610 million for this year. Even though federal funding for health care will increase this year, the amount is not a game changer. In fact, the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority is forecasting that it will again add to its operating deficit, now at $245 million.

Staff compensation and benefits, along with unfunded contracts and medical travel, are the primary drivers of the deficit. Let me assure residents and taxpayers that staff are working hard to contain costs and seeking funding from a variety of sources for positions, services, and programs that are unfunded or underfunded but it's an uphill battle.

Mr. Speaker, our third primary challenge is to manage expectations of what health and social services can deliver. The demand for more services and programs is constant. There are lots of good ideas and the territory would benefit from them, but financing and staffing new initiatives is a real challenge. We simply can't offer all services in all centres given the money we have available and staff vacancy rates.

Outside of federal funding tied to specific initiatives, the GNWT has limited sources of revenue to direct to the system. We are not Alberta with multi-billion dollar surpluses. We are at a fork in the road. Either we stop offering services free of charge that are outside the NWT health care plan or we ask NWT residents to pay for those additional services according to their means. This is a big ask here in the NWT but not in most southern jurisdictions.

The idea of paying for things, like physiotherapy and eye exams, won't be popular but it is necessary for the system to maintain the focus on core services. There's no sugar coating this, Mr. Speaker. There are hard decisions ahead for the residents of the NWT to support the health system. At the same time, the next government will have to continue to lobby Ottawa to increase investment in health care to walk the talk of reconciliation with NWT residents.

The heartbreaking truth about the health and social services system, Mr. Speaker, is that despite all the money spent, health outcomes for many residents are poor. Life expectancy in the NWT is five years less than the national average. Deaths that are avoidable with better prevention and care are two-thirds higher. We also have higher rates of smoking, drinking, and obesity which drive chronic conditions. All these numbers come from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The underlying cause of poor health in the NWT is poverty. Unfortunately, our poverty indicators are depressing. The NWT Bureau of Statistics estimates that 15 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2021, using the Northern basket measure of goods and services representing a basic standard of living. That's 6,400 people who don't have enough money for the basics.

Drilling down further, 23 percent of the population reported they worried about food security all the time. The Salvation Army in Yellowknife recently reported food bank use has doubled since the evacuation. Our housing crisis continues to deepen with core housing need that includes housing that is unavailable, unsuitable, or inadequate is at 24 percent of NWT households as of 2019. Almost a thousand people are on the public housing waitlist across the territory. And while it's hard to gather reliable numbers of homeless people, we can all see it's a growing problem in Yellowknife and the communities across the NWT and involves younger residents than ever before.

What happens to people who are homeless, hungry, and suffering from chronic disease? Mr. Speaker, the answer won't surprise you: Their health outcomes are poor. This situation contributes to the avoidable deaths I just mentioned.

Clearly, we have an equity problem and I expect the disparity between have and have-nots to continue growing given the increased cost of living. But it doesn't have to be this way, Mr. Speaker. We can and should prioritize investments in these social determinants of health to improve health outcomes. Let's start with housing.

During the COVID lockdown, we came as close as we ever have to ensuring everyone had a place to live. Once the pandemic started, living in a congregant setting such as shelters wasn't a good idea because the virus was so infectious. Instead, people lived in hotels, with wraparound services. I'm not aware of research on the health outcomes of providing hotel rooms other than the intended and important benefit that they protected people from getting COVID. But almost as quickly as it started, the use of hotel rooms was scaled back and people returned to shelters. That was the similar situation that we recently saw during the evacuation, where the street population went from shelters to hotel rooms back to shelters.

We know about the health effects of not having stable housing. There is evidence that people who are homeless are more likely to be admitted, or re-admitted, to hospital and live only half as long as the rest of the population. In summary, to quote Dr. Andrew Boozary of the University of Toronto, "What rate of death and disease are we willing to accept by denying people access to housing?"

NWT Housing has been chipping away at this problem, buying property such as the Aspen Apartments in Yellowknife for example, to increase transitional housing options in Yellowknife. But we have a long way to go.

Mr. Speaker, we have some significant challenges ahead, but we also have some successes to celebrate as well. The department started down the path of establishing cultural safety and eliminating racism in health care ten years ago. The department has made a commitment to this work and to value and incorporate Indigenous knowledge. Today, there is a cultural safety division staffed by Indigenous people. They provide important training and advice to ensure the work we are doing is culturally safe and antiracist. We want to rebuild residents' trust in health and social services and we're willing to do the work to get there.

Mr. Speaker, we have made historic investments to improve child and family services and they are giving us good returns. We are working on a paradigm shift to support children and youth to stay with their families and in their communities. This year's annual report, which I will table later today, says 95 percent of children and youth who are receiving services do so in their home or in their home community.

Mental health issues have emerged front and centre even before the pandemic and are more significant today. The department has responded by increasing the number and variety of counselling and treatment options. Now the average wait time for a scheduled appointment is four days in the NWT compared with the national average of 22 days. Client satisfaction with counselling services is at 72 percent. Hospital stays for mental health and substance use are on par with the rest of Canada. That said, suicide rates are three times higher; a number that is obviously much too high. I hope to see the best practices learned, from a study trip to Iqaluit in June, become an action plan on suicide prevention early in the life of the next government.

Mental health, as we know, goes hand in hand with addictions. The Auditor General's report on addictions and aftercare has helped to identify priority areas to address. We need to continue strengthening addiction treatment in partnership with Indigenous governments. I continue to believe that one centre won't meet the needs of the whole territory. Many regions have started working on their own initiatives - the Gwich'in healing camp, the Tlicho healing path, and the Deh Cho healing camps. Please take note of the word "healing." We need continued collaboration to help move residents into a healthy and happy place in their lives.

Mr. Speaker, I want to close with some additional thanks. First, to the constituents of Yellowknife Centre. Thank you for electing me to represent your issues and ideas and to my constituency assistant Craig Yeo for his excellent service. Thanks to my staff, Elizabeth King and Ramie Wourms, who have gone the extra mile every day. I want to thank my colleagues on the executive council and the staff that support us. And, lastly, I want to wish the Members of the 20th Assembly wisdom, humility, patience, and kindness for the important work they will do for all of us in the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Ms. Green's Reply
Replies To The Commissioner's Address

Page 6800

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife Centre. Replies to the Commissioner's address. Member for Nahendeh.

Mr. Thompson's Reply
Replies To The Commissioner's Address

October 5th, 2023

Page 6800

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I must apologize. This reply to the Commissioner's address is going to be a bit all over the place, and I ask my colleagues for their patience.

Mr. Speaker, much has been said about the response to this year's unprecedented wildfire season. Many people across the NWT have recognized the dedication and hard work of everybody involved in protecting our communities, residents, and critical infrastructure, and many Members of this House have expressed their gratitude during the final session of the 19th Legislative Assembly. I want to begin by acknowledging that when emergencies happen, there will always be lessons to be learned. No response is perfect. That is why we began taking on an independent third-party review of challenging fires that impacted communities earlier this summer, as we do with major wildfires every year. We've also began planning an overarching independent review of this years' fire response with findings that will be made public. As usual, we take these lessons learned and apply them for the next year to help improve how we fight wildfires in the face of changing climate.

There have been some comments made during this Assembly that are simply incorrect, and I would like to set the record straight on some points. It is important to do because some of these statements have resulted in long-term firefighters contacting me to ask why should I do this again next year?

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, I want to reiterate that every fire that threatened a community was actioned early and fought hard from the air and from the ground as conditions allowed. Wildfires are an important and natural part of the boreal forest, but we always work hard to protect our people, communities, and key infrastructure.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change brought additional fire crews, helicopters, air tankers this year, and started them early. We trained hundreds of extra firefighters from our communities to be ready for the season. This allowed us to action the first fire on May 4th, almost a month earlier than usual, and helped us respond to the record fire season. Saying we did not respond, or that we responded too late, is simply inaccurate. This disrespect the efforts of our firefighters and fire managers who battled hard all summer long during a wildfire season that lasted from May until now.

Most of our wildfire crews live in the same communities that they worked so hard to protect. They are our friends, family, and neighbours, and bring years of knowledge, training, and expertise in fighting fires in the boreal forest. Fire crews in our regions are 90 to 100 percent Indigenous, and they know our land and forests very well and know how to fight northern wildfires. Some have been fighting fire for 40 years and have a wealth of experience and Indigenous knowledge that help guide their work. Many of the crews from communities in the northern territory spent most of their summer in the South Slave, Deh Cho, and North Slave region, away from their families. Every day that conditions allowed, wildland firefighters went out on the land in blazing heat, and other fire personnel worked as hard as they could under extreme stress to protect the places they live and the people they care for.

Mr. Speaker, this summer some fires reached some of our communities, not because of failure in planning, preparation or action. They reached communities because of extreme fire behaviour driven by severe drought conditions, with rainfall levels in Hay River, Fort Smith and Yellowknife less than 8.6 percent of normal in some months this summer. In the hardest hit areas, record temperatures and wind events and built-up fuel in the forest from decades of fire suppression which primed those fires for explosive growth.

A drought code is an indicator of how hard it will be to put out a fire. A drought code of 300 is very high and over 425 is extreme. Maximum drought codes this summer were 1,124 in Fort Smith, 958 in Yellowknife, 902 in Behchoko, and 719 in Enterprise. Given these conditions, there was no amount of people, resources, or efforts that could have stopped some of these fires.

We heard from our most experienced firefighters, including many retired Indigenous wildfire experts from the NWT who came back to help, that these fires behaved differently than anything they have seen before. Wildfire experts who joined us from elsewhere said the same thing. It wasn't just the NWT that had a challenging fire season this year. More than 18 million hectares burned across Canada, with 5 million in Quebec.

Mr. Speaker, when we needed resources, we brought in more than 1,000 firefighters from almost every Canadian jurisdiction - Parks Canada, the United States, South Africa, and New Zealand. Hundreds of type 3 firefighters from the Canadian Armed Forces came to help make firebreaks and mop up fires, allowing our firefighters to focus on direct attack fighting key fires.

Fighting wildfires is dangerous, and firefighters need specialized training to do this work as safely as possible. This is true every year but especially important this year with the extreme conditions and explosive fire behaviour. Even with specialized training, there were fire personnel injured this year and, as everybody knows in this House, is aware, one of our firefighters lost his life on the line. This is why we don't send out inexperienced untrained people to fight fires. We also bring in extra aircraft and other resources when we need them.

On a single day, there were 68 helicopters in the air, more than six times more than our regular territorial fleet. We had hundreds of pieces of heavy equipment, dozens of air tankers, and a range of structural protection equipment including sprinklers and specialized foam to protect homes and cabins.

This was the largest firefighting force ever dedicated to a wildfire response in the NWT and the most money ever spent fighting fires in the NWT. We fully used every possible resource available, and no one in the fire program let the territories burn.

We also communicated about fires more than ever before. There were 773 fire posts on this site, the fire website, from May until September, and updated daily on all fires and several times a day on major fires. The audience on NWT Fire grew from just over 8,000 followers to 20,000 today. Engagement increased ten-fold and messages reached every user online. ECC communicators gave well over 450 interviews in northern and southern media to ensure evacuees between July 15th and September 15th were informed about wildfire threats and status. I personally gave over 50 interviews, Mr. Speaker.

We further made an unprecedented investment in paid advertising across all media - from social to print to radio - meaning FireSmart and wildfire prevention messaging reached thousands of Northerners regularly throughout the wildfire season. The EMO provided updates to the public safety pages, issued public alerts via NWT Alert, held regular press conferences with the media to inform the public and provide a daily executive situational report on daily EMO activities, to provide only a small amount of the work these people did over the course of multiple months this summer.

Mr. Speaker, when wildfires threaten our communities, we quickly mobilized the GNWT's well-established emergency management system coordinated by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. These efforts are led by the Emergency Management Organization, or EMO, and a team of emergency management officials who are trained and dedicated to supporting an emergency response. They worked closely with wildfire officials, communities, Indigenous governments, and Indigenous organizations to provide coordinated response at a community, regional, and territorial level making decisions from there.

Mr. Speaker, the impact on people's lives and the loss of homes, cabins, and other important values in place like Enterprise, K'atlodeeche First Nation, Hay River, and Behchoko is heartbreaking, and we send our deepest condolences to all those who were impacted by these fires. As we work to help people rebuild and recover, we must also recognize how much worse things could have been if not for the tireless efforts of the brave firefighters, wildfire experts, and fire managers.

Thousands of homes and hundreds of cabins were saved. Countless pieces of infrastructure. There are multiple communities which could have been subject to similar fate without those efforts. It can be easy to look back and focus in on one fire and decide what should have been done, but it's important to look at the broader context.

For example, on June 28th there was multiple new wildfires starting in the North Slave region. The region was already initially attacking four fires close to values at risk including a fire located 2 kilometres from Wekweeti which resulted in the evacuation of the community. ZF015 was surrounded by a burn from 2014 with no fire values at risk in close proximity and was 50 kilometres away from Behchoko.

Usually young forests and previously burnt areas are barriers to spread. Fire personnel are constantly reassessing and prioritizing action plans on the fire environment over large areas. A wildfire management team actively responded to this fire as conditions allowed. This response included the use of multiple aircraft including air tankers and helicopters to attack the fire, ground suppression by multiple crews, and a number of ignition operations to prevent fire growth towards Behchoko. This response was overseen by an incident management team that included experts, an experienced and well-trained overhead team, wildfire experts, ignition experts, a structural protection specialist, and over 100 firefighters.

On that note, I would like to thank the many people and the organizations that stepped up to help protect communities across the NWT. I would like to recognize the NWT's fire management team that included dedicated and experienced firefighters, wildfire experts, technology and communication specialists, and a wide range of other supports and overhead staff.

This summer we had 34 fire crews of NWT residents, including 22 contracted from Indigenous businesses, and many extra firefighters. Buffalo Airway was a key partner in operating our air tanker fleet, and multiple aircraft companies, including Great Slave Helicopters and Acasta Heliflight, provided aircraft support to allow our fire personnel to do their work.

As this historical season progressed, a number of wildfire experts who had retired from the ECC came back to share their knowledge and experience to assist with fire operations.

I would also like to thank the many heavy equipment operators, contractors, camp workers, and others. There are too many to be named individually but I am very grateful for your contributions. I would like to thank the many individuals, companies, groups, communities, Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations and agencies, that played critical roles in responding to wildfires threatening our communities, critical infrastructure, and other values at risk.

We are grateful for the support provided by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which coordinated in the sharing of resources between jurisdictions. Through this partnership, we received help from firefighters from Alberta, BC, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Alaska, Washington State, New Zealand and South Africa.

At the community and territorial level, the Territorial Emergency Management Organization and regional EMO's were key in our response to this historic wildfire season. I would like to extend my gratitude to communities and Indigenous governments who played key roles in local emergency management efforts. Local fire departments from multiple NWT communities stayed to help protect their community, and many local and territorial businesses provided invaluable support. Specialized wildfire and structural firefighting companies also came from outside the NWT to help.

At the federal level, we appreciate the continued support of Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Forest Service, key partners in our work year after year. The Canadian Armed Forces stepped up to help provide Type 3 firefighters to help with mopping up the fires, freeing up our home-grown Type 1 firefighters to focus on initial attack on high priority fires.

Mr. Speaker, without these collaborative efforts to protect our communities and residents, the NWT would be in a much more dire situation today. I hope that all Members of this House appreciate this effort and want to join me in thanking them all.

Mr. Speaker, I have listed the team, and I would like to have them deemed as read for this record.

Mr. Speaker, besides the communities I have many individuals, organizations, and governments to thank. The work to undertake and support 12 community evacuations throughout this spring, summer, and fall was truly a team effort. It would not have been possible without our partners who either formerly participated on the territorial or regional emergency management organization or supported their work.

My thanks to Northland Utilities, the Northwest Territories Power Corp, NorthwesTel, United Way NWT, Canada Task Force 2, the Government of Alberta, BC, Manitoba, and Yukon, the Ministers from across Canada that did reach out to offer support and the NWT Emergency Management Organization.

At the federal level, my thanks to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Public Safety Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Armed Forces, Joint Task Force North, and Minister Blair, Minister Wilkinson, Minister Guilbeault, and Minister Sajjan.

Thank you all, thanks to all GNWT departments and agencies for your significant contribution.

Last but not least, a tremendous thank you to the staff at Municipal and Community Affairs. The GNWT used an Incident Management Team, or IMT, to do the evacuation, provide evacuation supports, and repatriate residents. In total, the IMT had 79 GNWT employees on it. 37, or almost half were MACA employees. In addition, there were other MACA employees who supported the IMT work.

Mr. Speaker, I have a list of the team, and I would like to have them deemed as read for the record.

  • Alicia Korol
  • Alison Brown
  • Angela Littlefair
  • Arshad Khalafzai
  • Ashley Gillis
  • Barb Watson
  • Beverly Pilgrim
  • Bobby Bourque
  • Braden Redshaw
  • Carolyn Ridgley
  • Charles Poon
  • Chris Hewitt
  • Christina Gaudet
  • Colin MacPherson
  • Craig Halifax
  • Damon Crossman
  • Dana Moran
  • Daniel Drimes
  • Donna Woodland
  • Eileen Gour
  • Emily Collier
  • Emily King
  • Gavin Olvera
  • Gwen Robak
  • Ian Legaree
  • Ivan Russell
  • Jay Boast
  • Jean Soucy
  • Jeff Brockway
  • Jennifer Young
  • Joe Acorn
  • Justin Hazenberg
  • Kavitha Balaji
  • Kevin Menicoche
  • Leonardo Conde Fernandez
  • Lorie Fyfe
  • Lynn Huang
  • Melinda Lenoir
  • Michelle Pond
  • Mike Drake
  • Nadira Begg
  • Olivia Lee
  • Ryan Semak
  • Sonya Saunders
  • Tara Naugler

Now on to my thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank Grace Berikoff for her support to my career as a MLA. Grace is my spouse, my partner, my best friend, and one of the biggest supporters in front of and behind closed doors. She's also been responsible for looking after our home and our four fur babies - Bailey, Bandit, Blossom and Daisy - as I do my job. She goes above and beyond to share the load of life's struggles and disappointments so I can focus on the Nahendeh residents and their issues. She makes time and space to be a sounding board and hear my ideas.

As for my children, they've always been and always will be huge supporters of mine, whether it is my decision to run for public office or looking for other career pathing. I can say that they are huge supporters of mine. Like Grace, we discuss various topics, whether it is world, political, sports, or family issues, but it is done with open mind and shared respect. Like a constituent once said to me, Children are there to be loved and supported even if they want to go a different direction than you wanted them to go. I think that's the same for them when it comes to me. I want to say thank you for the support and supporting me through these eight years.

To the residents of the Nahendeh, thank you for putting your faith in me for two terms. It has been a great honour to represent you but, most importantly, for opening your homes and your lives for me during these eight years.

Thank you to my team. As we come close to the end of the 19th Assembly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Geoff, Krista, Kim, Deb, Allyson, and Ashley, for making these four years go smoother considering everything we had to dealt with. I greatly appreciate that we were able to support one another and pitched in where we needed to get the work done. I know you sacrificed your personal and family time for the sake of the job and have proven to me that there is no "I" in "Team."

Mr. Speaker, it is said that a team is only as strong as its weakest link but with these folks, we had an amazingly strong team. Because of heir unrelenting hard work, we had become a streamlined unit. I want to say thank you to every single one of them for making all our achievements over the past years possible.

Mr. Speaker, it has been a very challenging four years for the 19th Legislative Assembly with COVID, floods, wildfires, evacuation, and our day-to-day business that we needed to do. I want to express my sincere gratitude for all your hard work during these four years. I bet when you campaigned for this job, you were not thinking it was going to be like this. However in saying this, we were very fortunate to have you all here for the residents of the NWT. Your hard work, generosity, and thoughtfulness have truly made a positive difference for the people of the NWT. I know that we did not always agree on the direction we needed to go but that is healthy for the development of the NWT. We need people with different opinions and ideas to move forward. If you come from places of kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness, we're doing the right thing.

Mr. Speaker, I can say that I witnessed numerous colleagues go above and beyond to help improve bills, budgets, regulations, and the day-to-day life of NWT residents. For those colleagues, I will always remember their hard work and contributions that they made. Just remember, you were able to make a difference for somebody's life. This person will be able to have the opportunity to pay it forward and make a difference in somebody else's life. Mr. Speaker, I wish everyone all the best on whatever adventure takes them in the years to come.

After being elected in the 19th Assembly, my colleagues gave me the honour to be elected to Cabinet, and the Premier had the trust and faith in me to hold several portfolios during these four years. I was very fortunate to work with outstanding deputy ministers - Sylvia Haener (Lands), Jamie Koe (Lands), Joe Dragon (ENR), Pam Strand (ITI), Debbie Molloy (WSCC), Dr. Erin Kelly (ECC and ENR) and Laura Gareau (MACA). And all the department staff at headquarters and regional offices.

Mr. Speaker, it always been said that the Ministers get all the praise and the staff do all the hard work. Well, that's not fair. GNWT staff are the reason we achieve everything that we do. GNWT staff unselfishly work together to get results, and I want to thank you sincerely. I'm flattered and honoured to be the Minister of such staff. I wish I had the time to personally thank every staff person here today that I met and had discussions with. Unfortunately, I do not. I know this is not the same as in person, but I want to say that we have amazing people that work for the residents of the NWT. All I can say is thank you, thank you, and thank you for your service.

In reflecting back, I can say that it has been a very interesting 19th Legislative Assembly with COVID, the 2021 floods and the 2022 floods, and this past fire season which saw us evacuate 12 communities, with K'atlodeeche First Nation and Hay River being evacuated twice. We had some difficult decisions to make but we made them. Sometimes they were not popular decisions, but they were the right decisions.

Mr. Speaker, I was very fortunate to work with very dedicated, hardworking, and genuous chiefs, mayors, councils, staff, and volunteers during these emergencies. I can tell you that none of those people signed up for these disasters, but their leadership throughout these times was greatly appreciated. They choose to serve their residents, and this is the most noble cause there is. Helping your fellow neighbours to both prepare for disasters and navigate the recovery when the skies clear. On top of this great leadership and work, we are very fortunate to have amazing private businesses help to protect their communities. The tireless hours they put in and the use of their equipment was greatly appreciated by all. From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank four of our colleagues who have decided that they will not be running for the next Assembly.

The Premier. I had the pleasure of being elected with her in the 18th Assembly. As we got to know one another, I came to realize that she was a very hard worker, a caring person, and would be willing to chat with you on any topic. As a Minister, she always had an open-door policy. She wanted to work with the Regular MLAs. I felt she wanted to get things completed and help the residents of the Northwest Territories. I can tell you her passion was the housing portfolio, and she was very proud of the housing work that was completed during her time there. In the 19th Assembly, I had the pleasure of being part of her Cabinet. She had a unique way of doing things that changed things up a bit. She developed a team and encouraged us to have open and frank conversations. As well, she believed in true consensus and working with AOC. It was a bit more work but very helpful in how we did our business. She worked to get money into the NWT, and it didn't matter if it was Indigenous government or the GNWT.

Mr. Speaker, she had one rule and that was no surprises. She wanted to know what was going on so she could be prepared. I can tell you that I called her or e-mailed her late in the evening more than once, and she was always there to answer the call. I would like to thank her for her leadership and the leadership she showed during these four challenging years and wish her all the best in her next adventure.

Minister Green. Like the Premier and I, Minister Green was elected in the 18th Assembly. I had the pleasure of working with her on the social development committee where she had the honour of being elected as the deputy chair. As we worked together, we had some very good conversations and road trips during those four years. I still remember her being able to knit regardless of the road conditions or flights. As well, she always had boxes of knitting that she asked us to take back to our constituents. Those boxes were not small, but our residents truly enjoyed receiving them. During this Assembly I got to work with her as part of the child and family committee of Cabinet and on FMB and Cabinet. Like the 18th Assembly, she was prepared and knew her files. Like me, we had some interesting times with Indigenous Service Canada Minister but, as she said, it is about the residents of the NWT and we need to continue to work hard for them. I would like to wish her and her family all the best in her next adventure.

Mr. Speaker, Rylund Johnson. I had the pleasure meeting MLA Johnson for the first time at MLA orientation. He was always promoting the importance of transparency and being open as he could with me. It started out with him telling me the public who he was going to vote for, whether it was the Premier or Ministers. And I appreciate that about him. As I had the opportunity to work with him on various issues, he was still true to his way of doing business. He would ask why certain things could not be shared publicly. Approximately, six months into the 19th Assembly he came into my office with a small package. It was a small painting from a local artist. The painting was called A Road to Fort Simpson. He told me that he bought it and realized it was more appropriate if I had it, so he gave it to me. If you look at his constituency promotion items, it was often items made by local artists or businesses. This was Rylund.

Another aspect I enjoyed was his ability to make some of his Member statements or his replies be a bit more entertaining. He would always add a bit of his humour, and it seemed to go over well with our colleagues. I know he is going to enjoy his next adventure and do a good job at that too. I wish him all the best.

This is going to be the hard one. Kevin O'Reilly. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Kevin and working with him during the 18th Assembly. Somebody once asked me to describe him and after thinking about it for a few minutes, the following words came to my mind: One of the hardest working individuals I knew. He was very passionate about the work he does and is not shy about sharing his point of view. Sometimes he was the only person who would stand up to vote for or against a topic. He worked hard for the residents of the NWT. Does this mean that we always agreed? Heck no. There were times where we agreed to disagree and move forward. During the 18th Assembly, Kevin came to me and told me that he was going to do a Member's statement on a certain project in the Nahendeh region and asked if it was alright with me. I told him it was his Member's statement and I didn't want to stop him from doing it. However, I did tell him, three days later, I was going to do an opposing Member's statement on the same project. That was our relationship. I would describe MLA O'Reilly as a good friend, Somebody that you could reach out to and chat with anytime. He's always there for you.

To the four of you, all the best in the future.

Mr. Speaker, the next four years. The next part of this speech is going to be about what I believe the next Assembly needs to focus on.

First things. We need to realize if we don't fix -- we can't fix everything in the next four years. You are not going to change the world in the next four years, but you need a good start to better the life of NWT residents.

Government Renewal. With all the programs identified, the works needs to be finished in the 16 months of the next government. There is a huge number of unfunded positions within departments, and we need to see if those positions are needed. If they are, they need to be added to the budget. If not, they need to be removed.

In regards to municipal and community affairs, as I stated in my Minister's statement, municipal and community affairs needs to conduct an after-action review using external contractors. The after-action review will be extensive and will involve the public and all partners. However, the GNWT needs an updated NWT emergency plan that enhances GNWT and community government training, increased capacity for emergency response, and evacuations across all NWT communities. Organizational changes are needed but at a minimum, we need to build the regional capacity by five additional regional staff and three headquarter staff to deal with the recovery of these disasters.

Designate Authorities. There are nine designate authorities in the NWT. A designate authority refers to a community that is within the jurisdiction of the federal government's Indian Act whereas other municipal governments in the Northwest Territories are created under territorial legislation, such as the Charter Act, Hamlet Act or the Cities, Towns, and Villages Act.
Territorial legislation allows for boundary identification and provides the municipal governments with a range of powers as set out in legislation. The Indian Act does not contain the same powers as territorial legislation, and the authority to identify a set boundary is not identified in the federal legislation.

All designate authorities are approximately 95 percent Indigenous, but they are not treated the same as reserves in Canada or the NWT. The GNWT needs to work with Indigenous Service Canada to treat these communities properly and provide them with increased funding and land.

ECC. With a record-setting fire season, I spoke to several elders from the Nahendeh region and we discussed things that need to be looked at. We spoke about combining a combination of firebreaks and prescribed burns around communities. We spoke about working with private business to cut the big trees for telephone poles, fence posts, and cabins and sheds, and use the smaller ones for firewood. A prescribed burn of the leftover would build bigger firebreaks. As an elder explained to me, this was done previously to protect communities or assets. As well, they need to look bringing fire crews and aircraft in earlier and keeping them later.

The IGC process. The Government of the Northwest Territories continues to advance land and natural resource legislative initiatives throughout implementation of the Intergovernmental Council Legislative Development Protocol.

The protocol and associated process convention are new to this Assembly and while there is always room for improvement, I feel that it is important to note the value of collaboration with Indigenous governments and organizations and other partners on land and natural resource legislation. I look forward to seeing this important work continue in the next Assembly.

Project Finance for Permanence. Mr. Speaker the Indigenous-led Project Finance for Permanence, an initiative that seeks to bring together many funders to contribute to long-term conservation in the Northwest Territories while supporting healthy cultural, economic, and communities. This initiative should bring millions of dollars of long-term investment to the Northwest Territories. Parties to the NWT Project Finance for Permanence group include Indigenous and territorial, and federal governments, as well as private donors. The parties have reached a draft framework that is being considered for approval by the GNWT, Indigenous governments and Canada. The funding model, which supports Indigenous leadership in conservation and shared decision-making, would support the GNWT's Healthy Land Healthy People conservation work plan and provide sustainable economic and community development in the NWT. This work needs to be continued in the 20th Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, as you heard from Minister Green of her vision for NWTHSSA, I would encourage the GNWT to look at realigning the Department of Health and Social Services and the NWTHSSA. We need to look at how this structure is operating. The rationale was it was going to streamline the process and reduce operating costs. When NWTHSSA was created, it started with a deficit and continues to see their deficit increase. The reality is NWTHSSA is so busy with patient care that areas such as child protection does not get the attention it needs. I encourage the next Assembly to consider a department of health that focuses on providing health services and medical travel.

Speaking about medical travel, we need to work with Indigenous Services Canada to fix the shortfall that we are receiving for our Indigenous population. ISC only provides a small amount of reimbursement of the total costs. Canada needs to step up its support for Indigenous people in the NWT. For example, they don't supply certain things like dental and medical support for smaller communities. This needs to be addressed once and for all.

Mr. Speaker, another part of medical services is medivacs. We need to see an increase in service. Waiting for five to seven hours for a flight is not appropriate. We need to add an additional plane or, even better, work with regional airlines to provide this service so they can get patients to at least the regional health centre so they can get better support until we can get them to Yellowknife or Edmonton. This is about the people's lives.

The second part of the department I would also encourage the next Assembly to consider is a department of social services that would see a realignment of services - child and family workers, adoption and foster care, income support, and other senior programs like fuel subsidies. The common denominator is poverty and by combining the supports that address poverty, you will help ensure families have better access to supports necessary to help their families prosper.

Infrastructure. The next Assembly needs to focus its efforts and budget on one major project. I think this needs to be the Mackenzie Valley Highway and have it constructed all the way to Tsiigehtchic, not stop in Norman Wells. This needs to include a bridge at Fort Simpson Liard River. There are many factors that makes this the perfect project. It helps with Canada's sovereignty in the North, connecting isolated communities (all-season access routes), economic diversification, increases tourism, small business potential, and promoting further development and exploration of the natural resource in the region.

In regards to education, Minister Simpson did a great job with part 1, but we need to get part 2 done. Education is an important part of our future and we need to have that completed.

Housing. This Assembly, we saw an improvement from the previous government. On top of the GNWT getting funding, we saw Indigneous governments get funding to build housing units. This needs to continue and should be a priority for the next government.

These are some of the ideas I have thought about for the past year. In closing, I would like to thank everybody and wish everybody the best.

Mr. Thompson's Reply
Replies To The Commissioner's Address

Page 6811

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nahendeh. Replies to the Commissioner's address. Petitions. Reports of committees on the review of bills. Reports of standing and special committees. Tabling of documents. Minister responsible for Health and Social Services.

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the following two documents: 2022-2023 Annual Report Director of Child and Family Services and Report on NWT Medical Travel Services: 2021-2022 and 2022-2023. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Tabling of documents. Minister responsible for Industry, Tourism and Investment.