This Hansard has not been finalized - this is the "Blues" in Parliamentary speak, or unedited transcript in regular speak.

This Hansard is the unedited transcript and will be replaced by the final copy soon (generally within 5 business days). In the meantime, direct quotes should not be used, when the final is published it will seamlessly replace this unedited copy and any existing links should still work.

This is from 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.


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.



The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 298-19(2): Sessional Statement - February 2023
Ministers' Statements

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, I welcome my colleagues back for the February to March 2023 sitting of the 19th Legislative Assembly. I hope you all had an opportunity over the last few months to spend time in your constituencies hearing from residents and stakeholders so we can collectively and collaboratively work together to advance the priorities of the people who elected us to represent them.

With just under eight months left in the life of this government, we have much work to do. We must find ways to continue to advance the priorities of the 19th Legislative Assembly in the spirit of partnership and collaboration. I, along with my Cabinet colleagues, look forward to working with you to improve the lives of residents.

The past three years have been interesting to say the least. At the beginning of this Legislative Assembly, the first global pandemic in over a century required us to quickly shift our focus and prioritize protecting the health and well-being of Northerners. As we slowly adjusted to COVID-19 as endemic, we faced previously unseen flooding in communities, which challenged the Government of the Northwest Territories, communities and residents. Soon after, geopolitical instability, supply chain issues, and rising costs became a concern as Canada reached a 40-year high inflation rate last summer. Cost increases continue to raise an already high cost of living for Northerners. All these issues have influenced the government's priorities and resource investments.

Although we needed to shift our priorities depending on the situation, the work of government continued, and we have made significant progress on the commitments that make up the mandate of the Government of the Northwest Territories. We have fulfilled 48 percent of our mandate commitments to date, up from 23.5 percent this time last year. 48 percent of commitments are in progress, down from 65 percent in February 2022, and we have no commitments still in the planning process. At this time, 4 percent of commitments are delayed and 0.5 percent have been discontinued.

Mr. Speaker, this progress has been made despite the government having to refocus and redeploy staff as we shifted our full attention to protecting the lives and well-being of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. When people look back at the legacy of this government and the 19th Legislative Assembly, it will primarily be remembered as the government that navigated the most significant public health crisis in the last century.

But, Mr. Speaker, we are so much more than that.

Over the course of the next eight months, the Government of the Northwest Territories will deliver on a number of actions outlined in the mandate. This includes advancing several outstanding land claims with hope to conclude several of them. We will also complete a draft homelessness strategy to be tabled in this House; we will reduce the municipal funding gap by $5 million; complete regional economic development plans; and finish reviews on the Income Assistance and Student Financial Assistance Programs. Based on our mandate progress to date, I am confident and optimistic that by the end of this government, the Northwest Territories will be better positioned for a brighter future.

The last three years we have also increased the focus of reconciliation. Just a few short weeks ago, the Northwest Territories Council of Leaders, which this government is a member, agreed to a memorandum of understanding to work together to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. This MOU gives us a collaborative path forward on the development of a legislative framework for a new NWT law that will implement the United Nations declaration, and a five-year action plan to ensure effective implementation of the law.

This MOU is a powerful example of what reconciliation looks like. The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to advancing the implementation of the United Nations declaration in the Northwest Territories and together, in partnership with Indigenous governments, we are one step closer to this historic achievement.

Mr. Speaker, Indigenous people have the right to enjoy the same benefits their fellow Canadians enjoy, including freedom from poverty, a first-world standard of living, good physical and mental health, and access to good-paying jobs, and economic opportunities in their home community and region. By implementing the United Nations declaration in partnership with Indigenous leadership, we are building an NWT in which the human rights of Indigenous peoples are respected, celebrated, and implemented in every aspect of society. I am confident that we will achieve this work in the life of this government.

While the Government of the Northwest Territories will be the home of the legislation, we must ensure, with our Indigenous government partners, that the legislative framework meets the needs of Indigenous people and the governments that represent them. The United Nations declaration will solidify already existing work that has been ongoing for decades in the Northwest Territories. Indigenous people must be part of the decision-making process, and their views and priorities must be represented at the very heart of our public government. They must not simply be a special interest group to be consulted as part of the process.

The Northwest Territories is a leader in Canada, and an example of how genuine partnerships with regional and community Indigenous governments, based on mutual respect and recognition, can lead to increased political self-determination and economic participation for the North's Indigenous people.

This government has also been outstanding in our housing supports. We have brought more federal funding to the Northwest Territories for housing than ever seen before. By the end of this Legislative Assembly, we will have also implemented the largest increase in public housing units in decades, meeting one of the most critical mandate commitments of the 19th Legislative Assembly. By the fall of 2023, 100 new housing units will have been added to our public housing stock across the territory. In addition to the housing units put into place by the Government of the Northwest Territories, there has been an unprecedented investment in Indigenous government housing capacity.

Mr. Speaker, this major accomplishment was achieved because of strong partnerships we have built with Canada and Indigenous governments to address the diverse housing needs of residents in all regions of the territory. This collaborative work is helping us to develop housing solutions that will benefit residents and the communities in which they live. The GNWT recognizes that we cannot address the housing needs alone. We are pleased that Indigenous governments are now playing a significant role in housing, and the federal government continues to provide funding directly to Indigenous governments and to the GNWT for housing in the NWT.

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to housing in the territory. Indigenous communities and governments have different needs, aspirations, and varying capacity. Housing solutions must be tailored to their unique circumstances. Only through collaboration and partnership with Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations, and communities, will we be able to effectively address the NWT's housing crisis and put us on a clear path to meet our mandate commitment to increase the number of affordable homes and reduce core housing need in communities across the territory.

The Government of Northwest Territories is also committed to an energy system that contributes to the territory's economic, social, and environmental well-being, while doing our part to transition to a lower carbon economy. The GNWT, with the assistance of the federal government, plans to invest approximately $194 million to implement the 2030 Energy Strategy over the next three years. This is on top of the approximately $138 million worth of energy-related investments made as part of the 2019-2022 Energy Action Plan. These investments support the goal of making our energy system more affordable and reliable while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They will help stabilize the cost of power, increase alternative and renewable energy use, and explore the potential for longer term transformational projects and emerging technologies. By 2025, we will have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 51 kilotons, and our reduction trends show that we are on our way to meeting the reduction target, which is 30 percent of 2005 levels, by 2030.

The rising cost of living is having a significant impact on NWT residents and businesses. Access to secure, affordable, and sustainable energy is vital for economic growth in the territory. By making investments that stabilize the cost of power, increase the use of alternative and renewable energy, and advance plans like the Inuvik Wind Project, the Fort Providence-Kakisa Transmission Line, and the Taltson Hydroelectricity Expansion Project, we are not only doing our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but we are also supporting a green economy in the North.

Mr. Speaker, in early December 2022, I was in Ottawa with Members of Cabinet, to meet with federal cabinet ministers and the prime minister, to make our case on several key priorities in advance of the 2023 federal budget. These priorities help set the Northwest Territories up for economic growth and social success. We want to build on the partnership we had with Canada during the pandemic and to move key initiatives forward. Canada has been a supportive partner, but we need to move towards additional investment. We want to create connections in the territory. We want to expand our green energy potential, support a net-zero future, expand our critical mineral opportunities, make education for Northerners more accessible, and build strong, safe, and thriving communities that demonstrate security through sovereignty.

However, with our limited resources, collaboration with the Government of Canada and Indigenous governments is critical to closing the gap between the North and southern Canada. Projects like the Taltson Hydro Expansion, Mackenzie Valley Highway, and the creation of the Northwest Territories' first polytechnic university, will develop our economic potential, support the transition to a green economy, and improve the quality of life for residents in the NWT.

We have a lot to offer, and we want to contribute to Canada's economic future. The transformational opportunities that exist will not only support the development of our true economic potential, they will support national efforts to transition to a low-carbon economy and create long-lasting economic benefits that will be good for all Canadians.

The Northwest Territories is positioned to be at the heart of the shift to a low-carbon economy. This means we can be a leader in the green mining and green energy technologies needed to help grow Canada's economy and achieve its objective of net-zero emissions by 2050. Resource revenues from the development of critical minerals and natural resources will provide direct benefit to our government, Indigenous governments, and to Canada.

In an interview late last year, I was asked about the general criticism that the Government of the Northwest Territories does not know how to do things differently and when it comes to the economy, we are stuck in our ways. Our government is just too small to make transformational investments on its own. We do not have the population base to generate revenues adequate to run the kind of catch-up needed given the history of development in the Arctic versus elsewhere. Canada's leading economic provinces did not get to where they are today without the support of federal investment and private investors. The North is in a similar position today. The opportunity exists, and we must establish the partnerships and build the relationships that will bring investment into our territory for the benefit of all our residents.

Mr. Speaker, this is a crucial time for the Northwest Territories. As I mentioned earlier, this pivotal time gives me hope for our future. Investments in infrastructure are needed and, arguably, owed to the people who call Canada's North home. We have spent this government building the necessary relationships in Ottawa to advance projects that will change the Northwest Territories. We are in a position to see the hard work we have put in over the last three years pay off in a way that will alter the territory's future for the better. We have changed how we do things when it comes to working with Indigenous governments. These changes will help support current and future economic growth and prosperity, as well as the economic self-determination of Indigenous governments across the territory.

The Legislative Development Protocol is the first agreement of its kind in Canada. It supports the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by respecting, consulting, and collaborating with Indigenous governments on land and resource management.

Mr. Speaker, I have never been content with negotiations continuing the way they have in the past. I made it clear when I ran for Premier that it was time to focus on collaboration and partnership. Change was needed. That is why we have eliminated the negotiating mandate on core principles and objectives from our negotiation approach in the interests of making progress, and because it was the right thing to do. For the first time, we have made public the key principles and interests that guide the Government of the Northwest Territories at the negotiating table to ensure transparency and clarity to the other negotiating parties. No more do negotiators have to guess what our mandates are.

As a government, we have unpacked how we procure goods and services and prepare the contracts to see them through. We are exploring a benefit retention approach, and we are prepared to make changes as necessary to ensure the most benefit to northern businesses and residents.

Mr. Speaker, these are long-standing foundational elements of our economy that we are opening up. We are working to increase regional decision-making when it comes to the economy. We will introduce an innovation action plan, a first for the Northwest Territories, in the area of the knowledge economy. We have turned the page to a new chapter for the NWT mining industry that is focused on rare earth elements and critical minerals. We are leveraging Indigenous partnership and participation in mining, as well as our robust regulatory system of which we are a leader in environmental, social, and governance practices. These are not examples of the same ole same ole. They are changes that will affect not only this government but will impact the way we do business in the future.

Mr. Speaker, this sitting, several bills will be introduced in the Legislative Assembly as part of our efforts to advance legislative initiatives that this government has been working on over the course of this term. We are expecting to introduce several bills during this sitting, including bills that will advance reconciliation, improve healthcare, support businesses, impact women's lives across the territory, and support our collective efforts to improve the lives of residents and communities. This work can only be completed by working closely with Regular MLAs in the spirit of collaboration and partnership. I look forward to healthy constructive discussion and debate on these legislative initiatives.

The finance minister has tabled the last budget of the 19th Legislative Assembly. This budget focuses on where we are going in the next eight months to ensure that the momentum that we have created carries on to the next Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, we are putting the COVID-19 pandemic behind us. Despite the challenges faced, the Government of the Northwest Territories has maintained stability during a time of uncertainty. We have worked hard to avoid reductions to the public service and to the programs and services we deliver to residents. Budget 2023-2024 will assist in ensuring future governments have the long-term fiscal sustainability needed to continue providing the support that residents need. Our accomplishments as a government over the course of our term, the work we continue to achieve, and the opportunities that await us in the future are all about partnerships, Mr. Speaker. Without investing the time and energy into these partnerships with the federal government, Indigenous leaders, community leaders, the business sector, and residents across the Northwest Territories, I might be standing here less optimistic about what the future holds for our territory.

Our work in this House, as Ministers and Members of the Legislative Assembly, is so important. We may not always agree, but we are all here to do what we think is best for the residents of the Northwest Territories and advocate on their behalf when called upon. I look forward to seeing what we achieve this sitting and over the remainder of the 19th Legislative Assembly. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 298-19(2): Sessional Statement - February 2023
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Minister's Statement 1314-19(2): Safer Communities Legislation
Ministers' Statements

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in the last several years, illicit drugs have been become commonplace in many of our communities. It has taken lives through violence and overdoses and has become an ever-growing public safety concern.

Mr. Speaker, in our regional and small communities, we know who the suppliers and dealers are. We know where they are taking advantage of our most vulnerable population through buying or forcing their way into homes which are then used as a base of operation. Drugs may be manufactured, distributed, or sold from those very premises, some which are government public housing units.

No community in the NWT is spared from this activity. Community residents know where the drug houses are and want something done about it. They want those houses shut down and suppliers and dealers gone.

Mr. Speaker, often, and unfairly, we hear blame placed on the shoulders of the RCMP and enforcement services. Mr. Speaker, the RCMP must work in the confines of the law, which include the Charter, restrictive legislation, emerging court decisions, all adding to administration backlog, lack of resources, and erosion of enforcement tools. Citizens do have rights, and those that are breaking the law know all too well what those rights are.

Mr. Speaker, in 2007, during the 15th Legislative Assembly, a piece of civil legislation referred to as the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, which is commonly referred to as SCAN, was proposed by the government of the day but was never enacted. Similar legislation exists and is being used successfully in other jurisdictions.

SCAN targets residential or commercial properties identified as places where, among other illegal activities, the manufacture, sale, or use of illicit drugs is taking place. Based on tips and information from citizens, the legislation allows authorities to investigate and take appropriate action to resolve the matter, which may include informal or formal action against the occupant or a property owner. Or based on a reasonable inference, a court order is obtained to remedy the situation if the premises is being habitually used for a specified use or, again by court order, have the property closed for a set period of time. It shifts the burden of proof from that of reasonable doubt using criminal law to that based on a balance of probabilities used in civil law, that being a lower burden of proof to meet.

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

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, talk is cheap when we already know what is needed. It is time we provide those frontline workers with enforcement tools that can be used to limit illegal activities that are taking advantage, harming, and killing our residents. SCAN is not the end all, it is only one such tool, but it is a start. Thank you.

Minister's Statement 1314-19(2): Safer Communities Legislation
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1315-19(2): Outfitters Licenses
Ministers' Statements

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in September 2022 I was contacted by a constituent about outfitter licenses as this constituent was starting an outfitting business offering boat charters, tours, and guided fishing and hunting trips in the South Slave Region. So I e-mailed the minister of ENR asking some questions on outfitter licenses under the wildlife business regulations, and I really did not like the answers I received.

For context, Mr. Speaker, my constituent is an Indigenous man who was born and raised in Fort Smith, and he did apply for an outfitters license, but the department denied his request. When I e-mailed the Minister asking why he was denied, the Minister said that ENR has not denied his request for a license but clarified the type, eligibility, and number of outfitting licenses available. So in essence, Mr. Speaker, the Minister is denying that his department denied my constituent an outfitters license.

While my constituent applied for an outfitting license and his application was not granted, by definition that action is a denial of that license. What's more frustrating, Mr. Speaker, is that according to the Wildlife Act and the wildlife business regulations, there is a maximum of seven outfitting licenses issued to operators who are not partnered with the local harvesting committee and a maximum of ten outfitting licenses for operators who are partnered with local harvesting committees. Plus, there's a lack of detail around the criteria for who can obtain an outfitting license and for how long they can hold them for.

Section 37(1) of the wildlife business regulation states the holder of an outfitting license is entitled to have a license issued annually for a period up to ten years. Based on that, Mr. Speaker, it appears that the outfitting licenses are basically held forever within the ten-year timeframe so long as the outfitter complies with the rules, or what happens at the end of the ten-year timeframe? How does this leave room for any new applicants to apply to be holders of an outfitters license?

The Minister did not provide me an answer to this, and the regulations do not answer that either. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, one other concern I have with this is that there is no way to know or identify who the other outfitter license holders are or where they're from or based out of, nor will the Minister share that information. So for all we know, all the outfitter license holders in the NWT could be foreign citizens but there's no way for us to know that right now. I will have questions for the Minister of ENR later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1315-19(2): Outfitters Licenses
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1316-19(2): Lack of Consultation with Hunters and Trappers
Ministers' Statements

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The federal government proposing Bill C-21 legislation directly impacts hunters and trappers in the NWT. The federal government has proposed legislation that changes how long firearms are regulated in Canada, something that our residents rely on to put food on the table, and our government has not publicly responded yet to this. What is our government saying about this bill, Mr. Speaker? What is the government's position and stance? Why is the government not standing up publicly and saying Indigenous hunters and trappers cannot be impact with this legislation? I want to see our government make a public statement to show support on our hunters and trappers in the NWT. Traditional hunting cannot be impacted, Mr. Speaker. It doesn't appear that any engagement has happened in the NWT on this bill. Who has the federal government consulted in the NWT? What engagements have occurred with the hunters and trappers across the Northwest Territories? The GNWT should be raising a concern that there's not been any adequate engagement with Indigenous hunters and trappers in the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, I'm concerned on this bill could cause more harm than good to our hunters and trappers, and the people across the Northwest Territories rely on hunting in feeding their families. And I will have questions for the Premier later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1316-19(2): Lack of Consultation with Hunters and Trappers
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1317-19(2): Frank Channel Bridge Expiration in 2024
Ministers' Statements

Jane Weyallon Armstrong Monfwi

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Frank Channel Bridge has been brought up in this House many times. The previous Member for Monfwi fought hard in this House to make sure the Frank Channel Bridge received the funding it needed to move ahead.

It was discussed in this House on October 25th, 2022 that the cost of the bridge has gone up. The cost of materials has gone up, and the GNWT is awaiting a decision from the Transport Canada to cover funding. Has this funding been secured? Are we still waiting on funding to be confirmed to move forward with this project?

Mr. Speaker, we continue to have to push to make sure the Frank Channel Bridge is a priority of this government. It has been publicly discussed that the life expectancy of the Frank Channel Bridge is 2024. Mr. Speaker, it is 2023. We have 12 months to ensure that a new bridge is built and open for traffic. This is not only a bridge that is used heavily by all residents in the southern half of the NWT, such as large trucks and equipment going up to mines, transport trucks hauling food and supplies, but, Mr. Speaker, most importantly, this bridge is used every single day by the children and youth in Behchoko.

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned for the safety of all the children in my community. They travel this bridge every day. Mr. Speaker, if there is an accident or a malfunction on this bridge, it is our children who are most likely to be on the bridge when it happens. The reason why the kids travel on this bridge every day is to attend Chief Jimmy Bruneau School in Edzo. We need to do better for our children. We need to make them a priority. I will have questions for the Minister of Infrastructure. Thank you.

Member's Statement 1317-19(2): Frank Channel Bridge Expiration in 2024
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Monfwi. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.

Member's Statement 1318-19(2): Opioid/Illicit Drug Related Deaths
Ministers' Statements

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT has been paying increasing attention to the opioid crisis due to the recent upsurge in death by overdose, or as the department sanitizes it, "drug poisoning" or "opioid contamination". As already mentioned in this Chamber by my colleagues, in 2022 six opioid-related deaths were tracked in the community of Hay River.

Regular MLAs have repeatedly raised concern over the escalating drug crisis in the NWT. Crack cocaine is rampant in all of our communities, and the number of people who have lost their lives due to opioids is soaring, particularly in the community of Hay River which is known as an entry point for illicit drugs.

On January 24th, the chief public health officer; the CEO for the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority; the director of Child, Family, and Community Wellness; and the NWT's chief coroner held a news conference to address the alarming "drug poisoning" deaths in Hay River in 2022. According to the Government of Canada, there have been 16 total opioid-related deaths in the NWT from 2016 and partway into 2022, And more than half of all accidental deaths included alcohol and/or drugs.

More men than women lose their lives due to drug toxicity. Nationally, data shows that men and Indigenous people are being disproportionately harmed by opioids. The five-year trend for accidental deaths with the detection alcohol and/or drugs increases each year. 2020 was an exception, where accidental deaths that detected alcohol and/or drugs declined however that is likely due to isolation rules enforced around the pandemic.

Except for in 2018, more men than women accidentally lose their lives due to toxicity in the NWT. Those who do not identify by gender are not tracked. In other words, there is no data being collected on how drugs and opioids are impacting this marginalized community. Nationally, opioid-related deaths and hospitalizations are highest in the western provinces, the NWT, and the Yukon. Yet despite this, we have no treatment centre, no culturally-appropriate place to send the people who are suffering. Instead, we have a department that acts like a gatekeeper, often denying the most appropriate treatment for residents based on financial drivers with zero clinical basis for the decision. No wonder this issue is getting worse here in the territory, given a government that is more worried about the bottom line than its people. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1318-19(2): Opioid/Illicit Drug Related Deaths
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Great Slave. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.