This is page numbers 6089 - 6140 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.


Caroline Wawzonek

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I don't have as long of a history with Mr. Mercer. I was only elected this Assembly and I haven't been a Regular Member but that's kind of a point that I want to make. As Ministers, we don't interact with the Clerk's office as much; I wouldn't have necessarily had a long history, knowing all of the many achievements I've already heard about today. I'm sure there's others. I know others may speak to those others. I actually want to speak to some of the day-to-day things, though, that I think are forgotten. They are forgotten by what happens with the public service. They forget the role of the public service in leadership because they're not the ones that get the glories. Sometimes it's us that get the glories and then there's us that don't get the glory. But the public service never does. And, Mr. Speaker, this House, this building, is actually the seat of the senior most level of the executive of the government, of the legislative branch of the government, and Mr. Mercer has now been at the head of this government -- of this institution, of this building. That's a pretty heavy place to be. But that role gets missed sometimes when we talk about who he gets the glory for the work that gets done around here. And I think we've already heard, and I know -- I do know, even from the side where we don't necessarily interact as often, that the role of the clerk helps us build relationships, keep relationships, manage relationships. It's work that often happens very much out of the spotlight but if it wasn't happening, I can't frankly imagine how any of the work in this building would get done.

And so, Mr. Speaker, although there's these very spot -- very, very key achievements - languages, the women being elected here, those are key things, there's a day-to-day function in this building that keeps democracy in the North going and it keeps democracy going in a consensus government. There's not a lot of examples to draw from. When you're in this role, in a consensus government, of how to do that job because we're special here. So when things go wrong, sometimes those are the things where leaders get highlighted. But when things go well, when things go smoothly, when work gets done, that doesn't necessarily get highlighted. But, Mr. Speaker, it's invaluable, it's the core functioning of government, and I think Mr. Mercer deserves a great amount of credit for that. And so what I want to leave him with is a little quote from Laozi //, which is this: A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say we did it ourselves.

But, Mr. Speaker, we didn't do it ourselves. Past Assemblies haven't done it themselves. We rely on the Office of the Clerk and the Office of the Clerk in this case was headed by Mr. Mercer. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife South. The motion is in order. To the motion. Member for Hay River North.

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And like my colleagues, a lot of what I wanted to say has already been said so I won't repeat it. But I do want to highlight some of the changes that have happened here at the Legislative Assembly since Mr. Mercer took the helm, and I've seen them -- even in my seven years here; I've seen a number of changes. And I will say that of course the Speaker gets all the credit for the improvements that happen at the Legislative Assembly, and I know Mr. Mercer wouldn't have it any other way. He doesn't want to take any of that credit, but I believe he has a big hand in bringing the voices of this Legislative Assembly to the people of the territory. Since his time in this role, the Legislative Assembly, the television channel has become a requirement to be carried by the satellite and cable broadcasters as part of their base package. So across the territory, people now have access to our proceedings on TV. And I know that they watch them. When I go into communities, I hear from a lot of people who watch the proceedings, a lot of elders who watch the proceedings. When I began here, there was no live streaming of committee meetings, of the proceedings. We can now watch the Legislative Assembly on Facebook Live, on Twitter, on the Legislative Assembly website, on YouTube. We have access all around the world. We also have access in a number of different languages. So I believe there might be seven different languages being interpreted right now. So the Assembly, you know, it's in Yellowknife, and not a lot of people come to this building, not a lot of people in Yellowknife even come to this building. So what Mr. Mercer has really helped facilitate is taking the words of the MLAs, the representatives of the people, and ensuring that the people actually get to hear them. And I think that is going to be one of his lasting legacies.

Similar to what some of my other colleagues said, I found that Mr. Mercer's been very supportive. When we come in as MLAs, we're deer in the headlight. And he's well aware of that, he's seen many deer come through this House, and I found that he was always very supportive. And often I would receive support from him without realizing it at the time. It might be a comment that, you know, relates to something that we had previously discussed but wasn't directly related to it but it would sit in the back of my head and it would -- you know, it would impact me and it would help me. Little things. I have a poem in my inbox that Mr. Mercer shared with me after I told him about some of the things that, you know, I was experiencing as a Member.

As Deputy Speaker, I worked, you know, with the Speaker and with Mr. Mercer and he was always very supportive of providing developmental -- professional development opportunities. I had many good conversations about procedure. I know it's not something that most people are interested in but as Deputy Speaker and Government House Leader, I do enjoy those types of conversations and there's not a lot of people with the expertise that Mr. Mercer has as the clerk of a consensus government system. I believe there's only 15 Clerks in Canada. It's not a job that a lot of people do and so it's a very important job, and we need to ensure that people in those roles have the skills. And I always felt that someone was in charge at the Assembly here. You don't always get that sense in some organizations that someone's at the helm, but I always felt that someone was at the helm.

And the final thing I want to mention is that Mr. Mercer was -- he's never been afraid to present bold ideas, present options to Members that they might not otherwise consider. And he's always -- he always knows that it's, ultimately, the Member, it's the elected officials that make those decisions, but I did appreciate hearing things from him that you might not otherwise hear from someone.

And, you know, one very practical example is I was the chair of the special committee on transition matters in the last government, and what that committee does is they make recommendations to the incoming Assembly. Because an incoming Assembly is all fresh faces, basically there's many instances that whatever that committee recommends, that's what happens. And one of the options that Mr. Mercer presented was that perhaps we do a full year budget in this government. Generally we do a budget for a few months, and then we come back in the winter and the new year and hash out a much larger budget. Well, we did recommend that and that's what happened. And if that didn't happen, we would have been sitting in March 2020 without a budget. And what would have happened to the Government of the Northwest Territories? Everything was shut down. You know, we weren't getting together. We weren't able to do what we needed to do. And so because of that suggestion, which, you know, ultimately, we did accept, we had a budget for the first year through COVID. And I think that's a big deal and that really contributed to the GNWT being able to operate. And as my Member stated, you know, he would get a hand in the special committee on increasing the representation of women. And there's numerous examples like that. And, of course, you know, the clerk never gets the credit but those are just a couple of examples where credit is due. And so I look forward to hearing the experiences of other Members as well because I know that, you know, Mr. Mercer has had a very positive impact on this Assembly and on the Members. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River North. The motion is in order. To the motion. Member for Sahtu.

Paulie Chinna

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I just wanted to acknowledge Tim on his retirement as well, and my experience getting to know him within this Assembly. And coming into this Assembly, being a first-time elected MLA, being a first-time elected Minister, and also being Indigenous really carried hard on me as well too. You know, my beginnings were very humbling. My experience was I worked for the government for 20 years. My story is quite similar to what we discuss here every single day. I know what it's like to be homeless. I know what it's like to be raised in the system. I know what it's like to live in poverty. But then my interactions with Mr. Mercer gave me the confidence, gave me the influence to just pursue that it's a lived experience that I do have, you are a Minister, tell your story, work through your portfolio, and just get the work done.

I wanted to let you know that your presence, your leadership, your knowledge is appreciated. You're very unique in passing on that type of acknowledgement to people and to build Indigenous women throughout the Northwest Territories as well, not only in that case but also increasing the number of Indigenous employees within this institution as well and giving them the ideal opportunity and recognizing the languages that are so important and so crucial to this territory as well. I wish you well in your retirement. I wish you good health. I wish you enjoyable, great experiences. And I'm very excited for you for the next -- your next chapter in life. Take good care. Mahsi.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Sahtu. The motion is in order. To the motion. Member for Great Slave.

Katrina Nokleby

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise to also celebrate Tim today in his retirement. Not only have most of the things I was going to speak about -- even my jokes have been stolen by the other side in that Mr. Mercer was always providing us with advice; I just probably didn't take it very often. So as one of the Members that definitely has had one of the more tumultuous rides here in the Assembly, I first would like to apologize to Mr. Mercer for making his last few years here at the Assembly a very interesting and unpredictable one. I too did not have many interactions with the clerk's office as a Minister, and it was actually -- and I'm going to try to say this without tearing up too much. But it was upon the passing of Haylee Carlson here in the Assembly, who I know was very close to everyone, the staff, and Mr. Mercer himself, and at the same time I had lost my mother one week earlier and it was -- I never had an opportunity with everything that was going on, my siblings, to say good bye to my mom. We didn't do the service at the time. And it was attending Haylee's service and listening to Mr. Mercer speak to that where I was able to actually have some closure myself in what I was going through, and that, I think, was the first moment where I started my friendship with Tim.

Over the years, Tim did try to -- or that first year try to help me smooth over the things that were happening and unfortunately that did not pan out that way. But having moved on to this side, I then got to see the other side of it and have that unique experience of being not only a Minister but also having been a Regular Member and seeing exactly what the clerk's office did and what they brought to the table. And I can't even imagine -- you know, the expression of herding cats, I think if you take that to the millionth degree that's probably what Mr. Mercer had to do with the 19th Assembly. We were all in with a lot of new ideas and probably not so receptive to listening to what might seem to be the old way of doing things, and I want to say that I think that Tim navigated that really well with us, encouraging us to make change and to follow our hearts, but also trying to get us to recognize that there are procedures and things that need to take place.

I believe Tim is a true parliamentarian. He truly believes in the system and that would lead to some interesting debates at times, as I am quite the opposite. However, I have come to really appreciate the level of expertise and knowledge that Tim has brought to the table because I come from no background like that. So I had no guidance. And I really have appreciated the clerk's office. And not only Tim himself, but the people underneath him that you can see are clearly benefitting from his amazing mentorship.

And one of the things that I've always come and struck to is when I look at some of our -- and I don't want to speak for them but they're not Members, and they don't get this opportunity, some of our Indigenous staff in the Assembly have always told me that Tim has been a strong supporter of theirs and that they feel he welcomes them, he encourages them, and he wants them all to succeed. And for that, I think that's the biggest kudos that we could give him in saying thank you for that. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Great Slave. The motion is in order. To the motion. Member for Yellowknife North.

Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Mercer is the Clerk of the Assembly, he's essentially our deputy minister, but the thing I like about Tim is unlike quite a few deputy ministers, when he speaks, I understand what he's saying, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Mercer truly lives the ethos of fearless advice and loyal implementation. I had the honour of chairing caucus through the first half of this Assembly through some tumultuous times and I spent many hours in his office getting advice and discussing things, and he provided me a wealth of direction and options and always after those meetings, I was confident that they would be implemented. I was confident that they would get down to the staff who needed to implement them, which I think is often the hardest part of accomplishing anything in government is making sure it is actually followed up on and I've never had that concern with Mr. Mercer. I truly do appreciate his advice and his ability to give fearless advice, because I know that is not easy, that is not easy for many civil servants to do, to give advice that you simply may not want to hear. And so I just would like to thank Mr. Mercer for all of his help and all of his advice in my time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife North. The motion is in order. To the motion. Member for Hay River South.

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And, Mr. Speaker, before ever meeting Mr. Mercer, it was immediately upon my successful election to the Assembly that he contacted me to give me advice on an issue that was dogging me. And I knew from that first contact that we, as MLAs, were in good hands. And R.J. said I told you so.

Mr. Mercer's dedication to this Assembly for the past 20 years is very appreciated by myself and I think everyone here today. I wish him all the best in retirement while he works on his class 3 driver's license and his air endorsement. So, Mr. Bassett, you may have a truck driver in the making. Seriously though, Mr. Mercer, from what I know of you in my short time here, your conduct and the service you provided was nothing short of exceptional, and we will all miss that. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. The motion is in order. To the motion. Member for Kam Lake.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, it's pretty obvious that that first phone call that we received the very next morning after we were elected is a memorable one because it's definitely my first memory of talking to Tim. I had never met Tim before, and I had never spoken with Tim before. And I remember being so terrified on the phone that when I hung up, I realized I had absolutely no idea what he had just told me.

Mr. Speaker, Tim has a lot of passion for his role as Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, and that is very obvious. He has a lot of love for the Northwest Territories, and that is very clear. Tim has a vision for how to build a system that supports and honours consensus government in this territory, and that is certainly loud.

I had the honour, I can say now, of serving on Board of Management as well as some of my colleagues. And Board of Management spent a lot of time together in the 19th Assembly and so we got to know each other quite well. There were times where we didn't want to be in the same room together, but I think at the very end of this Assembly, as we enter into the last days, we realize that there was a huge benefit and a lot of memorable relationships that were created in those moments together and a lot of good work that was done in Board of Management with yourself, Mr. Speaker, and Tim at the secretary position of that and I'm very thankful for that time.

One of the roles that Board of Management had was in interviewing for a new clerk. And I realize that, yes, while we were interviewing for a deputy minister position, that one of my biggest concerns about interviewing for that position was that it's not just another leadership job; it's a leadership job that is to the next level. Because, yes, you want someone that is experienced in management and, yes, you want someone who is smart and knows their stuff, but it's a huge task to deal with the 19 of us and it's one of the -- in my opinion, one of the biggest probably most challenging parts of the role and one of the most important parts of the role is keeping us all in line but also making sure that we are well supported, and that's not an easy task to do. And so one of my biggest concerns was how do you interview for someone's ability to connect with people when you may not know the person that you're interviewing, because it is very clear that connection is such a huge part of the role of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, I can say that one of Tim's greatest strengths is his ability to connect in a unique way with every single person that comes into this House and that is elected in some way, shape, or form. And I was honoured to be one of the people to receive not only that professional relationship but that friendship.

Mr. Speaker, my greatest respect for Tim as a human being, though, and as a person, definitely came through some of the darkest moments of this Assembly. I want to say, Mr. Speaker, I was not prepared coming into this Assembly for some of the relationships and the connections that would be made. The North is a very small place, and while I didn't know Tim I knew people that worked in this building. And I knew people that worked in this building that aren't here anymore, and I was lucky enough to know staff who are here today and who were amazing support systems and at the helm of that is Mr. Mercer. So I wanted to leave Mr. Mercer with this because we all know that Mr. Mercer is a huge sailor.

I'm not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship, is a very common and well-known sailing quote. And I want to thank Mr. Mercer for helping me build the confidence as a first time MLA to learn how to sail my ship. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. The motion is in order. To the motion.

Some Hon. Members


The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Question has been called. Member for Thebacha. Yes, I'll allow the mover to have closing comments. Member for Thebacha.

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, when I first got elected to the Legislative Assembly and came here, I found a situation where, you know, like I explained earlier today, that, you know, the slow pace of government and being in private sector for 50 years, I was a bit puzzled at all the processes that we had to follow to get one piece of paper or one little thing. And so after a couple weeks, I paid a visit to the clerk's office and I sat down with Tim. And I didn't really know him that well yet. And the conversation we had was incredible. And, you know, he says, Frieda, just concentrate on the two things that you would really like to concentrate on and work on those and when it becomes positive, you'll see why you're here. And I have a lot of respect for Tim. I had enough respect to stand by him through all the three and a half years because I know good always goes over bad. I've had it happen in my own leadership many times. And as long as you're telling the truth and as long as you stand by what you believe in and you have the compassion for what you do, good always goes over the bad. And with that, you know, I will miss Tim greatly. I respect him. And I've got to know him even more as chairing with him -- chairing caucus with him in the last little while.

I want to thank him for understanding what I stand for. And I also want to thank him on how he interacts with the Indigenous peoples. That, to me, is very, very, very important, and all peoples. He treats everybody that walks through the door equally, and that's a big plus. I know he's going into other things in life and going to enjoy some of the things that he always wanted to do because, I mean, coming here and spending, even in this last four days, like 12 to 15 hours a day was a little bit much, but -- and hopefully he'd be able to enjoy his cabin and enjoy the outdoors that he loves and the barbecues. And I also want to make sure that I extend my personal invitation to him on behalf of my husband and I, and the people of Fort Smith, to come and visit Fort Smith any time he would like. It's been my pleasure, Mr. Speaker, to be working with such a great guy. And I want to thank him very, very much. Thank you, Tim.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you. Colleagues, before we do the vote, I just wanted to say a few words myself while the staff are here.

Mr. Mercer, I know I could only see the back of your head right now and I know -- you know, this is my 12th year as an MLA, and Tim has been here for the majority of that. I know he took some time off for himself. But, you know, I really value all the -- I mean, I didn't come to his office that much but, I mean, as MLAs, you know, a lot of times, you know, there's pressures we get with this job and our personal lives and it's always good to bounce these issues off somebody, and Tim was that person for many of us. And, you know, it's usually you got pretty good sound advice but a lot of times he just asked you what you thought, and he'd be like ah, pretty much got it. But, you know, I really value that because a lot of times it was the right decisions to make and, you know, that's the kind of sound advice a lot of Members over the years have received. And, you know, that's what -- and a lot of the advice that we do get make us do our job 100 percent. And, you know, that's a role of the clerk, is to be there for the Members 100 percent and, you know, support you in any way they can and, you know, that means a lot to myself. And also the team that he put together. You know, look at the team up there that's seeing him off. I know you're all going to miss him as much as us but, you know, like you said it's a phone call away, but. Or just down the road. But, you know, to leave this Assembly, it's leaving on a good note and I wish him all the best and look forward to the future. And also for Tim, I know I have other words later on today, but I just thought I'd say that while the team is here. It's so important, you know. You know you have a lot of support with our incoming clerk, Mr. Rutland taking pictures. With that, I would just like to thank you all and thank Tim. Mahsi.

To the motion. All those in favour? All those opposed? Sure, it's up to Member for Thebacha.

The Member for Thebacha has requested a recorded vote. All those in favour, please rise.

Recorded Vote

March 30th, 2023

Page 6104

Clerk Of The House Mr. Tim Mercer

The Member for Thebacha. The Member for Kam Lake. The Member for Yellowknife North. The Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. The Member for Monfwi. The Member for Great Slave. The Member for Nahendeh. The Member for Yellowknife South. The Member for Sahtu. The Member for Range Lake. The Member for Inuvik Boot Lake. The Member for Yellowknife Centre. The Member for Hay River North. The Member for Inuvik Boot Lake. The Member for Deh Cho. The Member for Yellowknife South. Thank you very much.

Recorded Vote

Page 6105

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

All those opposed, please rise. All those abstaining, please rise. It's pretty close here, but -- I'm just kidding.

The results of the recorded vote: 16 in favour, zero opposed, zero abstentions. The motion is carried.


I'm sure Mr. Mercer will be like some former MLAs and always up in the gallery at every session.

Motions. Notices of motion for the first reading of bills. First reading of bills. Second reading of bills. Member for Kam Lake.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes, that Bill 80, Dental Hygienists Profession Statute Amendment Act, be read a second time.

Mr. Speaker, Bill 80 amends the Dental Auxiliaries Act and the Health and Social Services Professions Act to

  • Require the Minister to recommend to the Commissioner regulations under the Health and Social Services Professions Act on or before March 31st, 2024, to regulate the practice of dental hygienists;
  • Designate the profession of dental hygienists as a profession to which that act applies, effective April 1st, 2024;
  • Transfer the regulation of dental hygienists from the Dental Auxiliaries Act to the Health and Social Services Professions Act, effective April 1st, 2024; and,
  • Replace gender-specific language in the Dental Auxiliaries Act with gender-neutral language.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. The motion is in order. To the principle of the bill. Member for Kam Lake.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, over the last three and a half years, I have spoken about oral health on numerous occasions in this House. I have focused on the need of the GNWT to change and modernize the Dental Auxiliaries Act and the regulatory environment of dental hygienists to improve preventative oral health in small communities, and I have focused on the cost of the NWT's lack of equitable access to preventative oral health care. What I want to tell this House why it is important that I am moving forward with this bill.

We live in a unique part of the world with unique needs. In our remote communities, access to regular dental care is not consistent and treatment is not timely or immediate. Accessing treatment is complicated by the fact that dental services are not insured medical services under the Canada Health Act. Depending on an NWT resident's ancestry, their funding for dental care comes from different funding or benefit pots. Here in Yellowknife, there are multiple dental hygienists that residents can access on a regular basis dependent on financial and benefits the individual has access to. Some dentists and hygienists also travel to communities.

The Dental Auxiliaries Act stipulates that no dental hygienist shall practice dental hygiene except under the direction and control of a dentist. In this week's response to Oral Question 1435-19(2), Dental Hygienist Regulations, health and social services stated, quote, "access to dental services for Indigenous residents eligible for the non-insured health benefits program is funded by Indigenous Services Canada, or ISC, through a contribution agreement with the department. The department, on behalf of ISC, enters into contracts to pay for the travel costs of the dental providers to provide dental services in communities. ISC determines the number of dental days allocated to each community, and funding is in accordance with this number."

In reality, how services are delivered on the ground across our territory differs than how they are intended. Yes, there are contracts for dental providers to travel to northern communities but on the ground what this means is that dental providers offer dental services in short blocks of time outside of Yellowknife in community hubs and small remote communities. These services are triaged starting with dental emergencies. This makes sense. If someone needs a root canal or an extraction, this will always be the more emergent case. What this means is that prevention is pushed back or simply does not happen and the next visit is more teeth being pulled and a cycle where preventative care consistently sits on the back burner.

Separating dental providers to allow for the option of dental hygienists to work independent of a dentist is key to empowering dental hygienists to secure their own contracts; and, in turn, provide prevention oral health care in small remote communities.

This isn't only a challenge relevant to the NWT. Today all Canadian jurisdictions, except three territories and PEI, have legislation to support dental hygienists to be autonomous and self-regulated to varying levels. For example, some jurisdictions restrict the use of local anesthesia by dental hygienists. And I have to say a huge thank you to the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, the Ontario Dental Hygienists Association, and the British Columbia Dental Hygienists Association. All three associations were incredibly generous with the information they shared with me on lessons learned through their own legislation, what they would do different and why, and how they have created a regulatory environment for dental hygienists, and have strongly encouraged new modern legislation for dental hygienists in the Northwest Territories.

Yellowknife residents don't encounter the same barriers accessing preventative oral health care as small and remote community residents. But, Mr. Speaker, access to preventative health care is an all-of-territory concern.

Our oral health has a significant impact on our overall health. Oral health care, or lack thereof, can cause a cascading domino effect of health challenges down the road. According to the World Health Organization, almost all of the world's population suffer from oral diseases, and global cases of oral diseases have increased by 1 billion over the last 30 years, a clear indication that many people do not have access to prevention or treatment of oral diseases. Also acknowledged by the World Health Organization is the reality that people on low incomes, people living with disabilities, elders and seniors living alone or in care homes, those living in remote and rural communities, and people from minority groups, carry a higher burden of oral disease.

The most common oral diseases are tooth decay, severe gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancers. But, Mr. Speaker, we're not only talking about oral disease. Core oral systemic health directly increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, periodontal disease, and high-risk pregnancies. Every one of these jeopardizes a person's quality of life, may shorten their life, and is a significant financial cost to the government.

The operations budgets for the Department of Health and Social Services of the Northwest Territories is half a billion dollars, and the cost of health care is not going down. In fact, Mr. Speaker, our expectations of our health department continue to grow, and the associated budget is not keeping pace, forcing the department to come back time and time again for supplementary appropriations to pay for a system that has outgrown its means and sits in significant deficit.

So, Mr. Speaker, the challenges of Northerners thousands of kilometres away matter because the success of the NWT depends on the health and safety of all its people and because the cost of reactionary health care is almost always higher than the cost of prevention.

It is also worth noting, Mr. Speaker, that in the Northwest Territories, 86 percent of dental hygienists identify as women. Denying dental hygienists the opportunity to practice outside of the control of a dentist means that the government is unintentionally denying employment opportunities in a sector that is largely female. In addition, less than a handful of NWT communities have resident dentists. This means that less than a handful of NWT communities can be home to practicing dental hygienists. Nurses work in our small remote communities without doctors, preventative health care professionals like chiropractors and massage therapists are free to work under professional accreditation using their professional discretion to provide services to NWT residents. Given the huge can demand for oral health practitioners, and the known fact that prevention saves future burdens on our health care system, creating a regulatory environment that supports more prevention is critical. This, Mr. Speaker, also creates opportunity for economic diversification and employment outside of Yellowknife.

Do I believe that all dental hygienists want to be self-employed or work outside of a dentist's office? No, Mr. Speaker. But some want the autonomy and the ability to choose. Beyond the autonomy of this industry, Mr. Speaker, it is doing what makes sense for the health of our territory. One of the key objectives of the GNWT's oral health strategy calls for establishing systemic supports for improved oral health services, including improving the regulatory environment. But in the same tabled response to Oral Question 1435-19(2), Dental Hygienists Regulations, health and social services stated, quote, "delivery of dental services is not part of the NWT Health and Social Services system. Dental treatment remains the exclusive domain of private dental practices. As such, the department has no authority to dictate how dental providers deliver their scope of practice."

This response shows me the importance of building the regulatory framework originally referenced in the oral health strategy years ago. To remove systemic barriers to preventative oral health for all residents of the Northwest Territories, we must improve the regulatory environment that will support a preventative oral health system. This bill helps us accomplish just that.

Mr. Speaker, I have not carried this conversation on my own. My colleague from Inuvik Twin Lakes has also spoken frequently in this House about the same. And without the opportunity to listen and learn from her lived experience as a northerner, a parent, a public health nurse, a nursing manager at the Inuvik Hospital, and as the Inuvialuit health systems navigator, I would not have had the opportunity to appreciate the depth of the challenges many of our residents face when accessing dental services.

I'd like to thank the MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes for her consistent collaboration throughout this Assembly, this bill, and ultimately as the seconder of this bill. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. The motion is in order. To the principle of the little. Government House Leader.

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The government has not had time to do an analysis of this bill. What the bill proposes would take government resources and we cannot endorse something without doing our due diligence. That said, we do want to -- Cabinet has taken the position that in the spirit of consensus government, we don't stand in the way of bills as they make their way through second reading. So Cabinet will be abstaining. Thank you.