This is page numbers 5695 - 5762 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.


Members Present

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

The House met at 1:30 p.m.



Page 5695

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Infrastructure.

Diane Archie

Diane Archie Inuvik Boot Lake

Mr. Speaker, the knowledge and skills of professional engineers and geoscientists are vital in meeting the priorities of our government and in supporting the quality of life for Northerners. As Minister of Infrastructure, I know how important these professions are to achieving our mandate priorities, especially in making strategic infrastructure investments that connect communities and increase the use of alternative and renewable energy. The work of these professionals informs the location and design of new structures, assists in responsibly extracting energy resources, and contributes to the development of climate change adaptation strategies for Northern communities and those building infrastructure in the territory.

Mr. Speaker, engineers are essential in developing infrastructure in the Northwest Territories. This is evidenced by the 27 airports, over 115 bridges, and several thousand kilometres of paved and gravel roads that carry people and critical supplies to our communities, all designed by engineers.

Energy conservation initiatives are key in reducing energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions in the NWT. Replacing the primary heat source for GNWT buildings across the territory with wood pellets is a government success story. The team of mechanical and energy engineers at the Department of Infrastructure has converted over 40 GNWT facilities. This includes schools, health centres, airports, and others to biomass since 2007. Biomass now represents 36 percent of GNWT's overall heating energy.

Mr. Speaker, because designing, building, and maintaining infrastructure that is safe and reliable is so important, it is crucial there is a strong regulator to oversee these professions. The Northwest Territories and the Nunavut Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists, NAPEG for short, is that regulatory authority for practicing engineer and geoscientist professionals in both the NWT and Nunavut. It establishes and maintains the standards and ethics of engineering and geoscientist professionals to maintain integrity and public safety in these respective professions.

Over 2,000 practicing engineers are active and registered with NAPEG, with approximately 400 of being NWT residents and approximately 120 of them employed within the GNWT. These professionals design, build, and maintain the infrastructure that support our daily lives and the foundation for the industries that drive our economy. They are also the geoscientists supporting our territorial mineral and mining sector.

Along with being the regulatory authority for these professions, NAPEG is also focused on the future. Attracting and retaining talent to the North is a challenge and so is building professional diversity. NAPEG recognizes the importance of increasing diversity among professional engineers and geoscientists in the North and attracting underrepresented members of the population. That is why NAPEG is an active participant in the Engineers Canada 30-by-30 initiative, which is an effort to increase the number of newly licensed engineers who are women to 30 percent by 2030.

Mr. Speaker, the public infrastructure we all use and depend on is there, in part, because of the hard work of engineers and geoscientists. March is National Engineering Month in Canada. I would ask the House to join me in recognizing the contributions of engineers and geoscientists to the planning, design, building, and maintenance of infrastructure in the North. Quyananni, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Colleagues, before we continue, I'd like to recognize Glen Abernathy, former Member, Minister of the 16th, 17th, and 18th Legislative Assembly. I hardly recognized Glen; retirement looks good on him. Welcome to the Chamber.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Housing NWT.

Paulie Chinna

Paulie Chinna Sahtu

Mr. Speaker, as a part of the GNWT's commitment to address homelessness in the territory, Housing NWT offers several client-centered programs. Today I would like to highlight some of these programs as well as the investments we have made, since the beginning of the 19th Legislative Assembly, to support residents experiencing homelessness and those at risk of becoming homeless.

Mr. Speaker, the Transitional Rent Supplementary Program was extended, and the funding was increased with a seamless application process to reduce barriers. In April 2021, this program evolved and is now called the Canada-NWT Housing Benefit Program, with half funded by the GNWT and the other half by the Government of Canada. In 2021, over 248 applicants accessed the program and is currently accepting applications with no waitlist.

Mr. Speaker, the Homelessness Assistance Fund is a one-time funded program to applicants up to a maximum of $3,000. This program is flexible and is available to assist in different types of ways to include utility arrears, private market rental arrears, damage deposits, first month's rent, or travel assistance to a community in which individuals are guaranteed housing. Since this program was first offered in 2009, Housing NWT has supported 746 individuals and families to remain in their homes. To date in this fiscal year, Housing NWT has approved 56 successful applicants supporting single adults, couples, and families.

Another program that supports people experiencing homelessness is the Shelter Enhancement Fund. It provides northern communities with funding to repair and improve existing shelters, supporting building upgrades and equipment purchases. Since 2017, Housing NWT has provided up to $750,000 to non-governmental organizations for emergency plumbing repairs, upgrades to electrical systems, security systems, fire alarms, and new flooring and roofs.

Mr. Speaker, it is only through this kind of partnership and the approach that the NWT will be successfully addressing the territory's housing concerns. The Small Community Homelessness Assistance Fund is another good example of partnership. It combines GNWT and community resources to develop innovative supports that help communities address homelessness in ways that make sense to them.

In the past four years, Housing NWT provided over $150,000 in funding to Indigenous governments and community partners. The Small Community Assistance Fund has supported several community projects including community engagements to reduce homelessness, the introduction of various community food programs, clothing and furniture banks, rent supplements, and vouchers for various essential goods and supplies.

Mr. Speaker, another program centered around partnership is the Northern Pathways to Housing program, targeting single adults experiencing homelessness. It provides clients with access to permanent supportive housing, rental assistance, and case management to maintain their housing. The purpose of this program is to move people out of homelessness and into a safe place to live while working with them one-on-one, living independently, maintaining their own home, and to address the issues that lead to their current situation. Northern Pathways is now operating in the communities of

  • Behchoko, in partnership with the Friendship Centre;
  • Fort Simpson, in partnership with the Liidlii Kue First Nation;
  • In Aklavik, in partnership with the Aklavik Indian Band; and
  • In Fort Good Hope, with the Kasho Got'ine Housing Society.

Northern Pathways to Housing works with partners to provide wraparound supports to stabilize our housing clients.

Mr. Speaker, Housing NWT supports seven emergency shelters throughout the Northwest Territories. We funded emergency overnight shelters in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Simpson, Inuvik, and Fort Good Hope, and work with community partners to provide emergency housing for those most in need. As part of Housing NWT's renewal, the public housing intake application has been redesigned to include the social factor points for individuals experiencing homelessness as part of the point rating system. It now considers an applicant's housing history, looking specifically at periods where an individual has been unsheltered, emergency accommodations are needed or provisionally accommodated.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, Housing NWT continues to move forward with the housing stability worker pilot program, which started in Behchoko in the fall of 2018. This strength-based program provides direct support to public housing tenants at risk of eviction through a client-centered approach to improve tenancy practices and work towards the household goals. The Tlicho government is working with Housing NWT to build on this program.

Mr. Speaker, these homelessness programs and partnerships are key to helping the most vulnerable residents and improving housing outcomes for Northerners. Housing NWT recognizes that there is still a long way to go in terms of helping all residents reach their housing goals. We are proud to be working towards putting these goals to reach many Northerners. We will continue to listen, build, and work with our partners and stakeholders to address homelessness in the NWT.

I would like to thank the commitment and creativity of Housing NWT staff for taking the direction and initiative to create housing programs to best house and support the needs for the people of the Northwest Territories. Your time and effort have been greatly appreciated. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Health and Social Services.

Julie Green

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mr. Speaker, March is National Social Work Month, and I am taking this opportunity to recognize the valuable contributions made by social workers in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities in the Northwest Territories.

This year's theme is Social Work Breaks Barriers. It is important to acknowledge that social work helps break down the barriers that prevent people and communities from thriving. This theme showcases how social workers support the empowerment of individuals, families, and communities to overcome difficulties that may prevent them from reaching their full potential, safety, and overall good health.

Social workers are crucial to the well-being of communities. They provide essential services to those in need. They work in many different settings such as schools, health centres, and community organizations. They support individuals and families facing challenges such as those caused by the pandemic and floods, and they assist by providing essential services to support children and families in emergency situations. They help residents navigate health care, income support, and legal systems. They also advocate for the rights and needs of residents to ensure everyone has equal opportunities to succeed.

Mr. Speaker, in the NWT we have 134 licensed social workers. Their work can be incredibly challenging as they deal with emotional situations and individuals or families in crisis. Social workers possess a combination of compassion, empathy, and resilience. A strong desire to support others and make society a better place draws many social workers to the profession. They share common principles of belief in equality, social justice, as well as recognition that everyone has the right to reach their full potential.

The work being advanced by social workers in the Government of the Northwest Territories' child and family services system includes improving integration of diverse programs that support children, youth, and families such as access to safe housing, mental wellness supports and recreational opportunities. They are also available to connect families and individuals to resources and services for prenatal and postnatal care.

Mr. Speaker, social work is an essential profession to our residents and the health and social services system. I want to acknowledge each social worker, as well as all the other staff who provide supports within the social services system for their commitment to the work they do and, more importantly, for their compassion and devotion to the people of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of Cabinet and NWT residents, I thank all social workers for their continued dedication. National Social Work Month serves as a reminder of the important role that social workers play in our communities and in the general wellness and health of our territory. I hope it will also inspire residents to consider a career in social work. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Ministers' statements. Ministers' statements. Madam Premier.

Caroline Cochrane

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to advise Members that the Honourable R.J. Simpson will be absent from the House for the remainder of the week to attend the federal/provincial/territorial immigration ministers meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, my statement today, I want to talk about the child and youth counselling program that the Departments of Health and Social Services and Education, Culture and Employment have been jointly rolling out over the last few years.

Mr. Speaker, the child and youth counselling program was first announced in 2018 and, as of 2022, it has been fully rolled out across all regions of the NWT. The intent of this program was to provide a higher level of mental health supports for students and families across the NWT. And this was done by challenging the qualifications, the titles, and job descriptions for all school counsellors. And one of the actions with these changes was to hire new counselling staff throughout the NWT schools to ensure that all child and youth counsellors will have specific qualifications and consistent quality care for students.

Mr. Speaker, when this program was first introduced, I was supportive of its intent to bring a higher standard of mental health care to all students of the NWT; however, as this program was being rolled out in the South Slave in 2021-2022, there was some unintended consequences that create the opposite effect for the students in Fort Smith because, unfortunately, these new standards created barriers for a long-time student counsellor who worked at PWK High School.

Mr. Speaker, once the CYC program was introduced, Fort Smith's long-time student counsellor, who was born and raised in Fort Smith and is Indigenous, had lost her job because she did not have the new level of education that was required for the position. This change not only disrupted the livelihood of that employee, but it also disrupted the established relationships that she developed with both the students and the community alike. Despite her length of employment in the job and the strong desire and demand by the students to keep her there, it was decided by the government to let her go. After she left, it took a while for the position to be filled. But when it finally got filled, the new employee did not connect well with students resulting in reduced quality of mental health care for them for about a year. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Overall, Mr. Speaker, as these changes were carried out, I heard from many parents, educators, and students of their disapproval and disappointment regarding these changes. As a result, I spent considerable time talking to both the Ministers of education and health to try and retain the long-time student counsellor but regretfully were unable to do so. However, with the recent news of CYC undergoing an evaluation, I think there is potential to correct some wrongs and truly improve the level and quality of mental health care for students in the NWT. I will have questions for the health minister later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, for over a century, Denmark has delivered social housing through non-profit housing organizations. These organizations develop and own the buildings and residents influence their living conditions through a system of tenant democracy. As a result, Danish non-profit housing development is highly regulated in terms of financing, design, construction, and management. By Danish law, each municipality reserves roughly 25 percent of its social housing stock for refugees, unemployed people, and people with disabilities. Capital for building social housing comes from a national building fund or a revolving renovation fund set in Danish law and governed by a board of directors with oversight over the housing non-profit organizations. Every four years, the fund's operating levels and investments are agreed on by Danish parliament. As a non-profit organizations repay their loans or tenants pay rent, the fund is replenished, creating a sustainable funding cycle for construction costs and a consistent funding mechanism for ongoing large scale maintenance and renovation of social housing properties. Affordable housing developers rely on sometimes dozens of financing sources to fill the gap of total construction costs. But with Denmark's national building fund, the non-profit housing development sector receives simplified financing largely from the fund itself at 88 percent investment, 10 percent from a no interest loan for a 50-year term and 2 percent from tenants' rent. But once the construction project is done, Mr. Speaker, tenants can exert some control over the operating budget, repairs, and overall maintenance which are overseen by non-profit housing organizations.

Western institutions pulled four lessons from the Danish social housing system. The first, build simplified mechanisms for affordable public or non-profit housing financing and establish loan repayment system under a revolving fund. Second, diversify tenants and owner incomes within buildings for more flexible ways of meeting repayment terms and capturing wider social benefits. Third, pursue cooperative housing policies. And finally, consider other income policies that complement affordable housing because income policies matter when developing and enacting housing policies.

Mr. Speaker, the Standing Committee on Social Development listened to community members speak on homelessness prevention. We heard equal parts of the history of what wasn't working and aspirational views of what housing in the NWT could look like. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you, colleagues. Mr. Speaker, here in the NWT, tenants want anatomy, respect, and progress. Image the shift from aspiration to action when public housing tenants are given a seat at the table to help self-determine how funds are used. Affording residents self-determination of their living conditions through tenancy democracy has potentially huge impacts on the financial sustainability and health of community housing. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.

Katrina Nokleby

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I have raised my concern in this House many times about the lack of long-term vision and planning when it comes to the North's critical infrastructure projects and, specifically, I am concerned about the planning and implementation of Fort Simpson's power.

The village's current diesel power plant sits on the bank of the Mackenzie River, directly in the high-risk flood zone. The land adjacent to this critical piece of infrastructure is washing away, undermined by the scouring action of the river. If another flooding event occurs, there could be severe consequences for the residents of Fort Simpson.

It is my understanding that work was being done to establish an LNG power plant that would supplement the existing diesel plant; however, given the reoccurring flooding in the region, it is clear that a full replacement on higher ground is required, and I would like to know the status of that upgrade. I am worried that this LNG expansion is not going to happen quickly enough given the impacts of the recent flood.

Mr. Speaker, our energy strategy is looking to reduce our emissions and get our communities on greener and renewable energy, something an LNG plant could help. Fort Simpson is not currently slated to be connected to our major energy infrastructure, including any future Talston hydro expansion therefore we must come up with a different solution. We cannot risk losing an opportunity to do something innovative utilizing LNG for this important energy infrastructure.

Mr. Speaker, expanding small scale LNG in Northwest Territories communities can play a key role in bridging the gap between our current high carbon intensive infrastructure and completely renewable energy in the future. It should be considered for use wherever it makes sense and, Mr. Speaker, where it makes sense is Fort Simpson. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Jackie Jacobson

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The community of Tuktoyaktuk's been waiting for our new school for several years. The school's been in the books since 2007, the year when I first got elected. And Mr. Abernathy was a part of that, giving us the authority to move forward with it so I want to thank him and welcome him into the House. It's good to see him.

The GNWT secured $36 million, Mr. Speaker, to renovate the space at the school and support high school programs. The original contract was awarded in 2020 and estimated completion 2023-2024. Mr. Speaker, the final year of this project, the community has been waiting a long time, making due with a school that's less suitable. But the renovations are still not complete because a contractor needs to get inside to do the work. The school wants to let the contractors in so they could get the work done so they could have the school back that can accommodate the students.

Mr. Speaker, the renovation at the school's been so delayed. Magalanik School took it upon themselves the space the contractors need, the GNWT support, but not only that the contractor's support. Magalanik School needs four portables, Mr. Speaker, to be brought into the community. They're trying to rent space in the community, Mr. Speaker, from the churches, from Kitty Hall, from other spaces in the community, which is not right. They're taking away. We could find four portable trailers. We could find stuff, like for the capital, just like nothing so it should be the responsibility of the contractor, Mr. Speaker, to provide these four trailers, portables for the students, to get the education done properly and not going to the Kitty Hall or to the church or wherever the space is rented. It's not right. We need to find suitable accommodation for the students, Mr. Speaker.

The GNWT has provided portables in other schools for renovations that's been underway. Why can't we provide the students at Tuk with four portables, Mr. Speaker? I will have questions for the Minister at the appropriate time. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Jane Weyallon Armstrong

Jane Weyallon Armstrong Monfwi

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Child and youth care counsellors. Mr. Speaker, March break 2023 is coming and a lot of youth will be looking for something to do and maybe exposed to drug use because of lack of activities in the communities. Yesterday I spoke of the need to work with community leadership to protect against drug use. Today I want to continue that discussion. There are many people dealing with addictions. In my region, crack cocaine addictions.

Mr. Speaker, everyone knows someone who is using crack in my communities. This is an extremely addictive substance and, as I have said before in this House, kids as young as 12 years old are experimenting with drugs. What is more disturbing is we have drug dealers trying to use these kids to sell crack cocaine. This is unacceptable, Mr. Speaker. How can we help our small communities grow and become strong if our youngest cannot escape the influence of drug dealers?

Mr. Speaker, we hear from parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, siblings, in the communities who are doing their best but fear for their children and grandchildren because they might fall into the grips of the drug dealers. We are losing people, youth, and parents to drugs. As a result, we have children in care of child welfare system due to parents abusing the addictions.

Mr. Speaker, this is a crisis we must manage. The child and youth care counsellor positions can help this work and support our residents. However, we need to ensure that they are culturally sensitive and trained. They need to work with the Indigenous government to help share information about resources and supports available for our youth. Without this collaboration, the child and youth care position will not be useful in protecting our youth from the illicit drug trade. Mr. Speaker, I will have question for the Minister of Health and Social Services. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. In the last sitting, I questioned why the Minister and Department of Lands had contracted a southern accounting firm, Ernst & Young, to look at the use of surety bonds in the NWT to cover environmental liabilities. The sole source contract has now ballooned to over $230,000. I also questioned why the department appears to have placed this work at the top of its agenda after a request from the mining industry to accept this form of financial security.

It's not clear how surety bonds fit into the stalled development of regulations for the Public Land Act unless the Minister is prepared to accept this less secure form of financial security. The Minister said back in October that the report from this very expensive work would be ready in early 2023. I haven't seen that report or any recent public engagement on the development of regulations for the Public Land Act which will presumably set the forms of financial security that GNWT will accept for surface leases. No doubt the Minister is fully aware that this government already took a $23 million hit because of GNWT's failure to request any financial security for the Giant Mine surface lease and more liabilities coming our way from Ptarmigan Mine and other operations that remain unsecured under watch like Cameron Hills and Prairie Creek.

On the issue of public engagement on the Public Land Act regulations, it's been radio silence since May 2021 when a "what we heard" report was issued on general concerns. One of the most popular measures suggested during this first phase was to restrict the Minister's ability to accept dodgey forms of financial security. I would place surety bonds in that category, especially when GNWT has little to no capacity to track the financial health of operators and those who back financial securities.

The second round of public engagement on the proposed Public Land Act regulations that was promised for late 2021 to early 2022 never took place. Stakeholder advisory committees were also supposed to be set up and that hasn't happened either, Mr. Speaker. I'll have questions for the Minister of Lands on the status of the work on surety bonds and when the public engagement on the Public Land Act regulations will begin again. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Frame Lake. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife North.

Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Housing, housing, housing, Mr. Speaker. It's all we seem to talk about in this House. And, Mr. Speaker, credit is due that this Assembly has delivered more housing money than we have seen in decades, largely thanks to a lot of federal programs that have rolled out to both the GNWT and Indigenous governments. Yet, Mr. Speaker, we have absolutely no sense whether we have made any progress on ending homelessness in this territory, which ultimately is the goal, Mr. Speaker. And I suspect we have not made any progress at all, Mr. Speaker. I suspect, at best, we are trying as hard as we can against current tides of increasing rent, increasing house prices, increasing construction costs, and a high cost of living, just to prevent more people from become homeless, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we don't even know how long our housing waitlist is. The best evidence we have is from the Minister anecdotally saying in one of her communities it was somewhere between three and seven years, Mr. Speaker. And, Mr. Speaker, we have asked countless questions of the housing minister, but it's important to remember that this is not just a housing initiative. In fact, income assistance and the housing allowance it provides is one of the single biggest things this government does to prevent homelessness. In addition, many of the key NGO and shelter funding flows through health and social services. And, Mr. Speaker, it seems that despite all of this spending and all of this talk, we are just yelling and going in all sorts of different directions without any sort of coherent plan. And, Mr. Speaker, we were promised a plan. That was the homelessness prevention strategy. We were promised that plan in 2020, 2021, 2022, and here we stand in 2023, after having spent millions of dollars, and we still do not have that plan, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Premier who is responsible for coordinating the Homelessness Prevention Strategy on when we can finally see the plan, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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