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 indigenous.


Members Present

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

The House met at 1:31 p.m.



The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Colleagues, before we continue with our business before the House, I'd like to recognize Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty who is with us today. He was first elected in the 15th Legislative Assembly in July of 2005, re-elected in the 16th and 17th Assemblies, where he served as Deputy Premier; Minister of Education, Culture and Employment; Minister responsible for Official Languages; and, Minister responsible for Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission. He was acclaimed in the 18th Legislative Assembly and was elected by many of us as Speaker. Thank you for all you have done with the House here, and we've had unveiling of his portrait here today. And thank you for all joining us. Mahsi cho.

I would like to recognize Mr. Ryan Yakelya from Tuktoyaktuk. We all went to Grolier Hall. I'm sure Diane and Paulie remember him as well. Hope you enjoy the House today. Mahsi.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Justice.

Minister's Statement 358-19(2): Independent Legal Advice and Respresentation Program
Ministers' Statements

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Mr. Speaker, with funding from the federal government, the Department of Justice is enhancing access to free legal advice and legal representation for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence through the establishment of the Independent Legal Advice and Representation Program.

In 2019, the Government of the Northwest Territories commissioned the Aurora Research Institute to conduct an evidence-based study to use as a guide to better support survivors of intimate partner, gender-based violence, and sexual assault in the NWT. Concurrently, researchers contracted by the YWCA NWT completed a study on the experience of victims applying for emergency protection orders. Both studies highlighted the, sometimes, dizzying complexity of the systems encountered by survivors.

The findings from these studies were also consistent with the final report of the National Inquiry of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which calls on governments to provide vulnerable individuals facing the threat of domestic violence with to independent legal services and advice.

The department has completed jurisdictional research and consultation with a variety of stakeholders, including other independent legal advice and representation programs in Canada, the YWCA NWT, RCMP, health and social services, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada's sexual violence team, and the NWT Legal Aid Commission to support the design, development, and the implementation of an Independent Legal Advice and Representation Program in the Northwest Territories.

The department is excited to be working with the YWCA NWT to deliver this program. The addition of free legal advice and representation to the existing NWT-wide delivery of emergency protection orders will ensure people are informed about whether they should obtain one, the ramifications of obtaining one, and how to access help in dealing with existing ones. The program also expands access to free legal advice and representation for survivors of intimate partner and gender-based violence and sexual assault to support their navigation through the criminal justice system and make informed decisions related to their unique circumstances.

The Independent Legal Advice and Representation Program supports service delivery with an independent legal advice coordinator who receives and coordinates program referrals from a range of service providers. Survivors may also self-refer into the program through a 1-800 number. The program has a panel of lawyers to provide survivors with up to four hours of free legal advice and representation.

The program coordinator receives the initial referrals, conducts client screening and intake, and matches survivors with a lawyer, and will conduct public awareness and training sessions to support program referrals, uptake, and information sharing. The goal is to increase informed decision-making and understanding about legal decisions.

Mr. Speaker, the Independent Legal Advice and Representation Program is now in place, and my hope is that it helps improve the safety, security, and access to justice for survivors of intimate partner and gender-based violence and sexual assault. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 358-19(2): Independent Legal Advice and Respresentation Program
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Environment and Climate Change.

Minister's Statement 359-19(2): 2023 Wildfire Season
Ministers' Statements

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Mr. Speaker, wildfires are a natural part of the northern landscape and are important for forest health and renewal. However, we recognize that wildfires can pose a significant threat to our communities, our infrastructure, and other values at risk.

I want to start by recognizing the challenges faced by the K'atlodeeche First Nation and the Town of Hay River during a historically early start to our wildfire season. Our hearts go out to everyone who had to evacuate their homes and to those who had lost homes from this wildfire. I would like to thank the fire crews and wildfire management teams who have worked so hard on this fire and continue to work on protecting these communities.

Mr. Speaker, we have a tough wildfire season ahead of us. Temperatures are expected to be high and our forests are very dry, increasing the wildfire risk in the southern half of the NWT. We are still very early in the fire season, even though the events near K'atlodeeche First Nation make it feel like it has been a full season already.

Mr. Speaker, our government is well prepared for this year's fire season. Our team of wildfire professionals work all winter long to be ready to go once the fire season started. A huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes to support our field operations. Like we do with flooding, our communications team put out a lot of proactive wildfire messaging in advance of the season, and we work with municipal and community affairs and the emergency management office who are ready to activate on any emergency, including fires, at any time.

As soon as we received the weather forecasts for the 2023 fire season, it became clear we should have an early start to the season. We brought on more resources and started them earlier than we have in the past. There are 34 fourteen crews positioned across the territory this year ready to fight fires on the ground, an increase of two from last year. We updated contracts to bring our long-term aircrafts on several weeks earlier and added some additional tankers to be added to the response to a hot, dry season. When the fire near K'atlodeeche First Nation and Hay River started, we already had air tankers and helicopters on the ground, brought on strength several weeks earlier, that were ready to respond the morning the fire started. We had an Electra working out of Hay River as well as helicopters bucketing water on the fires. Two other tanker groups were scheduled for an earlier startup for May 15th and started working on that fire that day. There were a number of days when aircraft could not land at the Hay River Airport due to smoke but the Electra continued to operate out of the Yellowknife as the next closest air tanker base. This proactive approach allowed us to have aircraft and crews on-site to immediately respond to our first big challenge of the season.

So far this summer, we have had 17 fires with a total of 18,364 hectares burned. Of these, eight have been human caused close to communities. The 10-year average for this time is three fires and 17 hectares burned. Our season started several weeks earlier and is way ahead of what we normally expect to see in terms of timing, numbers, and human-caused fires.

Mr. Speaker, despite this challenging start, I am proud to say that we were prepared and ready for this season and our teams have responded quickly and effectively so far. Going forward for the rest of the summer, we have 100 people working in our fire program, from remote communication specialists to clerks to logistics personnel, to ensure firefighters on the ground have the supports they need every day. We also have a pool of approximately 200 extra firefighters we can call on to help mop up fires and take on other critical fire operation activities.

Throughout the K'atlodeeche First Nation-Hay River fire, we have seen extraordinary skills and dedication of our wildfire team in action as they start work around the clock. People from across the territory have come together to help limit the fire's growth and impact to our communities. Fire crews and other wildfire staff from every region in the NWT have been coming together to provide a coordinated, effective, and tireless response. I want to reiterate what I have heard from many members of the public and extend a heartfelt thank you to all of our wildfire staff for their incredible work to keep our communities safe.

Mr. Speaker, we continue to work with communities to strengthen their protection against wildfires. With $20 million in investments leveraged by the NWT Association of Communities, work is going ahead to complete fuel breaks in communities at an unprecedented rate. Community wildfire protection plans are in place in all 29 forested communities. Our government will continue to provide advice to communities and work with them to increase their resilience and reduce the risk of damage from future wildfires.

Mr. Speaker, we are also making investments for people to get the tools they need to reduce their own risk at home. One important tool is the promotion of FireSmart practices around people's homes, cabins, and businesses. Taking steps ahead of time to remove things that burn around your home and property will help reduce the risk of damage when fires hit close to home. With much of the season still ahead of us, we want to remind people it is never too early to take these steps.

You can start by cleaning under your deck, removing firewood away from your home, keeping your gutters clean, and getting rid of bush and debris from around your yard. I encourage residents to search FireSmart NWT to learn more and follow the guide to FireSmart your property.

Given the hot and dry conditions we expect for the southern NWT this summer, it is critical that people take their role in preventing fires seriously. We will continue to do our part to provide public information and updates regularly to help people make good choices.

Mr. Speaker, I want to be very clear when I say this: Wildfires like the one near the K'atlodeeche First Nation can happen to any NWT community below the treeline. With dry forests and lots of natural fuel, it will only take one spark to start a wildfire. It then takes just a bit of a strong wind for it to spread and become a real problem for communities, for the people who live there, and for the firefighters trying to protect us.

Everyone has a part to play in preventing wildfires. During the K'atlodeeche First Nation and Hay River fire, the impacted communities stepped up to play a large critical role in coordinating the response, and we commend them for their work and will continue to be there for their support. Individuals can do their part by not starting campfires or any other burns when the danger is high or extreme, as it has been for most of May, and will be for some time to come. Choices, like never leaving fires unattended and always soaking them, stirring them and soaking them again until they are cool to the touch before leaving. It is also important to be spark aware by cleaning out mufflers on ATVs, never park on dry grass, and checking your chains before taking your trailer down the highway.

Mr. Speaker, as leaders, we have the responsibility to make good decisions and be models for this behaviour. I call on everyone in this House to take these messages to your communities to help reduce the alarming number of person-caused fires we already have seen this season. We will all be safer for it. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 359-19(2): 2023 Wildfire Season
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Industry, Tourism and Investment.

Minister's Statement 360-19(2): Update on the Great Slave Lake Commercial Fishery Revitalization
Ministers' Statements

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, the revitalization of the Great Slave Lake commercial fishery has been a goal of the Government of the Northwest Territories since it was first proposed in the 2014 NWT Economic Opportunities Strategy. This goal continues to be supported by our own government's mandate to increase food security through locally produced, harvested, and affordable food.

Central to our efforts has been the construction of a new fish processing facility in Hay River capable of processing and packaging Great Slave Lake fish for market. I am happy to advise Members today that this new plant is now in the final stage of construction and commissioning. I can confirm that the building envelope is complete and all processing equipment is installed. Plumbing, painting and electrical elements are being finalized, including freezers and filleting equipment.

Meanwhile, specialized technicians are setting up and calibrating processing equipment using various species from the Great Slave Lake and training for plant operators and fish processors is anticipated to begin this month. Notwithstanding delays due to fire evacuations, the plant will be in operation for the 2023 open water season. The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment will be collaborating with the Freshwater Fish Market Corporation and relying on their expertise to move things forward this summer.

An agreement is in place that will see the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation operate the plant for a three-year period of transitional training and capacity building with the intention that the facility will ultimately be run as an independent, northern-based business. In order to arrive at that goal, we need to start strong. Therefore, the immediate goals are to ensure the plant gets operational, to hire and build local capacity, and to operate the plant with a plan for systematic-phased transition.

To ensure the plant receives sufficient product volume, there are several actions that have been identified under the revitalization strategy and are being implemented to support increased production. The strategy includes plans to open remote receiving stations in the North Slave region, the training of new fishers and helpers, investing in new technologies, as well as in summer and winter fishery development, and also in longer-term recruitment efforts for new fishers.

A winter fish training program was delivered in March, both in Hay River and Yellowknife. The program gives new fishers the skills and knowledge to have successful winter harvests and presents an opportunity to expand fishing operations year-round once fishers get established. Summer training programs are scheduled in June for Hay River, Fort Resolution, and Yellowknife.

Mr. Speaker, once certified, the Hay River Fish Plant will increase the reach of territorial fish products to southern markets in addition to being a local and secure source of nutritious and culturally significant food within the territory. The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment is also working on a plan to generate higher returns for fishers. This will include finding viable markets for by-catch such as fish fertilizer, roe, collagen, and canning. In the short-term, increasing fishing production levels will be the essential driver of the plant's long-term profitability.

That means supporting fishers. So importantly, we also continue to work with the Tu Cho Fishers Cooperative and have recently identified a list of action items to support our shared goals around fish production and towards raising the price of fish for Northwest Territories fishers including opportunities to speak with one Northwest Territories voice to another key player in the success of this industry - the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

During this transition period, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment and Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation continue to monitor operating costs, revenues and expenses, to ensure that maximum value is returning to Great Slave Lake fishers.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment is also currently revising the Commercial Fishery Support Program and considering additional programs that might contribute to the growth and modernization of the Northwest Territories commercial fishery with funding and incentives.

In all of this, Mr. Speaker, the development of the Hay River fish processing plant is representative of the commitments that our government has made to addressing concerns about food security and economic development. I look forward to seeing the Hay River processing plant eventually support the sustainability of the fishing sector, improve the livelihoods of fishermen, and increase local food production and economic value for the territory.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 360-19(2): Update on the Great Slave Lake Commercial Fishery Revitalization
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 361-19(2): Advanciing Treaty, Land, Resources and Self-Government Agreements with Indigenous Governments
Ministers' Statements

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, settling and implementing treaty, land, resources, and self-government agreements is a key priority for the Government of the Northwest Territories within the priorities of the 19th Legislative Assembly.
Advancing agreements with Indigenous government partners supports reconciliation by moving us closer to recognizing and affirming Aboriginal and treaty rights and empowering program and service delivery by Indigenous governments.

Mr. Speaker, reaching agreement on matters of such profound importance to Indigenous peoples, and to the whole of the Northwest Territories and Canada, takes time due to a number of challenging issues faced by all parties involved in negotiations.
Given these challenges, I am pleased to let you know today that we are making meaningful progress in our attempts to settle treaty, land, resources, and self-government agreements.

Over the past four months, the Government of the Northwest Territories, Canada, and three Indigenous governments have initialed milestone agreements signaling our shared commitment to move forward.
We have initialed a draft Reconciliation and Process Agreement with Canada and the K'atlodeeche First Nation, a draft Agreement in Principle with Canada and the Akaitcho First Nations, and a draft Final Self-Government Agreement with Canada and the Tlegohli Got'ine government of the Northwest Territories.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has a legal duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous governments and organizations whenever it considers carrying out a government action that has the potential to adversely affect asserted or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. Consultation is necessary to ensure that Indigenous people have the opportunity to provide input and have their concerns addressed before decisions are made that may impact their rights and interests. With the signing of these draft agreements, the Government of the Northwest Territories and Canada have initiated consultation with other potentially affected Indigenous parties and have invited them to conduct internal reviews of the draft agreements.

Following consultation and internal reviews, negotiators for the parties will address any issues that arise during consultation or internal reviews before finalizing the agreements. I would like to express my gratitude to all of those involved at each table for their hard work and dedication to advancing these agreements, making it possible for each party to get to this point in their respective processes.

The initialing of these agreements reflects our government's commitment to strengthening relationships with Indigenous governments and demonstrates our sincere interest in meaningful partnerships.

Mr. Speaker, another example of the Government of the Northwest Territories' commitment to strengthening relationships with Indigenous governments and cultivating meaningful partnerships is our collaboration with the Intergovernmental Council. Together we have worked hard on developing and implementing the Intergovernmental Council Legislative Development Protocol, which has guided the last two years of unprecedented, collaborative work on land and resource legislative initiatives.
We have also worked closely with Indigenous governments to establish the NWT Council of Leaders and modern treaties to build collaborative tables to discuss shared issues such as health, housing, and the economy. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my Minister's statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

The work at the Council of Leaders to draft the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Implementation Act, which is currently being considered by the Legislative Assembly, is something that I am particularly proud of during my time as Premier.

It is also important to mention that to promote transparency and support the negotiation tables, this government published our negotiating principles and interests and negotiating mandates summary. The negotiating mandates are key to informing the government's participation in the negotiations of Aboriginal rights agreements as they set out the interests guiding the negotiators in concluding agreements.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud of how this government has changed its approach to work more collaboratively with Indigenous partners, to listen to their concerns, and to be flexible and accommodating as we work to advance negotiations. In this regard, I believe we have set a positive example for others to follow throughout Canada.

I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm this government's commitment to work toward settling and implementing treaty, land, resources, and self-government agreements. Just as important, this government will continue to develop the relationships we have built with Indigenous governments. This collaborative approach advances reconciliation, recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and treaty rights, supports program and service delivery by Indigenous governments, and sets the stage for further economic development in the Northwest Territories.
Mashi cho, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 361-19(2): Advanciing Treaty, Land, Resources and Self-Government Agreements with Indigenous Governments
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1527-19(2): Fire Response
Members' Statements

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the last two weeks for many residents of K'atlodeeche and Hay River has been emotional and traumatizing. Residents of K'atlodeeche had little time in which to evacuate as the fire approached quickly. As well, Hay River residents were also asked to leave in the early morning hours.

Mr. Speaker, many have expressed their appreciation for the work done by firefighters and emergency measures personnel throughout this distressing ordeal. They are the ones on the frontline, and I would like to say thank you to all of them.

Mr. Speaker, it is also important that we acknowledge, and must not forget those many volunteers, communities, NGO's, evacuees, and residents who stepped up to provide immediate supports to those displaced from their homes and communities. This included financial and moral support, gift cards, temporary accommodation, transportation of people and supplies, meals, clothes, bedding, and boarding for pets. And I say thank you for everything you did for all the evacuees, firefighters, and emergency personnel throughout.

Mr. Speaker, this is an event where we need to analyze what we did and find solutions to do better. This includes:

  • Identifying risk factors;
  • Actively fire smarting our communities, property, and homes;
  • Having an effective evacuation plan;
  • Identify transportation requirements for evacuees;
  • Identify evacuation routes, centres, and accommodation;
  • Fair and equitable compensation package for evacuees; and
  • Providing relevant information to residents routinely so they are prepared.

Mr. Speaker, during flooding and fires, we as government must do more and that more needs to be done prior to, during, and after such an event. We as government talk about what will be done to prevent damage to communities but tend to soon forget what we promised and revert to doing little or nothing at all. When, in reality, we can, in cooperation with residents, communities and Indigenous governments, identify and implement preventative measures to minimize or eliminate any disaster.

Mr. Speaker, homes and community infrastructure has been lost; however, we have been fortunate that there has been no loss of life in the fire and flooding that occurred over the last two years. But our luck will soon run out which is why it is ever so important we review our processes for addressing disasters, update our emergency plans, and develop a communication plan that provides timely and relevant information. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1527-19(2): Fire Response
Members' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Member's Statement 1528-19(2): Tar Sands Spills and Discharge Regulation Development
Members' Statements

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. It's great to see one of our Ministers working to protect the environment. I am aware of some activity by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on transboundary water issues with Alberta and Canada since we last met.

The Minister met with the Alberta Minister of Environment and Protected Areas on April 19th to discuss the continuing failure of the Government of Alberta to comply with the transboundary water agreement following two secret spills from the tar sands. Our Minister of Environment and Climate Change appeared virtually before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on April 24th as a witness on their study of the toxic leak of tailing ponds, and I watched that proceeding recently. And it was very interesting, Mr. Speaker. He also met virtually with the federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Guilbeault the same day. It appears there may have been some commitments made towards better communications and compliance with the transboundary water agreement. These may include:

  • Notifying our government of any spills as soon as Alberta is aware of them;
  • Discussing improvements to communication and notification between Alberta and the GNWT on the new notification and monitoring working group;
  • Being supportive of the inclusion of the Alberta-NWT bilateral management committee of Indigenous representation on this new federal working group; and
  • Briefing the GNWT on findings of knowledge gap reports.

I would also like to know whether there was any progress on opening up the secret processes of developing discharge regulations. I will have questions later today for our Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Member's Statement 1528-19(2): Tar Sands Spills and Discharge Regulation Development
Members' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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