This is page numbers 6417 - 6500 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 indigenous.

Topics

Members Present

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

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Drum prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 6417

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Good afternoon, colleagues. Please join me in thanking the Yellowknives Dene First Nation drummers for opening our sitting today.

---Applause

Colleagues, it was a long difficult summer. Many residents were displaced for weeks. Wildfires breached community boundaries. People lost their homes and businesses.
Frontline responders worked for weeks fighting back wildfires right on the doorstep of our communities. I want to thank everyone who worked to protect our territory this summer and continue this important work as we meet here today.

Natural disasters take a toll on all of us, physically, mentally and emotionally. While the wildfire season is not over, we are emerging from the most critical stages. We must recover from this natural disaster together. Do what Northerners do best and help one another. Be kind. Be patient. We still have to face the road ahead.

Since our last sitting, two former members of the Legislative Assembly, Robert Sayine and Tommy Enuaraq, have passed. Mr. Sayine was born in Fort Resolution and elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1979. He worked tirelessly for his community, serving as chief, sub-chief and councillor, in addition to many other roles. He is missed by his wife, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Mr. Enuaraq was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1995 for the people of Baffin Central. A well-known community leader and author, he is missed by his wife Elisapee and six children.

I would also like to acknowledge the passing of Bronwyn Watters, the Northwest Territories Equal Pay Commissioner. Ms. Watters had an extensive career with the GNWT and voluntary service. The GNWT is fortunate to have been a recipient of her exemplary work ethic and dedication. She is dearly missed by her husband and family.

I would also like to take this time to acknowledge all the people who have passed on from all constituencies across the NWT. Our sympathy and condolences go out to those who are grieving.

Members, this is the final sitting of the 19th Assembly. As Members, we have navigated COVID-19 global pandemic, self-isolation and the impact this has had on our communities; we have responded to economic downturns; we have evacuated communities from flooding; and, we continue to manage emergency response to fires today. If there is anything we have learned with this unprecedented last four years as Members, it is how to get the job done in the face of uncertainty.

Members, this is our last sitting to enact legislation and pass the capital budget. I ask all Members to stay focused on the task ahead of us, to get our work done efficiently this week, so we can all go back to support our constituents across the NWT.
Colleagues, please join me in welcoming our pages to the Chamber. It is an honour to share this space with our youth.

---Applause

I would also like to welcome our interpreters back to the Assembly and thank them for their work. Our languages are vital to us as Northerners. They tie us to our culture, to our land, and to one another. During this sitting, I am honoured that we will be able to provide interpretation into the following languages: Dene Suline Yatie, Inuvialuktun, Dene Kede,
Dene Zhatie, Tlicho Yatii; and French

Now, colleagues, it is my duty to advise the House that I have received two messages from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories.

The first letter reads:

Dear Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise that I assent to the following bills:

  • Bill 97, An Act to Postpone Polling Day for the 2023 General Election;
  • Bill 99, Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No.2, 2023-2024.

Yours truly, Margaret M. Thom, Commissioner.
The second letter reads:

Dear Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise that I recommend to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories the passage of Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures) No. 3, 2023-2024 during the second session of the 19th Legislative Assembly. Your truly, Margaret M. Thom.

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

Caroline Cochrane

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome my colleagues back to the House for the final session of the 19th Legislative Assembly. Many of us have been through at least one evacuation since we have last met in person, and I am grateful you are all safe.

For many residents of the NWT, you have recently returned home from a very long evacuation. Some residents have lost homes and businesses. For students, this is yet another disruption to their school year.
While it is tradition for the Premier to deliver a final Sessional Statement to recap and celebrate the accomplishments of their government, today I want to start by celebrating the residents and communities for their unending resilience in the face of so much adversity. To Hay River and the K'atlodeeche First Nation in particular, I see the hardship created by repeated evacuations due to both floods and fires. Words cannot express my admiration for you. This is the kind of resilience that makes me proud to live in the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the tragic passing of firefighter Adam Yeadon from Fort Liard. Adam lost his life this summer while protecting his community from wildfire. Adam was passionate about his work as a firefighter, and we will honour his sacrifice with a scholarship in his name.

We often forget that first responders put themselves at risk every day in the critical work they do, and it is important to express our gratitude for their dedication to this work. I am very thankful to all first responders and the firefighters who, like Adam, take pride in their work and commit to it fully despite the risk.
Against the odds, we have demonstrated resilience by working together through a series of adversities. This is a testament to the passion of all Members with whom I have had the pleasure to serve over the last four years. I want to thank everyone in this Chamber for the countless hours they have spent supporting and advocating for their constituents.

We have faced many challenges during the life of this Legislative Assembly. On February 7th, 2020, I tabled the new mandate of the Government of the Northwest Territories. Just over a month later, the first wave of COVID-19 hit the territory. It is hard to believe such a globally significant event now seems like a distant memory, even after it has profoundly shaped nearly every aspect of the Legislative Assembly.

We faced unprecedented flooding for two years in a row, which destroyed homes, cabins, businesses, and other infrastructure in multiple communities. These floods were followed a year later by a catastrophic 2023 wildfire season, in which over four million hectares of the territory have burned, and the season is not over yet.

Frontline workers and emergency management personnel across the territory have been tested time and time again over the life of this Legislative Assembly. They often work incredibly long hours for the benefit of residents, and I would like to thank them for their dedication to public service.

First responders have been with us every step of the way, from the pandemic to natural disasters. As this year's wildfire season stretches into a sixth month, I want to thank them for the amazing work they do each and every day.

I would also like to thank our neighboring provinces and territories who welcomed two thirds of the territory's population during the recent wildfire evacuations. Thank you to all the Indigenous, federal, provincial, territorial and community governments that provided support during this very challenging time.

I also want to acknowledge the many volunteers who provided meals, supported families and did everything from giving rides to offering a place to stay.

Finally, I want to extend my gratitude to the Alberta Emergency Management Agency for offering their assistance and expertise, and for helping to coordinate with other agencies across the province.

Mr. Speaker, during the life of this government, my Cabinet colleagues and I have been committed to serving the people of the Northwest Territories. While our decisions have not always been popular, they have always been made with integrity and with the goal of building a better future for us all.
This government's mandate reflected the 22 priorities set by all Members of the Legislative Assembly. I am pleased to advise Members that despite numerous challenges, this government has fulfilled 77 percent of our mandate commitments, another 13 percent are in progress, 9 percent have been delayed, and less than 1 percent have been discontinued. Later today, I will table the final progress report on the government's mandate which contains more detail about each of the completed commitments.

Since it was tabled in February 2020, the GNWT has initiated and carried out many significant actions in support of the mandate in key areas, including strengthening relationships with Indigenous governments and advancing reconciliation, providing improved social, economic, and governance supports for NWT communities and residents, and implementing efforts to grow, diversify, and sustain our economy and strengthen climate change action.

As a government, we work closely with our colleagues, partners, and residents to make notable progress on the promises we made back in 2020. We have advanced our initiatives despite significant adversity. I am particularly proud of how well we adapted and continued to prioritize the health and well-being of the residents and communities of the NWT.
Mr. Speaker, while the mandate set out the broad strokes of what we wanted to achieve during the 19th Legislative Assembly, it is not the only way to measure this government's success. Supported by an incredible public service, we have so much to be proud of.
During my time as Premier, I have spoken at length about the importance of relationship building and partnerships. In their mandate letters, I set the expectation that every Minister must foster constructive and respectful government-to-government relationships with Indigenous partners and seek ways to advance reconciliation, recognize and affirm Aboriginal rights, and support expanded program and service delivery by Indigenous governments.
I am especially proud of the work we have done with Indigenous governments. We have furthered land and self-government negotiations. We have removed the requirements for Indigenous governments to meet core principles and objectives, and we have published our negotiating mandates for clarity and transparency. We also established the Northwest Territories Council of Leaders, an example of meaningful collaboration between leaders from across the Northwest Territories, and this is a table at which the Government of the Northwest Territories is just one voice among many. The creation of this table has allowed us to strengthen programs and services, including working together to tackle our housing crisis, to respond to the calls for justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and to develop the proposed United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples legislation, which I hope to see passed this session.

This government has been focused on improving the health and well-being of all residents. We have made changes to income assistance to better serve residents, we have increased the number of public housing units, and implemented a housing strategic renewal framework. There are more supports than ever to help seniors age in place. Significant progress has been made toward building a wellness and recovery centre in Yellowknife, and mental health services are undergoing an important transformation to ensure residents can access them in their time of need. Earlier this year, the Government of the Northwest Territories also released the territory's alcohol strategy which lays out concrete steps to address alcohol-related harms through policy, education, public safety, communications, and treatment initiatives.

As part of the long-term commitment to primary health care reform, we have seen the creation of integrated care teams in Fort Smith, Fort Good Hope, and Yellowknife to ensure residents have access to care with the right provider and can build relationships to enhance continuum of care. The child and family services quality improvement plan is helping the government make real progress on delivering culturally safe programs and services to all NWT residents, including those most vulnerable.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud that the homelessness strategy has been completed during my time as Premier. This work was done collaboratively with partners in the non-profit sector and looks for realistic solutions to challenges. Not only does this strategy set a goal to increase the number of housing units, including transitional housing, it also highlights the need to integrate the delivery of various services to ensure we focus on clients and their needs, as well as their hopes and aspirations. I look forward to seeing the progress on implementing this strategy in the next government.

We have also made great strides in how we address public safety. The pandemic was a wake-up call for governments around the world, and we have learned from our response and from the response of others and used those lessons to inform how we respond to other emergencies like wildfire and flooding.

The GNWT's Emergency Management Organization, or EMO, has been put to the test on multiple occasions over the last four years, most recently during this year's wildfire season. Lessons learned have resulted in continuous improvement such as the addition of regional EMO staff and updates to the GNWT's Disaster Assistance Policy.

Mr. Speaker, The NWT is experiencing the effects of climate change up to four times faster than the rest of the world, and this has been top of mind in decision-making for this government. In addition to completing several climate change-related mandate commitments, I want to highlight the Government of the Northwest Territories' Capital Asset Retrofit Fund, which is now self-sufficient and will result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, including a reduction of over 17,000 tonnes by the end of this fiscal year. I am very happy to share that $3.75 million of annual utility savings will go towards funding 100 percent of next year's Capital Asset Retrofit Fund.

In the last four years, our government has overseen the completion of several major capital projects, including the Tlicho Highway, Ecole Itlo in Yellowknife, the Inuvik High Powered Wind Turbine project, the Hay River Fish Plant, and various highway improvement projects. Further, we have successfully operated and maintained hundreds of government assets from buildings to highways to ensure important services could continue to be available, despite some exceptionally difficult circumstances.

With the creation of the Department of Environment and Climate Change, we have also seen an improvement to how this government coordinates and makes decisions on land and natural resources management. The updated Healthy Land Healthy People work plan scopes out the future for protected and conserved areas, and the Participant Funding Program provides long-term secure funding to establish and maintain protected and conserved areas. We have also seen the creation of protected and conserved areas including the Edehzhie national Wildlife Area, the Ts'ude Niline Tuyeta Indigenous and territorial protected area, and the Sahtu K'aowe Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area. Collaboration on Public Land Act regulations through the intergovernmental council on Land and Resource Management Legislative Development Protocol is also a transformative approach for how we as a government work on legislation.

On the education and training front, I am very proud of the work of our education system and of the hardworking educators across the territory who adapted to the challenging circumstances of the pandemic and pivoted to an online learning model to allow students to continue their studies at home. In fact, this year NWT schools have once again adapted to change as they begin to pilot curriculum from British Columbia which is open to NWT Indigenous ways and will appropriately challenge students while supporting key learning for life.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to highlight the incredible work that has been done to advance Indigenous language programming in NWT schools. In particular, the Mentor Apprentice Program helps apprentices increase their ability to understand and speak their language by living life in their language.

This government has worked hard to support businesses, including continuing to promote the importance of the resource sector and the significant opportunities it holds, as well as undertaking the long-awaited procurement review. Private industry is a cornerstone of our economy, and we have been working hard to cut red tape and support entrepreneurs. I recognize that more is needed to enable government support for businesses during emergencies, and it is my hope this will be top of mind for the next government.

Mr. Speaker, we have made significant changes to the way the Government of the Northwest Territories does businesses. I want to take this opportunity to again thank all Members of the Legislative Assembly, residents, businesses, community leaders, stakeholders, and all budget dialogue participants for their input in developing the GNWT budgets during the 19th Legislative Assembly.

The 2023-2024 Budget has been challenged by the dramatically increased costs of this year's wildfire season. As a result, our operating surplus is expected to drop from a projected $178 million to about $5 million. This drop in operating surplus is expected in the current fiscal year only and is not expected to persist in future years. However, the GNWT will likely run a deficit in 2023-2024 when our capital expenditures are considered.

The fiscal outlook is stable despite these large expenditure shocks, partly because Canada will provide disaster relief funding. Under the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement, in the coming years the GNWT may recoup up to 90 percent of evacuation and rebuilding costs incurred during the 2023 wildfire season. Normally this can take several years, but we are negotiating with Canada to advance some of this money sooner. The federal government has been receptive to this idea and is considering it. The stable outlook is also due to right-sizing the capital budget this fiscal year to reflect the capacity to complete infrastructure projects, which improved the cash balance and debt outlook. Additionally, strengthening the Fiscal Responsibility Policy so that GNWT total borrowing is more closely linked to the federally-imposed borrowing limit helps maintain the stable outlook. So, while this will be a challenging year, our overall fiscal situation will remain relatively stable over the next few years, and we do not anticipate reaching the federal debt limit in the near term.
Mr. Speaker, during my time as Premier, I have tirelessly advocated for the Northwest Territories to receive appropriate funding from the Government of Canada. I have been especially vocal in the last year, particularly in the media and at the various meetings of Canada's Premiers. Most recently, I have been clear that this has been a record-setting wildfire season for the territory, including an extraordinary financial cost and we cannot face this burden alone.

Canada's failure to make transformational investments will leave the Northwest Territories facing the devastation and staggering cost of climate change without sufficient economic opportunities to cover the increased expenses. Modern transportation, energy, and telecommunications infrastructure are paramount for the prosperity of Northerners and to keep pace with our southern counterparts. Such investments would support life changing projects and enable NWT residents to pursue financial stability.
The federal government's Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, launched in 2019, acknowledged the serious gaps between the North and South when it comes to infrastructure, as well as government programs and supports available to residents. To date, there has been no implementation plan, nor any dedicated funding announced. I believe strongly that these gaps have widened in recent years due to the effects of the pandemic, Canada's per capita funding model, and the insistence that the NWT fit into national program models without recognizing our unique circumstances.

Northerners are not second-class citizens in Canada and should not be treated as such. In my final sessional statement as Premier, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: The North will not be silenced in its calls for treatment equal to that received by Canadian provinces. The time for investment in the North and true partnership is now. I want to thank our allies in Ottawa and beyond, for helping to amplify this message to the federal government. We must continue to deliver this message loud and clear on behalf of all our residents.

In the final Session of the 19th Legislative Assembly, we have critically important work ahead to set up the next Legislative Assembly for success. We will debate first-of-their-kind legislation, including the Forest Act and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Implementation Act. The Forest Act was developed side-by-side with Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations and renewable resource boards using, for the first time, the intergovernmental council on Land and Resource Management's Legislative Development Protocol. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Implementation Act was developed through the NWT Council of Leaders, a shining example of partnership with Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am so pleased to be closing out this Legislative Assembly with incredibly strong relationships across the territory.

Mr. Speaker, no Premier makes this journey alone. I want to thank the public for holding me and this government to account. I want to thank the Ministers for their hard work over these past four years and for the leadership they have shown. To all levels of government, but especially to Indigenous governments: Thank for you working with us and developing what I think are among the strongest relationships between our government and Indigenous leadership in the territory's history. Thank you to my fellow Members for their passion and for their many ideas to improve our territory. To the staff that have supported Cabinet, my heartfelt thanks for your dedication and expertise.
Mr. Speaker, it is bittersweet to deliver my final sessional statement. The last four years have challenged me in ways I cannot fully express, but I can say with certainty that I have grown as a person and as a leader. I have also been privileged to see the personal and professional growth of colleagues around this House.
As this government comes to an end, and another is about to begin, I am optimistic when I think about what's in store for the NWT.
I want to thank my colleagues for trusting me four years ago. Leading our territory is one of the great privileges of my life and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Madam Premier. Colleagues, before we continue, I wish to draw your attention to the presence of a former Member Kieron Testart in the gallery. Mr. Testart was a Member for Kam Lake in the 18th Assembly. Welcome to the Chamber.

Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Deh Cho.

Member's Statement 1581-19(2): Wildfire Evacuees
Members' Statements

September 27th, 2023

Page 6419

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the recent wildfires will be etched in everyone's minds for quite some time. Three of the largest centres in the Northwest Territories were affected with evacuation orders: Fort Smith which includes Smith's Landing First Nation; Hay River; Yellowknife, which includes Dettah and N'dilo. Equally affected were my riding communities of K'atlodeeche, Enterprise, and Kakisa. This is the largest evacuation order, ever, of residents, due to wildfires. Hay River and K'atlodeeche had faced evacuations back in May due to a large, fast moving wildfire not seen previously, and a fire of this magnitude should have been a wake-up call.

Mr. Speaker, I, and on behalf of my colleagues, extend sincere sympathies to the many residents of our territory who were evacuated from their homes and communities. To the residents of Enterprise and Paradise Gardens, words cannot replace what was lost in the fires. But take solace, you were always in our thoughts and prayers. Our heartfelt sympathies to the many elders and long-term care patients who were displaced and sent far from their loved ones, you are all in our thoughts and prayers.

Mr. Speaker, I and my colleagues would like to extend heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the fire crews, fire management teams, and the many volunteers who were involved in containing the wildfires. It was an onerous task but you all stuck it out and for that the residents are forever grateful. Mahsi.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.

Frieda Martselos

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, to begin this final sitting of the 19th Assembly, I would like to start by recognizing and thanking all the people who helped with Fort Smith's evacuation and protection in this year's record-breaking wildfire season. This includes all wildfire personnel in the Department of Environment and Climate Change formerly known as ENR, as well as the personnel from Parks Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of MACA, the business community, and regular citizens who stepped up and volunteered to help in any way they could. Thanks to the combined efforts of all these groups, Fort Smith is still standing with no homes lost or human lives lost due to wildfires. Thank you also to those residents who stayed behind to help, to defend, and look after the community while it was evacuated.

As MLA for Thebacha, on behalf of the Fort Smith residents, thank you everyone who helped with these efforts of protecting Fort Smith from disaster. Moreover, Mr. Speaker, while it is certainly positive that Fort Smith itself did not sustain any major physical damage due to wildfires, the landscape has changed.

There are some sad stories that occurred during the period of evacuation that I want to share with you. With the permission of their families, I am sad to report that Fort Smith lost five citizens during the five weeks that we were evacuated from our community. The names of these individuals are Sandy Murphy, a senior from the seniors home. Chris Caron whom I traveled with every Friday through the entire 19th Assembly. I will miss him. Michael Walsh, who I met during my last campaign in 2019 and is a senior whose daughter is Shauna Walsh. Jason Abraham, a Salt River Member. And Philip MacDonald, who is also a Salt River Member, and was the oldest person in Fort Smith. On behalf of all Fort Smith residents, I want to offer my heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and loved ones of each of these individuals. These are a sad loss for our community. It is always hard to lose someone but I know that it was especially hard to handle during such a mixed up time throughout our town's evacuation. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that none of these deceased individuals had died as a result of the wildfires and that each person passed away due to various reasons. There is, however, an additional story that I want to mention which did result in life loss due to wildfire.

During the second evacuation of Hay River, Fort Smith residents Mike Curet and his wife Halina Kate did lose some animals along with their truck and lifestock trailer as they were fleeing Hay River. In all, they lost five alpacas and two guard dogs named Luna and Cassie. Those animals were part of Mike and Halina's family, and it is very unfortunate that they died during the evacuation.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I also want to acknowledge the fallen NWT firefighter, Mr. Adam Yeadon, who died on the job in July while battling a fire near Fort Liard. Adam was a Member of the Acho Dene Koe First Nation. He was only 25 years old. He had a young daughter and a loving partner whom he left behind. As Thebacha MLA, I want to offer my condolences to his family and his community for this tragic loss.

And, lastly, I want to thank the Cabinet, all Regular Members, all Regular MLA Members, and all the staff of the Legislative Assembly, who helped me navigate through this evacuation.

I also want to thank my husband Peter and my dog Rambo. Both of them stayed behind and looked after people's pets, harvest people's gardens since grocery trucks could not deliver food due to road closures. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Rocky Simpson

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I'd first like to say Happy Birthday to my son R.J.

Mr. Speaker, over the summer, wildfires in the North South Slave Region destroyed homes, businesses, and community infrastructure which will have a long-lasting effect on the emotional and mental well-being of residents of Hay River, K'atlodeeche First Nation, and Enterprise.

Mr. Speaker, many of us have seen first-hand the devastation in Enterprise, Hay River, and K'atlodeeche, and along the highway where cabins were lost due to these wildfires. Residents are asking, could more have been done to get the fires under control sooner? Possibly. But one thing is for sure, if not for the immediate action by Hay River's EMO and the sheer determination and work of those wildfire and structural frontline firefighters, of those who fought the fire from the air, and of those who provided logistical and various supports to all frontline workers, the outcome might have been much different and much more devastating and for this we thank them.

Mr. Speaker, this wildfire impacted residents of Hay River and the residents of the South Slave who were directed to evacuate on very short notice which many did, and for that we must thank them for their cooperation, patience, and understanding throughout this ordeal. The evacuation was not only for their safety and for the safety of their family and neighbours but provided frontline firefighters with room to effectively fight the fire that surrounded and endangered homes, businesses and community infrastructure.

Mr. Speaker, the Yukon territory and the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and British Columbia, along with many of their residents, businesses and NGOs, all stepped up and welcomed our residents with open arms. They mobilized quickly to provide accommodation, meals, local transportation, mental health, and medical health supports and more. For this, we thank them.

Mr. Speaker, the First Nation and Metis governments provided ongoing financial, transportation, accommodation, and mental health supports to their citizens throughout the evacuation, as well many NGOs including United Way, have been instrumental in providing financial and other resources and supports and fill gaps left by government. For this, we thank them.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize the work done by Hay River mayor Candace Jamieson, councillor Robert Bouchard, and volunteer Cathy McBryan who, among the many duties they had, spent countless hours at the airport ensuring safe and organized departures of all evacuees of Hay River. For this, I thank them. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. Like most of us in this Chamber, my family and I were the subjects of the mandatory evacuation orders in August and September. I want to extend my personal thanks to all those firefighters, support workers, and other essential service personnel that stayed behind to protect our communities. I also want to thank the Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Yukon governments, the non-governmental organizations, the volunteers, and businesses that helped support our residents while we were away. I also want to acknowledge that as bad as Yellowknife had it, other communities suffered longer evacuations and Enterprise, K'atlodeeche, and Paradise Gardens are going to need very substantial government assistance with their future.

While it might be easy to criticize evacuations, there is always room for improvement. It was a miracle that 19,000 people were, for the most part, able to leave Yellowknife safely over a three-day period. Clearly there is also a need to work more closely with Indigenous governments for emergency management and evacuations.

Moving forward, there are still two areas that require further attention. Firstly, while I appreciate Cabinet's work during evacuation, the financial supports to date have not been adequate or equitable. The evacuation travel support program is not sufficient as $750 per vehicle does not cover those who voluntarily left on commercial flights, in some cases at great personal expense so as to not stress government charter flights, or those residents that could not access supports upon evacuation to other jurisdictions for a whole variety of reasons. I will continue to fight for more equitable and generous financial support.

Our small businesses also require more support. Many have not fully recovered from COVID when struck with impacts of these evacuations. It is my understanding that evacuations costs are eligible for up to 90 percent reimbursement under the federal guidelines for the disaster financial assistance arrangements. I fail to understand why Cabinet cannot provide more and fair financial support for evacuees and small businesses. Lastly, it is now time to start to formulate the lessons learned exercise for firefighting and emergency management. As I have said before, this needs to be a comprehensive, independent, and third party public review. All available tools and options including the Public Inquiries Act need to be carefully considered with an opportunity for public input. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Jackie Jacobson

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, Nunakput constituents and former residents who passed away since our last sitting in June.

Paulatuk: Sadie Marie Grover Sikilak Lester who passed away September 4th, 2023. Sadie was a strong survivor who did everything she could to raise her children as a single mother. She was also a residential school survivor and she will be sadly missed.

Sachs Harbour: Mr. Noah Carpenter, son of Fred Carpenter and Ada Gruben. A respected retired medical doctor, a surgeon, top in the field of neurosurgeon. He will be retired and living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is survived by his siblings and many adopted brothers and sisters. He was a Inuvialuit and a role model to all the people.

Tuktoytakuk: Joanne Felix, a young lady from Tuktoytakuk who passed away in Whitehorse, Yukon. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, Mr. Speaker.

And again, Adam Yeadon, the young firefighter who passed away, you know, working for the people of the Northwest Territories' safety. Thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Today, Mr. Speaker, I would also like to, people that I grown up with in Tuk, Don Gruben Senior, who passed away a few months ago and his son Jerry passed away a few weeks ago. And my thoughts and prayers are with Darlene and the family. And gone but not forgotten.

My good buddy growing up and going to residential school, Patty Elikuk. I just found out Patty passed away and his funeral is today in Inuvik and so thoughts and prayers with the family.

And another good friend growing up, Jason Firth, also known as Jim Bob. I got a lot of good memories with him. And he will be sadly missed. My thoughts and prayers are going out to Hazel and to Jenkins and the family in Fort McPherson.

And one of the toughest, the last couple of weeks ago, Mr. Speaker, I lost my brother-in-law, Bruce. And my sister Pauline, that's my older sister, through the evacuation and all that, you know, with all that being traveling down to BC to the hospice there and my sister and myself were there, caring for him, and his brother was there, which was really good, you know, and Bruce is a 14-year vet of the Canadian Armed Forces. And I really enjoyed his company while he was here with us in Yellowknife and often spent a lot of time with him. But to my sister Pauline, you are not alone, and I love you and we are going to get through this. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and communities at this time.

Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Richard Edjericon

Richard Edjericon Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Northwest Territories has been through hard times since the Assembly began four years ago. The pandemic, floods, fire, even war, have darkened our days and brought our people nothing but stress and uncertainty. It has also tested the resolve of this government to steer the territory through the worst of times. We are in the thick of it, Mr. Speaker. Even today, session is on an emergency basis and I think that it is important that we recognize the people who have been working hard to protect our communities while their friends and families have been forced to evacuate. I would like to say thank you and recognize all the essential workers from the City of Yellowknife, Town of Hay River, Town of Fort Smith, YKDFN, Kakisa, K'atlodeeche Reserve.

Mr. Speaker, when I recognize these people coming up shortly I just want to say, you know, they have been working long days and nights to protect our communities and our homes and be ready to welcome, for me and my community the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, home. I want to say a big mahsi cho to Elvis Kotchilea, Brian Proby, Kieron Testart, Bochia Kotchilea, Therese Lynn, Roger Mackeinzo, Joe Dewar, Cash McMann, Silent Safkin, Trisha Liske, Norman Sangris, Gordon Sangris, Eric Capoe, and the volunteers Brian Sundberg, Ethan Sundberg, Ernest Betsina, Norman Betsina, Nikki Betsina, including former chief Eddie Sangris and chief Fred Sangris. And there are so many others who have pitched in during these times, mahsi cho again from the bottom of my heart.

Mr. Speaker, Northerners are resilient and strong. Our Indigenous brothers and sisters have weathered greater storms that our ancestors survived since time immemorial. The community's display of compassion and generosity is humbling. It is no surprise that we are taking care of each other. That's what Northerners do.

Mahsi to everyone who has stepped up to help the evacuees from provinces, provincial governments to the non-government organizations, to cities and band councils, and ordinary citizens pitching in to help. And I want to recognize and include
Deninu Kue First Nation, the Fort Resolution Metis Council, and Lutselk'e Dene First Nation. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my Member statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker; thank you, colleagues. But just because Northerners can handle any crisis, it doesn't they don't have questions about how this government has been managing our current state of emergencies. It does not take a scholar to notice that the communication from our Cabinet colleagues have been limited, confusing, and in some cases contradictory. Just this alone has caused enough for a concern. If our government cannot effectively communicate, it seems unprepared and for some untrustworthy.

Mr. Speaker, the people are frustrated and our patience are running out. We cannot expect that thousands of displaced residents can support themselves without help from our government. We must do more. Our people are looking for us for leadership. Even though the session is short, rest assured I am working day and night to support my constituents through the crisis and ensure our people that are back safely to their homes and their traditional territory. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Katrina Nokleby

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you. I'd like to also welcome everyone back into the House for the final sitting of the 19th Assembly. I also want to welcome back the residents of Yellowknife as well as those who were displaced for so long in the South Slave. I am very proud of the strength and resiliency of the residents of the NWT, of how people took care of each other. My social media feeds were full of people pitching in, sharing information, and providing resources to those less fortunate. It was truly heartwarming.

I also want to thank the hard-working fire, military, and safety personnel from the NWT and Alberta, and across Canada and the globe. They worked tirelessly and at great peril to protect our communities and keep people safe, and we owe them a huge thank you.

Mr. Speaker, as we entered the 2023 fire season, SCEDE had been working on Bill 74, the Forest Act. In the spring we traveled to several communities and received input from stakeholders and interested parties. This work confirmed for me that the NWT is woefully unprepared for climate-driven emergencies. From an out-of-date 2018 emergency plan to putting the onus on underfunded communities to take care of their own preparedness, mitigation, and response, the NWT is poised to face costly climate disaster after climate disaster for the foreseeable future. We must be proactive now and create community specific mitigation and response plans that incorporate Indigenous science and local knowledge to properly care for the land.

Mr. Speaker, why have we not seen an updated Emergency Response Plan during this Assembly, one that accounts for our rapidly changing climate? Emergency Response Plans should be considered living documents with annual updates and training. Has any of this happened or is the last time anyone looked at the plan in 2018?

In 2021, the Minister of ENR and I traveled to the UN climate conference in Glasgow where he had one goal. His job was to impress upon the federal government that the NWT was experiencing climate change at an unprecedented rate; to make the Liberal government understand that we could not afford to pay for their climate change election promises, nor did we have the capacity to do so. Considering the controversial tax imposed on us all in the spring, it's clear that this mission was a failure. And I am very concerned that if the GNWT does not get serious now and proactively address climate change and emergency response in the coming months, we are going to find ourselves in the same situation next summer. And Mr. Speaker, I can't think of anything worse for the mental well-being of our people if that was to happen. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Jane Weyallon Armstrong

Jane Weyallon Armstrong Monfwi

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we all know this has been the worst forest fire season in the NWT history. This is the first time in history that two-thirds of NWT residents were forced to leave their homes. These tragic events displaced nearly 30,000 people for weeks and resulted in the loss of millions of hectares of land burned. In Tlicho region, four houses and 15 traditional cabins burned, as well devastating loss of traditional food from both vegetation and wildlife. The damage done to our lands will take decades to repair.

Mr. Speaker, this fire season has seen two Tlicho communities, Wekweeti and Behchoko, needing to be evacuated. Other communities were also evacuated, and some were put on alert status.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT current wildfire management policy has completely failed the people of the NWT. All NWT residents have been impacted and millions of hectares of land destroyed across the NWT. This wildfire management policy needs to change before more damage is done to NWT lands and communities.

Mr. Speaker, these fires all started out small and controllable. In such a dry, in a hot dry year, these fires should have been put out right away, not allowed to burn hoping that they extinguish themselves. This failure allowed millions of hectares of land destroyed and impacted the lives of every NWT resident. We cannot even begin to estimate the wildlife, the animals burned, plants, and all the animal habitat destroyed and the long-term impact this will have on residents of the NWT. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Thank you.

---Unanimous consent granted

Mr. Speaker, all fire seasons, during all the fire seasons, the Minister has said that it is the hottest driest year, and that is true. In these extreme weather condition, a change to the policy should have happened. Letting fires burn until they threaten critical infrastructure has catastrophic results for the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, GNWT policy may have failed the people of the NWT the people of NWT did not fail each other. The people of the NWT were there to support one another. They opened their homes and hearts, volunteered their time and resources to support each other. It makes me proud to be a resident of the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the firefighters for the work that they do. They put their lives on the line and work countless hours to save NWT communities and our communities of Wekweeti and Behchoko. I also want to thank all the community government workers, volunteers, people who stayed behind in Behchoko and Wekweeti to support the firefighters. Even after ECC pulled out of Behchoko, some residents stayed behind to continue fighting the fire and save our community.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank all the people who supported Tlicho citizens during Behchoko and Wekweeti evacuation in Yellowknife. Thank you for your generosity and kindness.

Mr. Speaker, we were not happy with how our Tlicho communities were treated during Yellowknife evacuation. I will have another Member statement to discuss these concerns. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I have stood in this House and have spoke about the symbiotic relationship between between GNWT and private industry. We have a fundamental need for the sustainability of private industry. Its growth and prosperity is a true indicator of a healthy economic environment.

Here in Yellowknife, we saw firsthand how reliant governments are on private industry. Our private industry is the backbone of this territory and showed up in a big way as business and public servants worked together to fire smart this town.

A healthy territory relies on a vibrant private sector which isn't only a reliance on the businesses deemed essential and able to stay. We rely on hundreds of business from medium corporations and limited liability companies to small and home-based businesses that collectively serve residents and government.

Mr. Speaker, our businesses are hurting. Many have said evacuations hit harder than COVID. Hay River businesses experienced three evacuations in a year and a half, South Slave operators saw significant weeks of evacuations. Some South Slave businesses lost everything. And even with the three weeks of evacuation here in Yellowknife, without infrastructure loss, cost financial shortfalls of $20,000 in some and well over hundreds of thousands in others.

Mr. Speaker, the income disruption policy is not reflective of northern wages and owners don't qualify. The SEED relief covers some monthly expenses but is capped at $5,000 as is the BDIC WARM funding. I have heard some people say that businesses should have had insurance, but business insurance does not cover natural disasters or pandemics. Multiple Kam Lake businesses continue to pay salaries or allowances to staff out of a personal duty of loyalty and care for their employees. With no billable hours, this caused incredible hardship for those employers.

Mr. Speaker, in a nation with a labour shortage, these employers need their staff to return to Yellowknife to continue to fulfill fall contracts. And this government needs those residents to come home too. Some businesses, without the cash flow to continue to pay salary, lost staff who couldn't weather the uncertainty of an evacuation, some have cancelled contracts or shifted business operations, driving summer work into winter months with greater costs while others work on an exit plan, Mr. Speaker. This means we have not yet experienced the actual fire season cost as the dominoes continue to fall in private industry. Businesses need to save for a rainy day they say but this is not a rainy day, Mr. Speaker. These are the impacts of unmitigated climate change on a territory without a viable aspirational plan. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

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

Rylund Johnson

Rylund Johnson Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, I would like to join in my colleagues and thanking all of our forestry firefighters, all of those who worked at -- our pilots, our tanker bases, in those logistics, to the hundreds of volunteers in multiple communities, especially here in Yellowknife who stayed behind and built what is truly an impressive fire break in a matter of days as well as all of the municipal staff. And lastly, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all of our constituents who have been through a lot, and it seems like the majority of time in this Assembly has been spent in some sort of state of emergency, and it feels like we just can't get a rest. I know a lot of us are feeling like little stress, and I encourage everyone, you know, to try and take some time now to recover and hopefully we get a little break from this never-ending string of emergencies.

But Mr. Speaker, that may not be the case, and I want to echo the sentiment of some of my colleagues that we have to take this after-action review seriously. We have to work with our municipalities, and I think that we have to answer some fundamental questions, one is on fire management. Are we spending enough on fire prevention or are communities properly funded to build fire breaks? Are we doing enough control burning now that cooler weather is with us? Emergency management, can we really continue to have our communities be the lead on emergency management?

Here in Yellowknife, it was very clear that the City of Yellowknife was never resourced and funded to do air evacuation or to evacuate a whole city, let alone provide accommodations across multiple jurisdictions. We stepped that up and did that, but it raises fundamental questions about where that responsibility should lie in the first place.

I think there are lots of questions about our forest management practices going forward. Certainly we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on suppression, and we are experts in that front. But there are questions about how large fire breaks need to be built around communities. Communities, two of them, we had the opportunity to tragically to see the one in Enterprise just before the community was burnt, Mr. Speaker, and they were proud of the size of that. But was there any size of fire break that would have prevented that fire or would control burning have done that? I don't have these answers. They are technical questions, but I think this is the entire scope of an after-action review that we owe our citizens and I think needs public input from the public and all the community and all of the people involved in this so we can answer some of these questions and we don't find ourselves fighting over jurisdiction in the midst of an emergency again. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Yellowknife North. Members' statements. Member for Nahendeh.