This is page numbers 1 - 24 of the Hansard for the 20th Assembly, 1st 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 communities.

Topics

Members Present

Ms. Cleveland, Mr. Edjericon, Mr. Hawkins, Mrs. Kuptana, Mr. MacDonald, Mr. McKay, Mr. McNeely, Ms. Morgan,

Mr. Morse, Mr. Nerysoo, Ms. Reid, Mr. Rodgers, Ms. Semmler, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Testart, Mr. Thompson, Ms.

Wawzonek, Mrs. Weyallon Armstrong, Mrs. Yakelaya.

The House met at 1:30 P.M.

---National Anthem

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Good afternoon. Please join me in thanking elder Sarah Cleary for her opening words and blessing today.

February is Indigenous language month and I look forward to hearing these languages spoken each day. Before we begin, I want to acknowledge the tragedy that took place in Fort Smith on January 23rd. A plane crash claimed the lives of six Northerners, leaving one survivor. Our residents and communities are connected to one another. When one community hurts, we all hurt. But the reverse holds true. When a community needs healing, we come together to help heal. It is my hope that Fort Smith and the friends and families of everyone involved feel the support of this House. Also, I want to thank the first responders who assisted with rescue operations.

Members, today we will continue the first session of the 20th Assembly. Eighty-four days ago, we were elected. Since that time, we have been learning our new roles and working to advance what is important to our residents. Your motivation to make meaningful change for residents of the Northwest Territories is exciting. Next week, we will set the priorities of the 20th Assembly. I am confident the priorities chosen will reflect the needs of this territory and clearly lay out a map forward for this Assembly.

When I became the Speaker, I called for thoughtful, meaningful, and honest debate. We all have different perspectives. This requires respect and understanding. There will of course be challenges but I am certain we will rise above them.

I also want to comment on His Majesty the King's cancer diagnosis. As head of state, this House wishes him well. Cancer touches us all. The King's openness about his cancer encourages us to talk about it and support each other as we face personal health challenges.

Members, it is my pleasure to inform you that we have interpretation services for the following official languages, and I apologize if I say the pronouncements wrong.

  • Dene Suline Yati,
  • Inuvialuktun,
  • Inuktitut,
  • Innuinnaqtun,
  • Dene Kede,
  • Dene Zhatie,
  • Dinjii Zhu Ginjik,
  • Tlicho Yati, and
  • French.

And again, I apologize if I mispronounced the words. It is an honour to receive these services from such dedicated interpreters. Members, please remember to speak slowly and clearly for our interpreters.

As I said earlier, February is Indigenous language month. All month, the Assembly's social media will highlight unique words and phrases from our nine Indigenous official languages. We are proud to celebrate our linguistic diversity. Speaking a language, even a single word, breathes life into our cultural heritage.

Members, please also welcome our pages to the Chamber. Our youth are the future. We are pleased to have you here with us in this House. I also want to thank the youth from Ecole William MacDonald School in Yellowknife for singing Oh Canada in English, French and Tlicho.

I received the following correspondence from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, the Honourable Margaret Thom. It states:

Dear, Mr. Speaker. I wish to advise that I recommend to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories the passage of Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2024-2025; Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 4, 2023-2024; Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 3, 2023-2024, during the first session of the 20th Legislative Assembly.

Now colleagues, let's rock and roll; let's get down to business. Ministers' statements. Premier.

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Mr. Speaker, I must begin by acknowledging the plane crash that occurred in Fort Smith on January 23rd. I send my deepest condolences to the families and friends who have been impacted by this tragedy, and to the entire community of Fort Smith. I visited Fort Smith shortly after the accident, and it was clear that the people we lost were loved deeply and will be sorrily missed. I hope the families are able to find some comfort in the outpouring of community support that I witnessed.

Mr. Speaker, I must commend and thank all of the first responders involved in the efforts that day, as well as those who assisted them. The community leaders that I met with spoke very highly of their actions and wanted to ensure that their efforts are recognized.

The impact of this accident has been felt across the territory, with NWT residents coming together, grieving alongside one another, and supporting each other through the loss. In the Northwest Territories, we are all connected, and it is this connection, this strong sense of community and togetherness, that defines us. It is our greatest strength.

Mr. Speaker, as a candidate for Premier, when I first presented my vision for the NWT, I asked each Member of this House to imagine what our territory could look like in 50 years. I asked Members to believe that through hard work, we could build the foundation for an united, resilient, and prosperous Northwest Territories; a place rooted in our collective respect for each other and the land, where our cultures and languages thrive, and our communities and people are sustained by a strong, vibrant economy. I believe that in 50 years we can achieve that and that our cooperative consensus government system, integrated with Indigenous self-governments, will be unique in the world and a model for reconciliation.

Today, as we gather for the first session of the 20th Legislative Assembly, this vision is at the forefront of my mind. Since the beginning of this young government, we have emphasized that partnerships we form must extend beyond the walls of this House. Central to our success as a public government representing all Northerners will be our ability to work in meaningful, true partnership with Indigenous governments. We must continue the work of the NWT Council of Leaders and collaborate with Indigenous governments to achieve the objective of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We must accelerate the advancement of land claims and self-government negotiations. Concluding land claim and self-government agreements will improve the quality of life for residents by advancing reconciliation, bringing more money and opportunities into the regions and small communities, and making the NWT more attractive to investors. Together with Indigenous government partners, we will forge a path honouring our shared past while embracing a promising future.

One of the first tasks as the 20th Legislative Assembly is to set priorities. As elected officials with deep roots and connections in our communities and regions, we have been engaging with our constituents and hearing their thoughts on the territory's current and future challenges and opportunities. In my own conversations with residents and Indigenous leaders, I have heard recurring themes. One is climate change.

The impacts of climate change are seen all around us, all year round, and demand immediate attention. Last year's wildfire season was the worst in Canadian and NWT history and was a stark reminder of the need to adapt and prepare for emergency situations that are becoming more frequent and extreme due to climate change. Like many residents of the territory, I have seen my community evacuated several times in the last couple of years due to floods and wildfires.

The Government of the Northwest Territories is currently participating in two independent reviews: One through the Department of Environment and Climate Change and one through the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. Guided by input from Indigenous leaders, community governments and residents, these reviews will assess last year's emergency response and recommend changes to future processes.

Last summer's evacuations were traumatic for many residents and communities, and it is incredibly important that the public has an opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences as part of the review process. Not only does this play an important role in healing, but it also ensures that we are effectively supporting residents through difficult times. From wildfires and floods to permafrost degradation, we must prepare the territory for the impacts of climate change and instill public confidence in our ability to support residents.

Mr. Speaker, mental health and housing are other areas demanding immediate attention. From shortages in affordable housing to gaps in mental health and addiction support, we need to work closely with Indigenous and community partners to create solutions that lead to real, positive outcomes for residents. To ensure the success of these programs and services, they need to be flexible and easy for residents to access. This accessibility is something we need to apply to the delivery of all programs and services across the GNWT.

This government needs to closely examine how we deliver programs and services to our residents. We need to create a person-centered approach to service delivery that puts ease of access at the center of our program and service design. We want to reach a point where a resident can walk into their local government office and learn about the various supports available across several departments and get access to them from one place at one time. Improving our programs and services also entails a rigorous evaluation of their effectiveness, ensuring our efforts deliver tangible results.

The Government of the Northwest Territories faces a critical juncture. Despite increased spending on programs and services, many of the outcomes we strive for remain elusive. It is imperative that we carefully examine the services we deliver and ensure that we are focusing on areas where we can truly make a difference. Our approach must pivot towards ensuring that every dollar spent translates into meaningful improvements in the daily lives of our residents. This strategic reallocation is about maximizing impact where it matters most.

Mr. Speaker, there is no question we have many needs in the NWT, and the Government of the Northwest Territories cannot address them alone. Luckily, Mr. Speaker, we are not alone. The GNWT is only one of the governments in the Northwest Territories. I have spoken to many Indigenous leaders, and I know that across the territory there is a strong desire for the GNWT to work in partnership with Indigenous governments to address the issues facing our territory. We are stronger together and by working collaboratively and approaching the federal government with a united front, we will make a greater impact on the lives of our residents than if we each go at it alone. However, we cannot rely on the Government of Canada to continue to increase our funding or our borrowing limit. We are responsible for ensuring that our financial situation is sustainable.

In addition to ensuring that we are focusing our limited resources to have maximum impact, we must place a strong focus on economic development.
Part of this focus involves addressing the significant infrastructure gap between our territory and the rest of Canada. By investing in vital infrastructure, we not only enhance our economic potential but also improve the quality of life for our residents. This includes developing transportation networks, energy systems, and digital infrastructure to ensure our communities are connected and competitive. Bridging this gap is essential to address our current economic needs and to lay the groundwork for future growth and sustainability. As we advance, we aim to create a robust economy that stands on its own, reducing dependency and strengthening our position in the national landscape.

In January, I attended AME Roundup, a mineral resource industry conference in Vancouver, accompanied by the Honourable Caitlin Cleveland, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment; the Honourable Caroline Wawzonek, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance and Infrastructure; the Honourable Jay MacDonald, Minister of Environment and Climate Change; and, Member of the Legislative Assembly Mr. Danny McNeely. We met with Indigenous leaders, industry leaders and elected officials and staff from federal, provincial, and territorial governments to discuss the territory's extraordinary wealth of mineral resources and how investment and partnership in the NWT's non-renewable resource sector will result in benefits for residents, communities, Indigenous governments, investors, industry, and Canada.

With a century-long history in mining, the NWT has assumed a leading role in sustainable and responsible mining development. Discussions at events like AME Roundup are pivotal to maintaining this position. Developing the NWT's mineral resources sector is deeply intertwined with partnership and collaboration with Indigenous communities. Recognizing this, the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to actively supporting and engaging with Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations. This collaborative approach ensures that the development of the non-renewable resource sector not only contributes to the territorial economy but also respects and incorporates Indigenous knowledge, priorities, and rights. By working together, we aim to create a mining sector that is sustainable, equitable, predictable, and beneficial for all communities, fostering long-term prosperity and respect for our shared land and resources.

Emerging from all these critical areas are the recurring themes that I am sure many of the Members of this House have heard from their constituents, friends and neighbours. Residents of the Northwest Territories want to feel safe in their communities and homes, they want access to timely and appropriate health care, and they want their families and communities to benefit from the opportunities attained through education and employment. Safety, health and opportunity are the building blocks of a prosperous territory and I expect that as we come together to set our priorities, these themes will again emerge as areas of focus.

I believe that our path is clear. It is one of sensible, practical, and achievable solutions, and a steadfast commitment to the people and communities of the Northwest Territories. I look forward to working closely with all Members of the Legislative Assembly, Indigenous governments, and all levels of government as we move forward to define and implement the priorities of the 20th Legislative Assembly and lead the territory towards a prosperous future.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Premier. Ministers' statements. Premier.

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise Members that the Honourable Lucy Kuptana will be absent from the House today due to travel delays in her flights to Yellowknife. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Premier. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Richard Edjericon

Richard Edjericon Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Mr. Speaker, today as we begin our sessions, I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the victims of the devastating plane crash that took the lives of six extraordinary people last month in Fort Smith. They were taken from their loved ones too soon, in a sudden accident that has shaken the Northwest Territories to its very core. That flight to Diavik was carrying some of the North's best and brightest. Many on board had their whole lives ahead of them. They all had so much love to give, and they were not ready to say good-bye. Their passing impacts everyone across the North in many different ways. Words alone cannot express how shaken I was when I heard the news. I know when we all first heard, we were praying for a different outcome. Sadly, the worst turned out to be true. So many across the North travel safely every day from community to community, from home to work and back again, never expecting something so tragic to happen.

Mr. Speaker, my thoughts and prayers are especially with the families of the victims and the survivors of this disaster. I hope that the families and loved ones of the deceased find all the comfort and healing they need during this very difficult time. I know that their communities are pulling together to offer love and support, and it moves me very deeply in addition to the work of the communities. Both private and public resources have been made available to support those who are suffering in the aftermath of the crash.

I want to say mahsi cho to all of the first responders involved who worked tirelessly to save as many lives as they could, and I am sure they are haunted by the scene they came across that day. I also want to extend my thoughts to the colleagues of the deceased and all the mine workers across the NWT who are shocked by this accident. To those continuing to travel and to work from, their best efforts are always in place to ensure your safety.

This investigation will produce a vital insight into how we can improve air transportation in the North. I thank all those who are helping others to grieve and heal. These dark times are bringing out the best in all of us to show how strong and resilient our communities truly are.

Before I conclude, Mr. Speaker, I've been very moved by my constituents' tributes to the late Diane Balsillie and her family from Fort Resolution. So much love for her has poured in since the accident. She was flying out that day to work as a long-time employee.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Member from Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, your time is up.

Richard Edjericon

Richard Edjericon Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

I seek unanimous consent.

--Unanimous consent granted

Richard Edjericon

Richard Edjericon Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, colleagues. Her passing hits Fort Resolution very hard. Her colleagues together all fondly recall how much brighter she made her workplace every day. Her family will never forget her big hugs, warm greetings, her laughter and joyful smile. She was an inspiration for all that knew her. The memories of her incredibly caring personality will live on forever. She will be deeply missed, and I wish all the best for her family and friends as they grieve her loss. May she rest in peace. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Member. Our condolences go out to the family and friends. Member from Range Lake.

Kieron Testart

Kieron Testart Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this House on behalf my constituents to offer our deepest sympathies to the families and communities affected by the recent tragedy that took place in Fort Smith. This accident came as such a shock for what felt like just another ordinary day to a flight of such dedicated northern workers who have passed away so suddenly who were simply on the job or heading back to work. They were pilots, mechanics, truck drivers, talented young diverse workers whose strength powers our territory towards shared opportunity and prosperity.

Mr. Speaker, we are poorer as a territory without these young women and men. They truly were the future of the Northwest Territories. Yet, we are also lonelier as a territory in their absence as, most importantly, they were irreplaceable family members, sons, daughters, husbands. They were loved and gave love to their families, their friends, their neighbours. They were proud members of the community, and those communities were nothing but proud of them. Today, their communities bear such grief because they are their vital pieces of collective soul but in their passing, they also leave behind incredible memories and knowledge that will surely be passed on over future generations and bring great comfort to those who knew them. Their memories will surely be a blessing.

Mr. Speaker, we don't know what caused this accident, though we will find out. But we do know that to live and work in our rugged vast territory, we are still working on the frontier. There are real dangers, and sometimes they can bring us closer to the edge than we may have expected. It can be unforgiveable and unpredictable that so many of us can brave the unknown and head out into this vast land to live and work is an integral part of our character as Northerners. And as Northerners, when we lose loved ones we wrap our communities around each other to grieve and heal together. Since this accident, we've seen such a tremendous outpouring of love and support, and it should not come as a surprise. As Northerners, we practice our traditions of compassion and solidarity.

Mr. Speaker, I want to express that compassion and solidarity from my constituents. I want to show my optimism that this investigation comes to a thorough conclusion that could possibly lead to changes that save lives in the future. In closing, I want to show my utmost respect for the first responders who jumped right in and tried to save as many lives as possible. But most of all, I wish that those six who passed away may rest in peace. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you. Members' statements. Member for Sahtu.

Daniel McNeely

Daniel McNeely Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Welcome, 20th Assembly Government of the Northwest Territories. legislature. This term challenges part one.

Mr. Speaker, Northwest Territories is a small portion by comparison to the global community but impacted equally. We are in precarious times. This 20th Assembly is faced with many challenges, including our physical position. However, Mr. Speaker, through collaboration we can share the workload. If the plan doesn't work, change the plan but never the goals.

Mr. Speaker, an austerity with a 20th Assembly resiliency approach during the term of this government is my efforts and pathway. High on the list of created barriers, Mr. Speaker, is climate change. The natural disasters of the last two years will never be forgotten; however, this recognition will enhance our response and adaptation plans. We ask ourselves in consideration of the unprecedented wildfires, barging water levels, there's an immediate need for a new adaptation plan. In previous months, we have seen air lifted resupply of two generators and aviation fuels to the Sahtu region.

Mr. Speaker, our current water precipitation table is at levels never seen before. We need 750 millimeters, or 30 inches, of water to meet this normal condition. Mr. Speaker, adverse weather patterns, winter snow conditions, drought assessments in the southern NWT and northern Alberta raise concerns and views on our upcoming summer season. We must continue to monitor these conditions in preparation for the summer barging resupply, potential hot and dry weather conditions.

Mr. Speaker, there's no other way to explain. Climate change is inevitable. More importantly designing the adaptation plan is prudent leadership. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you. Members' statements. Member for Mackenzie Delta.

George Nerysoo

George Nerysoo Mackenzie Delta

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I would like to address the concern that plagues each of our communities in the Northwest Territories. That concern is alcohol and drug abuse. When someone is addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, it does not only affect the individual, but it also has a negative impact on the family and the whole community. At the present time, we as government are sending our own people to southern treatment centres where they do not know anyone, where the culture is totally different, and where they feel lost. Upon returning home, there is no aftercare for these individuals, and within a month these individuals are back using alcohol and drugs again.

Mr. Speaker, we must look at taking a different approach to healing our communities, our families, and our people. We need to provide a healing process where the whole family's involved in healing themselves. There are programs in other jurisdictions where they provide counselling services for the whole family for an extended period and not just the addict. Most notably, there's a centre in Whitehorse that provides this service for the whole family to benefit.

Mr. Speaker, as the government, we do not have to try and develop new innovative programs for our people. It is right there. We just need to implement the program for our people and their families and their communities. When we have an individual who is addicted to these substances, it affects multiple departments within the government. It stretches our resource people within our communities. These resource people have families and spending time with their families central to their mental health. If we target these individuals and his or her families, we will have a healthy community. Having a healthy community ensures the safety of all the residents of our communities. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the appropriate Minister at a later time. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

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

Kate Reid

Kate Reid Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I want to offer my condolences to the tight-knit community of Fort Smith alongside my fellow Members of the House. When tragedy hits us in the NWT, I'm always heartened by the overwhelming outpouring of love and support for those who are hurting. It has been said countless times over the years, but it bears repeating: The NWT is a small town spread out over a large area. We almost always know someone who is affected by a deeply felt loss, and we will always stand shoulder to shoulder to support them in their grief. I know all of us stand here today with the town of Fort Smith. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you. Members' statements. Member from Frame Lake.

Julian Morse

Julian Morse Frame Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the nonprofit and charitable sector play a critical role in essential service delivery in the Northwest Territories. They fill numerous gaps in government service which would be much more expensive to fill if the GNWT tried to deliver these services alone. Our network of NGOs is essential to ensuring people aren't falling through the cracks. For many years, NGOs have been saying to government that they are overburdened with administration of numerous funding agreements, feel undervalued and disrespected, and struggle to keep the lights on year to year despite the territory's reliance on them for service delivery. In response to these concerns, the GNWT produced a program managers' guide for funding NGOs in 2014. Unfortunately, though, Mr. Speaker, it seems this guide did not result in much tangible change because nine years into its implementation, the concerns it was intended to address are being reiterated to MLAs as we engage on priorities for the 20th Assembly.

I am pleased to note that in 2023, the Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs initiated an external committee focused on strengthening the nonprofit and charitable sector. The committee produced a report which was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on October 6th, 2023, and I am raising its profile now at the start of this Assembly to ensure it is not forgotten, which so often happens with this kind of report.

Somewhat ironically, one of the key recommendations of the report is simply that the GNWT implement the tools included in the 2014 program managers' guide. The report further recommends updating the program managers' guide within a year with some recommendations for improvement. Lastly, the report recommends the GNWT provide additional support to increase capacity of the nonprofit sector in the NWT.

These are simple and actionable recommendations, Mr. Speaker, and I think as this renewed government looks to establish new ways of doing business, ensuring timely and tangible change in how the GNWT manages its relationships with the nonprofit and charitable sector, can be a quick win.

And since I have a little bit of time, I just wanted to say to all the folks in the nonprofit sector and charitable sector who have engaged with us so far, thank you for taking the time to engage with us. We see you, we hear you, and appreciate the work that you do. I'll have questions on this subject for the Minister of Executive and Indigenous Affairs at the appropriate time. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you. Members' statements. Inuvik Boot Lake.

Denny Rodgers

Denny Rodgers Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this government can only be successful when elected politicians are available to the people we serve. This means we must be present in the community. It means we must listen to the concerns that our communities raise. This means we must act at all times with the best interests of our communities in mind. The people elected us and to the people we must be accountable.

Mr. Speaker, the same can be said for our senior government staff. Residents need appropriately staffed regional offices where issues can be brought forward and addressed. It is not enough to have willing politicians - the staff must be present in the community.

Mr. Speaker, the regional director position in Inuvik has been vacant since the summer of 2020. This position was designed to ensure the government was accountable to the people, the businesses, and the communities of the Beaufort Delta. The regional director position served a key function. They were a liaison for all government departments and a crucial linchpin between the GNWT and Indigenous governments. The regional director was able to ensure that local Indigenous leadership and Indigenous senior staff had a community Member to go to in order to exchange ideas and take action to address important issues that affect us all.

Mr. Speaker, the Beaufort Delta, like other regions in the territory, has unique needs. The identification and expression of these needs can only be communicated by someone living and working in the region. The regional director position is even more vital when you consider that the Beaufort Delta is the furthest region from the capital. I often hear concerns from the people of Inuvik about the migration of senior positions - removing positions from the region and instead placing them in Yellowknife. I think it is time we did something about this, Mr. Speaker. Just like elected officials must be present in our communities, so too must our senior staff. Collaboration, progress, and the integrity of government are only possible when representation in communities is real and is sincerely felt by the people we serve. If we are truly going to listen, if we are truly going to be accountable, and if we are truly going to be a successful government, then we must create new positions in communities and moving existing ones out of Yellowknife and back to the communities we serve. This starts with the regional director in Inuvik. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

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

Jane Weyallon Armstrong

Jane Weyallon Armstrong Monfwi

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Housing NWT's 2015 collection policy posted on their website states garnishment is used for collections. This contradicts their response. If Housing NWT believes garnishment is outside their legislated authority, why is it included in their policy? Is this instead in reference specifically to garnishing pensions? What exactly is Housing NWT garnishing for retired elders with arrears?

The government ends their response with Housing NWT will continue to regularly review all arrears accounts and make every effort to assist our mortgage clients and tenants in addressing their arrears, including the possible...