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 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 housing.

Topics

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We were happy to see that the decision was in line with the principles that we are already upholding, so we will continue to do what we're doing. Thank you.

Denny Rodgers

Denny Rodgers Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, given the statement that the Premier just made, I only have one other question, Mr. Speaker. Will this government be issuing an apology to the Indigenous government it fought in court?

R.J. Simpson

R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This decision was made by me as Attorney General in the last government. The Attorney General makes decisions in a way that is apolitical. There is no desire to put a political lens on these decisions. What was in question was a very specific legal question. It wasn't -- we weren't fighting any Indigenous governments. We weren't on side with the provinces. The reason that I intervened in that case is because there was specific language in that federal Act that we needed clarity on in relation to how it interacted with the NWT Act. That's not an issue for any of the provinces. They're not established by the NWT Act. They're established by the Constitution. What the decision looks like at first glance, and it's only been a few hours since it was released, is that the territory is essentially on the same footing as a province. So we wanted the Act to continue. The first line of the submission was to the -- to the Supreme Court was that the Attorney General affirms the inherent right of self-governments of Indigenous peoples and their inherent jurisdiction in relation to child and family services. So that's continuing as well. The court reaffirmed that.

So, Mr. Speaker, what we were seeking is clarity. This wasn't a fight that we were getting engaged in. It wasn't an attempt to hold on to power. We need a predictable and workable legal system in the Northwest Territories, and we were looking for clarity on that.

Politics does not come into decisions of the Attorney General. I recall not that long ago there was a federal case where the Prime Minister was accused of trying to interfere with the decision of the Attorney General, and that didn't work out well. So I keep the political side and the Attorney General side separate. That's the way that it should be. And I just encourage all Members to look at the decision, understand what the -- what we put forward as a government and not politicalize this and try to turn it into something that it's not, because it is not what it has been portrayed in this House on a number of occasions. It doesn't matter how many times I stand up and explain this, it doesn't seem to sink in.

So we have been working with the Indigenous government. We're going to continue working with the Indigenous government. We all have the same end goal, and we're going to work together to get there. And I'm glad that this case came out and provided clarity. I've said that this situation is some -- thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will take your direction. I will end it there. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Oral questions. Member from Yellowknife Centre.

Robert Hawkins

Robert Hawkins Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the challenge of finding employees in the territory is not new just to Yellowknife; it affects all our communities. And, Mr. Speaker, one of the interest things about this is that jobs beget jobs. In other words, when we stimulate the economy, more things happen. People earn money. You know, money gets spent, and it has a positive ripple effect. So whether you're trying to keep the restaurant open in Inuvik or you're trying to help people serve contracts in Yellowknife, it's the same problem from the top to the bottom of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of ECE. Perhaps she could enlighten us briefly, not in the most loquacious manner, what the nominee program is and how it serves Northerners? Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Member from Yellowknife Centre. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories nominee program is a program that ECE works with the federal government by which people from around the world can move to the Northwest Territories. I'll stop there and wait for the next question. Thank you.

Robert Hawkins

Robert Hawkins Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And I appreciate the brief answer from the Minister.

Mr. Speaker, my next question for the Minister specifically is how do they directly supports employers trying to bring employment opportunities to life in the Northwest Territories? Again, whether you live in Tsiigehtchic, you live in Inuvik or in Yellowknife, how does this office help? Thank you.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, ECE has approximately three staff members who deal with immigration for the Northwest Territories Nominee Program. They do their best to work with employers in order to let them know what the process looks like but it is very much and largely a process that is directed by the federal government under IRCC. And so here in the territory, we definitely do our best and it's a program that I would like to see grow here in the territory so that we can continue as a government to support labour development and workforce development and especially supporting employers in order to grow their workforce. Thank you.

Robert Hawkins

Robert Hawkins Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I couldn't have said -- or sorry, it was a perfect answer in the context of hearing that they want to grow the workforce. So I'd like to hear how that office directly works with employers to grow the workforce? Thank you.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I can say personally I've never actually worked through the process. I can also say having worked with multiple residents who have gone through the process of hiring workers, what they have done is hired a consultant to help through the process because it is largely a process that takes place with the federal government, and there's -- it's a very extensive process that happens, Mr. Speaker. But these three staff members do their best to work through educating employers as to how that looks, how that works, what forms are required, and also what entry programs might work. For example, we have an express entry. We have a Francophone entry that people can also use so that you're actually able to target, first of all, skilled workers and then, second, able to target people from certain countries in order to increase the Francophone speakers in our communities as well. So it's used not only just for increasing our workforce but also enriching our communities. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. Final supplementary. Member from Yellowknife Centre.

Robert Hawkins

Robert Hawkins Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, it's kind of like a one thing follows the next. Jobs means taxes. Taxes mean money to the government. Government means services. Etcetera, etcetera. The Minister just said it's an extensive process. She wants to grow the opportunities in the Northwest Territories. I have employers coming to me saying they can't fill out the paperwork because of time, energy, and inability to follow through properly.

What is the Minister willing to do to help support northern employers who are trying to create employment opportunities to serve Northerners and create opportunities that continue to create further opportunities in all our communities? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, one of the things that I can commit to doing -- let me start over. I was distracted by my earpiece. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I can confirm for the Member that I am absolutely interested in seeing our immigration program grow. I believe that us, like the rest of the country, are very much reliant on immigration in order to empower our employers in the Northwest Territories to be able to put people and the dreams that they have to grow their businesses, and I can say that I am committed to extending our immigration strategy that is currently in place and has recently expired. That's something that I wanted to announce later on this month, and so I will come back with more information on that. But what I would encourage is for all of these employers that are having difficulty to feed into that strategy, to allow us to really work together, so that I can help employers with where they see gaps in this system so that I'm able to support them as Minister of ECE and ITI who also has a role to play in immigration and so that we can work together to make this a more robust program in order to see more people, more Canadian newcomers showing up in the Northwest Territories and making the North their home. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Minister for Education, Culture and Employment. Oral questions. Member from Yellowknife North.

Shauna Morgan

Shauna Morgan Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions are for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Following up on my Member's statement, my first question is why did the government move forward with changes to the child and youth counselling initiative in the fall of 2023 instead of waiting for the results and recommendations from the independent evaluation that was already underway? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Member from Yellowknife North. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, a review of this program was launched in the last Assembly, and this review was jump-started based on feedback that was received by education bodies along with the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association. And what it was responding to ultimately was the need for the unique instances in each of our communities to be acknowledged and, really, for us to be able to acknowledge, along with education bodies, that the needs of our communities are different from Yellowknife to regional centres to small communities and the ability of education bodies to respond to their differences needed to be respected and that one size really doesn't fit all in our territory.

Mr. Speaker, it also addressed the concerns of prolonged recruitment and retention challenges. That's something that on both sides of the House in the 19th Assembly, we heard about quite frequently, was that some communities weren't able to hire the clinicians that were required of the program. And included in that was a real call for need of intervention and prevention supports for our children and our youth.

Mr. Speaker, I think it's fair for me to say that a number of our youth in the North are suffering right now and that we really need to be able to respect the autonomy of our communities and our schools by providing them with options. Thank you.

Shauna Morgan

Shauna Morgan Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So most jurisdictions in Canada seem to be moving towards more integrated service delivery. And integrated service delivery is also something that this government in other ways seems to be moving towards and yet this change appears to be a step away from that. Can I ask for a clarification whether clinical counsellors are still available in the schools or only in locations outside the schools? So has the -- yeah, I'll leave it at that. Thank you very much.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, for the specifics on kind of what schools have who in them, that would definitely be a question that would be best directed towards health and social services, but I can say that it really is regional dependent. Some regions have -- all regions now have the ability to have different setups and are in the process of putting those setups into place.

What I can speak to and what schools do have is schools have the access to not only be using clinical counsellors for their children, but they also have access to Indigenous counsellors in schools now. They have access to personal support workers in schools now. They have access to wellness counsellors in schools now.

And so just in reflection on the Member's comment about integrated service delivery, what some of these personal support workers are doing are actually connecting families from the schools to different government support workers so that that's another member of our communities that is really helping act as connecters and connection points to the different programs and services that we have available. And so while not all schools are -- and all school systems are built the same, this provides schools with the opportunity to hire different people and, should schools want, they can also use their 55 percent of that funding to access more clinical counselling services if they so choose. Thank you.

Shauna Morgan

Shauna Morgan Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So it sounds like there was a sense of urgency last fall to make these changes to allow more school -- to allow schools to hire the counsellors that they need. Can I ask the Minister, have these changes that were implemented in the fall of 2023 resulted for this school year in more counsellors, personal support workers, mental health workers being hired in schools; has it achieved that goal for this school year? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I can answer that by saying absolutely yes, because the funding didn't exist before for schools to be able to hire the personal support workers unless they were getting funding through Jordan's Principle. And so just that alone means that schools who are having those recruitment and retention issues for our clinical counsellors can now turn around and go get personal support workers, wellness counsellors and Indigenous counsellors that are more responsive to the cultural needs of the school as well. Some schools have even been able to hire elders and Indigenous knowledge-keepers in order to bring them into the school to provide students with daily access to elders. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Minister for Education, Culture and Employment. Final supplementary. Member from Yellowknife North.

Shauna Morgan

Shauna Morgan Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would request that the Minister perhaps follow up with more details on the effect that these changes had on schools versus previously in terms of detailed numbers around the number of clinicians available in schools before versus now and the number of other personal support workers, Indigenous counsellors in schools before versus now. I would love to see those numbers, so I request that the Minister could follow up and provide those on a later date. Thank you.

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Absolutely, Mr. Speaker. And thank you for that. I can honestly share with the Member that I am, as a parent and as a member of the community, very much committed to ensuring that the mental health of our students and our youth and children is supported and would appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak with any Member of the House about where this program is going. This program with many education bodies is still rolling out. They're still looking for people and deciding what this looks like. So not every education body hasn't absolutely hundred percent, you know, set in stone what it looks like. But there is also an accountability framework as part of this that is being developed, and I look forward to being able to share that with Members of this House. Thank you.