Last in the Legislative Assembly September 2007, as MLA for Yellowknife South
Won his last election, in 2003, by acclaimation.
Statements in the House
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to table the following document entitled NWT Arts Strategy - Action Plan 2, 2007. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Item 6: Recognition Of Visitors In The Gallery August 23rd, 2007
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Once again, I would like to recognize Yellowknife South constituent Amy Hacala. Thank you.
Minister's Statement 42-15(6): Progress On Homelessness Initiatives August 23rd, 2007
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that significant progress is being made on homeless initiatives by this government and our community partners. The Government of the Northwest Territories recognizes the need to support communities in finding local solutions to assist the homeless.
The Framework for the GNWT Response to Homelessness was released in January 2007. With the support of Members -- and thank you, Members -- the ongoing funding for homelessness initiatives were included in the 2007-08 Main Estimates. The framework confirms the social program departments are working together to increase homelessness support across the NWT, including emergency housing and a transportation fund.
Mr. Speaker, a small community homelessness fund was developed and proposals sought from local community organizations to begin to address some of the challenges in our smaller communities. Up to $40,000 is available to individual communities to provide emergency shelter options for adults. In addition, up to $10,000 is available for projects aimed at addressing community homelessness issues.
I am very pleased to announce that some excellent proposals were received and program funding will initially be allocated to eight homelessness-related projects.
Mr. Speaker, the proposals received demonstrate strong community partnerships, the mobilization of local resources and the development of creative solutions to address the challenges of homelessness in small communities.
I would also like to report on progress on Bailey House in Yellowknife. Mr. Speaker, construction of Bailey House is proceeding on schedule and the facility is expected to open in January 2008. I would like to thank the Homelessness Coalition, the Salvation Army and Diavik Diamond Mines Incorporated for their ongoing commitment and support to this important project.
Many of you attended the signing ceremony held today to formalize the project funding agreement reached between the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, the Salvation Army and the City of Yellowknife for this important project. The NWT Housing Corporation provided a total of $1.748 million in funding through the affordable housing initiative and the sale of a house. Funding for the affordable housing initiative is matched by the Government of Canada. Beginning in April 2008, the ongoing operations of the Bailey House will be supported by a $200,000 contribution from the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Speaker, the government is making significant progress in addressing homelessness challenges across the NWT. The government looks forward to working with communities and concerned stakeholders, to ensure that disadvantaged residents have access to services and programs that get them back on their feet and that they can move forward to live productive and rewarding lives. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, committee. Mr. Chairman, I do have a few comments to make concerning this motion that, if passed, effectively means the end of this piece of legislation unless it's taken off and introduced by another Assembly, possibly the 16th or maybe the 17th. First of all, I want to thank all Members, particularly those who are representing small communities and have personally spent a lot of time over the last few days to come to me to explain their position on this bill, on these issues. While I may disagree, I want to say that I respect the positions they have taken on this bill. As such, Mr. Chairman, the Premier has asked that I inform the committee that government will not vote on this motion and will respect the will of the House.
Mr. Chairman, I also want to recognize the work done by the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, Robert Hawkins, on what I consider a very important initiative. Mr. Hawkins represents downtown Yellowknife. I know he understands too well the horrible impact alcohol and drugs is having on this community. In fact, he spent a number of hours over the last few months talking to me in my office about this various issue in the hopes for this piece of legislation; sometimes with kids in tow, as he mentioned earlier.
Mr. Chairman, as the sponsoring Minister, I support the bill. More than that, Mr. Chairman, as a member of this community and a long-time northerner, I personally believe that this legislation is another important tool we need to fight the scourge of alcohol and drugs in our community. I find it more than just a little ironic, and Members probably will too, that I am proposing legislation that was championed by the NDP governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I guess on this one debate on this one issue I stand with Premiers Calvert and Doer.
Those provinces, along with others like Yukon and Newfoundland, tell us that this type of legislation works, works in their urban areas, works in the more remote communities where the circumstances are similar, in many respects, to the small communities in this territory.
Mr. Chairman, in my eight years in this House, every community I have travelled in in the NWT, I have heard the same stories. Indeed, we have all heard the same stories. Leaders, elders, youth and our residents tell us about how a few people in our communities are preying on others in the community by illegally selling alcohol and drugs. In this community in Yellowknife, there are crack houses operating that the police do not have the time, resources or ability to shut down. These crack houses are having a very real and negative effect on the people in our neighbourhood, in our communities, especially our children, our most vulnerable citizens.
Mr. Chairman, the problems caused by alcohol and drugs is tearing apart families, communities and our territory. As a member of this community, a long-time northerner and as a father, I wanted to do something to stop it and that's why I sponsored this legislation and why today I still consider it an important tool to deal with these problems in our communities.
To be clear and to be fair, this legislation is not meant to be the entire answer. Obviously, as members of the public have pointed out, we must do more as a government and as a society to provide treatment, to provide healing for our people who are struggling with issues related to alcohol and drug abuse. During this debate and over the last little while, there have been many issues raised about how this new tool will be used. I believe that many of those issues are based on misconceptions about the legislation. As well, I think there were a number of specific issues we were prepared to address here today or through the implementation process. But, Mr. Chairman, I think Members know I had a lot personally invested in this and a number of people commented and asked why the rush. I can tell you that personally I didn't want to feel as if I had gone through another Assembly and hadn't don't enough to deal with this issue or we hadn't done enough.
So thank you to the members of the committee. Again, I certainly appreciate all the calls and e-mails I received. I appreciate MLA Hawkins' time on this issue and the discussions that we had. I apologize again that I wasn't able to bring this home, but, Mr. Chairman, if it's the will of the House that this legislation not proceed during the 15th Legislative Assembly, I obviously must, and am certainly willing to, respect that decision. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Committee Motion 22-15(6): Amend Clause 16 Of Bill 7, Superceded August 22nd, 2007
Thank you, Madam Chair. I move that clause 16 of Bill 7 be amended by adding the following after subclause (7):
(8) Notwithstanding section 15, an application by a resident to vary a community safety order stays the operation of the order unless the court directs otherwise.
Thank you, Madam Chair. With me is Janice Laycock and Janis Cooper, Department of Justice. Thank you.
I do, Madam Chair. Thank you.
I am pleased to come before Committee of the Whole to discuss Bill 7, Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act. This legislation has received an extensive public review. Literally hundreds of NWT residents participated in the standing committee's public review and prior to that in the department's consultations. I think that this level of interest reflects a concern shared by residents throughout the territory about the kind and level of illegal activities harming our communities. By listening to residents' concerns, we can develop solutions that truly address their needs.
The Standing Committee on Social Programs has made a number of important observations regarding this bill, and I thank the committee for its thoughtful consideration of the issues. Members have recommended additional safeguards, and I am prepared to introduce five motions to amend this bill to do just that.
The first motion would automatically freeze a community safety order on an application by a tenant of a residential property to vary the order. This would allow occupants to stay in the property until the application was heard.
The second motion would ensure that when the director applies to court for a community safety order, the tenants or occupants would also receive a copy of the application. This notice would be in addition to any warnings they would receive as part of the informal process. This change reinforces the protections that are already available under the Rules of Court and ensure they have the ability to make their case in open court.
The third motion would allow a community safety order to be appealed on grounds other than a point of law. This provides additional protection for the occupants of the property.
The fourth motion would allow the director to seek a court order if information critical to the investigation is not provided.
The first and last motion would remove the penalties for members of the public who refuse to provide information to the director as part of a SCAN investigation.
These motions help to balance the rights of residents who may be afraid to give information with the needs of the investigator to collect information essential to the investigation.
These motions address concerns the standing committee has raised about the legislation. They strengthen the bill and provide additional protection for people who are affected by these destructive activities.
I think every Member of this Legislative Assembly is aware of drug houses, illegal gambling and bootlegging operations in his or her constituency. These operations disrupt community life and create unsafe situations for everyone who lives there. This government has often been asked to shut these operations down. SCAN is a way to do that, but it would only apply to properties where the illegal activity was ongoing and disruptive to the neighbourhood or community.
Madam Chair, safer communities legislation is in effect in Yukon, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. Newfoundland has just passed a similar bill into law, and in Alberta a similar bill is at second reading. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. After a safer communities office is opened, investigators are able to move quickly to shut down problem properties. People often write to the SCAN investigators, their elected officials and even their local newspapers to say that they are relieved that something has finally been done to stop the activities affecting their neighbourhood. If we want a northern example, we have only to look to our Yukon neighbours. In the first seven months of operation, about 100 residents placed complaints with the office and actions were taken to stop disruptive activities at 20 properties. No applications for community safety orders were made.
As indicated in standing committee's report, questions still remain on how this legislation can and should work in NWT communities. These include:
- • What will happen to families if the primary breadwinner is evicted?
- • How will this program work with other social services and supports? With the RCMP?
- • How will SCAN work in our smaller communities?
- • How will the staffing model be developed? Can we consider a regionally-based, decentralized model?
- • Will there be a toll-free number for people to use?
- • What involvement will justice committees have?
- • Will the Supreme Court travel to communities to hear applications for community safety orders? Will it hear applications by teleconference?
These are important questions that need to be answered as we develop the program. The bill provides the legislative framework for implementation, but it does not include these details of implementation. Extensive discussions need to take place with government departments, social agencies and local leadership. These details will take about a year to work through and would include developing policies and protocols with other agencies, producing communications materials, and hiring staff.
Education is also essential. It is clear there are still misconceptions about this new tool. I have addressed some of these in the document I tabled yesterday. The public needs to know how this legislation will work in their communities.
This bill provides the necessary legislative framework for the next critical steps to be taken. It provides the next government with the opportunity to decide what those steps will be.
It is my hope that the NWT will join the five other jurisdictions in introducing safer communities legislation. Like them, I believe it can be an effective part of the GNWT's effort to make communities safer places for everyone. I believe it is important to have the tools to take action against habitual destructive activities that undermine other efforts to achieve our goal of healthy, safe and vibrant communities. This new tool would be added to the actions we are already taking in partnership with other departments, agencies and communities to tackle these serious issues.
I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have. Thank you.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the following document entitled Government of the Northwest Territories Contracts Over $5,000 Report: Year-to-Date of the Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 2007. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
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