Debates of February 20, 2024 (day 6)



Before we get started, I'd like to recognize one of my favorite little guys, Finnigan Gosselin who I got to have supper with no, it was lunch, at McDonald's, him and his sister. So welcome to the Assembly.

Good afternoon. Members, welcome to the House. Although we did not sit last week, our work continues as we set a path forward for the 20th Assembly. Last week, Members worked together to set the priorities of the 20th Legislative Assembly. They will be tabled in this House later today. As we work to find common ground, it was clear we are all here to make this territory a better place for future generations. I would like to thank the staff and facilitator for supporting us in this process.

Colleagues, it is no secret the importance of youth, the role our young people play in the territories. We need to work for their benefit and their future. As leaders, we need to listen and learn from them. An opportunity to hear what youth think is the Legislative Assembly's Annual Youth Parliament. Youth Parliament brings grade 9 and 10 students from all 19 ridings to the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife. They experience firsthand the roles of an MLA and learn about consensus government.

This year, I will chair the Youth Parliament. I am excited to hear directly from the young people as they debate the issues that are important to them. Over the years, we have had youth bring forward important topics of interest to them and their ridings. It will be exciting to be in the Chamber to hear their perspectives. The application deadline for the Youth Parliament is March 1st, 2024, and more information and the application can be found on the Legislative Assembly website.

Members, I am encouraging you to reach out to schools in your riding and invite all our youth in grades 9 and 10 to apply for this opportunity.

Ministers’ Statements

Minister’s Statement 9-20(1): 2030 Energy Strategy Update

Mr. Speaker, secure, affordable, and sustainable that is the vision for energy in the Northwest Territories outlined in the 2030 Energy Strategy, a vision for an energy system that is less dependent on fossil fuels and that contributes to the economic, social, and environmental wellbeing of the Northwest Territories and its residents.

Since the energy strategy was released in 2018, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the entire territory have made positive strides in realizing that vision. The progress made on the energy strategy is detailed in the 20222023 Energy Initiatives Report, which was released today by the GNWT as part of its annual reporting for the three strategies guiding action on climate change and the territory's energy future.

Territorywide, residents, businesses and governments are answering this call to action. Thanks to our collective efforts, we have been able to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent compared to 2005 levels and we are on track to meet the target of reducing emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Mr. Speaker, these collective efforts can be seen through the Arctic Energy Alliance’s work with communities, Indigenous governments, and Indigenous organizations to develop energy solutions locally by starting community energy planning processes in Fort Simpson, Ulukhaktok, and Kakisa. They can be seen as the GNWT works with the Government of Canada and Northland Utilities to start renewable energy feasibility studies for Wekweeti and Sambaa K'e. These studies are laying the groundwork to advance communityled renewable energy projects; projects that will not only stabilize energy costs and reduce emissions but also provide economic benefits. There has also been investment in making our energy infrastructure more modern and efficient throughout the Northwest Territories.

In 2023, the Inuvik Wind Project was completed and is now providing renewable power to the Inuvik grid. It is expected to deliver at least approximately 30 percent of the electricity Inuvik needs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6,000 tonnes per year. In Lutselk'e, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation is replacing the community’s existing diesel power plant with a new, more efficient power plant that will reduce emissions by approximately 100 tonnes annually and more easily accommodate the addition of renewable energy technologies to the local grid. The diesel power plant in Sachs Harbour is also in the process of being replaced by a modern, energy efficient power plant.

As the territory looks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, the GNWT and its partners are exploring ways to increase the adoption of electric vehicles in the territory. One of the barriers we face is a lack of charging infrastructure in the territory.

In 2023, the GNWT and Government of Canada each invested $1.9 million for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation and Northland Utilities to install electric vehicle fast chargers in Behchoko, Fort Providence, Enterprise, Hay River, Buffalo Junction, Fort Smith, and Yellowknife. These stations are all expected to be operating by December 2024, creating the first zeroemissions charging corridor in the Northwest Territories. The energy strategy is also about looking to the future and how we can best achieve making energy in the Northwest Territories secure, affordable, and sustainable.

Transformational projects are an important part of that future, and I look forward to continuing discussions on advancing the Fort ProvidenceKakisa transmission line and the Taltson hydro expansion. As the pathways to a lower carbon future and secure, affordable and sustainable energy in the NWT evolve, so must the strategy that guides our approach. To be adaptive to emerging technologies, new opportunities and feedback, the Departments of Infrastructure and Environment and Climate Change undertook a joint review of the Energy Strategy and Climate Change Strategic Framework in 2023.

With the input from Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations, the public, stakeholders and our partners, we have an exciting opportunity to shape the future of our energy landscape. A What We Heard report from our engagement with these parties will be published in March 2024.

Mr. Speaker, our future energy and climate plans need to be ambitious, effective and reasonable. Looking ahead, I am confident we can achieve the vision of the energy strategy with governments, residents and businesses working together. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Minister of Infrastructure. Ministers' statements. Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Minister’s Statement 10-20(1): Climate Change Action in the Northwest Territories

Mr. Speaker, climate change is one of the biggest challenges that we face as a territory. The. NWT is experiencing rapid warming at up to four times the global rate which affects every aspect of our lives and impacts our territory's economic, environmental, social, and cultural health. Today, the Department of Environment and Climate Change released the Responding to Climate Change in the NWT Annual Report. I am pleased to report that the Government of the Northwest Territories and partners across the territory are making real progress on this front.

Mr. Speaker, all 132 action items under the NWT Climate Change Action Plan are either ongoing or completed, and partnership is crucial to our success. As highlighted in the annual report, we are working with partners to secure funding for the development of fuel breaks in 29 communities as well as the construction of 60 climateresilient homes in 19 communities equipped with fireresistant materials and foundations resistant to permafrost thaw.

The GNWT is working with partners and the NWT Climate Change Council to develop a suite of interactive courses and training modules for workers to build climate adaptation skills within the NWT workforce. We are also exploring a pilot program to implement a riskbased approach to community planning in up to five NWT communities. We are partnering with the NWT Geological Survey, CrownIndigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, and NWT communities to advance hazard mapping and surficial mapping for communities. This mapping of permafrost sensitivity will help communities plan for adaptation to permafrost thaw.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT continues to invest significant resources to address climate change and implement the actions identified in our climate change and energy action plans. To access the funding, we need to mitigate emissions and adapt infrastructure. We continue to engage with the federal government on multiple federal climate change initiatives, such as the National Adaptation Strategy the Emissions Reduction Plan, Canada's Climate Change Science and Knowledge Plan, carbon pricing and critical minerals.

Work is well underway to inform a renewed fiveyear NWT Climate Change Action Plan. The Departments of Environment and Climate Change and Infrastructure are codeveloping a What We Heard report from the July 2023 workshop on the NWT's approach to energy and climate change and emissions targets. We have also worked with partners over the last two years to develop a territorial risks and opportunities assessment to inform our climate change adaptation priorities. Both of these processes will inform the renewed fiveyear action plan which will be ready for review and engagement with the public, Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations in the summer of 2024.

Mr. Speaker, addressing climate change is not going to happen overnight, and we cannot do it alone. The GNWT remains committed to working with partners to address the serious impacts that climate change is having on NWT communities and ecosystems and on the health and safety of residents. By partnering on climate action with Indigenous and community governments, comanagement boards, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and the Government of Canada, we are delivering on a shared vision of a healthy and resilient NWT. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Ministers' statements. Minister for Health and Social Services.

Minister’s Statement 11-20(1): Shared Health Priorities Agreement with Federal Government

Mr. Speaker, last week we announced two significant bilateral agreements with the Government of Canada. These agreements secured two federal investments totaling $36.38 million and demonstrate a shared commitment to both improving health care services for NWT residents, generally, and to enhancing the supports for NWT seniors and elders to stay at home longer as they age with dignity, close to their loved ones and community.

Of that total investment, $24.18 million will be provided over three years, under the Working Together to Improve Health Care for Canadians Agreement, to help strengthen our health care system. This funding will be instrumental in supporting new and ongoing initiatives to address medium and longterm human resource needs outlined in the Northwest Territories health and social services system human resource plan, which was released in June 2022.

Current initiatives include the family medicine residency program, systemwide training and compliance tracking, cultural safety and antiracism training, and employee engagement for retention. We will also use this funding to formally establish a territorial public health unit which will focus in collaboration with the integrated primary care teams to enhance operational oversight, increase regional public health capacity, and improve equitable access to services. By strengthening the public health capacity, we can minimize service duplication, improve health outcomes, and provide effective and timely client care that will reduce hospital admissions and improve outcomes for NWT residents.

Mr. Speaker, we will also establish a territorial addictions medicine team which will help improve the coordination and delivery of shared addictions care. Over the next three years, clinical staff specializing in addictions will be added to our system. The program will formally establish an inpatient medical detox programming, communitybased withdrawal management, and comprehensive outpatient withdrawal management capacity supported by telehealth and virtual care services. This funding also supports suicide prevention and life promotion initiatives via the community suicide prevention fund. A new position will be created to assist Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations in accessing both the community suicide prevention fund and the community wellness and addictions recovery fund. These funds empower recipients to implement culturallygrounded suicide prevention, mental wellness, and addiction recovery programs tailored to community and regional needs.

Under the Aging with Dignity Agreement, we have also secured $12.2 million in federal investment over five years, which will support our work to improve access for residents to home and community care services and enable workforce improvements for longterm care and ensure safety and improved quality of life for longterm care residents. The funding will advance the implementation and support of the ongoing operational needs of the international resident assessment instrument, which plays an important role in facilitating effective client assessments, ensuring services are meeting individual needs, and enabling continuous monitoring of health status.

Mr. Speaker, with this investment from Canada, we are also aiming to address workforce needs, striving to ensure that all our longterm care facilities can deliver 3.6 hours of direct care per resident per day. It will support updated facility equipment and furnishings, streamline infection prevention and control policies and processes, and provide training for housekeeping staff. These measures aim to ensure consistency across our system and enhance overall safety for residents.

Mr. Speaker, our NWT health and social service system is committed to ensuring complete transparency and accountability. Annual public reports will detail progress on these initiatives, keeping Members, residents, and stakeholders wellinformed about advancements and outcomes. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Minister of Health and Social Services. Ministers' statements. Premier.

Minister’s Statement 12-20(1): Minister Absent from the House

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise Members that the Honourable Vince McKay will be absent from the House today and tomorrow to attend meetings of the federal, provincial, territorial Ministers responsible for emergency management in Ottawa. Thank you.

Members’ Statements

Member’s Statement 64-20(1): Maintenance of Rental Units

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, since the election period last fall, I have heard multiple concerns from constituents in my riding with respect to the upkeep of rental units. The recent Northern Housing Report 2023 released by CMHC provides an analysis on market housing in Yellowknife. Rental rates have gone up and 28 percent of families in the city are unable to afford secure, affordable, rental housing.

Mr. Speaker, 18.2 percent of renters in Yellowknife are in core housing need. This means that they are living in units that are unaffordable, unsuitable, or inadequate. I have seen firsthand and heard from residents that there are many issues with some rental buildings here in the capital. Buildings are not being adequately repaired or renovated and, in some cases, have pest and mold problems and, sadly, far too often residents feel unsafe and insecure. Tenants do not feel like they can hold landlords to higher standards without repercussions and that the process to hold landlords to higher maintenance and repair standards is too difficult and onerous on tenants.

Mr. Speaker, Northview owns the majority of rental space in Yellowknife. Northview grew into a real estate investment trust called Northern Property REIT in 2002 and eventually into Northview Apartment REIT in 2015. Mr. Speaker, Northview Apartment REIT is a publiclytraded company. REITs control a large part of the rental housing market across the country, and this is here in Yellowknife as well. REITs put profits for their shareholders ahead of housing affordability and repair. The monopoly of socalled affordable rental stock has resulted in rent increases during a time where cost of living issues are dire and challenging for much of my riding. It's also contributed to reduced building maintenance service resulting in units with substandard repair and maintenance.

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that the GNWT is limited in what they can do to improve maintenance and repair standards in rental units but there may be better supports that could be in place for tenants. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of Justice at the appropriate time. Thank you.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Member from Great Slave. Members' statements. Member from Frame Lake.

Member’s Statement 65-20(1): Reductions to Nursing Aid Positions

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, over the past five years, nursing aides have been indispensable members of nursing teams in the NWT, particularly shining during the pandemic as unsung heros alongside nurses. Their expanded roles during the pandemic included providing crucial support and companionship to isolated, critically ill elders, going above and beyond to ensure no one passed away alone by offering comfort and conveying messages of love from family members. Their presence not only facilitated medical care but also preserved the dignity of patients in their final moments.

Beyond the pandemic, nursing aides have played vital roles in various hospital operations, including during last summer's evacuations when they assisted with evacuating patients and with their safe repatriation from across western Canada when we were allowed to return.

Nursing aides help provide safe and ethical care amid constant gridlocks within the hospital system, alleviate a significant portion of the workload on an already exhausted nursing workforce, and contribute to reducing patient admission times. Their assistance with feeding, mobilization, and personal care directly prevents pressure injuries and hospital acquired infections thereby keeping hospitalacquired complications and extended admissions at a minimum. Furthermore, nursing aides play a crucial role in mitigating workplace violence in creating a safer environment for all health care staff. Despite facing challenges, they have shown unwavering commitment to upholding patient care standards.

The news confirmed last week that the end of COVIDrelated federal funding could lead to staff cuts at Stanton by the end of March, including these crucial nursing aide positions. Nursing aides play an important role in the quality of care offered to Northerners, Mr. Speaker. Reenforcing these positions is crucial to maintaining and improving a high standard of care. Eliminating these positions could not only deteriorate care standards but also demoralize our health care workers who, in the face of growing pressures, continue to selflessly serve Northerners. When we are actively working to recruit and notably retain nurses, Mr. Speaker, I am of the opinion that taking steps which could negatively impact their working environment does not align with our priorities. I will have questions for the Minister at the appropriate time. Thank you.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Frame Lake. Members' statements. Member from the Sahtu.

Member’s Statement 66-20(1): Territorial Regional Wellness Councils

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, territorial and regional wellness councils, a new mandate to address today's changing society.

Mr. Speaker, the transition from territorial and regional health boards to territorial and regional wellness council happened August 2016. It created a new vision. However, society has changed dramatically.

The drugs and genocide of our communities and families has become a crisis throughout the Northwest Territories. Speaking only closer to home, it is a huge concern. Mr. Speaker, a quote from the August 2016 department press release: These changes have been made to help break down the systemic barriers to efficient and effective care and service delivery and build a foundation of a system with improved accountability and performance.

Mr. Speaker, a prudent approach to administrative systems is routinely review of programs and services through the lens of efficiency, departmental review, and modernize to our changing society.

Mr. Speaker, the joint Indigenous and residents' conceptual approach to delivering high quality health care is, in theory, the right thing to do. The authorities of the territorial and regional wellness councils are and can be said is limited limited to an advisory role capacity only.

Mr. Speaker, empowering our communities and deliver of high-quality health care is our fiduciary obligation and responsibilities and, more importantly, expanding both councils with more control is crucial in meeting the changing society. Later, Mr. Speaker, I will have questions to the Minister of Health and Social Services. Mahsi.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from the Sahtu. Members' statements. Member from the Deh Cho.

Member’s Statement 67-20(1): Indigenous Languages Month

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Translation unavailable].

Mr. Speaker, in the NWT, February is the Indigenous Languages Month which was first celebrated in the NWT in 1993 as one designated day; however, the NWT's first Language Commissioner recommended, based on feedback from NWT residents, that the territory devote more than just one day to celebrate the importance of languages within our society. Since then, the NWT remains the only jurisdiction in the country with an entire month celebrating the Indigenous languages. The NWT is also the only jurisdiction that has 11 official languages.

Mr. Speaker, while these are positive facts to be proud of, there are aspects within our government regarding the availability of services in the Indigenous languages that are lacking and need to be improved. For example, there are numerous anecdotal stories of Indigenous people seeking medical care from Stanton Hospital, or other health centres, where they encountered language barriers and therefore cannot receive the proper treatment they need. I have heard from staff and patients alike that interpreter services are not always readily available when needed.

Mr. Speaker, there are still many elders who do not speak English fluently, if at all, and they need support in getting their needs met within all our government services. This is also a problem for some residents who leave their home communities due to medical travel, especially when they are sent to Edmonton where it's even harder to obtain interpreter services for medical appointments.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, on the topic of Indigenous languages there are many medical terminologies along with legal words regarding the law and with some political and economic terms that still need to be translated within the nine official languages in the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, constituents have asked me whether our government will receive the accredited interpreter training program for Indigenous languages that used to be offered at Aurora College in the '90s. I am seeking unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

Unanimous consent granted

That program though, to the dismay of many Indigenous people, was cut 28 years ago and nothing like it has ever replaced it.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, keeping Indigenous languages alive and healthy in the North is very important, and we must act to help revitalize and protect them before it's too late. I will have questions for the Minister of ECE. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from the Deh Cho. Members' statements. Member from Tu NedheWiilideh

Member’s Statement 68-20(1): Restoring Balance Plan

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Last week, the GNWT announced their restorative balance plan which aims at tackling our mounting debt. This plan sets out a deficit reduction target of $150 million a year and $600 million over the fouryear period. With little economic development on the horizon, it is obvious that the government income will be low, remain flat. Therefore, these targets will have to be met primarily through budget cuts, but it's too early to get a clear picture of where those cuts will be and how they will be implemented. That's austerity and is not a priority for the GNWT 20th Assembly and does not come as a surprise. We are $1.6 billion in the hole and climbing and it should have stopped long ago yet, yes, it's true that the many of the circumstances that had inflated our deficits were beyond our control. However, the GNWT also missed a lot of obvious warning signs and critical opportunities to prevent us from getting into the mess we have today.

We know when our mines we are going to start oh, sorry, the mines are going to start closing but we never focus on pivoting towards a new development. Instead, we just keep on expanding the size of government. In the last five years alone, the size of the GNWT workforce grew by 25 percent, well outpacing our population growth; a significant portion of those government jobs being in senior management positions. In addition, the GNWT also struggled to keep major projects on time within their budget. Our unsustainable finances are due to top heavy administration, a structure that struggles to reign in the costs.

Now to turn to our finances, we must come up with a plan that could be hundreds of millions of dollars to cut in a few short years. The GNWT also is committed to more equitable responsive relationship with Indigenous governments. Unilaterally clawing back investments across the North is a direct conflict with any kind of honest nationtonation relationship. This is the same old colonial mantra of dictatorship and indifference with no place in our territory and future.

The communities I represent already have underfunded as it has been waiting too long for assistance they need. Tu NedheWiilideh receives a small, less than half a percent of the overall 2 percent budget. It may be time to do more with less but our approach to our deficit that cuts what little my communities receive denies Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous.

Unanimous consent granted

It may be time to do more with less but our approach to our deficit that cuts with what little my communities receive denies our priorities without addressing the root causes of our deficit is not is no real solution. We'll just end up in the same fiscal situation ten years from now except my people will have more and more houses to repair, more infrastructures to build in restoring the balanced plan. I hope to see more meaningful words in the balance. I have questions for the Finance Minister at the appropriate time. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Tu NedheWiilideh. Members' statements. Member from Inuvik Boot Lake.

Member’s Statement 69-20(1): Cabin Leases in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On August 23rd, 2023, the department announced changes to land lease pricing, and on October 4th, 2023, the Minister of Lands announced in the House that the Minister recognize land lease fees were challenging for many residents. Mr. Speaker, land lease rents were raised in 2018 up to $840.

A threetiered system for all recreational leases was proposed to ensure those with limited and seasonal access will pay less than those with yearround access. Mr. Speaker, the new Public Lands Act, which has received assent but waiting for regulations to be implemented to come into force, will integrate these differences.

Mr. Speaker, for Indigenous people with a recreational lease within an area of asserted or established rights that have lease rent arrears prior to August 2023, Mr. Speaker, may be eligible for pausing of collection and/or forgiveness of lease rent arrears.

In the 19th Assembly, Mr. Speaker, there was discussion, particularly raised from the Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes, regarding the Department of Lands' effort to address unauthorized occupants. Concerns were raised in the House regarding the department's approach to this matter and, specifically, the rights of Indigenous people. Mr. Speaker, this led to Motion 7719(2), Review of Land Lease Policy and Procedures, in the House calling on the Government of the Northwest Territories to forgive and pause the collection of current and new lease payments for all Indigenous cabin leaseholders.

The government responded, Mr. Speaker. Since January 2023, GNWT has been working with Indigenous governments under the NWT intergovernmental agreement on lands and resources. The GNWT is conducting a legal review to determine whether collection of fees and taxes imposed on Indigenous rights. Effective immediately the government will pause collections, actions, and on any outstanding arrears for lease fees from Indigenous recreational leaseholders.

Mr. Speaker, given this government's desire to work with our Indigenous partners and ensure we have the trust and respect to do so, Mr. Speaker, I call on this government to axe the lease payment requirements on Indigenous peoples that have harvested and lived in these regions long before this government existed.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Inuvik Boot Lake. Members' statements. Member from Yellowknife Centre.

Member’s Statement 70-20(1): Consensus Government and POlicy Creation

A hallmark of consensus government, Mr. Speaker, is Members work with the Cabinet and the Cabinet works with the Members on this side of the House, at times to discuss policy changes. We're working together to find solutions together. You know, sometimes we even talk about issues in advance of them becoming public policies. But that's not to say Members have a veto, Mr. Speaker. No, my goodness. Members' input matters a lot. Sometimes maybe even we put it to the point is it is fundamental to how consensus government is built around here. It defines the difference on how we do business here versus how they do business down south, Mr. Speaker. They do business in isolation. They come up with policies and they implement them and the opposition, sometimes seen as Regular Members, have to live with it.

Mr. Speaker, has the honeymoon of the 20th Assembly come to an end? With successive governments I've seen, even in their minority of context, they get a little bit hubris over time, drunk with their authority and power. Are we swiftly moving in that direction?

On February 6th on CBC, my goodness, Mr. Speaker, the Finance Minister publicly announced that the carbon tax policy was changing by her swift pen. Mr. Speaker, there was no consultation with Members. There was no discussion in committee. This is all too dark of an experience for many of us because it will be the standard. I wish it was only that case.

Now, this isn't about the merits of the carbon tax. This is strictly the merits of consensus government put to the test. Well, if it only ended there. Remember, this is a Minister who's never served on the regular benches. They do not understand being kept in the dark when Cabinet releases their policy.

But on February 8th, Members received an email to say that Cabinet has come up with a new fiscal strategy, and this is how we're going to cut and change and do business differently. Then they call a press release to host it on the following Monday. Mr. Speaker, where is the discussion with committee Members? Have committee Members become an inconvenience to the government? We're certainly there when they reach out to share responsibility in the context of things going bad, but we are never invited to the table when things are going good.

Mr. Speaker, to quote Premier Simpson on November 27th, he talks about it takes a lot of difficult work but it's important work to be working together, Mr. Speaker. That's a loose quote. But the point is, is that has this esoteric club given up on Regular Members? I hope that hasn't been the case. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Yellowknife Centre. Members' statements. Member from Range Lake.

Member’s Statement 71-20(1): Restoring Balance Plan and Expectations

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, expectations for the 20th Assembly are high. After long years of successive and unprecedented crises, Northerners are ready to turn the page on the past and step boldly into the future. Yes, expectations are high, Mr. Speaker, and crucial to these aspirations is the question any government must ask itself: How the heck are we going to pay for them?

Mr. Speaker, last week, my honourable friend mentioned this, just moments ago, the romantically titled Restoring Balance of Fiscal Sustainability Strategy for the 20th Legislative Assembly was released publicly committing to finding $150 million in new revenues or cost savings by 2028, by the end of this term, through this next upcoming budget and ongoing budgets as well. There are other measures in that, but what it amounts to is a severe contraction of government spending in favour of managing deficits and debt. Of course, Mr. Speaker, it's incumbent on us as responsible stewards to ensure our fiscal house is in order but not at the expense of our own ambition.

Mr. Speaker, I can't help but question the timing of the release of this strategy ahead of this Assembly setting its own priorities let alone not even discussing those priorities, which we did last week, a week after the strategy was put in place. Is this a dampening of expectations? Is it lowering the bar, so the public comes to understand that maybe you need to slow your roll; you're not going to be able to get everything you want?

I think we should meet these challenges because we can meet these challenges with ambition and optimism, Mr. Speaker. We started this Assembly on an optimistic tone, and I don't think that optimistic tone has left us. But we've already lowered expectations, and that needs to be restored. We need to get back to the place where Northerners are looking to us to lead us into the future, to solve the challenges they put us here to solve, and to do that responsibly but not at the expense of delivering real results for Northerners. Surely, we're capable of meeting these challenges through prudent budgeting emphasizing value for money. And let us not forget, Mr. Speaker, we are here to serve the public and the enterprise of governments must ensure that their needs are met first and the government's debt is serviced next. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Member’s Statement 72-20(1): Tsiigehtchic Access to Health and Justice Services

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Range Lake. Members' statements. Member from Mackenzie Delta.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the community of Tsiigehtchic and its residents have been requesting the services of the health department and the justice department for a few decades without any success.

Mr. Speaker, the closest nurse and RCMP is about 60 kilometres away. That is about 45 minutes' drive by vehicle. This is dependent on the season. In the winter, you can go directly by the allweather road. In the summer, you would have to use the ferry system, which can add time on the travel and time is essential. It depends on the severity of the health concern. And the RCMP is required in the community to deal with the influx of the drug activity.

Mr. Speaker, I've been told personal stories from concerned residents who have had their neighbours die in their arms. This is because the community does not have anyone certified to attend to these isolated emergencies. The community of Tsiigehtchic and its residents deserve these services of the health and justice department. We also state that the safety of our residents throughout we always state that the safety of our residents throughout the NWT is crucial. And at the end of the day, it is very important to this government. Let's show the people of Tsiigehtchic and other small communities that do not have these essential services that we do care and start providing these services to them.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to see this government engage with our federal counterparts and the Indigenous governments to start the process of providing these services to our residents so our residents can feel safe within their own communities. Mr. Speaker, this is just another example of taking control of our Indigenous communities and fall short of providing essential necessary services to protect the residents of Tsiigehtchic. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Premier at a later time.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member for Mackenzie Delta. Members' statements. Member from Yellowknife North.

Member’s Statement 73-20(1): Staffing the Health Care System

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I want to talk about health care which is clearly a priority for Members here although perhaps we have different areas of top concern.

It's our largest operating budget. And to be clear, a lot is at stake here. Much more than money. It's a matter of preserving lives and taking care of people when they're suffering the most and providing a sense of security for our families, as Mr. Nerysoo was just describing. But it should alarm us that NTHSSA has been bleeding money since it was established with an accumulated deficit of at least $200 million.

Now, I have many health care professionals in my riding, and they tell me that the system is in danger of falling apart. I know that health care is huge and complex, and there are a hundred sides to every story. We are often told that health care systems all over Canada are strained, every jurisdiction is underfunded, everywhere they're struggling to hire enough doctors and nurses. And we're told that young people might not want to work full time anymore, they want a travelling lifestyle, so we just have to accept that agency nurses and locum doctors are inevitable. But I don't accept that there is nothing we can do.

What I know is that the foundation of any health care system is our staff. It may be unrealistic to aim for all fulltime stuff and we may always need to fill in some gaps with temporary workers but without a strong core of resident health care professionals, the system collapses. The good news is that we seem to be doing well at recruiting new resident doctors and nurses who do actually want to live here, but our retention is dismal. The burnout rate is high. What I hear from health care staff is that they are exhausted and overwhelmed. They are frightened and demoralized by the prospect of decreasing standards of patient care with too few staff per shift. They're constantly being asked to work overtime and come in on their scheduled days off.

Salaried nurses work alongside entry level agency nurses who could be making twice as much money as them. Doctors, even those who want to live in the NWT, are quitting and becoming locums because they are fed up dealing with an administrative system that seems more interested in policing them than in supporting them. And perhaps in an attempt to find cost savings, NTHSSA has increasingly been going to arbitration with staff, fighting over their access to benefits

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Member from Yellowknife North thank you.

Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So in trying to pinch pennies, we are costing our system dearly. Increasing hostility and miscommunication between staff and administration lead to a downward spiral of morale and an increasing spiral of costs.

Mr. Speaker, we need to put resident health care professionals at the centre of any strategy moving forward, to communicate clearly with them, to find out what they need to avoid burnout, to treat them as partners in designing a sustainable health care system. Thank you.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Yellowknife North. Members' statements.

Member’s Statement 74-20(1): NWT Parks and Recreation Association On-the-Land Award Winners

Good afternoon, colleagues. Today I am honoured to recognize the NWT Recreation and Parks Association On-the-Land Award winners Ashley Okrainec, Megan Okrainec, and Rosa Wright from Fort Simpson.

During the spring of 2023, the community of Liidlii Kue faced multiple stressors and issues that were leading to some divide. These three ladies, mother and two daughters, stepped up to address the need for community healing by organizing a community moose hide camp at the Fort Simpson Territorial Campground for three days and welcomed all community members to participate. They set up meals, had hides ready for scrapping and tanning, and taught people how to work on hides. As well, there were sewing tents and activities for children set up. They were encouraging people to come and visit, have tea, and eat traditional food together. It was an amazing experience.

Megan and Ashley both bring their love for the land and for traditional practices and food to their work and their mother Rosa is always open to sharing her knowledge of moose hide tanning with the community. At a difficult time, these ladies showed us all how to come together in a good, positive way, and they are all leaders in their own ways. I can tell you these amazing women have a huge impact on the community because they walk the talk. They take youth out on the land and use landbased practices in their work. These three women are leaders on the land learning in the community because they lead by example and share their skills and knowledge with others. They welcome people to participate, whether in teaching people to fish for their families, in cooking programs or moose hide tanning camps.

Colleagues, these Gwich'in women are doing the everyday work of infusing culture into daily practice to revitalize culture and deserve to be recognized for their quiet leadership and this award. I would like to thank NWTRPA and the nominator for recognizing these three amazing ladies and the community who will be giving them their award during this year's Beavertail Jamboree. Thank you.

Recognition of Visitors in the Gallery