Debates of May 29, 2024 (day 18)

20th Assembly, 1st Session
Members Present
Hon. Caitlin Cleveland, Mr. Edjericon, Mr. Hawkins, Hon. Lucy Kuptana, Hon. Jay Macdonald, Hon. Vince McKay, Mr. McNeely, Ms. Morgan, Mr. Morse, Mr. Nerysoo, Ms. Reid, Mr. Rodgers, Hon. Lesa Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Testart, Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Weyallon Armstrong, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek, Mrs. Yakeleya


Colleagues, I'd like to thank Theresa Etchinelle for the opening guiding words. As you saw today, we had a new deputy sergeantatarms, Mr. Mike Butt, and welcome to you doing your first Mace trip in here, so thank you very much. Give him a hand.


Ministers’ Statements

Minister’s Statement 36-20(1): Northwest Territories Airport Improvement Projects

Mr. Speaker, transportation infrastructure projects play an important role in the economic landscape of the Northwest Territories, providing business and employment opportunities while serving the essential needs of our residents. The Northwest Territories' 27 airports are the lifeline of the North, connecting communities, moving people and essential goods, providing access to critical services like health care, and are crucial during emergencies and evacuations for both residents and responders. We also know that many rely heavily on our airports, particularly in the areas of exploration and tourism. Today I would like to highlight some of the Department of Infrastructure’s recent work to improve our Northwest Territories' airports and ensure safety across the territory. Airport improvement projects support a number of GNWT priorities: They provide opportunities for a strong economic foundation and access to health care, work to address climate change related concerns, and contribute to the safety of our residents and communities. To date, the Department of Infrastructure has received approximately $50 million dollars in Airport Capital Assistance Program, or ACAP, funding for 17 different projects at 11 different airports.

ACAP funding was received for a new loader and asphalt surfaces overlay in Fort Smith, and for an airfield electrical replacement in Fort Simpson. Through the capital plan, drainage improvements were completed at Sambaa K'e and Sachs Harbour Airports, with phase 2 drainage work scheduled for this year in Fort McPherson. In Yellowknife, ACAP funding made it possible to modernize equipment, creating a safer and more efficient work environment. Further north, I am pleased to share that the Inuvik Airport runway extension is well underway, with material extraction almost 90 percent complete, and runway widening nearing the 80 percent completion mark. Eightythree Northwest Territories residents are currently working on this project, which is providing both local employment and training opportunities. Building this airport infrastructure is key to improving the presence of Canadian Armed Forces to assert sovereignty across the Arctic.

The replacement of the terminal building in Inuvik is still in the works. The Department of Infrastructure is currently updating the construction cost estimates and securing the additional financial investment needed to advance this project. I am pleased to report that we have received significant local interest in undertaking this work.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT is updating the development plan for Fort Simpson Airport. In March 2024, a public meeting took place in Fort Simpson to present the plan and obtain feedback. Residents were invited to share their thoughts on the GNWT's engagement portal. The plan, which will provide recommendations, analysis, and policies for future development, is expected to be finalized by the end of June.

Yellowknife is using its revolving fund to make several airport improvements. A geotechnical study on both runways is looking at solutions to best address and repair issues related to runway movement due to climate change. This work will be considered and prioritized into the Capital Improvement Plan currently under development. Accessibility upgrades have been made inside the terminal building, including pet relief stations and hearing induction loops, a special type of sound system for use by folks who use hearing aids. A tar machine and a rapid intervention vehicle were also purchased this year. Upcoming upgrades include replacing airport seating in the food court and Arrivals B area, a new passenger processing system for airlines, preboard screening upgrades and asphalt overlays on two taxiways.

Mr. Speaker, the Yellowknife Airport’s first strategic plan is currently being drafted and will be an actionoriented document that identifies future development in a practical, economical, and environmentally sustainable manner. It will include a capital improvement program and outline processes for identifying, planning, and implementing capital projects at the airport. We recently extended an invitation to meet with the airlines for a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the airport's significance, ongoing developments, and future initiatives. This kind of participation is crucial as we strive to foster transparency, collaboration, and a shared vision for the continued success of Yellowknife Airport, which is a hub to all other NWT regions. To promote accountability and oversight, the strategic plan will be made public and will include key performance indicators on monitoring progress, evaluating results, and reporting.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT continues to make significant investments in our airports and I look forward to providing successful improvement project updates at future sittings. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Minister’s Statement 38-20(1): Non-Insured Health Benefits Agreement with Canada

Mr. Speaker, I want to provide the House with an update on the negotiations and discussions with the Government of Canada on the delivery of the federal NonInsured Health Benefits Program. This is a national program available to eligible First Nations and Inuit residents.

In the NWT, portions of the program are administered by the GNWT on behalf of Indigenous Services Canada, through a contribution agreement. Through this agreement, the Department of Health and Social Services is responsible for coordination of medical travel, arranging access to dental care and vision care services, and assisting with access to medical supplies and equipment for clients of the program.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Health and Social Services entered into a new agreement with Indigenous Services Canada at the end of last fiscal year. This twoyear agreement provides annual funding of $47.1 million for last year and this year. Of this amount, $22.9 million is allocated for NonInsured Health Benefits Program delivery, while $24.2 million is intended to offset additional medical travel costs for eligible First Nations and Inuit residents in the Northwest Territories. While this new agreement provides a substantial increase in funding, there remains a significant shortfall to meet the full costs of the NonInsured Health Benefits Program delivery. The terms of the agreement still do not hold Indigenous Services Canada responsible for the full cost of providing NonInsured Health Benefits to eligible Northwest Territories residents.

The GNWT has reiterated to the federal government that its role is solely in administering Indigenous Services Canada's NonInsured Health Benefits Program in the Northwest Territories. This should not affect the federal government's responsibility for NonInsured Health Benefits for Indigenous residents, nor should it be seen as the GNWT assuming responsibility for costs associated with the program. Fully funding the NonInsured Health Benefits Program in the Northwest Territories NWT would also potentially remove barriers to Indigenous governments wishing to pursue the administration of NonInsured Health Benefits for their own beneficiaries and citizens in the future.

Historic and current arrangements between the federal government and the GNWT around the provision of medical travel and the administration of the noninsured health benefits have resulted in policy and funding gaps that are complicated to resolve. Resolving these foundational issues is an essential first step in making improvements to the delivery of medical travel in the Northwest Territories and addressing concerns with other noninsured health benefits areas such as dental services.

Mr. Speaker, over the last year and a half, issues related to NonInsured Health Benefits Program have been regularly discussed with the Northwest Territories Council of Leaders. Council members have taken a united position in advocating for Indigenous Services Canada to accept its responsibility for the full cost of this program and to ensure that noninsured health benefiteligible residents receive the full benefits afforded to them through this program. Their support has been instrumental in moving this issue forward with Canada, and I am committed to continuing to collaborate with Indigenous leadership on this important work.

To initiate the next round of negotiations I, along with the Tlicho Grand Chief and the President of the Northwest Territories Metis Nation, met with both Minister Holland and then met with Minister of Indigenous Services Canada Hajdu to discuss our concerns with the current noninsured health benefits agreement. We have agreed to work toward a draft agreement that closes the funding gap and addresses outstanding issues by the fall of 2024.

Mr. Speaker, I am committed to pursuing a new approach to engaging with the Government of Canada, working with Indigenous government leadership, to ensure the federal government upholds its responsibilities to noninsured health benefiteligible residents, and to working towards a streamlined coordination of services that benefit all the Northwest Territories residents. Thank you. Koana. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Very good Minister's statement. Speaker happy.

Members’ Statements

Member’s Statement 201-20(1): Medical Travel for Senior Citizens

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, travelling for medical appointments in smaller communities in the Beaufort Delta can take a toll on patients, either to follow up for appointments for routine procedures or for a more serious condition. Both physically and mentally, we are all aware of the toll it takes. Now, Mr. Speaker, imagine if you are an elder and English is your second language and you're from a small community in the Beaufort Delta, having an escort to assist you is essential. Mr. Speaker, I've heard too many times that the onerous paperwork and bureaucracy to have an escort approved is often stressful as the travel itself.

Mr. Speaker, I hate to use the term "no brainer", Mr. Speaker, but if you are an 80yearold elder from Sachs Harbour, or a community in the Beaufort Delta, I think we can all agree that an escort should be automatically in the travel man if you must travel to Yellowknife, Inuvik, or Edmonton. Mr. Speaker, I'm sure the Beaufort Delta's not the only region that has experienced this concern. I'm sure my colleagues from the Sahtu or Tlicho can likely say the same.

I understand policies must be in place but, Mr. Speaker, there must be a way of making this process easier for our elders so at least the one thing that they and their family do not have to worry about when it could be one of the most difficult times of their lives. Thank you.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 202-20(1): Medical Travel

Mr. Speaker, it's not only Northerners from smaller communities or remote regions, it's also Yellowknifers who have to deal with the medical travel system that isn't serving their needs.

Last October, one of my constituents went to Stanton Hospital because he was having trouble breathing where it was discovered he had a heart attack. He was sent to Edmonton the next day but on the way developed pneumonia and a blood infection. For a month, he was sedated with a breathing tube but despite the support of his doctor, his spouse was denied medical travel. Imagine how she felt with her husband that way, the doctors having told her that his health could depend on her presence, only to be flatly turned down. The staff at Stanton and the Royal Alex did their very best and thankfully the constituent recovered in time, but his spouse needed to take $6,000 out of their retirement savings so she could provide assistance and learn how to care for him once he returns to Yellowknife. This put his family and her through strain and anxiety while he fought for his life hundreds of kilometers away.

Mr. Speaker, by forcing escorts to pay their own way and for their own hotels when a loved one is in a medical emergency, we are abandoning the values of public health care. Worse yet, we are putting patients at risk when their escorts are denied, and they require someone to make decisions on their behalf. Regardless of its medical treatment, if medical treatment is scheduled or it is due to an emergency, escorts can be essential because they possess vital knowledge of a patient that may be required to understand a plan of care, yet our policies policymakers seem to think differently. The policies that are in place that are preventing medical escorts for emergent care when it's necessary, like the case I described, are cruel, Mr. Speaker. Yes, budgets are tight and medical travel is an expensive service but rationalizing services should not result in irrational policies that pick and choose who gets helped. I know of other instances where constituents were essentially compelled to bring escorts unnecessarily or patients who could have been treated virtually here in the North for a fraction of the expense are sent down south anyway. We can do better but the way where we need to save costs is not in emergency situations. We need a Minister who will fix this broken system and stop putting patients' lives at risk. And later today, I hope that I find one. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Range Lake. Members' statements. Member from Great Slave.

Member’s Statement 203-20(1): HEalth Care Professionals

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in a very real way, people are our health care system, and how the dedicated professionals who make up the system are compensated and treated is a major factor in the NWT's health care crisis. I stand with nurses and all workers to have fair and sustainable wages and benefits. To have a resourceful, sustainable, and thriving community, we need to be healthy, and we desperately need health care workers to be proud to work in the NWT health care system that treats them with respect and values their contributions. Nurses, and all our health care workers, are struggling to pick up the pieces from the pandemic, and the employer has not truly valued them for their service. I believe that the retention of experienced nurses and health care workers is important to all unionized workers.

As past president of UNW Local 40, I heard health care workers' concerns voiced at the bargaining conference in the summer of 2022 where the union collectively chose to stand for those workers in this round of bargaining. I am hopeful that the mediator will help this round of bargaining come to a fair conclusion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Great Slave. Members' statements. Member from Tu NedheWiilideh.

Member’s Statement 204-20(1): Illicit Drug Trade

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the sharp increase in drug crime cross the North is having a severe impact on my constituents, and I know my colleagues in this Assembly are struggling to handle this crisis as well. Drugs are flowing up from Alberta through South Slave and eventually distributed into every region of the Northwest Territories. No matter how remote or isolated our communities may be, these drugs seem to find their way in one way or another from the southern borders. These illegal activities bring in violence into our communities, results in health emergencies and overdose, tear families apart, and corrupt our children. They drain our communities of wealth, both financially and culturally.

When I visit my communities, I want to see my constituents on the land developing important skills and providing for themselves and their family. Instead, I see too many throwing their health away as they fall into this trap that these drug dealers lay for illegal profit. We all have many dedicated RCMP members working hard every day to stop the drug trade, but they need more support especially in the South Slave communities where police resources are stretched thin. One vital piece of support they need is a dedicated K-9 unit of trained dogs and handlers that can intercept these drugs before they reach their distribution.

The South Slave RCMP had government funding for a K-9 unit over the year for ten years but over time, these services have been lost. Mr. Speaker, a K-9 based in Yellowknife is not enough. We want to get a handle on the situation. We need to restore our funding for K-9 units in the South Slave based in Hay River and not just for the sake of my community but to help the RCMP across the North because that is where we can catch large quantities of illicit substance before they are scattered in a dozen different direction in the North. I look forward to asking the Minister of Justice about restoring the K-9 unit funding in the South Slave region this afternoon. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Tu NedheWiilideh. Members' statements. Member from Mackenzie Delta.

Member’s Statement 205-20(1): Climate Change

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We all have been impacted by climate change, directly or indirectly. Direct impacts of climate change are the effects of rising temperatures on the earth's natural system. Everyone will experience the effects of these direct impacts, but these impacts will affect some areas more than others. The Northwest Territories and its residents are feeling and seeing the effects of global warming.

Mr. Speaker, the Arctic region is warming four times faster than the rest of the world. The Northwest Territories is already warmed 2 to 4 degrees Celsius since recordkeeping in the 1950s. It is noted that 6 degrees Celsius of warming would lead to drastic changes in the way the North looks, feels, and sustains life.

Natural Resources Canada says changes can deeply impact the people who live in it the North and rely on the land. It also states the speed of changes outpacing our existence has to need to adapt.

Mr. Speaker, Indigenous peoples live in close connections with the land therefore they are more directly affected by climate change. Consequently, climate change disasters hinder their ability to practice their Indigenous rights and alters the transmission of their traditional knowledge. In addition, Indigenous peoples interpret and react to impacts of climate change in creative ways, drawing on traditional knowledge and other technologies to find solutions which may help society and large cope with impending changes.

Mr. Speaker, education can encourage people to change their attitudes and behaviours. It also helps them to make decisions. In the classroom, young people can be taught the impacts of global warming, learn how to adapt to climate change. Education empowers people, but especially motivates the young to take action.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change at the appropriate time.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Mackenzie Delta. Members' statements. Member from the Sahtu.

Member’s Statement 206-20(1): Illicit Drug Trade Impact and Prevention Measures

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Drugs and addictions workshop in the youth conference. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the urgent substance misuse and drug crisis devastating our communities across the Northwest Territories and Sahtu region. Mr. Speaker, I had the privilege of attending the substance misuse and drug crisis meeting in Fort Good Hope April 30th to May 1st organized by the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated. The meeting brought together leaders, elders, youth, and the community members to openly discuss the challenges that plague their communities and develop a plan moving forward.

Mr. Speaker, the consensus was very clear. We need immediate action on the multiple fronts to stop illegal drugs and support those struggling with addictions. The Sahtu demands a comprehensive approach, including increased law enforcement, drug education, expanded addictions treatment, and more economic opportunities.

Mr. Speaker, we heard heartwrenching and very emotional stories of lives lost and families and suffering. The impacts on our peoples' health is immeasurable. We cannot allow this crisis to continue unchecked. Mr. Speaker, I call upon this government to partner with the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and our community leaders to implement strategy in working, or developed in stages, including more resources for RCMP officers, drug education in schools, local addiction counsellors, and treatment options. And, Mr. Speaker, investments in job training and business development.

Mr. Speaker, Tulita will host the next SSI youth life promotional conference June 3rd to June 6th to build on work started in Fort Good Hope. I give notice on my attendance. Our future leaders must be commended. I request unanimous consent to conclude my statement, Mr. Speaker.

Unanimous consent granted

Thank you. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. And mahsi, colleagues. Mr. Speaker, the Sahtu is resilient, but we need the full commitment of the Government of the Northwest Territories to combat this drug crisis, build healthier, and must regain our traditional values and build safer communities. Mr. Speaker, we cannot lose one more life to illegal drugs. I urge all Members to support the Sahtu substance misuse and drug crisis plan. Together, we can heal our communities and create a brighter future. Mahsi.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 207-20(1): Office of the Children’s Lawyer

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Office of the Children's Lawyer was established in the NWT in 2011. And since around 2017, it has been under the umbrella of the Legal Aid Commission, which is an independent government agency. It ensures that children can be provided with their own lawyer to represent them directly, and this often involves children in care. It is based on principles outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. When the government or anyone makes decisions about what is in a child's best interest, the views and wishes of that child need to be carefully considered and understood.

Children in care sometimes have negative and difficult relationships with their case workers, so those children can turn to a lawyer to advocate for them. But lawyers who take on this work face really challenging legal and ethical issues. These roster lawyers in turn need guidance from the Office of the Children's Lawyer, and that office needs to be managed by a lawyer with extensive relevant experience and an understanding of the needs of children at various ages and stages of development. Other staff within Legal Aid do not have that specific expertise.

At times, the OCL lawyer has taken on cases themselves but, beyond that, their role includes the following:

Advocating about children's legal rights to HSS, schools, families, judges, and to other lawyers;

Advocating for systemic change to the child and family services process, including changes to the Child and Family Services Act;

Vetting, training, and mentoring lawyers who are assigned to children;

Monitoring lawyers who are assigned to children's cases and responding to complaints about them; and

Keeping the OCL manual and code of conduct for lawyers up to date.

Now, Mr. Speaker, the OCL lawyer has recently retired. If no one else takes on those roles and responsibilities, children will be worse off because the legal assistance being provided to them will be compromised. I do not believe this Assembly wants to let that happen. So at the appropriate time, I will have questions for the Minister. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Yellowknife North. Oral questions. Member from Monfwi.

Member’s Statement 208-20(1): Recognition of Cabinet’s Commitment to Working with indigenous Governments

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, [translation unavailable] on May 16, 2024, [translation unavailable].

So, Mr. Speaker, the GNWT held their bilateral meeting with the Tlicho government on May 16, 2024. Together, the GNWT and Tlicho government are working to improve mental health and addictions, build infrastructure, Tlicho jurisdiction in education, Tlicho involvement in emergency management, continually improve comanagement of wildlife. I want to take this time to acknowledge the good work of this Cabinet to improve relations with Indigenous government and to take actions that improve the lives of Indigenous people across the territory.

I want to acknowledge the work of the Premier. He has been proactive and made good on his word to improve relations with Indigenous government. Since his time in Cabinet, the Premier has sought the advice of Indigenous government and made himself available and accessible. This is a true leadership.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to acknowledge the efforts of Minister of health. The Minister of health has worked her way from the front lines caring directly for people's health to now directing the department of health. For other Indigenous as an Indigenous leader and leaders, I want to say to her, we recognize we recognize her good work, the good work that she is doing. We recognize you are young, you are Indigenous, and we have great faith in what you can do for the government and the people of the Northwest Territories. We know that you truly want to improve the health of the residents of the NWT. We support you as you move forward to do this. Mr. Speaker, we recognize the work the Minister is doing to improve midwifery and address the health care workers shortages. We know that the North depends on agency nurses. People in small communities know what it feels like to have a nursing station shut down because there is no one to work it. We recognize not everything can be improved all at once, but we acknowledge the Minister is taking steps in the right directions. Thank you to the Premier, the Minister of health, and to the Cabinet for their efforts to truly work together with Indigenous government. Thank you.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 209-20(1): Accessibility Standards

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the NWT Human Rights Commission recently presented its 20222023 Annual Report to the Standing Committee on Government Operations. In keeping with trends noted in previous reports, the commission noted that disabilities were the basis for 59 percent of complaints brought before them. The commission went on to highlight that there is a gap between the National Building Code standards for accessibility and an organization's responsibility to provide accessible spaces and accommodation under the NWT Human Rights Act.

In past responses to commission recommendations that this gap be addressed through changes to or introduction of new legislation, the Department of Infrastructure has responded that they do not have a mandated responsibility for accessibility standards.

Mr. Speaker, the Human Rights Commission does not stand alone in calling for this change. Many residents living with disabilities and advocates have spoken up on this issue. The city of Yellowknife has called for accessibility legislation or a building act which addresses accessibility standards. I am not satisfied with the government continuing to state they are not mandated to step in on this issue, Mr. Speaker. Over 22 percent of the population in the NWT is living with a disability. I argue that the government does have a mandated responsibility to ensure that these residents are provided equal opportunity to participate in society as fully as any NWT resident.

Mr. Speaker, when I was campaigning, one conversation I had with a constituent stood out to me on this matter. They pointed out to me that as well as it being a moral responsibility to work towards an equitable society, it also has real impacts on our economy and social fabric when persons living with disabilities leave the territory because accessibility is better in other jurisdictions. At a time when we are trying to attract residents to move here and stay, this is one more thing we can do to help make the territory a more attractive place to live. I would advocate for us to take the lead here when in fact several Canadian jurisdictions already have accessibility legislation, so we won't be charting a new path. We will simply be keeping up with the pack. Let's step up and get this done because soon we will find ourselves in a position of being left behind. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 210-20(1): Congratulations to Dehcho Graduates

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, today's statement I wanted to honour and provide congratulations to Dehcho residents who will be graduated and obtaining either their grade 12 diploma or a degree from their postsecondary studies.

Mr. Speaker, the names of these individuals, their achievement, and the institutions they're graduating from include:

Kelly Leishman from Fort Providence is obtaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a degree in drawing from the University of Alberta;

Annadette Bouvier who is obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Vancouver;

Anonda Canadien is obtaining a diploma in Indigenous Digital Film Program from Capilano University;

Paris Levavasseur is obtaining her grade 12 GED in the Indigenous Bridging Program at Mount Royal University, and Paris is now enrolled in her first year of a psychology degree;

Marie Buggins, a K'atlodeeche member is graduating from grade 12 at Diamond Jenness School;. and

Ronnell Landry is obtaining a nursing degree from Aurora College.

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of all of the people of the Dehcho, I want to give a big congratulations to each of these graduates for putting in the work, being dedicated, and succeeding in advancing their education. It's always a wonderful thing to see people achieve milestones like this in their lives, especially Indigenous people from the North like this.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, I'd also like to wish all other graduates from across the NWT a warm congratulations for their achievement. I know that the families, communities, and educators of all northern graduates are proud of you and proud of this moment. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from the Dehcho. Members' statements. Member from Yellowknife Centre.

Member’s Statement 211-20(1): Non-governmental Organizations

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the NGOs out there are the real super heros. They may not wear capes or have special rings, they don't fly invisible jets, but they are a beacon of hope. Sometimes they're the only light out there in the dark.

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to taking responsibilities, the government doesn't want to get its hands dirty, who does it call? An NGO, Mr. Speaker.

Now, we shouldn't view NGOs as they continually be as the agency of last report. Take the Yellowknife Sobering Centre, Mr. Speaker. When it was ran by an NGO, they were capped at under $800,000 a year. When the GNWT runs it, they funded over $3 million a year, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, that example alone is demonstrating the government supports those in the NGO industry not to have a living wage. Mr. Speaker, I envision this is an example that the finance Minister is out there daydreaming as the day goes on in a dreaming of the Mel Lastman style of pitch for NGOs, kind of like bad boys out on the street. Some NGO who's financially hungry and desperate for any opportunity, they've got sandwich boards on, they're saying and popup balloons saying they will do trauma supports for cheap, Mr. Speaker. Twoforone Tuesday for trauma, Mr. Speaker. They are NGOs are so desperate they'll take any opportunity they can.

Now, that is a fictitious example. But I worked in the NGO sector. They are desperate for real respect and financial supports. Mr. Speaker, there's just no way we can keep letting them feel this way because they truly are the cornerstone of some of our social programs. An NGO carries a financial burden in ways the government cannot or will not. Mr. Speaker, their funding does not allow them to pay for the rent, their staff, and all their program needs fairly and reasonably. The Yellowknife Sobering Centre example is exactly the example that hurts them. Any money they have left over at the end of the year, Mr. Speaker, gets clawed back so they can't have vision. They can't tell their employees that they are planning for the future. It's literally month to month for many of these people.

Mr. Speaker, at the end of the day, we need sustainable funding for NGOs. They need to be treated with respect. They need inflationary and multiyear agreements, because they matter. And without them, we would be lost. Mr. Speaker, hurray for the NGOs. I am here for them, and I have no doubt all our good Members here support them as well. Cheers.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 212-20(1): Ron Cook Celebration of Life

Colleagues, today I would like to share with you an individual who had a huge impact on my life personally and professionally. The person I am talking about is Ronald Leslie William Cook.

Ron was born on July 15, 1942 to Fred and Irene Cook on a picnic day in Grahamdale, Manitoba. Ron loved the outdoors on the family's homestead in Steep Rock, Manitoba, watching birds, chasing squirrels as a child, and was very interested in all-things nature. He loved watching seeds grow, eventually becoming an avid gardener and stocking the family's larder with fruit and produce. Ron developed a love for team sports in his teen years including baseball and curling.

Now, I am going to fast forward to when Ron arrived in Hay River as a social worker. Then Ron managed the Hay River Housing Corporation for two years and in 1981, he took a job running the local arena before the town had even created a recreation department. Ron was always a community person who loved working together with the people. He further developed minor hockey, as well as minor league softball and curling. Hay River hosted the mixed territorial curling championships when the lounge was only the community's arena dressing room number 1. There are stories about how they made a makeshift floor on the top of the pool area for temporary fantastic lounge for an entire winter. Eventually, Ron was hired as the town recreation director.

Colleagues, I would like to share a few stories about Ron. When I was a young lad, I would go and watch ball down at the Don Wright ball park. Ron played right field for the Hay River team. He was a very strong player but, more importantly, it was about the team. As I said previously, he helped develop the sport of softball in Hay River and this helped me enjoy the sport to this day. He was about developing young people into strong citizens. It was about working hard, having fun, and enjoying your teammates and the other team.

In 1984, I was in university and I reached out to Ron to see if we could develop a summer program for the town. I shared some of my ideas with him and about the importance of a summer program. About a month later, he reached out to me and advised me that he liked the idea and he would be implementing the program that summer. What I found so exciting was that he expanded it and there were four camps spread across Hay River that year. I was fortunate to be one of the camp leaders that year.

I have to say that because of him, I started to look at the recreation field as an option. I can tell you that I had the pleasure of working with him for over 15 plus years. With this in mind, I would like to have the rest of the statement deemed as read. Colleague, he will be missed by his family and friends, but I know he is in a better place. God Bless you, Ron.

Colleagues, as I was entering the recreation field, I had the opportunity to serve with Ron on the NWTRPA board. He had a strong vision on what he felt the recreation field should look like for the NWT. Like all good leaders, he would bring the best out of people especially when it came to getting visions from folks.

In 1992, I moved to Fort Simpson as the recreation development officer. One of the jobs was to get community recreation coordinators together to share ideas and come up with regional programs. I reached out to Ron to see if he could be part of it. After a couple of years of asking him, he was able to fit the next meeting into his busy schedule. At that meeting, he listened, offered some advice, and enjoyed the time spent with all the regional recreation coordinators. After the three days of meetings, he said that he was looking forward to the next meeting.

As I was telling his wife Gale in one of the meetings, Ron shared an issue with the group. The recreation coordinator from Jean Marie River spoke up after Ron described the issue and provided him with a possible solution. Ron got excited. This of course, confused the JMR recreation coordinator and he said sorry. Ron apologized to him and said he had the right solution and the reason he was excited was because he now had the solution to the issue. After that, Ron was sold on the Mackenzie Recreation Association.

I can tell you this was someone I enjoyed talking with and asking for ideas and solutions as we moved forward. As Gale use to joke, the Ben Sivertz Arena was surely his second home.

Colleagues toward the end of his career, Ron became interested in trails as "it is a healthy outlet for people's exercise" and was the driving force behind the 2001 TransCanada Trail relay in the community. Part of his vision is the trail in the community of Hay River. I can tell you, I have had the pleasure of walking on it a number of times.

Ron served two terms as a town councillor before becoming the recreation coordinator. Until he and the family left, he was involved in the Baptist Church, the Kiwanis Club, and the Curling Club. As well, he was involved with the Mackenzie Recreation Association, the NWTRPA, and NWT Curling Association.

As a competitive athlete, Ron competed at the national level for curling three times (1997 2002) in both mixed and seniors' competition.

I forgot to say, when he was 16 years old Ron relocated to Regina to complete his grade 12 and begin his postsecondary schooling at Briercrest, Saskatchewan. Following that, he went to Bethel College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then he obtained his Master of Social Work from the University of British Columbia.

As a young boy, Ron put this trust in his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and never missed an opportunity to share the good news of God's love and grace. Ron loved to visit people and discuss sports, politics, and theology. I can tell you that growing up, I enjoyed spending Friday evenings as a young teenager with the youth group he was part of.

Over the years, upon leaving Hay River, Ron needed medical and surgical assistance along the way and the family was very thankful to the Almighty God for his best provisions on Ron's life path. The family firmly believed that the many, many prayer warriors help lift Ron and the family to God for help in the times of need. The family wished to express their sincere thanks for all the medical and prayer support they received.

In cloasing, I would like to quote Psalm 18:2:

"The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge." Until we meet again, RIP Ron.

Mrs. Weyallon Armstong’s Reply

It's not that bad. It's mostly for small communities and regional centres, that we have lots of people living in the regional centres as well that are affected.

So, Mr. Speaker, on Friday the 20242025 Budget was tabled with a $2.2 billion operating budget. The Minister states: This is a practical and realistic budget aimed at reducing our overall expenditures in 20242025 to help restore balance and increase our fiscal capacity to deal with unexpected events.

The Minister also states this budget is about value and efficiency.

Mr. Speaker, I understand we are in a time of fiscal restraint. We need to reduce our debt, and we have to be very careful with our spending. We have dealt with COVID, floods and fires which has cost the GNWT a lot of money. The cost of delivering goods and services in the NWT is challenging and continues to increase. We don't know what this upcoming fire season will bring.

The GNWT needs to meaningfully support local economic development. We need to grow our local economy to build local resilience. The government should be putting money towards actions that will improve the lives of residents in small communities and regional centres and improve the capacity of local communities because this strengthens the territory overall.

Mr. Speaker, the people in my riding make up 6 percent of the territorial population and represents four of the 33 communities. In the Tlicho region, like many small communities in the NWT, there are significant challenges to address.

For a long time, our small communities have fallen below the regional centres like Yellowknife when looking at outcomes in education, health, income, employment, labour, mental health, housing, and the list goes on. At this rate, the small communities will never have equitable services for our residents. And now, Mr. Speaker, our small communities are in a fight for survival against drugs and crime. The increase of drugs and criminal activity in small communities across the NWT has mostly been a silent killer, but the illegal activities of the drug trades are increasing and becoming more overt and quite apparent in the smaller communities. We don't seem to be acknowledging or properly addressing the crisis this brings into our communities. And this is my concern with the budget.

Mr. Speaker, I don't see how this budget is going to improve the lives of residents in small communities and other regional centres. Our communities need us to put money behind our words. If we are a government that wants to improve the lives of residents in small communities, then it would be reflected in our territorial budget. In this budget, there is not enough focus on prevention.

Our children and youth in small communities need hope. They need to have positive and healthy outlets for them to spend their time. They need modern and safe infrastructure and facilities to play sports and do cultural activities, and these facilities need operational funding to ensure programming and organized games and other healthy activities can be scheduled regularly for them.

Mr. Speaker what will children and youth do if they don't have positive outlets to do sports and recreation? We have organized crime infiltrating our communities, corrupting our youth, destroying families, and disrupting our way of life. Our focus should be on ensuring children and youth in small communities are safe and healthy with a future to look forward to.

Providing sports and recreation activities enables a positive path for our youth as we combat against highrisk behaviour. Support the small communities to ensure children and youth have consistent outlets in sport and recreation. This budget needs an increase in sport and recreation funding, specifically to support youth and small communities.

Mr. Speaker, we also know that our communities face a funding gap. For several years, municipal and community governments have been underfunded to operate and provide services. The government of the 19th Assembly did increase $5 million in funding for municipalities, but we know, Mr. Speaker, there are tens of millions of dollars still shortchanging our communities.

By increasing the funding for municipalities, it will not just improve the financial sustainability of communities, but the benefits will multiply throughout the community. By increasing funding to communities, the GNWT will create more local jobs, more local contracts services, and improve programs and services for local residents.

The capital city holds almost half of the population of the NWT, which includes headquarters for both the territorial and federal government. It is the hub for most mining activity in the NWT and contains the biggest portion of the private sector. So in the capital city, there are much more services, programs, and opportunity for people. Overall, life is good in the capital city. Many families can afford nice homes and fill their kitchen with food, their kids receive a good education and a have a higher likelihood to graduate, and they can play a variety of sports, there is health care and RCMP services. In the capital city there is opportunity.

But, Mr. Speaker, what about the rest of the territory?

Well, Mr. Speaker, for the rest of the territory, the small communities are used to making do with fewer resources. Consider, for example, the midwifery funding for Yellowknife that is being reallocated. Well, with all due respect, Mr. Speaker, I know that the $900,000 for that Yellowknifebased program can be used somewhere else. Moreover, also on the topic of health care, I want to comment on agency nurses.

Mr. Speaker, I know that there are several Members here who want to eliminate entirely the usage of these agency nurses within the NWT. However, Mr. Speaker, I am unsure whether the NWT will ever be able to completely cut the usage of agency nurses across all communities. Because if we did, then some small community health centres would be left sitting empty and unused and they'd eventually close completely, Which would put our communities' safety at risk and leave no health professionals present at all. That can never happen, Mr. Speaker.

This brings me to my next point about cuts, Mr. Speaker. I am speaking specifically about the cuts to the Fort Smith Correctional Centre. Are these cuts the beginning of broader cuts for other regional centres and small communities? What will they cut in next year's budget, or during the rest of the 20th Assembly? I guess we will wait and see.

Our small communities are deteriorating on top of underfunded budgets, rising costs of inflation, and rising costs of goods and services. They are fighting an increase of violence and crime and are increasingly having to respond to emergencies and natural disasters.

The biggest form of support the GNWT can provide to communities to increase their local economy, to increase social programs and services, to provide more opportunities for residents, and improve the lives of residents in small communities is to put the money directly into the hands of communities. This budget needs to increase funding for municipalities.

The support that ECE has in place, such as the Small Community Employment Fund, is an excellent program that supports communities to hire summer students in a variety of local positions. This budget line needs to be increased.

Another way to support small communities is through decentralization, transfer of jobs and services away from the capital. In the past, the government has recognized the value of moving jobs and services into the regions and smaller communities but in this budget, I don't see decentralization happening.

Overall, the government has reduced some positions for this fiscal year but, Mr. Speaker, the value of moving jobs into the regions has been overlooked. Decentralization can stimulate growth in communities. We need to focus services where the service is needed most. The GNWT should have positions and services transferred into small communities for this budget.

Mr. Speaker, I represent four small communities in the NWT. I come from a small community so I've seen firsthand the challenges our communities face.

We know that many families, as their children get older, they leave our small communities. It is not uncommon for families to relocate to regional centres so their kids receive a better education and have more opportunity.

Mr. Speaker, people also leave because some don't feel safe as they once did. Our homes and communities are not the same places they used to be. There is minimal programs and services, little opportunities for jobs, and our youth have too much free time on their hands which makes them vulnerable and more likely to get into trouble and be negatively influenced. Our small communities need the attention and focus of this government to ensure all children, no matter where they live in the NWT, to have equitable access to opportunities by investing in:

Sports and recreation;

The municipal funding gap; and

Enhancing small community employment programs.

We are supporting small communities. These are areas, Mr. Speaker, that I want to see the budget improve. I have spoken many times about housing. We are in a housing crisis in the NWT. We have overcrowded, unrepaired, and deteriorating units. We have people homeless and couch surfing. Housing is another major issue why people aren't living in small communities and why people are actually moving out of small communities because there is simply nowhere to live. It is surprising that the overall Housing NWT budget is reduced compared to last year, given the state of housing in the territory. How is the GNWT going to improve the state of public housing units or build the units needed in communities with a reduced budget? The GNWT knows the cost of addressing core need in the NWT is approximately $300 million in capital and $18 million in ongoing operational funding. Mr. Speaker, how will the GNWT bring the units it has out of core need with a reduced budget?

We need to increase homeownership in the NWT to reduce the demand on public housing, yet these budget lines are reduced. The Homeownership Entry Level Market Housing Program and the Homeownership Assistance Programs are reduced. How is the GNWT going to increase homeownership?

I would also like to know how many units Housing NWT will sell to clients over 20242025. Housing has many older units that could be sold to clients at prices clients could afford. This will increase homeownership and reduce the burden on housing to maintain them. I want to see the budget provide more focus on housing supports, specifically for small communities, to fix up the public housing units that exist and to support and expand homeownership. I recognize the housing Minister is formalizing relations with Indigenous governments in regards to housing, and this will support creative solutions. This is positive.

I am concerned, however, that the budget that is required to fix up the units currently operated by Housing NWT is insufficient, and this is among my biggest concerns with this budget. I would like to see more resources towards housing to ensure that our residents, those especially in smaller communities, have a safe, affordable, accessible, and suitable home.

These are my priority issues for the budget that I would like to see improved. These are changes that will meaningfully improve life for those in small communities, and this should be the priority of the GNWT, to help those most in need. Mashi cho. Thank you.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Monfwi. Replies to the Budget Address.

Colleagues, I'm going to go back to number 5, recognition of visitors in the gallery. I was a little quick to get to number 6. Member from Nunakput.

Recognition of Visitors in the Gallery (Reversion)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I apologize for my hand being late. You were pretty quick. I just want to have an opportunity today to recognize Beverly Amos. Beverly here is visiting us in the House. She's one of our very few Inuvialuktun language experts in the Northwest Territories. There's very few of them left, so I want to take this opportunity to recognize Beverly. Her hometown is Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories, and she now lives with her husband Lawrence at their cabin at Hans Bay on the InuvikTuktoyaktuk Highway. So welcome, Beverly.