Debates of June 4, 2024 (day 20)



Colleagues, I'd like to thank Jonas Lafferty for the guiding words this afternoon. I hope everybody had a good weekend and get ready to rock and roll.

Ministers’ Statements

Minister’s Statement 41-20(1): Fifth Anniversary of the Release of the Final Report of National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to acknowledge the Fifth Anniversary of the Release of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The final report describes the dire situation faced by Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBPQIA+ people as genocide, and delivers 231 Calls for Justice directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries, and all Canadians.

Mr. Speaker, here in the Northwest Territories, where half of the population is Indigenous, we are all too familiar with the harmful effects of colonialism. From the era of residential schools to the decades of tuberculosis and the Sixties Scoop, we are either survivors of the trauma or know someone who is.

Mr. Speaker, many Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQIA+ people in the NWT and across Canada, continue to experience violence in the home, workplace and within their community, and they continue to go missing. In the NWT, there are currently 80 active missing persons cases. As I speak here today, Frank Gruben, who went missing from Fort Smith in May 2023, still has not been found. I call on anyone with information that could help find Frank Gruben, to step forward to call Crime Stoppers at 18002228477.

Mr. Speaker, since the release of the final report, the Government of the Northwest Territories has taken steps to begin to affect change so that Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people can feel safe, valued, supported, and honoured in every community. In response to the Call for Justice, the GNWT is implementing its Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Action Plan tabled in November 2022. One of the actions identified in the plan is to look at how our government is responding to violence directed at Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people, recognizing that partnership is key in building trust with Indigenous residents and communities. In the next three years, we will be designing new foster care models to help break cycles of genderbased violence for children and youth as well as conducting a feasibility study on developing a NWT restorative justice model to support survivors of family violence.

Mr. Speaker, as part of our government's response to the national action plan to end genderbased violence, we have signed a fouryear funding agreement to implement a whole of government response to ending genderbased violence, family violence, and intimate partner violence. Our interdepartmental approach involves working closely with Indigenous governments and nonprofit organizations to coordinate activities, which include contributing more funding to family violence shelters and community organizations.

Mr. Speaker, work has also advanced on establishing an MMIWG advisory committee, which will provide advice and guidance to this government on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girlsrelated matters. It will be a pathway for communities to provide input into programs and services to ensure they reflect and address community needs and aspirations as they relate to the Calls for Justice. The draft terms of reference for this committee have been developed with input from Indigenous governments, key stakeholders, and other community partners. Once the terms of reference are finalized, organizations will be able to put forward their committee members for appointment. The intent is to have this advisory committee in place by the fall of 2024.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories is dedicated to ending violence directed at Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people. We will do this by implementing the action plan using a wholeofgovernment approach, while working with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls advisory committee to guide this work. I will look to the Legislative Assembly to continue to collaborate with our community partners to develop solutions that are reasonable, effective, and sustainable and by continuously striving to do better.

An annual report on the implementation of the action plan is being prepared and will be posted on the GNWT's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls web page by the end of June 2024.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT is committed to working with all Northerners and partners across Canada to address systemic causes of violence, inequality, and racism so that Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people can feel safe and empowered in their communities, in the Northwest Territories, and across Canada. Quyananni, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Minister responsible for the status of Women. Members, I wish to draw your attention to the presence of Colette Langlois, our current ombud, and Krista Carnogursky. I apologize if I said that name wrong, our incoming ombud. Ms. Langlois, thank you for your years of service. And Ms. Carnogursky, we wish you well as you take on the task of this important role. So welcome to our Assembly.

Ministers' statements. Minister for Education, Culture and Employment.

Minister’s Statement 42-20(1): Income Assistance Improvements

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to update you on crucial improvements to the Northwest Territories Income Assistance Program.

July, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment will introduce a new targeted income assistance program for seniors and persons with disabilities. These anticipated changes, first announced last year, are ready to roll out across the territory next month.

Income assistance programs provide essential support for residents in financial need. Clients will receive a base benefit amount based on the number of people in their household and the northern market basket measure of their region to reflect cost of living differences across the Northwest Territories. This base benefit covers basic needs like food, clothing, and other daily living activities. Clients will also be eligible for other benefits based on their circumstances including shelter, utilities, child care, security deposits, flood and fire emergencies, and even education and training benefits.

We have also increased the income exemption amount. The exemption can be taken as a lump sum amount or be split into smaller amounts provided it does not exceed the annual limit. This allows clients to accept some monetary gifts or generate some additional household revenues without a significant impact on their benefits. For example, some people may want to work a few hours per week or participate in paid cultural activities or collect an honoraria from serving on a board. In addition, Mr. Speaker, this new program will address the barrier of monthly applications. Seniors and persons with disabilities will only need to apply once a year, enabling them to budget for their monthly costs more effectively.

These enhancements are the result of extensive engagement with residents, Indigenous governments, and stakeholders. Residents were clear that we need improved supports for vulnerable residents, better program accessibility, and to do our part to support seniors and elders to age in place.

Mr. Speaker, these program changes represent an increased investment of $5 million into the income assistance program. Education, Culture and Employment will use a performance measurement plan to ensure proper monitoring and evaluation of these programs.

More importantly, Mr. Speaker, these program changes will result in better services for residents who need it most, while recognizing the incredible value that elders, seniors, and persons with disabilities bring to our communities. Significant work to reduce barriers, including fewer layers of administration and less paperwork, will also improve the overall experience for clients, care providers, and nongovernmental organizations trying to support them. By making this system more efficient, seniors and persons with disabilities will have more time to focus on what matters most, including selfcare, training and education, community participation, and time with family.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to delivering programs and services that help residents live their lives with dignity, reach their longterm goals, and benefit from opportunities in the territory. Guided by engagement with hundreds of residents and stakeholders, I am confident that these crucial improvements to the income assistance program will improve the quality of life for NWT residents who need it most. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. Ministers' statements. Mr. Premier.

Minister’s Statement 43-20(1): Minister Absent from the House

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise the House that the honourable Member for Thebacha, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, will be absent from the House today and tomorrow for the Canadian Council of Forests Ministers meeting in Cranbrook, British Columbia.

Members’ Statements

Member’s Statement 224-20(1): Income Assistance – How to be Regionally Appropriate

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, today I am joining in with my colleagues to speak about income assistance services in the NWT. Mr. Speaker, since becoming an MLA, my understanding of social programs and services, like income assistance, has continued to evolve. I have learned through discussions with my colleagues that what I think may be appropriate for Yellowknife residents may not be appropriate or perhaps applicable to other communities or regions. For example, what I think might be a good idea and could really work for folks living in Yellowknife might not work the same way or at all for folks who are living in the Mackenzie Delta or the Tlicho.

I'm excited for my colleagues to have the opportunity tomorrow to hear from Karl Widerquist, who is an expert on basic income. As I have stated before in this House, I believe a guaranteed basic income could be an exciting approach for our territory.

Mr. Speaker, I've said previously that the current structure and function of our income assistance system is paternalistic in nature. I would also add that it is colonial in nature because it makes people dependent on the program and disincentivizes participation in the labour force.

This brings me to my next point, Mr. Speaker, which is the general lack of meaningful work opportunities that are available in small communities and regional centres compared to what is available in Yellowknife. This situation further complicates the inherent issues with income assistance and entrenches people within that system without any other options available to them. We must also consider that there are some people who may have little to no desire to participate in the daytoday wage economy and would much prefer to primarily participate in a traditional economy instead.

Overall, Mr. Speaker, at the core I believe the GNWT's social programs need to be reexamined and restructured so operationally they function to properly meet the needs of the people and work to meet residents where they're at and properly address what they need. I think it's important that we consider looking at income assistance from the lens of appropriately tailoring what the program needs to look like in the context of a regionbased or communitybased way. I will have questions later for the Minister of ECE. Thank you.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 225-20(1): Income Assistance – Food Security

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in order for people to live financially independent from the government, there needs to be local economic opportunities. There needs to be business activity and a local economy in order for people to earn wages and prosper. When there's a lack of business activity, Mr. Speaker, like we see in the Beaufort Delta region, families have no choice but to turn to income support. And when families are limited to income support to pay their bills, providing healthy nutritious meals becomes even more of a challenge.

Mr. Speaker, the population of Inuvik is 3,383. The most recent numbers from the bureau shows that 645 people in the Inuvik region were income assistance recipients.

Mr. Speaker, we know the cost of living in the NWT is highest in the communities further north. For families living on income security in my region, Mr. Speaker, food insecurity is a real threat. The bureau also shows that 24 percent of households in Inuvik are worried that there's not much money for food. Mr. Speaker, 287 homes in Inuvik worry about hunger and what will be the next meal.

I want to acknowledge the inspiring work initiated by Indigenous governments in my region to address this issue. The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation is responding to rising food prices and the accessibility of country foods to families. The IRC provides food baskets to schoolaged families. Mr. Speaker, the Inuvialuit Community Economic Development Organization also runs a new processing plant that provides country food to beneficiaries. Mr. Speaker, these are the food security solutions that make a difference in the lives of families and households. These are the initiatives we need to supported across the territory, Mr. Speaker. And I'll have questions for the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment later today.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 226-20(1): Income Assistance – Guaranteed Basic Income

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, income is the leading factor that determines how healthy someone might be. People who have higher becomes are much likelier to be healthier, and people on lower incomes tend to have worse health. It's easy to see how more money would allow someone to buy healthier food or have more recreation opportunities, but what could actually be more important to someone's health is the toll that poverty takes on mental health and relationships. How incredibly stressful it is to have too little to get by and support your family. The stress of insecurity, not knowing whether you'll get the shortterm work contract or the shortterm income assistance you need next month or the month after. That insecurity prevents you from making good plans, and instead you might make shortsighted decisions that are likely to drag you deeper into crippling debt.

Now, our system has been designed to prevent anyone receiving income assistance from accumulating savings, so they can never develop that sense of security.

According to a March 2023 report by Alternatives North, the idea of a basic income guarantee for the NWT is to take away this stress and insecurity. It can allow people to go back to school, retrain for a new job, or start their own business. It can allow others to care for aging or sick loved ones, volunteer in the community, find appropriate housing, recover from stress or trauma, and put healthy food on the table. Now, the GNWT is rolling out major changes to income assistance that will, thankfully, take us more in the direction of guaranteed basic income, particularly for seniors and those with disabilities.

Mr. Speaker, there is disagreement about whether raising income assistance levels and decreasing barriers will actually lead people to take steps like retraining or starting their own business. I've heard concern from my colleagues in this room that too much dependence on government is draining people's motivation, their sense of dignity and confidence to make their own decisions. I believe we need to continue on this path towards guaranteed basic income while also tackling other major things that take away people's sense of security and prevent them from achieving their potential, such as housing availability and better early educational supports. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 227-20(1): Income Assistance – Reduction of Dependence

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I would like to discuss the issue that income support clients in my riding, the Mackenzie Delta, are two times higher than the rest of the NWT. What is happening in my riding, Mr. Speaker, for so many people to be on income assistance and how is the government responding to this?

The purpose of income support, as stated in the policy manual, is to help people to become independent and selfreliant. Unfortunately, it does not appear that income assistance in the Mackenzie Delta is helping people become independent. What we see is that once people start, they do not get off income assistance. I also see students in my region who go through the education system. They are socially passed and can't keep up with university or college. It is not uncommon for these young people, capable of working or pursuing postsecondary education, to become income assistance clients. Our young adults are getting stuck on the income assistance. This does not help their selfesteem.

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to penalize people who have medical conditions or cannot work. These people need the support of the government but, unfortunately, I see a lot of people who should be working but instead are on income assistance. I want to address the cycle of dependency that carries through to families and generations on income assistance. How can we get people working?

The government needs to look at the policy and make changes that incentivizes people to work and make productive choices, and the government should report on the outcomes of productive choices. How do we measure the outcome of income assistance? We should be able to report the number of people on income assistance and the number of people who have moved on. How many success stories do we have? I will have questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment later. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Mackenzie Delta. Members' statements. Member from Monfwi.

Member’s Statement 228-20(1): Income Assistance – Reduction of Dependence

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Getting back people to work and off income support assistance.

Mr. Speaker, I care for and am concerned for the future generations. I am concerned that we are losing the resilience that our ancestors survived for generations on. Life is different now than 50 years ago.

Mr. Speaker, income support was created as a temporary solution, a band aid solution, to give people assistance for a short period of time. But, unfortunately, what it has become is a system that people get on and do not get off of the income assistance. For some young people, some young adults, it has become a norm.

Living on income support, life is limited. We all know that. There is not much people can do but be controlled by the system. We all know that if people are working and earning wages, they would have a better standard of living than income support. So why is this temporary income support not helping people get back to work?

Mr. Speaker, income support does help people pay their bills and survive but we all know the challenge with this program is that once people are on income support, they get comfortable. There is no incentive to get out of the system. Mr. Speaker, how do we support people to want better than income support?

Our elders survived and took care of each other and their families before income assistance, before child tax payment, before the subsidies that we have today. Income support should be designed to help people get back to work, to incentivize people to go back to work not penalize them. Has the Minister considered trying pilot projects in regions or communities to roll out income support differently?

A job is one reason that can help people wake up early every day, stay sober, be productive, and become selfsufficient. We need to look at different ways of delivering income assistance so we can truly support people to get back to work. Mr. Speaker, can I have unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

Unanimous consent granted

Thank you. Maybe that means for a temporary period of time they are allowed to work, and their monthly income support is not reduced. Maybe we allow people to earn enough to save so they can find a way out of living on income support. I will have questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. Thank you.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 229-20(1): Guaranteed Basic Income

Mr. Speaker, I'm going to join my colleagues in speaking about income assistance. It's clear there's severe shortcomings in how the GNWT works to address poverty and inequality. As we search for solutions, I would like to turn to my colleagues' attention to the work Alternatives North has done to find missing pieces of our social safety net.

After years of tireless study and research, they have concluded that what the North is missing is a universal income program. They've even provided us with the steps we need to take to put this program in place. Rates of poverty and low income remain stubbornly high while standards of living remain stagnant, at best. The NWT Bureau of Statistics recently discovered that poverty has risen to 15 percent but the data gets even worse as it's broken down. 15 percent of single parent families in the small communities live on low incomes, and 24 percent of NWT children younger than 15 live in households that struggle to meet their financial needs. These numbers do not even begin to tell the bigger picture of the fact that many working families are living dangerously close to falling into these low income and poverty thresholds every month. The GNWT seems only interested in continually added entitlement programs but doing so only increases administrative costs and builds barriers into our system that leave our most vulnerable stuck in a poverty trap. A basic minimum income would round up programs we already have by ensuring every Northerner has a liveable wage without adding to our administrative costs.

Mr. Speaker, the previous government shrugged off this report when it was first released but this new government now has the opportunity to correct that mistake and begin working with NGOs, municipalities, Indigenous governments, and their federal counterparts to begin phasing in pilot programs across the North that will raise the standard of living in communities in the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, one pilot program would be an improvement over zero. It's time for universal basic income. It was time yesterday, it will be time tomorrow, and certainly we'll find out if it's time today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 230-20(1): Income Assistance – Reduction of Dependence

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I want to support the words shared by my colleagues that we need to take action to reduce dependence on government support. I really appreciate the perspective they bring into this House from their experience living and representing the communities and the frustration they feel when they see people becoming dependent on the government rather than achieving independence and selfreliance.

I also have a bit of experience working with youth in some of our communities in my own role as an instructor of an environmental monitoring training program and can say that the youth I worked with were capable, energetic, and excited at the prospect of gaining some skills which would lead them into an interesting career.

This work is another part of why I'm so passionate about postsecondary education because I've seen myself how big of an impact even an introductory program can have on lifting people up to grasp the opportunities in front of them. It also flies in the face of the idea that people simply don't want to work.

So, Mr. Speaker, I share and want to build upon the messages shared by my community colleagues that we need to be working to reduce dependence on the government for programs such as income support, which I think is a necessary support but shouldn't be seen as an end goal. With this in mind, I look to the upcoming changes to the program being implemented by ECE. I can see how requirements like the productive choice requirement or the requirement to seek and maintain employment were seen as paternalistic and restrictive, and so I don't necessarily take issue with their removal. However, I am wondering what the department is planning to do to reduce dependence on this kind of programming if not through these requirements. I'll have some questions for the Minister on that later.

Mr. Speaker, I'd also like to speak to the experience of a constituent who has accessed income support. She was required by the department to drain her modest RRSP savings in order to continue to qualify for support. This was done in accordance with section 20 of the income assistance regulations. While I understand there is a need to ensure fairness in program access, I would say at a basic level it feels counterproductive and unfair to require a person to drain retirement savings in order to access support in a time of need. I think the department should have a look at requirements like this and how they can have the unintended consequence of furthering entrenching people in the need for support as has been so eloquently spoken to by my colleagues today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 231-20(1): Income Assistance – Living on the Land Disqualification

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I know of two constituents who are in a unique and unfortunate set of circumstances involving income assistance.

Mr. Speaker, there are two constituents in my riding who are a couple and are in a situation where neither of them have jobs. They don't have housing accommodations or any support of any kind. This couple, sadly, is caught up in the addiction process. They decided to go out and live on the land together because they wanted to sober up and, in doing so, they also attempted to get their income assistance. But they were denied and told they were ineligible to receive any assistance because they do not live in the town with a fixed address despite the camp this couple is at is within the community or municipal boundary.

Mr. Speaker, there's something very wrong with this picture in more ways than one. This government needs to support people when they decide to change their lives for the better away from addictions. Why are income assistance recipients penalized for deciding to live off the land where there are no jobs, no available housing, and no government support available to help them? No, it said.

Why are income assistance recipients penalized for deciding to live off the land if there are no jobs, no available housing, and no government support available to help them?

Mr. Speaker, when people are struggling with addictions and have no support, going out on the land will help them because the land is healing. People can gain insights on healthy living while connecting with nature. If NGOs or communities provide landbased healing already, then how is this situation this couple is dealing with any different? Why is our government not supporting people to be on the land when seeking healing and sobriety? With proper guidance and support, people living off the land can actually heal themselves and become productive citizens when they return to communities.

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the Department of ECE can work with NGOs, communities, and Indigenous governments to create a new way to assist recipients of income assistance that want to sober up and change their lives. There must be another way for people who do not have fixed addresses to receive some level of support from them. I will have questions for the Minister of ECE at the appropriate time.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

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

Member’s Statement 232-20(1): Income Assistance – Productive Choices

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Like my colleagues, I want to talk about income assistance today. I sometimes I see it as dependence versus transition to independence. I read on the internet the other day, it said welfare dependency can be defined as a state in which person or a household is reliant on government's benefits or further income for a prolonged period of time, Mr. Speaker, and without which, they cannot manage or sustain their daily living.

Mr. Speaker, how does the department transition families from dependency to programs to independencies? I worry that the cornerstone of hope is really their plan. I don't see a graduated scale we're inspiring people to stand on their own, even with our support. You know, work instills pride, very fundamental to being a human being. A place in society that has accountability but also a sense of accomplishment leads towards healthy living. It's not a perfect path, Mr. Speaker, but it is one that does show the greatness of being human.

Being stuck on income support is a tough experience, Mr. Speaker. I know many; I have spoken to many over the years; and no one feels as if it's the best spot for them but they are trapped in that cycle of dependency. You know, income support sometimes can be viewed as, or income assistance can be viewed as the back dooring of a universal basicbasic, very basic income. It's barely enough to get by. So how do we get people on their feet? We don't know.

We eliminated the cycle of productive choices, so yet we have people in these dependency cycles and yet when we say where the system is changing and people are getting off income support, I wonder why. Is it because they stopped filing their paperwork? Did they not qualify that month? Or did they get a job and find their own way? I don't know, and I'd like to know if the department has any idea.

Again, when I talk to people on income assistance, I hear depression, anxiety, and frustration. They want to do more, they want to be more, and they can be more, Mr. Speaker, and yet we have to find a way.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I want to stress that the department needs to enable productive choices, get people back on their feet, let the government support them. There's no shame in giving more to those who do shoot for independence because at the end of the day isn't that our goal, to ensure that we have healthy families, independent people contributing to a northern society for one and all? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Yellowknife Centre. Members' statements. Member from Hay River South.

Member’s Statement 233-20(1): Hay River Track and Field 2024

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This week, actually starting tomorrow, from June 5th to 7th marks the 30th Annual Northwest Territories Track and Field Championships in Hay River. And I know this might come to a bit of a surprise to most of you; however, I will not be there participating as an athlete. It's been a long road, and it's been a long five years since the last track and field events were held because of COVID19 and natural disasters, this annual tradition finally returns. If you're from Hay River, you know how significant this event is and how deeply the community is involved. It takes hundreds of volunteer hours and immense dedication to put this together. The community's commitment shines when over 900 athletes will show up this year to compete. If you've been an athlete over the past 30 years, you likely have fond memories of this trip and this event.

I want to take the time to congratulate the track and field committee on organizing this year's event and all the hard work done in its previous two years despite the disasters that prevented this event from happening. Thanks to your dedication, the field will once again be filled this year with young athletes from the Northwest Territories. This commitment deserves acknowledgement.

To the athletes attending this event, I hope you enjoy our community and all it has to offer. Though I am saddened I will be away this year and not able to volunteer, I am delighted to know that this event will be another success with many young athletes making memories and breaking records. Have fun this week, and good luck to all the athletes. Once again, thank you to all the volunteers, athletes, and sponsors of the NWT Track and Field Championships in Hay River. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Hay River South. Members' statements.

Member’s Statement 234-20(1): Willem Kanigan, 2024 Youth Parliamentarian

Colleagues, during the youth parliament, the Member from the Dehcho, Willem Kanigan, did a Member's statement on the issue of lack of maintenance and pavement of the allseason highway that connected Fort Simpson to Fort Liard. I would like to share it here today.

A concern that many of the residents of the Dehcho region have raised to me is the condition of the route that connects Fort Simpson to other communities during all times of year.

The road that links Fort Simpson to Fort Liard is extremely difficult to navigate during many of the winter months due to snow buildup and icy conditions along the road. This highway is vital to many people in the Dehcho region and acts as a lifeline to them. Constituents and their family use this highway to get supplies and for personal use, and unsafe road conditions impede their way of life.

At this moment, the road that connects Fort Simpson to Fort Liard is, for the most part, a gravel road with only a 70kilometre section out of the 393 kilometers being paved.

Many locals have voiced concerns about the road and the challenges it poses to them during the winter months and throughout the year, and I believe that the only way to fully remedy this issue would be to better maintain or to pave the Fort Liard Highway. For these reasons, he will ask the Minister of Infrastructure to allocate additional funds towards maintenance of the highway between Fort Simpson and Fort Liard or to give additional funding towards paving the highway to improve road conditions yearround. The conditions of the road that connects Fort Simpson to Fort Liard are extremely challenging during the winter months due to icy conditions, snow buildup, and the fact of the road not being paved. These conditions pose a difficulty to many residents of the Dehcho region.

He asked the Minister of Infrastructure to allocate additional spending on the maintenance of the road or pave the road as this would resolve the issue completely.

I would like to thank the Youth Member for this statement and allow me to share it with you here today.

Colleagues, I think that Member may have seen some of my Member's statements in the past, so I have to say thank you very much for doing it.

Recognition of Visitors in the Gallery

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to recognize one of my constituents, Ms. Colette Langlois, the current ombud of Northwest Territories, and I want to thank her for her service and for establishing the Office of the Ombud in Hay River. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Speaker: MR. SPEAKER

Thank you, Member from Hay River North. Recognition of visitors in the gallery.

Ms. Ried’s Reply

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. There's a quote I saw online recently that I can unfortunately not attribute but it doesn't diminish its truth. Quote, "The role of a politician is not to get into power. The role of a politician is to act as a steward and caretaker for our society, to manage society for the betterment of all of us."

That quote sums up why I am here today. I want to help provide the direction that leads to the betterment of all of us in the NWT. But the job of governing "better" seemingly gets harder by the day, week, year, and decade. Some of it simply is that all the problems feel like too much. Disasters and catastrophes, both of nature and those driven by people and their desire for power, feel amplified more and more in this century.

As a millennial, I can confidently say that my generation is bonetired of living through unprecedented situations. To us, unprecedented doesn't really mean anything anymore. It's just another Tuesday. And so many days feel like just going through the motions to find enough money to scrape together for housing, food, and basic needs. But, Mr. Speaker, despite it all, or perhaps even because of it, I have hope. I'm here to try and lead with my heart and compassion, balanced with evidencebased decisionmaking. I'm here to remind the government of its core mission: To always focus on lifting up the people of the Northwest Territories by choosing programs and policies that make sense, by responding effectively to what people tell government that they need, and not acting simply in lip service.

I'm here to listen to my colleagues, especially those with lived experiences different than mine, and understand the hardships that their constituents face across the territory.

I do believe that everyone in this room, on both sides of the floor, would agree with the key tenet of leading with compassion. I think that intent was clear when we collectively set out priorities of the 20th Assembly that focused on fundamental human needs. The 19 elected representatives in this room could all agree on:


Accessibility and affordability of housing,

A strong economic foundation,

Access to health care and addressing the effects of trauma, and

Safe residents and communities.

But I'd argue that right now the roadmap getting us from today to the Premier's vision of the NWT 50 years from now is a bit tenuous.

As a firsttime MLA but a longtime political nerd, I understand how the pieces of the nesting doll the priorities, the mandate, the business plan, and the budget fit together to create the agenda for each government. But when I look at our first efforts to create an agenda of our own by passing our shared priorities through this process, it starts to look like we're playing a game of telephone. Rather than translating our priorities into a plan that will create meaningful results for our NWT residents, we have produced a largely status quo budget.

While this is disappointing, I recognize that this is partly a function of how the puzzle pieces come together to create the plan. It's hard to be nimble and quick in our system of governance, and I'm prepared to give the Premier and Cabinet the benefit of the doubt as we go through the current budget debate.

I can understand why this budget is status quo, Mr. Speaker. The increasing pressures on government spending and growing debt are discouraging constraints that have to inform and influence the plans that we're making. But I'm still frustrated by the lack of substance behind the promise to do better in the three and half short years that we have left together. So I'm going to speak mainly in broad strokes, Mr. Speaker. It's imperative from my perspective that the budgets of the 20th Assembly need to both meet our challenges in the here and now but also align with the needs of the future. I think we may have started down the right path from a debt perspective but perhaps not as fully in other ways. I will always ask Cabinet to impress upon the GNWT to consider paths forward that are proactive instead of reactive.

One such proactive concept, the Government Renewal Initiative, or GRI, began as an exciting concept. In 2020, the Minister of Finance said, "The Department of Finance is planning to shift the way our budget is developed. The Government Renewal Initiative will rely on valuedriven budgeting principles to review GNWT programs and services, department by department, and allocate resources to areas that are most critical and valuable to residents.

Valuebased budgeting, also known as prioritybased budgeting, is both the idea that underlies the building of the budget as well as the method. It's founded on the commonsense idea that government financial resources should be allocated based on how effectively programs and services give value to residents.

We now hear from the Department of Finance that GRI is shifting its focus to evaluation since program inventories for the GNWT are complete. This is fine as an evolutionary growth in the initiative, but it concerns me deeply as the GNWT's internal capacity for formal evaluation is limited.

A truly robust program evaluation takes, on average, about 12 to 18 months. How many hundreds of people years are we behind in knowing what programs are effective and a good use of our dollars? While we lag behind on knowing the true value of many of our investments in programs and services, I'm concerned that we aren't making the best decisions of what is truly the fat that can be cut. Instead, we're told vacant positions might be a solution but feedback from constituents has shown that isn't necessarily the case. In turn, leading to frustration and rallies outside of this House, as recently as last week. I commend the Minister of Finance for going to the public service to ask for commonsense solutions to bringing budgets in check with the realities of what we have to spend. $1800 suggestions is a fantastic start, Mr. Speaker.

I fully believe that many more cost savings can be found that do not cut positions or impede or cut programs and services that residents rely on. At the same time, we need to make sure that we do not fall into the trap of making cost savings the primary measure of this Assembly's success. Fiscal sustainability certainly matters but it is a measure of administrative success, of an organization's ability to use its funds efficiently. If we want to be successful as an Assembly, we need to do much more than simply use our resources efficiently. We need to use our resources to produce meaningful results for the people of the NWT.

Financial debt is not the only debt the government should be thinking about. We should also be thinking about debts in education, shelter, and health and wellness, that often don't get measured simply because they do not show up clearly in the main estimates. It is these human debts that NWT residents experience directly in their lives and which this Assembly should be addressing as its primary focus. To do this, we need to have a fundamentally different discussion about how we allocate and use the government's financial resources.

The challenges NWT residents need us to address are persistent and longstanding. Making meaningful progress on them may well require an extraordinary and potentially inefficient investment that we need to be prepared to talk about. We also need to be prepared to consider whether or not the current distribution of resources among departments is truly contributing to achieve those results or is simply maintaining the administrative status quo.

I believe that this kind of fundamental shift in how government resources are allocated is the true promise of GRI, but we aren't there quite yet. Finding administrative efficiencies and cost savings is a step in the right direction, but we can't stop there. We need to have the collective political courage to put our convictions and principles into action by fundamentally altering the way future budgets get made and government resources get allocated. I recognize this work will take time, and I'm willing to wait until next year's budget to see this initiative bear fruit.

It's imperative to align budgets with the challenges of the future. I hope that everyone here today can now fully embrace the fact that climate change is the existential threat of our lifetime and being well prepared means doing business differently in so many ways. It's a monumental task to shift the culture of government from reactive to proactive, Mr. Speaker. For my part, I am going to do my best to learn what I can about change management in my time as a Member.

I also appreciate that Cabinet has hard decisions to make every day to balance the wellness of our territory now to where it could be in five, ten, or fifty years from now. I ask for Cabinet to define their leadership by embracing and welcoming letting go of ways of doing things that no longer serve us. The conversations that I have had with this Cabinet give me a great deal of hope on this front.

We point to reconciliation a great deal throughout how we plan to move forward in partnership with Indigenous leadership, but I believe we need to look beyond to a future where we have decolonized government and truly work in partnership. The systems of government that we have were built by people, and we can deconstruct them and put them back together however we want. Nothing is stopping us except for our imaginations. The implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has to be much, much more encompassing than just a statement of consistency in our legislation going forward. I eagerly look forward to the action plan and the priorities for change set out by Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations in partnership with the GNWT. I think this is an excellent opportunity for our public government to continue to work differently and better than we have before in all ways that we legislate and deliver services. That conversation excites and invigorates me, Mr. Speaker. This conversation is one I continue to ask for throughout our term, and I am certain the Premier will get tired of me buzzing in his ear, and that's okay.

When stakeholders from all backgrounds and points of advocacy ask us to pull in one direction, we must all put that into action. I genuinely hope that the Premier visits every riding and sees the inequity my colleagues from smaller communities speak to every day. I hope that he visits some of the rentals in my riding that showcase that there are stark differences in what Yellowknife looks like depending on what opportunities you have access to. I hope he sees firsthand the youth who struggle for purpose in systems that fail them, that he sees that artists who yearn to share their creations but have fleetingly few avenues to do so, that he sees the folks who want to be deeply rooted in their relationship with the land but can't afford the gas for their sled to go harvest. Perhaps we can't solve everything all at once, but we can make meaningful changes in these three and half short years that inspire hope, Mr. Speaker.

I will not lose an opportunity to speak to the fact that in the fouryear business plan, the GNWT has noted that the Residential Tenancies Act is up for review and possibly amendments in the life of this government. I was horrified to have the media reach out to me this past weekend to tell me that residents in my constituency had faced a 150 percent rent hike, Mr. Speaker, which is essentially a backdoor to eviction. We can't continue to allow things like this to happen to residents when it is very much in our power to change the law, Mr. Speaker. We can take decisive action and make life better for so many.

What good governance looks like for me and what it looks like for my fellow colleagues may be different in execution, but I genuinely believe that after getting to know my colleagues these past few months is that we are all asking for us not to forget those of our territory with the least. 70 percent of this territory had a collective trauma of evacuation, and the disparity of how that evacuation played out aligns all too closely with the disparity of income and opportunity for too many of us, Mr. Speaker. I really wish we would stop speaking about resiliency as if it is a compliment. We need to stop commending people for being resilient and instead redesign the systems that we operate in that make people suffer.

One final note, Mr. Speaker. During my campaign, I knocked on the door of an educator who works at the Kaw Tay Whee School in Dettah. She told me in no uncertain terms that her school kids will be coming for my job if I was elected, and I told her that was fantastic because it is. More than anything, I want to leave this House, the GNWT, and the territory better than I found it for those kids in Dettah who are coming for my job and will be governing sooner rather than later, Mr. Speaker. They deserve our best work today and every day until the end of our term in 2027. Thank you.

Reports of Committees on the Review of Bills