Updated: Sep 21, 2020
This is a list of all member's statements for MLA Rylund Johnson of Yellowknife North and will be regularly updated. To access full transcripts from each session, visit the Hansard Archive.
19th Assembly, 2nd Session June 12, 2020
Managed Alcohol Programs
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. One of this Assembly's mandate items is to establish a managed alcohol program and a medical detox program by the spring of 2023. We expect that such programming will reduce hospitalizations due to alcohol by 30 percent. This is one of my favourite mandate items. I believe it shows a switch in mentality that this government is ready to put harm reduction at the core of our programs. There was much debate about managed alcohol programs in the last Assembly, but there was little progress on it.
During COVID-19, we saw a number of our service providers take the initial steps to build managed alcohol programs. I think this was largely due to a recognition that people detoxing in the midst of a pandemic and putting a surge on our healthcare system was not necessary, and there was a way to reduce harm. Many of these programs were not managed alcohol programs per se, with the necessary medical supervision. They are a recognition that people going through an alcohol withdrawal is an extremely painful process.
Mr. Speaker, I believe we spend too much time in this Assembly debating how to provide alcohol and debating all of these issues around alcohol, and not enough time focusing on helping our constituents heal. Alcohol is not the cause of addiction; trauma is. We owe it in this Assembly to provide people with the means to heal, and that can look different for every single person. My dream is that, when a person is struggling with alcohol, they show up to their service provider and they are given an option for on-the-land treatment, for medical detox, for a managed alcohol program. If they want to go cold turkey down South, they are given that option. They are given a wide range of tools to use, because everyone's path to sobriety looks different, and we as government owe it to provide them with programming that is non-judgmental and tailored to their needs.
I will have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services to see that we are on track to providing such programming and we can get this work done as soon as possible. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session June 11, 2020
Aging in Place
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. With each day as our population ages, this Assembly's priority of enabling our seniors to age in place with dignity gains more importance.
Mr. Speaker, when dealing with our seniors, we must make our most compassionate selves take the lead. We must celebrate our elders for enriching our lives and building our futures. In our communities, unfortunately, we have created a system of healthcare that often asks many of our seniors make the impossible choice between aging in their community or being placed in a long-term care facility away from their homes. This tragedy is compounded by cases where elders are then surrounded by people who don't speak their language, and a family visit can often require a very expensive plane ticket just to say "hello."
During COVID-19, Mr. Speaker, we saw many of us across the North take great steps to protect our elders and most vulnerable, but we also saw our seniors make great sacrifices living, and now continuing to live, isolated. We owe it to them to ensure that such isolation is only caused by a pandemic and not by them being forgotten. Coming out of COVID-19, we all must ensure that our seniors don't live in loneliness. Mr. Speaker, we must do everything we can to ensure that people who want to live in their community can do so.
Mr. Speaker, many of our constituents may not choose to retire in the North, perhaps a fair choice, but there is no doubt that every time they make this choice, it is a loss. A community is held together by its elders. Children raised with access to grandparents have deeper roots in their community, Mr. Speaker. Our elders ground us. They provide cultural continuity and calm guidance, and during such uncertain times we are in now, we are in need of both.
Mr. Speaker, I hope we in this House can look back on our term and feel that we have made all of our seniors feel at home, that we have made sure their lives were a little easier, that we made meaningful progress on the tragedy that is elder abuse, so let us all lead with compassion and give hope for our elders and live a long, happy, retired life surrounded by their grandchildren in their homes. This is our responsibility, and I am honoured that it is a priority for all Members in this House. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session June 10, 2020
Communication Within the GNWT
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Due to COVID-19, we in this House and in government have gained an audience, many paying attention to us for the first time in their lives. This is an opportunity to educate people on our processes and work to improve them. As an example, yesterday, we passed Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditure) 2020-2021, and today, we've just received assent from our Commissioner. Admittedly, Mr. Speaker, when Bill 7 came up on the order paper, I had to double check what it was. That was us passing a billion dollar budget, and for the first time in this House, it received unanimous consent. In years, that has not occurred, Mr. Speaker. I think to the average person watching, they didn't notice that happen.
Mr. Speaker, there are many things we can do to just simply change our processes to make them more accessible. The vast majority of my meetings are done in camera, another one of these terms originating from England that means "in the room" or "confidential or private." I think most of us understand what in camera means, but why don't we simply just call it confidential? This is a problem because it requires us as Members to know things or to pretend we don't know other things, and it creates this cognitive dissonance. I think it is even worse on the Cabinet side, where Ministers are unsure what they know, what they're supposed to know, and communicating this at times can become very difficult. I, myself, have information I know and have been trying to get to a constituent for a number of months but have yet to get it confirmed in a public manner.
I don't think there is anything nefarious going on in the lack of transparency. Often, as government, we just do things simply because that's the way it always has been done, but I think, Mr. Speaker, that it is time that we take a deep look at our processes and how to make them more accessible and transparent to the public. Of course, government needs to operate behind closed doors at times. We deal with legal advice. We deal with very personal health information. We conduct tough negotiations and we hold information that, if released the wrong way, can have wide-reaching consequences. I'm not presuming we get rid of all confidential meetings, but I am asking that all of us in this House, before we do anything, ask: can this action be made public and accessible?
Mr. Speaker, I wish to commend much of the work our comm staff do in making information more accessible and converting documents to plain language, but I ask myself: perhaps we could just operate in plain language in the first place. Consensus government is a model that has many strict rules of how our information can flow, and often our own processes are fighting against our need to be transparent. I will have questions for the Honourable Premier about how we can change some of the institutional barriers that limit us from communicating in a straightforward and timely way. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session June 9, 2020
Systemic Racism in Canada
"Mr. Speaker, it saddens me that I spill hear people downplay the reality of racism in Canadian. Yet, I ask anyone who wishes to downplay the pain of those protesting as we speak, I ask a white person to ask themselves if their child was Black whether life would be easier or harder for that child. We should not have to use such analogies to show the importance, but maybe the fact that we do is commentary of where we are as a nation. There is no doubt that a person of colour has a harder time and the game is rigged against them from the moment they are born. That is what is meant by systemic racism. It is not just the hatred that rots people's souls. It is a series of subtle and somewhat invisible cultural norms that make life harder for anyone whose skin is not white. A culture which makes is a young Indigenous boy or girl search for self-esteem unnecessarily harder.
Mr. Speaker, we cannot let those voices go unheard. We in this House have a job to break the cycle. There is no shortage of systemic issues we can face in this House. When we pass a budget that gives $47 million to the RCMP and only $400,000 to First Nations policing, that's institutional racism. When we negotiate self government agreements, but the entire criminal justice system and the criminal code is off the table, that is institutional racism, Mr. Speaker. When the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls go out and conduct interviews across this country and then the federal government and our government fails to get an action plan in place, that is systemic racism, Mr. Speaker. These are not overt acts of hatred. These are a misalignment of priorities and a shying away from the very difficult work we are tasked to do.
Mr. Speaker, when the RCMP uses the entire North as a place to hide officers who have been convicted of sexual assault, that's institutional racism. When some new rookie officer shows up and decides that integrating themselves into the community and building an understanding of the culture is not their priority, that is institutional racism.
There is an inherent privilege awarded to whiteness in this country, Mr. Speaker. That is a fact, and it is a fact we all need to change. If we are truly committed to ending racism, it requires a serious reconfiguration of all our systems. It requires societal and cultural change where people give up their privilege, where people recognize the systems they operate in and work to change them. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session June 4, 2020
Obituary for Les Rocher
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I would like to acknowledge the passing of a very important member of our community, Mr. Les Rocher. I am not sure anyone can quite measure the contribution Les made to the very fabric of Yellowknife. Les was raised in Old Town, and his rugged style and straight talk are largely a reflection of this entire town. Les was a Titan of real estate in Yellowknife, yet he never lost his Old Town charm and was always willing to go for a drive or provide a detailed history of nearly every building and lot in this town. Les's encyclopedic knowledge of Yellowknife made him a historian and invaluable resource on how to get things done.
Mr. Speaker, I recall once discussing the purchase of the old Hudson's Bay building in Yellowknife with Les, part of a plan to use the building as a potential artists' centre, a dream I hope can still one day be fulfilled. Before any mention of price could be discussed, Les made sure I, some young lawyer, was fully lectured on the entire history of the building and the days when sled dogs were still a common way to transport goods purchased from the Hudson's Bay. Les truly cared about this town.
Les's parents, John and Mary, came to Yellowknife in the 1950s and settled in Old Town. Yellowknife was just then a town in the midst of a gold-mining boom. However, in time, Les's Swap Shop would emerge, and Les would expand the family business, Quality Furniture. In a climate where development is never easy, Les played a role in putting up hundreds if not nearly thousands of homes, Mr. Speaker. My guess is most long-time Yellowknifers have likely lived in a Rocher home at some point. Les was a symbol of the spirit, ambition, and fearless can-do attitude that defines Yellowknife to this day. I know his memory will live on, and we should all take inspiration from his vision and ability to bring that vision into fruition. I would also like to thank Les and the entire Rocher family for all the intangible things they have done which build a community. Les knew his community. Whether a person was rich or poor, he was always willing to take a risk on them and give his time to those in need. That commitment to community oriented causes translated to support for social clubs, historical groups, cultural events, and there is no doubt that Les had a big heart, Mr. Speaker.
COVID-19 has made grieving difficult at times, but in a spirit Les would be proud of, Yellowknife found a way. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all those who organized and took part in the memorial parade for Les. There were literally hundreds of people out on the road for one last drive with Les. Les Rocher is survived by his wife of 35 years, Sandra McDaniel, their six children, three grandchildren. I believe there is one more on the way, Mr. Speaker. When COVID permits, I know there will be a very large celebration of life for Les Rocher as there was no doubt much to celebrate. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. "
19th Assembly, 2nd Session June 3, 2020
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As we return to this House in the midst of COVID-19, I can start to feel something in the air again, and that is the entrenchment of the status quo creeping back in. However, when you are in the eye of a hurricane, you often cannot feel the whiplash around you. I can feel a sense of complacency sneaking into this House. There will be another wave of COVID-19. We are heading into one of the largest depressions in any of our lifetimes. Let's not also forget that we are in the midst of a climate emergency, which will cost alone on our infrastructure billions of dollars which we do not have. I know there are problems in the North. Often, you can simply look at these problems, and they can seem insurmountable, so it's best to just push them aside. However, we cannot let that mentality creep back in. During our COVID-19 response, I was truly honoured to be a part of this government. I was passionate, and I saw a government that moved quickly although not perfectly, and I believe this should be our government motto.
Mr. Speaker, the quest for perfection is a false one, and as the bureaucratic trenches and thinking and processes are pulling us all back in and the risk aversion that has plagued this government for decades is re-emerging, we must resist it. I see the old and tired political debates start to divide us again. I see the same decisions to do nothing start to be made again. I see Ministers' statements resorting to platitudes once again. My dream is that I could sit in this House and I could be a conservative, that I could sit over here and I could have Ministers and I could say, "Whoa, slow down. Did you think about that? What are you doing? Did you plan that out?" However, instead, on this side of the House, we repeatedly ask for things, and we are repeatedly told "no," Mr. Speaker. "No, we can't do that."
I honestly do not believe any one of us ran to implement a department strategic plan. We were passionate, and we were all excited MLAs. I have seen the response to COVID-19 bring that out. Mr. Speaker, now is not the time to become complacent. Now is the time to make quick and brash decisions that may not be perfect but that will get us through the impending crises that we have to come. I believe we can do this. I believe we can bring the people of the Northwest Territories together to overcome the challenges, but let us not become complacent simply because the weather is nice outside. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. "
19th Assembly, 2nd Session June 2, 2020
Support For Indigenous Languages
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We all have a collective responsibility to do more to make sure our Indigenous languages thrive. This is not an easy task. Young speakers under 25 are much are more likely to gain fluency than those aged 25 to 45, due to a result of intergenerational shame from residential schools and other complicated factors. We have lost a few generations of speakers. I believe there is much more we need to do. There needs to be more oversight in the programs we are delivering. I believe many of the single-class programs we are offering right now are simply failing. We need immersion programs for our Indigenous languages, Mr. Speaker, particularly continuous and reliable land-based immersion programs, which will lead to language transference. No one ever learned French from a single class. In fact, no one really learned any subject from a single class. You have to have immersion as an option.
Now is the time for this work because this is our last generation of people whose first language is an Indigenous language. I am not convinced that we are winning this battle. We have no time to delay this work. If we deliberate and fail now, that is it. There go five millennia of knowledge, or 13 or 65 millennium. Succession plans need to be in place for Indigenous peoples to be the territorial authorities over their languages. Mr. Speaker, we have many amazing language holders who have been teaching for over 20 years, but, if they are not producing more language speakers than we are losing, then this is a losing battle.
The first step along this battle is to make sure we have the proper data in place. I am not talking about the census data, and I am not talking about the work that is been started in schools. We need to be tracking every single year for every single language, whether we are producing more speakers than we are losing. Absent us doing that, Mr. Speaker, we will all see Indigenous languages go extinct in our lifetime. Then perhaps these interpreter booths around us and the translation work we do will just be a reminder of our collective failure. I will not be part of seeing any Indigenous languages go extinct, and the first step along this is making sure we are clearly and honestly measuring how much of a problem this is. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. "
19th Assembly, 2nd Session June 1, 2020
Investing in a Polytechnic University
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As we head into what is likely to be a very large, global recession, I believe it is time for the Northwest Territories to double down in diversifying its economy and building a knowledge economy. I think one of the best ways we can do this is to continue forward in our path to create a polytechnic university; a polytechnic university that will meet our increasing skilled labour demands, which will allow industries in the North to build skills and experience to eventually compete for contracts, not just here in the NWT but across Canada and the world. Mr. Speaker, I want to see a university with northern, southern, and foreign students all coming here to learn together. I believe, in the past, there have been many northern economy success stories, but where we often see as northern businesses who get too successful, grow too large, and they pack up and move their headquarters. We need to break that cycle.
Mr. Speaker, I don't want the diversification of the economy debate to be an anti-mining debate. I think that is a false dichotomy, and we must build upon what we have. We are about to spend a billion dollars on Giant Mine remediation. I believe we have to build the skills to make sure that we get every dollar out of that contract. Mr. Speaker, we are leaders in geoscience. We are leaders in mining logistics, ice road building, and so many of these knowledge economy skills that we can build from the resource sector, Mr. Speaker. These are all things we can and should teach in our new polytechnic.
Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt we are government economy, and as the recession comes, this is, in fact, a good thing for us, to have a stable flow of government money into our economy. I have no issues with this, but every single dollar we invest must grow our economy to be more diverse and more resilient, such that in further economic downturns, all of our companies can find alternative means to succeed. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment to make sure our plan to establish a polytechnic university is still on track."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session May 29, 2020
Digital Government "Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I believe this Assembly needs to take drastic steps to become a more open and transparent and digital government. I would like to thank the last Assembly for all their work on the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. I believe that ATIPP Act is truly one of the best in the country, yet it is still not in force and, during this pandemic, I have heard no shortage of complaints from both media and the public that not enough information and data is available.
Mr. Speaker, the Information and Privacy Commissioner presented her annual report to the Standing Committee on Government Operations this week. She acknowledges that the new ATIPP Act is great but is concerned that not one single GNWT department is capable of implementing it.
I believe there is a culture across the GNWT of using ATIPP as a shield, whereas, when media makes a request, they say, "Go through ATIPP," as a way to defer the story. The Information and Privacy Commissioner said proactive disclosure would lower her office's workload by as much as 50 percent; similarly for departments, as well. However, there are many steps to getting to proactive disclosure. The first and most important is proper records management, and, Mr. Speaker, I believe the records management and the data collection across the GNWT is severely lacking.
One way to start tackling this problem is through a pilot project. The federal government has a pilot project called "Open by Default." I believe we need a similar project. This would essentially mean opening up departments' working documents, their version of DIMS, to the public. I think a very easy start would be Education, Culture and Employment, perhaps the Prince of Wales. I assume our archivists' records are in good keeping.
Mr. Speaker, in our previous government, we had a Minister responsible for transparency. We no longer have that portfolio. I believe the policy that was created by that Minister is a good start. However, the implementation is severely lacking. Given the way that this government had adapted to COVID19, the GNWT must take large steps to become a digital and open government, and I believe that that must be a priority going forward.
Mr. Speaker, I believe the first step along this is to make a clear Minister responsible for open government, and I believe a clear department to have the authority to clean up the records across the GNWT. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Premier of whether she is willing to create such a position and make sure we actually do some implementation work on becoming a digital government. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session May 28, 2020
Continuing Working From Home and Four Day Work Week
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We have seen significant change to the way we do work during this pandemic. We have seen parents juggling both childcare and their jobs, virtual care being delivered from back porches, and work emails delivered in the middle of the night. I, myself, have practically moved my office into my constituency assistant's living room.
If the work week doesn't change as a result of the last few months, we'll have learned nothing, Mr. Speaker. I am not just talking about within government, but globally. Two lessons I believe we should take away from the recent response to COVID-19 are:
1. All people have different needs, and there is no one ideal working environment.
2. People work better when they are rested and their mental health is prioritized.
Mr. Speaker, to realize these lessons, I believe that we should continue to allow GNWT employees to work from home, even after restrictions have been lifted. I am happy to see, in the recent plan for GNWT workers returning, that childcare considerations and accessibility concerns will be prioritized. I think we need to continue that and make it a lasting legacy of COVID-19. In addition, Mr. Speaker, I believe we need to explore the idea of implementing a four-day work week for those workers who want it.
Many GNWT staff will be working from home for the foreseeable future. There is a possibility that, even when restrictions ease and GNWT employees can return to their offices, many will prefer to stay home. I see this as an opportunity to improve working conditions for those who prefer to work from home. As days grow longer, I see no better time to implement a four-day work week. If we want to encourage domestic tourism, Mr. Speaker, why not give summer long weekends to all of our residents?
Mr. Speaker, I recognize that this will take some time, but I believe we can start now temporarily and see what works and what doesn't work. I believe we should reach out to businesses in the private sector to see what barriers they see to implementing a shorter work week. I will have questions for the Minister responsible for Human Resources. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. "
19th Assembly, 2nd Session May 27, 2020
Guaranteed Basic Income
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In this House, we have the honour of debating and discussing some of the larger policy ideas. One you will hear me speak about over the next three years is a universal basic income.
Mr. Speaker, I want to reiterate that, despite the fact that I talk about this large, very lofty program that would change the nature of government and society, and it's a program I fundamentally believe in, I don't believe, since we're having that debate, that all other conversations around social assistance programs are just kind of put on hold. One of my concerns is that I recognize that a universal basic income would take, probably, ten years and millions of dollars and require support from the federal government, but that doesn't mean we can't start now. What happens is while we are having that much larger debate, we don't set ourselves up for success in starting small now.
I want to clarify some of the terms that often get thrown around in this world. A universal basic income is the proposal you give everyone money every month. You've seen different jurisdictions do this. It can be $1,000 a month. It can be $3,000 a month. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor. Such a policy would cost millions of dollars and be a complete transformation on how government operates.
Then, there's a guaranteed basic income, not necessarily universal, which would guarantee an amount of income to every person in the Northwest Territories. What that amount is, is up for debate. It could be $12,000 a year. They could say, no one in the Northwest Territories is going to make less than $12,000 a year, and it doesn't matter if you don't do your proactive step, or you miss your income assistance program. We're just guaranteeing that.
Then, there's a guaranteed livable income which actually kicks that up to an amount so you're not just squaloring away in poverty, say, $36,000 a year.
There are a variety of options, but meanwhile, while we have this debate in this House, I want the Department of Education, Culture and Employment to be picking away at some smaller noncontroversial changes. I believe we could start a guaranteed basic income pilot project tomorrow. We could take ten people out of income assistance who have been on it for years. We could guarantee them a liveable income for a year, and it would probably cost us less than a half million dollars to do it, and it might in the long run actually save us some money. I would like departments to start small, to look at the next smallest policy change they can make that gets us to that bigger picture. I will have questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session May 26, 2020
Covid 19 Response
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Welcome back, everyone. It's truly an honour to be sitting in this House once again. I would like to begin by thanking everyone, our citizens, my colleagues, our public servants. I do not know when people sleep, honestly. Everyone has been working so hard, and it's been amazing.
The World Health Organization said, "In a pandemic, you must move quickly, and that won't always be perfect." I believe that's what we have done. We are one of few places on Earth with no active cases of COVID-19, Mr. Speaker. We are in the midst of a global pandemic which is no doubt a tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives across this planet, but we, as the Northwest Territories, have had a very strong and resilient response, and it is in the midst of this pandemic that that resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of the North must guide us through.
I want us to not lose ground on the progress we have made to date. It is amazing how quickly our government can pivot on issues when we put our minds to it. I want us to think bigger, Mr. Speaker. Working from home, four-day work weeks, a guaranteed basic income, a truly digital government, hundreds of small businesses and entrepreneurs in a place that truly values their neighbours and neighbouring communities, I think all of these things are possible and more.
We know Northerners are resilient, and I want to take a moment to focus on our ability to be adaptive. Three months ago, I thought the idea of using the Internet as a tool to forward politics, education, and healthcare was a far-off dream. I thought our virtual care strategy in public health was not going to go anywhere, and, in months, we have seen more progress in virtual care than I ever thought to see in four years. I want to congratulate the Department of Health and Social Services for all of the amazing work they have done to date, Mr. Speaker.
I hope we realize that, as a territory, we have the capacity to continue improving our systems. Our government is uniquely positioned to take advantage of these new opportunities. We have proven that the GNWT can be flexible and nimble, and our size means that sweeping and effective change can be made simply by trying.
I look forward to these next few weeks. I look for to a renewed spirit of cooperation across the north, and, Mr. Speaker, I believe we will beat COVID-19 together. Thank you."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session March 16, 2020
Capacity to Address the Pandemic
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, I think it's important to situate ourselves in the global context. We have seen what being unprepared looks like. We have seen the data from Italy, China, South Korea, the United States, and other jurisdictions in Canada. I think we all recognize that, in the Northwest Territories, we are fortunate that we are seeing this pandemic reach us last; however, we also recognize we are one of the most vulnerable jurisdictions.
Over the coming months, I'm sure we will hear the term "flatten the curve" multiple times. This refers to making sure that we can slow the pandemic to allow our healthcare system to respond. However, I would like to think about this more as a wave, Mr. Speaker. It's a wave that can potentially come crashing down on a healthcare system.
We have seen in Italy nurses who have tested positive for COVID-19 treating others. We have seen in the United States. Today, New York closed all its bars, its restaurants, its gymnasiums. It is banning public gatherings, Mr. Speaker. We are seeing the experts project an economic recession similar to 2008.
Nunavut's Baffin Island Mine has told its workers not to attend. It is likely we will see the same with our mines in due course. I think it's important that we all recognize this is not a normal state of affairs. There have been many jokes about the run on toilet paper and people not getting toilet paper, but we're also seeing a global run on medical supplies, including oxygen and ventilators.
Mr. Speaker, I think it's very important to recognize that we, the territorial government, do not have the resources to respond to a pandemic. Ultimately, we must be coordinating daily and working with the federal government to make sure that our healthcare system maintains capacity and builds capacity to address this pandemic.
Once again, I want to assure everyone to follow the advice of our public health officer and our professionals. It is important that we all remember the basic things like practising social distancing, washing your hands. This will take an entire territorial effort to make sure we can make sure that wave does not come crashing down on our healthcare system. I will have questions for the Premier in making sure that we are in connection with our federal government, and that Canada gets this pandemic right. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session March 13, 2020
Support for Shorter Sitting
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I just wanted to rise in support of your decision to end this session early and pass an interim appropriation bill. I had a number of concerns about taking up the department of health's time, and all of the senior management, in questioning them over their budget while they have much better things to do. I just wanted to speak briefly on this COVID-19 thing. I think the main priorities here are continuity of government and protecting our most vulnerable people, Mr. Speaker. I would like to commend all of the departments on the work they are doing, even without a confirmed case in the NWT as of yet. I've seen departmental response plans, and I have seen people really kick into action, just the power of what government can do. I think it's important here to reassure citizens that it's a matter of preparation, not panic. I would like to in advance just provide some of my suggestions to Ministers that I will continue to press them, even without the House sitting. I think we must protect our most vulnerable. If we have a fullblown pandemic in the Northwest Territories, I would like to see the Housing Corporation stop evicting people. I think the idea that we would put people in self-isolation and then evict them is inhumane. I would like to see the Power Corporation stop throttling power on people who are self-isolating, Mr. Speaker. I would like to see our homeless and most vulnerable provided housing if they have to self-isolate. I would like to see those in corrections make sure that they can be protected in this.
Mr. Speaker, during this time, even though this Assembly is not sitting, I want to assure the public that all MLAs will be in contact with government and that we will be continuing to have open communication with all of our citizens. Most importantly, this is about making sure that our healthcare system is prepared and not overwhelmed, and so I would like to in advance thank all of our healthcare workers, who are already overworked. Things are going to be harder for them, but I know that we are all there behind them, all of our healthcare workers, and so I just want to thank everyone in advance. Let's get through this together. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session March 12, 2020
Agricultural Land in the Northwest Territories
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I think every day there are more and more reminders that we are living in an increasingly globalized world. Whether it be a pandemic or the crashing of oil prices, we are not immune from global forces, Mr. Speaker, none of which is greater than climate change. I increasingly think it needs to be stated that we are not doing enough, nor is any other government. Consistently, scientists are reporting that we will not meet our targets.
I would like to speak to one aspect of climate change adaptation that I think we must take swift action on, Mr. Speaker, and that is food security. Consistent reports have said those who will be affected first by food security due to climate change are those in rural areas, those on low income, those who are already food-insecure. I don't believe I have to tell this House that that falls to many of our people. No one in this House would deny the importance of food security for the North; in fact, our mandate includes increasing locally produced food as a priority. As we face the challenges of adapting to climate change, it is key for us to be swift in our attempts to build a network of food producers in the North.
Mr. Speaker, the key to any agricultural endeavour, whether crop or livestock, is land. We currently have no leasing process which is regulated specifically for agricultural purposes in the North. Most jurisdictions around Canada allow you to apply for agricultural land at a small cost in order to promote the industry; in fact, the Canadian agricultural industry is largely subsidized as a recognition of the importance to a nation's sovereignty in having locally produced food.
Typically, agricultural land gives you a number of benefits, including allowing you to reside on that land, allowing you to have dwellings for caretakers. We do not have that set up in the Northwest Territories, Mr. Speaker. The agricultural strategy identifies land as a key pillar to the success of our agriculture industry and identifies that the GNWT will establish and review land tenure policies and procedures around this. I'm glad to hear this, but I am afraid that we are moving too slowly. The Department of Lands is going to take years to do this work.
Mr. Speaker, the Department of Lands is at the middle of a Gordian knot that is land use in the Northwest Territories. There is an over-complicated process, and we need to simplify it. I believe, if someone comes to us wanting to produce agricultural land, the first thing should be: how can we make this happen swiftly and now? Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister of Lands."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session March 11, 2020
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Today, I would like to speak about carbon offsets. Firstly, a carbon offset is a credit for greenhouse gas reductions achieved by one party, that can be purchased and used to compensate the emissions of another party. Mr. Speaker, there are a variety of carbon-offset schemes, and some have proved to work better than others. Today, Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak about not just simply buying carbon offsets but the possibility of selling them and using what is an increasingly larger and larger market with billions of dollars to access and fund projects in the North. The Northwest Territories is extremely well suited to access carbon offsets and to purchase them, for the same reason, Mr. Speaker. Getting all of our communities off diesel is not an easy task. It will require significant investment in infrastructure. The whole point of carbon offsets is to allow energy organizations and communities to find funding for projects that would not otherwise be feasible. As governments around the world start to wake up to the reality of climate change, we are seeing an increase in the purchasing of carbon offsets. More and more companies are being faced with regulatory requirements to lower their carbon or greenhouse gas emissions. I hope, Mr. Speaker, we can get the air regulations in place during the life of this Assembly and make that the case here. I see carbon offsets as a pivotal tool in growing our renewable sector in the North, as well as a safeguard for a number of our protected areas and our boreal forest. We've seen the Department of Environment and Natural Resources begin to access federal money for replanting. There is plenty of opportunity for the Northwest Territories to become a leader in selling carbon offsets. We've seen these used in the Amazon rainforest. I see no reason why they can't be used in the boreal forest, Mr. Speaker. There is significant amount of money on the table to be invested in carbon offsetting, and, with more and more projects meeting the qualifications for certification, I believe it is prudent for our government to take advantage of that market and to assist our constituents in doing the same. We have seen the federal government begin to take these steps. I don't want to leave that money on the table. I want the Northwest Territories to be a leader in carbon offsets. I will have questions for the Minister of Finance, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session March 10, 2020
Daylight Savings Time
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Are you feeling a little tired today, perhaps like you did not get enough sleep? Well, that is because, Mr. Speaker, on the weekend, the government stole an hour from us due to the time change. The hardest part about this is I don't really know why. Often, people say it's about the farmers, but that is actually not true. Saskatchewan has not had a time change for years, and the farming is doing just fine there. The true origins of this lie with Germany and World War I, as a cost measure to save fuel, something that is not even the case anymore as it has been shown that places with daylight savings time actually spend more money on electricity consumption. Mr. Speaker, I would also like to address that often people say that daylight savings time adds daylight, which is not possible. The sun and the earth's position is something we cannot change. Secondly, Mr. Speaker, there is no reason for daylight savings time to exist in the Northwest Territories. Just ask my friends from the Beaudel. There is plenty of daylight in the summertime. Mr. Speaker, our neighbours in the Yukon have recently gotten rid of the time change. I believe it is time for the Northwest Territories to do this, as well. The last Assembly began this work. There was a petition with over 500 signatures requesting this. The Alberta government recently conducted a survey of its residents and found that 93 percent want to get rid of the time change. There are jurisdictions across the world finally looking at getting rid of this anomaly that we believe we can control time, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister of Justice, or should I say the Minister of Time, about whether we can finally get rid of this archaic practice. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session March 5, 2020
Women in Trades and International Women's Day
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In honour of this Sunday being International Women's Day, and my constituency assistant Cat McGurk recently receiving her Red Seal in carpentry, I want to speak about women in trades. Canada is facing a spike in trade and technology positions, without the skilled labour to fill those positions. The NWT presently heavily relies on southern labour to supply our various trade needs. Our infrastructure projects, our mines, and our private sector are all put at risk because skilled labour has become such a precious commodity in the North. We need to build up our skilled labour here. I believe one of the solutions to doing that lies with the women of the NWT. The numbers for women in construction trades in the NWT is less than 3 percent, Mr. Speaker. That's half our population who have never been encouraged to enter the trades. The reality is that most women still don't see the trades as an option for them. Despite changing attitudes, we still avoid teaching young girls physical capacity, and most guidance counsellors neglect to discuss shop classes with female high school students. In our small communities face many unique barriers to entering a fulfilling career in the trades. I propose we take an active stake in supporting northern women and develop a women in trades program. Other such programs in Canada have been met with terrific success; programs like Women Unlimited, with their 93 percent completion rate. Trades Discovery for Women, Trade Herizons, and Women Building Futures have a 90-percent work placement rate: proof that these programs work, and not only can women do the work they set out to do, employers want to hire them. Often, when the idea of female-focused pre-apprenticeship programs are brought up, it is deflected by the sentiment that we must encourage all people to consider careers in the trades, not just women. We must consider all people to enter the trades but, Mr. Speaker, this Assembly is a testament that gender-based programs work. When we championed campaign schools for women, it resulted in more women entering this Assembly and, if we champion women in trades, it will result in more tradespeople, something we are in desperate need of. Just this week, we heard the Minister of ECE say that apprenticeship in the NWT is dropping. We know women in trades programs are effective, the majority of which are based on the east coast, where they boast the highest inclusion rate for women in trades. Mr. Speaker, we need more tradespeople, period, and there is clear data that establishing a women in trades program does exactly that. I will have questions for the Minister of ECE. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session March 4, 2020
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Many of our conversations around Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD, are centred around making sure mothers stop drinking during pregnancy, but, in fact, there is much work to be done. The science has shown for years that there is a causal relationship between FASD prevalence and fathers drinking. Putting all of the responsibility on the mother means we are not fully addressing the problem. We need to build up support around our mothers, not isolate them. The Foster Family Coalition of the NWT has done great work flipping the narrative around, and I will table a report by them later today, but it isn't the end of the conversation around FASD awareness. There is much work to be done to prevent FASD and to end the stigma for those living with it. National studies suggest that 4 percent of our population, or roughly 1,800 people, are living with FASD. These people need support and structure in childhood and throughout their entire lives. We need to ensure that our front-line workers are sympathetic to the complex needs of these individuals, not just our healthcare workers but our teachers, our Housing Corporation employees, and our general population. The most effective way to do this is through advocacy and continued conversations that break down stigma. I will stand in this House and continue to talk about FASD awareness for that reason, to break down stigma, Mr. Speaker. Currently, the GNWT relies on data from the rest of Canada, but I wonder how that information holds up to northern realities. We don't have any data on prevalent rates in the NWT, and so we can't know if we are successfully addressing this issue. It is difficult to advocate for an issue when we are only guessing at its scope, Mr. Speaker. In 2018, the department released its Disability Action Plan, which indicated they would review existing data sources to validate the prevalence of risk factors in incidents of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Without northern data, I don't see how we could possibly achieve this. I believe it is important that our department implement, at the very least, some basic research on prevalence. We've come a long way in the last couple of years, developing an adult FASD diagnostic clinic, and there is even training going on in Yellowknife right now on FASD and neurodiversity for social workers and caregivers, aimed at improving client relationships. It's good work, but we have to keep going, Mr. Speaker. I would love to see more screening for those in the justice system, reduced wait times for youth diagnostic clinics, housing strategies, and stronger language in our departmental action plans around FASD. I hope we are on track to some of these things, but I will have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session March 3, 2020
Health System Navigator
"Thank you, Madam Speaker. We spend a lot of time in this House criticizing GNWT practices, trying to right the wrongs of the past, and hold the government to account. Today, I would like to focus on an initiative that has been performing exceptionally well in our government, based on my experience. One of the most helpful tools the Department of Health and Social Services has is its system navigator. The system assists residents with inquiries in the various sectors of the department. It directs residents down the right path depending on their individual needs, both frees up resources within the department and delivers a higher level of service to residents, whether it's accessing non-insured health benefits, seniors' services, or using medical travel for the first time. Instead of being sent through a maze of e-mail chains and phone calls, you're one e-mail or call away from the answers you're looking for. Madam Speaker, the health system navigator has helped numerous constituents of mine. It has been very helpful to my constituency assistant, and Madam Speaker, the goal in the long term is to not have our processes be so complicated that we have a navigator, but that's not the world we presently live in. There has been a lot of talk in this House lately about discussing personnel issues. I usually would not do this, but I would really like to commend the current Health and Social Services net navigator, Shoshanna Canuel-Kirkwood, on behalf of myself and all my constituents. I thank you for all the work you have done in ensuring that this process runs smoothly. Thank you, Shoshanna."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session March 2, 2020
Northview Real Estate Investment Purchase
"Thank you, Madam Speaker. In light of Starlight Investments and KingSett Capital's recent intention to purchase Northview Real Estate, thus making the two largest landlords in Yellowknife one, I wanted to read an open letter to CEO Jon Love of KingSett Capital and CEO Daniel Drimmer of Starlight Investments. Congratulations on your intention to purchase Northview Real Estate Investment Trust for $4.8 billion. I wish to inform you that, upon closing this deal, you will own a small city in the subarctic called Yellowknife. Yellowknife also happens to be the capital city of the Northwest Territories. I invite you to come and visit sometime. It's a beautiful place. In case you were not aware, Northview presently owns the majority of rental apartment units in Yellowknife, and when combining their commercial stock with KingSett's current Yellowknife stock, you will own the majority of commercial leasing space, as well. I have attached a picture of our downtown core to show you all the buildings you will own, one of which KingSett has managed to keep vacant for almost a decade. It recently had its siding fall off; I have attached that picture for you, as well. Additionally, congratulations on your intention to purchase a company which is our city's leader in residential tenancies violations. When you come visit our town, I hope you will visit the various Northview apartments that have been left in disrepair due to rent money flowing south to fuel other capital investments. Before you purchase our city, I wanted to ensure that you are aware of the fact that the majority of Yellowknifers have, at some point, lived or worked in one of the buildings in this deal, and I have yet to ever hear a single positive thing about that fact. My apologies, Dan. I know you have significant amount of investment in Northview, but I hope, as our new landlords, we can start a fresh and do some work to repair the relationship with our residents. Now I recognize that by design real estate is first and foremost an investment for your companies and the fact that people live and work in your property is secondary; but I would hope you both put something extra in for exceptional cases such as this. As I am sure you are aware the North is an exceptional market. The capitalization rate for Northview's Northern Canada holdings is 9.17 percent which is 55 percent higher than its overall capitalization rate and 40 percent higher than its next most profitable region. Of course KingSett, as a private equity fund for institutional and ultra-high net worth investors, does not have the transparency of an exchange-traded REIT like Northview, such that similar information is not publicly available for Kingsett's current holdings in northern Canada. I also not that Northview's current market power, combined with Kingsett's market share, is an index that will make Yellowknife one the most highly concentrated real estate markets in Canada.
Dan, Jon, we all know this deal is not really about Yellowknife. There are so many assets in your combined multi-billion-dollar portfolios that I wouldn't expect you to ever know them all by city. I am hopeful that this letter, despite its sarcastic tone, can start a conversation. There are a variety of remedies available that will ensure the acquisition of Northview can allow some competition to once again exist in our northern capital. I have brought this market share issue to the Competition Bureau of Canada's attention on multiple occasions. I encourage you to reach out the them and divest some of Yellowknife assets in this deal, ideally on a small enough scale to allow local ownership in a city which is desperately in need of competition and local developers. At the very least, perhaps you could try and do something about that 10-storey vacant tower that you own. Yours truly, Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 28, 2020
Northern Building Standards
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We need to establish territory-wide building standards to meet the cost of climate changes today. While the standards of the national Modern Energy Building Code are required, there are no assurances that these standards are met due to the lack of small community inspections and enforcement systems. Project management capacity at the community level is also a concern, Mr. Speaker. For example, there is no guarantee that a new community building won't be sited on permafrost for lack of a geotechnical survey. This raises major concerns. Public safety can be put at risk. Without standards, there is no assurance of operational quality, energy efficiency, durability, or security of investment, because the best expertise for northern construction resides with our northern architects, engineers, and consultants. Lack of standards can allow our public dollars to leak south to those unfamiliar or under-qualified with northern requirements. We need to ensure GNWT funds transferred to communities are used to build long lasting and efficient buildings, Mr. Speaker. The NWT Association of Communities has long called for the creation of an NWT-wide building and inspections capacity, and pass resolutions pointing to the needs for improved construction. The Northwest Territories Association of Architects has repeatedly brought forward the needs for standards and compliance. The Northwest Territories Greenhouse Gas Strategy and new ministerial mandates call for NWT building standards to assist communities in reducing their energy costs via efficiency. A northern building code would meet our responsibility for addressing these concerns, but we will also need to help our communities and citizens meet these standards by establishing an advisory and inspection capacity and by establishing systems to require professional assurances that standards have been met. We need to aim higher by ensuring our NWT standard for energy efficiency recognizes our northern conditions and exceeds southern standards. Mr. Speaker, last week, I plagiarized a Member's statement by my predecessor, Mr. Cory Vanthuyne. The Member's statement I just read practically word-for-word was plagiarized by my predecessor's predecessor, Mr. Bob Bromley, in 2011. This issue should have been addressed a long time ago. It is the start to get the ball rolling, and once again, the simplest and most effective tools in implementing our Energy Strategy is a building standards act. I will have questions for the Minister of Infrastructure, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 27, 2020
Yellowknife Motor Vehicles Office Hours
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Today I wish to speak about the hours of service for the Yellowknife Department of Motor Vehicles.
Mr. Speaker, a number of my platform points that I campaigned on currently lie dead in the water. I won't walk out of here in four years having delivered universal basic income or universal daycare. However, in my platform, I had a number of smaller, very simple changes, and hopefully, after four years of persistence, I can get the Yellowknife Department of Motor Vehicles to be open evenings or weekends, Mr. Speaker.
Firstly, I would like to begin by acknowledging that the Yellowknife Department of Motor Vehicles office has put more and more services online, which has reduced wait times. They are accessible 24 hours a day, but there are a still a number of services you have to go into the office for. I have been trying to change the address on my driver's licence for years.
In this town, which is a government town, if you work government hours but government services are only available those same hours, you find yourself having to take a day off simply to catch up on bureaucratic paperwork.
Now, Mr. Speaker, when I do a jurisdictional scan, it is clear: Edmonton, open 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., seven days a week. You can go in after supper and renew your driver's licence. A number of jurisdictions; Ottawa, Thursday, they pick one night a week where they are open evenings and then a few hours on Saturday. Mr. Speaker, I believe we can accomplish this in the next four years.
One of the barriers to this is: we can't simply ask a GNWT employee to start two hours later, which would allow the DMV to be open two hours later, because we run into the collective agreement. I believe in the collective agreement, which serves the members who work in the public service, but in a government town where they have to then go access those services, it actually becomes a barrier.
I have questions for the Minister of Infrastructure on whether we can add some flexibility into the collective agreement that allows our services to be open evenings and weekends.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 26, 2020
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Today, I would like to begin my Member's statement by quoting from our consensus guiding principles: "Consensus government is a unique combination of the British traditions of ministerial responsibility, Cabinet solidarity, and legislative accountability and the Aboriginal traditions of open dialogue, inclusive decision-making, accommodation, respect, and trust."
Mr. Speaker, I love consensus government. I would never wish to be a politician in a partisan system, but the system we operate in only works when we all play our roles and we make sure these conventions are followed.
Today, Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak to the principle of ministerial responsibility. That is the principle which is a Westminster's system of government where a Cabinet Minister bears the ultimate responsibility for all actions of their department. The accountable Minister must take the blame for the faults of their department. "This means that, if waste, corruption, or any misbehaviour is found to have occurred within a ministry, the Minster is responsible even if the Minister had no knowledge of the actions."
Mr. Speaker, that quote there is from Wikipedia, a source just as infallible as our own guiding principles.
This principle is essential to consensus government, Mr. Speaker, as it guarantees that elected officials are answerable for every single government decision. It is key to motivate Ministers to closely scrutinize the activities within their department. One rule coming from this principle is that each Cabinet Member answers for their own ministry in question period.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday, when the Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation started talking about their election campaign as an excuse for not knowing what is happening in their department, that is not acceptable. This is not how our system of government works. When a Minister starts talking about decisions of previous Ministers, that is not how this system works.
Today, I heard the Minister talk about and take credit for an award on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway. They get to take credit for that because they are responsible for all past decisions of their ministry.
Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation on how the Arnica Inn project got denied due to her department not providing support and how she is going to take responsibility to correct this situation.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 25, 2020
Arnica Inn Transitional Housing Project
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I am also going to hop on this train. The Arnica Inn: an example of how not to govern.
By my count, every single Yellowknife MLA and my colleague beside me supported this project. During the election, the City of Yellowknife supported this project. In fact, I don't remember talking to a single person opposed to this project. Then, once we get elected, this project seemingly does not go through because the GNWT did not support it.
Furthermore, I find out that we don't support this project due to the mayor and the executive director of the women's society informing me, and CMHC ultimately informing them. This was a clear breakdown in communication, Mr. Speaker. The Housing Corporation is a Crown corporation. It is supposed to be arm's length from government, but it is not supposed to be arm's length from the Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation. It is not supposed to be arm's length from democratically elected Members of this legislature.
Mr. Speaker, I struggle to know why this occurred. I will have questions for the Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation, but I believe that there is a larger problem here. Our NWT Housing Corporation is extremely risk adverse. They are so afraid of the 2038 deadline on losing funding from CMHC that they fail to put new units on the ground.
We speak of partnerships. We speak of ending homelessness, and this was a project that checked all of those boxes, Mr. Speaker.
We need a Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation who has a bold vision, who is willing to take the risks, and is willing to address our housing crisis. It is now the responsibility of that Minister to repair the relationship with the Members who supported this project, to repair the relationship with the women's society, to repair the relationship with the City of Yellowknife, and most importantly, to give some hope to our most vulnerable citizens who, on the streets of Yellowknife, who come from all across this territory, that they will have housing, that there is some plan in place that ultimately addresses this.
Mr. Speaker, from where I was standing and where I stand now, this project made complete sense.
I will have questions for the Minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 13, 2020
Integrated Case Management
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to build on the statement given by my colleague from Kam Lake.
There have been many successes of the integrated case management approach, many individual successes, but, ultimately, those pathfinders are trying to run a person-centred method of helping people in a system centred institution.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that the writing is on the wall with the upcoming evaluation of the integrated case management project. What will happen is that unit will have discovered many barriers to systemic change; there will have been many successes for people with complex needs; yet, they are not empowered to bring about the regulatory, the policy, and the legislative changes required. That is our job in this House.
I don't believe that these solutions are that complex. They require front-line workers making a "yes" the default answer. They require our front-line workers having flexibility to interpret policies that, when a person with complex needs is in front of them, they can allow the policy to work for that person. They require our departments to talk to each other and create case files for individuals with complex needs. They require our departments to email each other on the front lines.
Right now, when we want to make policy changes, we have to go up, all the way up the chain and then all the back down, and what actually should have been an easy policy shift that happened when the complex-needs individual was in front of them takes months.
Mr. Speaker, we need to make housing and income support talk to each other better. We need to extend the time period that a person can be on income assistance so that they're not struggling with monthly reporting and fear of eviction and complex health needs all at the same time.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that our integrated case management unit has discovered many of the systemic problems in this GNWT. I believe that they have the solutions. The question now is: are they going to be empowered to bring about the systemic change and break down the silos in our government?
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will have questions for the Minister of Justice on integrated case management.
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 12, 2020
Yellowknife City Charter
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Today, I wish to plagiarize a Member's statement brought forward by my predecessor, Cory Vanthuyne, Member for Yellowknife North. I think many of us are aware that the only way to get things done in this House is persistence, persistence through Assemblies.
The idea and the topic of my Member's statement today is a Yellowknife city charter. This request has been made by the City of Yellowknife in response to frustration from getting traction out of the GNWT.
For as long as the Property Assessment and Taxation act has existed, municipalities have been asking for it to be amended. The City of Yellowknife has asked for the land within their municipal boundaries to be transferred because they have found the process through the Department of Lands to be burdensome and frustrating. They asked for about a decade to get a hotel tax, something that was fought tooth and nail by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. A Yellowknife city charter begins to address these issues.
I think we all recognize that Yellowknife is in a different situation from many of our communities, and should not fall under the same legislation. I believe the reason this issue gets no traction is because there's a consistent hesitation to giving Yellowknife more in this Assembly, which I do believe is a healthy check on power- governments tend to centralize over time. However, blind, anti-Yellowknife sentiment can cause bad policy.
In this case, we have seen the City of Yellowknife frustrated with where its mandate begins and where the GNWT ends. We have seen this in issues such as homelessness. We have seen this in issues of control of lands. A Yellowknife city charter would allow the City of Yellowknife, which is in a unique position, representing approximately half of our territory, to begin negotiations with Municipal and Community Affairs of where those jurisdictions lie, where there are needs in the city of Yellowknife that simply don't make sense in other communities, and then it would allow time in our departments to stop micro-managing the city of Yellowknife and allow what is a much more flexible government to accomplish the task it needs to do.
Today, I will have questions for the Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs about whether we can begin the work on a Yellowknife city charter.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 11, 2020
Iron Law of Bureaucracy
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I would like to speak about the iron law of bureaucracy, a term coined by Jerry Pournelle, a researcher on legacy institutions. The law states that, in any bureaucratic organization, there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization and those who 10 work for the organization itself. Examples in the GNWT would be those who work hard and sacrifice their time to serve our public, and I thank them for that, versus those who avoid accountability, consider their main role to push paper, and ensure that they hold the department record for being cc'd on the most emails. The iron law states that, in all cases, the type of person whose primary goal is to climb a bureaucratic ladder, as opposed to serve the public, will always gain control of the organization and will always write the rules under which the organization functions. This is the challenge of legacy institutions, Mr. Speaker, such as government. If government were a business, it would have failed long ago. It would have been forced to declare bankruptcy and try again with new ideas. Yet government bankruptcy, despite what our fiscal situation might say, is not an option. Mr. Speaker, I wish to clarify: government can't be run on profit motive, and all of our goals in this House is to have the GNWT succeed, not fail; but, if we are not speaking honestly about problems that persist in any legacy institution, then we cannot serve our citizens. This is not me speaking, Mr. Speaker. There is no shortage of research on solutions on how to address systemic problems in public service institutions. One way in which the iron law is solidified is the avoidance of making decisions, also known as "paralysis by analysis." The reality is that we all have to make decisions in uncertainty. There will always be trade-offs. We can't pretend that we live in a perfect world with all of the data. If you are in a department and the sixth briefing note on a subject has been requested, perhaps it is time to just make a decision. Mr. Speaker, I struggle with this because, on this side of the House, we constantly ask for more power, for more input, for more information, yet we all have to realize that the goal here is to empower the experts in our departments to make decisions; to empower those on the front line to serve our citizens. It may be time to ruffle some feathers, but it is our job to make those tough decisions. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 10, 2020 Residential Tenancies Legislation and Enforcement
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The North loves its monopolies, whether it be Northmart, Northwestel, Northland Utilities, or today's topic of my statement, Northview Apartment Real Estate Investment Trust. Mr. Speaker, our residential tenancy system, by design, is a neutral arbitrator of individual disputes and, as such, is not empowered to address larger systemic issues and abuses by landlords. We have seen this recently in Northview's illegal collecting of pet deposits, yet this is not a one-off issue, Mr. Speaker. There is no shortage of human rights or residential tenancies' complaints that point to larger systemic negligence on the part of Northview Apartment REIT. Northview is the North's largest private landlord, with a near-monopoly on rental apartments in both Yellowknife and Inuvik. Northview is an unincorporated, open-end real estate investment trust, a corporate entity which, by design, treats real estate as an investment first and foremost, and pleasing its shareholders above treating those houses as people's homes. The company has a portfolio of over 24,000 residential suites in over 60 markets across 9 Canada. It was formed in 2015 following a merger of Northern Property REIT, True North Apartment REIT, and a number of privately held residential properties. Prior to that merger, the Competition Bureau conducted an investigation and issued a no-action letter, Mr. Speaker. I, myself, have filed a complaint in regard to Northview's monopolistic practice, but found no traction in the federal legislation. It falls on us in this House to ensure we have adequate legislative powers to address this. Mr. Speaker, it is our role here as a government to ensure there is fair and adequate competition in our territory. A dominant landlord reinvesting rent collected in the North into properties located in the south has a significant impact on the people living in a territory with one of the highest costs of living in the country. In addition, Mr. Speaker, the high cost of construction in the North limits the building of any new rentals. This means that a competitor emerging is not going to happen. Yellowknife and Inuvik have significant income inequality, with a large section of the population living below the poverty line. Given these factors, there is an increased necessity to avoid market domination in the North. The solution to this issue is complicated. It requires competition to emerge in the market. The solution to dominant market share is complicated. It requires competition to emerge in the market, it requires punishment for consistent violations of our legislation, and it requires our Housing Corporation to increase its housing supply. Today, I will have questions for the Minister of Justice to begin the discussion of how to address Northview's dominant market share in the North. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 7, 2020
Eulogy for Gary Vaillancourt
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Gary Vaillancourt came north from Sudbury, Ontario, in 1977 to fly helicopters, but where he hailed from, I think he would deem irrelevant, as the North was his home and captivated him for over 40 years. Gary was a hardworking, enigmatic individual, one of the first houseboaters on the Yellowknife Bay. It is with a heavy heart, and as a member of his community, that I mourn his passing. I think Gary would scoff at the idea of me giving him an address in the Legislative Assembly. Unfortunately, our last interaction was him yelling at me about where to park my canoe, but Gary deserves this address. Without him, we may not have the colourful bay life that charms visitors and characterizes the Yellowknife landscape. Gary was a baron of the bay, housing many and helping more. He was a community-minded innovator, who worked tirelessly and dreamed big. In the early '80s, Gary and friends, such as John Alexander, Chris Holloway, and Scott Mitchell, built the first permanent houseboats. The barges were built out of 50-foot trees, telephone poles, and discarded aviation barrels. This was not the last houseboat that he would build, but rather the start of a floating empire. Gary was fiercely independent. It drove him to learn many trades, and he was always willing to share his immense knowledge. Gary was a pilot, musician, builder, philosopher, and embodied the creative spirit of the North. The extent of his contribution to the culture and vibrancy of this city really cannot be measured. Gary is survived by his daughter, Molly, who is with us today in the gallery, a large community of friends, and many ambitious floating homes. Thank you, Gary. You won't be forgotten."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 6, 2020 Suicide Crisis and Prevention
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As we sit in this House, we must never forget who we serve. We serve the people on the ground, and the reality is that so many of them are hurting. The reality is that the North is at the bottom of most social indicators in Canada. We are dealing with a history of both past and ongoing colonialism and ongoing trauma from residential schools, and there are so many issues and only limited resources. Often in this House, we feel like we are being pulled in many directions, but government is a large ship, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that it goes in a coherent, strategic direction. Today, I would like to speak about one of the many issues facing our territory. We are presently in a suicide crisis, Mr. Speaker. We have among the highest rates of suicide in the North. Additionally, we can only do so much with the information that we have, and there is a lack of data on this. Often, when there is a suicide, there are 20 times as many attempts. Additionally, many of our residents head south and they disappear into larger urban centres, where they too often fall to suicide and addictions, and we do not track those numbers properly. Mr. Speaker, we have a responsibility to do more. We have a responsibility to develop a suicide prevention strategy, working with our Indigenous governments, working with the federal government, and working across departments to make sure that we are getting a full picture of this crisis. We have a responsibility to help those who are hurting, especially those in our small communities and those who have lost hope, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 2nd Session February 5, 2020 Polytechnic University and Academic Freedom "Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Building on my colleague's statement regarding the recent firing of the president of Aurora College, I would like to speak today about the importance of academic freedom. This past week, a number of MLAs met with Dechinta University, an example of what a thriving and inspiring university can look like in the North. Fundamental to their success and in establishing a successful grant and research programming with funding from the federal government has been academic freedom. In order for a university to thrive, it must be nimble, it must be able to move quickly, and it must be able to be critical of government. I am very skeptical that Aurora College is in a position to do that now and on the path that we are going forward will take it there. It saddens me that Aurora College is one of the most costly colleges to run in the country and one of the least successful. However, I think this reality should be recognition on all our parts that we can do better. I want Aurora College to inspire. I want the residents of Fort Smith to be excited, yet, repeatedly, when I have conversations about this, there is a lack of enthusiasm. I think people are scared. Now, we have a president leading this transformation who is a former bureaucrat. I do not believe that is the right path to head down if we truly want to create a northern university that is inspiring, that will meet the demands of our citizens, and will lead us into the future. I will have questions for the Minister of ECE. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 1st Session December 12, 2019 Public Servants and Innovation "Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wanted to end the first session of this new Assembly by thanking the public service. In this House, part of our job is to be critical of government, but I want to assure everyone who works in our public service that we are grateful for the work they do, and being a government worker can often be a thankless job. We elected officials must remember that the GNWT is not some amorphous, impersonal machine, but it is made up of hard-working people who take pride in their jobs. It is our nurses who heal the sick. It is our teachers who are raising the next generation of strong minds. It is social workers, policy wonks, scientists, firefighters, road maintenance workers, and so much more. To all of the members of the public service, I know, at times, that the demands of this House can be difficult. Sometimes you just get that program finally implemented and working, and some MLA tells you to change it, but I ask you to be patient. This leads me to my next point. We in this House are not the experts. We are elected to lead, but we can only do so if provided advice from those in government who are the experts. We can only make truly informed decisions if we are provided all of the facts and options for solving our territory's problems. To our public service, I encourage you to know that this is a new Assembly, an Assembly willing to do things differently, and know that we want new ideas. In fact, we want old ideas, too. Perhaps that program that was denied by the last administration, perhaps this is the time to push it through. I am reminded, when we met our new ombud, that a Member wanted to thank Wendy Bisaro, who served as a Member two Assemblies ago. This is a recognition that progress is often slow, and all of our progress is built on the Members who served before us. To our new Ministers, I encourage you to get into your regions, talk with your front-line workers, hear their concerns, and let's give them a few early wins. You must trust your senior management, but you must also remember that a department is so much more than its headquarters. It is more than its senior bureaucrats, who often have a lens that may be risk-adverse and not exactly a reflection of what is happening on the ground. I ask all of us, and mostly, I thank the public service, and I encourage them to feel bold, feel empowered, and let's deliver programs and services that our Northerners need. Thank you."
19th Assembly, 1st Session December 11, 2019
Land Claims and Reconciliation "Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Two of the priorities of this Assembly are to settle and implement treaty, land, resources, and selfgovernment agreements, and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. I believe these are the two most important priorities of this assembly, as they go to the very heart of what is the role of the GNWT and what is the future role of this House. When all of us as new MLAs, before breaking off into Cabinet and Regular Members, sat with Indigenous leaders, we repeatedly heard that the GNWT was a barrier at negotiating tables. I have no doubt this is true. Despite the fact that previous Assemblies also prioritized settling land rights agreements, we became a barrier at the table. This shows there is a disconnect between what is said and what is done. That is one of the most rampant issues in our politics. We always shy away from framing the issues that are divisive. As such, no MLA in this Assembly will ever say they don't want to implement land rights and self-government agreements. Yet, if everyone agrees, that means we are asking the wrong question. The first and most important question we must ask ourselves is if we as government are willing to give up control to Indigenous governments. Any change in circumstances, I would argue, is human nature. It causes an initial defensive reaction, especially a change that results in having less control. Yet settling outstanding land rights and self-government agreements is not a matter of "if"; it is a matter of "when." It is inevitable for this territory, and the question we must ask ourselves is: are we going to make any progress on these files or are we going to keep being a barrier at the table? The current unsettled state of affairs and uncertainty benefits no one. It causes uncertainty in our economy and it strains our relationships with Indigenous governments. Canada's Collaborative Self-Government Fiscal Policy means there is money ready for our Indigenous governments to exercise their right to govern, yet that money is waiting for us to sign self-government agreements. It is waiting for us in his House to be bold and to take the very difficult step to give up power that rightly belongs to our Indigenous governments. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."
19th Assembly, 1st Session December 10, 2019
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
"Along with my colleagues, I would like to recognize that today is World Human Rights Day, which marks the conclusion of The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
After publishing the priorities of this 19th Assembly, it was pointed out by a number of my constituents that any mention of working to address violence against women was missing from the list. This is an omission that I believe this Assembly must rectify. It must be made clear that taking action to end domestic violence and gender-based violence is a priority of this Assembly. In the throne speech last week, the federal government committed to reconciliation and responding to the calls for justice of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We are living in an Indigenous territory, and we work within a gender-balanced Assembly. We can and should be leading the way on ending gender-based violence. This is a difficult topic to speak about. It is a topic of actual tragedy, and, with some of the worst domestic violence rates in the country, this tragedy is taking place right now. This is a difficult topic for me to speak about. I find the voice of men is all too often silent on fighting gender-based violence, despite men overwhelmingly being the perpetrators. This silence places an unfair burden on the victims to also be advocates for change. This silence is reinforced by a culture in which too many men and boys are discouraged from speaking with vulnerability, from admitting weakness or sadness or pain. This is a part of the narrative that needs to change. I believe we in this House must not shy away from speaking about the things that are hard to speak about, about the roots of tragedies that are still taking place and about the faults in our systems, in ourselves, and about the desperate need for change, change in a society that disproportionately harms our most vulnerable. Much of the policy work to enact this change has already been done for us. The Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls calls for justice are addressed specifically to governments. In this report, one of the roadblocks identified was a lack of political will. I am here to say the political will exists in the Northwest Territories. This 19th Assembly is now writing its mandate. Now is the time to commit to implementing the calls for justice in collaboration with all levels of government. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."