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

Open Government

"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.