Caroline Cochrane: Sessional Statement – November 2021

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

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Mr. Speaker, I welcome my colleagues back to the House for the resumption of the Second Session of the 19th Legislative Assembly. Despite this sitting being delayed as a result of the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the territory, I expect this has been a busy time for all of us as we focus on the important work we have been elected to do by the people of the Northwest Territories.

It was almost 20 months ago that the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic, and since that time we have been able to limit the spread of the virus and protect the health and well being of our residents and communities. Mr. Speaker, it has, and continues to be, our top priority. However, the last three months have put our great territory, its residents, communities, and healthcare system, to the ultimate test.

When we released Emerging Wisely 2021, we understood there would be a risk associated with easing restrictions, and that we also need to transition to a world where COVID-19 is part of everyday life. Mr. Speaker, we knew there was a likelihood we would see an increase in cases. What Emerging Wisely 2021 allows us to do is effectively manage our risk to prevent and respond to outbreaks. We have eased restrictions as conditions and information has allowed; it also allows us to enhance restrictions where required, and target restrictions as necessary.

While we continue to manage cases of the virus in the Northwest Territories, we have seen the success of targeted measures and how they have worked to ensure we are able to protect residents and limit its spread. During this current outbreak, we have put in place containment orders in Tuktoyaktuk, Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells, Colville Lake, Behchokǫ̀, Whatı̀, and K’atl’odeeche First Nation and put increased measures and restrictions in Yellowknife, Ndilǫ Dettah, Inuvik, and Hay River. They have been effective in stopping the spread of the virus.

While we have been largely successful, Mr. Speaker, together we have done our part to protect residents and our communities, especially those who are most vulnerable such as children who cannot get vaccinated. We have also done what we can to protect the integrity of our health care system. It is welcomed news that the Federal Government has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children aged five to 11, and we will be rolling out our plans for this part of the vaccination program in the very near future.

Mr. Speaker, this outbreak has had a significant impact on our territory but, we could have found ourselves in a much worse situation if it were not for the targeted measures we took, and the actions of residents, Indigenous governments, community governments and the business community to curb the spread of COVID-19. This has been a difficult period for the Northwest Territories. But as we have in the past, we have stepped up and done our part when we it was needed most.

This outbreak has not been without tragedy. I want to take a moment to remember the residents who have lost their lives to COVID-19. Mr. Speaker, on behalf of Members of the Government of the Northwest Territories, I want to extend my sincerest condolences to the families, friends, and communities of those the pandemic has taken from us. The COVID-19 pandemic has been unpredictable, and unforgiving. My heart goes out to those who have passed away, and the people close to them who now grieve. We grieve with you.

Mr. Speaker, the work we do is for the people of the Northwest Territories. A strong territory needs a strong society. All residents of the Northwest Territories should have the chance to enjoy the benefits of living in a prosperous, well-governed territory and to participate fully in a healthy, just society. Our government is committed to helping residents achieve their aspirations for themselves, their families, and their communities.

While navigating the challenges we have faced as a territory because of the global pandemic, Cabinet has continued to advance the priorities and commitments outlined in the mandate of the Government of the Northwest Territories.

The mandate of the 19th Legislative Assembly reflects the 22 priorities set by all members. It guides and focuses our actions to advance those priorities, Mr. Speaker. Despite the time and energy our government has focused on the pandemic, issues such as the lack of housing, climate change and the infrastructure gap did not go away. If anything, the issues that impact our residents most have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. They continue to be important to our government, and we are focused on showing progress on these important and urgent issues.

Mr. Speaker, considering the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of the Northwest Territories tabled a social and economic recovery plan for the Northwest Territories titled Emerging Stronger: Planning the NWT’s Social and Economic Recovery Together, in the Legislative Assembly in May. Building on the commitments in the Mandate, Emerging Stronger presents a set of actions the Government of the Northwest Territories will take to support long-term social and economic recovery in the NWT. The Government of the Northwest Territories has committed to report on the status of the actions identified in the plan and to update the plan annually.

We continue to make progress in the right direction, Mr. Speaker. Of the 149 actions identified in the mandate we have more than doubled our fulfilled commitments, reduced our commitments in planning by a third, and reduced our delayed commitments. With Emerging Stronger, 21 per cent of the commitments are fulfilled, 78 per cent are in progress and one per cent is in planning. Mr. Speaker, I look forward to working with all Members toward fulfilling the government’s commitments during the remainder of the term of the 19th Legislative Assembly and undertaking a more thorough review of our progress in the coming February -March sitting of the Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, we want to create a secure, sustainable and prosperous future for the territory and its people. We remain committed to working in every sector to advance the priorities of this Legislative Assembly in a way that will provide for current and future needs and create a foundation for the long-term success of all Northerners.

A big part of how we achieve this is by working together. We have always known the importance of this, and the partnership and collaborative spirit that has helped us get through the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed we can do so much more together, rather than alone. We all want the same thing, Mr. Speaker. We all want to see residents succeed, communities and businesses to thrive, and governments at all level to work together for the common good of the Northwest Territories.

The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to finding ways to make things better for NWT residents, Mr. Speaker. In order to achieve this, we need to continue to build on the strong partnership we have developed with the Government of Canada. Collectively, we need to be able to take action on priority areas where Northerners have said that more needs to be done.

We are committed to addressing the gap between the North and southern Canada that has existed for decades but has been made more apparent because of COVID-19. We need a supportive federal government partner that acknowledges our residents as important members of Canadian society who should experience the same level of services and opportunities compared to the rest of Canada. 

Mr. Speaker, I spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the weeks after the federal election. Our discussion focused on the need to continue to advance our partnership, and the shared priorities that will have a positive impact on the Northwest Territories. The Prime Minister confirmed reconciliation is a priority for his government, and I am encouraged by this.

When we marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we spent September 30th reflecting on the impact of the residential school system on Indigenous people in the NWT, and across Canada. We honoured the survivors, their families, and communities and the thousands of children who never made it home. The number of unmarked graves across the country in recent months is now in the thousands. We can not ignore this tragedy, and we are committed to working with Indigenous governments and organizations in the NWT on this issue.

The Government of the Northwest Territories is determined to advance reconciliation. Mr. Speaker, we met with the Northwest Territories Council of Leaders and Modern Treaty Self-Government Partners Forum last week. We had thoughtful discussions about how our government can best support Indigenous governments and organizations in their efforts to address the residential school legacy in our territory.

The federal government committed $320 million in new money for programs to help Indigenous communities search burial sites at former residential schools and to support survivors and their communities. The Government of the Northwest Territories can support Indigenous communities in developing strategies for recording unmarked burial sites at residential schools including leveraging federal funding and resources. To help support the work of reconciliation and healing, the Government of the Northwest Territories is examining its own files to identify any information that can help communities’ study and document their own residential school history.

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister also said in our discussion that the relationship with our government goes beyond the portfolio of Northern Affairs. I agree.

The Northwest Territories requires investments in strategic infrastructure that can help to unlock our natural resource potential, transition us to a lower carbon economy, and better connect people to opportunities and each other.

Mr. Speaker, new infrastructure stimulus funding is key to Canada’s recovery from COVID-19. Take the Tłı̨chǫ All Season Road as an example: it connects residents to new social and employment opportunities, reduces the cost of living in the territory, increases our resiliency and our ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and provides better access to natural resources. It created economic and business opportunities for small communities and helped put people to work.   

The Government of the Northwest Territories continues to work with Canada on building infrastructure and adapting to climate change, lessening the ever-widening northern infrastructure deficit and supporting implementation of Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework. We know that we need Canada’s help, and we will be seeking additional support for the coming years.

On the issue of climate change, we are the canary in the coal mine. Our region is living with the rapidly accelerating effects of a changing climate. The Government of the Northwest Territories’ recent presence at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland earlier this month sent a strong and pointed message: Canada’s Arctic cannot fight this battle alone. We need climate action across the globe to secure a healthy and safe future for our residents and communities. We must also ensure that we have the means to transition to a lower carbon future. 

Mr. Speaker, significant investments and supports are needed to reach climate goals. Investments in climate action are investments in the future of the Arctic, our communities, our businesses, and the people living here. Through partnerships we can green our economy, lower our greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt our communities and critical infrastructure for the future.

We have the blueprint ready for action to reduce the impact of climate change and climate-related disasters, and to make our communities safer and more resilient. Our 2030 Climate Change Strategic Framework was developed by and for Northwest Territories residents including Indigenous governments. This session we will report on the progress under the action plans associated with the framework.

We need federal support to enhance climate adaptation and resilience efforts; facilitate greater understanding of climate change impacts and adaptation options through monitoring and research; and support Indigenous-led and community-based approaches to planning and adaptation.

Mr. Speaker, the resource sector accounts for nearly a third of NWT’s gross domestic product, directly employs over 3,000 people in the NWT and contributes over $800 million in spending each year. A healthy and vibrant mineral exploration and development sector is critical for the NWT, its people, and our future prosperity. Critical and strategic minerals that play a key role in modern technology are an important part of future resource and economic development for the Northwest Territories.

Earlier this month, the GNWT held workshops with resource sector stakeholders and rights holders to gather input to help in the development of a new critical minerals action plan for the NWT. Critical minerals are important for existing and new technologies that support the transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy. The NWT can potentially benefit from the growing interest and increasing demand for these minerals by positioning itself for this socio-economic transition, both in a Canadian context and with respect to emerging global trends and needs.

In collaboration with Canada, Indigenous governments, and industry, we can improve mineral security, strengthen the competitiveness of North American critical mineral industries, and support the development of secure and reliable supply chains.

The NWT has substantial energy resources that can help the world transition to a low-carbon economy, from natural gas that can displace higher carbon and more polluting coal and oil, to future opportunities in hydropower, hydrogen and geothermal energy. Mr. Speaker, realizing NWT’s resource opportunities will require an investment partnership with Canada, particularly in transportation, energy and communications infrastructure and building the capacity of Indigenous businesses and communities to fully participate and benefit from development projects.

Securing investments and support from federal partners is critical to our future success in the NWT, and to the future success of Canada. Residents, community governments, businesses and Indigenous governments have made it clear this is necessary to their success and wellbeing, and I look forward to continuing to build a strong relationship with the federal government for a better future for the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, while we continue to manage a significant outbreak of COVID-19, we are focused on getting on with the business of government. Residents expect us to continue to deliver high quality programs and services and advance the priorities they have set for us to ensure a better future for all residents and communities. We are committed to this work, and I look forward to continued collaboration with Regular Members to advance these priorities we have been entrusted with.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.