Premier R.J. Simpson: Sessional Statement February 2024

Déclarations et discours de ministres

Yellowknife — 6 février 2024

Check against delivery

Mr. Speaker, I must begin by acknowledging the plane crash that occurred in Fort Smith on January 23. I send my deepest condolences to the families and friends who have been impacted by this tragedy, and to the entire community of Fort Smith. I visited Fort Smith shortly after the accident, and it was clear that the people we lost were loved deeply and will be sorely missed. I hope they are able to find some comfort in the outpouring of community support that I witnessed. Mr. Speaker, I must commend and thank all of the first responders involved in the efforts of that day, as well as those who assisted them. The community leaders that I met with spoke very highly of their actions and wanted to ensure that their efforts are recognized. The impact of this accident has been felt across the territory, with NWT residents coming together, grieving alongside one another, and supporting each other through the loss. In the Northwest Territories, we are all connected, and it is this connection, this strong sense of community and togetherness, that defines us. It is our greatest strength.

Mr. Speaker, as a candidate for Premier, when I first presented my vision for the NWT, I asked each Member of this House to imagine what our territory could look like in 50 years. I asked Members of this House to believe that through our hard work, we could build the foundation for a united, resilient, and prosperous Northwest Territories. A place rooted in our collective respect for each other and the land, where our cultures and languages thrive, and our communities and people are sustained by a strong, vibrant economy. I believe that in 50 years, we can achieve that and that our cooperative consensus government system, integrated with Indigenous self-governments, will be unique in the world and a model for reconciliation.

Today, as we gather for the First Sitting of the 20th Legislative Assembly, I stand before you with this vision at the forefront of my mind.

Since the beginning of this young government, we have emphasized that the partnerships we form must extend beyond the walls of this House. Central to our success as a public government representing all Northerners will be our ability to work in meaningful, true partnership with Indigenous governments. We must continue the work of the NWT Council of Leaders and collaborate with Indigenous governments to achieve the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We must accelerate the advancement of land claims and self-government negotiations. Concluding land claim and self-government agreements will improve the quality of life for residents by advancing reconciliation, brining more money and opportunities into the regions and small communities, and making the NWT more attractive to investors.

Together with Indigenous government partners, we will forge a path honouring our shared past while embracing a promising future.

Our first task as the 20th Legislative Assembly is to set priorities for this government. As elected officials with deep roots and connections to our communities and regions, we have been engaging with our constituents and hearing their thoughts on the territory’s current and future challenges and opportunities. In my own conversations with residents and Indigenous leaders, I have heard recurring themes.

One is climate change. The impacts of climate change are seen all around us, all year round, and they demand immediate attention. Last year’s wildfire season was the worst in Canadian and NWT history and was a stark reminder of the need to adapt and prepare for emergency situations that are becoming more frequent and extreme due to climate change. Like many residents of the territory, I have seen my community evacuated several times in the last couple of years due to floods and wildfires.

The Government of the Northwest Territories is currently participating in two independent reviews: one through the Department of Environment and Climate Change and one through the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. Guided by input from Indigenous leaders, community governments and residents, these reviews will assess last year’s emergency response and recommend changes to future processes. Last summer’s evacuations were traumatic for many residents and communities, and it is incredibly important that the public has an opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences as part of the review process. Not only does this play an important role in healing, but it also ensures that we are effectively supporting residents through difficult times. From wildfires and floods to permafrost degradation, we must prepare the territory for the impacts of climate change and instill public confidence in our ability to support residents.

Mr. Speaker, mental health and housing are other areas demanding immediate attention. From shortages in affordable housing to gaps in mental health and addiction support, we need to work closely with Indigenous and community partners to create solutions that lead to real, positive outcomes for residents. To ensure the success of these programs and services, they need to be flexible and easy for residents to access; this accessibility is something we need to apply to the delivery of all programs and services across the GNWT.

This government needs to closely examine how we deliver programs and services to our residents. We need to create a person-centred approach to service delivery that puts ease of access at the center of our program and service design. We want to reach a point where a resident can walk into their local government office and learn about the various supports available across several departments and get access to them from one place at one time. Improving our programs and services also entails a rigorous evaluation of their effectiveness, ensuring our efforts are well-intentioned and deliver tangible results. The Government of the Northwest Territories faces a critical juncture; despite increased spending on programs and services, the outcomes we strive for remain elusive. It is imperative that we carefully examine the services we deliver and ensure that we are focusing on areas where we can truly make a difference. Our approach must pivot towards ensuring that every dollar spent translates into meaningful improvements in the daily lives of our residents. This strategic reallocation is about maximizing impact where it matters most.

Mr. Speaker, we have many needs in the NWT, and the Government of the Northwest Territories cannot address them alone. Luckily, Mr. Speaker, we are not alone. The GNWT is only one of the governments in the Northwest Territories. I have spoken to many Indigenous leaders, and I know that across the territory there is a strong desire for the GNWT to work in partnership with Indigenous governments to address the issues facing our territory. We are stronger together, and by working collaboratively, and approaching the federal government with a united front, we will make a greater impact on the lives of our residents than if we each go at it alone. However, we cannot rely on the Government of Canada to continue to increase our funding or our borrowing limit. We are responsible for ensuring that our financial situation is sustainable. In addition to ensuring that we are focusing our limited resources to have maximum impact, we must place a strong focus on economic development.

Part of this focus involves addressing the significant infrastructure gap between our territory and the rest of Canada. By investing in vital infrastructure, we not only enhance our economic potential but also improve the quality of life for our residents. This includes developing transportation networks, energy systems, and digital infrastructure to ensure our communities are connected and competitive. Bridging this gap is essential to address our current economic needs and to lay the groundwork for future growth and sustainability. As we advance, we aim to create a robust economy that stands on its own, reducing dependency and strengthening our position in the national landscape.

Mr. Speaker, in January, I attended AME Roundup, a mineral resource industry conference in Vancouver, accompanied by the Honourable Caitlin Cleveland, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, the Honourable Caroline Wawzonek Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance and Infrastructure, the Honourable Jay Macdonald, Minister of Environment and Climate Change. and Member of the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Danny McNeely.

We met with Indigenous leaders, industry leaders and elected officials and staff from federal, provincial and territorial governments to discuss the territory’s extraordinary wealth of mineral resources and how investment and partnership in the NWT’s non-renewable resource sector will result in benefits for residents, communities, Indigenous governments, investors, industry, and Canada. With a century-long history in the mining industry, the NWT has assumed a leading role in sustainable and responsible mining development. Discussions at events like AME Roundup are pivotal to maintaining this position.

Developing the NWT’s mineral resources sector is deeply intertwined with partnership and collaboration with Indigenous communities. Recognizing this, the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to actively supporting and engaging with Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations. This collaborative approach ensures that the development of the non-renewable resources sector not only contributes to the territorial economy but also respects and incorporates Indigenous knowledge, priorities, and rights. By working together, we aim to create a mining sector that is sustainable, equitable, predictable, and beneficial for all communities, fostering long-term prosperity and respect for our shared land and resources.

Emerging from all these critical areas are the recurring themes that I am sure many of the Members of this House have heard from constituents, friends and neighbours. Residents of the Northwest Territories want to feel safe in their communities and their homes, they want access to timely and appropriate health care, and they want their families and communities to benefit from the opportunities attained through education and employment. Safety, health and opportunity are the building blocks of a prosperous territory and I know that as we come together to set our priorities, these themes will again emerge as areas of focus for this government.

I believe that our path is clear. It is one of sensible, practical and achievable solutions, and a steadfast commitment to the people and communities of the Northwest Territories. I look forward to working closely with all Members of the Legislative Assembly, Indigenous governments, and all levels of government as we move forward to define and implement the priorities of the 20th Legislative Assembly and lead the territory towards a prosperous future.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.