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Infrastructure and health ministers survive non-confidence votes


Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann and Health Minister Glen Abernethy survived a non-confidence motion to remove them from cabinet in the legislative assembly today.

The communities represented by MLA Herb Nakimayak are the most affected by the Marine Transportation Services (MTS) blunder that left Paulatuk and two Nunavut communities without barge resupplies.

Wally Schumann: Minister of infrastructure says he can't see any reason for his removal from cabinet.
Avery Zingel/NNSL photo

Nakimayak didn't vote to unseat Schumann, after leadership from his community asked him to work with the minister, he said.

Six MLAs voted in favour of removing Schumann from cabinet. MLAs R.J. Simpson, Kieron Testart, Michael Nadli, Shane Thompson, Kevin O'Reilly and Tom Beaulieu voted against him.

Regular MLAs Frederick Blake Jr., Daniel McNeely, Cory Vanthuyne, Julie Green and Herb Nakimayak voted to keep Schumann on the job. Cabinet voted as a bloc to keep Schumann in his position.

Testart led the charge to remove the minister, seconded by Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli to hold Schumann accountable for "performance issues" and his demeanor in responding to the barge issue.

“The minister put the fiscal needs of the GNWT above the resupply of our communities,” said Testart, presenting the motion.

He accused Schumann of allowing MTS to put private profit and shipping needs to Alaska and the Sabina gold mine in the Kitikmeot ahead of the needs of the communities.

The failure was a result of “poor planning in the pursuit of private profit," said Testart.

Schumann denied that accusation in a scrum following the vote.

Testart criticized comments by Schumann that Arctic life comes with inherent weather risks that can limit or delay the shipment of goods.

“Are they supposed to feed, clothe and heat themselves with his best intentions?” said Testart.

During the latest sitting of the assembly, Schumann often repeated that the government-owned barging company went above and beyond what could be expected from a private company.

Testart charged Schumann with taking “hardline” tactics while offering “dismissive rebukes.”

Schumann told the assembly that several issues caused delays, including fuel quality and thick sea ice.

Schumann disagreed with Testart's characterization of his conduct in the assembly.

“I got elected based on who I am and how I think and how I evaluate things. Not everyone is going to agree with me, not everyone in the public is going to agree with me,” he said.

“I can't go out and appease everybody, and I certainly 'aint gonna go appease all the members on the other side of the house,” said Schumann.

"To be in this business, you have to have thick skin," the minister said, adding issues well beyond the barge deliveries arose during the debate.

Schumann denied that accusation by Testart that the GNWT put profits from private contracts over community deliveries.“You think we bought MTS to make money? That's not what we did,” he said.

Private contracts offset the cost of delivering services to communities, said Schumann.

“A number of comments in the house, I don't believe were very accurate,” said Schumann.

"To be in this business, you have to have thick skin,"  the minister said, adding issues well beyond the barge deliveries arose during the debate.

Frame Lake MLA  Kevin O'Reilly charged Schumann with failing to address resource royalties in the government's attempt to revamp the Mineral Resources Act. He has long pushed for improved territorial management of resources.

“This is about getting results for NWT members," he said, adding that the territory is "one of the most charitable" regions for mineral extraction but it is not receiving enough revenues.

Health Minister Glen Abernethy survives vote despite damning federal report on child care

MLAs Shane Thompson, Kieron Testart, Michael Nadli, R.J. Simpson, Kevin O'Reilly and Tom Beaulieu voted to remove Abernethy from his cabinet position.

Health Minister Glen Abernethy promised to hold senior officials accountable after an auditor general report gave a failing grade to child and family services in 2014. A new report shows he has been unable to live up to that promise. Avery Zingel/NNSL photo
Avery Zingel/NNSL photo
Glen Abernethy faces expulsion from cabinet over the latest child and family services report.
Avery Zingel/NNSL photo

After the Office of the Auditor General released its damning report last week, rumblings of who should be held accountable emerged both in the assembly and online.

Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne called the old health-care system an inherited colonial structure and said the GNWT has "failed to overhaul antiquated laws."

"We have failed to take seriously the need to move toward reconciliation and self-determination," he said.

He called for less time for administrative work and more time for children.

"Obviously, no heads have rolled and no accountability was taken because four years later, circumstances have changed for the worse," he said.

The health department was a "complete and utter failure" with $150-million in cuts and an inability to hire and retain requisite social workers, said Vanthuyne.

Removing Abernethy won't have a great effect on children currently in care but the motion to remove him is about accountability, he said.

"There is too little will to really help the children in this government's care," said Vanthuyne.

Past recommendations were not followed and members have repeatedly raised issues with child and family services, he said.

"We will not accept putting children's lives at risk," he said, decrying "wrongdoing and inaction" within the health department.

Testart asked that a "culture of silence" not persist for vulnerable children in the government's care.

O'Reilly applauded Abernethy's responsiveness on many files but asked how things could "possibly get worse with such an energetic minister."

"I have no doubts about the passion of the current minister ... but the path for improvement seems to be set in motion no matter who is at the helm. This motion is not about blame but leadership," he said.

"When somebody feels they aren't loved, they don't care about society and they become institutionalized. We are doing this as a drastic action," said Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu.

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu acknowledged the challenges of the health portfolio but said Abernethy is not listening to the regular MLAs.

"Alcohol is destroying our communities ... and the people are the most affected are little kids," he said, adding many of children in care are removed as a result of their caregiver's poverty or addiction.

The department has the power to help children, the majority of whom are Indigenous, said Beaulieu.

"What we need to do is to work on prevention. Our people have children in care. It's not people that have high incomes. It's not people that sit there in big homes," said Beaulieu.

The department did not take the required action to keep kids in communities and it needs to support jobs, home care spending and alcohol treatment, he said.

"When you pump money into the communities, it has a positive impact on our communities," said Beaulieu.

"Resolving this issue is going to take the people, and having individuals like this minister to listen to people, go into the communities and help families stay together. These are horrible numbers," he said.

"There are more children in foster care now, than there were children in residential schools at the height of residential schools," he said.

Beaulieu gave an impassioned speech, attributing struggles to poverty and  child apprehension.

Children who are taken from their homes "feel that they are not loved," said Beaulieu.

"When somebody feels they aren't loved, they don't care about society and they become institutionalized. We are doing this as a drastic action."

Nadli also supported the removal of Abernethy, on the grounds that children are suffering within the system, bounced from home to home and further traumatized.

Echoes of residential school days in Canadian foster care, says Green

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green, for the second time in this assembly, decried the disparate allocation of social workers for the Tlicho Social Services Authority, which has half the number of social workers as Yellowknife, despite having a similar caseload.

"I can't help but think this has something to do with the wrongheaded" financial management of the GNWT, said Green.

She stopped short of calling for Abernethy's removal but condemned the state of child and family services in the NWT.

Green slammed the "institutional western perspective" of caring for children, which represents nuclear families and "does not adequately account for the (Indigenous) population it serves."

In 2010, child advocate Cindy Blackstock found that the state of child and family services is "fueled by neglect, which in turn is driven by poverty, substance misuse as well as domestic violence," said Green.

"We, as a society, have a long way to go before low incomes, overcrowded housing and food insecurity aren't the background to most child protection issues," said Green.

Work together in final year of assembly, say MLAs

Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr., said while his "gut reaction" was to remove Abernethy from cabinet, the blame does not lie on the health department alone.

The GNWT should revisit its amalgamation of the Department of Health and Social Services to study if it is working for children. It should also focus on Northern social worker programming, said Blake.

Nunakput MLA Herb Nakimayak is troubled by "red tape" and a "lack of capacity" for the department.

The government does not have the "right tools" to support people in the NWT and it could take multiple assemblies to rectify those failures, he said.

"We need to work together, regardless of if we want to or not. Today, I'm not going to support the motion because I believe we need to work together. There is so much to do until next fall. This is more like a whipping to say 'You need to work with us,'" said Nakimayak.

"We need to help the both of them so they can help all the regions in the NWT. Whatever it takes, however we get there, let's do what we need to," he said.

Abernethy apologizes, pledges improvement

Abernethy spoke about moving from apprehension to prevention.

"I would like to apologize to the families and children who have asked us to do better," said Abernethy.

The 2018 audit was "gut wrenching for us all," he said.

"Every person working on child and family services, including me, wants to make sure we are meeting our key responsibilities," he said.

"Good intentions, ambitious plans and hard work can only carry us so far," said Abernethy.

The department invested $5-million in child and family services and while Abernethy was aware of the shortcomings outlined in the Auditor General's report, speaking about them publicly he would have "breached" privacy.

There was a caseload of review and the department is proposing an increase in resources for front line care, said Abernethy.

"As leader, it is my job to tackle it head on and own it," said Abernethy, who became emotional as he spoke.

Abernethy agreed with Senator Murray Sinclair that the "residential school monster" lives in the foster care system.

Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson applauded Abernethy for his apology and accountability. He spoke of the immediate need to put financial resources behind the system rather than wait months to increase supports.

"I put it on to cabinet. Maybe the minister couldn't do a good enough job but this is a crisis," he said.

A brief history of cabinet removals in the NWT

Removing a cabinet minister is notoriously difficult and trying to do so is a "fool's errand," said Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson today, debating the cabinet position of Schumann.

Simpson voted to remove both Schumann and Abernethy.

In the history of the NWT, several elected officials in the NWT have been removed from their posts, while many other votes of non-confidence failed narrowly or entirely.


NWT premier Stephen Kakfwi survives a non-confidence vote 13-1.


Former North Slave MLA Henry Zoe loses the confidence of fellow MLAs after getting intoxicated and disparaging Newfoundlanders at the Yellowknife legion.


MLAs remove then-Sahtu MLA Norman Yakelaya from cabinet.


A bid to remove NWT Premier Floyd Roland fails narrowly.


Justice Minister Louis Sebert survives a non-confidence vote 11-7.


Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann survives a non-confidence vote for his handling of barge deliveries.

Health Minister Glen Abernethy survives a vote of non-confidence.