It was a busy first week for incoming MLAs getting set for the Oct. 25 opening of the legislative assembly.
All 19 were flown in for initial introductory meetings and orientation last week before laying out priorities in the legislative assembly Oct. 9.
Many of the items, which ranged from economic development to infrastructure needs to housing, education and health care, will be condensed into an assembly mandate at a later date.
A common theme among community MLAs was the need to settle land claims and self-government negotiations and develop better relationships between the GNWT and Indigenous governments.
Ronald Bonnetrouge (Deh Cho), who defeated incumbent Michael Nadli in the Oct. 1 territorial election, said his biggest goal for the coming term was to settle “any and all land claims in the NWT,” which he said would “chart the future for economic prosperity.
“I want to share with you a vision, a vision of meaningful dialogue and continuous collaboration with all the Indigenous groups of the Northwest Territories to chart the future of the territory for economic prosperity,” he said. “Only with these partnerships will we realize the prosperity required to build a strong workforce that creates self-esteem and self-sufficiency for all the people of the Northwest Territories.”
Shane Thompson (Nahendeh), back for a second term, echoed that sentiment, including better housing for Indigenous communities.
“NWT Housing needs to work with small community governments to establish a year-round maintenance program for looking after the knowledge keepers in their homes,” Thompson said. “It’s horrendous when you go into these people’s homes and they don’t have the support there to fix their homes.”
Housing shortages were common concerns among almost every MLA.
The housing issues that we have in our riding, is a big theme,” said Jackie Jacobson, MLA for Nunakput. “We have young families that are growing. I had 24 (school) graduates this year in Tuktoyaktuk. Where are they going to go, (the) young families? We have no housing.”
Jackson Lafferty, MLA for Monfwi, had a similar message and said he would like to see a reevaluation of the NWT Housing Corporation’s approach to housing construction in communities and meeting their needs. This includes having better partnerships with community governments and exploring the possibilities of introducing tiny homes.
“Goal number one is that in four years, the NWT Housing Corporation policy is amended to provide viable solutions to homelessness issues throughout the Northwest Territories,” he said. “How are we going to do that? Continue to increase available, safe, affordable housing. ”
Health-care delivery to small communities was also a common theme from Hay River to Inuvik.
“Residents are concerned with the routine absence or shortage of doctors,” said Rocky Simpson, the new MLA for Hay River South, noting concerns over long wait times and the stress of travelling south for medical care. “This shortage limits appointment opportunities, diagnoses of illnesses and emergency care.”
Lesa Semmler (Inuvik Twin Lakes) said accessibility and respectful treatment at health centres, especially for Indigenous patients, remains an issue.
“There is a lack of trust in the health care system with high turnover in staff continuing to build where residents don’t want to access and difficult to trust when they are not being treated with respect,” she said.
Frederick Blake Jr., acclaimed MLA for Mackenzie Delta, said there is a need for improvement with medical escort services, plus dental and other specialized health services in his district, that includes the communities of Tsiigehtchic, Aklavik and Fort McPherson.
“Colleagues, we want more health care and we need relief for our health and social services workers,” he said.
MLAs will meet Indigenous leaders at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre in Yellowknife on Oct. 17. This will involve round-table discussion between MLAs and several Indigenous leaders throughout the NWT.
The official selection process for speaker, premier and cabinet will begin on Oct. 18, when interested candidates put their names forward at the territorial leadership committee.
On Oct. 19, MLAs will travel to their home communities to meet with constituents to get feedback on who should be supported for those leadership roles.