The NWT’s newest commissioner, Margaret Thom, opened the third session of the 18th assembly with a special address on Oct. 17 that focused on the work that lies ahead of the government in its remaining two years.
The 18th assembly is at the approximate halfway mark in its four-year term.
Thom commended members for the mandate they adopted and have now revised, adding: “I wish you well in your efforts and look forward to the progress that you will make on behalf of the people of the Northwest Territories.”
The revised mandate document tabled by the premier Oct. 18 remains much the same, with some adjustments.
Among them is a change to the government’s original commitment to implement “universal and affordable childcare.”
That commitment has now been altered to say: “making childcare available and affordable.”
In regards to post-secondary education, the revised mandate includes mention of closing skills gaps by conducting the foundational review of Aurora College announced earlier this year.
There are also new additions on how the government will invest in a “knowledge economy” and support economic opportunities in small communities.
Under community wellness and safety, the government added details about how it will help communities respond to suicide.
Details of upcoming 911 service shared
Residents will be able to access 911 in all 11 of the NWT’s official languages once it rolls out.
That’s according to Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Caroline Cochrane, who provided an update Oct. 19 on what’s been done to get the emergency number up and running so far.
Since the spring, a program manager has been hired and a number of people have provided feedback for a legislative framework for 911, the minister explained.
She said she intends to introduce that legislation next year.
By December, the department is expected to “decide on a final operational model and implementation plan,” said Cochrane.
“At this time, I am happy to confirm the Northwest Territories 911 program is on track to go live for every community by summer 2019,” she said.
Justice minister taking inmate letter campaign “very, very seriously”
A letter writing campaign headed by dozens of inmates at the North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC) largely dominated question period on Oct. 18 at the legislative assembly.
While the justice minister says he has no plans to meet with those who drafted the notes, he has committed to responding to all of the letters.
“I wasn’t contemplating meeting personally with the inmates, although I have met with many of them before in my previous life,” said Minister Louis Sebert, who formerly worked as a lawyer. “I think what’s important is that the inmates and the members of this house know that we are treating this matter very, very seriously. I have directed the department to respond to each of these letters without delay, and, in fact, the warden has already started to have direct conversations with the inmates.”
MLAs and the justice minister were sent a package of 69 letters from inmates at the jail earlier this month, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green stated in the house.
The letters detailed inmates’ concerns about their access to programming, rehabilitation and education.
“To make matters worse,” said Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart on Oct. 18, “I have recently been provided with new information that reveals a similar situation for our correctional service.”
Testart said he has been told training, equipment and staff budgets have been cut and corrections officers are working “exhausting shifts” with no relief.
However, Sebert said there have been no financial cuts affecting staff training or programming at the jail.
It’s his understanding NSCC is adequately staffed, he said.
Moose hunting concerns in Nahendeh
The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources has agreed to meet with constituents of the Nahendeh district after MLA Shane Thompson stated they are concerned about overhunting of moose in the area.
“There were concerns that some hunters were taking cows and that overhunting is occurring in these areas,” said Thompson on Oct. 19, “as well as the lack of accountability when it comes to keeping track of the number of moose being taken from the region.”
Thompson asked the minister for a five-year ban on hunting cows, however Minister Robert C. McLeod said regular moose surveys have shown relative stability in the Deh Cho population and no decline in the Mackenzie Valley.
“We actually heard that moose numbers in the Liard area have improved recently,” said McLeod. “The next moose survey in the Deh Cho region is planned for November 2017 and February 2018, after which we will assess the population trend.”
“The sky isn’t falling,” says minister to climate change critique
The GNWT’s draft Climate Change Strategic Framework is expected to be released for public review in the next few weeks, according to the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.
“The Department of Environment and Natural Resources plans to table the final document in the legislative assembly during the spring session, after which an action plan will be developed,” said Minister Robert C. McLeod.
However, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly had some harsh words to share about the territory’s record on climate change on Oct. 19, after a critical Auditor General’s report was released on the issue last week.
O’Reilly said climate change has not been a priority for the GNWT and highlighted the findings of the report, which gave the NWT government a poor grade on its efforts to meet its climate change commitments, reduce territorial greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to impacts of climate change.
“The sky is not falling down and we will still continue to have clean climate and we are taking steps to address that,” said Minister Robert C. McLeod in response. “The input received during the audit is being incorporated and addressed in the … Climate Change Strategic Framework.”
But O’Reilly told the minister he is “no Chicken Little.”
“It is not my leadership that is being questioned by the Auditor General here on climate change. It is this government’s,” he said.