MLAs return to legislature as last year of government begins


The Northwest Territories’ MLAs will reconvene on Thursday for their fall sitting, a first opportunity for public questions and answers at the legislature since the early summer.

After Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, MLAs will sit on October 17-20, October 25-28, and October 31-November 3 before breaking for committee and constituency work until February.

This marks the beginning of the final year in the political calendar before the next territorial election, which is due in the fall of 2023.

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Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson and Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland each listed mental health and addictions as priorities heading into this month’s three-week sitting.

“Mental health remains a core concern of residents and we need to continue the conversation,” Cleveland said by email last week.

Simpson wrote: “The government needs to get serious about addiction, mental health and homelessness. We continue to see people in the communities without housing, without timely and effective addictions and mental health supports. There is a lot of discussion, but that discussion does not turn into action on the ground.”

Both MLAs also expect a focus on how the NWT attracts and retains its healthcare staff.

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Cleveland wants to explore “better using Aurora College to increase our number of resident healthcare workers,” while Simpson will advocate for Hay River’s healthcare workers to receive the same bonuses being offered elsewhere in the NWT (currently not offered in Hay River as the town’s health staff are under a separate collective agreement).

Cleveland’s list of priorities for discussion also includes “the increasing cost to maintaining NTPC infrastructure and the cost of not actively and meaningfully supporting alternative energies,” alongside medical travel, water treatment and housing.

Simpson will follow up on dredging of the Hay River harbour’s east channel, a task for which no government authority has taken responsibility.

The MLA cited concerns about the impact on barge resupply and flooding risk to Hay River, adding that governments have spent “in excess of $50 million to support and revitalize a commercial fishery, which needs access to and from the lake – without access, costs would increase for an industry which is already suffering.”

If Ottawa won’t pay for dredging, Simpson wrote, “the GNWT must look internally to cover that cost while we work to negotiate with the federal government to assist.”

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He will also seek to press the territorial government on speeding up disaster assistance for Hay River’s flood victims, and will ask questions of flood mitigation measures being drawn up.

Rylund Johnson, the Yellowknife North MLA, said by email he will seek an update on land claims and self-government progress from Premier Caroline Cochrane.

“We have one year left and not one single agreement has been reached, despite a mandate promise of two agreements. I’ve lost faith that this premier is going to get anything done in this area,” Johnson wrote.

Allied to that, Johnson says he will question Cochrane on what he sees as a failure to “implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in any meaningful way.”

Lastly, Johnson said he will urge finance minister Caroline Wawzonek to bring forward a new Liquor Act based on a recent review completed by the GNWT.

That review resulted in 66 recommendations, many of which would create a looser, more flexible system if implemented.

“With the political will, Minister Wawzonek can get this done this assembly. The what-we-heard report summarizes the issues well and our archaic approach to alcohol and prohibition is in desperate need of an overhaul,” Johnson wrote.

The remaining regular MLAs did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

However, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon has previously stated he intends to raise the controversial search by wildlife officers of a cultural camp on Artillery Lake.

The territorial government has said the search was a necessary part of an investigation into illegal caribou harvesting. The Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation has characterized the search as over-the-top and aggressive in nature, and is challenging the legality of the officers’ search warrant in court.