Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

On The Ledge: A Mental Health Act Break, Midwives Return and Colonizing the Bay

Rounding up the highlights of week two in the house

The second week of the legislative session saw the proposal for a new lobbyist registry, some more dreaming about the 2000 new people who are meant to materialize in the next five years and a surprisingly happy ending to the standoff between legislators and unions and over pensions.

Here’s some of the other highlights from a week at the Leg:

Mental Health overhaul delayed

A much-discussed overhaul of the 30-year-old Mental Health Act won’t likely happen before next fall’s election, Health Minister Glen Abernethy told the committee of the whole last Tuesday.

“I sure would have loved to have seen this act done in the life of this government, but it is a huge amount of work… It’s essentially a new act. The old act was so outdated and so no longer effective.”

Abernethy suggested that the rewritten act would be complete by the summer, but that wouldn’t leave enough time to pass it into law during the 17th assembly.

“I’m hoping to table it in our fall sitting as a tabled document, which will allow people to look at it and review it over the election period, so… when the 18th Assembly comes in, the Members… have a piece of legislation that is, for the most part, ready to go.”

The delays drew criticism from Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins, who suggested more money and manpower should be thrown at the act to get it finished sooner.

“I really wish the resources were asked for,” said Hawkins. “I don’t see anyone stopping any of those dollars being forwarded or supported in any way. Is it a matter of hiring another writer? Is it a legislative writer or those types of things? I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t support that.”

Cross about crossing

The lack of sidewalks or a proper place to cross the road between Niven Gate and the four-way stop by the Visitor’s Centre is “disgusting,” according to Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley.

“This is now the eighth year of watching people walk along that highway, on the very edge of that highway… this can sometimes be kids, strollers in the summertime,” said Bromley. “This has fallen through the cracks because it’s a city issue, it’s a GNWT issue, it’s your issue [Transportation Minister Tom Beaulieu]… Meanwhile, the safety of our residents is compromised.”

“I guess we could come up with a solution,” said Beaulieu. “Realistically the only safe way is overpass or underpass… we’d build something over top of the road, but it would be a very expensive solution… and if we had to build a walking path from there all the way into the city on the other side of the Explorer, it would be another very expensive solution.”

He also pointed out that the speed limit only jumps from 45 km/hr to 60 km/hr after you pass Niven Gate, heading out of town. “Plus, we put in better lighting,” he added.

Bromley finished the exchange by suggesting the installation of a flashing yellow light somewhere along that stretch of highway.

Calling all midwives

Within a year, moms in Yellowknife could again have the choice to give birth with the assistance of a midwife, said Health Minister Glen Abernethy. The city has been without midwives since Yellowknife Health and Social Services did away with their midwife position several years ago.

However a new territory-wide midwife program based in Yellowknife, tentatively planned for 2015-16, could see as many as eight midwives cycling through the capital and out to the communities.

“These are some of the questions that we still need to work out, but at the end of the day there will be a midwifery program in Yellowknife, there will be midwifery services provided in Yellowknife,” said Abernethy. “Will there be one midwife who is designated 100 percent of their time to Yellowknife? It’s a little too early to say. It might be that they are provide services to X number of clients in Yellowknife but they’re still supporting community health nurses in two or three communities.”

In the health budget currently being debated, there’s $964,000 for a midwife program in the Beaufort-Delta. However, as the Beaufort-Delta region shifts to a different obstetrics model, some of that money may be available to fast-track the Yellowknife-based midwife program, said Abernethy.

The plan is still uncertain, and the Department of Health hasn’t started recruiting people yet, to Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro’s chagrin.

“Knowing how difficult it is to hire midwives and how long it has taken us to get midwives in both Fort Smith and Hay River and knowing that we’re going to have midwives here in Yellowknife… I think as you’re doing the planning you should be going out and recruiting for midwives,” said Bisaro.

Abernethy responded that they couldn’t begin recruiting until they have a better sense of the midwives’ job description – something that will be coming together in the coming months.

Colonizing YK Bay

Despite a moratorium on new recreational land-use permits along the Ingraham trail as part of the post-devolution overhaul, Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley is concerned too many areas around Yellowknife are still fair game for squatters.

He said he’s heard from many constituents worried that land in and around Yellowknife Bay “is being colonized at yet further loss to the Commons.”

“With no restriction in this area, no recreational land-use plan and no opportunity for public input on applications, leases are still being granted and the Commons eroded,” said Bromley. “Squatters everywhere must be dealt with justly with zero tolerance moving forward.”

Minister of Lands Robert C. McLeod parried most of Bromley’s questions by saying that the government was waiting on feedback from consultations.

He did say that the government’s initial plan is to have a ballot draw to determine who gets future leases on the land, but didn’t comment on what the government was doing in the meantime.

Lafferty projects 800 new immigrants over next five years

The GNWT’s ambitious plan to get 2000 new people to move to the NWT over the next five years is set to get a big boost from a “greatly enhanced” territorial nominee program said Education, Culture and Employment Minister Jackson Lafferty.

Last year, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, which runs the employer-driven nominee program, set a goal of increasing their applicants by 25 percent each year for the next five years.

“I am very pleased to announce that ECE has already surpassed this target. In 2014 the number of approved nominee applications increased by more than 50 percent,” said Lafferty. “This translates into 48 approved applicants including their 62 dependents, a total of 110 people.”

“Over five years we project more than 800 new residents living in and contributing to the NWT economy,” he added.

This comes in the wake of some improvements of the program, said Lafferty, which included establishing a toll-free information line for employers across the territory, moving the northern employment services website from Jobs North to Canada’s Job Bank and producing new materials “to ensure information is accurate, clear and understandable.”

For all of Lafferty’s enthusiasm about the successes of the ECE program, he said little about the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment’s investor-nominee stream, which appears to be less functional.