5 things N.W.T. MLAs are working on between sessions

N.W.T. MLAs are back in their constituencies after spending close to a month in Yellowknife this fall but there's still lots of work left to be done before the winter session starts in February.

Members of the N.W.T. legislative assembly are back in their constituencies after spending close to a month in Yellowknife this fall but there's still lots of work to be done before the winter session of the assembly starts in February.

1. To set up an ombudsman's office or not 

Regular MLAs voted unanimously in the fall session in favour of establishing an ombudsman's office but cabinet hasn't said one way or another whether the government will go forward with the plan.  

The executive department now has four months to respond to the motion, which may mean a response during the winter session.

Members passed a similar motion in 2012 but since then the standing committee of government operations did significant research into the role an ombudsman could play here. Establishing an office would cost between $400,000 and $600,000. 

Some regular members say the office would have more access to more information than they are able to get when constituents come to them with problems.  

"An office that costs about $400,000 would help people, help organizations get the answers that they need... especially the ones who've been mistreated and treated unfairly by government. To put this into perspective, in 2013 we paid $368,000 for one airport garage exterior. We paid $424,000 for one snowblower," said MLA Alfred Moses. 

Having just a year until the next election doesn't leave much time to draft legislation, review it and vote on it so it's possible this will get passed on to the next government. We should have a better idea during February's budget session if this is something the government plans to move forward with or put any money into.

2. Second kick at public sector pension changes  

One bill that wasn't passed this fall and we probably haven't heard the end of is Bill 12 — proposed changes to the Northern Employee Benefits Services Pension Plan. The changes will affect approximately 1,000 municipal employees and some teachers.  

A standing committee voted to extend the review period for another four months. A third reading vote on it was delayed, in part because unions say they weren't properly consulted over the proposed changes. They say they're concerned it opens up the possibility of scaling back pension benefits and that could affect people who are already retired.

Nunavut MLAs also extended the review period for a related bill.

3. Efforts to create more bilingual juries 

One new piece of legislation is An Act to Amend the Jury Act. The bill would allow court sheriffs to receive names and addresses of potential jurors in advance of a bilingual or French trial. 

This challenge of selecting a bilingual jury came up during a case in Inuvik where the judge declared a mistrial because not enough French-speaking jurors could be found. Charges in that case were later stayed for other reasons. 

4. Regulating health care workers 

A standing committee of MLAs is also reviewing the Health and Social Services Professions Act. It will allow naturopaths, psychologists, emergency medical services providers and licensed practical nurses to be regulated, like doctors and nurses already are. It also sets out the rules for how complaints will be handled, from dispute resolution to hearings in front of an inquiry, to appealing those inquiry's decisions to the Supreme Court.  

5. Moving to one health authority

Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernerthy says in the coming months the health department is planning how it will transform regional health authorities. He plans to introduce legislation this winter that will allow the changes to happen in early 2016. 

Instead of regional health authorities, there will be one health authority with one board of management. In the regions there will be "advisory wellness councils," with representatives from different communities and a chair who will also sit on a territorial council. Abernethy says this will give communities more input at the territorial level. The minister says this isn't centralization and jobs won't be cut.

Between the time the health department released its plan in August and the end of October, Abernethy says 360 people responded to an online survey about the proposal.