Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, it has become a tradition of mine to make statements in this House about the government’s lack of support for ground ambulance and highway rescue services.
Today, the tradition continues. I wasn’t planning on continuing it today – it’s become frustrating and exhausting – I’ve brought this issue up during every business planning session, during the deliberation of the main estimates, during departmental briefings, and during many, many committee meetings. During the last briefing we received from the Department we were informed that the little funding directed toward highway rescue was being cut from the budget, despite the Minister acknowledging that a real fix to the problem will cost millions. Luckily, that meager sum was added back to the budget, and communities can still apply for a pittance, to help them to do millions of dollars of work on the GNWTs behalf.
Despite my frustration with all this, I decided to do another statement because in my research I came across some exciting, and encouraging news. I came across the fall edition of the MACA Update and it re-energized me. Let me read from it:
“For several years, community governments and other stakeholders have raised concerns about the lack of a comprehensive, coordinated system of ground ambulance and highway rescue services in the Northwest Territories, and about the need for clarity with regard to service levels, responsibility for service delivery, and associated funding.
There have been several studies done on this issue, which have proposed a series of options, ranging from maintaining the status quo to a legislated program delivery mandate, supported by the GNWT.
MACA and the Department of Health and Social Services are working towards a legislative framework and coordinated program delivery. The Departments are currently engaged in data collection and establishing monitoring mechanisms to determine uses and costs of current service delivery.”
Finally, Mr. Speaker. This is exactly the type of progress we need.
Now, the Ministers of MACA and HSS might not actually be familiar with this publication. If they’d like to be brought up to speed, I suggest they talk to the two former Health and Social Service Ministers in the gallery, because this update was published during their terms, in 2007.
Mr. Speaker, why do I have to ask the government to do what they said they were going to do a decade ago? I’m going to have questions for the Minister of MACA later, because that seems to be where this file has landed, and I hope the answers I receive aren’t read by another MLA 10 years, who’s is the same position I’m in.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, earlier I spoke about ground ambulance and highway rescue, as I have done many times. Just to bring everyone up to speed, I would like to recap what we have learned so far from my previous questioning: No single department is delegated with authority over this issue; Twenty-seven communities don’t have ground ambulances; Community governments provide highway emergency services far beyond their own borders, mostly out of their own pocket; There has been $1.8 million to provide community governments since 2007 to deal with the issue; The issue is going to cost millions of dollars to fix; There is no timeline to address this issue; The government need to save money, so it can’t provide any further support. That is what we have learned from the previous questioning.
I may not have many questions if there has been nothing going on, but I will give it a shot. Since the last questioning, last October, what steps have been taken to create a coordinated and adequately funded service delivery regime for ground ambulance and highway rescue? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
SPEAKER: Masi. Minister Municipal and Community Affairs.
HON. CAROLINE COCHRANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Actually, we have been doing some movement on this file. The Government of the Northwest Territories recognizes that it is an issue. We don’t want to leave people stranded and we want to make health and safety our priority, to take care of people.
We have met with the municipal government of Hay River to hear their concerns. We have also met interdepartmentally with Health and Social Services, Transportation, Department of Justice, and Municipal and Community Affairs. We have committed to hiring a consultant to go in and do an action plan; not a research project, this has been researched to death, but to actually do an action plan to see how we can support ground ambulance within the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SIMPSON: Usually I hate to hear that the government is doing another action plan, but in this case it is better than what has been going on. The regional centres are providing the highway rescue services for large areas. That is because 27 communities don’t have ground ambulances. The Minister said the departments have been in talks with some of the communities. Have they been in talks with all of the communities to address not only the highway rescue but also the ground ambulance part of this equation?
HON. CAROLINE COCHRANE: We will be meeting with some of the communities, but the five tax-based communities is what we will be focusing on, recognizing that there are 33 communities within the Northwest Territories. However, not all of those 33 communities have road systems, and we are talking about ground ambulance, not highway rescue.
MR. SIMPSON: There is an action plan in development. Can the Minister provide us with a timeline of when we can expect the action plan to be completed, but also when we can start seeing the effects on the ground, whether it be money rolling out to the communities or legislative changes or anything in that manner?
HON. CAROLINE COCHRANE: We will be starting the project in the spring of this coming year. There are a couple of issues. There are a few things that we are looking at as difficulties; for example, the municipality of Hay River seems to have issues with collection of fees, yet the municipality of Yellowknife has no issue with the collection of fees. We are trying to figure out what the difference is. We are looking at gaps. We are looking at overlaps. We have heard that even those we have given up boundaries and said, “These are your limits to pick up people,” we are hearing that three communities are going to the rescue. It is not only about the funding. We will be looking at the funding formula, but it is also the coordination of ground ambulance and highway services
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Minister mentioned that Hay River has trouble with collections whereas Yellowknife doesn’t. Yellowknife has a much bigger staff. So would the Minister commit to funding another position in Hay River that’s responsible for collection of ambulance fees? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
HON. CAROLINE COCHRANE: As Members should be aware, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs worked on a new deal — what was called a new deal many years ago, I believe it was 2007, where the communities actually decide for themselves what they want. We provide funding for that. If the municipality of Hay River would like to hire somebody out of their own, then we would more than support that decision from the municipality.