A majority of the newly elected MLAs have said they would support establishing addiction treatment facilities within the N.W.T.
Although their ideas differ on how a treatment centre should be funded and run, at least 10 MLA-elects have said they support some sort of facility in the N.W.T. to assist those suffering from addictions.
There have been calls for regional treatment facilities since the last oneclosed in 2013. Since then, the territory’s strategy around addictions treatment involves flying patients south and funding on-the-land programs.
But the territory has been slammed by the federal auditor general for failing in its addictions treatment, including the lack of aftercare for those who do receive treatment.
Strongest support in northern N.W.T.
CBC News reached out to all 19 newly-elected MLAs, 14 responded. None of the respondents said they outright opposed an addictions treatment facility, and many had different ideas around how one would need to operate.
But the level of support for a treatment facility was most evident in the north.
Lesa Semmler, who was re-elected MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, said the territory needs a treatment facility.
“Our people are dying,” she said.
Lucy Kuptana, the MLA-elect for Nunakput, said she supports a treatment facility and that advancing treatment options in the territory is a large reason that she decided to run for office.
George Nerysoo, MLA-elect for Mackenzie Delta, said he would also support a treatment facility.
Moments after hearing he was elected for Inuvik Boot Lake, Denny Rodgers told CBC that a wellness facility is something Inuvik needs.
Sahtu MLA-elect Danny McNeely said he would need more information before making a decision, but was leaning towards supporting one too.
Sheryl Yakeleya, MLA-elect for Dehcho, said she would support regional treatment centres, but these would need to prioritize on-the-land healing.
Shane Thompson, MLA-elect for Nahendeh, said he would support regional facilities that could use resources already available in the territory, including elders. But he wouldn’t support a treatment facility comparable to what exists in the south as the N.W.T. already has a difficult time attracting medical professionals.
Vince McKay, Hay River South MLA-elect, said he supports a trauma treatment facility in addition to regional programs.
Jay Macdonald, Thebacha MLA-elect, said he also supports a treatment centre.
Richard Edjericon, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA-elect, said he would support a treatment facility, but in order for it to be successful, the federal government would need to fund it along with additional programs including aftercare.
Jane Weyallon Armstrong, the acclaimed MLA for Monfwi, said Indigenous governments should have input on this decision but that the territory should fund it if it’s something they want.
Only three out of seven Yellowknife MLAs responded to the question. R.J. Simpson, incumbent MLA for Hay River North, also did not respond.
Two of the respondents, Shauna Morgan, MLA-elect for Yellowknife North, and Julian Morse, MLA-elect for Frame Lake, said they need more details before making a decision.
The third Yellowknife MLA-elect, Kieron Testart of Range Lake, said he would support it and more specifically said the N.W.T. government should fund these facilities but Indigenous governments should run them.
Featured VideoIn Hay River, residents say the N.W.T.’s lack of a treatment centre is a serious concern. Health minister Julie Green previously said no to the idea, but residents are hoping for change. The CBC’s Carla Ulrich spoke with people there about what they’d like to see.
What does the support mean?
Just because the MLAs support the idea doesn’t mean that it will become a reality anytime soon.
Shaun Dean worked for the N.W.T. government for 30 years, the last 10 were spent as director of communications for Premiers Caroline Cochrane and Bob McLeod.
He says in order for the assembly to prioritize new buildings, such as a treatment facility or multiple regional facilities, it would need to be included in the capital plan, meaning cabinet would need to agree on it before it could go into the budget.
Dean says if addiction treatment centres were something only the regular members wanted, but cabinet didn’t want, there’s still an opportunity for the project to get discussion.
“Members have a lot of influence over the budget making process, unique to the consensus system here is that members always get an opportunity to review the business plans and the budgets before they’re finalized,” he said.
Dean added that another way regular members could push for treatment centres, would be when the assembly sets its priorities.
“There may be another opportunity for them to make addictions treatment and facilities a core part of the government’s agenda,” he said.
Łutselk’e creating on-the-land healing facility
Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation’s Chief James Marlowe says community members have raised the issues of addictions and a lack of mental health resources in the remote community of about 350.
He says this is why the community is attempting to establish its own on-the-land healing facility with a focus on cultural programming involving elders.
“Myself, I’m a product of residential school and I have been affected through my adult life, my childhood. I’m still dealing with these things and it’s probably going to take a lifetime,” he said.
Marlowe said he has raised $350,000, enough funds to build the facility and is in the process of looking for a contractor to construct it.
He says he hopes the facility will be up and running by next summer, but would need financial assistance from higher levels of government for programming.