Check against delivery
When I became Minister of Health and Social Services in August 2020, I had the opportunity to add two personal priorities to the Premier’s mandate letter for me. One of the two was to reduce the toll of substance abuse on the residents of the Northwest Territories, by leading a whole of government, interdepartmental approach to developing evidence-based policies and programs and the development of a robust addictions treatment aftercare regime, including a alcohol territorial strategy.
Mr. Speaker, I chose this priority for a couple of reasons. The first is that I am acutely aware of the deep damage addictions does to individuals, families and communities. The second relates to an experience I had in the 18th Legislative Assembly. The Standing Committee on Social Development at that time toured the four treatment facilities in Alberta and British Columbia used by people from NWT. We met NWT residents there and heard the story of their journey to and through treatment. But, and this is a big but, in some cases they were reluctant to return to their home communities because they anticipated they would have no where to live and few after care supports of the kind they had in the south. I want to provide residents in recovery the services they need to heal.
I thought about this priority when I met with staff from the Office of the Auditor General Monday to be briefed in their report. I welcome the Office of the Auditor General’s report as confirmation of their concerns and as a guide to how we can do better to help residents complete their recovery. This audit provides important insights as we continue work to improve addiction and recovery services for residents of the NWT.
Mr. Speaker, the findings and seven recommendations align with the health system’s understanding of where gaps exist and where improvements can be made. Providing safe, accessible, and responsive addictions services to help people heal is our priority. This is an area in which the Department and Health and Social Services Authorities are already investing significant energy and resources. A few examples of this work include:
- Improving access and reducing wait times to Community Counselling through the implementation of Stepped Care 2.0;
- Improving aftercare through the establishment of community-based programming, land-based healing and transitional sober housing options;
- Engagement with individuals with lived and living expertise to increase our understanding of the addictions recovery needs of residents; and,
- Improving cultural safety through the establishment of mandatory cultural safety and anti-racism training and the work to establish an Office of Indigenous Client Experience.
Mr. Speaker, I am encouraged the work on these initiatives has been validated as useful and significant to addressing the addictions recovery needs of NWT residents. To ensure the meaningful use of the information contained in the report, I can share with you that the results will also be used by the Department of Health and Social Services to inform the development of the Territorial Alcohol Strategy, another aspect of my personal priority in this area, referenced at the beginning.
Mr. Speaker, while all of this is promising, I recognize that the audit findings have highlighted shortcomings in the current system of addictions services and supports. There are areas of service delivery and approach that require greater focus and attention, and these are being taken seriously.
The Department and the Health and Social Services Authorities have agreed with all the recommendations outlined in the Office of the Auditor General’s report. The Department and the Health and Social Services authorities have committed to act on all of them. A more comprehensive draft action plan outlines activities and timelines for improving addictions prevention and recovery services. This document will be shared with Standing Committee, and I look forward to further discussion with them about the audit findings. Together we will create a more comprehensive response to the Office of the Auditor General.
Mr. Speaker, we are all aware of the high rate of addictions in the NWT. This situation is rooted in colonization and the trauma of residential schools. I understand the devastating effect on families and communities across this territory. I am grateful for the work done by the Office of the Auditor General and for the opportunity for the health and social services system to learn from this process to strengthen addiction recovery services. I want to assure residents that this opportunity will not be wasted. The Department and the Health and Social Services Authorities will act on these recommendations to make meaningful and lasting improvements to the addiction prevention and recovery system, and to give those who suffer from addictions the tools they need to regain their health. I am committed to ensuring progress is made.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.