Hay River residents have had their chance to offer opinions on two new bills before the Legislative Assembly – the Corrections Act and the Post-Secondary Education Act.
They had their say at a May 14 public hearing of the assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Development.
On the Post-Secondary Education Act, concern was raised that the legislation would give the minister of Education, Culture and Employment the final say on creating any new university, college or other post-secondary institution with no mechanism for appeal.
“That’s how I read this,” said Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green, a member of the standing committee. “It doesn’t give you any more options, such as appealing it to a court. I would have to seek legal advice to find out if that is in fact the case.”
“Then I would submit that is unfair,” said one resident, adding it goes against natural justice.
The minister would also authorize granting degrees and offering degree programs.
Shane Thompson, the standing committee’s chair and MLA for Nahendeh, noted a committee would make recommendations to the minister.
Green pointed out that the act is very “big picture” legislation governing the establishment of different kinds of institutions.
“And if there was a specific institution that was going to be created, it would have its own legislation,” she said, noting Aurora College has its own act and that would be the case for a polytechnic university.
Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson said, at a minimum, the minister should be required to give written reasons for his decisions.
Simpson also wondered if overregulation would affect the Marine Training Centre and the Northern Farm Training Institute.
“I don’t want this to put those places out of business,” he said. “I don’t want it to make it more difficult than it already is for those places to operate, because they actually do good work, and the last thing we need is any sort of roadblock for them.”
The new Corrections Act would repeal and replace an existing act.
“The new act focuses more on rehabilitation and community reintegration of offenders,” said Thompson. “Operational improvements are made in security, monitoring, case management, programming and staff training.”
Green noted it would be the first new Corrections Act in more than 40 years.
“And it’s taking a totally different approach to corrections, where there’s more emphasis on rehabilitation and healing rather than on punishment, although if you’re in a correction facility then that is punishment,” she said.
Green pointed out the act envisions community advisory boards.
“They would have fairly broad powers to see what was going on in the correctional centre and make recommendations about what they see,” she said.
Green asked the eight people at the public hearing if they thought Hay River residents would be interested in serving on such an advisory board, which would be established in each community with a correctional facility.
“I’m only one member of the community, but I would say that there would be people in the community who would be interested in becoming involved in some way,” said Jane Groenewegen, a former MLA for Hay River South.
There was also discussion about programs and services in correctional centres for inmates, particular cultural programs for those of Indigenous heritage.
“We’re trying to help those people become productive citizens, and that’s the important part of it,” said Thompson.
However, Green noted that correctional centres are still going to be jails with a hierarchy, with strip searches, and with a lot of rules.
The standing committee will report to the Legislative Assembly in August on the public feedback on the two acts.