Mr. Speaker, the majority of my constituents supported the swift responses of the Chief Public Health Officer that prioritized our safety in the face of a largely unknown virus. Today, we know more and know that our responses need to be sustainable, as COVID-19 has no end date. My constituents are becoming increasingly frustrated as COVID cases surge in the South and our COVID communications and policy implementation still struggle. The announcement of the COVID secretariat wasn't well-received. We've been told there are 150 staff members, most of whom are GNWT employees on transfer assignments, of which 131 are front-line staff working with ProtectNWT, border enforcement, 811, and isolation centres. These positions have largely been filled since April and May, and the projected first-year cost is $31.7 million, an additional cost of $2.6 million compared to previous COVID response efforts.
Mr. Speaker, the safety of Northerners is paramount, and so far, we have been lucky. We have not lost Northerners to COVID, but this year we have lost Northerners to suicide, addictions, inter-partner violence, and illness, so I want to remain conscious that we not become tunnel-visioned by COVID while our demons demand more funding.
Today, COVID is still a global threat, but we remain accountable for a fiscally responsible government. I ask that COVID secretariat be both responsive to Northerners' needs and fiscally responsible and that we remember that this is an opportunity to build a sustainable model for any future state of emergency. In doing so, I expect that the COVID secretariat:
- Be collaborative by working with local business owners, be fiscally responsible, and, moreover, empower business owners to act as COVID safety ambassadors;
- Be consistent with fair and consistent policies to triage volume to ProtectNWT;
- Be sustainable. Isolation centre policies must be reviewed to curb misuse, as they are our greatest cost; and
- Communicate. I commend departmental communication staff, but clear, consistent, and proactive public communication needs to extend to all levels of government during a continued state of emergency.
Mr. Speaker, I don't have the difficult job of deciding appropriate risk for the NWT, where over a quarter of our population is considered high-risk, but I do know that my constituents want to be empowered and informed to support fair COVID rules and restrictions, and that our collective responsibility is to build a fiscally responsible and responsive, prepared government. Thank you.