Call to Action – COVID-19 Secretariat
To date, the Premier has not responded to our original letter dated September 08th though we were advised we would receive a response by September 24th
The communications on the COVID-19 Secretariat has been difficult to follow and figure out what is facts and what is not, the number of jobs; the percentage of jobs in Yellowknife vs communities; the cost; etc. All have changed almost daily. Bottom line is the GNWT has chosen to use our emergency state to spend this money for the COVID-19 Secretariat before it has been approved which is not right and goes against their pledge for better transparency. Wordsmithing to convince the NWT residents that these are not new jobs and the true monetary ask is irresponsible during this time.
Our call to action is supported by NWT Tourism; NWT Manufacturers Association; and NWT & NU Chamber of Mines:
When the COVID-19 Secretariat was announced, it was reported that “$36.1m is for wages only for 150 positions, of which 124 will be located in Yellowknife, and only 24 spread through Fort Smith; Hay River; Fort Simpson; Norman Wells, and Inuvik. 125 of those positions will include "members of the current compliance and enforcement task force, staff protecting the border at airports and highways, and isolation center employees and staff Protect NWT and its 8-1-1 hotline". link
Based on their release, "19,043 self-isolation plans have been submitted since March 21 – of which 784 are currently pending approval, and since April 15, the 8-1-1 hotline has received a total of 2,281 calls from 29 communities, while 458 emails related to COVID-19 have been sent. Enforcement officials have issued 265 written and verbal warnings and 19 summary offense tickets". link
To put this in perspective, if we repeat the same numbers over the following next five months, each employee will be tasked with 18 calls/each over the full five months and approximately an application a day/employee for the entire five months. Currently, anywhere from 10-20% of GNWT employees can not return to the office. This equates to 529 - 1,057 employees working from home.
On September 24, Premier Cochrane was quoted as saying: "Like the programs and services, only 10 of the 150 positions required are new and, prior to the establishment of the Secretariat, we had 163 positions from across government working to deliver these services". In the GNWT eyes, these may not be "new" hires, but the backfilled positions will be. During this time of uncertainty, we do not need politicians playing word games to justify an end. The GNWT has indicated on multiple occasions in the media as well as in the Standing Committee of Accountability and Oversight, that the business community has asked for this Secretariat. We have never asked for additional staff; or the creation of a new department. We have repeatedly asked for clarification; consistency; collaboration; and a response within a reasonable timeframe as 2-3 weeks to answer an email is not reasonable.
To protect the NWT, we do not need more people to answer phone calls and emails. We need our HealthCare system bolstered as every other judication has chosen to do with their federal funding. We could save the territory $36m+ if we stopped paying for self-isolation centers for those residents who voluntarily left the territory for personal non-essential travel. We could be issuing more fines to those not complying to drive home the seriousness of our current situation. We could stimulate our economy if the GNWT invested even a fraction of this money into supporting our drowning sectors such as hospitality, tourism, and mining. There are so many more essential mandate items that this money can be spent on with a larger return than creating unnecessary middle management positions. As previously stated, it doesn't take money to return a phone call or respond to an email.
The NWT Chamber is not naïve to think that it will be government employees answering calls and responding to emails that will flatten our curve. It will be our dedicated healthcare workers; and frontline staff that will be instrumental in our ability to flatten the curve.
Our call to action is if your MLA has not already announced a constituency meeting before the sitting in October, ask them why. Question your MLA on how they plan to vote on the approval of this funding that has already been spent and why they feel the permanent creation of these new jobs whether it's at the COVID Secretariat or backfilling, instead of transfer-in assignments and/or contracted term positions.