With a pricetag of $87 million, we assumed the GNWT’s COVID-19 Secretariat would have a plan for just about anything.
Anything but plans, it seems: 2,600 self-isolation plans (SIPs) were waiting to be processed last week. That’s when Health and Social Services (HSS) Minister Julie Green took to the department’s de facto media room, her Facebook feed, to announce HSS was not prepared for the rush of filings from would-be travellers that the lifting of isolation restrictions produced. She said her department received more than 850 of the SIPs in just a few days.
Ask for $87 million up front and you create expectations. Of a certain scope and complexity, for example: how did this department designed to counter COVID-19 get so broadsided by a rush of visitors or returning travellers just as public health restrictions were lifting along with the mercury in the thermostat? Did nobody see this coming?
The best case scenario now probably would be that the secretariat, which has overseen precisely 172 cases of the novel coronavirus in the NWT and zero deaths, hasn’t spent nearly that much yet (it was a three-year budget, after all) and the hiring of staff and approving of overtime that GNWT spokespersons assured us is taking place in response to the SIP backlog will be accounted for within that number.
Actually, the best case scenario would end with the secretariat running its course well before that three-year imagined pandemic response and costing not nearly that much. With the improving state of vaccination in Canada, that is a more and more attainable goal.
Any reasonable Yellowknifer would be justified in feeling some frustration here. Parents, perhaps most so. Our own sports stalwart, James McCarthy, will soon be back to hammering away on the keyboard from home like the good old days since his wife and under-12-year-old-and-therefore-not-vaccinated daughter return from a trip to the East Coast at the end of this week. Heaven forbid someone should spend part of the summer with family across the country after 16 months of keeping calm and Zooming on.
Yukon parents aren’t wringing their hands over this. Nunavut parents, either. Or Alberta caregivers and legal guardians for that matter — whatever your opinion on their race to open up.
They just held the Calgary Stampede and called it a success with 71 COVID-19 infections linked to the event, a rate of about one for every 10,000 patrons. Three in four adults in the NWT have at least one shot, and more than 70 per cent have both. Does it still make sense to force every human being that wants to leave the territory or host a visitor check in with Big Brother like they’re trying to cross into East Berlin?
Talk about another make-work project. Government imposes rules that require paperwork. Population files paperwork. Government is surprised by paperwork. Government decides more government is the answer.
The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce and its president, Tim Syer, have been right about this all along. The GNWT’s pandemic response has been reactive and behind the play from the start, burning through cash all the while. No overtime would be required and no hiring blitz called for if the patronizing and unwarranted – or at least no longer warranted – tracking of our comings and goings were to cease.
It’s time for the NWT to catch up to its neighbours. It’s time to let common sense take over.