The issue: Covid budget

We say: Share the wealth

The budget for the new Co-ordinating Covid-19 Secretariat has been released by the GNWT and it looks like the lion’s share of funds will be going towards paycheques for staff and isolation costs. 

This accounts for slightly more than $71 million out of the $86 million the GNWT plans to spend.

This secretariat, which will be in charge of co-ordinating any and all matters Covid-19 for the GNWT, will be creating 150 new, well-paying jobs.

There is little doubt that the good folks at the territorial government are taking this pandemic seriously and it looks like they are going to have plenty of work over the next 48 months to keep them busy. 

It does, however, seem as though that this new division is showing up to the party a little late. Dealing with the pandemic has been a very fluid and dynamic situation for all governments and there is no prescribed way to do so.

But if the point of declaring a health emergency – which has been done 14 times now – was to allow for funds to be freed up and loosening restrictions on the government to spend that money, why are we getting this new division now and not five months ago when we actually had cases? We’ve managed well without it so far.

Remember when we were told it was going to take two weeks to flatten the curve? Now it seems we are buckled in for the long haul.

What’s more troubling than the fact that isolation hubs and restrictions and reduced business may be on our horizon for the next two years is that the government thinks more enforcement roles is the best way to support Northerners now. It’s better to be safe than sorry, but $87 million is not exactly buying peace of mind for taxpayers.

If this much money could be thrown around at what seemed to us on the outside like a moment’s notice for the sake of the health of NWT residents there are multiple other projects that could probably use some more attention.

The dental hub of the Sahtu proposed by Dr. Pirjo Friedman would be a good example of money spent on something that would make an impact.

Since Covid-related health restrictions have made it virtually impossible for travelling dentists to visit remote communities for oral care, Friedman has suggested investing in creating a halfway point between some of those communities and the capital so fewer people are deterred from getting the care they need.

It’s one of many examples of how the pandemic has created side effects that are having a direct impact on people’s health which could be remedied by more attention – and funding.

Shelter woes in Yellowknife for the territory’s street-involved population is another example. Health restrictions on sizes of gathering and the need for physical distancing has forced some of the only shelters in the territory to turn people away a few weeks before winter sets in. Money alone isn’t the solution here, but it requires more attention than it is getting.

More than anything this shows the priorities of the current government, which is to create more administrative and enforcement jobs in a hurry.

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