Our Chief Medical Health Officer has announced that the NWT is moving forward with a #FortressNWT approach to managing Covid-19 over the coming months.

Stephen Ellis is program lead North for Tides Canada.

This will mean very strict restrictions on any traffic across our borders to prevent the coronavirus from entering the territory, likely until such time as a vaccine becomes available in 2021 or beyond. At the same time, current restrictions on the way of life of NWT residents will be gradually relaxed, and a phased approach to allowing local businesses and community facilities to reopen will be taken.

This is remarkable news. Our Chief Medical Health Officer should be celebrated for her decisive, calm leadership, resulting in our territory being pretty much unscathed by Covid-19 to date.

Up until now, our Premier and the MLAs have rightly taken a backseat to Dr. Kandola, deferring to her medical expertise in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. Now that she has outlined a long-term approach to managing our health and safety in the face of this pandemic, it now falls upon our Premier and MLAs to chart a course for the revival of our schools, our community services, and our economy.

These matters are not Dr. Kandola’s responsibility, and the time has come for our elected officials to step forward and articulate their vision and plans.

We’ve been told that such plans are in the works, and we can only speculate what they might be. However, I hope that the vision of our elected officials does not stop at simply bringing us back to some pre-pandemic status quo. Because frankly, where we were pre-pandemic is unacceptable.

Our economy, very dependent as it is on aging diamond mines, was already in a state of steady decline – Covid-19 just made things worse. Our economic plans seemed to focus too much on the charity of the federal government, and too little on the talents of Northerners and the assets of our vast territory. Government bureaucracies seemed to be growing too quickly, and private enterprises too slowly. Attempts to diversify our economy seemed incidental. We had too many eggs in too few baskets.

The social conditions for too many in our territory were and remain shameful. Overcrowded housing, food insecurity, substance abuse, poor educational outcomes – Covid-19 has only highlighted the extent to which these have been for years the fundamental crisis in our territory. We may have started to flatten the curve on Covid-19, but as a territory we haven’t begun to do so for our social challenges.

Such important economic and social challenges require transformative ideas and investments, supported by a unified populace willing to try something new. We have proven that as Northerners we can pull together in a common direction during this Covid-19 crisis. Perhaps as we come out of this crisis, we can continue to do so in order to address our underlying economic and social challenges. Maybe all we need are some big ideas to get behind.

Moments of crisis such as Covid-19 can be times of rapid innovation and re-invention. As we navigate this pandemic, we SHOULD come out stronger. However, it takes great leadership to get us there. We’ve been blessed with strong medical leadership that will continue to guide us through the Covid-19 crisis. We need our elected leaders to be just as strong and bold as they guide us through our recovery and resurgence.

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