Over my lifetime I have been supportive of politicians and senior executives in government. Women and men who choose to put their name forward for election to office or to lead a department in government have a tough job.
Over the past week I have reviewed several articles of support I have written such as praising the then deputy minister of Transportation Peter Vician in a letter to the editor for having streetlights installed at a dangerous intersection on the outskirts of Yellowknife. Or an opinion piece I wrote that I titled Joe Handley: A Man of Action as Premier Handley was finishing his term as premier and rushed through the Dehcho Bridge Project.
And again, when I gently took NWT residents to task for, in effect, forcing MLA Bob Bromley to apologize for his (modest) expenses by going to a conference in Scandinavia, where, as a biologist he had much to offer and to bring back. I said he should have flown first class – I wanted him to arrive rested and fully able to do his job, and on his return to be fully rested and able to get back to work for us.
It is not business as usual for any of us though in this time of a pandemic. It is not business as usual for me as I do not – and can not – support NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane, nor her deputy minister of the Covid-19 Secretariat, Russell Neudorf who directly reports to her, nor Health Minister Julie Green and her Deputy Minister of Health, Bruce Cooper. They have all let us down.
By us I mean the vast majority of citizens of the NWT who have followed those four public servants’ advice and stayed home, who did not travel outside the NWT over the recent holiday period.
The GNWT issued guidance in mid-December and as of earlier this week it was still the advice of our government, “Because of the rising transmission of cases … making the choice to cancel non-essential travel out of the NWT is the best plan right now.”
(Mr. Neudorf has stated that he had a medical condition he needed to travel for. If that needed to happen at this point in time, if it could not wait a few weeks or months, I absolutely accept that had to be his priority.)
Premier Cochrane said, “it is not a law” to stay home and not travel. I am so very troubled by that. If there is no moral compass that she follows, if only laws matter to her, I cannot even imagine where that gets us.
I am confident that even if I don’t have all the facts exactly right here is what has happened:
When it is business as usual I imagine a deputy minister (DM) asks their minister if it’s OK to take time off, over Christmas and when in fact the entire government is shut down for the period between Christmas and New Years, what could be more reasonable? The minister approves the leave.
This year with a world wide pandemic, when the first vaccine was known to be arriving into Yellowknife during the holiday period if (a) the DM asked for leave it would be denied as this is not business as usual, or (b) if the minister(s) offered leave, the DMs would say no thanks, this is not a time of business as usual, I need to be here, especially as I am a leader and my department staff need to know that I am here in the trenches with them.
I have used the phrase “in the trenches” as I feel we are in a war. In a time of war, the political leaders make the broad brush stroke decisions about what objectives they seek and pass it to the professional, the generals, to design and carry out the campaign as best they know how. Here the generals are the DMs
In a business-as-usual situation generals do not get time off in the middle of a campaign, a campaign where the lives and health of the citizens they serve, is at serious risk. Even if it is Christmas. Even if their families live away from where they are tasked with carrying out their campaign.
I have heard from staff of the Department of Health in Yellowknife that for some time recently staff of the local hospital and health clinics were told they could not take leave because of the pandemic. But their leaders can and did.
Some time ago Premier Caroline Cochrane, in the national media, said tourists were welcome to come to the NWT. When immediately challenged she did back off a bit. The next day she clarified the position of the GNWT even further. I believe that anyone can make a mistake, especially with a microphone in their face. Correct it and move on. Better yet offer a correction, an apology and move on.
A few weeks ago, I sent out a tweet, or a comment on Facebook, or both, supporting our three northern premiers on the leadership they have displayed during the pandemic. That was after our premier misspoke about tourists. A simple misstep, a correction offered, and let’s move on. That works for me and I firmly believe works for the vast majority of NWT residents. We all make mistakes.
I have no ill will for the premier. But for me it cannot be business as usual when important people are given leave in the middle of a war.
Premier Cochrane, you said it is not the law that the DMs could not travel out of the NWT. You have offered that as your full explanation. You have also said it is policy that you will not discuss personal issues like leave. But that’s only a policy, not law, hence I am confused.
You have a tough job to do. However, a consistent message when things are not business as usual would serve you, and the residents of the NWT, well in my opinion.
An apology, a correction, and let’s move on would be welcome by many of the residents of the NWT, I believe.
Finally, for those who might take me to task for these comments I acknowledge that I have made many mistakes in my life and by golly I have learned how to apologize.