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Premier absorbs role of MACA minister, central to GNWT Covid-19 response

Carolne Cochrane, maintains she did not violate the Aurora College Act when she fired the institution's president at the end of January. NNSL file photo

Premier Caroline Cochrane has assumed control of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), the department spearheading the COVID-19 response in NWT.

In a news release Tuesday, Cochrane announced she was taking control of the department from Paulie Chinna, who will remain minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corp. and minister responsible for homelessness.

“As leader of the team, I feel it is my responsibility to take a more hands-on role in managing the cabinet team and directing the government’s response through personal leadership of the Emergency Management Organization,” Cochrane said in the news release.

She added that Chinna continued “to play a vital role in contributing to the overall government response to Covid-19” and later told reporters the minister was understanding of the decision.

Cochrane told reporters Tuesday that the all-encompassing nature of the pandemic made it “logical” for her to take the role. Additionally, the emergency management organization was largely built for singular events like forest fires, and not for the scale of the current crisis, she said, meaning an update was needed.

She also reasoned that living in Yellowknife better positioned her to head the government’s emergency response based in the city. 

Chinna, in contrast, lives in the Sahtu. Cochrane further noted her cabinet ministers were only months into their roles, while she had previously served as MACA minister in the last assembly, though she would have made the change regardless.

Chinna did not attend a Tuesday press conference announcing the change and wasn't quoted in an accompanying news release, which Cochrane said was simply an oversight.

Move the latest in MACA leadership overhaul

The change comes on the heels of the appointment of longtime official Russ Neudorf to the position of assistant deputy minister to the department last week.

Asked what message the MACA leadership overhaul sends, Cochrane said “it tells residents of the Northwest Territories we’re taking COVID-19 seriously.”

She said Neudorf was an experienced hand, and didn’t require significant training.

Any department that would need a bump in resources would get it, she said, adding that “we felt he was the right person to support the (emergency management organization) team.”

When the emergency lifts, she said she would consider reassigning the minister's role, while Neudorf's position has a 6 month term.

State of emergency continues

On Tuesday, Cochrane said the state of emergency and the public health emergency will likely be renewed in tandem on April 14.

The territory’s state of emergency, extended on April 6, is issued through MACA. 

As the department's minister, Cochrane will be responsible for administering the Emergency Management Act and carrying out the responsibilities set out in it, including declaring states of emergency, overseeing the Emergency Management Organization, and leading the management of the GNWT’s overall emergency response.

On Tuesday, she said taking on the role gave her a stronger handle on leadership and better positioned her to lead the territory's COVID-19 response.

“It made sense because of my experience, because of the dynamics in this government, and because this is a worldwide pandemic, that this would become a premier responsibility,” she said.