The work of Legislative Assembly committees is rarely the sort of thing that catches public attention.
But there can be interesting nuggets found that point to places where the territorial government has fallen down, as well as recommendations on how to fix problems.
The Standing Committee on Government Operations – even the name makes one’s eyelids feel heavy – was set to do its work on Thursday, Feb. 11, reviewing the NWT Information and Privacy Commissioner’s most recent annual report.
That includes finding out how faxes – remember that 1980s technology? – containing sensitive personal and health information were accidentally sent to the wrong location on numerous occasions. Anyone who has been following the GNWT over the past 12 years knows that there have been many scoldings directed at the Department of Health for not finding a solution to that recurring issue.
That brings us to Covid-19. We seem to be seeing light at the end of the tunnel (oh please, don’t let this be like the last time we thought that and then Omicron came along and threw a wrench into things). It makes a person wonder how much time and effort should go into a major reckoning of the territorial government’s decision-making and actions over the past two years.
There have been so many implications for various realms of our lives: education, business, health, government expenditures and so on.
If we turn back the calendar to October 2020, then-Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty railed strenuously against the concept of the $86-million Covid Secretariat and its estimated 150 government positions.
“It boggles me that we are creating this ‘Taj Mahal’ bureaucracy. It’s unthinkable,” Lafferty said at the time, adding that it could have instead equated to 300 homes, three new addiction treatment centres or 100 new classroom teachers over five years.
Premier Caroline Cochrane’s response, in part, was: “The secretariat came up because the Indigenous governments and the people of the Northwest Territories were asking for more supports, and the people who were providing those supports said they could not do it.”
Should we not carry out an audit of the Covid Secretariat and determine whether we got much bang for our buck? Shouldn’t there be a full accounting?
And then there are decisions where there’s still a shoe to drop: all of the government employees who have been suspended without pay for refusing to abide by the GNWT’s vaccine mandate. What will their fate be? Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson asked specifically in December about NWT Power Corp. employees who refused to get their jabs.
Minister Diane Archie, who’s responsible for the NTPC, replied, “Exemptions unrelated to protected grounds under the Human Rights Act are not being considered at this time but that may change in the future should the situation change as well.”
And how about the GNWT taking essentially two years to institute a remote work policy? Talk about being a day late and a dollar short. It raises questions about fairness for workers forced to continue reporting to an office, the largely empty state-of-the-art downtown government building that opened a couple of years ago and the government’s inability to be nimble enough to devise a policy in months, let alone years.
These are some of the many issues deserving thorough examination.
But then you remember that misdirected faxes from the Department of Health are still an agenda item a dozen years later, and you shake your head.