Premier Caroline Cochrane is urging members of the public not to judge three senior officials with the GNWT who travelled outside the territory during the holiday season.
“All three officials are following public health orders and are self-isolating at home in the NWT,” she told reporters during a virtual news conference on Tuesday about the GNWT’s Covid-19 vaccination strategy.
Cochrane declined to name the officials, though in an email to NNSL Media she said they included deputy ministers who notified their ministers of their travel plans.
The premier’s comments followed news reports that several political leaders across Canada took international trips over the holidays, leading to the resignation of cabinet members in Ontario and Alberta amid frustration from members of the public.
In the NWT, CBC reported that deputy health minister Bruce Cooper went to Newfoundland to spend time with relatives and Russell Neudorf, head of the Covid-19 Coordinating Secretariat, travelled to Kelowna, B.C.
In an email to NNSL Media, GNWT spokesperson Trista Haugland said no member of the cabinet travelled outside of the NWT since the start of the GNWT Mandatory Leave Days, or “Donny Days”, which began on Dec. 23, 2020.
Cochrane told reporters that while residents are discouraged from taking unnecessary travel, such trips aren’t restricted and extenuating personal situations could spur public servants to travel outside the territory.
“I will be having conversations with all deputy ministers to ensure that when they’re making decisions about travel, that they’ve taken into consideration that we all must lead by example. I think it’s important to remember that nobody took a holiday in another country. And everyone followed the rules for self-isolation when they returned.
“We’re all in this together and I, as the premier and the rest of cabinet will continue to show leadership on this issue by avoiding all non-essential travel moving forward,” she said.
The premier stressed that the Covid-19 health orders were followed by all officials who travelled outside the territory and urged the public not to judge them.
“The lesson to be learned is that every person is a person, and every person might have a situation that they have to go out of the territory for. Please don’t judge your neighbour, please do not penalize the people that have come home for Christmas. We’re all in this together. And it’s about being kind to our neighbours.”
In her email to NNSL Media, Cochrane acknowledged that frustration of residents over the officials’ travels “as we have all been making sacrifices to protect each other.”
“A number of considerations would have been taken into account in arriving at a decision regarding southern travel, including operational requirements, public health restrictions and the personal situations and unusual circumstances involved in any individual’s case,” she added. “No senior official travelling over this period required isolation centre public expenses to be incurred, and none of our important work related to the pandemic response and GNWT business has been delayed.”
Health Minister Julie Green and Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek posted on Facebook Tuesday that neither had travelled outside the NWT over the holidays.