We recently learned that the MLA from Boot Lake, Diane Thom, may have been visiting with people a couple of weeks before such gatherings were prohibited by the chief public health officer. Though none of this has been proven at this point, Thom has accused of attending a party of 10 people or more. Unfortunately, and most alarming of all if true, is that it is suggested in a formal letter from Nanukput MLA Jackie Jacobson that when the matter was revealed to the premier, Thom was told to keep it quiet.

We are all hoping that none of the above is true – it’s just too disheartening.

For one thing, any cover-up shows a lack of transparency, which we were promised would not happen with this new government. Coverups always question credibility and in this case, the credibility of key ministers especially at a time when we are trying so hard to move forward while addressing critical issues that arose during the pandemic. Suppressing the truth is about a lack of integrity and once that is lost, so too is public confidence. A far better course of action is always to go public with the truth quickly and apologize – the public is astute enough to do the right thing.

We are a forgiving society. It is what makes Northerners the great people we are. Though it can be difficult to publicly disclose and apologize, we forgive quickly and admire the courage it takes to do that.

Suppressing the truth and being told to do that by the highest office, if true, casts a long shadow not only over the people involved, but the whole political process. The incident is now before the integrity commissioner who is not revealing much and in our hearts, we are all hoping that the allegations are unfounded. The prospect of the opposite is too discouraging.

Sadly, episodes such as this affect our morale too.

For the past three months, a number of people from Alternatives North worked hard on a paper about mental health services in the Northwest Territories during the pandemic. This falls in Thom’s domain. The status of mental health across Canada has become an increasing concern as the lockdown and slow, phased lifting of restrictions continues. We are worried about incidents of domestic violence and the wellbeing of children behind closed doors.

The study involved many hours of research and countless rewrites looking at the pros and cons of programs offered and what we can do better. Once thoroughly reviewed by Alternatives North members, the paper was turned over to, we thought, the trusting and capable hands of the minister plus several other MLAs. (That report is on the Alternatives North Facebook page for those interested.) With credibility in question, we are not so sure it is in the right hands.

Further, and also in the mental health and social services domain, Raymond Pidzamecky, on the weekend, a councillor with Health Canada who has been flying into the communities for 10 years, raised the alarm about the high incidence of crack cocaine abuse in the communities. In a weekend Facebook post, he said, ” It is absolutely clear that the level of drug abuse … specifically crack cocaine has become a crisis in the communities of the Northwest Territories. It breaks my heart to hear how many children are having contact with child protection services and ending up in foster care because of this … We lost the war on drug and alcohol abuse a long time ago.”

In a follow up discussion, he urged the band councils and chiefs to look for solutions themselves.

Pidzamecky added: “The lives being affected by this are a hundred-fold greater than the lives directly affected by COVID-19 … crack cocaine is one of the most deadly instruments of genocide and family destruction that the people of the NWT face.”

I plan to address this in a future column.

We are in uncertain territory as we emerge from Covid-19. To feel confident about tackling such serious issues going forward, we need to see our decision makers exercising right behaviour and taking right action.

It is not a new government anymore. This cabinet has been in office for eight months and this is Caroline Cochrane’s second term. By now we should know what appropriate behaviour looks like and follow it in a way that sets an example for us all. 

Let’s hope going forward that none of what was purported to have happened is true and in the meantime, get on with the serious business of good governance at a time when it’s needed the most.

The people of the North deserve that.

 

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