The issue: Covid restrictions
We say: the complicated costs of Covid-19
Prudent public health orders and some luck kept Covid-19 mostly at bay, but there are other impacts to consider Last week delivered a double whammy of criticism for chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola and the public health orders she issued, as well as the GNWT’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
First the business community said the territorial government had no “sense of urgency” in terms of the economic impact the lockdown is having on the private sector. Its workers are insulated with guaranteed pay cheques continuing to roll in regularly while business owners and their employees face nonstop question marks.
Then, the NWT Medical Association, the union for doctors in the territory, wrote Kandola an alarming letter about the negative consequences of her public health orders and the social and psycological problems they are causing.
With all due respect to the business community, the impact on the private sector is more of a political conversation to be had with Premier Caroline Cochrane and her cabinet. But the concerns raised by Kandola’s colleagues should be a wake-up call to her and her office.
There may be alarming trends in the United States, where infection rates are skyrocketing, particularly in southern states, but Canada has been on the right side of the curve for weeks now. The last two places in Ontario to move into phase two did so just after midnight Monday. Hours later, the province reported 154 new Covid-19 cases, and no new deaths for the first time since March. And yet, the political leadership there is already thinking about moving into phase three, which among other things would see all workplaces given the all-clear to reopen.
Through some prudent public health measures including the closure of the border to non-essential travel by outsiders, and a good measure of luck, the NWT has only seen five confirmed Covid-19 cases, but we’re far from unscathed. Like a round of radiation therapy that ravages the entire body while targeting a tumour or tumours, the hard shutdown of the territory’s private sector may have prevented more cases of Covid-19 from finding their way to the NWT, but at great cost to the economy we all depend on for our way of life.
Is there no level of infection that the territory’s health-care system could handle as a trade-off to employees of the GNWT returning to their places of work and businesses here and across the territory being able to open up with a few months left to salvage what they can from 2020?
And what’s being done by the business advisory council, which is finally holding regular meetings? Are they working on an economic recovery plan, or has the NWT resigned to experience a repeat of the devastation that rocked the tourism sector and the broader economy following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001? One of the lessons from that experience was that the momentum lost took years to recover. How many businesses here could endure 48 months of losses?
Kandola is granted a wide range of powers, including the ability to operate free of political interference as long as a public health emergency is in place, and rightly so.
But how long that state of affairs stays in place is a political decision to be made by Cochrane and cabinet, who have a more diverse set of concerns than planking the curve, as critical as that may be.
This includes drafting a budget that will reflect the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic, both in terms of spending and loss of tax revenue from businesses that haven’t been able to operate at a normal capacity or at all. Without a sense of urgency from cabinet, MLAs and the bureaucracy they sit atop, we may find ourselves at the bottom of a hole we have no way to dig out of.