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Once again, people are scratching their heads by measures taken by Premier Caroline Cochrane’s cabinet and government.

Not necessarily because these measures are bad. It’s that people are being caught off guard and left to complain about it afterwards.

Only months into their mandate, Cochrane’s cabinet has a firmly established track record of taking unilateral action and surprising the people it affects.
One of the earliest examples came with the firing of Tom Weegar as president of Aurora College and assistant deputy minister of post-secondary renewal – remember when the worst thing residents had to worry about in regards to the government was the sight of Education Minister RJ Simpson being a little out of the loop?

The Dene Nation community of Aklavik from the air. The Nation says Premier Caroline Cochrane won’t meet with them on alcohol, which they say is devastating their communities. Their voices joined a chorus complaining of a lack of communication from the annals of power at the GNWT.
NNSL file photo

More recent examples have the Covid-19 pandemic to thank at least partly: education leaders around the territory were surprised that the GNWT had decided schools may be allowed to re-open and host classes again before the end of the school year. Some MLAs and at least one superintendent have told News/North they weren’t informed before the announcement was made.

After superintendents met with minister Simpson on May 14 – only one day after the GNWT announced schools could re-open – any hope of that is now dead. Schools will not re-open now until the fall, at the very least.

And now the Dene Nation is upset – another self-inflicted injury. The Dene Nation says chiefs saw the latest change to alcohol policy by the GNWT, allowing restaurants and other businesses to sell alcohol along with food for delivery, as yet another snub by Cochrane’s administration, noting repeated requests for a meeting with the premier on the subject have been ignored.

“The Dene Nation can no longer stand by while the (GNWT) unilaterally makes decisions that impact our people without the collaborative involvement of our leadership (and) continues to call on the (GNWT) to honour their commitments to work with Indigenous leaders on issues of common interest,” he writes. “No one government can successfully go it alone in the NWT.”

The claim echoes an open letter from NWT Chamber of Commerce president Jenni Bruce and executive director Renee Comeau that ran in these very pages last week complaining of a week of radio silence from the premier on commercial rent relief.

“Ignoring such an urgent call to action is unacceptable at this or any time,” they wrote. “This lack of action or commentary by the GNWT has spoken volumes to the business community in the NWT.”

You’d think a veteran politician and former cabinet minister like Cochrane would have set about reaching out to key figures in the territory once she secured the premiership. These people can either help you map out policy decisions or leave you navigating a minefield. The difference could have been as simple as a phone call, or in those heady pre-social distancing days, an in-person meeting.

Cochrane’s government was having issues with communications before the pandemic, and has left a pile of unanswered questions during the pandemic. There was a lot of important work to do before the pandemic hit, and the pile won’t be any smaller if and when it dissipates.

As they wade into it, cabinet ministers should be looking at leaders like Yakeleya and the rest of the chiefs of the Dene Nation, and Comeau and Bruce at the Chamber, as the incredible resources that they are, and showing the rest of us that in this time of video meetings, they still know how to pick up a phone.

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