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The issue: Covid-19 secretariat
We say: Pros and cons

The new $87-million pandemic secretariat promises job creation on Justin Trudeau’s tab, but NWT businesses worry about the bill Very little is black and white, or cut and dried.

Except muktuk, which consistently comes in black and white when cut and dried.

But territorial politics is not High Arctic country food and taking a firm stance in the political realm is rarely a simple thing. Whether governed by a party system or through consensus, all things are connected.

So it is with the Covid-19 secretariat announced by Premier Caroline Cochrane Sept. 3. A salty old dog might take a cynical stance off the bat, saying something like “surprise, surprise, cabinet asked the bureaucracy what the solution to Covid-19 is, and the bureaucracy replied, ‘More bureaucracy.'”

Or that the 19th Legislative Assembly’s new way of doing business borrows heavily from the old playbook, including reaching for federal funding as the answer to any and all adversity.

But the thing about being in unprecedented times is that you can’t expect things to go the same way, or be able to fairly measure and critique things according to the same standard. In response to concerns about the price tag for the new 150-position wing of the GNWT, the premier offered, anecdotally at least, an assurance that federal money for the Covid-19 responses of the territories and provinces would offset the direct impact to territorial taxpayers.

There isn’t any reason not to take Cochrane at her word. The GNWT would be far from the first body to receive federal Covid-19 funding. And the global pandemic obviously isn’t the fault of our MLAs, cabinet, the premier or anyone else who works for the GNWT. If anything, the plan so far is obviously working. Responding to an unforeseen global emergency is entirely within the purview of the federal government, the people we elect to make decisions on our behalf at that level and the significant resources and apparatus at their disposal.

With the mines musing about their future, retail and restaurants reeling, the 2020 tourism season trounced and the once constant cacophony of aircraft in the capital curtailed to the occasional overhead excursion, the private sector is not hiring heavily. At this point in the recovery, maybe any job creation is good job creation.

There are details to be ironed out in terms of exactly how many new positions the Covid-19 secretariat will be responsible for creating and how many of them will involve a situation where a part-time or casual worker will be brought into the full-time ranks, or whether a large number of existing positions will be reassigned from other departments.

The NWT Chamber of Commerce has grave concerns about the creation of a division within the Health department six months into a pandemic and five months removed from an active case of Covd-19. Specifically, they said in a Sept. 8 letter to the premier that the announcement was even more concerning because during budget talks, the GNWT told the business community that there was nowhere to cut and that the business tax was going to go up, and that they were considering imposing a sales tax.

Hopefully these new government employees will at least Buy North, as we like to say, and avoid living their consumer lives through Amazon Prime.

That said, there are major economic benefits to both of the first two scenarios. Making a part-time or casual employee full-time permanent offers that person the benefits, wages and job security that labour organizations like the Union of Northern Workers have been backing for decades and decades.

Having more full-time permanent workers in the NWT – unless they live their consumer lives exclusively through Amazon Prime – means more of that juicy economic multiplier effect at a time when every sale, rental, booking and order makes a difference.

Craig Gilbert

Craig is an award-winning journalist who has worked in his home province of Ontario, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta and the Northwest Territories again. He should be at least six...

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