The COVID-19 pandemic has been like nothing many of us have ever seen in our lifetime. The world is a very different place, and as we continue to move forward during this unprecedented time, we are committed to protecting residents.
The reality across the world is grim. Numbers are rising globally, and in Canada we are experiencing an increase that is cause for concern. As predicted by health officials around the world, a second wave is anticipated. As we have prepared for this possibility, we have asked ourselves: how do we best prepare given our unique situation?
In the early days of the pandemic, our initial response was swift – in large part because GNWT staff moved from their regular jobs to new roles monitoring our borders, and answering phones at ProtectNWT.
In the past few months, we have learned a lot about how to better manage the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through that experience, one of the biggest lessons was how challenging it is to effectively coordinate a pandemic response by managing resources housed in multiple departments.
We heard from residents that they wanted improved communications, better enforcement, improved testing capacity, and a quicker turnaround from Protect NWT. The Secretariat is our response to these needs.
The COVID Coordinating Secretariat ensures we are best prepared to deal with a second wave of the virus. The Secretariat will improve our ability to implement measures designed to protect public health and communicate more clearly and effectively with residents and communities.
The vast majority of the work that the Secretariat will be doing is not new. The creation of a central COVID Secretariat will establish a core staff complement that is directly focused on responding to COVID-19 effectively.
The Secretariat will be responsible for administering pandemic-related programs and services that have been on-going since the early days of the pandemic. This includes: Protect NWT, the 811 call line, Isolation Centres, Border Patrol, and Compliance and Enforcement, as well as any functions of the Emergency Management Organization that are directly related to COVID-19.
Like the programs and services, only 10 of the 150 positions required are new and, prior to the establishment of the Secretariat, we had 163 positions from across government working to deliver these services. The new resources are being added to support the operations and logistics components of the Secretariat. Combining these resources into a single organization allows us to better organize ourselves, focus our resources, streamline processes, and find efficiencies.
It is important to note many of the positions in the Secretariat will be filled through transfer assignments from people currently employed by the GNWT. By formalizing the work in this way, it gives clarity to employees and departments about the work before them. Through this approach, departments can focus on the mandate commitments we have been tasked with completing, and those working in the Secretariat can give that work the attention it needs.
By drawing these resources together under one roof, we enhance coordination of our pandemic response, and create a clearer, more effective, and efficient accountability structure, with a core staff complement that is directly focused on COVID-19.
Of the $86 million in funding allocated to the Secretariat over three fiscal years, only $5.2 million is new investment. The rest of this funding covers the programming already in place. As the program and service delivery is amalgamated, one of the objectives of the Secretariat will be to look for cost savings. We are also working closely with our Federal counterparts to secure more funding on top of what we have already received through other agreements. This includes the Safe Restart Program, which recently provided the GNWT with $14.8 million, reducing the overall costs to the government to ensure the health and safety of residents.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had an impact on our ability to advance the mandate set out by all Members of the House, however, I am confident we are making progress despite this unprecedented challenge.
Our focus needs to be on advancing the priorities and mandate of the 19th Legislative Assembly, and as we allocate resources to the new COVID Coordinating Secretariat, departments will be better able to focus on the work we were elected to do before the pandemic.
Although our success to date wouldn’t have been possible without the collective support of the public, Indigenous and Community Governments, community leaders, the private and non-governmental sectors, it was largely made possible by the immense effort of our public service. The GNWT is dedicated to remaining diligent and proactive as we protect the health and well-being of NWT residents.