Premier Caroline Cochrane told MLAs Tuesday that the challenges of Covid-19 aren’t over yet, as the second session of the 19th Legislative Assembly returned for the first time since the assembly sitting was suspended in March because of the pandemic.
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Proceedings looked quite different than they did two months previously, with hand sanitizer offered to all entrants inside the assembly building and the gallery in the Chamber closed to members of the public. All MLAs and cabinet members filed into the Chamber wearing face masks until the proceedings began. They then sat in accordance with physical distancing rules.
In her opening statement, Premier Caroline Cochrane outlined the facts of the pandemic situation and how her government has faced it.
“Covid-19 presents a shared challenge like none this government has faced before, Mr. Speaker. No previous territorial government has had to respond to a global health threat so quickly and with so little time to prepare,” she said.
Cochrane listed some of the forms of assistance her government has undertaken with the help of the federal government, including $8.7 million in funding for Northern airlines, $13.2 million in low-interest loans for Covid-affected businesses through the Business Development and Investment Corporation and $5 million for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation for temporary housing for homeless people.
The premier thanked and recognized the efforts of essential workers such as truckers, grocery store and pharmacy workers, child care workers, law enforcement, and airline employees who have “continued to keep the Northwest Territories moving.”
While acknowledging that the challenges of the pandemic aren’t over yet, she expressed her confidence that NWT residents can manage the situation and emerge stronger.
Health Minister Diane Thom, speaking about the GNWT’s public health response, said it was likely the territory will experience more cases of coronavirus and that community spread could occur.
“To rise to the challenge, we may need to call on everyone to make sacrifices again,” she said, referring to the restrictions on businesses and public life as a safeguard against the spread of the virus.
“We are calling on residents to accept that some measures will be in place for a long time,” she said.
Personal Protective Equipment
During question period, Julie Green, MLA for Yellowknife Centre, asked Thom about availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the NWT and whether there’s enough on hand.
“We need to prepare for the second wave (of Covid) and we need to prepare PPE when flu season comes,” said Thom. “The idea is to continue to stockpile. And we can see by region and communities and we can track how much PPE we need. Some places only have enough PPE for a few days, so we know when to send it out. Municipal and Community Affairs is working on distributing PPE to Indigenous groups in the communities.”
Resumption of mandate
Kevin O’Reilly, MLA for Frame Lake, asked Cochrane if ministers would receive letters related to her government’s 2019-2023 mandate, which seeks new housing units, action on climate change and economic diversification.
The premier said in response that the Covid pandemic forced the GNWT to step back from the mandate but that the letters were being prepared and would be made public.