Economic recovery is where the passionately, oft-repeated cry of “We are all in this together” becomes an empty platitude. When it comes to the economy, we are not in this all together. As I pointed out early on in a column asking the question: Do Northerners have what it takes to defeat COVID-19, GNWT workers got a raise on April 1, at the very same time businesses were laying off, shutting down, wondering what financial calamity means in every future moment.
Are we to begrudge them that raise, those of us on the brink? No, but it would not be mean-spirited to say: “GNWT workers, we need your help to keep our businesses alive and our people employed.”
The fact that the NWT is now COVID-free is an indisputable win for the GNWT leadership, staff and the people they serve. But there is a major element missing in the bureaucracy’s battle to save our economy: EMPATHY. It’s not difficult, when faced with a deadly disease, to do the right thing, to go the extra mile, to adapt and scramble to get the job done, because you know your family is at as much risk as your neighbour’s. But when it comes to business, when you have a stable income, you lack that stress felt by workers and business owners in the private sector.
Acting quickly to do the right thing won’t come naturally, if it comes at all. Not because you are not a good person, but because you don’t face the same harsh fate.
I am finding first hand in my business dealings with GNWT staff, emails or phone calls may or may not be returned for days or weeks, with no explanation why. I know too, after living in the North for the last three decades, the GNWT has a reputation for this in the business community, pre-COVID. Why? Because they are not in business. Their livelihood depends on satisfying supervisors, directors and managers, not the people or businesses they serve. Public service is not seen the same as customer service.
But now public service is more than customer service, much more. It’s helping Northern families stay afloat on stormy economic waters. Spend and buy North must become as passionate and heartfelt a war cry as STAY SAFE. People will be turning to GNWT staff for survival, from loans, to sales, to information, to a roof over their heads, even food. You are our frontline staff, our essential workers, our safety net. Thinking no one cares hurts worse than the fear of what’s to come.
So answer phone calls as quickly as you can. Answer emails promptly, even if to tell a person when you can help them. If an application for any service lacks a checked box, contact the person to help them fill it out, don’t send it back or to the bottom of the pile. If this happens folks, call your MLA for help. The politicians have to set the standard at the top, for the people they lead. Otherwise, eventually we will all be in this together – a shrunken territory with a morally bankrupt government.
Remember, there are 5,000 GNWT employees to serve 45,000 people in 14,760 households. That’s one position for every three households. Better not hear anyone in the GNWT say they are too busy to help those two neighbours.