NOTES/QUOTES #21: Unprecedented plea from biz community; sane voices fight #Covidcrazy; and a new sign of the times
“The GNWT relinquished many of its governing responsibilities at the outset of this pandemic. The decision-making authority of the CPHO can no longer take place in a vacuum. Businesses in the Northwest Territories are doing their best to survive. Our elected officials need to step up and govern lest we see irreparable damage to our once vibrant business community.” — media release from NWT business groups
Finally, some pushback to the #Covidcrazy restrictions by the territorial government to the day-to-day pandemic reality in the NWT.
Using many of the same arguments I have made in previous blogs, five business associations speaking on behalf of most of the businesses in the Northwest Territories made an extraordinary plea last week for the GNWT to ease some of the public health restrictions imposed on how we live, work and play.
There have also been a very few other commentators in mainstream media and on social platforms who are finally calling for some sanity in the overly cautious approach by the GNWT to re-opening after one of the toughest COVID-19 clampdowns in the country.
Firstly, I must applaud the fast and effective moves made by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola. The GNWT leadership stepped aside and allowed her to impose a medical public policy dream plan that has been very effective in keeping the novel coronavirus out of here — save for five cases early on, which have all recovered and without causing any community spread.
But as our borders remain ‘closed’ — visitors must either be essential workers or be prepared to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival — we are in a nice, virus-free bubble. I feel safe. I don’t wear a mask unless I have to (in the courthouse, when I’m reporting), I wash my hands a lot and I haven’t travelled outside the NWT. But I plan to do the latter later this summer.
However, we are still living in a world dominated by a doctor, who obviously wants to do whatever she can to keep us virus free. But life is about balancing risk and reward. And right now, we are taking no risk and enjoying few rewards of a normal life. Especially in our short, sweet summer that is shaping up to be (touch wood) a sunny and warm delight, compared to the past couple of cloudy and cool June-through-August no-parka windows.
We should move into the Emerging Wisely Phase 3 immediately, instead of waiting until after the predicted “second wave” of the virus. Our first wave was a ripple. And we should be thankful for that. But we need to move forward embracing our reality.
For the sake of our economy and our mental health, we need to open up pretty much everything except the border. If we do get a few cases, then we stomp them down. If we get community spread, we can then roll back some of the freedoms. On a community-by-community basis.
Because if we wait too long, we will do irreparable damage to our beloved home. Sure, a large portion of our workforce is with the GNWT and is maybe even enjoying working from home. Sure, the GNWT workers have had to home-school their kids — the education gap we will experience is a whole other story, the collective intelligence of an entire generation could be bruised — but they must realize we still need an economy. If we lose businesses, we lose taxes. If we have people moving away, we lose transfer payments. Both of those situation will result in government job losses.
Please read the fantastic statement below from the business community. It’s an impassioned plea to Premier Caroline Cochrane, her cabinet and all of our elected leaders. I’m printing it here in full, as it needs to be read, shared, discussed and acted on:
NWT Businesses Want a More Balanced Approach to Protecting Public Health and Supporting Economic Recovery
Five professional associations representing the majority of businesses in the Northwest Territories call on the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) and the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) to work collaboratively to strike a better balance between public health requirements and plans to safely re-open the economy.
In the Northwest Territories, swift and effective actions have been successful at preventing the spread of COVID-19. By essentially putting the NWT into an induced coma for its own protection, there have been no active cases of COVID-19 since April 6, 2020.
We applaud the initial responses of the CPHO and some of the initial economic relief that the GNWT was able to provide. Nevertheless, the NWT’s strong COVID-19 response has come at a heavy price and it is getting worse every day with businesses and their workers suffering the effects:
Our tourism and hospitality industries are barely clinging to life;
- Our minerals industry is struggling and one of our mines has already closed; and
- Our aviation industry is besieged and hoping to survive.
Prolonging this induced coma is having calamitous effects and we now need urgent action in order to preserve businesses and ensure the survival of the private sector.
In an economy dominated by government, we fear there is no sense of urgency. Two weeks into Phase 2 of Emerging Wisely and the Government of the Northwest Territories’ response has been woefully out of step with the private sector. GNWT workers remain on full pay with no consequences to their personal incomes, household costs, or pensions (which we note, are largely supported by the taxes paid by the Northern and Indigenous-owned businesses that we represent).
The GNWT has shown no initiative in adapting to Phase 2 restrictions while virtually all its employees continue to work from home where that is possible.
The NWT business community is leading the way in adapting to Phase 2 restrictions by re-opening safely in the face of an opaque and restrictive public health regime.
It is time now to bring the economy out of its coma. To this end, we call on the GNWT and the CPHO to work collaboratively to strike a better balance between public health requirements and the requirement that the economy safely re-open. This includes:
- Revealing to the public what the economic price tag to date on the NWT has been and any economic forecasting the GNWT has performed;
- Easing travel and quarantine restrictions for those entering the territory, even if not uniformly across the NWT;
- Welcoming GNWT employees back to the workplace in a manner consistent with the private sector;
- Providing consistent and prompt answers from the CPHO on how her office will interpret rules and grant exemptions to those rules;
- Ensuring consistent and accurate messaging regarding the public health emergency.
The GNWT relinquished many of its governing responsibilities at the outset of this pandemic. The decision-making authority of the CPHO can no longer take place in a vacuum. Businesses in the Northwest Territories are doing their best to survive. Our elected officials need to step up and govern lest we see irreparable damage to our once vibrant business community.
The statement is signed by: NWT Chamber of Commerce president Jenni Bruce; NWT Tourism chair Harold Grinde; Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce president Tim Syer; NWT & NU Chamber of Mines executive director Tom Hoefer; and NWT & NU Construction Association executive director Matt Belliveau.
These are serious people taking a serious stand. Will the premier listen to them? Will any of her ministers — hello, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Katrina Nokleby — speak up and force the issue? Or are they all just off for the summer, since the Assembly rose June 12 and won’t be back in session until Oct. 15?
MORE STRAIGHT TALK ON THE GNWT’S #COVIDCRAZY RULES
In the June 24 edition of News/North, columnist Stephen Ellis asks the question: “Do we really need social distancing?”
Ellis’s column bio states he works with Tides Canada — described as “a quiet leader in environmental and social justice philanthropy in Canada for the last 20 years,” which has just changed its name to MakeWay — so this fellow isn’t exactly a reckless right-wing anti-masker, raging against public policies designed to protect people.
He’s just stating the plain facts from his lived experience right now in the NWT.
Here’s are some excerpts from his piece:
There sure isn’t a lot of social distancing going on.
From what I can tell, it seems that most people are ignoring this directive. Yet, no COVID-19 cases are emerging. So I scratch my head and ask myself, as I am sure many others are doing: Do we really need to be social distancing right now?
With no coronavirus in the territory, and little opportunity for it to come in, why are we supposed to behave like every next person in the NWT might be infected? From my perspective, it is making less and less sense.
Even if the occasional coronavirus carrier were able to slip through our strict border controls, we should have the capacity to contain any spread quickly with our underused rapid testing technology and our idle but ready contact tracing protocols.
The NWT may be in the privileged position to considerably ease social distancing requirements for the time being. For those of us who are largely ignoring social distancing requirements already, this won’t mean all that much. But for a business struggling to reopen or a family gathering to pay respects to a loved one during their last days, this could make a world of difference.
Makes sense to me. However, the silence from most MLAs and many other elected officials — such as Mayor Rebecca Alty and city council — on the too-harsh COVID-19 clampdown is deafening. No one seems to want to contradict or pushback on what our de-facto Dr. Premier Kandola is doing to us. Her job is to keep us medically safe. She is but one advisor to our real premier and her cabinet.
But out of fear or ignorance, nobody is speaking out or offering any balance to the approach being taken.
I note one MLA — Yellowknife North’s Rylund Johnson — has started a fundraising campaign for the Yellowknife Women’s Society that features an image of Kandola on a T-shirt. Now that’s cute. Cabin Radio reported it’s inspired by other fundraising efforts across Canada that feature the names or faces of female chief public health officers.
I have always supported the women’s society’s new Arnica Inn housing project, which will benefit from money raised by Johnson’s project. The re-purposed hotel is currently being used as a COVID-19 isolation centre for homeless people. It is also continuing the apparently successful managed alcohol program started as a pilot project in April in the downtown Sobering Centre/Day Shelter.
So sure, I might even buy a Kandola T-shirt, but I’m not buying into all of her COVID-19 restrictions.
But I digress, back to Ellis’s writing. Here is a comment left on the NNSL website on Ellis’s column on the silliness of social distancing at this time:
June 24, 2020 at 3:20 pm
Have to agree with you re: social distancing does not make sense, however, have to admit I have enjoyed having my personal space back again. What else that has been confusing is how scared some people are to be out and about. This does not make sense (to me) either. If you are that afraid, then just stay home.
I note that in our neighbouring territory, some Yukoners have mounted a charter challenge to the COVID-19 laws there.
A CBC North story reports that seven people have joined the lawsuit saying the government’s emergency measures are beyond its legislative powers and violate Canadians’ rights to mobility and assembly under the Charter of Rights of Freedoms.
“I think it sets a very dangerous precedent when the government can unilaterally decide for themselves that it’s an emergency situation,” said Whitehorse area resident Ross Mercer.
“Put this act into place and then extend it at their convenience and at their leisure without it being constantly scrutinized, without it being constantly re-evaluated at the legislative level and in the public’s eye as well.”
In Mercer’s view, reported CBC, the restrictions are harming people’s personal lives, ruining businesses and creating a culture of fear.
“The actual risk to the average person going out is very, very, very low and I think a lot of people are living in more fear than they need to be. And I think that that’s something that needs to be addressed,” Mercer said.
Well stated, sir.
I will keep an eye how things go with that legal move. I hope it will open the eyes of people in the NWT before it’s too late.
NEW STOP SIGN A GOOD SIGNAL
No, the city’s new bilingual Stop sign is not a knee-jerk reaction to the calls for racial equality heard across north America — even in the streets of the NWT capital.
The new traffic signals were in planning stages quite some time ago. As Cabin Radio reported in April, city councillors approved a list of reconciliation projects including the updating of municipal stop signs to include the Wıı̀lıı̀deh word Nı̨̀ı̨̀kè. The plan is to eventually install 40 stop signs in downtown, and in neighbouring communities of Ndilǫ and in Dettah.
Seeing the wording on the new sign, I decided to educate myself a bit on the background of it. Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) actually has two traditional languages, Wıı̀lıı̀deh Yatıı̀, which is a dialect of the Tłı̨chǫ (Dogrib) language, and Tetsǫ́t’ıné Yatıé, which is a dialect of the Dëne Sųłıné (Chipewyan) language.
The Wıı̀lıı̀deh dialect, states the YKDFN website, arose historically when Tetsǫ́t’ıné speakers began to learn the Tłı̨chǫ language, after the peace agreement of 1829. Confusing? Yes. So is a lot of history, as we are discovering these days.
In this video, YKDFN Dettah community Chief Edward Sangris explains how to pronounce nı̨́ı̨́ké:
There is English/French bilingual road signage on territorial highways in the NWT. So when one now drives through the city, you can see English/Wıı̀lıı̀deh signs in the central area and English/French signage with the word Arrêt on the surrounding territorial roadways.
Apart from acknowledging that Yellowknife is located on Chief Drygeese Territory, traditional home of the Yellowknives Dene (and, for your education, also the traditional lands of the North Slave Metis), the signage will add to the cultural charm of the place for tourists. If we ever manage to re-ignite the once white-hot tourism industry that has been all but snuffed out by the COVID-19 clampdown.
In April, Mayor Alty said the Stop signs are the first step, “but stay tuned for more.”
A formal City of Yellowknife reconciliation plan is being developed. Its intention is to create “an overall environment that welcomes and supports Indigenous persons within all City facilities and locations.”