Nunakput MLA says COVID-19 partly to blame for prolonged absence from N.W.T. Legislature

Jackie Jacobson missed 14 sitting days over the last month, in part because he caught COVID-19 while in Alaska during the Legislative Assembly's March break.

Jackie Jacobson says he continued to represent his constituents while not at the Legislative Assembly

Jackie Jacbosn's last appearance in the Legislative Assembly chamber was Feb. 25. As Northern News Services reported, the MLA missed a number of sitting days first, because of his daughter's wedding, and then because he caught COVID-19 while in Alaska. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The MLA for Nunakput says he didn't intend to miss 14 days of N.W.T. Legislative Assembly sittings over the last month, or the vote on the territorial budget.

Jackie Jacobson's last appearance in the Legislative Assembly chamber was Feb. 25. As Northern News Services first reported, the MLA said he missed a number of sitting days first, because of his daughter's wedding in Whitehorse, and then because he caught COVID-19 while in Alaska.

"I haven't been in the House due to having my daughter's wedding, which is personal and I wasn't going to miss that," Jacobson said.

The wedding was followed by a two-week break in legislative sittings. "I would have made it to the last week of sitting," said Jacobson, "but I ended up getting COVID-19."

'My family is my priority'

Jacobson told CBC News that his daughter's wedding celebrations took place in Whitehorse the weekend of March 5. 

He and his wife left the weekend before, driving from Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

"My family is my priority," said Jacobson, adding the Legislative Assembly was aware he'd be away.

The Legislative Assembly was originally set to reconvene on Feb. 2, but the session was postponed until Feb. 21 because of COVID-19 outbreaks in the territory.

A legislative assembly spokesperson confirmed that Jacobson told them about the wedding.

She also noted that had the assembly stuck to its original schedule, MLAs would have had the day off either the Friday before the wedding, or the Monday after, so Jacobson wouldn't have missed as many sitting days.

Jacobson said he drove back to Tuktoyaktuk after the wedding, and arrived late at night on March 9. He said had he flown to Yellowknife the following day, he would have missed most of that day's sitting, and the day after was the Friday before the assembly's two-week March break. 

"I just decided to stay home and do constituency work out of Tuk," he said.

'I didn't plan on catching COVID'

During the two week break, Jacobson travelled to Tok, Alaska, to support his son, who was competing in the Tok Dog Mushers Association's Tok Race of Champions. 

On his way home for the last week of sittings March 28 to 31, Jacobson hit an unfortunate stumbling block — he tested positive for COVID-19 on the U.S. side of the border.

As of April 1, a COVID-19 test is no longer required for fully-vaccinated travellers entering Canada.

Jacobson, said that upon testing positive, he phoned the Canadian government and was told he would be denied re-entry. He added that he's double-vaccinated and boosted. 

"I didn't plan on catching COVID, that's for damn sure," he said. 

He said he told the Legislative Assembly on March 28 that he had the virus and wouldn't make it for the last week of the sittings. He then waited out his illness in Fairbanks, Alaska.

"This COVID really hits you hard and for me, I have a heart issue already. I was pretty damn worried," he said. 

The Legislative Assembly spokesperson said Jacobson was absent on the Monday due to "personal reasons," and Tuesday through Thursday due to illness.

MLA absences are publicly reported. The spokesperson said the attendance records for the last month haven't been compiled yet.

Jacobson said Monday that he's feeling better and is now in Yukon and heading back home.

He also said that even though he was physically absent for the last month, he continued to work.

"I've been taking all calls and getting any concerns brought forward from my constituents to the appropriate minister," he said.

"So it's not like I haven't been doing my job, I just haven't been in the House."