N.W.T. premier shuffles cabinet, takes over Municipal and Community Affairs portfolio

Premier Caroline Cochrane adds her old portfolio back to her responsibilities as she takes a 'hands on' approach to how the Northwest Territories continues its response to COVID-19.

Caroline Cochrane says she wants to take 'a more hands on' approach to COVID-19 response

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane takes over the Municipal and Community Affairs Department from Paulie Chinna, who was appointed to the position last year. Cochrane previously held that portfolio in the 18th Assembly.  (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane is taking over the municipal and community affairs ministry, a move she says will allow her to better manage the territory's response to COVID-19. 

Cochrane announced the cabinet shuffle Tuesday morning. She'll be responsible for administering the Emergency Management Act, overseeing the Emergency Management Organization and give direct oversight to the government's overall response to COVID-19. 

Cochrane takes over the Municipal and Community Affairs file from Paulie Chinna, who was appointed to the position last year. Cochrane previously held that portfolio from 2015-2018 in the 18th Assembly.

Taking over the department will give her a "hands on role" as COVID-19 continues to spread, she said. 

"The challenge COVID-19 presents to the Northwest Territories requires a co-ordinated, team approach from cabinet to manage successfully," Cochrane said. "As leader of the team, I feel it is my responsibility to take a more hands-on role."   

As of Tuesday morning, the Northwest Territories has five confirmed cases of COVID-19, one is in recovery.

In Tuesday's briefing, Cochrane reiterated safety directions and once again promised more enforcement of health orders would be coming this week.

I do not have access to the information on who has COVID-19 and what community.- N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane

She also defended the government's decision to not name small communities where COVID-19 is identified, a decision that has come under fire from some leaders in small communities who want to be told when a patient with COVID-19 is in their community.

Once again, Cochrane said that information is confidential and that in fact, she will not be told that information either.

"I know leaders across the board are not happy with that," Cochrane said. "But I have to say ... I do not have access to the information on who has COVID-19 and what community."

"I respect that as an individual, and I respect that as a premier."

Health officials in Nunavut and Nunavik are naming communities where COVID-19 is present. In Yukon, community leaders will know, while the public will not, while the Northwest Territories is keeping the name confidential unless it's in one of the regional centres. 

Still confident in Chinna's abilities: premier

Cochrane acknowledged she leads a new and inexperienced government and she has the most experience among her cabinet. 

"We've only been into this for five months," she said. "It made sense [to take over], because of my experience, because of the dynamics of this government." 

Did you miss the premier's media briefing? Watch it in full below.  


Even in removing Chinna, Cochrane expressed confidence in Chinna's abilities and praised her performance in the role.

When asked about whether anything was not to her satisfaction, she replied: "absolutely not." 

"This pandemic has become all encompassing," Cochrane said. "It's not just one department being impacted, it's all of government, and that's the premier's role." 

Chinna will remain responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation and the minister responsible for homelessness. She was not present at Tuesday's media briefing, nor was quoted in the news release — something Cochrane said was an oversight.  

Cochrane said she'll look to return the Municipal and Community Affairs portfolio once the pandemic passes.