North

N.W.T. MLAs recommend most COVID-19 benefits continue indefinitely

Three committees of regular MLAs made 15 recommendations aimed at improving the territory’s COVID-19 response.

3 committees make 15 recommendations on how to improve COVID-19 response

Three committees offered 15 recommendations to the government on how their COVID-19 response could be improved. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

Three committees of regular MLAs issued their recommendations to the N.W.T. government Tuesday after wrapping up a review of their response to COVID-19 — and mostly, they recommend to stay the course.

The standing committee on social development recommended large subsidies for child care providers, public housing tenants, residents on income assistance, and people earning minimum wage be made permanent or continue indefinitely.

The standing committee on economic development likewise recommended emergency loan and investment programs made available through the territory's Business Development and Investment Corporation should be expanded.

All three committees also included recommendations aimed at improving the government's response during a potential second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.

The standing committee on government operations recommended the government clean up legislation "to ensure that the premier has administrative control during a state of emergency." That state of emergency has been in place for 11 weeks and was extended Tuesday for a sixth time.

That committee also recommended the territory "address public concerns about gaps in enforcement prior to the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19."

The territory's "enforcement task force" has been subject to criticism for spotty records and an inconsistent approach to policing violations of public health orders.

The committee on social development, meanwhile, said programs have so far benefited the capital over more remote regions.

"Limited access to programs and services in small communities is a long-standing concern," their report reads. "Throughout the government's COVID[-19] response, committee members observed differences between the resources and planning made available to address the needs of residents in communities and those made available … in  Yellowknife."

It also suggested that the Department of Education, Culture and Employment "focus on positive interventions and outreach to improve relationships between families of 'high risk' or vulnerable students."

MLAs voiced concern that programs intended to reduce the impact of COVID-19 benefited Yellowknife over other communities. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Recommendations cover more than pandemic response

The three committees each issued five recommendations as part of their evaluation.

While the focus of their work was to evaluate the response to COVID-19, the recommendations include items not immediately related to the pandemic.

The standing committee on economic development recommended the government review the business incentive policy, for example, a long-derided program intended to give local companies a leg-up in the bidding process.

"50.7 per cent of the total population is Indigenous, and yet there is no specific policy in the N.W.T. that supports the development of Indigenous businesses," the report from the committee reads. "[The] committee is recommending tangible action on this in a shorter term."

It also recommended the government identify the Indigenous partners in the multi-billion dollar Taltson Hydroelectric project, and determine the cost of expanding broadband to all 33 communities. That was seconded by the committee on government operations.

The recommendations will go to the floor of the Legislative Assembly Thursday, where members will move, debate, and vote on each one. A second set of motions will require the government to respond within 120 days.

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