North

N.W.T. unveils broad stroke economic and social COVID-19 recovery plan

The premier of the Northwest Territories says her government needs to prepare for a "new normal" as it looks for ways to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic that's strangled the economy and changed the way the territory delivers services to residents.

'The planning for this needs to be inclusive' says premier

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane unveiled an economic and social recovery plan for the territory to MLAs on Wednesday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The premier of the Northwest Territories says her government needs to prepare for a "new normal" as it looks for ways to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic that's strangled the economy and changed the way the territory delivers services to residents.

Caroline Cochrane along with the ministers of finance and industry, tourism and investment unveiled a broad strokes plan to MLAs Wednesday during a virtual Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight. 

"The way we conduct business of government and provide services has already changed and we need to prepare for what people are calling the 'new normal,'" Cochrane said.

To that end, she laid out a three-part plan that came with a lot of question marks about what the territory will do and how it will go about it.

Three R plan

The first "response" aspect of the plan includes many things the territory is already doing, including implementing travel restrictions and closing government offices.

The "recovery" part of the plan includes monitoring for a "second wave," and potential stimulus spending and tax changes.

The third piece, dubbed "resiliency" includes potentially reviewing the legislative framework of health care, accelerating a "digital government" and diversifying the economy.

The territory plans to form advisory committees and engage with different stakeholders to help the government move forward with its plan with more details expected soon.

"The planning for this needs to be inclusive and the objective for seeing our territory emerge stronger and more capable then it was just a few weeks ago," Cochrane said.

She said the pandemic has brought many issues in the territory to the fore, including housing and internet connectivity and has changed the way education and health care is being delivered.

"We should not expect that we can simply return to the programs we had before and we need to be planning for continued and strengthened programs, services and supports ahead," she said.

The plan does not include a timeline.

Plan slim on specifics

Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North, was concerned about the lack of detail in the plan.

"I'm concerned that this presentation has zero dollars attached to it," he said.

"When is the GNWT [Government of the Northwest Territories] going to spend some money?"

The territory's Minister of Finance Caroline Wawzonek said there have been a lot of economic announcements already, including through the federal government.

"We want to be a little bit careful before we commit to too many things in the sense that we need to make sure we have our own fiscal house in order before we start making those commitments," she said. 

"That is exactly why I think we're trying to put this plan before the MLAs right now."

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