North

N.W.T. premier apologizes to public 'hurt' by senior staff holiday travel 

“I apologize to the public that has been hurt by this," Premier Caroline Cochrane said in the legislative assembly Friday. "That was not the intent." 

'I apologize to the public that has been hurt by this,' Caroline Cochrane says

'I apologize to the public that has been hurt by this,' Premier Caroline Cochrane said in the legislative assembly Friday. 'That was not the intent.' (Walter Strong/CBC)

Premier Caroline Cochrane apologized Friday for government senior staff travel outside of the territories over the Christmas holidays — weeks after the travel first made headlines.

"I apologize to the public that has been hurt by this," Cochrane said in the legislative assembly Friday. "That was not the intent."

In January, CBC News learned that six senior government staffers had travelled outside of the territory for vacation during the holiday season in spite of concerns about bringing COVID-19 into the territory from the South.

Cochrane was responding to questions from Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty who was sharply critical of Cochrane's response to date. 

"Even when faced with a groundswell of public displeasure, she justifies these double standards by her stonewalling," Lafferty said. "That's instead of moral courage and leadership by example that northerners deserve out of a premier. Mr. Speaker, this raises questions about her abilities and about the transparency."

Contradictory answers

Lafferty pressed the premier to explain who approved the travel.

Cochrane said ministers are "directly responsible for approving leave for their deputy ministers," before adding, confusingly, that deputy ministers do "have to notify, but they are responsible for their own."

That contradicts a Dec. 31 email to the CBC in which Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green said she had approved the leave for her deputy minister who travelled to Newfoundland during the holidays. 

Cochrane also pointed out that senior bureaucrats were not the only ones travelling against the advice of the chief public health officer. 

"I also know that over 1,500 people from the N.W.T. left the N.W.T. for leisure travel during that time," Cochrane said. "I do believe that everyone who left … had tough decisions to make. They made them in the best interests as they've seen fit."

Cochrane said she has since told cabinet ministers and senior staff that she will not support travel south until the end of the pandemic, "unless it's extreme situations." 

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