The NWT’s Legislative Assembly will close down from Tuesday next week, around two weeks earlier than planned, to let the territorial government focus on coronavirus.
Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr made the announcement on Friday morning, saying: “The suspension of our current sitting will free up resources to focus on preparing for and responding to the potential spread of Covid-19 to the Northwest Territories.”
In a news release, staff at the legislature said the action was taken in consultation with cabinet and regular MLAs.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the legislature was to have closed next week anyway while the Arctic Winter Games took place, as is tradition.
With the Games now cancelled over coronavirus concerns, Blake said an extra day at the legislature would now be scheduled for Monday to pass a form of interim budget.
Approving an interim bill will ensure the territorial government can continue spending money over the next three months, as suspending the legislature means MLAs won’t be able to complete their scrutiny of the new government’s first proposed budget.
Instead, budget discussions will resume in May, Blake said.
No Arctic cruises this summer
The move followed a similar suspension announced nationally by the House of Commons on Thursday morning.
Parliament is being temporarily closed and the Liberal minority government’s budget postponed.
The House of Commons will be adjourned until at least April 20. In the NWT, the legislature is expected to resume sitting on May 26.
A youth parliament planned for the NWT legislature earlier in May has been cancelled. All tours of the legislature building are suspended.
Meanwhile, federal transport minister Marc Garneau said no northern or Arctic cruises would be permitted this summer.
Garneau said northern and Arctic cruises “will be deferred for the entire season.”
“These measures apply to ships carrying at least 500 people,” he tweeted. “For ferries and smaller vessels, we are developing strengthened health measures and approaches.”
Ottawa is concerned smaller northern communities do not have the facilities to cope, should a coronavirus outbreak occur aboard a cruise or a passenger transmit the virus to a community.