Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane has officially announced the creation of a Covid-19 Coordinating Secretariat to manage the territorial government’s response to the pandemic.
In a press release Thursday, the government noted that, to date, its pandemic response has involved many government departments, non-government agencies, and organizations from across the territory. It said the secretariat will create a single agency within the government to respond to Covid-19 from several departments.
“Early on, it was made clear that the challenges Covid-19 presents to the Northwest Territories requires a coordinated approach,” Premier Caroline Cochrane was quoted as saying. “The Covid-19 Coordinating Secretariat pulls together Covid-19 related supports and resources from multiple departments, teaming them up to meet the challenges of management and oversight of the GNWT’s response in the best and most efficient way. This is a necessary move and one that I am confident will benefit Northwest Territories residents as we continue to adjust to the impacts of Covid-19.”
The secretariat will be responsible for border compliance, enforcement, Protect NWT, isolation centres, and personal protective equipment.
Objectives for the secretariat include establishing a clear accountability and responsibility framework; providing dedicated resources to managing the territorial government’s Covid-19 activities; considering the health, economic and legal impacts of the government’s actions; and supporting a clear and coordinated communications.
The secretariat will be part of the Department of Health and Social Services. It will be led by Deputy Minister Russell Neudorf who will report directly to the premier. Neudorf is currently an associate deputy minister with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs responsible for the Emergency Management Organization.
Deputy Minister Russell Neudorf in a screenshot of Thursday’s public briefing.
Cochrane told Cabin Radio the government was considering such a coordinating unit in late July, saying its current organizational structure for dealing with the pandemic was not sustainable.
In a public briefing on Thursday afternoon, Neudorf said the territory’s current emergency structures were not designed for the scope, scale and far-reaching impact of the pandemic. While the government was able to respond quickly to Covid-19 out of necessity, he said, there has been role confusion and challenges with communication and accountability.
Neudorf said the government has learned from its experience over the past five months and identified areas where it can improve. That includes reducing the reliance on redeployed government staff.
Secretariat to have staff of 150
According to the government’s numbers, 163 full and part-time employees – excluding staff with the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer – have been working on the Covid-19 response, the majority redeployed from other areas of government.
Neudorf said it’s “not realistic” for departments to sustain and advance their regular work while staff are redeployed, however.
Cochrane added that staff managing things like border control have been doing their regular work “off the side of their desk,” and accruing overtime costs.
“People were burning out quickly,” she said.
The secretariat will be staffed by a a total of 150 positions – 125 full time, 12 part time and 12 relief. While 84 per cent of the positions will be located in Yellowknife, the remainder will be spread across Inuvik, Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, and Norman Wells.
Currently redeployed staff will be given an opportunity to convert their redeployment into transfer positions with the secretariat.
The government estimates that the Coordinating Secretariat will remain in place for up to two years.