The Northwest Territories government estimates the newly created Covid-19 Coordinating Secretariat will cost $86.1 million over the next three years.
According to numbers from cabinet, the secretariat is projected to cost $32.7 million between 2020 and 2021, $40.5 million between 2021 and 2022, and $13.9 million between 2022 and 2023.
Finance minister Caroline Wawzonek said those numbers are based on the cost of the territory’s current pandemic response measures.
“These are costs we’re already incurring,” she told Cabin Radio. “The Covid secretariat, in and of itself, is largely bringing together the costs and in fact, if anything, we’ll have a better sense of what this is costing the GNWT.”
Wawzonek said that will make it easier for the territory to request funding from the federal government.
Several MLAs raised concerns about the cost of the secretariat during a public briefing on Thursday. Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty said the figures were “worrisome” while Deh Cho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge called them “mind-blowing.”
The territorial government, however, said some of those costs will be covered by the federal government, including the $23.4 million Ottawa gave the NWT in April. The GNWT is negotiating with the federal government for a second northern funding bundle.
MLAs will be tasked with implementing a supplemental funding bill for the secretariat during the upcoming session of the Legislative Assembly.
Wawzonek said isolation centres account for the highest costs in the territory’s pandemic response, due to the cost of 14 days’ room and board at a hotel along with security costs and staffing.
While some people are responsible for paying their own self-isolating costs, the minister said the government is paying for NWT residents like teachers who are newcomers to the territory.
During the briefing, Premier Caroline Cochrane said the government is hoping to reduce the 14-day isolation period, and associated costs, by increasing rapid testing capacity in the NWT.
Dr Sarah Cook, the territory’s outgoing medical director, said an announcement about testing will be made in the coming weeks.
Cochrane announced the new secretariat on Thursday, saying it will foster greater clarity, accountability, and consistency in the territory’s pandemic response. The secretariat will be responsible for border compliance, enforcement, Protect NWT, 811, isolation centres, and personal protective equipment.
Until now, multiple government departments and agencies have been involved in the response, which Cochrane admitted had led to confusion – even among cabinet members.
The secretariat will be staffed by 150 full-time, part-time, and relief positions. To date, the GNWT. says163 full-time and part-time staff have worked on the territory’s pandemic response, many deployed from other areas of government.
The government is working on a breakdown of how many of those 150 positions will be new hires.