More than one year after the Covid-19 pandemic first hit the Northwest Territories, the territorial government has released its social and economic recovery plan – but it’s fuzzy on details.
Premier Caroline Cochrane released the 40-page report, titled Emerging Stronger, on Monday. It describes actions the territorial government has taken to date in response to the pandemic and sets out a number of recovery goals – largely based on pre-existing legislature mandate commitments.
The report includes few details about exactly how those goals will be achieved, and no financial commitments.
For example, the report states the territory will continue to “further efforts to support broadband infrastructure for fast and reliable internet services across the NWT” by pressing for federal policy changes and urging the CRTC to regulate and lower rates. It says the timeline for that goal is “ongoing” and will be measured by “efforts made to lobby the federal government.”
Other goals in the report include building stronger partnerships with Indigenous and community governments and the non-profit sector; reviewing the student financial assistance program; and supporting the tourism, aviation, construction, hospitality, and mining sectors.
There are some specific commitments in the report, including completing five emergency planning workshops per year, implementing a new electronic medical record system by 2024, and providing regionally based career and education advisors to support grade 9 to 12 students this school year.
Many of the plans detailed in the report have been previously announced by the territory, including the transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic university, an accelerated review of the NWT’s procurement policy, and work on a territorial alcohol strategy.
The premier has said the report – which notes the next 18 months are expected to be a “time of transition and ongoing uncertainty” – will be a “living document” that is subject to change.
Even before the pandemic, the territory’s economy was in decline, due in part to ageing diamond mines and a lack of economic diversification. The report states that if this continues, there will be “significantly less” government-funded programs and services over the next five to 10 years.
While this decline has continued and been exacerbated by the pandemic, the report says the NWT has fared better than many other jurisdictions with retail sales, jobs, household income, and hours of work all recovering.
According to the report, between 2019 and 2020, real GDP in the NWT shrank by 6.6 percent, diamond production dropped 15.2 percent, resident employment fell 3.9 percent, and the employment rate fell to the lowest rate on record. By comparison, between 2018 and 2019, real GDP fell 8.8 percent, diamond production decreased 21 percent, resident employment was down 0.5 percent and the employment rate fell 0.3 percentage points.
MLAs are expected to debate the recovery plan during the week-long sitting of the legislature.