The Northwest Territories’ move back to strict limits on gatherings in some communities could mean changes at polling stations on September 20.
Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, Dettah, and Behchokǫ̀ will from 5pm on Wednesday return to restrictions familiar from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic: no more than five guests in a home, public indoor gathering limits of 25, and an outdoor limit of 50.
The territory’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, says the newly reintroduced gathering limits will last until at least the end of September 22, two days after polling day in this month’s snap federal election.
At polling stations, where the flow of voters isn’t always easily predicted, those limits are going to prove a challenge.
“We’re working to assess the impact of the new orders, and to ensure our polling places are compliant with the new orders and safe for both electors and election workers,” said Leanne Tait, Elections Canada’s returning officer in the NWT, by email on Wednesday afternoon – hours after the restrictions were announced.
“We’re looking at a few different options to determine which best suits electors and the election process,” Tait continued.
“We’re alive to this and prepared to make the necessary modifications to ensure safe and accessible polling places.”
The NWT’s Covid-19 Secretariat did not immediately respond when asked what, if any, guidance it was providing to election staff to ensure polling day activities are safe and obey the public health order.
Union backs restrictions
In a separate development, the Union of Northern Workers threw its support behind Kandola’s Wednesday announcement.
Todd Parsons, approaching his final month as the union’s leader before he leaves the role after almost 20 years, said the UNW “welcomes the measures.”
The union represents thousands of NWT government and other public-sector workers in the territory, alongside some diamond mine staff.
Parsons said the new gathering limits – and the GNWT’s decision to send home workers who can reasonably do their jobs remotely – would “address the unease many workers have been feeling during current outbreak.”
“Today’s announcement also acknowledges the extreme strain this outbreak has placed on our territory’s healthcare staff who are bearing the brunt of the rising caseloads, both on the front lines and behind the scenes,” Parsons said in a statement.
“The UNW has confidence in our chief public health officer to make the tough decisions required to keep us all safe, and we fully support the orders and recommendations being enacted to stop the spread of Covid-19 in our communities.”