Safe Restart Agreement Response Letter: Premier of the Northwest Territories

The Right Honourable Justin P. J. Trudeau, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
Ottawa ON K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister:

To protect the health of Canadians, all governments continue to work together effectively to manage the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of these ongoing collaborative efforts, I am pleased to accept additional federal resources to support critical needs over the next six to eight months through the Safe Restart Agreement. These investments will help to protect public health and safety, prepare for potential future waves of the virus, and further support the safe reopening of economies across Canada.

First Ministers recognize that the Territories face distinct challenges and circumstances, which will need to be addressed separately. First Ministers also recognize that smaller jurisdictions may require funding adjustments beyond per capita allocations.

This letter will identify how the Northwest Territories will invest the funds under the Safe Restart Agreement reached between Canada and the Northwest Territories in 2020-21 to reflect our understandings on shared objectives and the funding commitments made in the seven priority areas. The Northwest Territories’ specific allocation and other distribution details for each priority area are also set out and confirmed in the Appendix forming part of this correspondence. This letter, and its Appendix, represents the entire Safe Restart Agreement and terms reached between our two governments.

Testing, Contact Tracing, and Data Management

The goal of this investment is to help provinces and territories reach a collective capacity to test up to 200,000 people per day across Canada, as well as to improve their contact tracing capacities.

The Government of Canada will provide $4.28 billion to support provinces and territories with the costs of increasing their capacity to conduct testing, perform contact tracing, and share public health data that will help fight the pandemic. Funding and support will also be provided to improve and modernize data management across Canada to help all orders of government coordinate their efforts to contain the virus. Provinces and territories will also share information and data, including disaggregated data (e.g. race-based and other demographic data).

The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) priorities include:

The GNWT will continue to work with the Government of Canada and share information on testing supplies and procurement processes in an effort to capture a more national understanding of Canada’s supply and procurement needs. Due to several factors, the GNWT will also require a strong relationship with the Government of Alberta to ramp up testing rates as indicated above.

Health Care System Capacity

COVID-19 has increased the demands on health care systems across Canada and placed additional strain on mental health. This investment is intended to support the health care services and mental health supports that Canadians rely on, as each jurisdiction addresses the impacts of COVID-19.

The Government of Canada will provide $700 million to support health care system capacity to respond to a potential future wave of COVID-19. A further $500 million will address immediate needs and gaps in the support and protection of people experiencing challenges related to mental health, substance use, or homelessness. This investment will help to keep Canadians safe and healthy with the health care supports they need.

The GNWT has adopted the Government of Canada’s Infection Prevention and Control for COVID-19: Interim Guidance for Long Term Care Homes as the minimum standard for infection prevention and control (IPAC) for long term care facilities. The GNWT will continue to support territorial long-term care facilities through related IPAC training for staff, supporting enhanced cleaning in care areas, covering cost of in-facility respite services for Alternate Level Care clients in Acute Care, and the purchases of iPads for virtual visits with family and other care providers. Also, transition to virtual care counseling has eliminated wait times to access mental health supports and will require continued support moving forward.

Additionally, the GNWT will look to continue providing many public-facing supports, such as the COVID Information Line and the Protect NWT webpage, which, alongside the COVID Enforcement Team, supports public messaging and quickly gets information to residents of the Northwest Territories. This, in turn, supports the limited healthcare system capacity within the territory.

Homelessness and mental health supports are also a priority for the GNWT. This includes making apartment buildings available for people experiencing homelessness who are waiting for test results or who are COVID-19 positive. The GNWT will look to continue to provide financial assistance for interim homeless shelter services in Yellowknife, Hay River, and Inuvik to assist the homeless with their self-isolation needs. The GNWT is working directly with community based organizations in each of the regional centres to provide additional mental health and addictions programming to users of the shelters. For example, the Yellowknife Women’s Society is providing programming and supports directly to impacted residents staying at the Arnica Inn in Yellowknife. Housing options have also been made available for persons experiencing homelessness, which includes access to mental health supports and managed alcohol programs. This is further described under the vulnerable populations work.

The GNWT will aim to resource existing housing support responses, including bringing on stream additional territorial housing units across the territory to assist vulnerable families and individuals with their housing and self-isolation needs. This will include utilizing vacant federal housing units, providing maintenance to these units, creating repair initiative programs to utilize public housing, and implementing the enhanced Territorial Transitional Rent Supplement Program and the Homelessness Assistance Fund.

Vulnerable Populations

Canadians receiving long-term care, home care, and palliative care have an increased risk of more severe cases of COVID-19.

As the economy restarts, it is important to have continued protections and supports in place for seniors, and to provide health and social supports to other vulnerable populations.

The Government of Canada will provide $740 million to support costs over the next six to eight months for measures aimed at controlling and preventing infections. This could include addressing non-wage related staffing issues, in long-term care, home care, and palliative care facilities and services. However, as the GNWT has already taken measures to protect seniors in supportive care, funding will be used to support all vulnerable populations in small and remote communities through the enforcement of border controls and isolation centers in the larger communities.

The Northwest Territories has 33 communities, many of which are rural and remote with limited healthcare capacity. The GNWT is focused on taking the necessary measures in order to operationalize the orders issued by the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) to protect small communities, including management of isolation centres and border checkpoints at airports in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River and Fort Smith, and at ground entry points to secure borders in Enterprise (Highway 1), and Dempster (Highway 8) entry points. Highway 7 near Fort Liard remains closed. The GNWT will continue to resource these important safety measures.

Between April 1 and June 30, nearly $2.75 million was spent on isolation centres in the four hub communities. This is an expense of nearly $1 million dollars per month. Isolation centres were established in response to CPHO orders as a means to provide safe and secure places for clients to self-isolate who would otherwise not be able to meet self-isolation requirements under the public health orders. This was deemed the best approach by the CPHO to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread. These centres have been established through collaboration from stakeholders and private industry, with clear operating procedures established and continue to be a priority for the GNWT.

The GNWT has been proactive in our approach to preventing COVID-19 amongst our long term care residents, and have not had any cases.

The GNWT will continue to support the implementation of best infection prevention practices in long term care. As described under the health care capacity priority, the GNWT policies and practices incorporate national guidelines and ensure we are following the directions of the Chief Public Health Officer.

Measures put in place to prevent COVID-19 in long term care include:

We have also been monitoring every long term care resident for symptoms of COVID-19, including temperature checks on each shift.

These measures will help inform the work of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Health Ministers on standards for supportive care, including long term care and home care, building on work from the Common Statement of Principles on Shared Health Priorities, and recent studies and reports. The GNWT is prepared to work with provinces, territories and the Government of Canada to develop national standards for long term care facilities.

Municipalities and Transit

Municipalities are on the front lines of a safe restart of the economy, and need to continue to put in place appropriate precautions to minimize the spread of COVID- 19 and manage public spaces and critical services, like public transit.

The Government of Canada will contribute up to $2 billion to support municipalities with COVID-19 operating costs for the next six to eight months.

Provincial and territorial governments will continue to support municipalities, and will cost-match federal supports with investments flowed this fiscal year for operating costs.

In addition, the Government of Canada will also contribute over $2.3 billion to support any additional contributions by participating provinces or territories for public transit operating costs.

Funds for municipal and transit investments will be cost-shared 50/50 between the Government of Canada and the GNWT. Contributions for municipal supports will recognize provincial and territorial operational investments from April 1, 2020.

The GNWT will provide a direct and verifiable transfer to municipalities for the appropriate amounts and no clawbacks in other forms will occur.

This funding will be to help NWT communities address COVID-related impacts such as additional costs for common COVID-related expenses, including emergency administration, personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning, remote office costs and increased costs related to service delivery, such as security, check stops and other enforcement activities.

Other costs include PPE supplies and upgrades, and measures such as installing plexi-glass barriers for public-facing services. Communities have also experienced lost revenues, net of operating savings, reduced facility rentals, reduced or elimination of community programs and services. Excluding Yellowknife, the average net loss reported is about $7,000 per community or a net loss of approximately 12% of what communities normally would be earning.

The GNWT is directly covering the costs of PPE for community governments and Indigenous governments that have supported continued delivery of essential services. The GNWT is working with municipalities to track COVID-related expenses and lost revenues. These include: facility adaptations, PPE, security, etc. The GNWT will access this funding on a per-capita basis.

Personal Protective Equipment for Health and Non-Health Workers

COVID-19 has added significant pressure to the procurement and supply of PPE for essential health workers and others. Federal, provincial, and territorial  governments have made significant investments in this area and worked collaboratively to ensure availability of the required equipment at all stages of the pandemic.

To support the restart of the economy, the Government of Canada will commit $4.05 billion to purchase PPE for national distribution to provinces and territories, $500 million to support the purchase of PPE for the non-health sector, and commit $3 billion directly to provinces and territories for previous and planned PPE investments. To facilitate future procurement, provinces and territories will regularly share relevant PPE-related data with the Government of Canada.

The GNWT, through the Emergency Management Organization, is being proactive and strategic in securing supplies of PPE for use by GNWT departments and agencies, community and Indigenous governments, and non-government organizations.

Access to Personal Protective Equipment and non-medical face masks is an important element in Emerging Wisely; the GNWT’s phased plan to relax COVID-19 public health restrictions. The GNWT is supporting northern businesses and artists interested in manufacturing PPE and non-medical face masks.

The GNWT is working to procure PPE through the National Stock Pile, while also looking to secure its own independent procurement processes to ensure that the territorial supply remains strong in preparation for a second surge. The GNWT will continue to work to secure supplies through outside procurement processes/vendors, as they become available. This has been difficult for various reasons, which include the relatively small size of NWT orders, compared to other jurisdictions.

Additional resources for PPE for both healthcare and non-healthcare workers remains a key priority to reopening our economy safely.

Child Care for Returning Workers

The Government of Canada is working with provinces and territories to ensure sufficient child care is available so parents can gradually return to the workplace.

The Government of Canada will provide $625 million to help the sector adapt to the COVID-19 environment and address the reduced availability of child care spaces and the unique needs stemming from the pandemic. The GNWT will look to supplement the funding, which has been provided to support access and sustainability of licensed early learning and child care programs; this includes existing funding streams, including the Early Childhood Program (ECP) attendance-based operating subsidy and the regular Early Childhood Staff Grant. This includes some key initiatives such as:

Depending on the situation in the NWT and the length of the pandemic, these funding streams will remain a priority for the GNWT and be required to support the sustainability of the sector, access to child care for essential services workers, and economic recovery in the longer term.

Pan-Canadian Sick Leave

To safely restart the economy, Canada must ensure that workers do not return to work if they have COVID-19 or are showing symptoms.

To encourage workers to remain at home and seek public health advice if they are showing symptoms, the Government of Canada will fund and deliver a new temporary income support program. The estimated $1.1 billion program will support workers who do not already have access to other paid sick leave. The federal government is responsible for all current and future costs of this program.

Where not already available, provinces and territories will establish job protected sick leave so that workers can take advantage of the temporary new federal program.

The GNWT is currently in the process of the implementation of unpaid emergency leave into the Employment Standards Act, which would provide protected leave for employees when:

Currently, this legislation is under review by the Standing Committee. The goal of this proposed legislation is to allow residents to access key federal benefits while providing job security.

As the Employment Standards Act does not apply to GNWT employees, there are no anticipated GNWT costs associated with the potential introduction of emergency leave.

First Ministers believe this funding must quickly be put to use to protect the health and safety of our citizens and to truly help restart the economy. In order to do so, the funding for all priorities will be transferred to the Government of the Northwest Territories through a direct single transfer. In addition, there will be a second transfer in September for the second tranche of testing funding, separate from the federal Pan-Canadian Sick Leave program and federal in-kind spending for testing, contact tracing, and data management and PPE.

Each government will continue to publically report on its actions, to maintain transparency and accountability to the residents it serves.

Canadians have been well served by the strong, collaborative efforts demonstrated by First Ministers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. All First Ministers reaffirm their commitment to this approach, while they continue to address their top shared priority, the well-being and safety of all Canadians.

I look forward to the implementation of the Safe Restart Agreement and our continued collaboration.

Sincerely,

Caroline Cochrane
Premier

Appendix – Canada-Northwest Territories Safe Restart Agreement Investment Details

  1. Testing, Contact Tracing, and Data Management
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $4,282
    2. Allocation Details
      • Per capita allocation
      • $3,000 cash transfer in two installments;
      • $1,282 in transfers and federal support
    3. Northwest Territories Allocation ($1000s)
      • Total - $3,554
      • Payment 1 - $2,725
      • Payment 2 (Fall 2020) - $829
  2. Health Care System Capacity
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $1,200
    2. Allocation Details - Per capita cash transfer
    3. Northwest Territories Allocation ($1000s)
      • Total - $1,491
      • Health Care Capacity - $829
      • Mental Health and Problematic Substance Use - $592
  3. Vulnerable Populations
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $740
    2. Allocation Details - Per capita cash transfer
    3. Northwest Territories Allocation ($1000s) - $877
  4. Municipalities and Transit
    1. Federal Investment ($M)
      • Total - $4,300
      • Municipalities - $2,000
      • Transit - $2,300
    2. Allocation Details
      • Municipalities - per capita cash transfer, cost shared at 50/50;
      • Transit – cash transfer as applicable, cost shared at 50/50;
      • Provincial and territorial operational investments flowed from April 1, 2020 are recognized
    3. Northwest Territories Allocation ($1000s) - $2,369
  5. PPE
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $7,500
    2. Allocation Details
      • $3,000 per capita cash transfer;
      • $4,550 in federally-delivered support
    3. Northwest Territories Allocation ($1000s) - $3,554
  6. Child Care for Returning Workers
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $625
    2. Allocation Details - Base ($2M/jurisdiction) plus per capita cash transfer
    3. Northwest Territories Allocation ($1000s) - $2,710
  7. Pan-Canadian Sick Leave
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $1,100
    2. Allocation Details - Federal Delivery
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