UPDATED: Premier takes over MACA department

NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane. (CKLB file photo).

Premier Caroline Cochrane has taken over the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.

Citing the “unprecedented challenge” of COVID-19, Premier Cochrane said she wanted a “more hands-on-role”.

Speaking to reporters following the announcement Tuesday, the premier said the COVID-19 pandemic is bigger than what the Emergency Management Organization (EMO) is designed for.

Late Monday, the government announced it was extending the state of emergency to April 14. The EMO leads the government’s response during a state of emergency.

“The reality is that our Emergency Management Organization was structured for emergencies that were typical in the Northwest Territories, such as floods, forest fires,” said Cochrane. “They tended to be geared toward a single incident, a single community, COVID-19 is not at that level… It has become bigger.”

With the premier taking over MACA leadership, she is also now in charge of declaring states of emergencies and overseeing the EMO.

In justifying the decision, Cochrane also pointed to her previous experience in the role and being the sole returning cabinet member.

Media asked several questions on why the premier decided to take on the portfolio. She reiterated that it was the size of the pandemic that made for extraordinary circumstances.

“Once the pandemic is addressed… then we’ll look at reassigning the position back but at this time it affects every single resident, every single community,” said Cochrane.

Previous MACA change

Sahtú MLA Paulie Chinna has kept her other roles as minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, and minister responsible for homelessness.

According to the premier, she spoke with Chinna before making the decision. Cochrane added that this allows Chinna to “focus her full attention on dealing with the issues that housing already has” including overcrowding and the negative outcomes that can create in a pandemic.

Minister Chinna was not available during the news conference to answer questions.

The change in MACA leadership comes one week after the premier appointed Russ Neudorf as associate deputy minister for the department. Neudorf’s role is specifically to deal with COVID-19 challenges, and is only set to last six months.

Cochrane said this showed that the GNWT is “taking COVID-19 seriously” and that it is willing to “put the resources that are needed to protect our people.”

Correction: A previous version of this story said MLA Paulie Chinna was minister for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, when she’s in fact the minister for the housing corp. CKLB regrets the error.

About the Author

Francis Tessier-Burns
Francis was a reporter with CKLB from January 2019 to March 2023. In his time with CKLB, he had the immense pleasure and honour of learning about northern Indigenous cultures.