MLA exemption from isolation requirements questioned in legislature

“I don’t anticipate anyone using it unless it’s absolutely necessary”

Seeking clarification from Health Minister George Hickes on the type of travel permitted under the isolation exemption for MLAs, Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main used himself as an example. “I’m not allowed to go shopping at Polo Park in Winnipeg … even though I do miss shopping at Polo Park in Winnipeg. For clarity, it’s for work travel only?” Hickes confirmed that exemptions are not given for non-essential travel. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Dustin Patar

Nunavut’s exemption of MLAs from its COVID-19 self-isolation requirements was questioned during Tuesday’s sitting of Nunavut’s legislative assembly.

In August, it was announced that MLAs could choose to exempt themselves from spending two weeks at an isolation hub before re-entering the territory if travelling for work.

“I didn’t think that was possible, to be honest, to find something less popular than isolation, but here we have it,” said John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove.

“The exemption to the 14-day isolation requirement is even more unpopular.”

Seeking to provide clarity for his constituents and other residents of Nunavut, Main asked Minister of Health George Hickes why the exemption was put in place.

Hickes replied that the decision came from a national discussion.

“As the pandemic arose, it created a lot of challenges that we didn’t foresee as a society,” he said.

Conversations initially focused on the ability of members of parliament and senators “to return home and get back to work as needed,” said Hickes.

“The purpose behind it was to not put undue hardship on the governance of the country and of each jurisdiction.”

Based on that, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, felt that provincial and territorial legislators also had that same ability, “out of pure openness and transparency,” said Hickes.

Responding to another of Main’s questions, Hickes stated that no politician in Nunavut, whether an MLA, Senator Dennis Patterson or MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, has elected to bypass isolation.

“I personally have no intention of using this exemption,” said Main.

“And the vast majority of my colleagues, on the regular member side, have also indicated that.”

Noting this, Main asked Hickes in what circumstance such an exemption would be needed.

“There is absolutely no condition under normal travel conditions that anybody, any one of us or an MP or a senator would be able to apply for the exemption for recreational or non-essential travel,” responded Hickes.

Adding to his response, Hickes gave the example that had he needed to attend last week’s countrywide finance ministers’ meeting, he would be in isolation right now as opposed to appearing before the assembly.

“So I understand the value of why it’s there,” he said.

“I don’t anticipate anyone using it unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

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(21) Comments:

  1. Posted by iThink on

    Minister Hickes has an uncanny way of never fully making himself understandable, or maybe it is just the way he is reported by NN. Either way the explanation for the exemption here seems quite vague and not that compelling; so, it arose from a “national discussion”were getting back to work is what mattered most, yet our MLA’s have not been sitting for months and have presumably been working from home and online anyway, so what is the rush to get back into the territory? Also take note
    that we should appreciate the “pure openness and transparency” of the matter. That’s nice, these old buzzwords sell us the sense that this is all legitimate, easy and digestible right? Is it reality though? I don’t think it is.

  2. Posted by Cutting through the noise on

    As much as it needed to be addressed (because the GN botched the announcement regarding Ministers skipping quarantine), Members should try to avoid presenting coffee shop complaining as genuine issues that matter. Is it annoying that Ministers and MPs can skip quarantine? Absolutely. Does it matter? Not really. In fact, it’s crucial that they have this in place for the reasons stated by the Minister.
    .
    People love to complain. Some people are serial complainers and they tend to make their voices heard over people who are complaining about real issues that matter. Members should be conscious of that fact and not present every little piece of b*tching as a real issue that needs to be addressed.

    • Posted by iThink on

      You say the exemption is justified for reasons listed, that is to “not put undue hardship on the governance of the country and of each jurisdiction.”
      .
      There are problems with this though. If we admit that 2 weeks quarantine is an undue hardship then it is an undue hardship for everyone. The question then becomes is the hardship here also a threat to the governance of Nunavut? I am open hearing justifications for that claim, but haven’t yet. As it is, I really doubt this.
      .
      So, to the public this exemption appears to be a largely arbitrary policy made by people who have the power to exempt themselves from the inconvenience and hardship as quarantine, and the power to shape the narrative around the exemption. This comes off as an abuse of power and is the kind of things that erodes public trust while making the electorate more cynical about government. This isn’t the kind of poison we want to inject into our democracy.

      • Posted by Consistency on

        I would not want to do the 14 day quarantine and that is why i am not traveling south anytime soon. but I think this exemption is a good idea to have as an option. If there was going to be some important meeting regarding federal funding in Ottawa for more housing money yes we need our minister there to fight for us, but perhaps there is also a territorial housing meeting for locations of the new funding need shortly after in Iqaluit then the minister needs to be back for that.
        But if there is nothing that cant wait then the minister should do the 14 days. but if they didn’t have an option of the exemption in place then there would be no way around it. This exemption should not be about not inconveniencing the minister but about not inconveniencing our territory.

        • Posted by Inconsistency on

          Sure, if it is absolutely necessary that a Minister attend a meeting in person, so be it. But in this day and age I don’t think there are many cases like that, yet let’s say there is. The Minister should still be required to quarantine. There are too many loopholes as it is, and each of these draws into question the entire logic of the quarantine itself. If this person and that person can be exempt, and we can consider this safe, then why are we even doing this at all?

          • Posted by Risk Mitigation on

            It’s not that it’s considered safe for this person and that person to be exempt, it’s about risk mitigation. Exempting some people from quarantine is not safe, it is a risk. But not having quarantine at all is a much bigger risk.
            .
            It’s like if you go to the hospital to have an x-ray, and they put a lead shield over the parts of your body not being x-rayed, would you say, “if it’s considered safe to x-ray this part of my body, why are we even bothering protecting the rest?”

            • Posted by Inconsistency on

              I agree with your points on risk mitigation. So knowing all that that here’s the question: is this risk a necessary one, or is it a risk made out of convenience? Because the latter is how it looks. I think it is incumbent on those who support this exemption (that is, the Minister of Health and the CPHO) to make the case that it is. I have yet to see any compelling arguments for that.

  3. Posted by Artie on

    John Main is a solid MLA. He asks questions that everyone wants answered. Good for him. Hope he becomes a minister soon.

    • Posted by yes on

      I totally agree, Mr. Main will be great minister or premier.
      I’m guessing he wants to get the GN “in order” first before going into cabinet.

      • Posted by anonymous on

        I totally agree with you both, John does ask questions and gets to the point where he wants answers; unlike the premier and Minister of Health who both tend to go round and round in circles not getting anywhere.

  4. Posted by Totally makes sense on

    MLAs find the 14-day mandatory isolation an encumbrance to their lives/work and therefore, should be exempt from it. Hellooooo, this is the problem the general public and persons in all other occupations are facing. What will happen during Christmas of this year… when people who actually work (like teachers) want to leave or leave and are late returning because of the isolation hubs? Perhaps, MLAs do not want to see the drinking and debauchery firsthand. MLAs were missing out on per diems, bottomline. Without said exception, however, how would Mummilaq have become aware of a housing crisis in NU? Final thought, if the GN is continuing to pump money into the airlines, perhaps they should demand some say in the service, or lack thereof, that they provide.

    • Posted by Loop Hole on

      “Without said exception, however, how would Mummilaq have become aware of a housing crisis in NU?”

      She did isolate though. Pretty sure she knew about the housing crisis long before her trip to take pictures and build her narrative.

      You’re right though, the 2 weeks inconveniences everyone, it’s really just that everyone else doesn’t have the ability to wave a pen and make it all go away.

  5. Posted by quarantine leave on

    We should at least be able to use special leave for quarantine..

  6. Posted by Colin Makpah Sr. on

    Let’s just completely shut down the borders to this insane deadly virus. We should stop immediately all flights in and out of Nunavut. The government has done such a great job so far, it would be a shame to see all their hard work gone to waste.
    Since the virus can survive on surfaces and in the air. It’s easily passed human to human, despite all preventions taken.
    I think it’s time to shut the flights and completely 100% prevent the entrance of this deadly virus.

    • Posted by Not Reality Man on

      What about food, or essential workers like nurses and so on? Who’s going to make up for that?

      • Posted by Colin Makpah Sr. on

        I thought our first and foremost importance in all this is the safety of Nunavutmiut.
        Any flight has the possibility of causing total chaos in Nunavut. So either we quarantine and isolate everybody and everything, for an allotted amount of time. Or it’s pointless, as our government officials keep pointing out, we are dealing with a very deadly virus.

  7. Posted by Colin Makpah Sr. on

    I agree with you 100%, that it’s not reality.
    But the calm air staff quarantine time is 24 hours. What about the freight and mail coming in. Is it being handled by human at all that it should be quarantined. Same goes for food, should be only getting canned vegetables or frozen. We all need to stick together to keep Nunavut Covid free. It’s pointless if only a certain group flying up is made to isolate or quarantine.
    Why are we playing games with such a deadly virus?

  8. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Colin, banning all flights make little sense.
    .
    First, many people would starve, or do you think that there is enough country food to go around? And how would hunters get the food? You can bet that snowmobiles would quickly break down without replacement parts. Sure you can scrounge but eventually the number of machines is going to decline.
    .
    And what about when a critical part for the diesel generator goes down, or the water pumping station? Medicine? How many diabetics need insulin?
    .
    It’s not impossible for a technically dependent society to revert back to earlier ways, but it does cost, usually in human lives.
    .
    The coronavirus lives for maybe 72 hours on some surfaces, and is quite easy to get rid of by wiping the surface with a bleach solution, or for food, just washing it in water is usually good enough.
    .
    The reason that it’s a 14 day quarantine for people is that we are great hosts, and if the virus gets in our system it multiplies until our system gets the upper hand and kills it off, or until the virus kills us.
    .
    The quarantine is necessary, and it’s also necessary to have some exceptions. The question is whether it should apply to the MLAs. I think that it should, for urgent business only, and for business that it would be difficult to do by other means.
    .
    There are still times when it would be advantageous for the Premier to meet in person with people in Ottawa. Communication is not just written or verbal, there is a lot of nonverbal body language that aids in communication (lookup @DrGJackBrown on Twitterfor example especially where he analyses Trump’s facial expressions).
    .
    I do think thought that if MLSs use the exception they should undergo a test (and get the results) prior to returning to Nunavut, and they should be tested every 48 hours after they return for a 14 day period. Obviously they should isolate as much as possible during this period of time and keep a log of who they contact.
    .
    Right now if Nunavut where to abandon the quarantine system you would have cases in Nunavut within 10 days. Inside of a month the medical system would be overwhelmed, and inside three months probably half the people 70 years old, and a quarter of the people 60 years or older would be dead.
    .
    Let’s stick with the quarantine until a vaccine is available. Yes it may be another 6 to 9 months, but that’s certainly better than having thousands dead.

    • Posted by Colin Makpah Sr. on

      That’s the whole point though, the test that is given to calm air flight attendants should be sufficient enough for residents of Nunavut. It would seem by far cheaper than isolating people for two weeks, if only 24 hours is needed. Think about all the money that would be saved.

    • Posted by Ron on

      * Hate to break it to u Old Trapper but 14 day quarantine system is flawed. A person could get infected on day 6 of hotel isolation stay & not display symptoms ’til back in the community.
      * Also critical employees are a huge risk due to no quarantine at all – and you know they don’t all adhere to the honour system before they return.
      * Virus will arrive to NU so the best preventative measure is to be prepared by practicing daily what has been preached for past 7 months – and from my vantage point few people have been practicing anything
      * Cross your fingers for a vaccine asap

      • Posted by why u dum on

        Ron you are so right! this government has had 6 months to prepare, yet they are still reactionary. 14 days in Jail before you come home is awful, when a test could be so much faster, cheaper, less stressful, and get’s people home faster. this government has failed, John Main please call for a vote of confidence, put Joe in the back benches.

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