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COVID-19: Increasing the Transparency in our Response

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

I wanted to speak briefly in regards to how I believe communication from leaders should look in times of crisis. To date we have witnessed amazing acts of compassion that show the strength of the North and our ability to get through this together. A high standard has been set by our citizens and front line workers. To show our gratitude we as leaders owe it to the Northwest Territories to be communicating effectively with our constituents.

We are in the midst of what might be the greatest challenge the Northwest Territories has ever faced. What’s important now are actions that are deliberate and visible to the public. If we respond to this crisis at the pace that’s required at the pace it’s moving we need to appear on television, in the media, and on radio daily. We must always be ready with new information to deliver. What we’ve achieved and what we’re planning next.

Now is the time to mobilize every part of our society. Transparency is our ally in this. Our schedules, decisions and considerations must all be public facing so that our communities can see what’s being done and what precisely is being done every day. We need to cut the fluff. We need to stop adding government comms nonsense to answers. Perhaps doublespeak was an acceptable tool to delay answering before, when the government took its time to move. It is not now. Answers must be in facts, not waffling.

We need our healthcare workers to be the face of this. It is unsettling to me that I still receive complaints of nurses feeling muzzled, or going through arduous grievance processes, despite being some of the most important people in our response. There is nothing more comforting than having a professional speak in their area of expertise. Politicians are not doctors, and so we must put healthcare workers and those on the front lines at the front and centre of our communications. They speak in facts and cut through the nonsense better than any politician could.

I believe there are number of things that would help with our transparency and accountability during this process. Those would be allowing much more of the decision making apparatus to be public. Our Cabinet and Emergency Management Organization should making their key decisions in public, unless the government justifies why they must be conducted in camera. Usually people don’t bother to learn how their government makes decisions, nor care, but there is increased attention during this time and we should use that as an opportunity to educate people. Additionally all the inputs, evidence and rationale surrounding our public health response must be public. It should be clear where we are going and how we got here. There needs to be a clear explanation of what triggers more or less prohibitive measures. Timelines, models, assumptions and alternatives that we decided against must all be made public.

We must make it clear this is only the beginning, as such we need to get public buy-in to remain vigilant. We are still in the scenario where single digit cases are breaking news and we can not become complacent. New cases will become less relevant if we start counting new deaths, that's what we are trying to avoid. We must ensure our public we are doing everything in our power to limit that number, yet at the same time it must be explained why we are doing what we are doing. There is room for oversight and criticism here, when done constructively, that is part of the communications that must occur. The debates around options and accountability must be engaged with meaningfully, not dodged by anyone.

These are not ordinary times and therefore our regular methods of doing business will not work. We recognize that in regards to our on the ground response, we must also recognize it in regards to our transparency. Nothing less than radical honesty will maintain the public trust.

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