It was no great secret or surprise when Premier Joe Savikataaq announced that he was self-isolating in his cabin near Arviat, after returning to the territory in his own private plane.
Nunavummiut would have had every right to be annoyed, had they chosen to be, but the court of popular opinion maintains, as the premier himself stated, his isolation plan left a spot open at the Winnipeg hub for another traveller and saved public dollars.
This is all well and good, especially at this critical juncture where isolation hubs are prime real estate, but might it not have benefitted the leader of the GN to see first-hand the conditions his people, many while vulnerable, are having to tolerate?
In May, Nunavut News spoke to two Nunavummiut returning from GN-approved hotels who reported food stains, visible fingerprints on the walls and curtains, blood and other grime in the room. Unhygienic, unwelcoming, and an added stress while already far from home.
While GN officials have made trips to southern hubs to improve service since then, Health Minister George Hickes has recently spoken about how the behaviour of some guests is impacting room availability at the isolation hubs. People who break their isolation have to restart the process, holding up rooms that would have been available for new guests.
These problems and backlogs have become such that a second isolation hub has opened in Winnipeg to accommodate backlogged medical travel appointments.
From March-June 12, $5.9 million was spent on self-isolation hubs. That number has surely continued to climb another six weeks down the line, and with the addition of yet another hub the GN’s bill will only continue to grow.
The hopeful answer to these ‘behavioural issues,’ as Hickes has called them, will be supports offered by Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, such as resolving any issues and providing direction to isolating guests on how to access mental health support. The goal is to have three staff members present at each of the hubs and provide service in Inuktitut. The GN also aims to eventually provide country food three times a week at isolation hubs.
These creature comforts might make it feel a little more like home, but the problems at home are on an even greater scale. Almost every community has reports of public housing full of mould, windows that don’t seal properly, and overcrowding.
MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is embarking on a housing tour of Nunavut communities to get an assessment of accommodations with her own eyes and to hear from people on the ground. She’ll be visiting the Kitikmeot and Kivalliq this time around, with travel dates from Aug. 10 to 26.
While the GN has, gradually, been responsive to many deficiencies identified at the isolation hubs, it’s always a worthwhile exercise to experience personally the lived realities of the people you represent.
Perhaps the premier and his ministers should take a page from Qaqqaq’s book.