The Covid-19 crisis is affecting Nunavummiut’s social interactions, mental health, education, employment status and more. Nunavut News asked Nunavut Member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq to share her thoughts on the impacts and the government responses.
Nunavut News: What are your greatest concerns in regard to preparations for Covid-19? How adequately has the federal government helped Nunavut be positioned to react if/when Covid-19 begins to spread within the territory?
Mumilaaq Qaqqaq: Like a lot of Nunavummiut, I have felt that the federal government has made promising announcements, but we are not seeing those commitments reflected in our communities. I think territorial and local officials have taken the lead on making sure everything is being done to best of ability to prevent Covid-19 from arriving in Nunavut.
However, we need the federal government to step up and provide more support for our health resources. Issues including a lack of housing, insufficient health infrastructure and access to clean water year-round leave our communities more susceptible to infection. These issues require meaningful investment from the federal government, but for decades has failed to deliver for Nunavummiut.
NN: Seeing as the territory has gone so long without a positive test, do you feel the authorities and Nunavummiut themselves have responded very well to date?
MQ: Dr. Patterson and his team have done a great job during this difficult time to guide the response. I also think mayors and the Government of Nunavut have worked hard to make difficult and time-sensitive decisions for across the territory. I know this has been an incredibly challenging time for everyone, but we must continue to support one another.
NN: What are your impressions of the self-isolation centres established in southern cities for Nunavummiut returning home?
MQ: Self-isolation before people return to the territory is an important step to keeping Covid-19 out of Nunavut. We need to make sure that people in isolation are having their needs met and are treated respectfully throughout a very stressful and difficult time. It’s also vital that staff and security at the centres are adequately tested to make sure they are not carriers of Covid-19 and potentially passing it along to individuals in self-isolation. People who are coming home want to be part of the solution. Two weeks in isolation like this is not easy and those who are going through it need to be adequately supported.
NN: Has Ottawa offered sufficient financial aid to businesses and laid off workers who are suffering through this pandemic? Do you think mining companies should be entitled to federal assistance during this crisis?
MQ: Nunavummiut need to see the federal government move more quickly to provide support to workers and businesses who’ve been impacted. While recent announcements have been a step in the right direction, a lot of them have been patchwork fixes for the shortcomings of earlier announcements. The delays people are experiencing getting relief now will have a lasting impact. My New Democratic colleagues and I are still calling on the federal government to provide direct support of $2,000 dollars to everyone to make sure seniors, students, and people who are still working reduced hours are not falling further behind. The federal government needs to focus on supporting workers and communities first during the Covid-19 crisis. If the federal government is creating specific support for sectors, like mining, those supports need to also benefit impacted workers and local communities.
NN: Do you choose to wear a mask in public? Why or why not?
MQ: Many people do not have the access to health equipment needed in the territory and across the country. I do not currently wear a mask in public. I have worked hard to limit my time outside and have been very strict about physical distancing. I want to make sure personal protective equipment is prioritized for those who urgently need it like health-care workers. Local efforts to create masks for vulnerable individuals have been incredible to see.
NN: Beyond health, business and employment, what are the other concerns you’re hearing from community leaders these days?
MQ: I have heard from a lot of people that they’re missing their family and loved ones. People are missing birthdays and other significant milestones, which absolutely takes a toll. It’s a challenging time for everyone and making sure we find solutions to help connect people is critical. Community leaders have also expressed concern about internet connectivity. Making sure everyone can stay informed about Covid-19 or apply for the benefits they’re entitled to quickly will make a huge difference for many.
NN: Has it been possible to make headway on any federal matters unrelated to the coronavirus over the past month?
MQ: I always try to make sure my work is reflecting the needs of my constituents first and foremost. In the last month that’s predominately been focused on making sure Nunavummiut have the support and information they need regarding federal programs and announcements. Covid-19 has highlighted how the federal government has failed to close the health infrastructure between Nunavut and other parts of Canada. I’ve been working to make it clear to the federal government that tackling Covid-19 isn’t just about acting today but also making sure that we see real investments in housing and expanding our local health-care infrastructure.