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Order to pay self-isolation fees is reversed; Premier apologizes to Nunavut teachers

“My comments about the recruitment of teachers were careless and dismissive," said Premier Joe Savikataaq, during Wednesday’s press conference. “I'm choice of words could have been better. In these times here where everyone's a bit on edge, we're in uncertain times, I understand how they could have been taken out of context and like I said, I'm sorry." Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

On Friday, May 1, Premier Joe Savikataaq said beginning May 7, any Nunavummiut, who voluntarily leaves the territory and wants to return must pay for their 14 day self-isolation period down south. This order has now been reversed, announced the Premier at Wednesday's press conference.

No Nunavummiut will be charged for the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period, explained Savikataaq. The GN will continue to cover these costs as long as the quarantine requirements are in place, he said.

Savikataaq added, the GN does not want to provide unnecessary financial burden to Nunavummiut.

As of May 6, the estimated cost for self-isolation hubs has been about $ 4 million. The figure includes costs for 708 individuals, who have completed isolation, and 314 individuals who currently are in isolation.

Finance Minister George Hickes said the decision to reverse the order was based on a number of different factors.

“Administratively it would have been a lot more burden on the public servants,” Hickes said. Due to the administration of trying to get the cost recovery and ensuring people are billed appropriately, the Cabinet felt it was not worth proceeding with the order, he added.

“We’re sorry for the confusion,” said the Premier.

This apology was followed by another from Savikataaq. This time it was for Nunavut teachers.

On Monday, May 4, the Premier was asked if he was worried about not having enough teachers for the start of the school year in September.

“I know the Department of Education is always recruiting for new teachers and September is still quite a few months away. There was an announcement earlier in the year where Ontario was going to lay off a whole bunch of teachers, so maybe these teachers might want to come and work in Nunavut,” had responded the Premier.

During Wednesday’s press conference, the Premier said he regretted these remarks.

“My comments about the recruitment of teachers was careless and dismissive,” he said, adding “it was a reactionary inappropriate response.”

“I'm sorry,” he said.

“I want all our teachers to know how much I appreciate their dedication and commitment to our students. I take responsibility for your disappointment, and will speak more carefully in the future. Teachers, thank you for all you do for Nunavut. Your contributions are respected, and please don't let my unfortunate comments discourage you,” said the Premier.

On April 7, Minister of Education David Joanaise had revealed that 93 Nunavut teachers are presently out of the territory. This is about eight per cent of all school staff in Nunavut.

On April 14, Hickes had said, 24 or 25 of these teachers have either started their isolation or have registered in hotels down south.

Last year, during early December, John Fanjoy, president of the Nunavut Teachers’ Association, had told the legislative assembly, “every year Nunavut loses approximately 35 per cent of its teachers.”

He had also said due to the territory’s teacher retention and recruitment crisis, many of communities cannot fill the amount of teacher vacancies with qualified professionals.