Question Period: COVID-19 Pandemic—Northern and Remote Communities

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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War memorial, Ottawa

Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate. Senator Gold, looking north, we have all been utterly distressed to witness the quick spread of COVID-19 in a number of Nunavut communities. With the housing situation, the numbers of people in each home, the issues of mould and ventilation in many of the homes, the small sizes of the communities, and the remote and already stretched and insufficient medical stations, one has to ask how COVID can be treated via telehealth and eHealth and with no hospitals in the region.

Senator Gold, what is the federal government doing to support these vulnerable Canadians and centres? How is the federal government assisting the Indigenous, Inuit and territorial governments?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. The government is, as we all are, very concerned about the exponentially rising cases in Nunavut and the spread into communities, as we heard from our colleague Senator Patterson earlier.

Since the start of this pandemic, the Government of Canada has been taking very significant action to ensure that Northern and remote communities have the resources that they need to combat and prevent the spread of COVID-19; $500 million was provided to provinces and territories in March, followed by a further $130 million in April to address health, economic and transportation priorities related to COVID-19 in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Most recently, under the Safe Restart Agreement, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut have each been allocated over $3 million for testing and contact tracing and over $1 million to support health care capacity.

All of that said, the government remains committed to continue to work in coordination with community leadership, and it stands ready to provide additional support as needed. In particular, with regard to Nunavut, I have been advised that the Government of Canada remains in regular communication with the Government of Nunavut, is closely monitoring the situation and remains ready and able to assist the territory.

Senator Bovey: Thank you for that. We know that for months, Nunavut has been a COVID-free region, if I can call it that. I have been concerned over the months to have come to understand that they were without PPE.

Do they have sufficient PPE now? What training are they receiving? I would like assurances for this chamber, if I may, that sufficient emergency supplies have been sent north.

Senator Gold: Thank you, senator, for the question. I mentioned the $3 million already sent for PPE, and the government has also processed over 1,200 shipments of PPE to the territories.

Let me speak to Nunavut specifically. The government has sent over 771,000 items of PPE since the pandemic began in March. This breaks down as follows: About 235,000 items of protective clothing, 224,000 pairs of nitrile gloves, 171,000 face shields, 52,500 N95 masks and almost 139,000 surgical masks.

I’m not able to answer the question about training, but I would be happy to discuss this with you further and get a better idea of how I might provide more information.

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