Cape Breton politicians continue to meet over COVID-19

ST. PETER’S: Elected leaders throughout Cape Breton-Richmond have been meeting via conference calls, to discuss preparedness issues related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Independent MLA, Alana Paon told The Reporter she has never received so many messages on such a variety of different topics – people asking for assistance or clarification and some direction – than she has the past two weeks.

As a means of trying to reassure her constituents and trying to share accurate information, Paon has spearheaded a weekly communication debrief with her local political counterparts.

“Cape Breton-Richmond takes in some of [the Cape Breton Regional Municipality], all of Richmond, and the Town of Port Hawkesbury; speaking, coordinating and keeping up-to-date with three different municipalities is unique within Cape Breton,” she said. “I wanted to provide them with a forum, where at least once per week we’re all on a phone call together so we can speak about what changes have happened. It gives us opportunity to bring forward issues, do some problem solving together, as well as talk about where some of the gaps are with what’s happening right now.”

On March 16, Paon took part in a conference call hosted by the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, which also included four other Cape Breton MLAs and emergency measures personnel.

From that, she initiated another conference call on March 19, bringing on board Port Hawkesbury, Richmond and Potlotek First Nation. Paon indicated she’s hoping Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway can also participate in future calls to include a voice from the federal government.

The daily debrief from Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, is intended as a province-wide update. Paon suggested with her conference calls, they’re really able to focus on the issues pertaining directly to Cape Breton-Richmond.

“Having these conference calls on a weekly basis, we’re all able to come together as leaders in our communities and be able to speak on these concerns we hear from our constituents,” she said. “In that way we’re able to support one another; to all share information from our different levels of government. This is definitely a time to put politics aside.”

During the March 19 conference call, elected leaders focused their discussion on fire and emergency services. water, transit and waste management. and a communications protocol among members. One item of concern was ensuring that personal protective equipment is available for front-line health care workers, as well as emergency and fire personnel.

“I think it’s an ongoing concern with regard to not having enough access to safety equipment,” Paon said. “A lot of health care workers are putting their own lives and their own health at risk every single day, just to keep us safe.”

In an effort to ensure coordination of regional efforts and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paon, Richmond Municipal Council, Potlotek First Nation and Port Hawkesbury Town Council have agreed to meet via conference call on a weekly basis and have committed to sharing information and resources.

She believes there is confusion because of how much information is going out to the public, and how quickly this is changing day-by-day. The MLA said people are feeling overwhelmed.

“Community leaders and provincial and federal leaders, we’re just people too and we’re just trying to keep up with all the changes that are going on,” Paon said. “As well to make certain we have all the tools in our toolbox that we may need to be able to help people when they ask for help.”

Paon wants to make certain information is clear and disseminated as best as possible to her municipal counterparts, and from a governance and emergency response perspective, it’s important they all know where things stand locally.

“During unprecedented times like these, I’m able to take any concerns and push them up the pipe,” Paon said. “We’re much stronger together. Anytime communication is absolutely key; everyone in our community is going to benefit with all levels of government communicating and working well with one another.”