N.W.T.'s business council vows to work closely with the territory's COVID-19 secretariat
Proposed secretariat received a cold reception from local leaders, territory's chamber of commerce earlier
The co-chairs of the Northwest Territories Business Advisory Council vow to work closely with the territorial government's proposed COVID-19 secretariat.
The proposed secretariat is a 150-person, temporary department dedicated to the government's COVID-19 response, with early cost estimates of $87 million. When it was announced, Premier Caroline Cochrane said the new "co-ordinated secretariat" is intended to streamline communications and centralize control of the government's COVID-19 response.
In September, the proposal received a cold reception from local leaders, and the territory's chamber of commerce, which called it "another unnecessary level of bureaucracy."
Now, the N.W.T. Business Advisory Council, a body formed in June meant to guide the territory on its COVID-19 economic response, said it will work closely with the new secretariat in a news release Monday. The council is made up of 16 different organizations representing business interests in the territory.
"With the hard work that the GNWT, the business community and the residents of the N.W.T. have put in over the last six months we are optimistic that the territory will not have to go back to the restrictions required during Phase I of Emerging Wisely," said business advisory council co-chairs Jenni Bruce and Paul Gruner in a statement.
The business advisory council said it "will be vigilant in monitoring its efforts to achieve the objectives of greater transparency, efficiency and cost reductions," according to the release.
Bruce is also the president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, which expressed scepticism about the proposed secretariat in a letter to the premier in early September.
"We are the only jurisdiction in Canada that has chosen to take the money meant to assist our health-care system and instead created a whole new government division," read the letter in part. It was also co-signed by the Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Thebacha chambers of commerce.
Bruce again expressed scepticism ahead of the most recent sitting of the legislature, which started Oct. 15, noting that no clear budget had yet been proposed.
In an interview Monday, Bruce confirmed that the NWT Chamber of Commerce is still opposed to the secretariat.
"Overall we think the dollars would be better spent investing in the economy versus creating more bureaucracy," Bruce said.
So we're going to take any opportunity we can to work with any department in the government to help bring in a business community perspective."
She also said "we are gonna encourage businesses to be vocal about any opinion they have with how the government's moving forward."
Still not funded
A supplementary appropriations bill outlining the cost of the secretariat has yet to come forward in the legislature, said secretariat spokesperson Mike Westwick. It's expected to appear before the current sitting wraps up, possibly this week.
The press release issued Monday lauded the teamwork achieved to date.
"The Business Advisory Council and the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat are working together to address remaining challenges, implement coordinated steps to weather the next peak of the pandemic and pave the path towards recovery through the fall peak of COVID-19 in Canada," reads the release.
"Both the GNWT and the Business Advisory Council agree the health and well-being of all communities and residents is best served by maintaining a stable economic environment.
"This will be achieved with continued strong public health response, enhanced pandemic services delivered by the COVID Coordinating Secretariat, and the collective efforts of the private sector to adapt and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic."
In October, Caroline Wawzonek, minister of Finance, said the territory is forecast to reach 90 per cent of 2019 employment levels by the end of this year, though some sectors, such as tourism, won't be so lucky.
- An earlier version of this story suggested the business council now supports the secretariat. In fact, the council says it is not in a position to support or not support the proposed secretariat.Nov 02, 2020 3:56 PM CT