N.W.T. business council issues recommendations on recovery, calls off future meetings

The territorial government’s business advisory council is suspending its regular meetings, saying they ‘do not feel that a plan for economic recovery is a focus’ of the current cabinet.

Release says economic recovery not a ‘focus’ for territorial leadership at this time

A file photo of downtown Yellowknife. The N.W.T. business advisory council, in place for less than one year, has called off future meetings, saying economic recovery is not a 'focus' of the territorial government at this time. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

The territorial government's business advisory council, in place for less than one year, will "cease its regular meetings" effective immediately, according to a press release sent Thursday.

Though the release notes the territory's department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) is a "good partner" in its work, it goes on to say that the group did not "feel that a plan for economic recovery is a focus of the current Executive Council," meaning cabinet.

"The Council members will be happy to come together to meet with ITI if there are matters on which the [territorial government] seeks specific guidance," it concludes.

The suspension of the council's work follows just days after its chair resigned and two members left the group as a result of changing companies.

The council was established last June with a mandate of advising the government on the territory's economic recovery.

As it announced the suspension of its work, it released the recommendations produced at its sole face-to-face meeting, in November.

Good communication, slow responses

The committee praises the "desire to collaborate" demonstrated by "junior and senior government officials," and notes "good" communication with cabinet.

However, it also listed first among its challenges slow response times and the "need to prioritize and establish a long-term economic plan."

In the short term, the report recommends the federal government prioritize tax credits for the resource sector, prevent banks from upping fees on struggling businesses, and improve support to Indigenous businesses.

It says the territory should give a greater advantage to local businesses in procurement, provide support for small businesses, and invest in "real concrete solutions" to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on northerners' mental health.

In the next 18 months, the report predicts that the aviation, tourism, food and beverage, and traditional economy sectors will continue to reel from the impact of the pandemic.

Among the ideas floated by the council to reduce the damage were encouraging in-territory travel, using fly-in lodges for isolation, and offering a rebate on staycations.

It criticizes inconsistencies in how COVID-19 regulations were being applied, and asks for lower fees and alcohol prices to reduce overhead.

A recurring theme is the "overwhelming paperwork burden to access funding from [territorial] programs.

"We would like to see the concerns with red tape addressed," it reads.

In the longer term, the council's report largely rehashes existing territorial priorities, like making it easier for Indigenous governments to access funding, and spending on large infrastructure projects aimed at attracting mineral companies.

It says remediation work at existing mines should be targeted to N.W.T. companies, and asks the government to invest in green technologies like wind and solar projects, electric vehicle charging stations, and greenhouses.

It emphasizes the importance of the renewal of Aurora College, and suggests the government consider a dedicated "school of mines" on the model of Ontario's Haileybury School of Mines.

While the report's "next steps" section mentions quarterly meetings, it's not clear from the release if those will go ahead. 

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