N.W.T. business leaders share hopes for territory's next MP

With pandemic recovery top of mind, business leaders are hopeful the territory’s next representative is someone that will listen and collaborate with N.W.T. groups.

Reinvigorating the workforce, tourism and capacity building, are front of mind for territory’s business leader

NWT Tourism CEO Donna Lee Demarcke said she hopes the N.W.T.’s next federal representative will implement programs to support employers in recruiting and attracting workers to the North. (Supplied by Dona Lee Demarcke)

With the federal election only days away, candidates are busy working to address as many concerns of residents as they can. 

With significantly less activity in mining and resource extraction, in addition to border closures, economic recovery is top of mind for business leaders in the Northwest Territories.  

In 2019-2020, the tourism sector brought in approximately $205 million in visitor spending, according to NWT Tourism CEO Donna Lee Demarcke. And the industry was projecting further growth "by leaps and bounds."

Without that income, Demarcke said the tourism sector has relied on government support. She hopes the territory's next MP is someone who continues to collaborate with the industry and other businesses in the North. 

"Our industry has been fortunate that we've received some funding from Canada, and we'd like an MP that would continue to facilitate that ongoing relationship," she said.  

Demarcke noted labour shortages as a major issue across industries in the territory. She hopes the N.W.T.'s next representative will implement programs to support employers in recruiting and attracting workers to the North. 

"People think that the economy will just kind of look after itself," she said, "but we're in a little bit of a different situation right now because we can't do business. A lot of our industry can't do business right now." 

Address basic needs first

Since the start of the pandemic, economic output in the Northwest Territories fell by 10 per cent, according to a report from Statistics Canada.

Paul Gruner is president and CEO of Det'on Cho Management, a company focused on job creation for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

He said the territory needs to focus first on addressing basic needs before prioritizing big business. 

"If we have communities and populations that are challenged even with those sort of basic essentials, it's been very challenging for them when we start talking about employment and building those economic plans at the community level," Gruner said.

He listed clean drinking water, adequate housing and food security as central issues for the territory's next representative.

Paul Gruner, the president and CEO of Det'on Cho Corporation, said the territory needs to focus first on addressing basic needs before prioritizing big business. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"One of the things that I think we need to place a greater emphasis on overall, is capacity building and working with our communities to help build the capacity to conduct business," Gruner said.

"How do we put more money, time, energy into ensuring that communities have the adequate skill sets, et cetera, to participate in those industries?" 

Labour shortage

Terry Rowe, president of the Hay River Chamber of Commerce, echoed Gruner, listing support for the homeless and vulnerable population as a key priority.

"I hope our next MP can invest some time and resources [in them]."

In an email to CBC News, Rowe also identified the tourism industry and addressing housing for out-of-territory professionals filling labour shortages as issues the chamber's members have voiced over the past year. 

Reinvigorating the workforce, he said, "may be our biggest challenge for our business community to date."

"The pool for job-seeking professionals at any level of employment is nearly non-existent," he said, and "bringing in the adventurous professionals from down South tends to be difficult because of the cost of relocating, and finding suitable or affordable accommodations is next to impossible."

As leaders of non-partisan organizations, none of the business leaders endorsed specific candidates, but instead expressed their interest in collaborating with whomever is successful in the Sept. 20 election.