North

N.W.T. leaders welcome millions in federal funding, but say it's not enough

Political and business leaders in the Northwest Territories are welcoming millions of dollars in federal funding to help businesses and the health-care system during the COVID-19 pandemic, but say more will be needed in order for the economy to survive.

'There will be further investments,' says N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod

N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod says more funding is expected from the federal government. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Political and business leaders in the Northwest Territories are welcoming millions of dollars in federal funding to help businesses and the health-care system during the COVID-19 pandemic, but say more will be needed in order for the economy to survive.

The federal government announced Tuesday nearly $130 million spread across the three territories for health care, food subsidies, airlines and other businesses.

The territories will be in charge of health care spending and doling out cash to airlines. The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency will be handing out money to businesses, with more details expected in the coming days. 

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane is hoping the new funding from the federal government for the territories will help businesses stay afloat. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"Will it address all the needs, and businesses can go back to as it was a month ago? Will residents have the income they had a month ago? No, I'm afraid they won't," Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane said.

"But hopefully it will sustain them, so all of us can stay afloat, all businesses can stay afloat going forward."

Health care funding

More than half of the funding will go to the health and social services departments in the territories, with $18.4 million for Yukon, $30.8 million for Nunavut and $23.4 million for the N.W.T. 

With just five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the N.W.T., Cochrane said the territory is not in a bad place, yet.

"If we have community spread, then we'll be dashing and then we'll be in trouble and at that point all of our services will bump up and we might have more needs at that point. But right now we're just looking at where that money might go," she said.

She said that could include more personal protective equipment for health-care workers and more tests for COVID-19.

Air services a 'vital' industry

The funding announced Tuesday also includes $17.3 million in total for air services in the three territories, with $3.6 million for Yukon, $5 million for Nunavut and $8.7 million for the N.W.T. 

The industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with some announcing layoffs and reduced schedules.

Cochrane said the airline industry is vital to small communities and the territory can not let them fail. She said she will need to get them together to figure out where the money should be spent. 

Nutrition North boosted

Nutrition North, a federal subsidy program for food in remote northern communities, will see an additional $25 million to help to further ensure families can afford food and hygiene products. 

Duane Wilson, vice president of stakeholder relations for the Arctic Co-operatives — which includes 32 community-based Co-operative businesses in the three territories — expects consumers to see the benefits in a few weeks.

"They should see a saving at the till," he said.

Any funding that is going to support cheaper costs of food for northerners will be very beneficial.- Lesley Allen, president of Yellowknife Food Rescue

He said Nutrition North plans to increase subsidy rates by $1/kg for things like fresh fruits and vegetables, flour, pasta and other perishable items, and 50 cents/kg for items like milk, frozen fruits and vegetables and baby formula.

Lesley Allen is the president of Yellowknife Food Rescue and said according to territorial officials, the N.W.T. has the second highest rate of food insecurity in Canada.

"So any funding that is going to support cheaper costs of food for northerners will be very beneficial," she said.

Money for businesses

The funding also included $15 million for businesses in the North.

In a statement, the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency said it is working to provide this relief funding as quickly as possible to the businesses that need it the most. It said further details will become available in the coming days.

Tim Syer, president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, hopes the announcement is just the beginning.

"$15 million is not a lot of money when it's spread across three territories," he said.

"It looks to me like a good phase one. But we'll be very much looking forward to seeing phase two of this funding."

More funding on the way

Northwest Territories' MP Michael McLeod said he has been working with different levels of governments and industries in the territory, including the tourism and mining sectors.

"There will be further investments as we move on down the road," he said on The Trailbreaker Wednesday. "We may have to be looking at bailouts. We know that the issues facing all levels of government are changing.

"We're announcing measures everyday, we're changing the measures that we've announced and we're replacing them sometimes and just trying to make sure everybody's covered.

"It's a very challenging position that we're in and I think we've been doing a pretty good job in the Northwest Territories so far. But there's more to do."

With files from Loren McGinnis and Rachel Zelniker

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