North

What N.W.T. businesses say they actually need — from rent deferral to local cash flow

While some say the loan programs are a start, they need much, much more to keep their businesses from going under.

CBC speaks to 11 businesses and groups, from Yellowknife to Tuktoyaktuk

A file photo of cash. CBC North spoke to 11 businesses and business interest groups from Yellowknife to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. — from restaurants, gyms, salons, retails stores to construction companies. Here's what they say they need. (Shutterstock/Stefan Malloch)

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and territorial leaders separately announced millions of dollars in economic relief for businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the North jumped at the help.

In the Northwest Territories, the main relief came in the form of a new loan program from the Business Development and Investment Fund. Businesses could apply for low-interest loans meant to help them stay afloat and cover their costs after being forced to close their doors or significantly downgrade operations.

While some say the loan programs are a start, they say they need much, much more to keep their businesses from going under.

Many businesses have had to lay off the majority of their staff and say they don't know how they are going to pay the bills.

CBC North spoke to people from 11 businesses and business interest groups from Yellowknife to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. — from restaurants, gyms, salons, retails stores to construction companies. 

Here's what they say they need.

Rent deferral

Almost every small business owner CBC spoke to, who rents space, said being able to make rent is their number one concern. Most have had to close their doors, meaning they're bringing in no revenue for several weeks.

"That's the biggest thing for us, rent deferral. That's my biggest concern," said Krista Rusk, co-owner of North of 60 Massage, which rents space in a downtown Yellowknife building.

If the people who are working start hoarding their cash, that will also create problems.- Niels Konge, Konge Construction Ltd.

Some of the small businesses CBC spoke to are facing monthly rents of more than $6,000 while bringing in no income. Being able to make those payments at a later date, once their doors are back open, is essential for many businesses to be able to keep afloat.

But who would pay for the costs associated with rent deferral?

Last week, the federal government announced that it's worked with Canada's largest banks to give homeowners the option to postpone mortgages for up to six months if they're affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 

The problem for many landlords is that the majority of the banks won't offer mortgage deferral if the property is not the landlord's primary residence. That means landlords are still on the hook for their April and May mortgage payments.

The federal or territorial governments haven't announced any aid directly attached to rental units or renters.

Some advocacy groups in southern Canada say the federal, provincial and territorial governments should be providing funding to landlords so they can pass that relief on to tenants.

Investments in infrastructure and capital projects

Larger companies that work in construction or the resource development industry say it'll be crucial to be able to bid and work on infrastructure projects after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

"What would really be good is if the feds or [territorial government] came up with some money to put infrastructure in," said Merven Gruben, vice-president and co-owner of E. Gruben's Transport Ltd.

A file photo of Merven Gruben standing on the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway. He says approving projects, so those companies could have work immediately after the crisis, would mean these companies could stay in business. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"Get some projects going. Get the economy and people back up. That's the quickest they can get going right away."

While Gruben said his company is managing, he works with subcontractors who have seen major jobs they rely on get shelved. Approving projects, so those companies could have work immediately after the crisis, would mean these companies could stay in business, Gruben said.

Got a job? Spend your money locally

While N.W.T. businesses are anxious to see what other relief plans governments will be rolling out in the coming weeks, some say it's not just up to governments.

If you still have work, you have a role, too, said Niels Konge, president of Konge Construction Ltd.

"The people whose jobs are not affected — government workers, health-care workers who are being worked to the bone right now — those people, through this and at the end of this, have an obligation to ensure that they are spending locally," Konge said. 

"Just like people are hoarding toilet paper, that creates problems. If the people who are working start hoarding their cash, that will also create problems."

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