North

N.W.T. outlines initial fiscal response to COVID-19 crisis, includes $13.2M relief package

Northwest Territories Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek and Industry Minister Katrina Nokleby have announced the territory's economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Small business owners plead for help amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Northwest Territories Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek, photographed here, and Industry Minister Katrina Nokleby have announced the territory's economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Northwest Territories Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek and Industry Minister Katrina Nokleby have announced the territory's economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Speaking with reporters Friday, Wawzonek said the emergency measures put in place include:

  • Initial economic relief package valued at $13.2 million, effective immediately.
  • Employer WSCC fees due date extended from April 1 to May 1.
  • Increased funding for territorial income assistance program (approximately $2 million).
  • Deferment of student loan payments to Sept. 30, 2020, with no interest charges for the period.
  • NTPC will remove load limiters and pause collection efforts.
  • Government is pausing the collection of some payments from Indigenous governments. 

Wawzonek said this is "only phase one" of the territory's response and additional measures could be coming depending on how long the pandemic continues.

"We're working together to identify ways to put money into the hands of those who need it," she said.

Other measures include:

  • Suspension of fees at the Deh Cho Bridge toll, truck permits and airport landing fees until the end of June.
  • Low interest business loans from the Business Development and Investment Corporation (BDIC) to "help offset up to one month of COVID-19 impacts." Businesses looking to apply for that funding can do so right away, Wawzonek said. 
  • BDIC loan payments are deferrable for up to three months between April 1 and Sept. 30 with no penalty or additional interest.
  • Indigenous governments will receive advanced payments on resource revenue sharing for 2020. 

In the past week, the pandemic has hit businesses in the territory and around the country hard. Many have been forced to close or offer reduced services as officials have asked people to stay home to prevent further spread of the virus.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an $82 billion aid package for Canadian businesses and their employees. It includes wage subsidies for small businesses and tax deferrals. 

The funding announced by the territorial government Friday is separate, Wawzonek explained. The $13.2 million figure is what territorial departments have determined they can contribute right away to help relieve costs related to the pandemic. 

"The $13.2 million is just us doing the math on what this initial set of impacts is likely to look at for our budget," she said. 

Businesses in the Northwest Territories are already seeing sharp declines in revenues and are looking to the territory for support.

"It's scary to think about the future. It's completely out of control, what happens next, we're just trying to go day-by-day," said Scott Thomson, who owns and runs Stanley Boxing and Fitness with John Stanley in Yellowknife.   

Though the gym is open, Thomson has stopped taking new clients and cut back almost all of his classes and gym times. He's also taken safety precautions, including extra cleaning and sanitizing and allowing people using the gym to keep their distance from others. 

"We can't grow right now, we can't bring on new members, can't bring new members into the gym," he said. "Our sales are dropping, we can't take new measures to replace them. We're worse than at a standstill."   

He's hoping to hear some measure of relief from the government for small business owners so they can stay afloat as extra precautions around the virus continue. 

Plea for help 

"I know personally 10 friends of mine who've had to close down their businesses," said Thomson. "What [is the government] going to to help us? What are they going to do to keep us here, so we can rebound from this?" 

"We're losing money, we're losing members, we're at an 85 per cent reduced schedule. What happens if we have to close our doors? What happens then?" He asked. "How is my rent getting paid? How are my utilities being paid?"   

Watch the full press conference from Friday here:

Thomson's pledged to remain open as long as it's safe to do so and is still taking online registrations for his daily kids camps through the month of March. 

On Thursday, Birchwood Coffee Kǫ̀.owner Patrick Scott announced he was closing his business until further notice since it couldn't survive without the traffic from government workers and others who are usually downtown. 

The relief from the federal government isn't enough, Scott said, but he did pledge to return. 

"We will see you all when this is over," he said.  

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