North

N.W.T. expected to get less than $600K from Ottawa to deal with COVID-19

Premier Caroline Cochrane said the money is meant to address health issues. What the territorial government will get to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus remains unclear.

'I've already said that is not enough,' Premier Caroline Cochrane said in legislature on Monday

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane says it’s premature to focus on any economic stimulus deal while the government is concentrating on residents’ health and ensuring groceries get into the territory. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The Northwest Territories is expected to get just under $600,000 from the federal government's $1-billion fund to deal with the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, says Premier Caroline Cochrane.

"I've already said that is not enough," Cochrane said in the legislature on Monday.

The premier said this money is meant to address health issues. What the territory will get to address the economic fallout from the coronavirus remains unclear.  

The N.W.T. finance minister is set to be on a call with the federal finance minister Tuesday afternoon, said Cochrane.

"Right now, the priority is on health and safety." she said. "At the same time, we're looking at the economic detriments."

Cochrane said all businesses in the territory are going to be affected by the pandemic.

The territorial government is looking at an increase to income support, as well as asking the federal government about employment insurance, she said. 

'An hour-to-hour battle'

"It's a day-to-day battle that we're facing right now. An hour-to-hour battle," said Cochrane, adding that the federal government is aware of the territory's needs.

She said the federal government is examining loans and employment insurance, putting money into business development agencies, and taking money away from mortgages, but that nothing is certain yet.

Cochrane said it's premature to focus on an economic stimulus deal while the government is concentrating on residents' health and ensuring groceries get into the communities. 

Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, said business owners and their employees are stressed because they don't necessarily have generous sick leave or contingency plans in place to keep running while employees are forced to take time off work. 

"What I'm concerned about is we'll have the health crisis, then we'll go into an economic crisis," said Green.

She urged the premier to direct the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment to develop a "recovery plan to use those federal resources when they come through." 

We do know that there will be a downturn in our economy.- N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane

Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson said many government projects are likely to be held up as a result of the pandemic. He asked how the territorial government will help small businesses that will be affected by these delays.

Cochrane said she's given direction to all departments to look at how they can support business partners and make sure people are paid on time.

"People that are going to be laid off of work will be impacting our system, so income support is on that," said Cochrane, adding that departments are planning for what to do if their own workers get sick, affecting the delivery of government services. 

"We do know that there will be a downturn in our economy," said Cochrane.

"We know that there's a downturn in the economy happening across Canada, so we are trying to plan not only about the financial restitution of businesses, we're also trying to plan currently about how do we keep our supply chain open."

Cochrane said cabinet will be meeting every day to discuss the rapidly developing situation.

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