'It's not only the mines': N.W.T. premier says broad economic plan in the works
As one of the N.W.T.'s largest employers faces cash problems, Caroline Cochrane says a new plan is coming
The news of serious cash flow problems at Dominion Diamond Mines, one of the Northwest Territories' largest private employers and purchasers of goods and services, has the territory's premier promising a new plan.
On Wednesday, Dominion filed for creditor protection to stave off insolvency.
In an interview on CBC's Northbeat evening news show on Thursday, N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane said it was not only mines in the territory facing challenges, but all of the industries and people who rely on the money the mines spend, and the wages they pay.
"Mines are in jeopardy throughout Canada and it's not only the mines, it's the secondary businesses — many businesses in the North are reliant on that industry," she said.
Cochrane said she sees the financial impact of economic trouble at the territory's mines through many levels of business: from trucking companies that haul material and equipment to the mines, to exploration companies and the crews that work for them.
Dominion Diamond is only the latest of the many businesses and people caught in the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has hit all sectors of the N.W.T. economy — from barbers and hair salons, to airlines, to restaurants and clothing stores. Cochrane said the territorial government has been doing the best it can in a developing situation that caught everyone off-guard.
The first priority, she said, was health and safety, but it is now time to develop a broader, more all-encompassing economic plan.
"There have been some reliefs that we've given out," Cochrane said. "There's also been federal packages that have come … but we're in the process now of developing an all-of-government plan that will encompass all of the needs of the Northwest Territories."
"We can't keep going one-offs," she said. "We need to actually have an all-encompassing plan."
She said her government was in discussions with all levels of business and industry to develop a unified approach to dealing with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cochrane said she has the ear of the federal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"They recognize that the Northwest Territories is different than the South, and I do have a commitment from the prime minister that he will listen us and he … is actively trying to assist us," she said. "So I'm hopeful that as we develop this package … we will get support from the federal government going forward."
Cochrane said the N.W.T. could expect an announcement next week on the new economic plan.
"Business must keep on; we need an economy."
Call for leadership meeting
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya agreed that after the health and safety of "all our people," the economic health of the Northwest Territories would be the next priority.
Without going into specifics, he recommended creating a "leaders roundtable" that would bring all leaders in the N.W.T. together to come up with a plan for what to do for the pandemic.
"The Dene Nation has identified the economic health of the Northwest Territories as being a priority second only to health and safety of all our people," he said.
"Dominion Diamond is a billion-dollar corporation that contributes greatly to the economy of the Northwest Territories. Having them seek court protection makes a bleak economic outlook even worse as the world moves into a recession."
With files from Juanita Taylor and Hilary Bird