North

Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce asks 3 levels of gov't to help businesses survive COVID-19

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce has made a series of recommendations to municipal, territorial and federal governments to support businesses in the city and territory through the pandemic.

Rent relief, alcohol delivery, changes to federal wage program pitched as ways to help

Among other recommendations, the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce suggests that the territorial government allow restaurants to deliver alcohol and that the city defer property tax payments until the end of the year. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce is recommending the three levels of government create a strategy to provide much-needed rent relief for businesses struggling to survive as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was one of several recommendations put forth by a working group the chamber has organized. Other recommendations include asking the territorial government to allow restaurants to deliver alcohol, and asking the city to defer property tax payments until the end of the year.

"Rents are one of businesses' largest fixed costs in the North, and unlike salaries, for example, there's not a lot of wiggle room that businesses have," said Tim Syer, the president of the chamber.

"Sadly, they can lay employees off, but they can't lay off their landlord." 

Syer said he believes governments have the tools they need to help businesses through these unprecedented times — they don't have to watch them fail.

"The cost involved in re-creating a business, of re-creating an economy in the North, will far exceed the costs involved in helping businesses keep the lights on," he said.

Syer, along with the chamber's executive director, sent letters to Yellowknife's mayor, the Northwest Territories' infrastructure and industry minister and the N.W.T.'s member of Parliament, outlining a series of recommendations for each level of government.

Changes to federal wage subsidy program pitched

When it comes to the federal government, the chamber is suggesting it change the requirements to the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program to allow any business in the territory to qualify.

The program provides up to up to 75 per cent of a salary on the first $58,700 for companies experiencing a decrease in revenues of at least 15 per cent in March, and 30 per cent in April and May, which could mean payments of up to $847 a week.

The request echoes a similar one made by the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines and the Yukon Chamber of Mines to Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal.

Sadly, they can lay employees off but they can't lay off their landlord.- Tim Syer, Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce president

The territory's MP, Michael McLeod, says he has heard from several chambers of commerce and has scheduled a meeting with Vandal.

"We are moving forward on many, many recommendations already — a lot of them for the North — and I think this one needs to be fleshed out a little more," said McLeod from his home in Fort Providence, N.W.T. 

The chamber is also asking the territory to provide a top-up to CEWS, in part to reflect the higher costs of living in the North, to open up the Business Development and Investment Corporation's Working Capital Loan program for another round of applications, and to waive Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission premiums for 2020 and consider waiving 50 per cent of premiums for 2021.

Chamber asks city to tap reserve funds

As for the City of Yellowknife, the chamber is recommending it provide interest-free payments on property tax and water and wastewater payments for businesses until the end of the year. It's also recommending the city waive development fees and business-related permits over the same timeframe.

'I’m not sold they would be the reserves to help with the COVID-19 relief program, but there might be other pots of money at the municipal level or the territorial level or federal level," said Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty. (CBC Photo)

In addition, the chamber wants the city to funnel money from two of its reserve funds, the Downtown Development Reserve and the Revitalization Initiative Reserve, into a COVID-19 fund.

"I'm not sold they would be the reserves to help with the COVID-19 relief program, but there might be other pots of money at the municipal level or the territorial level or federal level," said Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty. 

She said the money in the funds are allocated to specific purposes, and tapping into them would potentially require amending the city's bylaws.

She added that it's tough to say what position the city would be in to provide funding.  

"We are still in the process of looking at the city's 2020 budget and the impact COVID-19 will have on our revenue and our expenses," she said.  

But she is open to having the conversation.

"I hope we can work to find as many solutions as we can," she said. "It is a challenge and lots of unknowns, but it's only in working together we can find some opportunities together."

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