North

Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce wants more from N.W.T.'s economic recovery plan

'There's not a whole lot that's new, and there's not a whole lot that's very specific,' says the chamber's president.

'We need an actionable plan with budgets and timelines,' reads the group's open letter to the premier

Franklin Avenue in Yellowknife. The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce says the Northwest Territories' economic recovery plan 'fails to inspire confidence' in the government’s ability to help the business community in Yellowknife recover. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce isn't impressed with the Northwest Territories' economic recovery plan.

In an open letter to Premier Caroline Cochrane published Thursday, the chamber says the territory's Emerging Stronger plan proposes "vague action items" and "fails to inspire confidence" in the government's ability to help the business community in Yellowknife recover.

"We need an actionable plan with budgets and timelines," reads the letter.

The territorial government's 40-page economic recovery plan, released Monday, outlines "lessons learned" from the pandemic, and broad promises to improve in the areas of housing, internet access and education, among others. 

But to the chamber of commerce president, it's more like déjà vu.

"What we see in Emerging Stronger is, in many instances just a repurposing of what we've seen before in mandate letters, and vague government commitments from before the pandemic," Tim Syer told CBC.

"There's not a whole lot that's new, and there's not a whole lot that's very specific."

There's not a whole lot that's new, and there's not a whole lot that's very specific.- Tim Syer, president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce

Pandemic-prompted lockdowns, delays in supply chains and staffing issues made economic problems that existed in N.W.T. before the pandemic "even bigger and harder to solve," said Syer.

"I'm not going to make any news by telling people that we'll see declining production and royalties from the diamond mines, and we don't appear to have a plan to replace that," he said, singling out one of the territory's more glaring economic stressors. 

"So that's cause for concern." 

Chamber has its own ideas

The chamber's letter lists a number of actions the government can take that the organization believes will make a difference in the territory's economy. 

It recommends working with Northwestel on internet fibre redundancy for Yellowknife, which it says will cost between $20 million and $25 million.

The chamber urges the government to make sure Aurora College "has the capacity to be fully independent" as it transitions to a polytechnic university.

It also says that the N.W.T. and Nunavut Construction Association reports that just under half of N.W.T. residents who wrote the trades entrance exam over the last five years failed on their first attempt. The chamber calls for better support for people writing the exam, "which would support the development of more skilled tradespeople within the N.W.T."

The letter suggests that the government include in the Emerging Stronger plan a new Builders Lien Act, as well as further lobbying on infrastructure projects such as Taltson Hydroelectricity Expansion Project and Slave Geological Province Corridor.

"The premier has referred to this as a living document, which suggests to me that they are open to suggestions on how to improve it," said Syer. 

"We've offered specific, actionable items that the government can undertake in order to improve the prospects for the Northwest Territories economy and the Yellowknife economy." 

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