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Editorial: Small businesses need Nunavut's support

There may be some relief coming for businesses feeling the pressure from the drastic loss of revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic, even though there have not yet been any cases reported in Nunavut.

The federal government is now stepping up to help protect businesses of any size along with charities and non-profits in the form of a large subsidy aiming to cover wages of employees.

Although some might have scoffed at the initial offering -- a token subsidy of 10 per cent of employee wages -- the feds have heard the call of business owners and have upped their contributions to 75 per cent of those wages.

But there is a catch. There's always a catch. That 75 per cent only covers the first $58,700 of an employees' salary. This translates into about $847 per week for three months. It is also important to note that the business must demonstrate to have lost 30 per cent of revenue this past month compared to the same month last year.

That last criterion will probably be easily met by Nunavummiut who own businesses as the effects of Covid-19 are felt across the global economy.

In Iqaluit alone, over 100 workers in the restaurant and tourism industry lost their livelihood in a day when health officials ordered the shutdown of bars and restaurants on March 20.

The federal government is also making more loans available. Businesses can apply to access up to $40,000 in interest-free loans.

How easily a businesses owner will be able to access the funding is still a little murky as details are clarified in announcements by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce executive director Valter Botelho-Resendes has already been asking businesses about their reaction to the funding.

Some owners are saying the relief will help retain employees but not cover some extraordinary costs and challenges faced by Northerners such as fuel costs, high rent and paying off loans.

A little extra relief is coming as a one-time $5,000 grant through the Government of Nunavut's Small Business Support Program, and this could also apply to artists or harvesters as well.

Any support will surely be welcome as financial pressure mounts, but will it all be enough? Will subsidies be effective when the jobs are gone? Will a businesses owner be willing to go even further into debt just to keep their heads above water if the pandemic lockdown lasts through the summer?

It must be difficult for the government to pass such a necessary order, shutting down everything non-essential and knowing that, despite federal or territorial efforts, it will be very difficult for Nunavummiut to bounce back into the black and begin hiring employees again.

Not everyone in Nunavut is fortunate enough to land a government job, often coming with some of the highest and most secure salaries in the territory and where working from home more be more easily co-ordinated in many cases, so it is imperative that small and local businesses be supported where possible to keep the money changing hands.

A workforce that remains diversified between government and private industry will be crucial to getting Nunavut back to businesses and thriving once more.