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GN needs to show leadership in guiding economic recovery, MLAs say

The Government of Nunavut should play a key role in guiding the territory to an economic recovery as the threat of Covid-19 subsides, according to a couple of MLAs.

There’s plenty of room for improvement in hiring local workers for construction projects and in the mining industry, says Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main. He and Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak believe that the territorial government should help guide Nunavut businesses into recovery as the threat of Covid-19 fades.
photo courtesy of the Nunavut Housing Corporation

In the NWT, the government released The Emerge Stronger Plan on April 29. It’s a draft strategy for economic and social recovery from the pandemic. The plan encompasses options for diversifying the economy, expanding local production and strengthening supply chains. The GNWT is also committed to establishing a Covid-19 business advisory council.

Lewis Falkiner-Mackay, director of policy, planning and communications with the GN’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation, said the Nunavut government’s recent focus has been on “preparation, adaptation and mitigation” relating to the virus. That has included some infusions of money into the territorial economy (see Fact File below).

“Consideration of further measures targeting economic recovery is ongoing, including reviewing the measures adopted in other jurisdictions,” Falkiner-Mackay stated.

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak said she hopes the GN monitors what the GNWT is doing, and the formation of an economic recovery steering committee would be worth consideration.

“I feel the GN has a role to play when it comes to our economy – even in the best of times it’s hard for the average Nunavut business to succeed,” said Angnakak. “I feel the GN will be needed to play a leadership role in steering the economy forward, and Nunavummiut will have some expectations that their government will be there to help them through this difficult time, having access to business financial subsidies, increasing employment opportunities and providing better mental health access to deal with the stress of the changes need to be in place.”

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main, who’s also chair of the regular members caucus, agrees that territorial government action is needed to help workers and Nunavut enterprises rebound from the coronavirus lockdown, even though the federal government has been “leading the way.”

In the legislative assembly prior to the advent of Covid-19, MLAs were already discussing the potential for a direct government subsidy for airlines. That’s even more critical now as the airlines, which are an essential service for Nunavummiut, are fighting for survival, according to Main.

“I do believe that that subsidy should come from the federal government,” he said, adding that the GN should be pushing for it.

He said the GN can be a facilitator as Nunavut businesses seek to access aid from the Government of Canada.

“It wouldn’t cost a lot of money to act as an intermediary and try and help Nunavut businesses access as much of that federal money as possible,” said Main.

He’s also hopeful that Covid will be the catalyst to get more local workers hired, particularly in construction and mining, rather than to hire employees from the south.

“It could put a shot in the arm of people who are looking for work and keep more benefits in the community as well as reducing need for imported labour, which, I think, goes towards a pandemic response,” he said. “There’s a ton of room for improvement within mining (for hiring Nunavummiut).”

With tourism and hospitality being among the hardest hit of industries, Main suggested that the GN could assist Nunavut businesses stay ready as domestic travellers eventually explore Canada – including the Arctic – on vacations rather than heading abroad.

“We need to sure that tourism operators across Nunavut are in a place to take advantage,” he said. “We need to make sure that they don’t die, basically, in the meantime, during this hard, hard time for them.”

Wage subsidies, loan guarantees and make-work projects are among the measures that could help sustain local tourism operators in the interim

“Ideally, you would have supports that are being rolled out after consultation with industry,” he said.

Fact file
GN funding during Covid-19

-The GN has $823,000 available in support through the Department of Economic Development and Transportation’s Small Business Support Program. Small businesses can apply for up to $5,000 to assist with short-term working capital costs.

-The Department of Economic Development and Transportation made an initial investment of $70,600 to have the Nunavut Development Corporation produce non-medical masks for public use.

-The Department of Community and Government services provided $2 million to help cover increased municipal expenses related to Covid-19.

-The GN made a $1-million contribution – part of a joint $2-million contribution with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated – for community food programs for children and Elders. Funds were distributed directly to hamlets.

-Through the Department of Environment’s Community Harvester Support Program, the GN provided $625,000 in support to hunters and trappers by allocating $25,000 to each hunter and trappers organization across Nunavut.

-Through the Department of Education, the GN allocated a total of $885,000 to child care, to cover licensed care facilities’ parental fees.

-The GN is also providing financial support to airlines servicing Nunavut.

Source: Department of Economic Development and Transportation