Nunavut business owners have withstood another Covid-19 lockdown but nearly two years of pandemic disruptions has left them reeling, says Clarence Synard, president of the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“I certainly hope that we can see the end of this pandemic come sooner rather than later because it’s certainly taken a toll on all aspects of individuals and businesses,” he said. “I just worry about Covid fatigue and how much more people and businesses can handle.”
The forced closure of businesses during Covid outbreaks has cost owners a great deal of revenue, and Synard is sure some are using money out of their own pockets to keep ventures afloat.
“It’s really, really tough. The financial and mental strain on these business owners is tremendous,” he said. “I can imagine those who are suffering in silence and it’s got to be scary times.”
But he doesn’t want business owners to feel that they are alone. He’s encouraging them to contact the chamber of commerce, even if they’re not members.
“We at the chamber encourage all businesses that are having struggles and issues to reach out to us and we’ll see what we can do on their behalf. Sometimes I find when we’re going in with a unified voice from the chamber of commerce … we seem to get more response from it,” he said, adding that the Baffin chamber has been working with its counterparts in the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions.
The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development announced a fourth round of Small Business Support Program funding earlier this month. The initiative provides grants of up to $5,000.
Synard said he appreciates the government’s aid and putting small businesses “first in line” for financial assistance makes sense because they often have the smallest reserves.
However, the $5,000 limit “is much lower than what businesses need at this time,” he said.
He credited the Department of Economic Development for being accommodating by setting up weekly calls since last April to get a better understanding of business challenges and to answer urgent questions, particularly relating to the pandemic.
“It’s been very productive so far,” said Synard. “They’ve certainly been committed to hearing our concerns.”
At the federal level, wage and rent subsidies are still available. There’s the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program and the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program. The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit are available for employees in need.
Yet not all businesses qualify for federal support programs and others cannot afford to take on the additional debt because some of the federal benefits must be repaid, Synard noted. In addition, he questioned Ottawa’s understanding of logistical hurdles and the shortage of specialized labour that Nunavut businesses face.
“I don’t think on the federal level that that’s always recognized,” he said.
He predicted that recovery for the territory’s hard-hit tourism industry may take years and that widespread supply chain issues will likely persist throughout 2022, meaning that some critical goods and supplies will be unavailable.
“We’re looking at items now that, even if we were ordered today which people are nervous to make those orders, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to be able to make the 2022 sealift because of procurement time,” he said.
At least the easing of public health restrictions announced on Jan. 13 “offered some hope” to business owners, said Synard.
“Many businesses are happy to have the ability to reopen their doors, to be able to travel within the territory and this does help in many different sectors,” he said.
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson submitted a lengthy list of pre-budget recommendations to the federal government last year to bring relief to businesses, among improvements to many other aspects of life in the territory.
“We also are aware that, not just in Nunavut but throughout all of Canada, businesses are struggling with the constant cycle of lockdowns and slow reopenings. Artists and gig workers are also suffering,” Patterson stated. “There’s a lot that must be done to support Nunavummiut as Covid continues to devastate the economy and even more will be required to help restart the economy once we can safely get back to ‘normal.’”
There was no reply to questions Nunavut News sent to Nunavut MP Lori Idlout on the topic of Covid-related challenges facing businesses.
The Department of Economic Development was unable provide additional detail on the overall amount allotted through the Small Business Support Program by press time.