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Many Nunavut businesses ‘on life support,’ senator says as he prepares recommendations for Ottawa

Many Nunavut businesses are “on life support” because of the pandemic, according to Senator Dennis Patterson, who is now armed with feedback from a survey he recently conducted.

He has been compiling data and plans to use it to make recommendations to the federal government on how to provide further aid to the territorial economy.

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson says there are still gaps in federal financial assistance to Nunavut businesses. He has completed a survey of territorial enterprises and plans to submit recommendations to the Government of Canada on how to target future aid in Nunavut.
photo courtesy of Dennis Patterson

“There is a high degree of concern on the part of businesses about their futures,” said Patterson. “It reinforces a perception I’ve had now since the start of the pandemic that many Nunavut businesses are really struggling. There are still significant gaps in federal support to Northern businesses.”

A total of 162 businesses responded to the survey, 34 of them Inuit-owned.

Patterson cited hotels’ tribulations in particular. In the survey responses from late September and early October, all but three hotels reported revenue losses of more than 80 per cent due to Covid lockdowns and reduced travel, he said. Existing federal programs have offered limited assistance to hotels, he added.

Airlines and the mining and tourism industries have also suffered severely, said Patterson.

“No one is questioning the need to impose stringent travel restriction in Northern Canada because of our vulnerability to Covid and our long history of disastrous impacts of epidemics,” he said. “The concern is not about the lockdowns but about being helpless to survive. There’s a feeling that governments imposed these lockdowns and they were implemented without the control of the sectors affected. There’s an obligation to respond.”

Patterson said the federal government is, in some instances, providing loan programs but some businesses may not ever be in a position to repay the loans.

On the other hand, he credited the Government of Canada – after some prompting – for recognizing airlines as essential businesses in the North and giving substantial economic aid to that sector “to allow them to keep flying.”

Victor Tootoo, president of the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce, embraced Patterson’s endeavours to assist businesses in the territory.

“Any efforts that shine a light on our economic situation here in Nunavut are welcomed. Many sectors in our economy have been significantly affected by the Covid-19 global pandemic and the resulting public health restrictions in our territory,” Tootoo stated. “For Nunavut businesses, it would be good if the federal government recognized that the cost of doing business in Nunavut is much higher than in the provinces or other territories, and any funding provided should consider the differential cost of living here in the territory.”

Tununiq MLA David Qamaniq asked in the legislative assembly on Oct. 26 about territorial help to offset Covid-19’s “devastating impact” on Nunavut’s tourism industry.

Economic Development Minister David Akeeagok said he attended the opening of Travel Nunavut’s annual general meeting earlier in October.

“I’m looking forward to some of the solutions that they want us to bring, but it’s going to take a whole partnership in terms of how to address this, especially on the tourism and outfitting side, where we anticipate that it is going to be a long-term recovery for that particular sector,” Akeeagok said, adding that he participates in national meetings with the federal minister for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency every second week to discuss potential responses.

Fact file
Business survey responses

-Number of reported job losses since Covid restrictions began: 793

-Average revenue decline: 59 per cent. However, this varied by sector with training being the most affected (87 per cent), followed by consulting/professional services (75.6 per cent), arts and culture (73 per cent), tourism (62 per cent) and retail (61 per cent)

-88 per cent said they are concerned about the survival of their business

-55 per cent said they are dissatisfied with the government’s response/support

-153 survey respondents said they’re unsure whether their business could return to pre-pandemic levels without government support while nine said “yes” and nine said “no.”

Source: Senator Dennis Patterson’s survey of Nunavut businesses