The federal government’s efforts to aid businesses and non-profit organizations hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic are being hailed by Nunavut’s chambers of commerce but questions and concerns linger.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau increased the federal wage subsidy for private sector employees to 75 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some Nunavut businesses are still worried about other ongoing expenses.
photo courtesy of the Government of Canada

The Government of Canada increased the relief it’s offering to businesses and non-profits on March 27, covering 75 per cent of employee wages for enterprises that qualify. Businesses must demonstrate a loss of 30 per cent of revenue due to COVID-19 in order to receive the subsidy, which will apply to the first $58,700 of workers’ salaries, or the equivalent of $847 a week for up to three months.

Ottawa was previously prepared to take on 10 per cent of wages. The federal government is also making interest-free loans up to $40,000 available — $10,000 of which may be forgiven for qualifying businesses that repay the loan before Dec. 31, 2022. As well, the government is deferring GST payments until June 30.

“Any help the federal government can offer is welcomed by the business community,” said Victor Tootoo, president of the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce.

At the Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce, executive director Valter Botelho-Resendes asked the regional business community for feedback on the federal aid package. He shared some comments that he received from several companies — without identifying them — including one that had already laid off more than a dozen employees. The wage subsidy will help that venture retain its remaining workers to keep core operations running but there are other losses that Ottawa isn’t addressing.

“There is a cost to building and maintaining assets in Nunavut, especially when they are not earning revenue,” the business owner wrote, citing fuel costs, insurance premiums and loan payments as monthly expenses that still must be paid despite drastically falling earnings.

Another entrepreneur pointed to ongoing payments to the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission as an expense that should be reduced, suggesting as much as 50 per cent cut during the pandemic.

For yet another Kitikmeot business owner, the experience of applying for funding and grants has always proven to be “strenuous, sometimes hair-pulling.”

“To now be in this global health and financial crisis, I’m worried the requirements and processes may deter a lot of people from applying, especially if call centres are full and you can’t get through to anyone,” the business owner wrote. “For GN funding, most employees are working from home. When will your application be reviewed? When will you see the funds? Can we speak to someone directly?”


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