One week after the NWT began phase two of the Emerging Wisely Covid-19 recovery plan, the recently formed Business Advisory Council (BAC) is encouraged that many businesses permitted to open are doing so and putting people back to work.
“We believe it helps everyone’s state of mind to see things starting to return to normal. We still have a way to go but at least we are moving forward. (The) majority of the businesses that can open with phase two are taking advantage of it,” said BAC co-chair Jenni Bruce, who’s also president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce.
The BAC, which had its first meeting on June 5, was established to provide advice and guidance to the GNWT as the territory prepares to recover economically from the losses of the pandemic.
Alongside Bruce is co-chair Paul Gruner of Det’on Cho Management. The other 15 council members include:
- Kyle Wright of the Norman Wells and District Chamber of Commerce
- Tim Syer of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce
- Pat Rowe of the Fort Simpson Chamber of Commerce
- Linda Martin of the Thebacha Chamber of Commerce
- Sean Crowell of the NWT Manufacturing Association
- Denny Rodgers of the Delta North Alliance, Beaufort Delta/ Inuvialuit Development Corporation
- Duc Trinh of the NWT and Nunavut Construction Association
- James Thorbourne Delta North Alliance, Beaufort Delta/ Gwich’in Development Corporation
- Sara Brown of the NWT Association of Municipalities
- Gary Vivian of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines
- Darrell Beaulieu of the NWT Indigenous Leaders Economic Coalition
- Harold Grinde of NWT Tourism
- Donna Lee DeMarcke of the Hay River Chamber of Commerce
- Trevor Wever of the Northern Air Transportation Association
- Kevin Hodgins of the NWT and Nunavut Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists
The BAC’s basic function is to submit recommendations to Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Katrina Nokleby and cabinet for effective long-term actions for supporting businesses in the recovery stage.
“The goal is to provide this advice based on the unique challenges businesses are facing in different communities. Our focus will be on both short-term (immediate recovery) from Covid-19 and long-term goals to build a sustainable economy that we can rely on for generations,” Bruce said.
It was still too early for Bruce to comment on specific plans or recommendations the council has in mind, but its overall goal is to “get business back to better than it was prior to Covid-19,” she said. “It will be crucial that we remain relevant with competitors from outside of the NWT.”
Phase two challenges
The BAC has noticed some hitches as businesses prepare to open in phase two.
“The common theme we have seen is small business owners/operators (are) not entirely sure what specific regulations apply to them as the communications may not match their operation. There is also some talk of confusion behind the rationale of some restrictions,” Bruce said.
She explained that some restaurants, such as Sushi Café and Top Knight, have had concerns with balancing customer capacity with safety measures.
NNSL Media inquired with those businesses for further details and was awaiting a response.
The path to the BAC’s formation has proven somewhat bumpy.
MLAs in the legislative assembly have since April been criticizing the GNWT’s slowness in setting up the council.
In a committee meeting in late April, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said the NWT lagged behind the Yukon by one month in establishing a Covid-19 business advisory council.
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On May 28, when the legislative assembly resumed sitting, Julie Green, MLA for Yellowknife Centre, implied that the council was a “secret committee” due to the lack of public information on it.
And last Friday in the assembly, Green said she still hadn’t seen an official announcement that the BAC had met and that “the government has created a council for which we have no public information.”
The BAC issued a news release on June 10, though it wasn’t widely distributed.
Nokleby released an official statement on Tuesday describing the role of the council and some of its membership.