Getting the territory’s economy back on its feet post Covid-19 won’t happen overnight: it will take time, collaboration and innovation, says Katrina Nokleby, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.
“I can tell you that we are planning for a slow and steady but long period of (economic) recovery,” said Nokleby during the NWT Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting — held via video-conference — Thursday.
“I promise you, we will throw everything we have as a government into identifying and implementing a recovery effort that will enable us to emerge from this crisis with a brighter future” said Nokleby.
For that to happen, new solutions are needed for new problems brought on by the novel coronavirus and its economic impact in the NWT.
“If there’s ever a place where the people are adaptive and creative, it’s the North,” continued Nokleby. “And it’s those strengths that will allow us to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever.”
Nokleby’s speech came hours after the chamber of commerce issued a withering letter to Premier Caroline Cochrane complaining about her lack of response to an earlier letter sent May 1 asking for a temporary moratorium on evictions for commercial tenants. The minister also changed her speaking time so she could attend a last-minute meeting Thursday afternoon.
During her speech, the minister said the government is working to ensure NWT mines can operate through the pandemic due to their importance as economic anchors in the recovery process. “Mining and exploration is the biggest source of private sector jobs and income in the NWT,” she added.
But the finance minister said Covid-19, and the global response it’s provoked, has further revealed governments’ need to be innovative.
“I believe there’s a silver lining,” said Nokleby. “The worldwide effort we’ve put into economic recovery will bring in new opportunities. If we can position ourselves to learn from the wave of innovation we’re seeing, perhaps we can re-imagine our economy for the future – one that promotes our wealth of natural resources, but one that also encourages a more diversified and resilient economy that builds on our natural strengths.”
Nokleby said once restrictions are relaxed and the economy begins to open up again, its recovery will “depend greatly on what we can do together and for each other. She said everyone has a role to play in the economy’s recovery, from governments and businesses to residents.
“The importance of buying Northern and buying locally has never been more true as it is today,” said Nokleby.
“(The department’s) intent is to prioritize proposals that are forward looking; where community employment is emphasized and the bulk of the funds will be spent locally,” she continued.
In the meantime, the territorial government, after securing additional support for NWT’s airline industry, will continue to push for additional economic relief from Ottawa.
“We will continue to, as you have, to lobby the federal government to work with us and the NWT business community to adapt and adjust to the changes brought on by Covid-19,” said Nokleby.
Nokleby said the ITI department is “already considering changes to our procurement policies and practices to expand our support of NWT businesses coming out of this crisis,” including support for NWT manufacturers to ensure businesses can meet the territory’s demand for personal protective equipment.
“As work continues on the plan to reopen the NWT economy, businesses need to do their part to prepare so they can be ready to open up when the time is right. Physically distancing measures are likely to be in place for a long time; additional (personal protection equipment) will be required for many businesses prepared to reopen,” the minister continued.
“We are changing our thinking, and ever so cautiously beginning to work ahead.”