NWT business and tourism organizations are urging the territorial government to do a better job of introducing its Covid-19 response measures that are harming NWT enterprises.
Calling the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer and GNWT’s response during phase two of Emerging Wisely “woefully out of step with the private sector,” representatives of five organizations stated in a joint letter that urgent action is needed to ensure the survival of the private sector.
The letter was signed by leaders of the NWT and Yellowknife Chambers of Commerce, the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, the NWT and NU Construction Association and NWT Tourism.
Though the organizations applauded the response to the pandemic by the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer and some of the economic relief from the GNWT, they cited the economic devastation facing the tourism, hospitality, minerals and aviation industries.
“In an economy dominated by government, we fear there is no sense of urgency. GNWT workers remain on full pay with no consequences to their personal incomes, household costs, or pensions (which we note, are largely supported by the taxes paid by the Northern and Indigenous-owned businesses that we represent),” they stated in the June 26 correspondence.
“The GNWT has shown no initiative in adapting to phase two restrictions while virtually all its employees continue to work from home, where that is possible.
“The NWT business community is leading the way in adapting to phase two restrictions by reopening safely in the face of an opaque and restrictive public health regime.”
The organizations listed some calls to action for the GNWT and Office of the Chief Public Health Officer:
- Reveal to the public “the economic costs for the NWT of the pandemic so far and economic forecasting the GNWT has done”
- Ease travel and quarantine restrictions for those entering the territory
- Bring GNWT employees back to the workplace in ways consistent with the private sector
- Give consistent and prompt answers from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer on how rules will be interpreted and exemptions given
- Ensure consistent and accurate messaging regarding the public health emergency
“The GNWT relinquished many of its governing responsibilities at the outset of this pandemic. The decision-making authority of the (chief public health officer) can no longer take place in a vacuum. Businesses in the NWT are doing their best to survive. Our elected officials need to step up and govern, lest we see irreparable damage to our once vibrant business community,” the organizations concluded in their letter.
In an email to NNSL Media on June 30, Premier Caroline Cochrane stated the GNWT takes the concerns of the business community seriously and was working with the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer and stakeholders to address them.
The government, led by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, is planning a meeting with the Business Advisory Council, the chief public health officer and Cabinet to discuss their concerns and better understand the GNWT’s planned health measures and possibilities for restarting the NWT economy.
Cochrane acknowledged that Covid-related disruptions of GNWT operations have delayed projects and business reopenings and stated the government is working on finding solutions.
Responding to the request that the pandemic’s cost to the territorial economy be revealed, the premier stated that a survey of NWT business owners has been conducted and its results would be released shortly.
However, travel restrictions are a necessary measure to protect public health as new cases of Covid-19 were still occurring daily in southern Canada, the premier said. Cochrane stated the government will continue reviewing the need for restrictions, but those measures would remain in place “so long as they are needed to keep our people and communities safe.”