Bernard Dube, who came to Yellowknife two years ago, is originally from South Africa. In his late 40s, he enjoys a stable job with the territorial government and has been doing some side businesses – including assisting a local driving school.
But he admits that his first love is property development, and he has a dream of starting his own business.
He said this week’s announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the “first-ever Black Entrepreneurship Program,” is just the sort of thing that could help him get a housing construction and repair business off the ground.
“I would say I’m a budding entrepreneur, and I think that we as people who are wanting to move need to move fast and claim those opportunities that the government is making available,” Dube said. “(Being a Black person) is a key line in itself and the main thing of huge interest because it involves particular focus. The government is saying that (the fund) is not for everybody and that it is a particular type of people we want to support.”
The federal government is providing as mujch as $93 million over the next four years. Canadian banks will top up the fund to $221 million.
The aim is to help Black businesspeople and entrepreneurs recover from challenges posed by Covid-19, according to a news release from the Office of the Prime Minister.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated existing systemic barriers faced by Black entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized business owners in Canada,” it reads.
The federal government is also intending to continue working toward anti-racism efforts and addressing systemic racism.
Dube said he sees it as a welcome effort by Ottawa to address inequities that people of colour have faced.
The federal government’s release promises to “help thousands of Black business people across Canada recover from this crisis and grow their businesses” – something that Dube agrees is needed. He said it would ultimately help him aid Yellowknife’s housing shortage.
“In Yellowknife, I see an issue where accommodations is an issue and rents speak to that effect where we are paying $1,000 rent,” he said of basic apartments. “We need to build as many accommodations as we can and if it means high-rise buildings … we must do something about the problem we have. If we don’t see a problem, we can’t solve a problem.
“I see a problem where I can do something with the funding that is coming.”
Michael McLeod, member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories, was unavailable to speak to the issue on Thursday.
According to the news release, the announcement will include $53 million toward a “new National Ecosystem Fund” that will allow black businesspeople “access funding and capital, mentorship, financial planning services and business training.”
The program will also provide $33.3 million for a new Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund.
Eligible applicants will be able to apply for loans of between $25,000 and $250,000. This includes federal assistance as well as loans through financial institutions.
The third component to the program will include $6.5 million to create a new Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub designed to collect data on the state of Black businesses.
The aim is to “help identify Black entrepreneurs’ barriers to success as well as opportunities for growth. The hub will be run by Black-led community and business organizations, in partnership with educational institutions,” according to the news release. It was not clear Thursday how this might apply to the NWT.
Deneen Everett, executive director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, stated in an email that the federal announcement’s program is encouraging, and that her organization is aiming to create awareness of the funding.
“The launch of the Black Entrepreneurship Program is very exciting!” she stated. “There are a number of Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs in the NWT, so we’ll certainly be sharing information and promoting the program to our membership.”
Everett said members of Yellowknife’s Black business community were named among the 2020 Honourees of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women. Both Colleen Tsikira with DME Driving School and Cynthia Mufandaedza, owner of Best Movers YK, were recognized.