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The Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce is calling on the NWT’s Premier to block commercial evictions as May 1 business rents are now due.

In a joint letter signed by the NWT chamber as well as other members of the Canadian Chambers of Commerce, provincial premiers and their territorial counterparts are being asked to put a moratorium on commercial rent.

Premier Caroline Cochrane, left, is among the provincial and territorial leaders across the country who have been asked by chambers of commerce for a moratorium to be placed on commercial leases. Renee Comeau, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, right, says that NWT businesses are struggling financially at the beginning of the May even as the federal government has put in rent and wage subsidy programs.

As of Friday evening there was no response from Cochrane’s office. Renee Comeau, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, said she’s hoping to get some answers for her members by mid-next week.

On April 24, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA), which would reduce commercial rent by 75 per cent for businesses that qualify. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is to administer the program and provinces and territorial governments are providing up to 25 per cent of the costs.

The federal government also introduced the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) last month, which will assist employers in keeping and rehiring workers during the pandemic. The program will provide a subsidy of 75 per cent of an eligible worker’s weekly earnings, up to maximum of $847 per employee per week for up to 12 weeks.

RELATED COVERAGE: 30,000 applications received nationwide for wage subsidy program, government says

GUEST COMMENT: Some Northern businesses will die is not an acceptable consequence of Covid-19 

Friday’s letter to the Premier and national leaders states that the federal programs are positive, but businesses can’t wait for the assistance to roll out.

“The challenge faced by small businesses today is immediate,” states the letter. “It is good that help is on the way, but for an increasingly large number of small businesses the time they are being asked to wait will result in permanent closure. The delay in the CECRA program implementation, when combined with delays in other programs (such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy), will tragically lead to May 1 rent payments pushing some small businesses over the financial cliff.

“To that end, on behalf of our members and small businesses across the country,
we implore you to immediately execute an order to block commercial evictions
for a period of at least two weeks.”

Comeau said on Friday that a lot of the concerns in the NWT are shared across the country and this is why there was a multi-jurisdictional approach to addressing leaders collectively.

“There are some big gaps and issues (with CERCA) that we do have concerns about not only for the Northwest Territories, but that also seem to be reverberating across the nation,” she said. “Specifically, a lot of the larger landlords are not wanting to participate and that is creating an issue.”

She added that there are small landlords in the NWT that cannot participate in the program at all because they aren’t eligible to apply.

“We are just asking each one of the provincial and territorial premiers to (put a) moratorium on commercial evictions just as they have done for residents while these gaps and issues can get worked out and as the program is rolled out through CMHC,” Comeau said.

RELATED COVERAGE: NWT temporarily bars evictions for non-payment of rent 

Comeau explained that the situation for businesses on Friday was “extremely pressing” because not only was rent due, but it was also payday for workers, putting additional stress on business owners with limited revenues.

She said many small businesses have indicated that there’s a big difference between their fiscal predicaments at the end of March compared to how they were faring at the end of April. With another month of slow to no business activity on top of paydays on top of other operations costs, businesses will really be feeling the pain this month, she said.

“A lot of them had full revenue in the month of March,” she said. “As most businesses do in the NWT, they had a lot of last-minute projects being paid out by the GNWT for the fiscal year end. That kind of coasted them through this last month in April. But now, you know, the reality hits, and a lot of places had to shut down you have a lot of businesses having employees working remotely and the revenue just isn’t coming in as it did in March.

“So this is really going to probably be the first month that’s really going to hit them.”

The full letter can be read below:

 

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Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. He came from Prince Edward County, Ont., and obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University...

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