A sub-group of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce released on Thursday several recommendations for the Yellowknife and territorial governments on helping out businesses rocked by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Business Resilience Working Group (BRWG)’s 14 recommendations cover a range of issues including investments, tax deferrals, rent relief and business permits.
Its recommendations were tailored to the fact that operational costs and wages are higher in the North than in other parts of Canada, the group said.
Wage subsidy top-up
One recommendation calls for a top-up to the federal wage subsidy program. For companies that have lost at least 30 per cent of their revenue since March due to the pandemic, the subsidy program would offer to pay 75 per cent of the wages, or up to $847 per week.
The BRWG’s top-up proposal “would be available in respect of salaries that are greater than the federal subsidy contemplates ($58,700) and should be an amount that reflects the higher costs of doing business and costs of living that Northerners face,” the group said.
Chamber president Tim Syer told NNSL Media that the organization isn’t asking for the federal government or GNWT to cover 100 per cent of the salaries, but said the subsidy should be higher to account for the higher salaries in the territory.
“We’re happy to (work with the governments to) figure out how to arrive at that number.”
Commenting on that recommendation, Sandra Stirling, co-owner of Overlander Sports said it could be useful since Ottawa’s subsidy program “isn’t much of a subsidy anyways. We’re going to apply for it when it becomes available.”
The program is considered taxable income, the government said, and is not a loan requiring repayment.
Stirling told NNSL Media in March that her sporting goods shop had lost about 75 per cent of its business since the pandemic hit and customer numbers dropped.
Another recommendation that responds to the needs of Yellowknife businesses urges that a rent relief strategy be developed with Ottawa and the GNWT.
“This strategy should focus on providing rental relief for businesses who have been forced to close or are unable to generate revenue as a result of Covid-19,” the BRWG said.
In a letter to Mayor Rebecca Alty and city councillors, the group wrote that “overhead costs are depleting Yellowknife businesses’ financial reserves and our concern is that if relief isn’t provided, these businesses will not have enough financial assets to return to normal operations once the pandemic is over.”
Rami Kassem, owner of the Javaroma cafe said he supports the recommendation “100 per cent.”
“Hopefully they’ll find a solution for our rent because it’s very expensive to turn a business in downtown Yellowknife,” he said.
“The wage subsidy helps for sure but if we make little money and we pay for the rent we cant even pay the 25 per cent for the wages. So, we still keep laying off people. If they find a solution with the federal government and help out small businesses that would be a big relief.”
Kassem told NNSL in March that while he supports the wage subsidy program it would do more good for businesses if it could offer a deal with landlords on rental costs.
Stirling was less sure about the BRWG’s rent bid, and said more information is needed.
“I’d have to see what the details are. Does that mean we’ll have to pay it back at some later time? We have a fairly big space so our rent is pretty expensive,” she said.
“If there was some kind of a subsidy that would be nice. Even a deferral of rent would be nice. But keep in mind quite a few of the landlords here are private businesses themselves so they have to be able to keep things going as well. There are two sides to that story.”
Syer explained that “a lot of the fixed costs for businesses aren’t subject to change when we enter a crisis like this. Certain costs like the costs of employees can be reduced by laying off employees. But they can’t lay off their landlords. We’re looking for funding that targets this specifically.
“(Landlords) are part of the businesses we represent also. This is why we’re asking for grants. Because if all we do is lend money then landlords won’t be able to make mortgage payments. It would just push the problem up the line. What we’re after are grants and subsidies that would help with rent whether you’re a landlord or a tenant.”
“On the municipal level maybe the City of Yellowknife can defer utilities payments or waste costs or water,” Syer suggested as an example.