The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce expressed disappointment with the GNWT’s draft Emerging Stronger strategy for economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The long-awaited strategy maps out key areas of recovery such as creating jobs, diversifying the economy, building wellness and increasing government efficiency and was tabled by Premier Caroline Cochrane on May 31.
In an open letter addressed to Cochrane on June 3, the chamber said the draft “does not provide an actionable plan to support the NWT’s economic future.”
Chamber president Tim Syer and executive director Deneen Everett pointed to “vague action items” in the draft like “seek to assist the tourism, aviation, construction, hospitality and the mining sectors to position for survival and eventual rebound.
“(They) don’t inspire confidence in the government’s ability to support economic recovery for the Yellowknife business community. The government has an obligation to do more than ‘seek’ to support these critical industries – we need an actionable plan with budgets and time lines,” the Chamber representatives stated.
While the plan includes broad time lines for action items, it attaches no budgets to those items.
The chamber detailed several recommendations based on Emerging Stronger where it feels the GNWT should focus its action plans.
Referring to its Vote Growth platform from the 2019 territorial election, the chamber leaders said a lack of fibre redundancy in the NWT can cost Yellowknife businesses $4.75 million in gross domestic product (GDP) during one-day internet outages.
The COVID-19 pandemic further demonstrated the importance of broadband infrastructure and the chamber said it lauds the commitment in Emerging Stronger for better support for fast and reliable internet services. However, the business lobby group also recommends the GNWT work with Northwestel to support the Yellowknife Fibre Redundancy Project “through a combination of financial support and joint efforts to pursue federal funding to make this $20-$25 million project a reality.”
The chamber said it learned in its discussions with the NWT and Nunavut Construction Association that there aren’t enough tutoring and educational resources for people who take the trades entrance exam.
“Over the past five years, only 53 per cent of NWT residents who wrote the exam passed on their first attempt, delaying, or ending nearly 300 apprenticeships,” it said.
For the development of more skilled tradespeople in the NWT, the chamber recommends the GNWT include an action item for better support for people taking the exam.
The chamber also said its membership seeks the creation of an NWT Builders Lien Act and inclusion of that act in the Emerging Stronger plan to help ensure NWT construction companies get paid on time for their work.
In its discussions with the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, the Yellowknife Chamber heard that the GNWT should seek broader federal funding opportunities for infrastructure projects like the Taltson Hydroelectricity Expansion Project and Slave Geological Province Corridor.
The chamber recommends that action be included under the “expand and diversify the economy” section of Emerging Stronger.