The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation is crying foul after the territorial government unexpectedly cancelled occupancy permits for its newly acquired fishing lodge - a facility that has been operating on the shore of the nearby Stark River for decades.
Now, already coping with a lost season due to the global pandemic, the First Nation says the lodge is being mired in red tape from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
“The GNWT is marking National Tourism Week by refusing to issue a Ministry of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) business licence and cancelling occupancy permits issued in March to Frontier Lodge pending a ‘policy review of MACA requirements for licensing remote lodges,” wrote Lutsel K’e Chief Darryl Marlowe in a news release issued Wednesday.
Marlowe is frustrated and “fuming.”
“It is a critical element of the Lutsel K'e vision to build a sustainable local economy,” he wrote.
“But instead of working to support our vision, it seems like MACA is intent on shutting down a successful tourism business by refusing to grant a new licence,” continued Marlowe.
“I can’t even begin to understand the thinking behind this decision.”
In a landmark purchase, Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation acquired the longstanding Frontier Lodge from out-of-territory owners in December of last year. Located a stone's throw from Lutsel K'e, on Great Slave Lake’s east arm, the lodge boasts world-class pristine fishing waters, drawing tourists from across the world every season.
The recent purchase was meant to spur economic growth and create jobs for Lutsel K’e community members while opening a tourism gateway to the newly created Thaidene Nene national park.
Those plans have since stalled.
Marlow stated he's mystified as to why the territorial government is throwing up red tape now even though the lodge has been long running fixture in the community for many years.
“The GNWT’s failure to consider their own policy gaps shouldn’t be our problem,” stated Marlowe.
“It’s hard enough to try to operate a tourism business in the middle of a pandemic but we didn’t expect to have to fight the GNWT to license a business that has been operating safely and successfully for decades,” stated Marlowe.
“The delays, lack of communication and unnecessary burdens being placed on LKDFN by the GNWT are adding to the challenges that all tourism operators are facing in the midst of the COVID pandemic,” he added.
In a follow up interview with Marlowe, the Lutsel K’e chief said the community learned on Monday that their application was going to be put on hold. “He had our liquor licence in place, now MACA is saying they have to go under a policy review and develop a new policy,” he said.
“It was an exciting time when we purchased it - to bring opportunities for my members here, not only for today but for our future generation,” Marlowe told NNSL Media.
“ We’re leaving a legacy for them, it’s the first time a First Nation community has owned something this big - as a fishing lodge - so there are a lot of great opportunities for us,” added Marlowe.
Corey Myers is the general manager at Frontier Lodge.
“We’ve had to jump through hoops just to get set up. This all pertains basically to getting the liquor licence for the lodge,” said Myers.
“We are now required to have a MACA business licence, which was never required before . . . Now we’ve been told we require a MACA business licence which requires occupancy permits from the fire marshal, the whole nine yards. Whereas in the past, our tourism licence was all that was needed,” said Myers.
From the get-go, Myers said he's received scarce feedback from the GNWT.
“We didn’t receive feedback or information other than this is a policy decision that needs to be discussed until last Friday - when I was told our occupancy fire permits for the building were being rescinded,” he said.
Myers believes the lodge is being targeted because it was recently purchased by the First Nation.
“As long as the (previous owners) owned it, they could have kept renewing their licence and operating their business as they had been for decades. But because it was sold, now we’re being held to a standard that other lodges are not being held to, which is wrong.
“It’s an unnecessary bureaucratic trap,” said Myers.
LKFN is calling on the GNWT to “exempt Frontier Lodge from the MACA business licence requirement until GNWT can address its own policy issues,” according to Wednesdays news release.
MACA released the following statement to NNSL Media late Thursday.
"The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs would like to clarify the work it is doing with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation to ensure that the Frontier Lodge meets all requirements for the safe operation of their property. The safety of residents and visitors to the NWT is our highest priority," stated spokesperson Jay Boast.
According to Boast, "MACA has not denied the lodge a business license.
In fact, MACA has been proactive in working with the owners to ensure they understand the requirements under the Business Licencing Act, the Fire Prevention Act and the Liquor Act.,' he continued.
"MACA has been reviewing the requirement of fishing lodges to have a business licence. Previously fishing lodges operated under a tourism license. In this case, the lodge has also applied for a liquor licence which then triggers the need for a business licence. Here are some important points under consideration as part of this situation:
o Liquor licences are issued to the specific owners of a fishing lodge (or other licensed establishment) and are not transferable without the approval of the Liquor Licencing Board.
o Section 7 of the Liquor Act requires new applicants and owners seeking to transfer a liquor licence to make an application for approval by the Board. A transfer application requires the same documentation as a new liquor licence application. Section 14 of the Liquor Act also gives the Board authority to approve or deny a liquor licence transfer application.
o Subsection 17(1) of the Liquor Regulations require that a floor plan be approved for new applicants and license transfer applications;
o Subsection 17(2)(b) of the Regulations require both the Fire Marshal and Public Health Officer to confirm that the proposed facility will meet the requirements of their respective governing legislation (in the case of the Fire Marshal, this includes consideration of the occupancy load of the proposed licenced area submitted in the conditionally approve liquor license application).
Also, on the issue of Business Licensing for remote lodges, there may be other legislative considerations including:
1) The Business Licensing Act and Regulations - requires an inspection be conducted prior to Issuing a Business License to confirm fire safety requirements;
2) The Liquor Licensing Act and Regulations - also requires an inspection to confirm fire safety requirements should a lodge owner wish to serve alcohol;
3) The Fire Prevention Act authorizes the Fire Marshal to conduct fire safety inspections;
4) There is currently no exemption provisions outlined in the Business License Regulations nor the Fire Prevention Act," stated Boast.
During a recent meeting with the lodge owner, Boast wrote MACA proposed a way forward for LKDFN to "involve the assistance of a professional with requisite skills of adopted codes and standards outlined in the Fire Prevention Regulations so that the owner can address any significant issues prior to a formal inspection taking place."
"MACA is also researching any other available options to identify ways forward in an effort to assist the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation and other remote lodges in meeting requirements. We are committed to working with all parties involved to come to a reasonable resolution that ensures the safety of residents and visitors."