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COMMUNITY REPORT: Yk council contemplates options for reopening economy

Mayor Rebecca Alty was in November appointed to six groups under the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. NNSL photo

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said this week that she supports additional funding from the federal government due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although the city recently showed that it had a healthy $6.7-million surplus based on a 2019 audit, Alty said she hopes to see external funding from higher orders of government to help deal with costs associated with the crisis. She cited personal protective equipment and staff overtime as examples.

Mayor Rebecca Alty said municipalities are calling for added financial support from the federal government as well as the territorial government. The city continues to plan for a transitioning back into an open economy as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.
NNSL file photo

"As much as we can, we want to help residents as much as possible (at this) difficult time and (it's) something we have to do," said the mayor. "So we are hoping some support will come from the territorial and federal  government to help cover those expenses that have occurred from Covid-19 and some of those revenue losses too."

Covid-19 and reopening the economy

Alty said the city will have to begin thinking about what the local economy will look like as it transitions toward scaling up again.

"From the city's perspective I think the big focus is dealing with the financial side of pandemic," she said. "We need to think about what does de-containment look like and the economy opening back up."

She added that she's pleased the health of the community has endured.

"It is great to see that we have zero active cases in the Northwest Territories now," Alty said of the five individuals who have recovered from the virus. However, she noted that it remains important for people to maintain their physical distancing.

Although a vaccine for the pandemic is not expected for another year to 18 months, it will be important for businesses and the community to think about how to prepare for resuming commerce and whether special precautions will be required, such as having masks and other other health and safety requirements, Alty suggested.

"How do we start to have those conversations of how can we prepare for this (economic reopening) because the way it looks, it doesn't look like (Covid-19) is going away too soon," she said.

Asked how she thought the Yellowknife business community was faring, she said it seems to vary, and that the city needs to help where it can for those business that may have a harder time meeting public health orders and physical distancing measures.

The Yellowknife Direct Charge Co-op is supporting Ragged Ass Barbershop by selling gift certificates for when the operation opens again. Barbershop co-owner and city councillor Steve Payne says businesses will emerge from the pandemic hurt, however some accommodations are being made where possible.
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"I think there is a range," she said. "There's actually some businesses that are doing more business than before, and then there are businesses on the other side that are really hurting because their operations aren't designed to be delivered online or as a takeout product."

Other councillors agree hardship for businesses has varied.

Coun. Robin Williams said the city and territorial government have responded well to the pandemic and residents have done a good job of maintaining physical distancing. He said it remains important that the city and residents shop at local establishments during the pandemic, as many business owners are struggling.

"As you can see by the amount of traffic that is happening in the community, it is extremely tough on small businesses," Williams said. "I've been trying to encourage other Yellowknifers to go out to restaurants and support local businesses as much as possible. There are so many creative businesses out there that are doing curbside pickup, online ordering and all of those types of things. I think that is super important right now."

Coun. Steve Payne says businesses have no doubt been struggling a month into the pandemic, although some have built their operations around different models to adapt to conditions,
NNSL file photo

Coun Steve Payne said businesses will hurt as they emerge from the pandemic, but there are supports, such as last week's $15-million CanNor funding announcement. He also noted that many businesses have tried to be flexible to minimize their struggles.

As co-owner of Ragged Ass Barbers, Payne said there has been a complete loss of income in the haircutting business, but there is still a bright spot. The Yellowknife Direct Charge Co-op has sold gift certificates for the barbershop for when it reopens at a later date. As well, the store has sold some T-shirts.

"Businesses right now are doing what they have to do and some businesses have changed their business model to accommodate to a new way of doing business," he said.