The NWT Chamber is upset (read here) at the silence following an urgent request for the GNWT, and Premier Cochrane in particular, to come to the aid of businesses who faced a rent payment on May 1st. There are federal relief programs in the works but for these businesses, after the bottom fell out seven weeks earlier, the landlord is at the door. If the landlord isn’t at the door, they will be in a few short weeks on June 1 because the banks will be at their door.
For the NWT Chamber to be speaking out in this fashion indicates how serious it is for their members. Sadly, the GNWT’s response on behalf of the premier was what I wrote about last week, taking them to task for this exact thing.
The Chamber followed up on the Premier’s silence with a phone call and “were told it had been sent to the Ministry of Justice to review.”
See that’s the way the old GNWT operated. Now we need the new GNWT to step up. After my column last week, I was contacted by my counterparts in the new GNWT. Was it a coincidence? I don’t care frankly. I can report we have a much better understanding of each other’s position and I have more confidence we can establish a mutually respectful and (key) mutually beneficial relationship going forward.
So let’s consider how the new GNWT might have responded to this COVID-induced emergency. The request for help is complex and gives rise to complex questions:
- How does the GNWT get involved in commercial landlord/tenant financial relationships?
- If landlords don’t get paid, what are they supposed to tell their suppliers, their accounting department and their bankers?
- Should the relief be in the form of grants or loans?
- Do businesses paying mortgages qualify? Home-based businesses?
- If the federal money is coming, what time frame for bridge financing are we talking about?
- Are there any programs already in place that might help?
- Finally, how many of the NWT Chamber’s members are affected? Five? 10? 100 northern businesses?
Premier Cochrane has been very vocal about the need to rebuild the post-COVID Northern economy, even admitting it was ailing pre-COVID. I believe she is sincere but it’s obvious some people around her are conducting themselves by ‘business as usual.’ This means cumbersome inter-departmental fact-finding, followed by agonizing microscopic parsing of language by legal beagles sniffing out any hint of precedent-setting unintended commitments to do anything outside of the present circumstance and timeframe. It’s called covering their ass, which often takes so long in the end there’s no need to do anything, it’s just too late. Oh well.
What should have happened was an immediate call on the morning May 2 from someone (making a six-figure salary) in the Premiers’ office to NWT Chamber President Jenni Bruce and Executive Director Renée Comeau, posing the questions that needed answers before any plan could be put in place. The Chamber’s board of directors includes both property managers and bankers. Government doesn’t have to, shouldn’t expect or want to come up with all the answers themselves.
Had that timely call been made, there would have been no headline and story in Yellowknifer. The NWT Chamber could have told the anxious members affected by the rent issue at Thursday’s Annual General Meeting that the Chamber board and the Premier’s office were working diligently together to resolve the immediate threat to Northern business; suggested solutions welcome, patience needed to allow progress.
As I have said, silence from those being asked to help leads to the discouraging conclusion help likely ain’t coming. No one deserves that stress heaped on the worry of a COVID pandemic.
I mentioned a second bump in the road, didn’t I? Here was the first: Chamber of Mines blasts ‘weak’ GNWT recovery strategy that omits mining industry.