The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce gave the Government of the Northwest Territories a shot in the arm last week, but there wasn’t a vaccine dose in sight.

The chamber’s executive director, Deneen Everett, said in an email Monday that the Business Resilience Working Group formed at the outset of the pandemic made seven recommendations to the GNWT on April 9 of last year.

Five are now considered “policy wins” that have largely been adopted.

These include the GNWT allowing the sale of liquor alongside delivered food, moving to a “pay ASAP” system for invoices from vendors and the creation of a territorial top-up to the federal wage subsidy program.

Notable progress

The chamber’s 383 members were apparently pleased to see some change, or “notable progress” on the other two issues where they suggested changes. This includes the Business Development and Investment Corporation (BDIC) adjusting its Working Capital Loan program, which now has an interest rate of 1.75 per cent and an option to defer repayment for up to three months. And the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC), which was asked to waive premiums for 2020, instead suspended late payment charges and extended the assessment deadline to Aug. 1.

“This was progress,” the chamber wrote effusively in an “e-blast” email on Feb. 11. The message started by describing the yearslong lobbying effort to reduce the small business tax to two per cent. That campaign began with a letter sent to the GNWT in June 2016 and ended with the most recent budget presented by Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek Feb. 4.

“We’d like to recognize and thank Minister Caroline Wawzonek for her innovative budgeting approach that allowed the GNWT to reduce revenues by about $1.7 million to implement this tax reduction.”

Chamber loves red tape reduction

Everett said the chamber’s board is “thrilled” about the creation of a Red Tape Working Group that will examine business regulations.

Its membership comprises Kelly Bluck, fiscal policy director with the Finance department; Jacqueline Demers, assistant deputy minister; Marty-Ann Bayha, regional superintendent for the Sahtu region with the Department of Industry Tourism and Investment; Sara Brown, CEO of the NWT Association of Communities; Jenni Bruce, co-chair of the Business Advisory Council (BAC) and president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce; and Kyle Wright, from the Norman Wells and District Chamber of Commerce.

The group’s objective is to provide information to the GNWT so it can reduce regulatory burdens before March 31.

Everett is also looking forward to the chamber’s annual general meeting, which will be held online Feb. 26.

“We’re in the process of engaging with our membership to learn more about (other) specific areas (where the GNWT can better support businesses) so we can recommend potential solutions,” she said. “We plan to release more information in March.”

Wawzonek happy to see message

“Ultimately our organizations share the same objective – to foster an environment that allows the NWT’s diverse group of entrepreneurs and businesses to grow and thrive,” Wawzonek said in an email Tuesday. “As we’ve worked to respond to the pandemic, the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce(‘s) consistent and thoughtful advocacy has helped focus and shape our government’s supports, ensuring our efforts best fit the needs of our local businesses.”

The minister said there’s a lot of work left to be done.

“We look forward to continuing our dialogue with all local chambers of commerce, and the business community as a whole, as our residents are best served when we work collectively.”

Craig Gilbert

Craig is an award-winning journalist who has worked in Ontario, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta. He should be at least six feet away from you at all times.

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