Katrina Nokleby: Northwest Territories COVID-19 Economic Relief

Yellowknife — March 20, 2020
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

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I’d like to take a moment to reiterate what many of my colleagues have also addressed over the last few days, and that’s that I know this is an anxious time, and many of us are unsure and worried about what the future holds.

The situation with COVID-19 is evolving quickly, and in times like this, what many people want most are answers. They want to know that their physical, and financial wellbeing are being looked out for. That their governments understand these pressures, and are doing everything they can.

Well, I am here today with Minister Wawzonek to try to ease some of that worry, and reassure you that there are many hardworking, dedicated people working tirelessly to deal with each issue that arises, and protect NWT residents during this uncertain time.  

There is no denying that COVID-19 is a significant challenge around the world, and in the Northwest Territories.  In the North, the global situation will have an immense impact on us.

There is no avoiding the economic impacts that we are already challenged with, but we are committed to doing what we can to help residents, businesses, and our economy during this period of uncertainty.

As Minister Wawzonek has outlined, the GNWT has put together an initial $13.2 Million dollar economic relief package that will take effect immediately.

This funding is intended to work in concert with federal incentives announced under Canada’s $27 billion COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, earlier this week.

We understand the critical importance of maintaining the northern supply chain. The delivery of essential goods must continue in order to resupply our communities, and support our economy.

To help maintain ground-based resupply into the territory, all toll fees for crossing the Deh Cho Bridge and many permit fees for transport trucks on all NWT highways will be waived until June.

To support our airlines, all landing fees at all NWT airports will also be waived.

At the BDIC, we’re going to offer low interest loans to businesses to help offset COVID-19 impacts, and allow the deferral of any BDIC loan payments for a period of up to three months with no penalty or additional interest charges.

As well, we’ll offer an extension of the due date for Employer Assessment Payments with the WSCC from April 1 to May 1, 2020.

We will also establish an Economic Council to help identify the economic impacts, represent the business community, and ensure that the items most critical to local economies and jobs are addressed.

There are a number of other items being implemented, and the full list of GNWT response measures for phase 1, are included in the release.  

I want to reassure residents and our business community that we will continue to look at ways to support you and continue to assess other relief measures, including leaning on the federal government to offer more support to the North.

The Premier and each member of Cabinet will continue to be a voice for our residents and businesses in conversations with our federal counterparts. Addressing the costs, and challenges that we are all experiencing is a priority, and we are committed to keeping you informed along the way.

Before I conclude my statement, I’d like to take a moment to address the concerns about the NWT Diamond Mines, and the decision made by Dominion Diamond Mine to temporarily suspend operations at Ekati, in the interest of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 to the NWT.

This is obviously difficult news to take from the perspective of the NWT economy, and the livelihoods of those that are reliant on Ekati for jobs or business. 

We know that the impacts of COVID-19 are far reaching and that includes our mining industry.

That said, all mines are not equal. Their ownership structure, operations, and their capacity to address issues like COVID-19 is different.

The Diavik and Gacho Kué mines, and other businesses, are also taking steps to address the COVID19 crisis. The fact that they are still operating should not be a reflection of a disregard for what is happening.

I am confident that businesses that are still in operation are adhering to the safety precautions outlined by the Chief Public Health Officer, and are operating within the parameters that have been put in place so far.

I want to reassure businesses and residents who depend on the mines that the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment has been in regular communication with our mines, and advanced projects on COVID-19 contingency planning efforts.

The mines and industry have agreed to keep us informed, and I am committed to sharing updates and information on that, and other important matters, as I am able to do so.