Check against delivery
Hello everyone and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
I’d like to specifically thank Jenni for the invitation to address your membership. This is the first chance that I have had to do so since being elected, and though I wish we could have done it in person, I am glad all the same.
Outside of the immediate task of navigating the COVID-19 crisis, the Government of the Northwest Territories’ broad mandate is to improve the lives of the people it serves.
The products and services provided by members of this Chamber – day in and day out – play a big part in doing that.
I want to recognize the work of your Executive Director. You are in good hands with Renee and I have committed to meeting with her regularly to hear about your work as a Chamber and ensure that the relationship between the Chamber and the GNWT remains strong.
As the Minister responsible for ensuring the health of the Northwest Territories’ economy, I must also thank the NT Chamber for your continued advocacy on behalf of Northwest Territories businesses.
In particular, your April 24th letter to the Honourable Mélanie Joly served to reinforce what she has already heard from our government and from other Northwest Territory interest groups.
Collectively, our territory – its governments, business chambers, and stakeholder organizations – have been able to create an important awareness in Ottawa about the need for specific and regionally-appropriate support programs for Northwest Territories businesses.
It’s a message that I have personally been loud and persistent in delivering, and it’s a message that seems to be getting through.
CanNor’s Northern Business Relief Fund has significantly expanded relief options for Northwest Territories and Indigenous businesses; and we were able to secure additional support for the North’s airline industry. I want to thank you all for your role in this success.
We know we still have work to do, and we will continue to advocate for more supports. This includes our home-based businesses as well as additional supports for our tourism sector. This work is ongoing.
The Premier laid out some of the principles behind our social and economic recovery plan last week in a presentation to our colleagues in the Legislative Assembly.
I want to especially thank Jenni (Bruce) for agreeing to co-chair the new Business Advisory Council that will help lead the way forward.
I can tell you that we are planning for a slow and steady - but long - period of recovery.
Our economy will continue to be reliant on our resource sector and on our diamond mines.
We are working to ensure that our mines can operate through this crisis because we will need them to anchor our recovery. Mining and exploration is the biggest source of private sector jobs and income for our residents and a major buyer of products and services from our businesses.
The Chief Public Health Officer has said that for the foreseeable future our borders will remain closed to non-essential traffic.
When it happens, economic recovery will need to begin within our territory; and it will depend greatly on what we can do together and for each other.
We have just this week re-opened our SEED program. It represents $4 million dollars of potential investment into our communities. Our intent is to prioritize proposals that are forward-looking, where community employment is emphasized, and the bulk of the funds will be spent locally.
Obviously, we will continue, as you have, to lobby the federal government to work with us and the Northwest Territories business community to help businesses recover and adapt to the changing business environment.
We will also be asking Northwest Territories residents to play a role.
The importance of the “Buy North”, or “Spend NWT”, message has never been as true as it is today.
And, I can tell you, it is a message that will extend to residents and governments equally.
Within the Departments of ITI and Infrastructure we are already considering changes to our procurement policies and practices to expand our support of Northwest Territories business coming out of this crisis.
We took our first step in that direction last week with our decision to support Northwest Territories manufacturers in a way that will allow them to meet our territory’s demand for Personal Protective Equipment.
As work continues on the plan to re-open the Northwest Territories’ economy, businesses need to do their part to prepare so they can be ready to open up when the time is right.
Physical distancing measures are likely to be in place for a long-time. Additional PPE will be required for many businesses as they prepare to re-open.
If you are looking for a take-away message from me this afternoon - it is that we are changing our thinking – and ever-so-cautiously beginning to look ahead.
But we are only able to do so because of the work that we have already done across our government:
By providing those early loans to ensure liquidity while we sorted out next steps;
By finding ways for the mines to operate through the pandemic;
By implementing a pause for the resource exploration sector while we secure a longer term solution;
By securing the supply chain;
By eliminating fees and speeding up payments to NWT companies;
But most importantly, by working and lobbying Canada and its Northern Economic Development Agency to provide relief where and when it was needed most.
Given the scarcity of our financial resources, it was important to us that GNWT programs compliment federal programs as opposed to duplicating them.
Our approach means that we can now commit our full financial capacity to the purposes of economic recovery.
If there is a silver lining, I believe the collective world-wide effort that will be put into economic recovery will bring new opportunities.
If we can position ourselves to learn from the wave of innovation that I believe we will see, perhaps we can re-imagine our own economy for the future; one that continues to promote our wealth of natural resources but also encourages a more diversified and resilient economy that builds upon our natural strengths.
I promise that we will throw everything we have as a government into identifying and implementing a recovery effort that will enable us to emerge from this crisis with a brighter future.
If there is ever a place where the people are adaptable and creative it’s the north. And it is that adaptability and creativity that will allow us to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today and I hope to have many similar opportunities again in the future.
Have a great afternoon.