On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $73 million is to go to territorial governments for health and social services. CP photo

Trudeau promises $130M in COVID-19 aid for vulnerable northern communities

‘We want to be able to access the money immediately’

OTTAWA — Northern businesses are welcoming a federal announcement of $130 million to shore up supply chains and health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they say they need help immediately to keep crucial services open.

“We need to keep these businesses running,” said Kirt Ejeesiak of the Inuit Business Council.

“For us in the North, we don’t have the luxury of having a huge selection of businesses that do the same thing. It’s typically one outfit providing service.

“We want to be able to access the money immediately.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $73 million is to go to territorial governments for health and social services. Businesses with needs that aren’t met by federal emergency aid such as the wage subsidy program are to receive a total of $15 million.

Another $17.3 million is to subsidize northern air carriers to help maintain supplies of food, medicine and other essential goods and services. Another $25 million is to go to Nutrition North, which helps subsidize the higher cost of food in remote communities.

Ejeesiak called the announcement good news. But the council has released its own list of what governments can do to help.

It’s looking for forgivable loans of up to $50,000 as well as a $250,000 zero-interest line of credit. It also wants restrictions on the wage subsidy program to be relaxed for contract workers.

Ejeesiak said Arctic businesses have challenges southern ones don’t. For example, supplies and materials have to be ordered — and paid for — up to a year in advance.

He’s still sorting through details of the federal announcement. Small businesses in the Arctic, he said, weren’t consulted on it.

“There’s been a lot of meetings, but businesses have been overlooked,” he said. ”Northern businesses don’t fit the southern model.”

Northern communities, because of their remoteness, are considered the most vulnerable if COVID-19 begins to spread to them.

So far, the territories have kept infections to a minimum with eight confirmed cases in Yukon, five in the Northwest Territories and none in Nunavut.

Trudeau said the funds are in recognition that there are unique challenges in the territories and will enhance what is available to communities and businesses through other COVID-19 aid programs.

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