The story for 2020/21 for the members of Nunavut’s Community Futures (NCF) is not of individual client success but rather how assistance was provided to Nunavut businesses to survive the severe impacts of COVID-19 in the Territory.
Nunavut represents 20% of Canada’s land mass with a population of 39,536 in 25 communities, of which over 85% are Inuit. Nunavut does not have roads connecting the communities or connecting it to the national road system. COVID-19 required extreme measures in reducing air passenger transportation between communities and southern Canada to stop the influx of people into the Territory and the potential infections from the virus in small and remote communities with extremely limited resources. Health care and other essential workers were allowed with tight restrictions.
The impacts were immediate and severe. All business and tourism travel out of and throughout Nunavut, was stopped. Construction projects dependent on southern-based trades people, were suddenly impacted and even routine maintenance and repairs that required southern technicians, now tripled in cost due to the isolation time required to enter the territory. All Nunavut resident workers at the operating mines were sent home and only workers flown in directly from the south to the mines were allowed.
The most impacted businesses were those who offered accommodations and catering to these travellers. Other impacts included some businesses temporarily closing, dramatically reducing operations, and/or staff working from home, while assisting kids learning from home as schools also closed.
Considering the small population and large land mass, compared to other Canadian jurisdictions, the 3 NCF members serve clients in the 3 regions of Nunavut, and found many in extreme distress. Support for businesses included offers of deferred loan payments, interest relief, assistance with filling out applications and navigating the range of COVID-19 relief programing. A few of the Inuit-owned businesses received support through the Indigenous Business Support Program from the National Aboriginal Capital Corporation Association, but key to assisting clients was the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF), which after some initial set-up with the Governments of Canada and Nunavut, provided significant support of over $1,400,000 with an additional $240,000 leveraged across the territory.
At the close of fiscal year 2020/21, NCF members were proud to reflect on the determination of the Nunavut business community to survive through the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have used down time to plan new ways of marketing and increase operational efficiency to grow their business. Some businesses pivoted quickly and created partnerships. For example, a restaurant that was forced to close, created a partnership with a convenience store to sell meals. A tourism outfitter that normally caters to visitors to Nunavut, pivoted its services to provide residents with vacation-like experiences in our “own backyard”. There were even business start-ups. A mine worker who was suddenly laid off due to COVID-19 restrictions, started his own taxi business to help the community and generate an income for his family. The Chambers worked with businesses to create a “Buy Local” campaign and created boxes for sale of local products, giving artists who depend on tourism and business travel, an outlet.
Businesses are optimistic as there is a high probability of future success as Nunavut moves toward the ‘new normal’ and the economy moves forward to stability and recovery. No businesses have permanently closed their doors, many jobs have been saved or maintained and loan repayment is expected.