Government slammed for
closed-door discussions

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 14/97) - The government held its second panel discussion on the economy and employment with members of the business community last weekend.

However, discussion was closed to the public and media, just as it was for the first panel.

The reason is that the government wants more frank discussion, said GNWT press secretary Val Mellesmoen.

But Jackie Simpson of the Union of Northern Workers said the secret meetings are irresponsible and an insult to the people of the NWT.

"I can't imagine a group more out of touch with the everyday reality of ordinary Northerners than the members of this panel," Simpson said.

"It's an insult to people struggling to live a day-to-day existence to be told they should just pick themselves up and start a business."

At a Sunday afternoon news conference on April 6, following the panel discussions, Premier Don Morin outlined his government's direction. He was accompanied by Sandra Jaque of Fort Smith and Wilf Wilcox of Cambridge Bay.

"We need to develop a fair process where we can entertain unsolicited proposals," he said. Currently there is no mechanism in place for this to occur.

Another consideration will be de-bundling tenders to give communities more of an opportunity in the process.

"We continually hear there's far too much red tape for development of business ideas," said Morin. The government is initiating measures to cut the red tape and will examine regulations.

Another concern is that there's no central place for businesses to access funds.

And if people expect the panel to create jobs, they may be waiting a long time. "No one's going to wave a magic wand to create 1,000 or 2,000 jobs in the territories. It's up to the people to do it," Morin stated.

Panelist Wilf Wilcox said the business community has to get more creative and look at new ways to do things.

He believes government should provide more incentives such as tax breaks to businesses to stimulate investment and help generate more capital.

Another panelist, Sandra Jaque, says it's time people stopped expecting government to look after them, and they should look at becoming entrepreneurs.

Panel members encouraged a more diversified economy, with efforts to promote the manufacturing sector, especially in Nunavut.

Currently, there's manufacturing in Yellowknife and Hay River, but there's very little in other communities, Morin says.

Another panel recommendation is the desire to create more partnerships with lending and financial institutions.

And the government must do more to anticipate training needs for the current and future job market.

Particular emphasis should be placed on enhancing trade programs in school curricula to encourage students to pursue careers in this area and meet the needs of the mining industry.

In June 1996, the premier set up a panel of Northern businesspeople, representing different geographic and economic sectors of the NWT.

Members of the group were selected based on their level of expertise and experience gained from operating successfully in the North. Panelists include representatives of the mining, tourism, construction, commerce and manufacturing sectors.

Due to the high cost of doing business in the North, the government intends to work with industry to develop incentive programs to sharpen industry's competitive edge.

But Jackie Simpson says the recommendations presented are the same tired ideas that have resulted in some of the highest unemployment and poverty levels experienced in Canada since the Depression.

Here is a list of members on Premier Don Morin's panel on the economy and employment by name, industry and location:

  • Willard Hagen, general, Inuvik
  • Russell Newmark, general, Tuktoyaktuk
  • Larry Wallace, hospitality, Norman Wells
  • Joanne Deneron, retail, Fort Liard
  • Mike Magrum, mining, Yellowknife
  • Gary Jaeb, tourism, Yellowknife
  • Jack Walker, general, Yellowknife
  • Stefan Simek, architect-construction, Yellowknife
  • Sandra Jaque, press, Fort Smith
  • Russell King, wholesale-retail-manufacturing, Hay River
  • David Ittinuar, wholesale-retail-manufacturing, Rankin Inlet
  • Leonie Napa Duffy, hospitality, Coral Harbour
  • Wilf Wilcox, construction, Cambridge Bay
  • Dennis Lyall, construction, Taloyoak
  • Bob Hanson, construction, Iqaluit