Territorial senators join fight against federal wage subsidy eligibility requirements

The territories’ three Senators have joined the fight to get the federal government to change its eligibility requirements for its wage subsidy program.

On Tuesday, Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, N.W.T. Senator Margaret Dawn Anderson and Yukon Senator Pat Duncan issued a press release saying they had “pushed in vain” to get Ottawa to change the program’s eligibility requirements before Bill C-14, A second Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19, was passed last weekend.

“I had hoped that the wage subsidy would bring the certainty and comfort required to northern companies whose operating season in 2020 has been devastated by COVID-19. What we saw instead was that the concerns of the North were left out, yet again,” Patterson said in the release.

Earlier this month, Ottawa  announced it would offer a 75 per cent wage subsidy to all businesses that have lost 15 per cent of their revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government had previously said it would only offer a 10 per cent subsidy.

Diavik diamond mine. Many mines, like Meliadine in Nunavut and Diavik and Ekati in the N.W.T., have sent many of their northern workers back to their small communities with pay. (2015 DDMI Sustainable Development Report )

To qualify, companies must show their revenue from January to March of this year was 15 per cent less than it was at the same time last year.

But the problem, according to the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, is that revenue from many mining-based companies, which make up the North’s largest private sector employers, is uneven year over year. In many cases, companies work on projects for months and only receive payment at the end. Even revenues month to month are far from constant. On the exploration front, junior mining companies don’t make any revenue and instead only collect money from investors making them ineligible for the subsidy.

We are talking about small and medium-sized businesses owned by local northerners that may not have the support they need to make it to another season.–  Dennis Patterson, Nunavut senator

Last week, the chamber wrote a letter to Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal calling for those eligibility requirements to be loosened. The Det’on Cho Corporation and Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation, along with the Inuit Business Association, sent similar letters. 

“We are talking about small and medium-sized businesses owned by local northerners that may not have the support they need to make it to another season. We need to adapt this subsidy to the northern business experience,” Patterson said.

“When territorial governments, local business organizations, and northern operators are all telling you the same thing, a responsible government needs to listen to that.”

Senate debate on Bill C-14

The northern senators release comes just days after federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau was grilled by senators about why much of the North’s mining sector is ineligible for the federal wage subsidy program.

On April 11, Morneau took questions from senators on Bill C-14.

Canada’s Minister of Finance Bill Morneau said that the government will be doing its ‘due diligence’ in evaluating the mining industry’s request. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

“Non-revenue-generating businesses such as mineral exploration companies, junior mining companies, construction companies and tech start-ups don’t qualify,” Manitoba Senator Donald Plett said during the meeting.

“This will cause a domino effect with negative implications for the seasonal hospitality industry, and the Indigenous businesses involved with the active resource sectors are all going to be left out in the cold. This is alarming.”

In response to the senators’ questions and calls for the requirements to be loosened, Morneau was hesitant, but said “nothing was out of the question.”

“I don’t know whether what you’ve just identified from the mining sector is a good idea,” Morneau said.

Bill C-14 passed third reading in the Senate after senators questioned Finance Minister Bill Morneau on why mining companies, and the businesses that serve them, aren’t eligible for the wage subsidy program. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“We would recognize that we cannot make an exception for every single industry and situation in our country, however big or small. We need to think about the ones that have the biggest and most important impact, otherwise we will not get anything done that will have the impact we are trying to achieve.”

Morneau said that the government will be doing its “due diligence” in evaluating the mining industry’s request. 

Patterson says he’s optimistic.

“I’ve been at this business for quite a while. If you can get a rainbow coalition going where pretty well everyone is telling the government the same thing, and that’s what we got here … it can be fixed. It will be fixed.”

Read more at CBC.ca