The outlook was rather grim.
“The recovery from the pandemic returns the economy to its pre-pandemic path of slow decline,” read this year’s budget documents for the Northwest Territories.
The budget goes on to list a raft of challenges: inflation, high interest rates, a shortage of workers, insufficient economic diversification, and the fast-approaching closure of the territory’s three diamond mines.
This summer’s devastating wildfires and evacuations haven’t helped the situation.
Now, candidates in the N.W.T. general election are out canvassing, and business leaders are expressing their concerns and offering ideas for how to invigorate the territory’s wilting economy.
Land development difficulties
“Fundamentally, if you want to grow the economy, you need to grow your population,” said Rob Warburton, a Yellowknife developer and city councillor.
Specifically, the territory needs more skilled workers, he said, but a lack of housing across the N.W.T. is a big barrier to bringing them in.
“All the focus of government is consistently about social housing and the housing corporation, which needs a lot of attention, but there’s no conversation around the private sector, which actually provides most of your housing in Yellowknife, Hay River,” he said.
“I’d love to hear some candidates talk about how do we support economic growth in partnership with industry, because that’s who actually builds your housing, that’s who employs a lot of people.”
One thing the territorial government could do to spur housing development is make more land available to communities, he said. Right now, he said, the process for getting that land in Yellowknife is akin to “pulling teeth out of your face.”
Adrian Bell, a realtor and president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, agrees that growing the population and addressing the labour shortage are key to economic growth — and that more housing is necessary to achieve those things.
“I hear this all the time of people who’ve accepted jobs and they come to town to try to find housing and they can’t, and they have to turn the job down and they leave,” he said.