Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, purses his lips as he thinks about how to answer a question from media after he had announced temporary support for local businesses that suffered losses from the cancellation of events due to the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference in Whitehorse on April 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon government announces supports for businesses forced to cancel events, clarifies precautions for mining industry

Temporary funding program passed to help businesses and NGOs who lost money on cancelled events.

The Yukon government has announced a new program aimed at providing relief to businesses that had to cancel events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ranj Pillai, the economic development minister, announced the Temporary Support for Events Funding Program April 1 during one of the territory’s updates on the pandemic.

“This is a stressful time for Yukoners, for business owners and employees facing hardship and anxiety,” Pillai said.

He said the government is continuing to identify various ways to help support people and help them get through the pandemic, including with this program.

The program is designed to provide relief for businesses and non-governmental organizations that made investments in large-scale Yukon events that had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, with the program set to help businesses recoup the cost of buying perishable goods or cancelled accommodations related to the event.

He explained that any event that was cancelled due to COVID-19 between March 7 and July 31 and expecting 50 people or more to participate would qualify. The expenses in question must have occurred before the territory’s chief medial officer of health Dr. Brendan Hanley recommended not holding events of more than 50 people on March 16.

Pillai gave the example of a restaurant, which may have purchased a higher amount of food supplies ahead of the Arctic Winter Games or Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. Since both were cancelled, this food could be going to waste.

Costs related to advertising, service bookings, hiring vendors and bringing on extra staff for such events would also be covered under this program.

The eligible businesses must try to return the surplus of supplies, cancel contracts and limit losses before applying to the program. He added that funding can cover up to 100 per cent of these loses.

“While the loss of these large gatherings is disappointing to all Yuknoners, the negative impact is especially heavy (on businesses) that invested in these preparations,” Pillai said, adding the department would continue to work with businesses to adapt to the constantly changing situation.

Pillai, as minister of energy, mines and resources, also touched upon mining activity during the pandemic.

Pillai said that anyone coming to the territory from Outside is ordered to spend 14 days in self-isolation, as per orders given by Hanley, including people coming in to work in the mines. He pointed out that there are companies in northern British Columbia that do work in the Yukon, that are telling staff to go home and self isolate.

“That is not correct,” Pillai said, asked about reports of the mining sector getting a special pass.

He said the two mines that are currently operating, the Eagle Gold Mine and the Minto Mine, are taking this situation and measures extremely seriously. Both hired medical consulting firms, who have been in contact with Hanley.

“We are very comfortable with our producing mines,” Pillai said.

That said, he pointed out there are some issues, particularly related to placer mining.

Many claims are owned by Yukoners who live full-time in the territory. Those individuals may be healthy and not required to self-isolate, consequently able to setup and work in safety.

Some placer miners come from Outside and not everyone has followed the rules. Pillai explained that it is a small group of people that are creating a lot of fear in the territory and that there are very few bad actors in placer mining.

“So follow the rules; they’re very clear,” Pillai said. “Self-isolate for 14 days. Don’t put communities like Dawson on alert because of that.”

He suggested that placer miners should get their supplies and equipment together and get to where they need to be, working away from people.

The White River First Nation and First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun have asked the government to stop mining activity in their traditional territory.

He said he spoke with Na-Cho Nyak Dun chief Simon Mervin about mining concerns, explaining that he heard loud and clear that the First Nation wanted a cease of mining activity on its settlement lands.

Pillai wants to make sure the First Nations understand that steps are in place to make sure communities are safe and added there will be future announcements from his colleagues in cabinet coming “very soon”.

While not giving specifics, the minister did say they should help mitigate the discomfort from Yukon communities.

Pillai said he also spoke to White River, indicating it supported Na-Cho Nyak Dun but was also concerned with its own territory.

He pointed out that White River’s traditional territory over laps with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Kluane, Selkirk and Little Salmon Carmacks First Nations, and that the government would continue to work with them all but has not heard from the other four.

Minto has been in communication with Selkirk, he said, and Minto employees from Selkirk were paid and allowed to return home.

He stood firm that the government is not suspending mining and will be following Hanley’s recommendations.

There are sites where reclamation is taking place, he said mentioning Faro, Katsa River, Wolverine Mine and Mount Nansen. On these sites, someone needs to be there to monitor the environment — including water treatment.

Contact Gord Fortin at gord.fortin@yukon-news.com