KENORA, ONTARIO ~~~~~ November 19, 2020 (LSN) Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAN) Committee focused on Indigenous health and business issues this week. Dryden, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Ontario
Kenora riding MP Eric Melillo took the opportunity to question Tabatha Bull from the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business about how Indigenous businesses have been adapting to the challenges of COVID-19.
Noting that the pandemic has forced many businesses to switch to e-commerce and online sales, Melillo asked how businesses in regions with limited internet have been managing this transition. “In many Northern and rural regions, access to the internet is a very big issue – it really doesn’t exist for many people across my riding,” he said.
Bull replied that many CCAB members have reported internet issues, even outside of rural areas. She said that while a number of Indigenous businesses have pivoted to e-commerce, employees “often have to work in the evenings or work at night to ensure that they get their orders and payments through.”
“It definitely is putting [Indigenous businesses] at a disadvantage, and we encourage the government to do what they can to move the innovation for broadband in rural and remote communities forward,” she added.
Melillo followed with a question about Northern and Indigenous tourism outfitters, who have been very hard-hit by the border closure.
Melillo explained that tourist-dependent operations are starting to get nervous that they may lose another season. “What I’ve been hearing from a lot of tourism operators and a lot of Indigenous-owned operations was that they knew that this year was going to be tough, [and] they were holding out, really, for the 2021 season,” he said. “They kept saying to me, ‘We recognize that the border needs to be closed, we recognize that these regulations need to be in place, that it’s working - but if we can get through to 2021, we’ll be okay.’ Now…it’s not very certain what that operation’s going to look like next year.”
Melillo asked Bull to provide insights into how seasonal operations are “preparing for the possibility of losing most of – or potentially all of – their season again.”
I appreciated the chance to ask Tabatha Bull from Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business about challenges facing tourism operators and the inability for businesses to adapt to COVID-19 in regions with insufficient internet.
“We need to make sure that we’re sustaining them in business through this period,” Bull agreed, citing the federal wage subsidy, provincial investments, and creative solutions like “virtual tourism.”
Melillo followed by asking how the government can help businesses in terms of providing “more clarity on what [next] season may look like.” Bull said that consistent messaging on restrictions, as well as a potential regional approach, would be beneficial.
“I appreciated hearing about how Indigenous businesses have been responding to the unique challenges of this era, and of course how the government can better support them through this crisis,” Melillo stated afterwards. “Special effort needs to be taken to ensure the North isn’t left behind.”