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Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce president sparks upset after ‘controversial’ call to premier

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce president called on the premier to take on a more active role when it comes easing of restrictions in an opinion piece published in last weekend’s Yellowknifer. One member withdrew their businesses over the comments.

Tim Syer, president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, called on the premier to do more to reopen businesses in an opinion piece in last weekend’s Yellowknifer. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce President Tim Syer says the premier should take on a more active role when it comes to easing restrictions.

He made the comments in an opinion piece written for last weekend’s Yellowknifer, in which he also suggested the territory remove all capacity restrictions on Yellowknife businesses once 75 per cent of eligible adults have been vaccinated.

“The Chief Public Health Officer is issuing orders, which is her remit — that’s what she’s supposed to do, but there ought to be political leadership in guiding how those orders are implemented,” Syer said, adding that includes when they’re rolled out and how the information is shared.

“There’s just no accountability or transparency.” 

He says businesses fear a new set of public health orders will roll out on April 30 without much warning, “then businesses are going to be scrambling.”

The current version of the Emerging Wisely document says that all restrictions may be lifted when a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved and when there is a successful vaccination rollout for the vulnerable population or if there is an effective treatment easily accessible to “a large portion of our population.”

“Our understanding is that we do have a successful vaccination campaign …  and so we want to know when we can expect to see the restrictions lifted,” said Syer.

The document is being reviewed by Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer for the territory, and she’s set to release an updated version at the end of the month.

Syer questioned what the target of eligible adults vaccinated in the territories is to qualify as a successful vaccination campaign, and brings up the 75 per cent target often brought up by the Minister of Health and Kandola.

“If it’s not 75 per cent, fine. We just need to know what the plan is and the absence of any communications suggests that there isn’t one, which is worrisome,” he said.  

“I’d like to see the plan and convince me otherwise. Let’s take a look and let’s have some transparency and accountability on how we’re doing this.”

‘I could no longer support the Chamber’

While Syer claimed the opinion in the editorial was supported by most members of the Chamber, not everyone agreed.

Garth Wallbridge announced Friday on Facebook that he was withdrawing the memberships of his three businesses.

“I felt, without consulting with the membership, taking a position on one far side of the fence on an issue this controversial, I could no longer support the Chamber,” Wallbridge said.

Wallbridge was against two particular stances of Syer’s — that the premier wasn’t governing and that businesses should open with no restrictions once 75 per cent of eligible adults in the territories are vaccinated.

As well, Wallbridge took issue with the Chamber of Commerce running Syer’s piece without officially seeking out the opinions of its members, a point which Syer disputes.

“We’re constantly in touch with members through the board … and we’re comfortable that this letter reflects the general sentiment of our membership,” Syer said.

“There may be members who disagree and that’s certainly their right, but we’re confident that [it] reflects our membership’s feelings on the matter.”

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