The NWT government says it’s not denying the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation’s Frontier Lodge a business licence, but it is working with the First Nation to meet territorial regulations.
In a statement on Thursday afternoon, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (Maca) said it recently met with the owner of the lodge to “explain some of the complexities” associated with licensing remote fishing lodges in the territory.
The department says it is working to find a solution to the issue.
“The safety of residents and visitors to the NWT is our highest priority,” the emailed statement reads, adding the department understands the First Nation’s concerns and the benefits of supporting tourism in the territory.
On Wednesday, the First Nation issued a news release citing its frustration with delays in getting a business licence and liquor licence approved for the lodge.
Chief Darryl Marlowe noted Frontier Lodge had previously operated for decades without issue. Problems with licensing didn’t arise, he said, until the First Nation purchased the lodge from its former Alberta-based owners in December 2019.
The lodge is a big investment for the First Nation, Marlowe added, and a key part of the community’s plan to build a sustainable local economy.
General manager Corey Myers, who has worked at the lodge for 10 years, told Cabin Radio it had never needed a business licence from Maca until now. He said he’s not aware of other lodges in the territory facing the same issue.
In the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, Premier Caroline Cochrane, who took over as minister of the department last month, said the government had been “a little bit lenient” with lodges when it came to meeting policy requirements.
According to Maca, fishing lodges in the territory – including Frontier Lodge – had previously operated under a tourism licence, regulated by the Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment. But because Frontier Lodge has also applied for a liquor licence, that triggered the business licence requirement.
Maca said liquor licences are issued to the specific owners of a lodge and are not transferable without the approval of the NWT Liquor Licensing Board. Transfers require the same documentation as a new liquor licence application, which includes an occupancy load permit and an inspection by a fire marshal.
The department had issued an occupancy permit to Frontier Lodge in March, conditional on an inspection planned for June. But that permit was rescinded last week, according to Myers.
Maca says it is still reviewing the policies and procedures that govern the issuing of business licences to remote fishing lodges in the NWT.
Myers said the lack of a clear policy created “a bureaucratic black hole.” He said the lodge has had little communication from the department on the issue.
The First Nation is asking that the lodge be exempted from the Maca business licence requirement until policy issues have been resolved.
But Maca says there are currently no exemption provisions in the business licence regulations, nor the Fire Prevention Act.
The department said it has proposed another solution to the First Nation. That includes offering the help of a professional, with experience adopting fire prevention regulations, to address issues the lodge may have before an inspection takes place.
“We are committed to working with all parties involved to come to a reasonable resolution that ensures the safety of residents and visitors,” the department said.