The Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation (LKDFN) says it is “outraged” after learning the territorial government isn’t granting a licensing exemption for Frontier Lodge.
On Monday, the First Nation issued a media statement expressing frustration with what it calls a “complete Catch-22” in trying to obtain a business licence.
“The lodge still does not have any clarity on how to secure the necessary licences and permits the GNWT now says that the business needs to operate, despite promises from the premier and senior officials that a solution would be found,” LKDFN Chief Darryl Marlowe stated.
“Despite the premier’s commitment that an exemption would be granted and that a practical solution would be found, we are again being told that we must obtain a Maca business licence, when every other lodge still operates under the authority of a tourism operator’s licence.
“We find ourselves again in an impossible situation, where the licence they say we need because of new interpretations of legislation and policy would require us to meet new requirements that the government can’t even describe because they are still developing guidelines.”
This week’s news release is the latest in a year-long battle between LKDFN and the territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (Maca).
The First Nation says it’s caught in “a bureaucratic trap” as the department now requires it to obtain a business licence, noting that the lodge previously operated for decades without issue until LKDFN purchased it from its former Alberta-based owners in December 2019.
The First Nation says Maca rescinded a temporary occupancy load permit granted to the lodge in March, which is required to obtain a liquor licence.
Last fall, Premier Caroline Cochrane said tourism operators would soon be exempt from the new business licence requirement as Maca developed new guidelines.
However, in its statement, LKDFN said it had since been told an exemption isn’t possible.
‘A substantial extra cost’
LKDFN’s tourism development manager, Ray Griffith, told Cabin Radio: “We’re just completely fed up with this.”
“We’re one of the best lodges, and it was simply because we stepped into this trap by buying the lodge when they didn’t have their ducks in order at the GNWT – and they’re taking far too long to get them in order.”
LKDFN purchased the lodge with plans to make it a gateway to the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area and a hub for the community’s tourism sector.
“The intention was to continue the fishing business but expanding to new markets at the same time,” Griffith said. “We are utilizing that to promote cultural activities for tourists, as well. Frontier was the cornerstone for building that economy in the community.”
Griffith said the community had hoped to open the lodge for staycations this year. However, it can’t promote itself without a business licence, and isn’t set to meet with the GNWT until the end of April.
In a letter to the premier on February 5, Chief Marlowe said LKDFN is “of the position that Maca should not be licensing remote lodges, and that Frontier should only be required to hold a valid tourism operator licence as administered by ITI, as we always have.”
Griffith also questioned the timing of the territory’s regulatory review.
“Why in the heck are they doing this at a time when all the lodges are suffering?” he said.
“It is definitely going to be a substantial extra cost or burden on these lodges at a time when they’re burdened already with two years of no revenue.”
On Tuesday, NWT Tourism issued a statement saying it was “extremely concerned with the bureaucratic hold-up of the lodge permits,” urging the GNWT to create an exemption for the Frontier Lodge.
“Creating and implementing policies is the responsibility of the Government of the Northwest Territories,” Harold Grinde, chair of NWT Tourism, wrote. “If there are issues in the bureaucracy, it is the responsibility of the territorial government to work collaboratively with industry to fix the issues.
“It is unacceptable to expect any business to wait 12-plus months for a clear path to obtaining licences and permits, and for the government to expect a business to remain closed until they sort out their own permitting process.”
Grinde had weighed in on the issue last May, stating there had been a “significant failure of government policy” when it comes to regulating remote lodges.
Meanwhile, Maca maintains it is not denying LKDFN a business licence and is trying its best to work with leadership.
In a written response to Cabin Radio, a Maca spokesperson said the department had discussed the issues with the Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation and lodge representatives on “numerous occasions.”
The department said it told the lodge owners it’s ready to conduct an inspection and is waiting to confirm a date and time.
“The safety of the public is the GNWT’s highest priority,” the statement read. “Locations where alcohol is served require special consideration under the Fire Prevention Act. Exempting fire safety requirements does not serve the best interest of the public.
“With the owner’s participation, the fire marshal is ready to inspect the site so we can understand what, if any additional requirements will be needed to address public safety and finalize regulatory applications in preparation for the upcoming tourism season.”
Griffith said he was not convinced by this explanation.
“I do want to emphasize that we are fully open to cooperating with fire inspections, or any of the other inspections,” he said.
“But those inspections are not going to resolve this issue for us. It’s the development of the standards and regulations that are needed.
“The path forward needs to be defined for us.”