Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit November 09, 2017 - 2:30 pm

Iqaluit business licence system creates an onerous paper chase

Online payments could be a challenge for the city

BETH BROWN
Gabrielle Morrill, Iqaluit's economic development officer, at a committee meeting Nov. 7. She said the city's much-reviled business licensing application process could end up being tailored to the needs of the Iqaluit business community once changes are made to the city’s licensing bylaw. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Gabrielle Morrill, Iqaluit's economic development officer, at a committee meeting Nov. 7. She said the city's much-reviled business licensing application process could end up being tailored to the needs of the Iqaluit business community once changes are made to the city’s licensing bylaw. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Cedric Rusike, an ex-officio member of Iqaluit's economic development committee, says there's no reason why, in 2017, he shouldn’t be able to go online to get a business licence from the city. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Cedric Rusike, an ex-officio member of Iqaluit's economic development committee, says there's no reason why, in 2017, he shouldn’t be able to go online to get a business licence from the city. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Getting a business licence in Iqaluit could feel less like a game of cat and mouse in the near future.

The city is gearing up to overhaul its business licensing system through bylaw changes, a new online application process, and an online public business registry.

The new setup would simplify the city’s complex and outdated business licence application process, and would allow the municipality to keep track of useful economic data, said the city’s economic development officer, Gabrielle Morrill, during a committee meeting at city hall Nov. 7. 

“A lot of people don’t see the value in a business licence,” she said, adding that the licence is more expensive in Iqaluit than in other jurisdictions and that often the need to have one is not enforced. 

There are about 400 licensed businesses in Iqaluit now—an estimate that is largely undercounted, Morrill said.

But extensive paperwork mandated by the city is a huge disincentive for business owners, Morrill said, adding the litany of external forms required by the city for business licensing rivals most jurisdictions in Canada.

“Right now, if you’re a daycare or a tourism establishment in particular, you might need to get five documents from outside sources, and all of them can be very difficult to get,” Morrill said.

“It’s very frustrating for clients.”

She wants revisions to the city’s business licence bylaw to axe forms like:

• A hawkers and peddlers licence

• Proof of trade qualifications

• Outdated documents like a tourism accommodations licence which is the Government of Nunavut is currently reviewing

• Annual proof of listing in the Nunavut legal registry

The current licence process creates problems for other government organizations as well, such as Nunavut’s public health unit or the Office of the Fire Marshal, which must provide clients with updated paperwork and inspections done within timelines set by the city, she said. 

Another suggested bylaw change is to create separate licensing classes.

Right now, a small business owner pays the same amount for its licence as larger corporations like Nunastar.

The new classes could look like:

• Class 1: small to large business would stay at around $250 or $240 annually

• Class 2: micro businesses with a small staff could pay around $140 annually

• Class 3: a hobbyist licence created and priced at around $40 annually

But these are early stage suggestions. To get input from users, the city plans to hold a roundtable with businesspeople near the end of this month.

Dates for that event are to be announced soon.

One city plan that has already hit roadblocks is an attempt to get the business licensing system online.
The online project would see a publicly accessible registry built for all businesses licensed through the City of Iqaluit.

And the hope is that all applications could be filled out and paid for online. 

But the city’s finance office said setting up online payments isn’t in the cards.

Committee members weren’t satisfied with that. 

“It’s 2017. There’s no reason why I should not be able to pay for my business licence online,” said ex-officio committee member Cedric Rusike.

The project proposal is priced at just shy of $30,000.

“For $30,000, what are we really getting?” he asked. “People want it online … The city has to figure out the long-term solution.”

Coun. Terry Dobbin echoed this concern.

“We’ve gotten away from the original intent of doing an online business application and making payments online to this, and this is not what we had originally asked for.”

On Nov. 8, the city responded to a Nunatsiaq News request asking why the online payment system was not possible. 

“Initially, there seemed to be a concern with integrating a new program with the accounts payable system,” said a city spokesperson. “The city will continue to investigate the possibility of integrating a new business licence program with an accounts payable program, to see if the two are able to work together. This process may take a few weeks to determine.”

Funding for a new online business directory is coming from surplus money from Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation.

That funding won’t carry over to the new fiscal year so, either way, it’s a now or who-knows-when kind of project, Morrill said.

And she said that even without a virtual payment option, the new registry and online application would still be an asset to the city. 

“A lot of what is going to make the bylaw better isn’t getting it online, it’s revising the bylaw itself,” Morrill said.

“There is a real opportunity to gather essential data that could help non-profits with their proposals, businesses with business plans … a lot of cities are able to give more specific information … and right now we can’t.”

The registry would also be a resource for city residents and act as free, targeted advertising for city businesses, she said.

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