Environmental and Inuit leaders say the Liberal government's first budget signals a course change when it comes to tackling the impact of climate change on the environment and people of the Arctic.
"It was seen as a complete change in course for the federal government," said WWF-Canada's president and CEO David Miller.
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"Finally investing in environmental initiatives, investing in Canada's North, investing in indigenous communities in ways that will support the conservation and preservation for the environment.
"We are seeing the impact of climate change today in the Arctic and sub-Arctic and it's going to have significant and profound implications to people, the way people live, and of course to nature and animals."
He added that the budget contains significant investments to help mitigate and adapt to climate change in Canada.
The budget included $19 million over five years to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to collaborate with researchers and Inuit communities to gather research and traditional knowledge of the Arctic environment as well as undertake new research when needed.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Cathy Towtongie said she is pleased to see money allocated to an item that speaks to the federal government's commitment to engage with Inuit on potential offshore oil and gas activity in the Arctic, and language that acknowledges the role of the people in the North in making decisions about those resources.
The budget allocates $10.7 million in the next two years to implement renewable energy projects in off-grid indigenous and northern communities.
In a statement, Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna expressed his support for investment in clean energy and climate change, but said Canada's climate change goals should be pursued in a way that does not affect "northern costs of living, undermine food security, or threaten our emerging economies."
"We hope that this renewed commitment to energy will begin the crucial dialogue with regards to replacing our aging diesel plants," he said.
But Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed said the budget falls short when it comes to equipping Inuit communities with the tools to transition to clean energy options.
"We had been quite excited about some of the discussions that we had in Vancouver around transitioning to a low carbon economy and investments for innovative solutions for Inuit Nunangat," he said.
"Power generation was a concept that we were really hoping to see in this budget. If we're going to make a transformative change and we're going to transition into a low-carbon economy ... we're going to have to figure out a way to create a fund or process that allows for that transformative change to happen," said Obed.
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson said he had hoped to see other alternatives in the budget to carbon tax.
"The premiers of the territories had made the case in their first ministers meeting with the prime minister that carbon tax alone could in fact add to costs in the North because we don't have alternate energy as an alternative to fossil fuels," said Patterson.
"I think that we have to be more creative about how we deal with climate change in Nunavut and a a tax alone certainly will not assist us."
National parks and marine protected areas
There is also $142.3 million over five years in the budget for Parks Canada and Natural Resources Canada. Of that money, $42.4 million is earmarked for work on developing new national parks and national marine conservation areas, including the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area in Nunavut.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Natural Resources Canada will also get $81.3 million over five years to support marine conservation activities. This is to assist Canada in reaching its commitment of conserving 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020.
Nunavut MP and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo said his department has not yet identified which marine areas will be slated for protection. He said there will be broad consultations that will include environmental groups and Inuit communities.
"The way that we've done it traditionally in the past has been a little area here, a little area there," said Tootoo.
"In order for us to achieve our targets we're going to have to look at doing things differently — combination of larger areas, network of areas, as well as these individual areas."