The federal government is pledging $150 million towards building an Arctic highway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., according to the latest budget.
Tabled in Ottawa by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Tuesday, the federal budget includes funding for the construction of "an all-season road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk that completes the Dempster Highway, connecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast."
"Oh man, that's so exciting I can't even put it into words," Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson, a lifelong resident of Tuktoyaktuk, told CBC News.
The Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway announcement is one of the federal budget's commitments in terms of creating more jobs by "investing in projects of national importance."
"We're going to [get] people working," Jacobson said. "When people have jobs, people have money and people have food to feed their kids and clothe them."
But whether that funding promise goes ahead or not will depend on whether the budget is passed, and opposition leaders roundly rejected the budget soon after it was tabled.
Lobbied for years
For years, people in the Northwest Territories' Mackenzie Delta region have lobbied for a 140-kilometre all-weather road that would link the two communities, which are currently linked by air or ice road only.
Jacobson said having a year-round highway would also make it easier for northerners to access outlying communities in the region.
"It's going to drive the costs down of living in the community of Tuk and it's going to [have a] ripple effect out into the smaller communities — Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok — for pricing, I hope, for the groceries," he said.
Efforts hit a roadblock last year, when a regional regulatory committee did not approve the highway project, citing potential negative impacts on the environment.
The project was forwarded to the Environmental Impact Review Board for a detailed review, causing Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Merven Gruben to worry initially about the highway's future.
"It was just another hurdle for us to go through, the environmental screening and then the review board [process], which we're at right now," Gruben said on Tuesday.
"That report should be done by the fall here, and then hopefully we can get started early this winter as we planned. I was never in doubt that this is going to happen."
$4.2M earmarked for Nunavut justice system
Tuesday's federal budget also promises $4.2 million in "additional resources" over two years to hire more judges and prosecutors in Nunavut, which has had a chronic shortage of resident judges.
Earlier this year, Nunavut's senior judge asked the federal Justice Department for two more resident judges in the territory.
In a report to the federal department, Justice Robert Kilpatrick said judges from outside Nunavut were brought into the territory for at least 40 court cases last year.
Lawyers in the territory have said visiting judges are not familiar with the unique circumstances northerners face in the justice system.
Some other budget items of northern interest include:
- $8 million to be spent over two years to promote the use of "clean energy technologies" in aboriginal and northern communities.
- $9 million to be spent over two years to expand adult basic education programs in the territories, in an effort to boost job opportunities for northerners.
- An extension of a temporary 15 per cent Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for another year, meaning the program will expire in March 2012. The tax credit aims to help mining companies raise capital for mineral exploration projects, including those operating in the North.
- A program to forgive up to $40,000 from federal loans for new family physicians, and up to $20,000 for new nurses, if they work in rural and remote communities.
Budget won't pass, MPs say
But two of northern Canada's three members of Parliament say they do not believe the budget will pass.
"The budget document that was presented here doesn't seem to be one that's going to be accepted by a majority of parliamentarians," Western Arctic NDP MP Dennis Bevington said late Tuesday.
Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell said the budget overall does not offer much for the North, so he will have no regrets about voting against it.
"If that's the way it is going to be, I think there is a lot of things that people would like to see in a new government," Bagnell said.
"We'll have hopefully a good debate about those ideas and the potential for the North in an election campaign, if that's what happens."
Bagnell said he is already making plans to tour Yukon communities if and when the election campaign kicks off.