Infrastructure tops federal budget wish list in Nunavut

Nunavut's finance minister says power plants need upgrades, and there's a critical housing shortage in all communities.

Territory's finance minister says money needed for power upgrades, housing

Fifty public housing units being built in Arviat in 2013. Nunavut finance minister Keith Peterson says the territory still needs another 3500 to 4000 new units. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)

Nunavut's leaders know what they'll be looking for in today's federal budget: money to fix the territory's crumbling infrastructure.

Nunavut finance minister Keith Peterson laid out the situation to his federal counterpart, Joe Oliver, in December. The territory's power plants and diesel generators are decades old, he said, and in need of upgrades — about $200 million worth. 

Nunavut's finance minister Keith Peterson says he's looking for money in today's federal budget to pay for upgrades to the territory's aging power plants and to address a critical housing shortage in all communities.

"A power plant is the life-blood of the small Arctic community," Peterson says. "The communities are growing at the same time, so you have to add to your power plants to accommodate."

Peterson is also hoping for some housing relief in today's budget. He says the territory's housing shortage is "huge" — in the range of 3,500 to 4,000 units. Nunavut is asking for $300 million.

"If we could get some money, we could build over a number of years," Peterson says. 

Nunavut is also requesting a higher debt cap. Right now, the territory can borrow up to $400 million. Peterson says most of that is paying for upgrades to the Iqaluit airport, so he wants to raise the debt cap to $750 million to cover potential critical infrastructure needs.

'There is a lot of need' 

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Terry Audla agrees that infrastructure needs are paramount not just in Nunavut, but in Nunavik and Nunatsiavut as well. He cites transportation corridors and road systems that need work. Audla also agrees that housing is a major issue but not the only one.

'There are some communities where [housing] isn't the number one issue,' says Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. (CBC)

"There are some communities where that isn't the number one issue," he says. "So it has to be reflective of the area."  

In fact, Audla says he's hard-pressed to prioritise his budget wishes, "because there is a lot of need." He says income disparity and the high cost of living in the North need to be addressed, to improve the lot of all Inuit.

Audla worries that the Nunavik and Nunatsiavut regions are sometimes forgotten.

"They tend to fall through the cracks when it comes to available funding for federal grants and programs," he says. "It's all handed off to the provincial governments, who don't necessarily distribute finances into their own Arctic." 


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