The territorial government outlined how it plans to spend $222 million on infrastructure projects this year, with $70 million earmarked for a highway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.
MLAs discussed the capital budget this week, the first glimpse at what major construction projects the territorial government is planning to bankroll this year.
About a third of the $222 million total budget is slated to build the highway between Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, on the Arctic coast. By contrast, there's very little concrete funding for projects in Yellowknife. That's prompting some criticism that the money could be better distributed.
"The media was quick to pick up that in the capital plan, there's nothing for Yellowknife," said Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche.
Hospital repairs needed
Smaller communities might have no problem with Yellowknife getting short-changed, but some MLAs point out that facilities such as the Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife reap health benefits for the entire territory.
"Stanton hospital remains as the territory's primary facility for health care. It's really falling down," said Weledeh MlA Bob Bromley. "People's offices are in closets and it's really compromising the health care."
The premier estimates the renovation of Stanton could cost up to $400 million. With figures that large, one MLA says he wants to keep an eye on the government's "open chequebook" approach to infrastructure projects.
"We need to look at utility … practicality … longevity [and] efficiency in operating in terms of costs," said Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen.
Others questioned the big spending plans for the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway, a project with no fixed cost and questionable benefits.
The Sahtu region, where almost all of the territory's oil and gas activity is occurring, currently has no highway connecting it to northern parts of the territory, local MLA Norman Yakelaya notes.
"The government is right now focusing on the Inuvik-Tuk highway because the federal government dropped $200 million into our coffers," he said. "The federal government is dictating where the priority is, even though right now the hot spot is in the Sahtu with the oil and gas exploration."
Plans for the territorial budget could still change, as debate on the capital budget's numbers will continue throughout this coming week.