Nunavut budgets more money for social assistance, mental health
Funding also added for inclusive education and new deputy coroner position
Nunavut's almost-balanced 2016-2017 operating budget didn't include any major expenditures or projects, nor even funds for the territory's new suicide prevention plan.
"There's not a lot of new initiatives because of our difficulty with revenues and revenue streams," said Chris D'Arcy, deputy finance minister.
Nunavut is forecasting a $3.9 million operating deficit. The territory had a shortfall of $8 million in federal transfer payments this year and is expecting revenues to rise less than one per cent to a total of $1.73 billion. The government is also setting aside $30 million for contingencies.
Some new money was earmarked for Family Services, Health, Education, Community and Government Services and Justice.
Boost to Social Assistance
The Department of Family Services received the biggest increase in its budget, getting an additional 11 per cent for a total of approximately $141 million.
Much of those funds are earmarked to reform the Social Assistance program, which is getting a 20 per cent increase in funding.
"That will allow us to exclude the federal child tax benefit and that means there will be more money going to our recipients," said Sol Modesto-Vardy, director of Corporate Services for the Department of Family Services.
The exact amount in individual benefits will be calculated in July when the federal government releases information regarding changes to child benefits tax.
20 new mental health positions
Despite Premier Peter Taptuna's declaration of suicide as a "crisis" in the territory last session and the creation of the special cabinet committee on quality of life tasked with suicide prevention work, this budget has no money for these measures.
"It was not possible for us to include it in these sets of numbers," said D'Arcy.
He said it was a timing issue as the announcement on suicide prevention was made very late in the fall session.
"I would expect that you would be able to see that program delivered during 16-17, fully costed, and a supplementary recommendation come through for scrutiny in the House in the spring session," he added.
The budget does allot money for an expansion of mental health and addiction services.
"We're increasing for the upcoming year 20 positions across the territory," said Rosemary Keenainak, assistant deputy minister in the Department of Health.
"They range from professional positions such as psychiatric nurses or mental health counsellors, but we're also increasing paraprofessional positions like community support workers, child and youth outreach workers, and addictions workers."
Other health sectors that are getting new money include medical travel and the medevac program, pediatric services, public health nursing and a home and community care program in Baker Lake.
Supporting inclusive education
The Department of Education is getting a modest 1.4 per cent increase in its budget for a total of $205 million this year. The funds will be used to help improve supports for students with additional needs such as those with behavioural issues or those who may face challenges because of hearing, sight or mobility issues.
The move follows the finding from a recent auditor general's report that found that Nunavut was falling behind when it comes to inclusive education.
"It's certainly an area that is, in many regards, the most difficult to do well. It's the most challenging especially in a decentralized education system such as the one we have," said John Macdonald, assistant deputy minister for the Department of Education.
The $1.9 million will be used for small supports in the classroom such as a teacher making a modification to a lesson plan to more intensive services such as working with a behavioural or emotional specialists, said Macdonald.
Additional funds will be used to implement the recommendations of the Special Committee to Review the Education Act and to encourage school attendance by working with the district education authorities and parents.
5 new emergency management jobs
In response to the high number of search and rescue missions in the territory, the government is increasing the Department of Community and Government Services' budget by 2.5 per cent.
Much of that money is going toward increasing the emergency response capabilities in the territory by establishing three regional manager positions throughout Nunavut and two positions in the Iqaluit headquarters to co-ordinate and support emergencies.
"We created new and additional boots on the ground in order to help hamlets and communities and people in need," said Christian Stumpf, the director of finance at the Department of Community and Government Services.
A new deputy coroner position
The Department of Justice's $4 million budget increase will be divided between the RCMP and a new deputy coroner position.
"We need to address the capacity concerns of the territory with increasing demands on the coroner," said Ji Liu, director of Corporate Services in the Department of Justice.
Liu said the new position will be based in Iqaluit but the exact job description has not yet been finalized.