After several consecutive deficit budgets, Nunavut’s finance minister announced a $37.7 million surplus.
Keith Peterson said, while that is good news, the forecast depends on the territory’s ability to collect on its predicted revenues and to control spending.
"We must remain vigilant about our fiscal situation," he said to the legislative assembly.
More than 90 per cent of Nunavut’s revenue comes from the federal government. He said Ottawa could change the amount of money it gives the territory, and the economy might not grow as quickly as expected.
Peterson said that if the territory had a devolution agreement, which would give it more control over its own resources, Nunavut could reduce its dependency on federal money.
He said the Department of Community and Government Services found in a survey that the territory would have to spend about $6 billion over 20 years for capital needs in Nunavut's communities.
Peterson said the most urgent concern is housing, calling it a crisis in the territory. He said it would take well over $1 billion to address the territory’s current housing needs.
Peterson added the territory needs 3,600 housing units to address homelessness, and that number grows by about 90 units every year.
Peterson noted other challenges to Nunavut’s economy, such as the short construction season. He said this often pushes major projects from one year into the next.
Health care gets most funding
Health care in the territory gets the largest piece of the budget. Even still, Peterson said health indicators in Nunavut often fall well below the Canadian average.
Addictions are a large part of this problem, and Peterson announced a pilot treatment program which will begin in the spring. The program will be based in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and enable participants in the Kitikmeot region to spend 28 days in the facility.
The program will have counselling for families and education. If the program is successful, Peterson said the health department will bring it to more communities.
The government is also trying to tackle high smoking rates by raising cigarette taxes by four cents per cigarette, or $1 per pack of 25 cigarettes. He said the government will use the expected $3 million in revenues from this tax increase for anti-smoking programs.
Education, debt limit mentioned in budget
Nunavut is also in talks with Ottawa to raise its debt limit, which is current $200 million.
"Just one project – the Iqaluit airport upgrade – would punch right through the current debt ceiling," said Peterson.
Peterson also announced extra funding for education in the territory - $8 million – which will go primarily towards teachers’ salaries.