Nunavut tables stand-pat budget with thin $36M surplus
Nunavut has tabled a largely stand-pat budget that forecasts a sliver-thin surplus and focuses on the territory's continuing and interlocked issues of health and education.
"We will be well-educated and self-reliant within successful communities," Finance Minister Keith Peterson said in his budget speech. "We will live comfortably in the modern world, guided by Inuit values and traditional culture."
There is, however, a long way to go before those goals are reached.
The anticipated $36-million cushion on revenues of about $1.6 billion will be the Arctic territory's third surplus in a row.
But the 15-year-old territory is far from self-sustaining. About 90 per cent of Nunavut's revenue still comes from Ottawa and 40 per cent of Inuit families depend on income assistance.
Still, Peterson pointed toward small, positive signs.
The number of jobs in the territory increased by six per cent last year, fuelled mostly by construction. The Conference Board of Canada predicts healthy four-per-cent growth in the coming year.
Nearly 60 per cent of the territory's working-age residents were employed, slightly better than last year.
And for the first time, Peterson said their average weekly wage topped $1,000.
"With wages rising faster than inflation, Nunavummiut have more purchasing power," Peterson said. "All of these are excellent signs for the future."
New spending initiatives are thin in the budget, Peterson's sixth as finance minister.
Most funding increases are modest and targeted at fighting poverty, keeping kids in school and addressing social problems such as the increasing level of violence in the territory.
About half of Inuit students drop out before finishing high school; Nunavut's rates of violent crime and family violence against women are eight and 14 times higher, respectively, than the national rate.
The budget offers modest increases to early childhood programs, as well as other programs to involve parents in encouraging their children to attend class.
The territory's new Family Services Department, created in last year's budget, is receiving a small boost. More money will also be spent on mental health and addictions treatment.
The territory will also introduce responsible drinking campaigns, funded by new regulations that allow money to be raised from booze sales.
Nunavut spent about $30 million on new housing last year out of $100 million provided by Ottawa and expects to spend the remaining amount this year.
Still, that won't be enough. Studies suggest that Nunavut, with Canada's youngest and fastest-growing population, has a housing deficit of about 3,600 units, with another 90 needed each year.
This year's budget is just under five per cent larger than last year's. But because of the ongoing surpluses, Nunavut still enjoys a Moody's credit rating of Aa1, in line with most provinces.