Arctic icebreaker, fishing port, tax break a start: northerners

Northerners and northern watchers say they are pleased with federal budget promises for the region, but add that more could have been done.

Northerners and northern watchers say they are pleased with federal budget promises for the region, but add that more could have been done.

Some of the surprises in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget, delivered Tuesday, included two measures to help assert Canada's sovereignty over the North: $720 million to buy a new polar class icebreaker that can travel through thick multi-year Arctic ice, as well as $20 million over two years to conduct extensive mapping of the Arctic and Atlantic seabeds.

Should the budget pass in the House of Commons and the purchase go through, the icebreaker would replace the aging Canadian Coast Guard ship Louis St. Laurent and add to the fleet of patrol ships Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to buy last year.

"This icebreaker and new money for mapping is something that Arctic experts like myself have been calling for, for some years now," Michael Byers, the Canada Research chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia, said Tuesday.

"I hope it's real. I hope it's not just an election promise."

Still, Byers said, Ottawa will soon need to replace more than one icebreaker as Canada's fleet of icebreakers continues to get older.

The budget also offered help to Nunavut's turbot and shrimp fishery, by proposing to spend $8 million to build a commercial fishing harbour in Pangnirtung.

"It's the only community with a fish plant," said Pangnirtung MLA and Nunavut house Speaker Peter Kilabuk. "This is a big boost for fisheries in all of Nunavut."

But Finance Minister Louis Tapardjuk said Ottawa's offer to build one harbour falls short of Nunavut's request to put small-craft harbours in seven communities.

"There's $8 million for Pang; we were asking for $41 million to cover some of the communities," Tapardjuk said. "This is a start."

Tax deduction increase long overdue: MP, MLA

Northern politicians also thought the budget's proposed raise to the northern residents' tax deduction was a good start, but called for higher increases to meet the rising cost of living up north.

Flaherty announced a 10 per cent increase to the northern residents' tax deduction — the first such increase since the tax measure was introduced in 1988.

During his budget address, Flaherty said the increase is meant to attract more workers to the North, which is struggling with a labour shortage.

If the budget passes, the changes would be implemented retroactively to Jan. 1. However, the increase is expected to save residents only about $200 a year.

"There is some ground to make up, so this 10 per cent increase is a significant one and certainly many people were asking that we do this," Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl told CBC News.

Western Arctic NDP MP Dennis Bevington, who had long campaigned for an increase to the tax deduction, said he is hopeful that this is just the beginning.

"I'm very glad to see that they at least acknowledged the northern residents' tax deduction," he said.

"But what they've done with that is only give 10 per cent, rather than the 50 per cent that we were asking for."

In Nunavut, Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson said the proposed increase would do little to deal with the higher costs of living there.

"I'm disappointed, and I feel that they're probably using Whitehorse and Yellowknife figures to calculate their numbers," Peterson said.

"They're not reflecting the reality in Nunavut communities, the remote ones."

Representatives with the Nunavut Economic Forum, which did a study on the tax deduction for the federal government, said the proposed raise does not take into account inflation over the past two decades, which "would push it up somewhere between a 60 and 65 per cent increase," executive director Glenn Cousins said.

Cousins said he hopes the current increase is a starting point for future raises, especially for Nunavut and the more remote communities across the North.