Federal and territorial politicians address housing and tourism funding in the 2021 budget

Federal Minister of Northern Affairs Daniel Vandal, the Minister of Finance Caroline Wawzonek and N.W.T. Member of Parliament McLeod addressed what the budget can offer for the North after meeting with Indigenous partners, territorial partners and small businesses and tourism industry representatives Friday.

A step in the right direction, but there’s more work, says Minister of Northern Affairs

Member of parliament for the NWT Michael McLeod said there is a lot of funding available for housing this year and the territory is going to be 'very busy on constructing housing and renovating housing … before this construction season’s over.' (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Ministers and government officials met with Indigenous governments, small businesses and tourism industry representatives Friday about the 2021 federal budget.

This was an opportunity for participants to provide their thoughts and input on the proposed investments for the N.W.T.

MP Michael McLeod said "for the most part we heard that people were quite satisfied with the support that was provided overall to people in the North, to organizations in the North and to businesses to try to keep the economy from crashing and controlling the virus here in the North."

All that ongoing support is needed for people who are anxious to see jobs return and the economy bounce back, he said. 

"The budget reflected a number of things that are going to help us do that," said McLeod.

After the roundtable, Federal Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal, N.W.T. Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek and McLeod held a press conference to address what the budget can offer for the North.

One of the main concerns was the amount of money dedicated to housing in the territory.

Vandal said the federal government is taking steps to address the housing crisis in the North.

There are 10-year housing agreements between the federal government and the three territorial governments which will see an investment of $600 million. There are also similar agreements between the federal government and three national Indigenous organizations. 

Vandal said the funds are a move in the right direction, but "the gaps were very, very large," said Vandal. 

"We are rolling up our sleeves with the federal government, with the territorial government and working to try to deliver more funding and more housing in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. We know it's needed," said Vandal.

The 2021 budget will see another $1.5 billion for a second round of the Rapid Housing Initiative, and McLeod said a portion is expected for the N.W.T., and that could help projects that weren't approved in the last round of funding.

He said it could mean another call out for applications or simply giving money to projects that missed out, or a combination of the two.

The budget also sets aside 25 million dollars for building 30 units around the N.W.T., but Vandal and McLeod say that's just a small representation of the funding that's available and will be used this summer.

McLeod said the greatest challenge will be to get all the construction slated for this year complete.

"This coming construction year we're going to be very busy on constructing housing and renovating housing … before this construction season's over," said McLeod.

During the press conference, Vandal also in the coming weeks, decisions will be made about how the $1 billion dedicated to tourism, flowing through CanNor, will be spread across roughly nine regional agencies.

The budget plans to dedicate $2.4 million this year to the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada to specifically help the Indigenous tourism industry and will also use $500 million to establish a Tourism Relief Fund.