North

Liberal budget a step forward for Nunavut but not 'transformative'

The federal budget delivered some good news for Nunavut — including new money for housing, a boost to Nutrition North, and an increase in the northern tax break — but some Inuit say they didn't receive the big bucks doled out to First Nations communities.

'For Inuit, it's an improvement on previous budgets, but it's not transformative': ITK president

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shake hands after a meeting in Ottawa in December 2015. Obed calls the first Liberal budget 'a step forward' but says it's not transformative for Inuit. (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami)

The federal budget delivered some good news for Nunavut — including new money for housing, a boost to Nutrition North, and an increase in the northern tax break — but some Inuit say they didn't receive the big bucks doled out to First Nations communities.

"Social housing is back," said Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Cathy Towtongie, referring to the $76.7 million Nunavut is getting for affordable housing in the next two years.

The Government of Nunavut had asked the federal government for $525 million for a five-year housing plan, said Keith Peterson, the territory's finance minister.

'$3.5 million dollars in your back pocket, that’s good for the economy,' said Keith Peterson, Nunavut’s finance minister. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
"$77 million that will probably build us, I estimate, around 140 to 150 houses, so I was pleased with that," he said.

Peterson said he's hopeful more money will come in subsequent federal budgets for Nunavut's housing plan.

The budget also included a hike in the Northern Residents Tax Deduction, raising the maximum daily residency deduction to $22 from $16.50.

Peterson said he was pleasantly surprised to see the increase, which amounts to savings for Nunavummiut.

"$3.5 million in your back pocket, that's good for the economy, people are going to spend that money and that will support businesses in the community," he said.

He was also pleased to see the Nutrition North food subsidy program get a boost of $64.5 million over five years, with an additional $13.8 million per year to expand the program to all isolated Northern communities.

'A step forward'

'For Inuit, it is an improvement on previous budgets, but it is not transformative,' said Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC )
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed described the budget as "a step forward"

Obed said the budget speaks specifically about indigenous peoples and has some large investments for First Nations on reserve.

"For Inuit, it is an improvement on previous budgets, but it is not transformative," Obed said.

He said the budget did not earmark any money for mental health or suicide prevention for Inuit, and he hoped to see more funding for infrastructure in the North.

Five-hundred million was allocated over five years to improve broadband service in rural and remote communities.

The Government of Nunavut had submitted a business case for $250 million over five years to upgrade and replace power plants in communities across the territory.

The budget did include $10.7 million over two years to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to implement renewable energy projects in indigenous and Northern communities, but no specific mention of Nunavut. 

"I was a little concerned I didn't hear anything in the budget for our energy," said Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson.

'I was encouraged that significant monies have been allocated for wastewater infrastructure,' said Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Patterson said more money may be coming for those projects after regional discussion on electrical infrastructure projects.

"I was encouraged that significant monies have been allocated for wastewater infrastructure over five years across Canada," he said.

"I'm hoping that Iqaluit's $26 million request for contributions to improving the Iqaluit primary wastewater treatment process could be considered under that fund," Patterson added.

Supporting victims of domestic violence

The federal budget also allocated $40 million over the next two years toward the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

"I'm pleased that there's money for the inquiry," said Rebecca Kudloo, the president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.

Rebecca Kudloo, the president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, said she's waiting to see if money earmarked for the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women will include funding for counselling. (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada)

Kudloo said they are waiting to see how exactly that money will be used. 

"We've been asking for counselling services during and after the inquiry because it will be opening up wounds that we need to deal with," she said.

The budget also addresses the need for shelters for victims of domestic violence. It earmarks $10.4 million over three years for renovation and construction of new shelters in First Nations communities, as well as $33.6 million over five years to support them.

Kudloo said she is hopeful that some of that money will go to Inuit.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.

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