Minister says lottery money won't go to N.W.T. arts 'at this point'

On Wednesday, athletes and artists wanted to see if the N.W.T. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs would give lottery funds to the arts.

Lottery funds average about $5M every year, earmarked for sports and recreation

Artists, athletes and politicians gathered to hear if the N.W.T. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs would consider giving lottery funds to the arts. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

It was standing room only as a crowd of artists, athletes and politicians gathered in a meeting room at the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife on Wednesday. 

The assembly's Standing Committee on Government Operations held a public hearing on the Western Canada Lottery Act. 

The public and MLAs wanted to hear if the N.W.T. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs would consider giving proceeds from scratch and lottery tickets to the arts. Currently, the money is used to help fund sports and recreation programs. 

"At this point — because it is only under $5 million — I would not be willing to entertain to move it to any other services except for sports and recreation," said Caroline Cochrane.

Lottery funds, which have averaged about $5 million per year, are earmarked for sports and recreation.

Many MLAs believe some arts programs should be included under the recreation category, but Cochrane said that's for the five regional sports organizations to decide.

"I respect them and I will honour the process that lets them define how we use this funding," Cochrane said.

Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson worked in recreation for more than a decade in Fort Simpson before he was elected. He says the government needs to make a decision, and not leave it up others to decide.

"I really hate to see the us versus them happening now. It's like the arts versus the sports system and the government needs to step up and give the arts system the equivalent," Thompson said.

The money is regulated under the Western Canada Lottery Act, which was passed in 1988 to provide revenues for sport and recreation programs in the territory. 

The legislative assembly is reviewing the bill after warnings from the Canada Revenue Agency that those revenues could be subject to federal taxation.

A act is up for review this session.