North

No money for Nunavut infrastructure in federal budget

Nunavut leaders didn't exactly get what they were hoping for in Tuesday's federal budget. There was no money for power plant upgrades, and nothing specific for housing in Nunavut. But the territory's MP is touting new money to promote seal products.

Territory's debt cap raised, but leaders hoped for money for power upgrades, northern housing

Nunavut leaders were granted at least one of their main federal budget wishes yesterday, but otherwise they were left wanting.

"I don't think we're getting any money for energy," says Keith Peterson, Nunavut's finance minister. He was pushing for money to pay for needed upgrades to the territory's power plants and generators.

Nunavut finance minister Keith Peterson hoped the budget would include money to fix the territory's aging power plants and generators.

Now, Peterson says, the territory has to come up with a 'Plan B.' That may involve going further into debt.

The territory asked the government to raise its debt cap, and the budget is proposing to do just that — from $400 million to $650 million. It's good news for the territorial government, but less than what it asked for. Nunavut wants to borrow up to $750 million.

Peterson was also hoping for money for housing, but there was no specific mention in the budget of Nunavut's needs. Instead, the federal government is proposing to spend $150 million over four years to support social housing providers in Canada. It's not clear how much of that money could find its way to Nunavut.

Nunavut Tunngavik, Inc. president Cathy Towtongie says she was happy to see help for seniors and children in the budget, but felt there should have been more focus on the needs of the North.

'There has to be long-term strategy instead of band-aid solutions,' says Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"There has to be long-term strategy instead of band-aid solutions, in terms of food security, [and the] infrastructure deficit for the Arctic," Towtongie says.  

Finding markets for seal products

The budget included a few references to Canada's Arctic. It says the government will spend $30 million dollars over five years in part to improve marine safety in the Arctic, but also to improve marine emergency preparedness in southern Canada. $34 million has been earmarked "to continue to support meteorological and navigational warning services in the Arctic."

The government is also proposing to spend $5.7 million to promote Canadian seal products. 

"This is huge for Inuit," says Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq. She says the government hopes to certify seal products from traditional Inuit hunts, to take advantage of an exemption to the European Union's seal products ban.

The federal budget includes $5.7 million dollars to be spent over five years, to promote Canadian seal products. The government wants to certify seal products from Inuit communities. (Canadian Press)

"We need to work in partnership with the EU. And we're very close to accomplishing that," Aglukkaq says. "But we needed the resources to set up those businesses." 

Aglukkaq says the government doesn't have a timeline for when this certification process will be completed, but she expects it will be soon.

Towtongie welcomes the seal products initiative, but says she has questions about how it will work.

"I have not seen a strategy in place, but I was glad to see the dollars," she says.

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