North

MLAs pass biggest ever N.W.T. capital budget

The N.W.T.'s latest capital budget includes an additional $15 million that will help Indigenous groups and others access a $60-million housing fund administered by the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation.

Finance minister offers last minute tweaks in response to MLA objections

The N.W.T.'s latest capital budget includes an additional $15 million that will help Indigenous groups and others access a $60-million housing fund administered by the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Despite early opposition, the Northwest Territories 2021-22 capital budget passed by a wide margin Thursday. 

Some MLAs initially balked at the $451.2 million spending plan, the biggest ever in the history of the N.W.T. They said it was extravagant for a time when the pandemic has decimated government revenues and caused operational spending to balloon, that there was too much spending on highways and not enough on people, and that more money should be provided to municipalities.

On Wednesday the finance minister offered some concessions. Caroline Wawzonek said the government would give the N.W.T. Housing Corporation an additional $5 million per year for the next three years. The money is to be used to help Indigenous groups and others access a $60-million housing fund administered by the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation.

The fund offers up to 75 per cent of the money for housing projects. Despite being announced two years ago, it is virtually untapped.

Wawzonek also said the government would propose increasing funding to municipalities by $2.5 million next year. That's in addition to $2.6 million the government announced earlier to close the municipal funding gap. According to the N.W.T. Association of Communities' estimates, the city, hamlets, towns and villages are underfunded by about $40 million each year.

Wawzonek said the big spending the government will do is needed.

"The age of our infrastructure and the simple lack of infrastructure is a fact across the entire Northwest Territories, and we can't let that hold us back," said the minister.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly praised the concessions, but said the budget still fell short of his expectations.

"I think this is what I would characterize as a bad hangover from the last assembly of overspending on capital," O'Reilly said, just before the final vote on the budget Thursday. "We need to find a better balance between programs and services for our people and larger projects."

O'Reilly and Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn were the only MLAs to vote against the spending plan.

Passing the budget was one of the last pieces of business for MLAs this sitting. They're not scheduled to return to the legislature until Feb. 3.

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