North

Federal budget gets praise from most N.W.T. leaders, skepticism from some

People in the Northwest Territories are giving the Trudeau government's first budget a mixed grade, though for the most, the budget scored As for steps to curb the North's high cost of living.

'Other budgets... talked about submarines and this talks about people,' says Lyda Fuller

Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck welcomed the increase to the Northern Residents Tax Deduction, something the Northwest Territories Association of Communities had been lobbying for 'for quite some time' as a way of helping to address the high cost of living. (CBC)

People in the Northwest Territories are giving the Trudeau government's first budget a mixed grade.

For most, the budget scored As for investment in housing and steps to curb the North's high cost of living.

"I recall other budgets that talked about submarines and this talks about people and I think that's a real difference," said Lyda Fuller, executive director of Yellowknife's YWCA.

Lyda Fuller, executive director of Yellowknife's YWCA, applauds the $27 million in funding for affordable housing earmarked for the N.W.T.

She applauds the $27 million in funding for affordable housing earmarked for the territory and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, as well as the increase in the Northern Residents Tax Deduction.

"Clearly they are trying very hard to meet the needs of the North, to recognize that we have unique needs and to begin to meet those needs and give us encouragement that that's going to happen," she said.

Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck welcomed the increase to the Northern Residents Tax Deduction, something the Northwest Territories Association of Communities had been lobbying for "for quite some time" as a way of helping to address the high cost of living. He added that money pledged for housing and social infrastructure will be helpful for his city and other communities in the Northwest Territories.

He was also encouraged by talk in the budget speech about renewable energy and electricity infrastructure, which may help address the high cost of power in Northern communities.

"What help and investment the federal government may bring to the table presents some very interesting and positive opportunities for us," Heyck said.

'Who the hell's going to pay the bill?'

But some aren't giving the budget a glowing grade. Mike Bradshaw, executive director of the N.W.T. Chamber of Commerce, gave the budget a C- in terms of fiscal responsibility.

"Our biggest concern is who the hell's going to pay the bill? $29 billion [deficit] this year, and $100 billion [deficit] over the term of this government's office. That's a lot.

Mike Bradshaw, executive director of the N.W.T. Chamber of Commerce, gave the budget a C- in terms of fiscal responsibility. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

"In this day and age when we're all belt-tightening, I think we could have taken a sharper focus on where to put our investments in order to improve the economy for the long term, not just for today or tomorrow."

Bradshaw said the chamber wanted to see more money to stoke the northern economy and says the N.W.T. will now have to fight for a share of a relatively small pool of money for infrastructure projects that were not mentioned in Tuesday's budget, such as highways and airports.

"It's not about housing or seniors' housing, it's about major infrastructure projects that are going to help the economy long-term and provide jobs for the next few years. That's what we need right now, and we're going to be in a very competitive environment for getting any of those infrastructure projects funded."

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus said the Liberals' admission that their government will run deficits for four years "should be commended because they're telling the truth." 

"What our people are calling this is we're coming out of a time of dire need," he said. "We're coming out of a Dark Ages and it's not going to happen overnight where suddenly everything's going to be OK."

Erasmus said the Liberals' budget shows they realize this and that their plan will take years to mature. 

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