Ottawa admits ‘slippage’ in timeline to fund NWT’s Taltson project

Last modified: February 17, 2023 at 9:46am

The federal government isn’t finding the money to help pay for a major Northwest Territories infrastructure project as fast as it thought it would.

Expanding the Taltson hydroelectricity system to power the NWT’s North Slave has been a key priority of Premier Caroline Cochrane’s government, but is a huge task that’s well beyond the territory’s budget.

Linking the South Slave-based system to Yellowknife and beyond, using a transmission line across or around Great Slave Lake, is projected to bring cheaper, cleaner power to the North Slave – and help to make current and future North Slave mines more economical, while reducing emissions.


The project has its critics, who say the mines imagined by proponents simply won’t exist and the billion dollars or more needed to fund the expansion would be far better spent elsewhere.

But the territory has pursued expanding Taltson in some shape or form for almost 20 years, and federal infrastructure minister Dominic LeBlanc said in May last year that Ottawa saw a “very clear path” to providing the bulk of the required funding.

Updating that assessment this week, LeBlanc admitted the money was still not there – but said work had advanced.

“If we’re honest, the pandemic delayed our ability to advance some of the work – the planning, assessment work and so on,” LeBlanc told Cabin Radio on Wednesday.

“That explains some of the slippage in terms of what was going to be an ideal scenario.”


The delay means the current NWT government’s four-year term may have expired by the time funding for one of its signature infrastructure ambitions comes through.

LeBlanc said he expects funding to come from the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which he said was “the most obvious and immediate partner.”

He said a detailed financial analysis of the Taltson expansion, being carried out by the bank and the NWT government, was “advancing quickly and very well,” and he would “ensure the infrastructure bank is expeditious in evaluating this project and bringing it before their board for the appropriate decision.”

The Canada Infrastructure Bank has critics of its own.


The NDP last year said the bank amounted to a “corporate slush fund” in its role as a federal agency that finds a combination of public and private cash for major projects.

In its five-year existence, the bank has come under fire from both the NDP and Conservatives for being unable to meet its targets. The bank has defended itself, saying that the large-scale projects it helps to fund take time to reach completion.

Feds’ 75-percent cap loosens

Separately, LeBlanc told Cabin Radio the federal government will change how it contributes funding to some northern projects.

In a bid to take the heat off the NWT’s wallet amid high inflation and spiralling supply-chain costs, LeBlanc said he had been given “additional flexibilities” to invest federal funding, including a “greater ability to cost-share with the territorial government.”

Ordinarily, the federal government’s contribution to any project in the North is capped at 75 percent of the work’s overall cost. LeBlanc said Ottawa may now stray beyond the 75-percent mark for “certain infrastructure projects,” though Taltson, given its sheer cost, will not be one of them.

“In other infrastructure projects, I now have the ability to increase the federal share to help deal with cost escalations that will make it hard for some communities to even do their projects,” LeBlanc said.

“We’re actively going through, project by project, so we can ensure additional federal funding and these projects can proceed.”

Correction: February 17, 2023 – 9:44 MT. This article initially stated the project aims to build a transmission line across Great Slave Lake. That’s one option, but a line could also stretch around the lake instead. We’ve updated the article to clarify this.