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Ottawa backs down over allowance for northern staff who own a home

Homes in Yellowknife's Niven Lake as the sun sets on a July evening in 2021
Homes in Yellowknife's Niven Lake on a July evening in 2021. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The Canadian government is restoring an allowance worth thousands of dollars a year paid to some northern federal workers who own their own home.

Previously, a committee of the National Joint Council – featuring both government and union representatives – had announced changes that appeared to wipe out an annual housing subsidy of up to $8,500 for federal staff in Yellowknife who are homeowners.

Instead, the subsidy would be payable only to staff who rent accommodation or live in government housing, the council said earlier in the summer. Even then, the subsidy would be reduced by several thousand dollars a year in some locations.

While those reductions remain in place, the National Joint Council has now issued a “clarification” asserting that the northern housing subsidy “is payable to employees renting or owning private accommodation,” rather than simply those renting.

A communiqué issued by the council on Wednesday appeared to suggest that the council hadn’t even known, when drawing up the initial changes this summer, how individual federal departments were awarding the housing subsidy.



Only after the changes were published and concerns raised by staff was “additional information sought from departments,” the council wrote, at which point it discovered the subsidy was being applied to “all employees working in qualifying locations,” not just those renting privately or in government accommodation.

The revised subsidy announced on Wednesday means Yellowknife federal staff who own their own home won’t now lose a subsidy that was worth $8,500 over the past year – but the sum they get will still decrease.

Under the remaining changes announced in the summer, the subsidy – known as the Shelter Cost Differential – is dropping from $8,502 to $6,526 for those renting privately (or, thanks to the latest change, those who own a home).

For those in government housing, the subsidy is dropping from $9,128 to $6,526 if you have dependants or from $5,477 to $3,915 if you don’t. Amounts vary for staff on hourly pay scales.

Amounts payable are also being reduced in Inuvik, in some circumstances again by thousands of dollars a year, and removed entirely in Norman Wells, where the amount paid was already much lower than in Inuvik or Yellowknife.