The federal government on Tuesday announced new funding to help the three northern territories prepare their health systems for Covid-19 and keep northern airlines afloat.
The Northwest Territories will receive $23.4 million from a pot of more than $70 million to help the territories ensure health and social services in their communities are ready for the pandemic.
Ottawa is giving the NWT government up to $8.7 million to be invested into northern air carriers, many of which have vastly reduced their services. If they cease to operate, some remote communities could be entirely cut off.
Nutrition North is getting an extra $25 million to increase subsidies that reduce the high cost of groceries in northern communities. Federal agency CanNor will offer $15 million to support northern businesses “with operating costs not already covered by other Government of Canada measures.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday the healthcare funding was designed to address concerns about “whether your local health centre has the resources to fight Covid-19 and cope with the cases that might come up.”
Of the NWT’s five Covid-19 cases to date, one has been in a small community – Fort Resolution. That patient was taken to Yellowknife for treatment.
Two of the five patients have now recovered, the territorial government announced on Monday.
The NWT’s strategy throughout the pandemic has been to minimize the risk of Covid-19 getting to smaller communities, which lack immediate access to advanced medical care and where elderly residents may be particularly at risk.
However, should that strategy fail, the Dene Nation has in the past expressed concern that some of the smallest communities have limited or no nursing capacity.
In addition to the NWT’s $23.4 million, the Yukon will receive $18.4 million and Nunavut $30.8 million.
‘Only the beginning’
The fate of the NWT’s airlines has long worried the territory’s political leaders, who have said repeatedly the issue was being raised with federal counterparts.
Tuesday’s funding will see the territorial governments manage contracts with air carriers “so they can maintain a basic network of routes and services to provide access to critical goods to fly-in communities in the North,” the federal government said.
A news release announcing the funding was careful to specify that “up to” $8.7 million will be given to the NWT for air carriers. Similarly, Yukon will receive up to $3.6 million and Nunavut up to $5 million.
The NWT government had earlier announced relief measures of its own amounting to around $1 million for airlines.
Trudeau said his government would have “more to say shortly” on relief for other sectors, like tourism, which is also hard-hit in the NWT.
Dan Vandal, the minister of northern affairs, said the federal government was working to address “the unique and critical needs of northerners.” Marc Miller, the Indigenous services minister, said: “This is only the beginning.”
Miller added: “We will continue to work with Indigenous partners to identify and deliver on their specific needs and to make sure no one is left behind.”
A separate $305-million fund for Indigenous communities and governments was announced last month.