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Unexpected battle between sports and arts looms over lottery bill

An NWT competitor in snow snake, an event at the Arctic Winter Games
An NWT competitor in snow snake, an event at the Arctic Winter Games. Traditional sports are among those supported by lottery funding in the NWT. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

A bill designed to shield the NWT’s lottery revenues from federal taxation has become the battleground for a funding fight between the territory’s sports and arts communities.

The territorial government is updating the legislation to counter changes in federal tax law, which would see some proceeds of lottery funding taxed if no alterations were made.

However, with public hearings on the way, the territory’s arts community is using the opportunity to push for access to lottery money – currently only used to fund sports and recreation.

“It’s difficult to get legislation changed, especially when something isn’t necessarily on the agenda. Now’s the time to get it done,” said Eli Purchase, who created a petition requesting that lottery funding be opened up to the arts. So far, just under 250 people have signed it.



Purchase’s petition specifically requests that the legislature be amended to make it possible for arts groups to receive lottery money, rather than demanding a dollar figure of funding. At the moment, the rules governing NWT lottery revenues make clear that only sports and recreation groups may be considered for financial support.

“It’s not like we’re saying hey, 50 percent of lottery funds should go to the arts. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount,” said Purchase.

“Let’s just bring the legislation into line with what’s common across Canada and what’s fair.”

‘Saving money’

Purchase is encouraging others to attend a public hearing set for Wednesday at 11am. Meanwhile, sports organizations in the territory are trying to rally support of their own in response to his petition.



In an email to territorial sports organizations sent late last week, Doug Rentmeister – the director of Sport North, which represents sports in the NWT – urged those involved to contact their local MLA.

“Sport North and its membership cannot stress enough the importance of protecting the lottery proceeds for sport, recreation and physical activity,” Rentmeister wrote.

“Communities across the NWT are dealing with social and health issues considerably higher than the national average that in most part can be largely addressed or prevented by sport and physical activity. In turn, it will save the territory enormous money in healthcare by having healthier residents as a result.”

Not everyone shares that view. In a Facebook post, Métis guitar player and sound designer Travis Mercredi questioned the “incredible amount of faith” shown in sports to help solve some of the territory’s problems.

“I think it is either from bias or total lack of imagination that we deny this same consideration for the arts,” wrote Mercredi.

“Indoor soccer and hockey are not in any way going to address where we find the state of ourselves at this point in our history. But art will, that’s what it does and what it is.

“It’s truth, listening, storytelling, sharing, affirming, exploratory, it is everything a group of people are. It is the phenomena of their existence and it is an essential part of human existence.”

More time

On January 31, Cabin Radio requested a breakdown from the Government of the Northwest Territories comparing the funding awarded to sports and recreation groups versus that given to support the arts – lottery-related or otherwise.



The territory says it needs more time to complete that research.

In a statement, the territorial government said: “The Bill currently under review by the Legislative Assembly is in response to a concern, confirmed by the Canada Revenue Agency, that lottery revenues may be subject to taxation. The main objective of the Bill is to move lottery operations within the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs to avoid the future taxation of lottery revenues.

“The Bill does not propose changes to the types of programs funded by lottery revenues. Members of the Legislative Assembly are, however, free to propose amendments as the Bill goes through the legislative process.”