A number of commitments to the North are included in the federal government’s newest budget, released by finance minister Chrystia Freeland on Monday.
In a news release, the Liberal minority government stressed the budget would continue Canada’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, calling the consequent recession “the steepest and fastest economic contraction since the Great Depression.”
Freeland told the CBC: “The overall focus of this budget is jobs and growth. This is about getting Canada back to work.”
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, however, called the Liberal document a “massive letdown” lacking a “real fiscal anchor” that abandoned the natural resource sector.
“Canadians were expecting a pandemic budget. This is an election budget – and a poor one at that,” O’Toole said, promising he would bring forward amendments.
In a news release, Michael McLeod, the NWT’s Liberal MP, said the budget “directly addresses some of our territory’s top priorities.”
That sentiment was echoed by NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane, who said she had “a sense of optimism” while combing through the more than 700-page document.
“Canada understands the impact the pandemic has had on the North,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
“We feel that the Government of Canada has been listening to us.”
She disagreed that the mining industry had been left out of the budget, noting spending had been dedicated to the green economy, which will require rare earth minerals. She said she hoped other pots of funding will help the Mackenzie Valley Highway and Slave Geological Province Corridor projects, both of which are in part designed to improve access to the NWT for natural resource companies.
“I’ve been stressing it with the federal government, over the last year and a half, how critical our mining industry is and I think they heard that as well,” Cochrane said.
Here’s a breakdown of the most important highlights in the latest budget for NWT residents.
Housing, education, childcare
Canada’s budget earmarks $25 million for the NWT to build 30 public housing units. Freeland, singling out this commitment, told CBC’s The Trailbreaker she had “heard a lot about it from the Northwest Territories.”
Cochrane said while it was premature to give details about those housing units, the territory would use that money to leverage other federal funding for housing.
“Housing is a priority in the Northwest Territories,” she said. “Every single community in the Northwest Territories is in dire need of housing.”
Recently, Ottawa expressed frustration at the territory’s apparent reluctance to spend a separate $60-million fund. After those concerns were made public, the NWT and Canada spent the full $60 million in one go.
In education, the federal budget allocates $8 million over two years to support the transformation of the territory’s Aurora College into a polytechnic university.
Across Canada, the budget proposes to spend $2.5 billion on Indigenous early learning and childcare over the next five years as part of a broader $30-billion spend designed to at least halve childcare costs nationwide.
“This is going to be the most transformative economic policy for Canada since the Nafta trade agreement. This is going to raise our GDP by 1.2 percent,” Freeland told the CBC, saying thousands of Canadians would be able to join the workforce as a result of more investment in childcare. However, the federal plan requires significant provincial and territorial spending to work.
Premier Cochrane said while she is “excited” about funding to support childcare centres across Canada, not every community in the territory has such a facility. Cochrane said she had stressed the need for the federal funding to be flexible, adding the territory’s budget includes $500,000 for more daycare spaces.
The federal budget designates $73.6 million over four years to support the implementation of federal legislation that allows Indigenous governments and groups to develop their own child and family services laws. The NWT government says two Indigenous governments in the territory have so far expressed interest in using that legislation.
Healthcare, food security, northern tax breaks
Across the North, the Liberal government proposes to spend $54 million over four years to renew the territorial health investment fund. Of that, $27 million would go to Nunavut, $14.2 million to the NWT, and $12.8 million to the Yukon. That fund, introduced in 2014, supports territorial efforts to transform health systems and increase access to health services.
To address food insecurity in the North, the budget sets aside $163.4 million over three years to expand Nutrition North and work directly with Indigenous governments.
The budget proposes expanding access to the travel component of the northern residents’ tax deduction. Under this change, northerners without employer-provided travel benefits would be able to claim up to $1,200 in eligible travel expenses starting in the 2021 tax year. This is estimated to reduce federal revenues by $125 million over five years.
The federal government said it will ensure the change benefits northerners rather than transportation providers.
Infrastructure and climate change
The Canadian government proposes to invest $40.4 million over three years for northern hydro and electricity grid projects, though it primarily highlights projects in the Yukon and Nunavut.
Of $1.9 billion over four years for the National Trade Corridors Fund – a major fund for airports, ports, rail and roads, on which the NWT has leaned multiple times – 15 percent is dedicated to transportation in the North.
Of $1.4 billion over 12 years for the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund – recently used by Yellowknife to help pay for its new water supply line – 10 percent will be dedicated to Indigenous recipients. The budget also proposes $11.7 million to help the Standards Council of Canada continue updating standards and guidance in priority areas, which is set to include flood mapping and building in the North.
Additionally, the budget proposes $28.7 million over five years to support increased mapping of areas in northern Canada at risk of wildfires.
MMIWG and TRC
Finally, the budget includes $2.2 billion over five years and $160.9 million in ongoing funding to address the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
That spending includes:
- $55 million over five years to increase the capacity of Indgenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ organizations to provide gender-based violence prevention programming;
- $14.9 million over four years to support the preservation of Indigenous heritage through Library and Archives Canada;
- $275 million over five years to Canadian Heritage to support efforts of Indigenous peoples in reclaiming, revitalizing and strengthening Indigenous languages;
- $861 million over five years and $145 million in ongoing funding to support culturally responsive policing and community safety services in Indigenous communities;
- $74.8 million over three years to improve access to justice for Indigenous people and support the development of an Indigenous justice strategy, designed to address systemic discrimination and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system;
- $126.7 million over three years to support patient advocates, health system navigators, and cultural safety training for medical professionals;
- $31.5 million over five years to develop an action plan with Indigenous partners on implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People; and
- $13.5 million over five years, with $2.4 million in ongoing funding, for events to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools and to honour survivors, their families, and communities.
Ollie Williams contributed reporting.