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NWT budget 2022: How the GNWT plans to spend $2.1 billion


The NWT government released its proposed budget for 2022-23 on Tuesday, saying tighter controls on spending and increased revenue would provide stability. Not all MLAs agreed with the approach. 

Budget documents detail how the territory plans to spend $2.1 billion in the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of 2.3 percent from last year’s spending. Finance minister Caroline Wawzonek said the territory does not plan to reduce services but will cap spending on forced growth at $10 million and $5 million for new initiatives. 

New spending in the budget advances some of the government’s key priorities: addressing mental health and addictions, attempting to meet the need for housing, and trying to improve education rates.

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Lesa Semmler, the MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, said on Monday the Covid-19 pandemic had “sidelined and slowed” the Assembly’s work to accomplish those goals. She reminded MLAs there was little more than a year and a half left for the current government to complete its priorities. 

“Covid-19 has proven to us how fragile we are as a territory and continue to be, especially in our healthcare system, our housing situations, and our economy,” she said as MLAs reconvened at the legislature. 

‘A status quo budget’

Rylund Johnson, the MLA for Yellowknife North, criticized the new budget in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, saying it doesn’t sufficiently address the need for housing. 

“This entire budget is simply a continuation of the last budget,” he said. 

“This budget may as well have been a surrender flag that we’ve given up on bold political vision.” 

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A file photo of Rylund Johnson in October 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Rylund Johnson in October 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

The 2022-23 budget proposes $11 million in new money for the housing corporation to increase the number of affordable homes and reduce core housing need, alongside $947,000 for the operation and maintenance of new federally funded public housing units. 

Johnson said he wanted at least $20 million in new funding for the corporation to address the housing crisis. 

“Housing people saves lives and it saves the government money in the long run, but we have once again decided to present a status quo budget,” he said.

Johnson acknowledged finding money can be challenging but said the NWT had to make “hard, tough choices.” He said he did not believe the NWT’s “government renewal” strategy – which scrutinizes territorial programs and tries to use existing money more efficiently – will provide the funding necessary to properly address priorities.

Among the options Johnson suggested were freezing public-sector hiring save for healthcare workers, ending the Covid-19 Secretariat, creating a high income bracket for people who earn more than $180,000 a year, increasing corporate tax by one percent for companies that make over $500,000 annually, and reducing contract services and government office space. 

Covid-19 and healthcare spending

The biggest share of expenditures in the latest budget is allotted to the Department of Health and Social Services, which has a total proposed budget of nearly $595 million. Of that, $11.86 million is earmarked for the Covid-19 Secretariat and $30 million is new spending.

According to Wawzonek, the NWT spent $31 million related to Covid-19 in the past fiscal year and is expected to spend a further $34 million by the end of this fiscal year.

As the territorial government plans to transition from a pandemic response to an endemic one, the finance minister said the territory will adjust spending according to the resources required. She added the federal government had agreed to provide $265,000 for activities related to Covid-19 immunization.

Other healthcare highlights in the budget include $7.1 million in federal funding for medical travel, positions related to system stability, and nine primary healthcare positions. An additional $1.4 million in spending is proposed for Indigenous wellness and patient advocates, alongside $1 million to add new midwife positions in Hay River, Fort Smith and Yellowknife. 

The budget includes $1.7 million to hire mental health and addictions counsellors and $1 million to enhance shelter programs in Hay River, Fort Simpson and Yellowknife.

Education, Tłı̨chǫ Highway and caribou

The NWT proposes to spend $358 million on education, culture and employment, with $10.7 million in new funding. That includes $4.7 million to increase teachers’ salaries and benefits. As part of the territory’s new childcare agreement with the federal government, the budget proposes $500,000 to increase the number of new childcare spaces and $298,000 to improve learning for young children.

The Department of Finance will see the biggest increase in spending in 2022-23 compared to last year’s budget, increasing by around 14 percent if approved. Wawzonek said that’s largely due to new big-ticket items like a $12-million annual payment for the Tłı̨chǫ Highway, which opened in December.

DeptShareBudgetNew money
HSS29%$595M$30M
ECE17%$358M$10.7M
Finance16%$335M$33M
INF14%$279M$8.8M
Justice7%$137M$4.1M
Maca6%$123M$2M
ENR5%$99M$1.6M
ITI3%$60M$2.5M
EIA1%$22MUnlisted
Assembly1%$25M$1.2M
Lands1%$23M$0.73M

Other highlights in the budget include $1 million to support recovery of the Bathurst and Bluenose barren-ground caribou herds, which have seen drastic declines; $507,000 to make the territory’s 9-1-1 system “self-sustaining”; and $442,000 for additional positions in legal aid and court services. 

The budget proposes $1.86 million to increase RCMP resources in Tuktoyaktuk and Behchokǫ̀ – extra money deemed necessary in studies on NWT police staffing – while improving police resources for the investigation of online child exploitation and meeting the cost of police housing leases.

Closing the municipal funding gap

Finally, the budget includes more funding for communities as the GNWT tries to reduce the municipal funding gap by $5 million before 2024. The budget proposes adding $922,000 to base funding for community governments, leaving $744,000 to reach the $5-million goal.

Jane Weyallon Armstrong, the MLA for Monfwi, said on Tuesday that ongoing water and sewer issues in Behchokǫ̀ are an example of what can happen when communities are chronically underfunded. 

The MLA has called on the territorial government to help fund the $10 million needed to replace Edzo’s ageing water plant and buried pipe system.

“When people are stressed financially, they are forced to make sacrifices and to make choices they should not make if they had the money,” she said in the legislature.

“As a result community members leave, move to other communities, due to lack of programs and services. This threatens the very basis of communities’ existence.”

Shane Thompson, the territorial minister of municipal and community affairs, said there is no additional funding available to commit to the project. He said communities must decide where to prioritize infrastructure funding.

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