The federal government’s latest budget comes with promises of “making life more affordable” for Canadians. Among its 280 pages are several specific commitments to residents in the North.
Finance minister Chrystia Freeland said the budget will grow the economy and ensure “nobody gets left behind” with investments in housing, childcare, healthcare and the green economy.
“Our plan is responsible and considered, and it is going to mean more homes and good-paying jobs for Canadians; cleaner air and cleaner water for our children; and a stronger and more resilient economy for years to come,” Freeland said in the House of Commons on Thursday.
NDP politicians criticized the budget, however, for failing to invest in national renewable energy projects. Conservatives said the budget contained lots of spending with few results.
Ed Fast, the Conservative MP for Abbotsford, British Columbia, called the budget “bereft of any vision,” saying it will fail to address “skyrocketing” costs of living, unaffordable housing, and the need for investments in the natural resource sector.
“This budget fails to deliver the visionary leadership that these times call for. Instead, this budget is emblematic of an unserious prime minister, an unserious finance minister and an unserious government,” he said.
Here’s a closer look at some of the budget commitments that have implications for the NWT.
Freeland said to increase access to affordable housing, the Liberal government aims to double the number of houses it constructs over the next decade, help Canadians save for their first home, ban foreign investment in housing, and curb unfair prices.
That includes promises to increase affordable housing in the North, which is facing harsh impacts from climate change along with high construction costs, short construction seasons, and infrastructure gaps.
The new budget proposes $150 million between 2022 and 2024 to support affordable housing and related infrastructure in the North, including $60 million each to Nunavut and the NWT, and $30 million to the Yukon.
The budget includes targetted funding for housing in Indigenous communities. That includes a proposed $2.4 million over five years for First Nations housing on reserves, $565 million over five years for housing in self-governing and treaty holder communities, $845 over seven years for Inuit communities, and $190 million over seven years for Métis communities.
The budget also includes spending of $300 million over five years, beginning in 2022-23, to co-develop and launch an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy. And it promises to invest $562.2 million between 2024 and 2026 in Reaching Home, a pot of funding that supports community-based initiatives that prevent and reduce homelessness.
Pledging to grow the economy, the budget includes support for critical mineral projects and simplifying related regulatory processes. That includes up to $3.8 billion to implement Canada’s first critical minerals strategy.
Specific to the North’s mineral sector, the budget proposes up to $40 million over eight years, beginning in 2022-23, to support northern regulatory processes. Mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction accounted for 24 percent of the NWT’s GDP in 2020.
The federal government further proposes a one-time payment of $25.8 million to the Yukon and NWT to fulfill its commitments in the 1993 Canada Yukon Oil and Gas Accord, as well as $1.5 million to the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation for implementation of the new Western Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Accord.
The federal government has pledged to support partnerships with Indigenous people on natural resource projects. The budget proposes $103.4 million over five years for the development of a national benefits-sharing framework for natural resources including at least $25 million to “early engagement” and supporting Indigenous communities’ participation in the sector.
The Liberal government has earmarked $2 million between 2022 and 2024 to support the implementation of a collaborative process protocol agreement respecting the historical impacts of Giant Mine on the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. The First Nation has called for Canada to apologize and provide compensation for the mine’s “toxic legacy” and said it wants a role in remediation of the site.
Across the country, the budget plans spending of up to $1.5 billion over seven years, beginning in 2023-24, on infrastructure investments that will support the development of critical minerals supply chains, with a focus on priority deposits. It also plans a new 30-percent critical mineral exploration tax credit for specific mineral exploration expenses.
Climate change and the green economy
The budget makes several commitments to combat climate change and protect the environment. That includes investments in clean electricity, supporting the switch to zero-emission vehicles, and tax credits for carbon capture and storage.
The budget specifically aims to eliminate plastic waste, with investments of $183.1 million over five years to develop and implement regulations and conduct research. The federal government said this will help to better understand the effects of microplastics on human health and monitor plastic contaminants in the North. A newly released study reports high concentrations of microplastics in Arctic waterways, ice and snow, which could exacerbate the effects of climate change.
The federal government has pledged $19.6 million in spending in 2022-23 to support clean-up efforts in lakes and rivers across Canada including the Mackenzie River.
The budget further proposes $29.6 million over three years to support the co-development of an Indigenous climate leadership agenda, to support Indigenous self-determination in addressing climate priorities and implement distinctions-based climate strategies.
The federal budget acknowledges the increasing risks of wildfires due to climate change, particularly in remote and Indigenous communities. It proposes $269 million over five years to support the procurement of firefighting equipment, alongside $37.9 million over the same period to train 1,000 additional firefighters and incorporate Indigenous traditional knowledge into fire management.
The budget aims to address shortages in primary care health services in rural and remote communties, including the North, by increasing student loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses that work in these communities. It proposes $26.2 million over four years to increase the maximum amount of forgivable student loans by 50 percent, which will mean up to $30,000 in loan forgiveness for nurses and up to $60,000 for doctors working in underserved communities.
According to the federal government, nearly 5,500 healthcare practitioners benefited from the loan forgiveness program in 2019-20. The government plans to expand the list of professionals eligible for the program, with details expected in the coming year.
The budget proposes $227.6 million over two years to maintain trauma-informed, culturally appropriate and Indigenous-led mental health and wellness services for First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
The budget includes spending commitments to advance reconciliation and address the “shameful legacy” of residential schools.
That includes $209.8 million over five years to help communities document, locate and memorialize burial sites and ensure the complete disclosure of federal documents related to residential schools; and $10.4 million to support the appointment of a special interlocutor, to work with Indigenous people on recommendations to protect and preserve unmarked burial sites.
The budget further proposes $25 million to support the commemoration and memorialization of former residential school sites and $25 million for the digitization of documents related to the federal Indian Day School system.
The federal government has earmarked $87.3 million over three years to support the implementation of Indigenous child welfare laws. The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation became the first Indigenous organization in the NWT to enact its own child and family services legislation in November 2021.
Other northern-focused highlights in the budget include:
- $14.5 million over five years, starting in 2022-2023, to support completion and operations at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station;
- $1.5 million over five years to the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agenda to support Indigenous economic development in the North;
- $252.2 million over five years to sustain existing continental and Arctic defence capabilities and to lay groundwork for Norad’s future; and
- $32.2 million over two years to support the Atlin Hydro Expansion project in British Columbia, which will provide clean electricity to the Yukon.