The Premier of the Northwest Territories says spending earmarked for the North in Canada’s latest budget shows federal officials are listening, but more is needed to address Arctic security.
Following the release of the budget on Thursday afternoon, Caroline Cochrane told reporters she was “pleased with the overall focus” of the federal document.
“It’s clear that our federal engagement efforts and collaborative approach to working with the federal government has paid off with this budget,” she said by video from Anchorage, Alaska, where she is attending the Arctic Encounter Symposium.
The premier said she had, however, hoped to see more funding for broadband, transportation and energy in the North.
Cochrane raised the need for investments in those areas when she, along with the premiers of Nunavut and the Yukon, met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week to discuss Arctic sovereignty. She said Trudeau had committed to address those issues and continue working with northern premiers to define Arctic sovereignty.
“All nations are talking about the need, because of what’s happening, the need to actually make sure that the opportunity gaps are addressed – that the things people in the south take for granted, such as broadband internet, such as roads into communities, they are addressed – because it’s not OK any more,” she said.
Cochrane said she had spoken to Dan Vandal, the minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, on Thursday afternoon and he had pledged to pursue additional funding for northern priorities.
The NWT premier said all of Canada’s premiers have united to call for more healthcare funding to provinces and territories, adding Trudeau had agreed to hold separate negotiations on the issue.
“Once that money comes flowing, I’m hoping that we can do more to address our healthcare needs in the NWT,” she said.
Funding commitments in the 2022 federal budget that Cochrane highlighted as positive for the North included proposed investments in critical minerals, tourism, childcare, and reconciliation, as well as incentives for nurses and doctors to work in rural and remote communities.
Cochrane said the federal government has previously made funding commitments for large infrastructure projects in the NWT like the Taltson hydro expansion, Mackenzie Valley Highway and Slave Geological Province Corridor. She said she hopes some of the money allotted for Arctic sovereignty in the budget will support infrastructure in the NWT.
Under housing, the federal government has proposed $60 million between 2022 and 2024 for affordable housing and related infrastructure in the NWT. While Cochrane said this may “feel like a drop in the bucket,” she pointed out the budget also promises $564 million over five years for housing in self-governing Indigenous and treaty-holder communities, which will benefit the North.
“I hate just to ask for money and then not be able to spend it in that year,” Cochrane said. “We need to make sure this money goes out the door, that we are employing people, that we’re putting houses over people’s heads.
“As we need more, when we spend this money, I will be knocking on the federal government’s door.”
The NWT government had previously failed to touch a $60-million dedicated housing fund for more than two years, leading to some housing projects in the territory being denied separate federal funding in early 2021.
The territorial government then announced in March 2021 it would spend the entirety of the federal funding in one go on 126 units across the NWT.