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Liberals promise hope for housing
Hunter Tootoo says party will double federal infrastructure investment to $125 billion

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, September 7, 2015

NUNAVUT
In the wake of a national Liberal pre-election announcement Aug. 30 by Leader Justin Trudeau, Nunavut candidate Hunter Tootoo explained what a promise to double federal spending on infrastructure means for Nunavut.

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Liberal Party federal election candidate Hunter Tootoo, outside Tower Arctic Ltd. where a small private rally was held for Prime Minister Stephen Harper on a campaign stop in Iqaluit Aug. 14, sees hope for Nunavut's housing crisis in his party's election promises. - photo courtesy of Hunter Tootoo

"Now there's going to be long-term, stable funding that will flow through the Government of Nunavut as they establish their priorities," said Tootoo.

"For example, they've always said that housing is their number one priority and there's never been any long-term, stable funding commitment toward that. Now here's an opportunity."

Trudeau's announcement holds key words that echo the needs of the territory when it comes to infrastructure investment "long-term predictability in funding."

When the last federal budget was unveiled in April, Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq called it a "very good budget for Nunavut." Meanwhile, Nunavut Finance Minister Keith Peterson called it business as usual except an increase in the debt cap up to $650 million from $400 million. The need for sustained, stable funding for infrastructure in the territory did not make its way into that federal budget.

In November 2014, Nunavut News/North reported that it would take $1 billion to correct the housing crisis in Nunavut.

Liberal announcement

The Liberal announcement has promised, "Each year over the next decade, we will steadily increase federal infrastructure investment. At full implementation, this will represent an annual additional investment of $9.5 billion per year. This will almost double federal infrastructure investment to nearly $125 billion from $65 billion over 10 years, which will be the largest new investment in infrastructure in Canadian history."

Tootoo has the benefit of his past experience serving as a Nunavut MLA.

"I know when I was a minister (responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation), we always pushed for long-term, stable funding so we could plan properly," said Tootoo. "This funding provides the possibility for that to happen. Whether it be social housing, seniors facilities, child care spaces whatever infrastructure the municipalities and the territory identify as their priorities we will work with them to help address them."

Tootoo adds the Liberals are committed to reforming and improving the transparency of the program, "to provide for clearer criteria and a faster approval process for it to happen."

Predictable funding is key to planning and addressing priorities the municipalities and the territory identify, he said, which will be preferable to the stop-and-start funding currently going on.

"I know when they dropped some housing funding on us, they said, 'OK, here. You've got $200 million. You've got a month and a half to come up with a plan and get everything going and on the boat.'"

Planning involves more than building houses, Tootoo said.

"Municipalities have to do lot development. Most of the land they have available to put houses on we've used most of that already, across the territory. Lot development, then going into the actual construction of the houses, after that."

The same principle applies, for example, with power infrastructure. Often, these builds are held up because land hasn't been scoped out and approved.

Regardless, Tootoo emphasizes it will be up to the municipalities and the territory to set their priorities.

"Instead of someone else. 'This is what we'll give you money for.' With this fund we'll be able to work with them to address their priorities."

Finally, Tootoo says the infrastructure spending is about growing the economy.

"Trudeau has recognized the fact that any investment in infrastructure in the North has a direct positive impact on the economies in southern Canada. Anything you buy to build a house, anything you do up here, everything has to come from the south."

And it's about building stronger communities, adds Tootoo.

"We've always said, 'We're here. Give us the ability to have strong communities and we'll take care of sovereignty. We're here.'"

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