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MP backs call for change to federal funding formula
Low population puts Nunavut at disadvantage for infrastructure dollars from Ottawa

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, February 15, 2016

A national aboriginal board is calling on the federal government to change rules to per capita Northern infrastructure funding, saying it puts the North at a disadvantage due to low populations, and Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo agrees.

NNSL photo/graphic

Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo speaks with Jennifer Tompson of 1984 Nunavut at the 2016 Kitikmeot Trade Show held in Cambridge Bay Feb. 7 to 10. - Navalik Tologanak/NNSL photo

"Canada's North is facing a significant infrastructure deficit - one that is a major barrier to improving the quality of life in Northern indigenous communities and acts as the predominant barrier to economic and business development in the region," states National Aboriginal Economic Development Board chairperson Chief Clarence Louie in the report released in late January.

"Increased infrastructure investment in the North would contribute to not only economic development but would support important social development goals in the North as well."

The 39-page report as a whole is stunning in its scope and depth, with graphic illustrations revealing, in particular, Inuit homelands as the most lacking in essential infrastructure and suffering the consequence.

The $14-billion New Building Canada Fund, a 10-year infrastructure program to "support projects of national, regional and local significance that promote economic growth, job creation and productivity" is but one example of a per capita program that sees the North left behind.

"Canada's North is facing a significant infrastructure deficit that acts as an impediment to community well-being and social development in the region ... Since the majority of infrastructure funding is based on a per capita formula, it puts the North at a disadvantage compared to the south due to a substantially lower population," states the report.

Tootoo, who had just helped celebrate the opening of Cambridge Bay's new hamlet office on behalf of Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi, is pushing for changes in Ottawa. (The governments of Canada and Nunavut jointly committed $11 million toward the project through the Provincial-Territorial Base Fund.)

"I've said it for years as an MLA, the fact that the per capita funding, the way things have been doled out over the years, is why we have the infrastructure deficit that we do have," he said.

"I've been joking around with some of my cabinet colleagues, saying funding should be doled out based on land mass. The guy that gave me that idea was Lawrence MacAulay from Prince Edward Island."

Tootoo laughs, then it's back to business.

"We know it's been an issue forever. We know that we have the largest geographical land mass. We have the highest cost - your dollar goes a third as far as it does in the south. It just doesn't work on a per capita basis for us," he said.

The Northern Caucus, which includes the premiers of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland-Labrador, along with Tootoo, have "made the case very clear to Minister Sohi it just doesn't work for us.

"Hopefully we'll come up with a different approach to it so we don't end up on the short end of the stick again as things unfold and move forward."

Whether, as the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board recommends, a new North-specific infrastructure investment fund be established or whether a special dispensation for Northern infrastructure projects is applied to the current funding envelopes remains to be seen.

"We've had discussions with Minister Sohi to hopefully address the unique circumstances that we face in the Northern and remote areas of the country. He seems to understand where we're coming from and receptive to coming up with a plan. How it's going to look, I don't know."

Meanwhile the Iqaluit deep water port and the Pond Inlet small craft harbour projects are both moving forward in separate processes.

"They're at different stages of the process and they're working their way through," said Tootoo.

Housing, a dire $1-billion need in Nunavut, is another matter, not falling under any of these larger infrastructure funding plans so far.

The previous federal government had pledged $100 million in supplementary funding in 2013, with an additional $3 million per year for five years by extending the national Investment in Affordable Housing Agreement for 2014 to 2019. But these contributions have barely made a dent.

"In Nunavut we've always pushed for long-term stable funding to be able to address our severe short-fall. I've conveyed that to Minister (Jean-Yves) DuClos (of Families, Children and Social Development). He's well-aware of it," said Tootoo.

"And I know it's always been the number - one ask from the Government of Nunavut to the federal government in every budget."

DuClos' mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau includes "prioritizing infrastructure investments in affordable housing and seniors' housing, including finding ways to support the municipal construction of new housing units and refurbishment of existing ones."

Tootoo met with Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna and territorial Finance Minister Keith Peterson while in Cambridge Bay.

"Their number one ask is housing. That's been forwarded on and we'll just have to wait and see how things unfold through the budget process," he said.

Although Tootoo could not say when the new federal government's budget would be presented, reports indicate that will take place during the week of March 21.

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