Feds dish out housing, energy fundsBudget details still murky, says finance minister
Northern News Services
Monday, March 27, 2017
While last week's federal budget came with positive announcements for things like housing and energy solutions in the North, NWT leaders are still questioning how exactly those dollars will be spent in the territory.
Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod said any money for housing is a positive step. - NNSL file photo
Here's what NWT leaders had to say about the Liberals' second federal budget, announced March 22, which includes a deficit of $28.5 billion in 2017-18 and an investment of $5.7 billion over the next six years.
The Liberal government has earmarked millions of dollars for indigenous peoples, including $300 million for Northern housing over 11 years.
NWT residents will receive just $36 million of that total, but Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod said any money for housing is a positive step.
"Especially in the Northwest Territories, or in smaller jurisdictions, it's always a good thing," he said.
But it's not clear exactly which NWT communities would benefit from the housing dollars.
"The budget just kind of announced the overall picture," McLeod said. "Our officials will work with (the federal government) to try to iron out the details."
The territory also gets annual funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to help with operations and maintenance of housing units, he said - something the budget earmarks $241 million for over the next 11 years.
"They made some indication that they'll maybe hold the line on that for a while, which is huge," said McLeod.
Adults going back to school in the North will benefit from $14.7 million over the next three years for the Adult Basic Education Program.
The program is run by Aurora College, Yukon College and Nunavut Arctic College to boost adults' numeracy and literacy skills so they're prepared for the workforce.
"We're excited, but cautiously optimistic," said Aurora College president Jane Arychuk. "There has been no contact with us at all."
Arychuk said the three college presidents have been lobbying for funding, but weren't sure the federal government would pull through.
It's still unclear how that money will be divided between the three institutions, or whether Aurora College will get any of this money at all, Arychuk said.
Starting in 2017-18, the government will spend $8.6 million over four years to support indigenous tourism - money that will be directed to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and also support a five-year strategy.
While "any money is a good thing," according to B. Dene Adventures owner Bobby Drygeese, he doesn't think $8.6 million will go far once it's spread across the country over several years.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation member's company offers culture camps, drumming, aurora viewing and workshops.
He said there is a growing push for First Nations tourism and it's good the federal government is getting behind it.
But it's important to make sure that tourism is authentic, he said.
"The more support the better," Drygeese said, "We're just trying to keep up with the big companies."
Clean energy and the environment
Northerners are familiar with the high cost of living in the NWT, and the federal government hopes to address that by weaning Northern communities off of diesel.
Feds are investing $21.4 million over four years in a Northern Responsible Energy Approach for a Community Heat and Electricity Program starting in 2018-19, which would support renewal energy projects in the North.
"We've got 22 of our 33 communities that are still on diesel and we need to find innovative ways to get the communities off diesel so we can not only help with our greenhouse gas emissions, but lower the cost of living in the Northwest Territories," McLeod said. "They've put some money towards that and we're quite pleased."
Another $400 million will support an Arctic Energy Fund.
Starting in 2017-18, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada will also get $83.8 million over five years to come up with Northern climate change solutions that incorporate indigenous knowledge.
Territorial Health Investment Fund
The Territorial Health Investment Fund gets a four-year, $108-million boost starting in 2017-18, with $28.4 million of that going to the NWT.
McLeod said long-term care and aging in place are priorities for the GNWT and that some of those health dollars could "absolutely" be used for long-term care needs or aging in place if needed.
"That is a priority of the 18th Legislative Assembly, so if we can use some of that money to make investments into long-term care, then I think it'd be money well spent," he said.
The GNWT could also consider using that money for aging in place, which allows people to live in their homes as long as possible as they grow older, he said.
The Liberals plan to put $2 billion into infrastructure in rural and Northern communities over the next 11 years.
According to the budget, that could mean anything from roads to energy projects to broadband Internet, which got a $500-million boost in the 2016 budget.
McLeod said that money would be helpful for big ticket items like the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Whati road which is already underway, and the Slave Geological Province road to the diamond mines.
But, again, the details are murky.
"We'd have to work with them and see what the best options are for any investment," McLeod said.
One thing the Finance minister is pleased to see is a base plus per capita funding formula for the infrastructure money.
"That means we should get a few more dollars," McLeod said. "We've been making that case for years in Ottawa, and it's just nice to know that they've heard us."
Homelessness Partnering Strategy
Canada's Homelessness Partnering Strategy will now be extended past its 2018-19 end date with another $2.1 billion over the next 11 years.
The strategy funds homelessness projects in 61 communities across Canada, including Yellowknife.
Linda Bussey, Yellowknife city councillor and co-chair of the Community Advisory Board on Homelessness, said the board's biggest discussion right now is how to ensure solutions are sustainable in the long term.
"This is going to be the diving board to make it even better," Bussey said of Wednesday's funding.
"I'm happy. Even when I look at the national housing strategy, there's going to be more homes, and there's going to be more money into social housing," she said.
Indigenous Guardians pilot program
An indigenous pilot project will kick off in 2017-18 with $25 million over five years.
The Indigenous Guardians Program will support indigenous people to take care of traditional lands and monitor the health of the ecosystem, the federal budget states.
Stephen Kakfwi, senior adviser with the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, helped get the program off the ground.
He's said it's already proven successful at reducing social costs in Australia and that 30 programs just like it exist across Canada.
"It's kind of tentative at the scale I hoped for, but we'll take it as a commitment by the government," Kakfwi said.
He believes the program will be life-changing for many indigenous youth, bringing them hope by connecting them with elders and their culture.
"This type of program has the promise of being able to do that," he said.