Finance Minister George Hickes began his budget address Feb. 20 with a look back at Nunavut’s 20 years, listing numbers such as a 40 per cent population increase, a doubled economy, and a GDP which has grown five per cent each year since 1999.
“The story of Nunavut is a story of growth,” said Hickes. “Everywhere you look, we’re doing more. At the same time, our challenges remain. Nunavummiut must deal with a housing shortage, high living costs, and a wage economy that increasingly demands new skills and technical knowledge.”
Yet, according to the 2019-2020 budget, public housing will see a paltry 100 new units built this year, down from 190 in previous years. Housing officials explained to the media prior to Hickes’ budget address that federal funding is a drop in the bucket compared to what the territory needs for housing – it doesn’t even meet the population growth.
After noting the Conference Board of Canada forecasts strong economic growth for several years, Hickes described a budget on its way to being balanced; however, he made clear that Nunavut’s needs are outpacing its ability to pay for those services.
“Each year we are doing more with less,” said Hickes, prior to breaking down the budget along the lines of the mandate for the territory’s fifth government, Turaaqtavut.
But, while Hickes called the budget a sensible approach, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) president Aluki Kotierk was disappointed, expecting more.
“For the most part, everything was pretty much the same. I expected to see more money for the Education Act, for the implementation of the Education Act. There was nothing that I saw,” said Kotierk from Rankin Inlet.
Kotierk refers to the right of Inuit children to have an Inuktut education.
“And we’ve been advocating for more resources to be put into Inuktut, proactively addressing the need for Inuktut-speaking teachers. I would have thought there was an opportunity to do that. That’s missed,” she said.
However, Kotierk applauded Hickes, who is learning Inuktitut, for speaking the language in the assembly.
“I think that’s so important, and I think we need to nurture that space of encouragement, of encouraging fellow Inuit to speak more Inuktut,” said Kotierk.
Looking to the $1 million dedicated to translation, Kotierk makes the point that most often translation at the Government of Nunavut means translating from English to Inuktut, which is backwards.
“Who are they really serving? Who is the priority? How are we going to get this government to shift to working from the premise that we serve Inuit, we represent Inuit, we want to make life better for Inuit, and how are we going to do that? Not: We’re concerned about the 15 per cent and we want to make sure whatever they like is understood by the public majority who speak Inuktut,” said Kotierk.
Kotierk was also confused by Hickes calling Nunavut’s governance model self-government. Hickes said, “Turaaqtavut … sets out the ideas that will take us forward into our 20th year of self-government, and well beyond.”
“The territorial public government is not self-government,” said Kotierk.
On a less disappointed note, she applauded the money earmarked for addictions and trauma treatment.
By the numbers: budget highlights
A smaller deficit and new money to health and wellness initiatives – these are the highlights proposed by Hickes.
Hickes projects total spending at $2.166 billion, as compared to $2.201 billion last year, and total revenues at $2.162 billion, as compared to $2.177 billion last year. Federal transfers are up, at $1.738 billion, while last year that number was $1.671 billion.
The government, as usual, is earmarking $30 million for contingencies.
Hickes noted that, as it stands, revenues are set to rise more slowly than the cost of providing public services.
“This compels us to take very firm action on cost control while, at the same time, raising new revenue through economic growth,” he said.
Proposed new spending is as follows:
- $4.6 million in new funding for the treatment of addictions and related trauma – see the Nunavut News conversation with Hickes.
- $2.8 million towards law enforcement – Justice Dept. officials said this funding is mainly for new housing for RCMP personnel outside Iqaluit.
- $2.7 million to expand the Medical Travel program to allow more mothers and guardians to bring infants on medical travel, and provide escorts to accompany pregnant women during childbirth.
- $2.0 million to strengthen emergency shelters, set up transitional housing for women, and improve emergency services for women and children. Officials from the Dept. of Family Services explained that $1 million will top up societies who manage emergency shelters, for capacity and programming. Officials also said some of that money will go to a newly-created position within the department: a transitional housing coordinator. A total of $800,000 will support family violence initiatives, while the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council receives $120,000.
- $1.6 million to support Team Nunavut’s participation in the 2020 Arctic Winter Games
- $0.7 million to create more clinical positions in communities for the screening and testing of tuberculosis.
- $0.6 million in new funding for the Qikiqtani General Hospital to support improved services and plan for a pediatric unit.