Federal funding for COVID-19 leaves Nunavut “shortchanged,” says premier
“Nunavut needs more, and we need it now”
(Updated April 15, 10:35 a.m.)
Nunavut’s premier says the territorial government was “shortchanged” in its request for federal funding to help prepare for and deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not even a drop in the bucket,” Premier Joe Savikataaq told Nunatsiaq News.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $130 million to support northern communities dealing with COVID-19.
Of that money, $72.6 million will be split among Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for health care and community preparedness. Nunavut will receive $30.8 million, plus up to $5 million for air services.
The territories will also have access to $15 million through the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency to support businesses. Another $25 million will go to Nutrition North Canada to increase subsidies on food and hygiene products in northern and remote communities.
“While we welcome these funds and the relief it brings, Nunavut needs more, and we need it now. Nunavut is chronically underfunded, and we cannot be expected to deal with this new global reality from behind the starting line,” Savikataaq told reporters at a regular news conference on Tuesday, April 14.
But Savikataaq said the Government of Nunavut had originally asked for $42 million from the federal government—meaning the territory will receive about $7 million less than it asked for, when the airline funding of $5 million is included.
“It’s $42 million. It’s really small in the federal government’s eyes. [In] the conversations we had, there was no indication that we wouldn’t get our total request, so it was disappointing when we didn’t get our total request,” Savikataaq said.
“It made four weeks of waiting that much harder when we realized we didn’t even get all that we asked for,” he said.
Savikataaq said the Government of Nunavut submitted its request for funding to the Government of Canada on March 18 but had not heard back until yesterday when the funding was announced.
“From the time they asked for the request, we put it in within two days. It was a rush job on our end to get the funds as quick as we could.”
Savikataaq said he spoke with federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal after the funding was announced on Tuesday to express his disappointment.
“He was supportive and he understood, especially about the airlines,” Savikataaq said.
“He knows my disappointment that not only did it take so long, but we’re behind now on the stuff we could have spent the money on,” Savikataaq said. “We’ll just be reimbursing some of that and we still have all these expenses we’re incurring.”
To date, the GN has spent $20.4 million on COVID-19 prevention. Savikataaq said the GN’s greatest needs right now to prepare for a potential outbreak include additional medical staff and personal protective equipment.
“Right now, we have no COVID in Nunavut, and right now the supplies are OK. But if we do have an outbreak, we don’t have the supplies that we need and we will need them now. And if it takes this long and we have an outbreak, we have a lack of resources to deal with it. If we have to start medevacing patients out, then that is really, really costly,” he said.
“It just puts us behind where we can’t catch up.”
Savikataaq said that although he hasn’t yet heard when the newly announced money will start flowing to the GN, it will be used to purchase additional health equipment and supplies. It will also help reimburse the GN for the $2 million it has spent to date on isolation hubs in the south for Nunavummiut returning to the territory.
But one of the GN’s biggest expenses during the pandemic has been keeping Nunavut’s airlines afloat. Last month, Nunavut closed its borders to all except residents and critical workers. In-territory flights have also been reduced.
The GN is currently providing $2.25 million weekly to Nunavut’s airlines.
“We have to have the airlines on a regular schedule to all the communities. Our samples have to be sent out for COVID-19 testing. We still have to have cargo going in. But we have to subsidize the airlines to make sure that we still have an airline to service Nunavut,” Savikataaq said.
“We’ve been funding the airlines substantially and in the [federal government’s] funding they are helping but not to the extent that we thought they were going to. We’re still paying by far the bulk of the subsidies to the airlines.”
Savikataaq said the GN is already working on a second request to the federal government for more funding based on anticipated needs and gaps in the funding announced on Tuesday.
“This is just the initial payment of money that we thought we were going to get very quickly. It wasn’t very quick. But this was just a basic ask so that we could get some money right away. We are working on another ask and hopefully we’ll get better results on that one.”
In March, the federal government released a $82-billion COVID-19 economic relief package.
Of that amount, Inuit received $45 million, which the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami board of directors decided to divide among the four Inuit regions: Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and the Inuvialuit settlement region.
Nunavut’s allocation was 52 per cent, or $22.5 million.
The breakdown of federal funding for the territories announced on Tuesday is as follows:
- $18.4 million for Yukon and up to $3.6 million for air services
- $23.4 million for the Northwest Territories and up to $8.7 million for air services
- $30.8 million for Nunavut and up to $5 million for air services
Correction: This story was updated to say “$72.6 million will be split among Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for health care and community preparedness” as opposed to “$76.2 million….” We regret the transcribing error.