Nunavut, federal officials discuss water, energy, housing needs

Ottawa looks north in crafting stimulus spending


Northern infrastructure spending will likely factor into a federal stimulus package to buoy Canada's lagging economy.

John Baird, the federal transportation minister, met with a horde of northern politicians in Ottawa this past week, including Nunavut premier Eva Aariak, making her first official visit to the nation's capital.

But Nunavut, with a newly-installed government, doesn't have a finalized list of infrastructure priorities, Baird said.

"The Nunavut premier and her government, they're brand spanking new and will be working over the next five or six weeks to establish their priorities," Baird said during a conference call from Ottawa this past Tuesday.

"They're looking at moving very quickly and we'll match them in their timeline."

But the transport minister said he had a "detailed discussion" with Nunavut officials. The two sides talked about the territory's water treatment, energy and housing needs, Baird said.

Baird also said there are "up to five small craft harbour proposals on the table."

But he avoided a question on whether a deep-water port for Iqaluit would be part of any spending package.

Baird openly admitted Ottawa is loosening the purse strings on northern products as part of efforts to boost Canada's recovery from the worldwide economic slowdown, which has battered the country's forestry and manufacturing industries.

Spending on infrastructure is a way "to get shovels on the ground and get jobs created," Baird said.

The federal government is willing to speed up the release of money under the seven-year Building Canada infrastructure fund, which is to provide Nunavut with $275 million in funding between 2007 and 2014.

Under that program, the federal government funds 75 per cent of infrastructure projects, with territorial governments picking up the rest of the tab.

What's not clear is whether the territories, particularly cash-strapped Nunavut, can afford to put up any of their own money to help accelerate the program.

Tuesday's news conference was fraught with glitches. Technical problems derailed a planned early afternoon conference call that was to have included Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut's MP and the federal health minister, Aariak, and Lorne Kusugak, the community and government services minister.

Kusugak wasn't available for comment before Nunatsiaq News press-time this past week.

By the time the conference went ahead, hours later, only Baird was still available to speak to reporters.

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