Nunavut finance minister hopes for speedy implementation

Keith Peterson gives federal budget good review


Keith Peterson, Nunavut's finance minister, says he knows how federal opposition parties ought to vote on Tuesday's federal budget.

The answer is yea.

The budget, tabled by federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, contains $20 billion in tax cuts, $28 billion in new spending over two years, and runs a $34 billion deficit in a bid to bring Canada's ailing economy out of recession.

Amidst all the spending is $200 million for northern housing, including $100 million for new social housing in Nunavut, enough to build about 350 new units.

"You can't ignore that," Peterson said in an interview. "We have people that need housing. We've got waiting lists that are 30, 40, 50 families deep in many communities. For the people of Nunavut it would be great if the opposition would support the budget."

That's far from certain. The three opposition parties tried to assemble a coalition government and nearly brought down the minority Conservative government before Christmas. Now the Conservatives need the support of one of the opposition parties to pass the budget.

Kitikmeot Community Futures Inc., Job Opportunity – Executive Director

The New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois have said they'll vote against it.

The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday morning that the Liberals, under new leader Michael Ignatieff, were going to demand changes to the budget before they'd agree to support it.

In addition to the $100 million for housing, the highlights for Nunavut are:

  • $90 million over five years for a renewal of the Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development (SINED) fund;
  • $50 million over five years to establish a Northern economic development agency;
  • $17 million to speed up construction of the Pangnirtung harbour;
  • a one-year extension of the 15 per cent mineral exploration tax credit announced in last year's budget;
  • $2 million to conduct a feasibility study on the construction of a new High Arctic research centre, and $85 million to upgrade existing centres;
  • $325 million for First Nations and Inuit health care;
  • some tax reductions aimed at low- and middle-income earners.

Peterson praised the renewal of SINED, which the GN had lobbied for, and the funding for the new northern economic development agency, first promised by the Conservatives during last fall's federal election campaign.

The agency is something Peterson said he'd been lobbying for through the Nunavut Association of Municipalities since 2000, when he was mayor of Cambridge Bay.

"That's a strong indication that the federal government supports economic development up here," Peterson said.

Invitation to submit an expression of interest as to the availability of space for lease in Iqaluit, Nunavut

The budget got a cooler reception from Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who had been calling for a $1 billion spending package specifically for Inuit.

In a news release, Simon singled out, among other things, the health care money, tax relief, and funding for Arctic research for praise.

But she said the budget failed to recognize all four Inuit regions and should have included a specific section on Inuit infrastructure, as it did for First Nations.

She's not happy that Nunavik and Nunatsiavut are left out of the money for northern housing. "In addition the $200 million allocated for the territories is less than hoped for and needed," she said.

Simon said she was also disappointed the budget did not set aside any money from a $200 million broadband internet fund for Inuit communities, contained no money to implement land claim agreements, and didn't focus enough on Inuit training or urban issues.

And once again there's no money for a deepwater port in Iqaluit, or for small craft harbours anywhere other than Pangnirtung, despite a 2005 report calling for the construction of wharves in six other communities.

"We also like the $17-million for accelerated harbour improvements in Pangnirtung," Simon said. "However other Inuit communities are also in dire need of harbour improvements and money should be specifically allocated to them."

Another element of the budget that may have an impact for the North is a $175 million program to build 98 new coast guard ships and repair or refit of 40 existing vessels.

The program is aimed at giving a boost to Canada's shipbuilding sector, while expanding Canada's aging coast guard fleet.

The plan calls for 60 new small craft and 30 new "environmental response barges" to be stationed across the country.

It's not known if any of those will be stationed in Nunavut, but budget documents say that five of the existing ships scheduled for refit are based in the Coast Guard's central and arctic region.

For the complete budget document visit: www.budget.gc.ca/2009.

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