As Nunavut’s 20th approaches, Hickes reflects on 20 years of growth

“Everywhere you look, we’re doing more,” finance minister says

“The story of Nunavut is a story of growth. Everywhere you look, we’re doing more,” Finance Minister Geroge Hickes said today in his budget speech. (Photo by Beth Brown)

By Jim Bell

(Updated, 4:25 p.m., Feb. 20)

With Nunavut’s 20th birthday fast approaching, Finance Minister George Hickes used his first budget speech today to list how the territory has improved and grown since it was born on April 1, 1999.

“The story of Nunavut is a story of growth. Everywhere you look, we’re doing more,” Hickes said, citing high school graduation rates, annual rates of growth in gross domestic product and $2.4 billion worth of infrastructure construction.

Within that list, he singled out growth in Inuit employment at the Government of Nunavut for special emphasis.

“The number of Inuit GN employees has almost doubled, going from 943 in 2001 to 1,770 in 2018,” Hickes said near the start of his budget address.

He returned to that theme near the end of the speech, when he said the new Department of Human Resources, set to launch on April 1, will finalize what he described as “a long-term master Inuit employment plan,” which will guide the GN until 2023.

In doing so, he referred again to the latest Inuit employment numbers, which show that as of Dec. 31, 2018, “the actual number of Inuit working for the government and our corporations reached 1,770,” he said.

“It’s worth repeating. Twice as many Inuit work for the Government of Nunavut today compared to 20 years ago,” he said.

To give the speech, Hickes stood in a pair of new CSA-approved steel-toed workboots to honour his father, George Hickes Sr., a former speaker of the Manitoba legislature.

Finance Minister George Hickes with the pair of new CSA-approved steel-toed workboots he wore during his budget speech to honour his father, George Hickes Sr., a former speaker of the Manitoba legislature. Hickes will donate them to an apprentice. (Photo by Beth Brown)

A reporter once asked Hickes Sr. if he was proud that his son had followed him into politics.

“He replied that he would rather I leave my own footprints, and that they had better be in workboots,” Hickes told MLAs.

Prior to giving his speech, Hickes Jr. told reporters in a budget lockup that he plans to donate the boots to a Nunavut resident apprenticing to work in a trade.

Revenues down from last year

Overall, the GN expects to receive revenues of $2.21 billion in 2019-20, down about 1.7 per cent from 2018-19, Hickes said.

At the same time, the GN estimates it will spend $2.22 billion, about four per cent less than in 2018-19.

That will produce a tiny deficit of $12 million, and takes into account the GN’s normal contingency fund of $30 million, he said.

The deficit represents only one-half of a per cent of the GN’s total spending, but it’s still a cause for concern.

“Looking at it another way, for every $100 we spend, we’re short about fifty cents. That’s not big, but it does add up,” Hickes said.

It also means the GN must find ways to reduce spending and increase revenues, he said.

“As I mentioned earlier, the demand for public services continues to rise each year. That growth in demand, coupled with less revenue, means our needs are outpacing our ability to pay for those services,” he said.

Inuit health declining, NTI says

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. issued a highly critical response to Hickes’s budget, saying Inuit health continues to decline.

“During the territory’s healthy economic growth we have continued to see statistics indicate declining quality in health among Nunavut Inuit. We are seeing an increase in the use of social assistance in non-decentralized communities with no plan on how to distribute the wealth across the territory,” NTI said.

NTI also said the GN is not building enough new social housing units.

“The minister has reported that 100 new social housing units will be constructed with no explanation as to why fewer units are being constructed,” NTI said.

“On a day we should all be planning for an improved territory, we find ourselves having to point out yet again that Government of Canada needs to invest in Nunavut or see their precious budgets suffer under growing social assistance and social housing needs,” NTI President Aluki Kotierk said in a release.

GN works on facilities for elder care, addictions treatment

Of all the departments and agencies, the Department of Health will get the biggest share of the 2019-20 budget: $431 million.

On better elder care, Hickes said the GN is working on a “a comprehensive long-term care plan” and, as he has said in the past, will look at partnerships to build more facilities in communities.

As for a highly anticipated addictions treatment facility, Hickes said the GN continues to work with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the federal government on a “recovery centre,” Hickes said.

Some individual spending items include:

• $4.6 million in new money for treating addictions and trauma.

• $2.8 million for law enforcement. This is to help alleviate the RCMP’s staff housing deficit across the territory, an official said.

• $2.7 million more for medical travel, to allow more mothers and guardians to bring infants with them on medical trips.

• $2 million more for emergency shelters, transitional housing for women, improved emergency services for women and children. A GN official said about $1 million of this will go to shelters, about $800,000 will go to more family violence and training initiatives, and $120,000 will go to the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council. The GN also wants to start putting into place transitional housing for women around the territory, Hickes told reporters.

• $1.6 million for Team Nunavut’s participation at the 2020 Arctic Winter Games.

• $700,000 for more clinical positions in communities for screening and testing tuberculosis.

• $600,000 in new money for Qikiqtani General Hospital for improved services and to plan for a pediatric unit.

No new info on carbon tax revenue

As to what Nunavut plans to do with the approximately $15 million worth of carbon tax revenue that it’s set to receive from the federal government this year, Hickes said the GN is still looking at “options.”

Under an agreement with Ottawa, the federal government will bear the cost of collecting its carbon tax in Nunavut, but the GN will keep 100 per cent of the revenue and make its own decisions on how to spend it

In May 2018, David Akeeagok, then the finance minister, said the government would use its 2019-20 budget to reveal details of how it plans to use that money.

But officials said in a budget lockup today that carbon tax revenue information was not included in today’s budget because the dates for when Nunavut will receive the money have been moved to July.

Hickes reminded the public that in Nunavut, diesel generators and aviation fuel are exempt from the carbon tax, but that it applies to everything else, including gasoline.

“We aim to minimize the effect of federal carbon pricing on the cost of living and doing business in Nunavut,” he said.

“I look forward to sharing the details of this revenue return before the federal carbon-pricing program takes effect in July.”

And on Nunavut’s growth since 1999, Hickes cited the following figures:

• Population: 38,000, up 40 per cent from 27,000 in 1999.

• Gross domestic product: average growth of five per cent a year.

• Number of high school graduates: 98 in 1999, 292 in 2017.

• Graduation rate: 21.1 per cent in 1999, 48 per cent in 2017.

• Number of public housing units build since 2001: 1,980.

• Spending on infrastructure: $2.4 billion, including 12 schools, six community learning centres, 10 health centres, and the Qikiqtani General Hospital.

• Spending on post-secondary education and skills training since 1999: $100 million.

• Number of Inuit employees: 943 in 2001, 1,770 in 2018.

As for the GN’s legislated debt cap of $650 million, Hickes said Nunavut’s total long-term debt peaked at $435 million this year, but will slowly begin to fall starting next year.

“By not using credit to pay for our daily needs, and by managing our debt carefully, the government earned a good credit rating. In fact, only three provinces enjoy a rating better than ours,” Hickes said.

— With files from Courtney Edgar

2019-20 Nunavut Budget Address by on Scribd

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Value For Money on

    “Spending on post-secondary education and skills training since 1999: $100 million.”

    What have we got for that $100 million?

    How many graduates in what fields?
    Which of them are working in Nunavut?
    What contribution are they making to Nunavut?
    How many are working in our health centers?
    How many are building new houses in Nunavut?
    How many are defending Nunavummiut charged with crimes?
    How many are running the mines in Nunavut?
    How many are flying planes for us?

    Spending money is easy. Show us the value received.

    • Posted by iRoll on

      If you want to be an effective critic do a little more than throwing this lazy, rhetorical garbage into the discussion.

      • Posted by Rob M Adams on

        Those are valid questions from “Value for Money”, “iRoll”. You might want to take your own advice before you post your next comment.

        At $100M, that equates to $4,000,000 spent for each community in NU over the past 20 years – $200,000 per year. The one respondent to the comment posted by “VFM” indicated that she obtained post-secondary education during the past 20 years and works for the government. Hardly a testimonial.

        Look at your own NU community, iRoll. Where do you see bang-for-your-buck? Conditions of homes? Health of individuals? Creativity? Equality? Entrepreneurism? Productivity? Culture? Prospects for all? Hope for all? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and nope.

        • Posted by iRoll on


          I see malcontent, misery and negativity. I have my own criticisms, but find these ones to be weak, lack serious reflection and as such are quite pointless.

          • Posted by Rob M Adams on

            It’s good that you recognize the malcontent, misery and negativity in the oppressed of Nunavut, iRoll. That’s a start. Now you need to recognize and accept the source. Hint. It comes from within.

            Look at your own NU community, iRoll.

            • Posted by iRoll on

              Rob; the malcontent, negativity etc. that I’ve recognized was in the above comments, including yours. This was not a statement on the entire territory. Interesting twist, but your inductive reasoning skills clearly need some polishing. I’d suggest you get to work.

              • Posted by Rob M Adams on

                Speak a little bit to the growth in your home community in Nu, iRoll

        • Posted by Your dog whistle is showing on

          Entrepreneurism? I guess you missed the article about Ms. Jennifer Lindell’s hair salon in Iqaluit. There are many other examples of people like her taking a risk and running an independent business. There are not enough of them, but they are out there in many communities.

          Creativity? I guess you missed the article about Inhabit Media, another independent private business that publishes scores of books written in Nunavut as well as a television series. I also guess you missed all the news about the Jerry Cans, Tanya Tagaq, and all the other performers and creative artists.

          Hope? I guess you also missed all the news about the Akitsiraq law school and its multiple graduates, who all hold positions of influence right now, plus all the other college and university grads who are working as deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers, directors and professionals, and not only at the GN, also at the federal government and the private sector. There are not enough of them, but they are out there.

          Your sweeping, absolutist, evidence-free generalizations indicate a desire to express primitive, dog-whistle bigotry with little regard for the actual nuances and facts on the ground.

          Yes, Nunavut falls short in many ways, but it’s not all that black and white either.

    • Posted by Consistency on

      I am part of that $100 million and I have a GN Job. I am very grateful for the money i did get. I could not have got my education with out it. and the GN job is keeping my family off income support and my kids fed. Also in a position to help others that need it as well. And i know i am not the only one.

  2. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    People are impatient for change but it is happening. I do a fair bit of bitching about things myself but I know Rome was not built in a day. I think our biggest problems are that there is never enough money to do everything we want to do and we don’t take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded to us now ,or don’t carry through with them to completion eg People start Post-Secondary programs and quit before they are finished for whatever reasons. As individuals we need to be architects of our own success not expect someone to create it for us.

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