The GNWT’s last budget


Last week, Finance Minister John Todd got up to present another milestone along the long road to Nunavut.

He bequeathed upon NWT residents the last budget that a united Northwest Territories government will get to manage.

It turned out to be Todd’s best budget yet. This time, he’s found a little bit of money to help most of those families who have been hurt by the cutbacks he had to make in previous years. At the same time, he’s still produced a small budget surplus of about $2 million.

Despite his political problems back home, while in Yellowknife Todd has done a masterful job as the NWT’s finance minister. He’s brought the territorial government back from the brink of a crushing deficit, and he’s reduced the GNWT’s long-term debt.

He couldn’t have done a better job in preparing us financially for division.

First, here’s the good stuff in Todd’s budget:

* Families with children will get a new tax benefit.

But for many Nunavut residents there’s a big catch. Only those who submit income tax returns will benefit from this program.

In Nunavut, there are many, many people who don’t file income tax returns. And many aren’t aware of the benefits they could get for their families if they did file tax returns.

Government officials who serve Nunavut must realize that many Nunavut residents still need help understanding how to fill out their tax returns.
* Public housing tenants who want to own their own homes may benefit from new money that the GNWT plans to put into homeownership programs.

This also benefits people who are now on public housing waiting lists, since those units vacated by new homeowners would become available to them.

We still need to see, however, the fine print that’s attached to these homeownership programs.
* Family breadwinners will get a new benefit called the Territorial Workers’ Supplement.

Recent wage cuts and rent increases have caused many Nunavut bread winners to complain that they would be better off on welfare. This benefit may persuade some wage-earners to hold on to their jobs.
* Social assistance recipients will get some badly needed help too. The GNWT is putting more money into their food allowances.

If the GNWT really wanted to help many Nunavut residents get more food, though, they would have long ago found a way to help hunters buy fuel, ammunition, and other supplies.
* Moneyed people also have a new benefit that encourages them to invest in northern businesses. People who invest in certain kinds of funds used to finance northern businesses may get tax credits equal to 30 per cent of their territorial income tax.
* The GNWT has also come up with a new way of paying for new buildings and other capital projects. It’s called the P-3 policy – an acronym that stands for “public-private partnerships.”

Under it, privately owned companies will build and own the kind of projects that the territorial government used to build and own. Such companies would then lease their buildings back to the government.

That’s how the territorial government plans to pay for new hospitals in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay and Inuvik, and that’s how they plan to pay for most new government buildings.

If it works, communities will get the new buildings they need for less money. But the program also creates vast new opportunities for corruption and political favouritism. MLAs must ensure that every deal made under this policy is as transparent as a freshly cleaned window.

Now, here’s where the government of Nunavut may do better next time:

* Educators from Baffin to the Kitikmeot are protesting that they don’t have enough money. The Nunavut legislative assembly, must make it a major priority to look deeply into how education is funded in Nunavut.

That may include the creation of a Nunavut-wide school board, and other ways of both saving money and putting new money into the system.
* Many health and social programs are badly underfunded. As well, many residents want new programs, especially for youth, including solvent abuse treatment and shelters and drop-in centers for youth.

Again, the Nunavut legislative assembly must look at finding more money for these vital services. JB

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