GN doubles capital budget

Nunavut heading for $74-million hole this fiscal year



The Government of Nunavut is proposing to double its budget for capital projects — despite a whopping $74-million deficit projected for the end of the current fiscal year.

The 2003-04 capital estimates, tabled in the legislative assembly last Wednesday, project capital spending of $143 million. It’s a significant increase from the $70.3 million projected in the 2002-03 capital estimates.

The deficit situation is even more worrisome considering the GN began the year with a projected surplus of $2 million.

But many MLAs weren’t overly concerned. “Am I surprised? No,” said Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo.

The abundance of community-directed projects, such as schools, libraries and health centres, seemed to appease any concerns MLAs might have had about going so deeply into debt.

In introducing the bill, Finance Minister Kelvin Ng warned that this year’s pace of spending cannot continue.

“In coming years, our expenditure needs may well outpace the total revenues we will receive from all sources, both internal to the territory and from the federal government,” he said.

“In future years we will not be able to count on accumulated reserves to make up for additional expenditure needs over and above current revenue inflows.”

But it is not future years MLAs are concerned about. Their main preoccupation right now is next year — widely expected to be an election year.

The 2003-04 capital budget is full of “good news” projects sure to make campaigning a charm.

At $56 million, the department of health and social services has the single largest capital budget, representing 40 per cent of the GN’s overall capital budget and 17 per cent of the gross domestic product.

The greatest outpouring of cash is $46 million for the three regional health facilities. The amount includes $17 million for the new Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, $13 million for a health centre in Rankin Inlet and $16 million for a health centre in Cambridge Bay.

“At no time has the construction of a new facility, whether it be in Rankin Inlet or Cambridge Bay or here in Iqaluit been about saving money for the government. It’s about providing better service in 2002 and onward,” Health Minister Ed Picco said during the committee of the whole examination of the bill.

The funds dedicated to building new health centres in Igloolik, Pond Inlet, Pangnirtung, Repulse Bay and Taloyoak are also not aimed at saving money.

“The building in Repulse was built about 17 years ago. It’s a barn-style facility and I can say to you that the facility is just not acceptable,” Picco said. “It’s probably one of the worst ones I’ve been in. There are leaks in the roof and so on.”

The department of community government and transportation has the second-largest budget, at $27 million for various infrastructure and transportation projects throughout the territory. The department’s budget had not been presented before the committee of the whole by press time.

At $24 million, the department of education has the third-largest budget, providing for new schools and student accommodation facilities in Cape Dorset, Arviat, Whale Cove, Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Hall Beach, Kugaaruk and Resolute Bay, Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Sanikiluaq.

Iqaluit’s Inuksuk High School is to receive $19 million over five years for renovations. “Can we not build another high school with that $19 million?” asked Nanulik MLA James Arvaluk.

But no amount of capital projects can fix the institutional problems within the education department. “I guess the next thing we’d like to see is the teaching positions to go along to fill those spaces,” said Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo. “Hopefully we’ll see that coming up in the O&M budget in the spring. And it would be really nice to see the legislation.”

Committee of the whole was expected to run until at least Nov. 29, however, the government departments that had presented their figures by mid-week got by with little challenge to their budget projections.

But Quttiktuq MLA Rebekah Williams was saving her wrath for the department of justice, which had not come before the committee by press time.

Williams has been advocating for a remand facility for women, and was disappointed the project was not included in the GN’s five-year plan.

“It is unacceptable to keep women remanded in a drunk tank,” she said. “Men are not treated that way.”

She argued that the money allocated to tourism projects could easily have been diverted to justice. “The budget for attractions — who are we attracting? People from outside. What about our own residents?” she said.

The department of sustainable development’s $2.5-million budget was allocated mainly for tourism exhibits, visitor’s centres and park upgrades.

“I know the government tried their best to come up with the priorities, but currently we don’t have the facilities that we need.”

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