MLAs question ministers on $80M increase to fibre optic line project

“I look at my colleagues here and we have a lot of suggested uses for $80 million”

Joelie Kaernerk, MLA for Amittuq, was one of the MLAs who stood in Nunavut’s legislative assembly to question the government on an $80-million increase to the Iqaluit-Nuuk fibre optic project. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Emma Tranter

Some Nunavut legislators are questioning what they feel is an unjustified increase in funding to the territory’s Nuuk-Iqaluit fibre optic project.

In August, the federal government committed $151 million to the project, which involves 1,700 kilometres of fibre optic cable running from Nuuk, Greenland, across the Davis Strait to Iqaluit. From there, a branch will extend to Kimmirut.

The Government of Nunavut will design and execute the project, set to be complete by 2023.

Last year, MLAs approved the project, which was originally supposed to cost $126 million.

“After this year passed, we received notification that the project cost jumped commensurate to increased costs and now is estimated at $209 million,” John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, said in his member’s statement on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

That’s an $80-million difference, Main said.

“I look at my colleagues here and we have a lot of suggested uses for $80 million,” Main said.

The federal funds come from the rural and northern communities infrastructure stream of the Investing in Canada Plan.

The project is also currently before the legislature’s committee of the whole as it reviews capital expenses for 2020-21.

Later that day during question period, Joelie Kaernerk, MLA for Amittuq, asked Lorne Kusugak, minister of community and government services, if the $80-million increase had gone through the government’s preplanning process.

That process, as defined in the GN’s capital planning process handbook, “is intended to ensure that the program is clearly defined, and that enough information is available to develop appropriate scope, a reliable cost estimate and schedule, prior to proceeding further in the capital planning process.”

“Did it go through the preplanning stages, yes or no?” Kaernerk asked Kusugak.

“The planning has been done and trying to come up to a definitive figure as to how much it would cost. Once we got more information, we found out that it would be much more expensive,” Kusugak replied.

Main, who sits next to Kaernerk in the assembly, rose next to continue questioning Kusugak.

“Can the minister explain how a project of this magnitude can see such a huge cost increase in the space of one year?”

Kusugak repeated that after the money requested for the project was approved last year, the department reviewed the project and the cost increased after that review.

Kusugak added that in May 2019, his department determined that the funding request to the federal government should be increased to $201.6 million “in order to ensure that maximum available federal funding contribution was available for this initiative if required.”

The next day, on Oct. 24, Main rose again during question period to press Finance Minister George Hickes on the same point.

“In terms of the financial management board, what specific processes and actions took place following that notification from the department that there was an $80-million cost increase to this ongoing capital project?” Main asked.

Hickes said because the federal government increased its contributions to the project, along with a fully funded marine survey of the proposed project area, the GN increased its funding too.

“The Department of Community and Government Services brought it back to [the financial management board] with the recognition that the cost estimates were under-estimated.”

Hickes also pointed out that the GN contributes one-quarter of the money for the project, while the federal government contributes the other 75 per cent.

“As the GN, we’re not on the hook for $80 million, we’re on the hook for 25 per cent of that. So we will be looking at sometime down the road in future fiscal years, be looking at additional funds to complete out this project,” he added.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Sled dog on

    Perhaps some MLA’s should learn what a class A, Class B and class C estimate is.

    Pro tip: Always ask is that a class a b c or d estimate before approving something.

  2. Posted by Worthwhile investment in technology on

    This is definitely worth it for here and Kimmirut…it will speed up internet 10 fold, at least.

    I’m in support of fibre optics in Nunavut! Junior internet service providers offer too little for so much cost. They’re draining our pockets!

  3. Posted by pissed off on

    Once again this is the gang that could not shoot straight?????

    Over 50% increase.. I suppose this is chump change for the GN

    Also: The GN will design and execute the project.

    Like they are world class experts in underwater and over land fibre optic systems !!!!

    I could just see the “ Consultants“ foaming at the mouth waiting to pick up this gravy train.

    Please !!!!!

    Thank you

  4. Posted by Elon Musk on

    This is nothing but a boondogle.
    By the time it is built it will be obsolete.
    Low earth orbit satellites will provide better service at lower cost all over Nunavut.
    The cable will last until the first iceberg rips it up.

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      And if the cable is broken it can be pulled up and fixed in short order. So what happens to those LEO satellites when they start failing, it is not like anyone san simply send a crew up there to repair them.

      • Posted by The Native on

        Low earth orbit satellites have redundancy and overlap each other so if one fails others will compensate for it as it is fixed, almost all satellite issue are fixed remotely. How are you suppose to pull up a broken cable with 10 feet of ice above it and it is buried in the sea floor at some kind of reasonable cost. Fibre maintenance will cost so much more then the extra 80 million.

        • Posted by Northern Guy on

          Transoceanic fibre optic cables break often and are easily repaired (unlike satellites) and the only place that a cable is likely to encounter bergs would be Davis Strait which is ice free all year round. Not to mention the exorbitant cost of placing hundreds of satellites into low earth orbit.

  5. Posted by Atatsiak on

    Nunavut doesn’t have a internet problem,
    Nunavut has a housing crisis problem.

    I see where their priorities go, very unfortunate to Nunavutmiut, especially the Inuit.

  6. Posted by Kimmirut Resident on

    That’s okay, Kimmirut hasn’t benefited anything for a long time.

  7. Posted by Disgruntled on

    Main is always looking for something to whine about. In the modern world, high speed internet isn’t just nice – it’s an absolute necessity.

  8. Posted by Joe Toe on

    Let’s not forget the cable is going to by-pass Qikirtajuaq & Pang.

  9. Posted by all in on

    there is only so much money to go around from that federal infrastructure fund…why not apply on that for some other project(s) that could benefit from $80 million!?

  10. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Clearly Main and the regular MLAs don’t understand how federal programs work. Where projects are cost shared there is a split between federal and provincial/territorial costs. When the feds share of the project increases so does the the territory’s. I assume the regular MLAs approved the project with last estimates ai wya re they up in arms when the territorial share increases along with the feds?

  11. Posted by Eski Moses on

    fibre optic – the “landline” of the internet
    satellite – the “wireless” of the internet

    • Posted by Observer on

      There is a difference; you can’t change the speed of light. Satellite has a communications lag that can’t be altered due to the greater distances signals have to cover. Satellites are also susceptible to conditions like solar flares that can knock them out.

  12. Posted by Unik on

    Just a reminder that once Iqaluit gets Fibre internet, it will free up the Bandwidth from the current Satellite based systems for the rest of the territory. So speeds should go up across the board.

    Not saying it’s more important than housing and education, but it is something to consider.

  13. Posted by Alex on

    The GN should just contract the Greenland government to hook Iqaluit and Kimmirut to their fibre cable, they seem to get things done much cheaper.

    I agree Unik, 8,000 people in Iqaluit, all the GN Feds and Inuit orgs on the internet and home users switch the fibre this will free up a lot of bandwidth for the rest of Nunavut.

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