Nunavik’s cost-of-living program over budget, people still pay more
‘Even with the subsidies, these gaps are still there,’ says Laval researcher
Nunavik’s cost-of-living program is facing a $3.9 million deficit after most of its subsidy measures went over budget in 2020, the Kativik Regional Government’s treasury department told regional council meetings this week.
Between 2019 and 2025, the Quebec government will pay $115 million in subsidies to Nunavik — or roughly $19 million a year — to help offset the high cost of living in the region.
The Kativik government administers that funding through six measures: elders’ assistance, airfare reduction, country food support, harvesting equipment and household appliances, gasoline as well as food and other essentials.
Most of those programs exceeded their budgets last year, said the regional government’s treasury department director, Chahine Noujeim.
Not surprisingly, the airfare reduction program stayed under budget in 2020, due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Nunavimmiut only claimed $200,000 of its annual $600,000 budget last year.
But the Kativik government must work to balance those budgets before the Quebec funding agreement ends in 2025, Noujeim said.
“We have to tackle this now,” he told regional councillors. “Otherwise, we’ll be forced to cut these programs later on.”
The department wouldn’t release its individual subsidy budgets for 2020, pending an April audit.
In the meantime, the Kativik government has met with Makivik Corp. to come up with a plan to keep those subsidies under budget this year, with the goal of maintaining the measures as much as possible.
The harvesting equipment program, for example, went 25 per cent over budget last year, Noujeim said. Under that measure, Nunavimmiut can claim up to 40 per cent of the cost of equipment or household appliances up to a maximum of $400.
Going forward, the Kativik government is proposing to stop accepting claims once the subsidy has reached its budget for the year.
That may not be an option for some of the region’s other subsidy programs, like its food subsidy, which accounts for 60 per cent of Nunavik’s cost-of-living funding.
“This is the measure that is helping the most,” Noujeim said.
That subsidy won’t change, he said, until they have seen the newest assessment from Laval University researchers who are tracking data around cost-of-living measures and needs in Nunavik.
That research is what helped secure the region’s cost-of-living funding from Quebec in the first place.
In 2016, Laval researchers tracked spending across the region and found that Nunavimmiut pay 48 per cent more for store-bought food than residents of southern regions, and up to 23 per cent more for transportation, clothing and personal care.
‘There’s still a lot of work to be done’
That price monitoring program is ongoing. Latest research looks at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on pricing in Nunavik.
Laval researchers presented the results of their latest research to Kativik government council Wednesday. It shows that the prices of certain grocery items increased in Nunavik during lockdown measures between March and May 2020.
Laval researcher Gérard Duhaime acknowledged that those increases were “slight” and comparable to increases seen globally, as measures like sanitization and distancing drove up costs.
“But even with the cost-of-living subsidies, these gaps are still there,” Duhaime told regional councillors. “We’re still not at the same price as other regions in Quebec.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done.”