PM’s point man on infrastructure to visit Nunavut

“We’re anxious that the territories get their fair share”



A recently appointed federal minister says Nunavut can look forward to more money to repair and replace the territory’s crumbling infrastructure, especially after he speaks to Nunavummiut face-to-face.

John Godfrey, the secretary of state for infrastructure, says he will be coming to Nunavut during his mandate to find out what residents want fixed the most.

Godfrey was to visit Nunavut last year during a cross-Canada tour as the Liberal MP responsible for the much-touted “New Deal” meant to bring billions of dollars in funding to cities and other municipalities. His trip was cut short by the June election before he could head north.

Now, he’s determined to pick up where he left off.

“Everything is up for discussion,” he said in an interview last week.

“The one thing I’ve discovered from travelling across the country and from my previous visits to the North is that you have to sit down and talk to people [to understand their needs].”

Godfrey has a particular interest in Nunavut, having canoed in some of its more remote areas, such as Ellesmere Island and the Melville Peninsula. He’s also visited Hall Beach and Nanisivik.

During those visits, Godfrey said he saw the challenges of having a small population spread over large distances.

He said Nunavut will receive new funding for housing, roads, sewage and water systems, and other municipal facilities after the 2005 federal budget is announced in the spring.

Then, the minister of finance will outline how a portion of the federal tax on gasoline will be shared with municipalities, the provinces and territories. Currently, the gas tax is expected to bring $5 billion in new funding to Canada’s various jurisdictions, over a five-year period.

For now, Godfrey can’t say how much Nunavut will get, because he hasn’t developed a funding formula for the new program.

But he stressed that the formula will contain adjustments for Nunavut, because of its small population base.

“We’re anxious that the territories get their fair share,” Godfrey said. “We understand there would be challenges if we use just a population formula.”

That’s music to the ears of municipal politicians, such as Johnny Ningeongan, mayor of Coral Harbour and president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities.

Ningeongan said any federal funding formula needs to reflect Nunavut’s unique mix of large spaces and small communities, but he added that Godfrey will have to meet a series of challenges in the territory, from a lack of marine infrastructure to a major housing shortage.

A report released earlier this year by the Conference Board of Canada shows that Nunavut’s “infrastructure deficit” reaches upwards of $50 million per year, or at least that’s how much money is lacking to meet the territory’s current need for roads and other basic municipal projects.

According to Godfrey, no federal program can meet all of the infrastructure needs of Nunavummiut, although Ottawa is already contributing through the Nunavut Housing Infrastructure Program, and Nunavut water and waste-water projects. He said more money will be on its way through an already-announced municipal and rural infrastructure fund.

No matter the funding limitations, Ningeongan says Nunavut deserves infrastructure on par with the rest of the country.

“We’re in dire need to even get the basic needs for life that our southern neighbours enjoy,” Ningeongan said. “We’ve always had to fight for even basic stuff.”

Territorial politicians said Godfrey’s coming visit to Nunavut signals a growing willingness on the part of the South to pay attention to the country’s newest territory.

Keith Peterson, MLA for Cambridge Bay, plans to invite the minister to come to the Kitikmeot region to see its needs first-hand.

Peterson said the federal government should consider added funding to be an investment, rather than a drain in resources.

He suggests that Nunavut will eventually be able to become self-sufficient, with a robust economy, if Ottawa puts more money into Nunavut’s infrastructure, such as airports, marine port projects, and diesel tank farms.

Peterson said Nunavut got short-changed when it was created, and inherited what he calls “dilapidated and derelict” buildings and facilities from the Northwest Territories.

“The stuff we inherited is falling apart,” he said. “We’re trying to look forward but we’re busy patching up things behind us.”

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