Welcome to the silly season
It’s official. The first made-in-Nunavut silly season is now upon us.
By “silly season,” we mean that prolonged period before territorial elections when MLAs abandon attempts to pretend that they’re legislating on behalf of all territorial residents.
What counts is one’s own constituents, and no one else’s. The goal, of course is re-election, and whatever transparent forms of political manipulation will help them achieve it.
The Nunavut government’s 2003-04 capital budget, which Finance Minister Kelvin Ng tabled Nov. 20, marks the official launch of the silly season. How else do you explain a capital budget for next year that’s more than twice the original estimate for this year?
Given that up to a dozen sitting MLAs may face defeat in next fall’s election, next year’s capital budget is manna from heaven. As voters head to the polls across Nunavut next fall, their ears will echo with the late-summer racket of pile-drivers, hammers and electric table-saws.
Having voted to spend $143 million on new buildings and equipment within the 2003-04 fiscal year, nearly every MLA now has a big fat project to brag about in next fall’s election campaign. Watch for lots of talk from them between now and then about things like “my new school” and “my new nursing station.”
Not only is the 2003-04 capital budget more than twice the amount projected in the 2002-03 capital budget, $70.3 million, it’s also well above what’s likely to be the final figure for 2002-03, $99.8 million.
(This year’s new money — approved in what MLAs call supplementary appropriations — is for new staff housing, project costs for three new hospitals, and badly needed water, sewage and airport improvements.)
In fairness, Nunavut needs every single dollar of next year’s capital spending. Even before division in 1999, Nunavut’s infrastructure was either deteriorating or being outstripped by a rapidly growing population. Hit hard by the fiscal shockwaves of 1995 and 1996, all three territorial governments have watched their schools, nursing stations and municipal infrastructure fall apart.
It’s only now that the territorial government’s capital budget is approaching what was spent normally under the government of the Northwest Territories. And Nunavut has a lot of catching up to do, especially in making up for what was lost or delayed as a result of the creation of Nunavut.
But whether they realize it or not, MLAs made a major statement about themselves this week.
Forget ministerial statements and speeches from the throne. A government’s true identity is to be found in its budgets. It’s there that governments reveal who and what they care about — and who and what they’re content to ignore.
So what does this fall’s capital budget say about who the government — and MLAs — really care about?
It says that, in addition to getting themselves re-elected, MLAs are in love with schools, hospitals and municipal works — the kinds of projects that lead to easily organized ribbon-cutting ceremonies and easily lip-read speeches.
And it shows they definitely do not care about prison inmates, social housing tenants or the homeless.
In the 2003-04 capital budget you will find no reference to these badly needed items: a new correctional centre for men, a correctional centre for women, and remand centres for both men and women.
The construction of correctional facilities should, of course, have been included as a reasonable increment cost of creating Nunavut in 1999, along with many other pieces of infrastructure that we still don’t have. All territorial correctional centres but one were located on the Northwest Territories’ side of the division boundary. Those who planned for Nunavut failed to acknowledge this need, just as most Nunavut MLAs are failing to acknowledge it now.
But Nunavut’s high rates of violent crime — the highest in the country — are likely to continue long into the future. This means that many of your brothers, nephews, cousins, and uncles will continue to do their time outside of Nunavut. As for female offenders, there’s nothing.
In the area of social housing, the government of Nunavut appears to be giving up. The Nunavut Housing Corporation will build some replacements for fire-damaged units, and two new units for each community. But it’s focusing its efforts on home-ownership programs, in an obvious attempt to shift future maintenance costs onto the shoulders of people who are now social housing tenants.