We’re frustrated, disappointed say regular Nunavut MLAs

After this year’s heated budget debate, regular MLAs want the Nunavut government to let them see draft capital budgets in October.



IQALUIT — Regular members of Nunavut’s legislature say they’re frustrated and disappointed with how the government is treating them.

A joint report tabled by the Nunavut legislative assembly’s four standing committees last week says regular MLAs want the government to present them with the capital estimates portion of its budget every October instead of every spring.

The Nunavut government’s budget is divided into two parts: capital estimates, and operation and maintenance estimates.

The capital estimates section sets out how much the government proposes to spend on new buildings and equipment. The operation and maintenance section — or “O and M budget” — proposes how much the government wants to spend on continuing services and programs.

Regular MLAs, who are unhappy that Finance Minister Kelvin Ng didn’t table his 2000-2001 budget until March 24, now say the government’s capital estimates should be presented to their standing committees every October.

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Meanwhile, operations and maintenance budgets should be presented to them in January, MLAs say. They say this change would provide MLAs with more time to question the government’s capital spending plans without forcing them to deal with the pressure of impending sealift deadlines.

“It is clear from the experience this year that the review of capital estimates in Nunavut has to begin months earlier than it began this year. The government introduced the main estimates on March 24, less than a week before the new fiscal year and only three weeks for some of the sealift order deadlines,” Amittuq MLA Enoki Irqittuq said as the chairpersons of the four standing committees presented their joint report.

Regular MLAs were able to see draft budget material in January. But they weren’t able to see Ng’s final budget estimates until late March.

In the weeks after the tabling of his budget, MLAs attacked the government’s list of capital projects.

Money slated for a replacement high school in Cambridge Bay provoked criticism from MLAs right up until the dying moments of the budget session last week.

MLAs had earlier approved the Department of Education’s spending estimates for the school just hours before a sealift-influenced deadline.

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But in the final hours of the session last week, MLAs fought for a cut to a $500,000 allocation to build a heritage centre within the Cambridge Bay school.

In their joint report, MLAs complain they didn’t have enough time to study and question this year’s budget documents.

“There was a lot of pressure to move quickly through large volumes of materials and vote quickly on capital projects in order to meet sealift deadlines,” Irqittuq said.

But in their report, members also say the debate could have been smoother had government not ignored concerns they first raised in February. Those concerns include “explicit examples where members perceived some unfairness.”

“If the government had addressed even one of the concerns that the standing committees had raised during their review of the draft capital estimate in February with ministers, the tone of debate in the house might have gone differently than it did,” Irqittuq said.

Instead, MLAs say they are frustrated that the government actually cut spending on two of the government’s top priorities — public housing and education programs, and ignored their recommendation to spend some of its surplus in those areas.

“Members were very frustrated that their recommendations were ignored. The fact that the capital budget for the housing corporation was reduced in this year’s budget sends the wrong message about what “priority” means,” said Tunnuniq MLA Jobie Nutaraq.

This year, MLAs want a say in how future surpluses are spent, and they say housing and education should get first dibs on surplus money.

MLAs also want each department to provide them with a mid-year progress report in October.

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