Nunavut’s government promises to balance budget, but NTI critical of the plan

Nunavut Finance Minister George Hickes has delivered a mostly stay the course budget to the Nunavut Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, but the land claim organization that represents Nunavut Inuit was quick to point out that many people are being left behind.

In a written statement delivered to media following Hickes’ address, NTI President Aluki Kotierk wrote, “During the territory’s healthy economic growth we have continued to see statistics indicate declining quality in health among Nunavut Inuit. We are seeing an increase in the use of social assistance in non-decentralized communities with no plan on how to distribute the wealth across the territory.”

“On a day we should all be planning for an improved territory, we find ourselves having to point out yet again that Government of Canada needs to invest in Nunavut or see their precious budgets suffer under growing social assistance and social housing needs,” said Kotierk.

In the budget, Nunavut predicts $2.12 billion in income, while planning for $2.22 billion in spending.

Whether that small difference results in a deficit or surplus depends on how the year goes.

There is $30 million set aside annually for emergencies. If there is no major unplanned spending, that money would be applied to balance the budget.

Much of Hickes’ address was framing how far Nunavut has come.

April 1, 2019 will be Nunavut’s 20th anniversary, and in that time, Inuit employment at the territorial government has doubled and so has the economy, with  five per dent annual growth in gross domestic product.

While the total number of Inuit working for the government has doubled, the percentage of Inuit working for the government remains stalled at 50 per cent and many of those are lower level positions.

“For seven years now, even as the number of Inuit employees has risen, Inuit representation in the public service has remained at approximately 50 per cent. That share in public-service employment needs to rise substantially so that we can represent the people we serve,” said Hickes.

He also addressed Nunavut’s chronic government understaffing.

“In broad terms, for every three jobs in our government, one job is held by an Inuk, the second job is not, and the third job is vacant,” said Hickes.

Most of the rest of the budget was smaller amounts of money for acknowledged long term problems.

Hickes cited an extra $1 million for Nunavut’s translation bureau, and additional $561,000 to help high school students transition to secondary education, $700,000 for tuberculosis testing, an additional $1 million for emergency shelters, and funding for 100 new homes by the Nunavut Housing Corporation.

That 100 new homes figure also got the attention of Kotierk.

“The minister has reported that 100 new social housing units will be constructed with no explanation as to why fewer units are being constructed.”

Although accounted for, there is one major line item that hasn’t been decided.

Nunavut will receive $15 million from the federal carbon tax rebate, but haven’t decided how to distribute the money. They also managed to receive an exemption for Nunavut’s diesel power plants and aviation fuel.

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