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GN prepared to enter deficit to further address lingering issues in housing, health

Nunavut seeking more housing funding
Nunavut Finance Minister Lorne Kusugak, who delivered the 2023-24 territorial budget Thursday, says healthcare, Elder care and housing remain the territorial government’s highest priorities. Trevor Wright/NNSL photo

The Government of Nunavut is projecting an $8 million deficit in the $2.8-billion 2023-24 budget unveiled Thursday, if the $50 million set aside for contingencies is spent.

Total expected revenues, mainly through federal transfers, are down by $202 million from the previous budget. The decrease mainly stemmed from the lack of extraordinary one-time Covid-19 relief funds, marking a return to the norm for the budget.

“All of our other own-source revenues have actually increased — we just had so much Covid funding last year,” said Daniel Young, assistant deputy minister of Finance.

Total spending is expected to hit $2.79 billion this year.

The GN is looking to continue building on its Katujjiluta Mandate through its latest financial plan.

“I think last year’s (budget) was a good beginning to get caught up in some of the infrastructure that is badly needed in our communities,” said Finance Minister Lorne Kusugak.

He added that the government is “spending a lot of money over the next fiscal years,” starting with this one. The GN will be building more houses, putting more financial resources into healthcare for Nunavummiut “and working on bringing our Elders home.”

In tackling the Katujjiluta Mandate, the GN is prepared to incur a modest deficit to try to address Nunavut’s problems surrounding Elders, housing, education and healthcare.

“Last year we gave warnings we would get into a deficit situation, which means taking money from (the) previous year’s surplus and that’s exactly the street we’re going down,” said Kusugak.

When comparing it to prior budgets, the minister said “the main difference is we’re putting a lot of money into housing and into taking care of our Elders and better healthcare across the territory.

“We have old health centres but when we don’t have the capacity to fill those positions, people’s lives are at risk,” he added.

Negotiations between the federal government and the three territories on increasing the Territorial Healthcare Investment Fund are ongoing. An ideal outcome, according to Kusugak, would be for Nunavut to get more money.

He deferred to the Department of Health on whether more funding will help attract more healthcare workers to the territory.

“Sometimes money will help solve some of those issues, but sometimes it doesn’t,” said Kusugak. “There was a time in the North where recruitment wasn’t a big problem. We were the place to go and adventure, being nurses and teachers in these little isolated communities. That is gone and we’re now struggling to keep up with the demand.

“The world has become very competitive in hiring, more so since Covid,” Kusugak continued. “People have decided they don’t want to be so far away from home, wherever that may be, more often than not, home isn’t Nunavut.”

The Finance minister also stood by the government’s goal to build 1,000 new housing units by the end of its mandate. This will require continued investment, which includes plans to train 80 Inuit in construction through 2023 and continued partnerships with NCC Development to fulfill up to two-thirds of the Nunavut 3000 plan.

Construction projects

In terms of larger capital projects, the 24-bed long-term care facility in Rankin Inlet is in position to receive an additional $12 million in its third year of construction. More than $59 million has been committed to that facility overall.

Another construction project in line for a substantial financial injection is the Nunavut Recovery Centre, with $15.5 million set aside in 2023-24.

A planned fibre optic line to the territory will make use of $14.1 million to get construction started.

Last year, due to changes on the federal government’s pricing rules on the carbon tax, Nunavut cancelled the Nunavut Carbon Rebate Program. To address this, the GN is currently proposing amendments to the Income Tax Act to introduce a Nunavut Carbon Credit, which will use dollars obtained from the carbon tax for a direct cash payment to Nunavummiut every three months. This will be offered alongside a homeowner fuel rebate to help manage the higher cost of heating homes.

Budget highlights: 2023-2024

-$17.5 million to continue the development of the Government’s Enterprise Resource Planning software system

-$12 million in cash payments to Nunavummiut to offset higher costs associated with the carbon tax

-$7 million increase for income assistance to provide inflation relief

-$6.2 million budget increase for local housing authorities to operate and maintain new units

-$5 million in mental health supports for Nunavut students

-$3.4 million for the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities

-$3 million for security services in health centres

-$2.2 million to implement a virtual nurse practitioner program and online clinics

-$2.8 million to increase RCMP members in several communities over two years

-$230,000 to expand the Nursing Resource Program

-$2.1 million in additional funding to support the Qikiqtani General Hospital and other Nunavut health centres

-$881,000 for the territory’s chief nursing and midwifery office to address nursing and midwifery needs

-Close to $1 million to create new radiology and laboratory clerk positions

-$350,000 to expand the health information unit that oversees, protects and manages health data of Nunavut residents

-An additional $500,000 to increasing the victims’ services fund

-$700,000 in capital for heritage facilities, including $500,000 for public libraries

Source: Government of Nunavut