The NWT’s member of parliament and the federal minister of northern affairs say new federal investments in the North flagged as inadequate by the NWT’s premier have to be understood as part of a larger picture.
Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal and Member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories Michael McLeod visited Yellowknife’s Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre on Wednesday, April 13 to comment on the most recent federal budget, which was unveiled on April 7. They were joined by Yellowknife mayor Rebecca Alty and Minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation Paulie Chinna.
Even before the budget was released, housing was touted as being a major theme: New investments in this area include $60 million allocated directly to support affordable housing and related infrastructure in the NWT. Nation-wide, the Liberal government aims to double the rate of home construction over the next decade.
“So at the end of the day, the investments in Budget 2022 mean there will be more homes, more building, more roads and infrastructure in the Northwest Territories, and it will be created by Northerners, for Northerners,” Vandal said.
Premier Caroline Cochrane was more reserved in her praise of the budget when she spoke to the media shortly after it was unveiled on April 7.
She referred to $60 million over two years for affordable housing as “a drop in the bucket” given the scope of the NWT’s housing problem, although she acknowledged $565 million over five years in new funding for self-governing First Nations and modern treaty holders communities could be invested in housing.
In response, both Vandal and McLeod said these new investments in housing have to be understood as part of a larger picture.
“I would describe it as a down payment,” Vandal said.
He pointed to other new forms of funding for housing, such as the $1.5 billion over two years that was set aside for the Rapid Housing Initiative in the latest budget, and to which the NWT has access.
Vandal also pointed out that the funding comes with few strong attached.
“It’s a straight up grant to the territorial government,” he said.
McLeod concurred with his colleague: “There’s going to be continued investment, but there’s a significant investment already.”
Cochrane also said federal investments in broadband internet, energy and infrastructure were lacking. Each is an area Cochrane has repeatedly highlighted as being key to Arctic sovereignty, which has been a hot-button issue ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Vandal responded that the federal government has a Universal Broadband Fund that aims to have the entire country connected to high-speed internet by 2030. McLeod pointed to several major construction projects that had recently been started or completed with federal help, including the Whati Bridge and the Inuvik Airport upgrade.
“So I think we’ve done significant [things] in terms of investment,” he said. “There is, I know, a need for more, but we also have to update the projects that are in the hopper, out the door, and some of these, we’re up three, four, five years.”