The Northwest Territories will see boosts to housing and economic development among the federal government’s priorities in the budget announced on April 7.
Federal minister Chrystia Freeland presented the Government of Canada’s first budget since most Covid restrictions had been lifted across the country and the first in this term of the governing Liberals.
For northerners there is a big focus on putting money toward housing and infrastructure, as well as climate change and job creation and economic development.
Member of Parliament for the NWT Michael McLeod said in an interview on April 8 that after several weeks and months of pre-budget consultation — including through meetings with GNWT ministers, Indigenous leaders and feedback from constituents — there was general agreement across the North that improving housing deserved the biggest focus of attention.
“It was important that we get our priorities lined up,” McLeod said. “I think all our voices were pretty close up and on the same message and that was to have a priority on housing.”
The budget document commits to $150 million across the North for affordable housing with $60 million of that money going to the Northwest Territories.
The federal government is also putting $565 million toward housing with self-governments and modern treaty holders, and $300 million to an ‘Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy.’ There is also another $1.5 billion to extend the application-based Rapid Housing Initiative over the next two years.
Details on what these examples of lump sums of money across the country will mean for the NWT specifically are to be better understood as the year progresses, McLeod said.
“There are still a couple unknowns because the budget is a bigger package and a bigger document that serves us as a blueprint and then we draw down on it several times over the year audit,” he said.
“So as we move forward, we’ll get clarity on what some of these other pots of money and some of these other investments that are identified in the budget will mean for us in terms of housing.”
Now into almost seven years of serving as NWT MP, McLeod said the most recent budget added to his government’s aim has been to address dire housing needs in the North.
He said that the NWT is likely to reach the $600 million mark in housing-related investment since he was first elected.
“We took a look at the state of housing in the Northwest Territories (after first being elected), and it was pretty dismal. We were in a crisis situation,” he said.
“It’s going to make for a very busy number of years of housing construction and housing repair that will really stimulate our economy.”
Economic development and post-pandemic recovery
McLeod said that Thursday’s federal budget was in large part a jobs and post-pandemic recovery budget that focuses on economic development.
He pointed to the small businesses tax cut rate of nine percent which had been cut off when taxable capital reached $15 million. That figure has been extended to $50 million.
He also said that the increased attention to national defense and $8 billion in new funding over the next five years will have implications for the NWT.
The modernization of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) specifically is likely to make a difference once better details are known.
“There’s also investment that we’re expecting through defense that I think will lead to economic development in our part of the world,” he said.
“We haven’t been able to really nail down exactly what NORAD is going to mean for us in the Northwest Territories. The department was really holding off until this budget was passed with very significant money for defense.”
He expects more detailed discussion to be had with DND on strategy and what monies will go to the NWT.
He said he is impressed with the current economic picture in the NWT where the unemployment rate is one of the best in the country and labour growth is strong.
“That labour growth is starting to cause labor shortages and that is something else we are going to have to be looking to resolve,” he said. “But right now we’re enjoying the highest unemployment rates in the country. That’s great.
“It’s amazing how our workers and businesses have been so resilient in probably one of the most difficult challenges we’ve had in a long time.”