The Premier of the Northwest Territories has given her seal of approval to the new federal budget, with some reservations about a lack of investments in key areas of Northern interest.

In a media briefing just hours after the budget was tabled in the House of Commons on April 7, Premier Caroline Cochrane said that although she and her team were still studying the details of the 300-page budget, she was “pleased with the overall focus for this budget. It’s clear that our federal engagement efforts and collaborative approach to working with the federal government has paid off — within this budget are the fruits of our labour.”

Even before it was tabled, housing was touted as being a major theme of the budget. The budget does include $60 million over two years to support affordable housing and related infrastructure in the territory. Cochrane acknowledged that this number is “a drop in the bucket” given the scale of the NWT’s housing crisis. However, she also pointed out that the budget includes $565 million in new funding over five years for First Nations self-governing and modern treaty holders communities, which could be spent on housing.

With the tourism in the NWT gearing up for a comeback, Cochrane praised the $20 million over two years Indigenous Tourism Fund. She said the $29.6 million to co-develop an Indigenous-determined climate leadership agenda is a sign the federal government respects the NWT’s “nothing about us, without us” philosophy.

Other areas Cochrane praised included the 30 per cent critical mineral exploration tax credit, new tax cuts for small businesses, and new financial incentives for doctors and nurses who choose to work in Northern communities: “We’ve been noticing that since the pandemic, and since people realize the importance of family, we’ve been losing public health professionals,” she said, “So I’m hoping this will help address the need to get more health professionals in our communities.”

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparking concerns about Arctic security and sovereignty, Cochrane also praised the $8 billion in new defence spending. However, it wasn’t immediately clear how much of this new spending would benefit the North.

Cochrane and the other Northern Premiers recently met jointly with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Anita Anand to discuss Arctic security and sovereignty. When asked what concrete commitments, financial or otherwise, came out of that meeting, she said there were strong hints from the Prime Minister that new funding would be coming in this area. “[Trudeau] recognizes that you can’t talk Arctic sovereignty and Northern security without talking money. So there was an implication that there will be more money flowing to the north, all three territories, as he addresses these issues.”

She also said the budget was lacking on key Northern interests such as broadband, transportation and energy — areas she raised as being key to Arctic sovereignty in her meeting with her federal colleagues.

Arctic Encounter Symposium throws “opportunity gaps” into relief

Cochrane joined the briefing by video conference from Anchorage, Alaska following the first day of the Arctic Encounter Symposium.

When asked what lessons she drew from that first day, she said she noted that the “opportunity gaps” that were present between the NWT and its southern neighbours were present all across the North, including in Alaska and Nunavut.

“All nations are talking about the need to actually make sure that the opportunity gaps are addressed, that the things that people in the South take for granted, such as Internet, broadband, such as roads into communities, that they are addressed, because it’s not okay anymore.”

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