Monday’s federal fiscal update revealed $64.7 million in direct support for Northern territorial governments.
That money will go toward pandemic response, such as self-isolation support and personal protective equipment. It’s uncertain how much will be allocated specifically to the NWT as those details are yet to be worked out, said Michael McLeod, Member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories.
McLeod also noted the topping up of the Indigenous Community Support Fund, which will see $380 million of new money assist First Nations, Metis and Inuit people. There will be a focus on Elders and vulnerable community members as well as efforts to improve food security and public health measures that could help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
However, it’s also uncertain how much of that money will go to Northern communities, McLeod acknowledged, but he said it amounts to more than $1 billion invested in total this year.
The federal government hasn’t provided a budget since 2019 as the Covid-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the budget in 2020. McLeod said a budget is expected in 2021 and consultations are taking place now.
“It has been a challenging year for a number of reasons because we are facing a pandemic and trying to provide support for health and safety and support the economy and businesses,” he said.
“While we’re doing that we haven’t been tasked with a federal budget as there had intended to be last March. It got stalled.
“So we are operating without a real budget and everything has been geared toward Covid response.”
Much of federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s update focused on vaccines and when the Government of Canada will be able to get them. McLeod reiterated her points that the federal government “has invested over $1 billion in vaccine agreements and secured a domestic supply of up to 429 million doses of seven promising Covid-19 vaccine candidates.”
Asked when he thought the Northwest Territories will see vaccinations, McLeod said that the federal government has to acquire doses first.
“There haven’t been any vaccines approved and we are in a very good position,” he said. “We have agreements with seven of the leading candidates and they have indicated that they would start in first quarter (of 2021).
“It looks like if everything goes well and is on schedule, a priority (for rollout) will be in the North in small communities and many of ministers have already indicated that.”
Caroline Wawzonek, territorial minister of Finance as well as Industry, Tourism and Investment, said she’s concerned about the size of the projected federal deficit – expected to be up to $380 billion – and the uncertainty around when it might be lowered again.
However the $64.7 million to Northern territories is one item she said is welcome.
“I’m more heartened to see that there is a continuing effort to be responsive to the issues that are being raised at federal, provincial, territorial table,” Wawzonek said.
“The pandemic response up here is different than what’s happening down south and the provision of health services up here is different than what happens down south.”
The federal government’s announced intention to build a national child care program is encouraging, she said.
“We already knew that this is a barrier, but I think it has been brought even more into focus with Covid,” she said. “The business community and chambers of commerce have been coming out and saying, government needs to deal with this issue if we’re going to have economic advancement.”
Tourism, which falls under the ITI portfolio, has been hit hard as the 2021 winter represents the second year that the industry is being hit by the pandemic, said Wawzonek.
“I think that’s a huge area where we are going to struggle and it’s a huge industry that’s going to struggle here in the North. From what I’ve seen thus far in my reviews, there’s not really an express tourism carveout (for the North) from the federal announcements from (Monday). ”
She said investments in the airline sector, an increase to the Regional Relief Recovery Fund, and Indigenous Tourism Support Fund could be areas where the tourism sector in the NWT benefits, however.
Ed Romanowski, president and CEO of Nunastar Properties, which includes the Explorer Hotel, stated in an email that there are lots of positives from the fiscal update that should be considered.
“The biggest positives were access to liquidity, increased wage subsidy support, and fair taxation for all accommodation players,” he stated. “These measures, in combination, will have a meaningful impact on the ability of the hotel and tourism sector in the North and across Canada to survive and then rebuild and thrive again in the future.”
He noted the federal Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program, designed for hardest-hit businesses, including hotels. It provides 100-per-cent guaranteed government loans, up to $1 million over terms of up to 10 years with low interest rates.