An extra $65.1 million has been added to the 2020-2021 territorial budget, which was unanimously passed by MLAs in the legislative assembly on Wednesday.

The newly authorized funding brings the updated budget to $1.961 billion.

Covid response

The largest portion of the new funding – $36.8 million – goes to the Department of Finance in support of the GNWT’s emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It includes efforts to stimulate the economy, funding for northern airlines and a wage top-up program. That funding is offset by funding from the federal government and will have little impact on GNWT finances, according to department spokesperson Todd Sasaki.

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek speaks on Wednesday about the new budget allocations for 2020-2021. screengrab image

It was unclear based on information provided by that department where the non-federal funding in the budget would come from. NNSL Media has asked for clarification and is awaiting a response.

Health and Social Services

About $16.2 million will go to Health and Social Services. Just under half of that pot will come from the federal government and will fund the First Nations and Inuit Home and Community Care Agreement.

Most of the rest of that funding will go to Child and Family Services and the addition of community social services workers, foster care and adoption workers, and case aide/family preservation workers across the NWT; mental health and wellness counselling in Yellowknife; and $615,000 to expand the dialysis unit at the Hay River Regional Health Centre.

Environment and Natural Resources

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources will receive an additional $5.7 million, with $2 million going towards fire suppression support such as additional helicopters, fire crews and fuel, and $1.7 million going for increased air tanker capacity.

Part 2 of the Climate Change Strategic Framework Action Plan will receive about $1.4 million.

The sustainable livelihoods program will get $150,000 towards boosting country food harvesting including support for the knowledge, skills and capacity needed for that harvesting and preparation.

To boost local food production, the Community Harvester Assistance Program for hunters and trappers will receive $172,000 to lower the operating costs of harvesting activities, of which $100,000 will help extend the fish sector support position to March 31, 2022; and $70,000 for drafting meat inspector regulations that lowers barriers to developing food production businesses.
Municipal and Community Affairs
The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs will receive an extra $3.4 million, most of which will go contribution funding to municipal governments.
“Increased costs in support of multi-sport games” will receive $650,000.
Education, Culture and Employment will receive just over $2 million of the new money and half will go to increasing spaces for childcare and enhancements to the Northern Distance Learning technological program.
Revitalization programs for the NWT’s Indigenous languages will get $600,000, with $450,000 going towards a pilot project to support career development for interpreters and translators, and $150,000 going to 28 language projects that encourage the use of Indigenous languages.
Economic outlook
The future status of the GNWT’s own-source revenues wasn’t yet clear but they’re expected to decline significantly, explained Sasaki.
“Any forecast depends on how the NWT emerges from the physical restrictions to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The GNWT own-source revenues forecast in the 2020-21 Budget do not reflect the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the NWT economy,” he said.
Three factors are behind that expected decline: Dominion Diamond Mines’ Ekati operation has been suspended and fewer carbon, fuel and payroll taxes are being collected; corporate income taxes will be lower because of the drop in global diamond prices and other business declines over the last few months; large numbers of layoffs will result in lower payroll and income taxes.
Budget for unfinished projects
Bill 8, also passed on Wednesday, allocates $162.3 million towards unfinished projects from 2019-2020.
The largest portions are for infrastructure projects and upgrades to hospitals, health centres and long-term care facilities; and school renovation schemes.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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