The Issue: Budget 2021-22
We Say: On the right track
If there's anything we've seen in great detail over the course of this past pandemic year, it's that bringing health services home to the territory is key in keeping Nunavummiut safe.
That's a sentiment echoed by Finance Minister George Hickes in his 2021-22 budget address, delivered in the legislative assembly Feb. 23.
The Government of Nunavut faces a mountain of challenges in balancing its budget for the largest territory or province by land-mass, with many communities spread apart by incredible distances.
Support from the federal government – including more than $200 million in unbudgeted assistance for Covid-19 – has been critical. Had Canada not been so forthcoming "I would be reporting a significantly different fiscal situation today," said Hickes.
There will be greater investment in health care, with an extra $4.5 million earmarked to improve health services across the territory.
Part of that is an investment of $405,000 to add four new positions to Iqaluit Health Services, including a CAT scan technician. Being able to diagnose "complicated health issues in Nunavut" will certainly be a money-saver long-term.
Hickes also acknowledges ongoing work the GN is doing to prepare a "culturally appropriate, Nunavut-based addictions and trauma treatment centre," which will need to be finalized by the next government, following the upcoming Oct. 25 territorial election.
"In the meantime, we will maintain our current out-of-territory counselling and treatment supports. This budget proposes $10.6 million to renew these mental health and addictions treatment contracts … (and) $3 million to renew physicians' contracts."
Another important investment in community health will be continued funding of the community-based therapeutic justice program in Cambridge Bay that "helps address the root causes of criminal behaviour, including mental health, addictions and trauma." That program is also going to expand to Arviat.
Supporting offenders through healing is an admirable plan, and opening the Aaqqigiarvik Correctional Healing Facility in Iqaluit this fall – to the tune of another $3 million in staffing costs – will be another step forward in rehabilitation, moving farther away from blanket imprisonment.
Of course, the elephant in the room will continue to be housing, and Hickes' budget address doesn't shy away from the issue. Twelve per cent of the budget is being allocated to the Nunavut Housing Corporation, including "nearly $48.5 million … (being) directed to maintaining and improving our existing housing stock."
This means maintenance and repairs and includes remediation of mould issues and supporting local housing associations.
The GN has added $11 million more to the budget for education than in the past year, with roughly $8.7 million being slated to adding 72 new teacher positions, and close to another $2 million going to improving school bus services in the communities.
These are wonderful things to see. Supporting our youth with higher teacher-to-student ratios offers more opportunities for one-on-one help.
It's been a tough year for the GN, with even more conflicting needs fighting for attention than ever, but the territory seems to be on the right track.
With a modest deficit and a cushion to fall back on, this assembly looks to be setting the next up for success.