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Housing, high-speed internet top senator's pre-budget priorities

Dennis Patterson 3
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson: “I think Nunavut has a huge opportunity to contribute to the economic recovery because of our resources and because of our regulatory regime, which involves Inuit fully in the evaluation of resource development projects and in assuring of the revenues.” photo courtesy of Dennis Patterson

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson has submitted his list of priorities for the territory ahead of the next federal budget, which is almost two years in the making.

Housing and high-speed internet remain the most pressing concerns, Patterson said, but further aid for Covid-ravaged small businesses is also critical.

“Housing always is on the top of everyone's list because it is so integral to so many other issues of concern in Nunavut, especially during his pandemic – overcrowding, its implications on health, on education, on employment,” said the senator.

Broadband internet “must be urgently addressed,” according to Patterson, who noted that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has yet to announce any decisions for Nunavut despite awarding funds to the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

“We're still waiting,” said Patterson.

Anne Brodeur, a communications officer with the CRTC, acknowledged that certain broadband projects submitted to the first call for applications were delayed, including from Nunavut.

"The CRTC determined that it would be appropriate to defer consideration of four applications for funding from the satellite component of the fund, because the total amount requested in the four deferred applications exceeds the total funds available for the satellite component in both calls for applications. Therefore, the CRTC considered it important to take into account the amount of funding that may be required for satellite-component projects proposed in response for the second call for applications. The CRTC continues to evaluate applications, and further funding decisions will be announced in the future," Brodeur stated.

Antoine Tremblay, press secretary for the Office of the Minister of Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, pointed to the $2-billion Rural and Northern Communities stream of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, which earmarked $151 million towards the construction an undersea fibre optic cable project to connect Nunavut to high-speed internet, expected to be complete by 2024. Tremblay also mentioned a $49-million contribution to NorthwesTel to connect the Government of Nunavut and all 25 Nunavut communities in Nunavut to satellite internet. As well, he cited a $600-million Government of Canada agreement with Telesat for low-earth-orbit satellite high-speed internet capacity that's expected to be available in the North next year.

“Our government recognizes that fast, reliable and affordable high-speed Internet is a necessity, not a luxury, for all Canadians, including those living in rural, remote and Northern communities. Canadians need access to high-speed Internet to telework, to access online medicine, to participate in online classes and more,” Tremblay stated, adding that applications for the national $1.75-billion Universal Broadband Fund are being accepted until March 15.

Existing pots of money

Patterson said many of the priorities that he's identified wouldn't require new funding, but instead a portion of existing pots of money that Ottawa has already announced, such as $180-billion over 12 years for national infrastructure and the creation of the Canada Infrastructure Bank in 2017, which seeks institutional and private-sector investors for projects that are deemed to be “in the public interest.”

“I'm strongly advocating the Nunavut gets its fair share of those existing allocations,” Patterson said.

In addition, the senator is calling for a greater percentage of fishing licences to be granted to Nunavut from adjacent waters.

Federal investments in Nunavut's natural resources – mining in particular – would yield “enormous benefits” of taxes, royalties and jobs, according to Patterson.

“That's another area where an investment can actually produce dividends to help tackle the deficit that everybody's concerned about,” he said. “I think Nunavut has a huge opportunity to contribute to the economic recovery because of our resources and because of our regulatory regime, which involves Inuit fully in the evaluation of resource development projects and in assuring of the revenues.”

Patterson added that he engaged in extensive consultations across Nunavut over the past few months in arriving at this list of priorities.

“These recommendations are grounded in Northern voices,” he said.

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq agreed that housing remains the number one issue in Nunavut. She contends that the federal government should increase taxes on corporations “that make a lot of money here in Canada.”

“It will be great to see what (the Government of Canada promises in the budget) but how that actually happens and what it looks like is something usually completely different,” said Qaqqaq, who added that delays in delivering promised government funding is another concern.

Small businesses hurting

The Canadian of Federation of Independent Businesses released a report in late January indicating that one in six independent business across the country is in danger of closing. Patterson said there are signs that the numbers could be even worse in Nunavut, especially in the tourism industry, where up to 60 per cent of territorial operators are contemplating shutting down, Travel Nunavut's research shows.

Federal loan programs have not been helpful, said Patterson.

“Businesses that are underwater (financially) and facing challenges again in the coming season, businesses large and small are not willing to take on more debt. So there's got to be a better and different way of providing support,” he said. “And hotels are essential services.”

Patterson gave Ottawa credit for its assistance to airlines during the pandemic, however.

The federal government has been holding pre-budget consultations but, as of press deadline, had yet to announce a date for the delivery of Budget 2021.

Fact file
Senator Patterson's pre-budget priorities for the federal government

-Housing: “That the Government of Canada work with municipalities, developers, and not-for-profit organizations on innovative strategies for construction and delivery of affordable housing units”

-Broadband internet: “That the Government of Canada facilitate the immediate flow of

funds to improve broadband services and infrastructure in Nunavut from the various

funding mechanisms currently available”

-Infrastructure: Support for Grays Bay Road and Port, Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link, a new long-term water supply system for the City of Iqaluit, a deep water port in Qikiqtarjuaq

-Energy: “That the Government of Canada invest in the creation of green infrastructure including renewable energy projects with long-term community benefits led by Inuit and/or private industry”

-Businesses: “That the Government of Canada explore alternatives to business loans when creating monetary supports for northern businesses throughout the pandemic”

-Mining: "Invest in supports for mining in the North of critical minerals; create an enhanced and competitive North of 60 mineral exploration tax credit; provide funding assistance for specific Canadian resource projects as Canada once provided"

-Equity for Inuit: “That the Government of Canada put in place co-developed mechanisms that would allow for federal contributions resulting in Inuit equity/direct Inuit participation in future developments.

-Fishing: “Repatriate shrimp and turbot licenses in the waters adjacent to Qikiqtani Inuit

communities; engage with the Government of Nunavut and the QIA (Qikiqtani Inuit Association) on a fisheries reconciliation agreement to equip Inuit with the financial resources needed to increase Nunavut’s ownership of adjacent resources in a manner that equitably reflects Atlantic jurisdictions”

-Training: “That the Government of Canada engage with municipalities/hamlets throughout Nunavut and Inuit organizations to create training and retention programs; and that it expand the list of eligible expenses under infrastructure funding programs to allow for the training and retention of a local labour force, with particular incentives targeted toward Inuit employment”

-Mental health: “That the Government of Canada continue to invest in the creation of mental health and addictions treatment centres in Nunavut; and that it invest in the training of Inuit mental health workers, based in the Nunavut, for more consistently available and culturally-appropriate mental health supports throughout the territory”

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