The April 19 federal budget contained tens of millions of dollars in additional funding expressly for Nunavut, eliciting a mostly warm reception from various levels of government and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, but a relatively small investment toward the territory’s housing crisis spawned some backlash.
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) stated it was “cautiously optimistic” with the commitments from Ottawa, particularly $18 billion over five years to improve the quality of life for people living in Indigenous communities, including COVID-19 responses, health care, child and family services and education, among others. A $30-billion, five-year plan for universal child care and early learning and a $601.3-million National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence also earned praise from NTI.
However, NTI President Aluki Kotierk was dismayed that there was no money designated specifically for Inuit housing, although the Government of Canada did allot an extra $25 million for housing through the Government of Nunavut (GN). Kotierk noted that NTI requested $500 million in the fall of 2020 for that priority area, especially in light of COVID-19’s impacts on occupants of overcrowded homes.
This was a point that Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq echoed.
“Nunavummiut are being hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreaks in Iqaluit, in Kinngait. My office is fighting for the territory to get the support we need from the federal government to save the lives of our Elders and our children,” Qaqqaq stated. “Unlike much of the south, Inuit and Nunavummiut have been living in a health, housing and human rights crisis for decades. The cause of this crisis is simple: federal underfunding … This is not what reconciliation looks like. This is not what a government that supports Nunavummiut looks like.”
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) hailed the federal government’s pledges to protect oceans, enhance food security, strengthen culture and healing, build infrastructure and make child care more affordable.
“QIA welcomes Budget 2021 as an opportunity to continue working together towards an Inuit economy that improves conditions of everyday life for Inuit,” said QIA President P.J. Akeeagok, who added that meetings are scheduled with federal officials to detail how funds will be made accessible.
‘Significant improvement’ from past governments
GN Finance Minister George Hickes said the territorial government was encouraged by Ottawa’s commitments to housing, healthcare and infrastructure for Nunavummiut.
“This pandemic has thrown many things in our lives off course, however, we are glad to see that many of the initiatives that we started are still on track and supported in this federal budget,” he said.
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada lauded the Government of Canada for designating $2.2 billion toward ending the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). The organization also commended the federal government for allocating funding toward the construction and operation of transitional housing for Inuit women, in addition to funding for Inuit-specific safe shelters announced earlier this year. Furthermore, Pauktuutit was pleased with money devoted to affordable childcare programming, Inuit-specific funding for children’s early learning and greater resources for Inuit women’s post-secondary education.
Additional funding for Inuit health care could boost the profile of Inuit midwives, suggested Pauktuutit President Rebecca Kudloo.
She showed approval for growing financial contributions to Indigenous women’s and 2SLGBTQQIA+ organizations as well as more money to address food insecurity.
“We know many Inuit women living across Canada are struggling to feed their children nutritious food. (The April 19 federal) budget means Pauktuutit can continue our work to support front-line urban Inuit organizations who are helping families hit hard by the pandemic,” said Kudloo. “Overall, Budget 2021 demonstrates that the federal government is accelerating action to address the urgent needs of Inuit women, including the MMIWG Inquiry’s findings. It is also a significant improvement over what Pauktuutit has seen from governments in the past.”
Ottawa is also putting an additional $1 billion over six years into the Universal Broadband Fund to expand access to high-speed internet in remote and rural communities. The allocation will bring to $2.75 billion the total budgeted for the fund. The initiative aims to achieve 98-per cent coverage of high-speed internet by 2026 and all Canadians by 2030.
The 739-page budget document revealed that the national deficit amounted to $354.2 billion over the past year and the federal government is projecting being in the red by another $154.7 billion next year.
– with files from Blair McBride
Budget benefits for Nunavut
• $27 million for the Territorial Health Investment Fund over two years
• $25 million this year for short-term housing and infrastructure
• $15 million for the HMS Erebus and Terror archeological project near Gjoa Haven over three years
• $5 million this year in health care funding through the Canadian Health Transfer top-up
• $163.4 million expansion of the Nutrition North program
• $40.4 million for feasibility planning for hydroelectricity and grid interconnection projects, such as the Kivalliq Hydro Link project
• changes to the Northern Residents’ Deduction travel claim
Source: Government of Canada