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The 'real focus of this budget is families and communities,' says finance minister

The government of Nunavut's proposed budget for 2020/2021 aims to foster individual and community wellness, particularly through health care support.

Finance Minister George Hickes asked to approve a total of $37.9 million in new funding to aid the health care system. Hickes reported the projected revenues for 2020/2021 are almost $2.35 billion.

With Nunavut’s population growth, “our main challenge is that the costs of providing services has outpaced our ability to provide them, let alone make improvements and enhancements to them,” said Hickes during his budget address to the legislative assembly on Feb. 19.

Finance Minister George Hickes proposes a “people-oriented” budget for 2020/2021 during a Feb. 19 meeting. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

This is particularly the case with health care, emphasized Hickes, adding that “about one out of every five dollars we spend on health care is for medical travel.”

$17.6 million of the health budget is allocated for medical travel, while $5.1 million is proposed for out of territory mental health treatment.

“Instead of investing this money to improve the health of Nunavummiut, we are forced to spend it just to get Nunavummiut to medical treatment that cannot be provided in Nunavut.”

However Sheila Levy, executive director of Kamatsiaaqtut Help Line, believes more money should budgeted for in-territory services.

“When residents go out for treatment, if there is no comprehensive and long term follow up in Nunavut when they return, often the positive impact will be lost,” said Levy.

According to her, the money would be helpful for expanding services in small organizations like the Kamatsiaaqtut Help Line, community based services and territorial initiatives such as a treatment centre.

"I believe more money needs to be budgeted for mental health so that short term and long term goals are met," said Levy, adding an "effective" treatment centre in Nunavut is necessary.

To provide support to individuals and families in crisis, almost $8.4 million in new funding is proposed for the Department of Family Services.

A key commitment of the GN is to protect Nunavummiut, who are "most at-risk of experiencing family violence," said Hickes. To that end, over $1 million of the family services budget will be used to expand emergency supports for existing family violence shelters and to open shelters in Gjoa Haven, Baker Lake, Pangnirtung and Pond Inlet.

Nunavut News reached out to the Department of Family Services for comment, but did not hear back before deadline.

At this year’s budget address, Hickes was sporting the same work boots from last year. He says, he plans to keep them on this year while working hard to move the territory forward. It is a tradition for the finance minister to wear new boots for the budget address. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

Revenue and Expenses
The projected revenue of $2.35 billion, consists of: $1.8 billion in federal transfers, $262 million in third party agreements and $249 million in own-source revenues.

The total operations expenses are about $2.33 billion.

A contingency fund of $50 million will be set aside for any unforeseen circumstances or additional spending needs for the year. If the contingency fund is fully spent, the government projects an operational deficit of about $30 million.

As of Dec. 31, 2019 the GN has borrowed $452 million mostly for capital leases, Quilliq Energy Corporation and Iqaluit airport. With the current borrowing limit set to $650 million, $198 million remains.

Proposed new spending in 2020/2021 include:

-$17.6 million in additional funding for medical travel
-$6.4 million to maintain public and staff housing units
-$5.1 million towards out-of-territory mental health treatment
-$2.6 million to support homeless and family violence shelters
-$1.9 million to enhance the Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students program (FANS)
-$1.5 million to fund six new regular RCMP members across Nunavut this fiscal year and another six over the next two years
-$1.5 million to enhance airport operations
-$1.3 million to increase foster care per diems that have remained unchanged since 2004
-$900,000 to hire new staff under the tuberculous community capacity-building programs
-$300,000 to develop a Mine Training Strategy