Nunavut finance minister tables $2.5B budget with focus on housing

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Lorne Kusugak, the finance minister for the Government of Nunavut, tabling the territory's 2022-2023 budget at the Legislative Assembly on Thursday. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Lorne Kusugak, the finance minister for the Government of Nunavut, tabling the territory's 2022-2023 budget at the Legislative Assembly on Thursday. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Nunavut Finance Minister Lorne Kusugak tabled a $2.5 billion draft operations and maintenance budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year with increased spending on public and staff housing units.

The budget is the first from Nunavut's newly elected government and reflects its priorities of the coming year.

Nunavut Housing Corporation's capital spending is up by $3 million dollars from last year for a total of $51.5 million in this budget. Of that money, $21 million is allocated to building new public housing units, and $6 million is allocated to Government of Nunavut staff housing units.

"Even with these investments, we know we will continue to suffer from [a] shortage of affordable, suitable, and supported housing," said Kusugak during his budget address in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.

The government wants to build 1,000 new housing units over the next four years. The current investment of $27 million will not be sufficient to build all the units.

This year's budget has an estimated operational surplus of $40 million. The surplus is a result of lower COVID-19 spending and an increase in taxes at about 5 per cent.

The 2021-22 budget had an estimated $31 million deficit.

Kusugak said the surplus leaves room to spend more money on housing as needed.

"Plans are already under development that could see a proposed incremental spending of more that $200 million on housing and housing programs during our mandate," said Kusugak in his address.

Kusugak says spending the money saved would mean future deficit budgets.

"If it means dipping into the previous year's surplus in order to begin to change the shortage of housing, I'm for that and I really hope that the Legislative Assembly is for that," said Kusugak.

Last year, former Finance Minister George Hickes presented a $2.4 billion budget that outlined a $75-million contingency fund in place for emergency pandemic spending for COVID-19.

During the last fiscal year the government did not need to use the full contingency fund to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks, which helped lead to the surplus.

This year the government will also have a $75 million contingency fund that can be used for emergency spending.

But the government says this would be used if the Nunavut Employee Union new collective agreement is ratified and retroactive pay for government employees needs to be paid back.

Little pandemic spending 

The fund is also one of the only places for the government to pull money for COVID-19 needs.

Last year's budget also made room for a Pandemic Response Secretariat to operate with the departments of health, community and government services, and executive and intergovernmental affairs.

The $4.8 million allocated to the secretariat created 30 staff positions.

The 2022-23 budget will continue to fund the secretariat for at least another year.

In April, Nunavut's public health emergency was lifted, ending government enforced restrictions on gathering sizes and mask mandates.

The Government of Nunavut also heavily supported northern airlines through the pandemic by spending nearly $35 million last year in subsidies.

But this year, airlines like Canadian North, Calm Air and Kenn Borek Air will not be subsidized.

Now that the draft budget is tabled, Nunavut MLAs will review it over the coming weeks. The current sitting of the Legislative Assembly runs until June 14.

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