Nunavut MLAs scrap new homebuyers benefit for gov't employees

·3 min read
The Homebuyer Matched-Savings Program would have encouraged Nuanvut residents to purchase a home or build a new one. Government employees who participated would have had their savings matched up to $50,000 from the Nunavut Housing Corporation.  (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Homebuyer Matched-Savings Program would have encouraged Nuanvut residents to purchase a home or build a new one. Government employees who participated would have had their savings matched up to $50,000 from the Nunavut Housing Corporation. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Nunavut MLAs have refused to approve $500,000 for a new government employee home ownership program.

The new Homebuyer Matched-Savings Program, brought forward by Finance Minister George Hickes, would have allowed participants to put away money from their paychecks toward saving for a down payment on a house or to build a new home.

Meant for indeterminate employees of the territorial government and public agencies, one member per household would be able to participate in the program and the Nunavut Housing Corporation would have matched the savings up to $50,000.

But MLAs felt there wasn't enough information about the policy to approve the funding.

On Wednesday, a motion to take the funding out of Bill 70 was brought forward by Uqqummiut MLA Pauloosie Keyootak, who said the members were not properly informed on it.

"I don't want to approve it because of the uncertainty as to how it will be implemented," said Keyootak in Inuktitut.

The motion passed with 10 votes to nine with MLA for Hudson Bay, Allan Rumbolt, as the only regular member to vote against the motion.

Too many unanswered questions, says MLA

Most of the MLAs agreed that there wasn't enough information that would guarantee the policy would succeed.

MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, Adam Arreak Lightstone, said too often the government makes policies that are out of touch with community needs.
MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, Adam Arreak Lightstone, said too often the government makes policies that are out of touch with community needs. (Nunavut Legislative Assembly )

MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, Adam Arreak Lightstone, said too often the government makes policies that are out of touch with community needs.

"I would like complete assurance that this program will be designed to succeed in such a way that will benefit Inuit and low-income employees," said Arreak Lightstone.

There are too many unanswered questions, Arreak Lightstone says, about eligibility criteria and who would benefit the most from this policy.

"I strongly encourage our government to come back with this initiative when the program is complete and when the ministers are able to answer all of our questions," said Arreak Lightstone.

A copy of the draft policy, to be shared with the MLAs, was requested by Arreak Lightstone, but it was denied. The document was passed on for review to Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI).

"Generally the MLAs do not get involved in policies," said Premier Joe Savikataaq.

"Once the policy is passed and is approved by cabinet, then the regular MLAs can hold us accountable to the policy that we have approved."

Savikataaq says the policy needed to be passed on to NTI because it is required under Article 32 of the Land Claims Agreement.

MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, Cathy Towtongie says she feels that the policy is being rushed and there is a lack of transparency around it.

Finance Minister George Hickes said the motion was an insult to the assembly and a misuse of the regular members' power.
Finance Minister George Hickes said the motion was an insult to the assembly and a misuse of the regular members' power. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Takes opportunity away from Inuit: Hickes

With the territorial election coming up in October, Hickes says it's critical that the policy was passed now.

"Potentially it's going to take upwards of a year or more for a policy like this to be put in place now with the election looming," said Hickes.

He said the motion was an insult to the assembly and a misuse of the regular members' power.

"This has the potential to take home ownership opportunities away from Inuit families in this territory and I do not want any part of that," said Hickes.

36 housing projects scrapped due to lumber costs

The need for more public housing has been a top issue for the spring sitting that started on May 27.

The Minister for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, Margaret Nakashuk, said 31 public housing units and five staff houses will not be built this year because of rising lumber costs.

These cancelled projects for this year are in Rankin Inlet, Pangnirtung, Taloyak and Iqaluit.

Nakashuk said a tender for a fourplex in Iqaluit came in $3.3 million over budget.

These projects will need to go back out for tender before going ahead.

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