Federal budget brings ‘good news’ for NWT: minister

Federal budget brings ‘good news’ for NWT: minister
NWT Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger.Photo: Bill Braden.

With extensions granted on health and infrastructure funding for the Northern territories, NWT Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger said the 2014 federal budget brings good news for the territory.

While it was clear the federal budget, aimed at balancing the books by 2015, wasn’t going to be a “big spending” plan, Miltenberger said it does address some critical infrastructure needs in the North.

“The big good news story for us is the Build Canada Fund, for which our share is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $250 million over 10 years, so it will be $26 million a year that we can add to our capital plan for different projects,” he said. “Communities will get some of the funding.”

The majority of the Building Canada funding will go to transportation infrastructure, Miltenberger said, from roads to bridges.

He said the GNWT is now anxiously awaiting details on when Building Canada funding will begin flowing and how much will be on the table this year, but said none of that money will be taken for granted.

“Given our fiscal prudence, we’re going to be ready to take full advantage of all that money that comes available,” he said. “The last time it came around in the last government, over three years we put over a billion dollars of infrastructure on the ground in the Northwest Territories, so this is going to be a boon for us.”

The other positive, he said, is that the funding partnership with the federal government is split at 25/75, which allows the territory to make its money go further.

The NWT also got an unexpected three-year extension on the territorial health system sustainability initiative funding, which was supposed to have been phased out.

The $70 million over three years is split between the three territories, giving the NWT around $7 million per year in additional funding to boost health programming, which has led to an increase in nurse practitioners and midwives.

Miltenberger said it is a welcome extension that allows more time to ready for the coming phase-out.

“That gives us three years to plan for an exit strategy, because they indicated that that was it,” he said. “Most of the programs have become very important and they’re not the kind of programs Northerners would like to see rolled up, so we are going to be looking at how do we shift some of our resources over the next few years to make sure that there’s no loss in programs and services.”

Additional money for the P3 Canada funding will also likely lend support to the territory’s major infrastructure project, the $350-million renovation slated for Stanton Territorial Hospital.

Enhanced annual funding for the $60-million Nutrition North program will also benefit the territory’s remote, circumpolar communities, Miltenberger added.

“Even with all the problems with that particular program, I think that’s good news for us, as well,” he said.

Exploration tax program extensions for the mining industry will have some positive impacts, too, he said.

Budget short on details: MP

Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington said this year’s federal budget seemed sparse in details, mainly reiterating funding for the North that had already been in place.

That said, he noted that he looks forward to hearing more details over the coming months on the specific announcement pledging $305 million for telecommunications upgrades to remote and rural communities across Canada.

By Bevington’s calculations, he foresees about one-seventh of that funding going to all three Northern territories if it is divided equally amongst the 280,000 national households noted in the budget.

If that’s the case, “the money is not likely to be adequate for the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Yukon,” he said, based on NorthwesTel’s recent $233-million plan to upgrade broadband services in the North alone.

“Our share might amount to $8-10 million over five years, split between the three territories,” Bevington said. “That said, if there’s some other plan in place and we get the lion’s share, then that will be very good.”

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