Federal budget focuses on ‘Northern sovereignty’

Federal budget focuses on ‘Northern sovereignty’
Despite a projected $2.9-billion defecit, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the 2014-15 budget should result in balanced books by the next fiscal year.Photo: Jim Flaherty.

The federal government did not overlook the North in its 2014-15 budget released last Tuesday, with $90 million allocated for “asserting Canada’s sovereignty” over the next two years.

Though it projects a $2.9-billion deficit for the year, the federal budget promises $47 million worth of investments in the North in 2014-15, with $20 million dedicated to supporting Northern economic development and $27 million this year for the Territorial Health Investment Fund.

A host of cost-cutting measures in other areas is expected to result in a surplus of $6.4 billion in 2015-16, in time for election year. New spending, totaling $1.8 billion, will mostly be paid for by a steep increase in tobacco taxes, up $4 per carton or 50 cents per pack.

“Building on the government’s vision for a new North, Economic Action Plan 2014 is taking action to ensure that the North realizes its full potential by exercising our Northern sovereignty, promoting economic prosperity and supporting the health of Northerners,” states the budget plan.

Sovereignty through development

A total of $40 million over two years for economic development comes as a renewal of the ongoing Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) funding delivered over the past year.

That money flows through CanNor’s Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development (SINED) fund.

Though it includes no budget line, the government’s move to claim the North Pole as part of Canada by securing recognition of Canada’s extended continental shelf at the international level is also made a priority of the sovereignty portion of the budget.

“The Government must define and assert its national borders and control access across them. This exercise of sovereignty is a core Government priority,” the budget states.

As previously announced in the 2013 budget, Ottawa’s move to facilitate resource development in the North will provide an additional $100 million over seven years to complete geological mapping of Canada’s North by 2020 and extend the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for investors.

The NWT Mine Training Society also received its second year of funding, amounting to $5.8 million, as announced in the 2013 budget.

On the energy front, the National Energy Board is receiving a cash boost of $28 million over two years for project reviews, including TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline. That money, Ottawa says, will be “fully cost-recovered” from industry.

Funding for Aboriginals

The budget promises $350 million per year through the continuing Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy to provide training and employment services to Aboriginal peoples.

Project-specific training for Aboriginal people will continue through the five-year, $210-million Skills and Partnership fund announced in 2010.

Funds totalling $25 million over five years will continue to go towards reducing violence against Aboriginal women and girls.

Health and nutrition funding

Territorial health funding will see a total of $70 million over the next three years to increase health services in all three territories in “priority health areas” and reduce patient reliance on outside health care systems and medical travel.

The Nutrition North program, currently being reviewed by the auditor general, will also see a funding boost to its existing $60-million per year budget. Details will be announced in the coming months.

Infrastructure

The previously announced $200 million in federal funding for the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway is also included in the budget, along with a promise from the Canadian government to work with territorial governments and local municipalities to develop transportation infrastructure to promote ecotourism and investment in resource extraction.

The government’s 10-year, $53-billion Building Canada plan announced last budget continues this year, with more investments promised for transportation infrastructure across the country. For the NWT, that translates into $421 million divided between Building Canada and the Gas Tax Fund.

The Investment in Affordable Housing plan also continues from last year, accessing some of the $1.25 billion over five years promised in the 2013 budget.

The program allows provinces and territories to match federal investments on initiatives including construction, renovation, home ownership assistance, rent supplements, shelter allowances and accommodations of family violence.

Telecommunications

The budget promises $305 million over five years to extend and enhance broadband internet service in rural and Northern communities across Canada, with $1 million flowing through this year and $80 million more in 2015-16.

The improvement initiative targets an internet speed goal of 5 megabits per second for up to an additional 280,000 Canadian households.

“Enhancing and extending access will create jobs, growth and prosperity for rural and Northern Canadians by increasing their ability to participate in the digital economy. Additionally, small and medium-sized businesses will benefit by having increased access to information and markets,” the budget concludes.

More details on the program will be announced in the coming months.

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