Prudence leads to another surplus budget for Nunavut: finance minister
"Half of our spending will be invested in health, education and housing"
For the third year running, the Government of Nunavut is projecting a budget surplus — $36 million for 2014-15 — and that’s on top of another $38 million it is setting aside for “contingencies.”
Details of that surplus and contingency fund is included in the upcoming fiscal year’s main estimates, which Finance Minister Keith Peterson outlined in his May 26 budget address to the Legislative Assembly in Iqaluit.
The GN will spend roughly $1.53 billion this coming year on programs and capital expenditures, an increase of 3.7 per cent over last year’s main estimates of $1.47 billion.
“In line with Sivumut Abluqta, half of our spending will be invested in health, education and housing, the three pillars of our economic and social development. Investing in these programs will best prepare Nunavummiut for the future,” Peterson told his elected colleagues around the table.
With a new contract currently under negotiation with the Nunavut Teacher’s Association, and other unspecified expenditures in the works for the coming year, it’s important to have money set aside within surplus and contingency funds, said Chris D’Arcy, deputy minister of finance.
As is normal, most of the GN’s revenues — 90 per cent — will come from Ottawa, with the rest derived from own source revenues including personal and corporate income taxes as well as fuel, tobacco and property taxes.
Those internal revenues grew by $5.7 million from last year’s main estimates.
“Our revenues from all these sources are growing which indicates that the territorial economy is also growing,” Peterson said.
Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., sat in the public gallery while Peterson delivered his speech, along with several other visitors, including Senator Dennis Patterson and Igloolik filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk.
Towtongie said later that she’s pleased with the overall direction of the budget, especially its focus on education and housing.
The budget included a number of noteworthy items, including an extra $7 million for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, “mostly to cover the rising cost of utilities in public housing, and for additional staff housing,” Peterson said.
As the number of elderly Nunavummiut grows, the GN will have to start planning for more accessible, elder-friendly public housing as well.
This was also mentioned in Peterson’s budget address.
Heather Moffet, acting chief financial officer for the Nunavut Housing Corp., told reporters there are 1,084 elders aged 60 and older, and 1,153 between the ages of 50 and 59, currently in public housing.
The communities with the largest proportion of elders in public housing, she said, are Qikiqtarjuaq, Whale Cove and Kimmirut.
To address the Auditor General of Canada’s criticisms of safety and security practices for Nunavut schools and daycare facilities, the GN plans to spend an extra $1.3 million this year on “enhanced security systems and program supports” for early childhood education, according to Peterson’s speech.
The education department also plans to create an Early Childhood Learning division to review the Child Day Care Act, among other things.
“The Department of Community and Government Services is working with the school system to implement fire safety guidelines and correct all of the problems raised in the Auditor General’s report,” Peterson said.
The department will also give an extra $1 million to district education authorities to support parent programs that encourage children to attend school more regularly.
For older learners, Nunavut Arctic College will get an extra $1 million this coming year to improve community and distance-learning programs and to establish something called an “Inuit Language and Culture Centre of Excellence” within the college.
Inmates in the Baffin Correctional Centre will have to wait a few more months before they can move into the new overflow facility in Iqaluit.
GN staff told reporters the new facility ought to be ready by the fall of 2014, but because of training and facility certification, inmates likely won’t occupy the new unit before January 2015.
The health department, which perennially eats up the largest percentage of GN expenditures, is not an exception in this budget. Of every dollar the GN spends, 22 cents goes toward healthcare in Nunavut.
Health will receive an extra $18.5 million this coming fiscal year for a total of $298 million — an increase of 6.6 per cent over last year’s estimates.
While short on details at this point, Peterson said in his speech that the health department, “is working to expand its counseling and treatment services,” including modest increases for mental health and addictions.
When asked whether the GN would move forward with a plan to open a direct sales beer and wine outlet as a pilot project this year, D’Arcy said they still haven’t received any interest from a community to do so.
Ideally, if a community were interested in opening an over-the-counter liquor store, it would have to prove there was support in the community, perhaps through a plebiscite, and then make a request to the GN through a municipal council.
“We would certainly entertain a motion from council,” D’Arcy said. But so far, there have been none.
The GN does plan to spend some of the Nunavut Liquor Commission’s revenues on responsible drinking campaigns in the coming year, D’Arcy said, including those geared at pregnant women and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder awareness.