Last week, we reported that Finance Minister George Hickes was instructed by his father, former Manitoba MLA George Hickes Sr., not to follow in his footprints, but to leave his own – and they had better be prints made by work boots. He wore those boots to present his first budget.
What you won’t see in the photo we published last week is a pair of handcuffs. He must have been wearing some for him to present the budget that he did.
“Each year we are doing more with less,” he told reporters. Unfortunately, Nunavummiut are bearing the brunt of this fact.
Most notably, the government has earmarked enough money to build 100 new housing units in the coming fiscal year. In the fall, we reported that Nunavut faced a shortage of 3,500 units, while the population grows by 500 people per year.
Simply put, 100 new units is nowhere near enough. And yet, municipalities are unable to afford infrastructure growth, meaning Hickes truly does have his hands tied.
Last week, we spoke with one of the main builders in Iqaluit about their current home construction projects, and the direct response was, “Nothing. There’s no land.” City councillors have complained that they can’t afford to make more land available, with about 30 lots opening in the past three years. The city bears the burden of growth despite the added pressure on an infrastructure unable to bear it.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk was rightly disappointed to see shortfalls in the amount earmarked for Inuktut education. Nunavut needs to make serious investments to bolster the ranks of its Inuktut-speaking teachers but Education Minister David Joanasie’s introduction of a bill to delay the implementation of bilingual education requirements shows the government does not expect to fulfill its legal requirements.
The implied message in this bill and in the budget is that the government’s hands are tied.
We’ll admit the government has difficult problems to solve. At this rate, they’ll never be solved.
To support this, it’s important to note that the government chose to move toward a balanced budget – with the potential to run a surplus based on its budgeted $30 million contingency fund – with a projected deficit of $4 million. The rationale for this is that government revenues are set to rise more slowly than the cost of providing services.
Considering the potential for a surplus and the fact that the feds are transferring $67 million more than last year, we wonder why the Savikataaq government is choosing to maintain the status quo.
These numbers suggest to us that the government is not doing enough to increase the revenue it needs to operate, whether through increased taxes – Nunavummiut pay the lowest income taxes in Canada, the GN website proudly states – or increasing pressure on the feds to pony up.
Anything is possible with enough money. If municipalities had more to develop land, it would happen. If the Government of Nunavut and Canada seriously wanted more housing and Inuktut teachers, the right amount of money would find a way to make that happen.
He has the boots, so now we encourage Mr. Hickes to tighten those laces and get to work finding that money.