Nunavut Budget Attacks Social Problems with New Spending, Ministry

Article excerpt

Nunavut budget attacks social problems

--

IQALUIT, Nunavut - The government of Nunavut is projecting a sliver-thin surplus in a budget that also promises a significant spending shift to attack some of the territory's persistent social problems.

Finance Minister Keith Peterson announced plans Wednesday to create a new Department of Family Services to focus on food security, homelessness and poverty.

"These issues of hunger, poverty and homelessness are serious," he told the territorial legislature in his budget speech. "They are exactly the issues we need to resolve if we are to fulfil our vision of Nunavut."

Peterson projected a $22-million surplus on spending of $1.48 billion, slightly less than last year's expenditures. It's the territory's second surplus in a row.

Revenues increased by about $70 million. Nunavut gets about 90 per cent of its revenues from federal transfers. Ottawa collects all royalties from the territory's resources and most of the increase came from changes to the territorial funding agreement.

Peterson used much of his speech to outline plans for the new Family Services ministry, which will take over functions from at least four different portfolios, including the giant Health Department.

"The Health Department is a very, very big department," Peterson told The Canadian Press. "A lot of our issues in Nunavut are social services related and they get swallowed up in health issues."

One priority will be to ensure Nunavummiut have access to healthy, affordable food. Many communities in the territory saw large public demonstrations last year protesting both cost and quality.

The territory recently passed legislation making it easier for hunters to donate food to community groups. It is also spending more money to improve the distribution of "country food" harvested by hunters.

The new department will be expected to complete a homelessness strategy and prepare poverty reduction legislation.

"We feel that our communities are a high priority and we've got to put a lot of focus on them," Peterson said. "That's what we're trying to do with this budget."

The new Family Services Department will get a seven per cent increase on top of its share of the budget from the old Health and Social Services ministry. …