Speech – Reply to Speech from the Throne
February 25, 2016
Honourable Senators, I rise today to deliver my response to the Speech from the Throne. On December 4, 2015, the Governor General “[called] on all parliamentarians to work together, with a renewed spirit of innovation, openness and collaboration” and I hope that my comments today will be greeted by the Government of Canada in that same spirit. I was pleased, honourable Senators, to hear that the Government recognizes that “public investment is needed to create and support economic growth, job creation, and economic prosperity.” The Governor General went on to elaborate that “public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure” would garner significant new investment in the years to come. This is welcome news for Nunavut, as there are currently several projects underway that would qualify for such funding. In Cape Dorset, for instance, there are plans underway to construct the Cape Dorset Cultural Centre and Print Shop to replace the aging firetrap they now operate in. This West Baffin community is renowned worldwide for its prints, graphics, carvings, and other types of traditional Inuit art. It was home to acclaimed artist Kenojuak Ashevak and it is said that there are more artists per capita in Cape Dorset than anywhere else in Canada. With very strong support from the community, the fundraising team for the centre, led by M. Paul Desmarais III, himself a renowned collector of Inuit art, has raised $2.1 million of the $3 million private funding target; they are also awaiting a response from Canadian Heritage on their request for an additional $2 million. Cape Dorset MLA, David Joanasie, described the project as “[an] excellent and nationally important project” in his October 29, 2014 Member’s Statement to the Nunavut Legislature. Meanwhile, Iqaluit, the capital city, has two projects of note. Its population of 7,000, a majority of whom are Inuit, has no place to teach kids how to swim despite the ocean being both a highway and a breadbasket to the Inuit. With this in mind, the city has received the support of taxpayers to build an Aquatic Centre: a new, 3500 square metre multi-use centre that will also have fitness facilities as well. Construction is now underway, having been halted last fall for the winter. It is set to open at the end of 2016. The centre received support via the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund. The Aquatic Centre incorporates advanced energy efficient strategies and green construction methods. Nothing is cheap in the Arctic. Due to the high cost of construction in the Arctic, there will be an additional tax burden on tax paying homeowners. I am hopeful that the City of Iqaluit’s application for $4 million from Infrastructure Canada will be favourably received. The second project is the wastewater treatment plant upgrade that is required to service a growing population, protect the environment, as well as to meet more stringent treatment objectives. The current plant was mandated by Environment Canada and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to move into compliance by the end of 2018. To satisfy regulatory compliance, the City of Iqaluit has applied to Infrastructure Canada for a $26 million contribution to this project, which is ‘shovel ready’ and has the blessing and financial partnership of the GN. This money is needed to upgrade the primary wastewater treatment process, install a moving bed biofilm reactor to achieve secondary treatment, and to meet the city’s capacity requirements for a 20 year design horizon.
Other green infrastructure initiatives in Nunavut, which are currently in the pre-feasibility phase, include a proposed hydro power plant in Iqaluit. Honourable Senators, each one of Nunavut’s communities is powered by diesel generators. They burn 45,000 litres per year and create 110,0000 tonnes of carbon each year; A hydro dam in Iqaluit, where there is plenty of hydro potential, will reduce Nunavut’s carbon dioxide emissions from diesel plants by approximately 37,000 tonnes per year. It will allow secondary manufacturing industries to develop, such as we’ve seen in our eastern neighbour, Nuuk, Greenland, where 70 per cent of the country is powered by hydro. The other project I am enthusiastic about is the potential for the construction of a hydroelectric transmission line that would bring power from Churchill, Manitoba to the Kivalliq, the central region of the territory, with its seven communities and gold mine. The Government of Nunavut has also identified key social and energy related infrastructure needs. $525 million is needed to build 1000 homes in an effort to address Nunavut’s acute housing crisis. Another $250 million is needed to replace and upgrade Nunavut’s aging power plants and other basic energy infrastructure on, which, all Nunavut residents rely. The Government of Nunavut has also identified an exciting project in the Kitikmeot, the western region of the territory, as a territorial priority because it could be the first link in North America to the Arctic Coast in Nunavut. I speak of the Gray’s Bay Road and Port that would be the first road linking the Canadian highway and rail system to tide water in Nunavut. To make this project happen, a 227 km road needs to be built, through the very rich greenstone belt of the Slave Geological Province with plenty of mineral prospects that would become viable with a road and a port at the end of it. The construction of this road would have many lasting benefits for the region, and for Canada. The mineral deposits in Izok and High Lake would provide a minimum of 18 years of employment and business opportunities for northerners. The mine would result in over 600 jobs for Canadians and the road and port, combined with the mine, are projected to add a total of $5.1 billion to the gross domestic product of Nunavut. Additionally, it is estimated that Nunavut and Canada would receive approximately $390 million over the life of these projects in corporate taxes and resource royalties while a total $100 million paid in royalties and Impact and Benefit Agreement payments to beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. The Gray’s Bay Road and Port could also serve as an alternative access route to key mines and sites in the Northwest Territories. Colleagues, there is a real possibility that global warming could threaten the winter road from Yellowknife which currently supplies two diamond mines and soon to be a third. The all-weather road from the Arctic Coast south, could allow those three mines, and others being planned, to be accessed by sea from the north, instead of by rail and road from southern Canada. This project complements stated NWT priorities to “improve access to the Slave Geological Province” that abuts this region in Nunavut, which is why Premier Bob Mcleod has publicly stated his support for Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna and this project. It was further supported by the Canada Transportation Act Review Report tabled by Minister Garneau today. The report recommended the immediate support of 3 three projects in the north, including “the Coronation Yellowknife Corridor, connecting resource development projects in the Slave Geological Province to the Arctic coast in the North and Yellowknife in the South; the intention is to facilitate the development of a central Arctic transportation corridor for both Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, beginning with funding for the Grays Bay Road and Port Project;” This nation-building project is close to shovel ready and would require a total commitment of $34 million from Canada over the next four years in order to complete the permitting and engineering process. Best of all, the Inuit owned Nunavut Resources Corporation, partnered with the Government of Nunavut, would build and own the road and port, which could also serve the Royal Canadian Navy as a refueling location, as well as a safe landing area for storage and resupply needs in the region while collecting long term lease payments from the mining company. Colleagues, mining operations face huge transportation, climate and logistical barriers. It is estimated by the MAC that northern mines cost between 170 to 280% more than mines in southern Canada depending on remoteness because of climate and lack of infrastructure. This infrastructure should have been built when Canada was being built, but the projects stopped in the Arctic because of our small population and political representation. Now we can make these investments, along with those investments needed in our urban centres. Let’s not leave northern Canada out again when we are building our nation. Between Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon, we comprise 40% of the land mass of Canada. Projects such as the Gray’s Bay Road and Port would bring stability and certainty to a region whose high operating costs and lack of infrastructure currently act as barriers to investment and private development. Canada could show its support for the mining sector, where investment in exploration has virtually dried up, by renewing the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit and enhancing it from 15 to 30 percent for 3 years. This could act as a stimulus for a sector that is finding it difficult to attract investors in today’s economy at very little cost to the treasury. Another way to support development in Canada is by modernizing and updating the Guidelines on Canadian Exploration Expenses (CEE). Due to our tightly-regulated system, companies expend millions of dollars on Aboriginal and environmental consultation every year. However, these expenses are not included in the CEE. Honourable Senators, the Governor General promised to focus on “growing the economy; creating jobs; strengthening the middle class; and helping those who work hard to join it.” Another sector in the Nunavut economy that needs the government’s continuing support is its fisheries program.
It is all too often the case that programs designed for First Nations do not include the Inuit or are not available to Inuit. Of course Indigenous fishers gain their livelihoods on the east and west coasts of Canada, but there is also a growing fishery of shrimp, turbot, and Arctic Char on Canada’s longest coast – the Arctic coast, where Inuit have had a marine based economy and way of life for millennia
An analysis of federal financial support for Aboriginal fisheries over the last 21 years has totaled just under $1.68 Billion. Of this funding support, Nunavut has received only 0.2%.
Despite this lack of support, Nunavut fisheries groups are making progress with territorial and private financing. There are now 7 factory freezer fishing vessels owned by Inuit, worth a total of more than $75,000,000 and the replacement value of these vessels is more than $175,000,000.
Today there are more than 100 Inuit working in the offshore fishery and they have all been trained through the Nunavut Fisheries and marine Training Consortium. There is no question that this growing industry should also be recognized and receive its fair share of monies allocated to support Aboriginal fisheries in Canada. This can be solved without cost, but rather through a more equitable allocation of existing program resources and removal of policy barriers to Inuit fishers, or a stand-alone funding program developed for Nunavut that would allow the Nunavut fishery a more equitable share of the fisheries in its adjacent waters.
In his Throne speech, the Governor General also stated, “[that] the Government believes that all Canadians should have a real and fair chance to succeed”. I’d like to emphasize the importance of fairness for all Canadians, even those of us who live in the far north, in this Reply to the Throne Speech. Honourable Senators, Canada currently charges a Marine Navigation and Ice Breaking Services Fee to all commercial vessels as a way of recovering a portion of the cost for publicly-funding navigation aids and vessel traffic. However, southern suppliers who bring cargo to Nunavut and other northern regions, where there is virtually no marine transportation infrastructure, limited charts, navigational aids, ports, wharves, accurate weather and ice readings, are being charged fees 4-5 times that being charged to operators in other parts of Canada – 200% higher than what is charged to international operators; southern-based operators who supply the north can be charged anywhere up to $100,000, sometimes as a terrible surprise at the end of the shipping season – and shippers tell me they have no idea how these fees are calculated! I say terrible surprise because some seasons are like last season, when sealift ships were held off by ice for two weeks at the end of July, incurring demurrage fees of $80,000 per day per ship, while important cargo, like the steel for the aquatic centre remained stuck in the vessels, delaying construction projects in the precious summer building season before winter sets in. Due to a stubborn and persistent south wind, thick ice packed into the harbour in Iqaluit. Iceberg bits the size of houses were stranded on the beach for weeks on low tide. Three polar bears used the ice to walk into town like they owned the place. Nobody could even leave town on their small boats, to go fishing or seal hunting, the ice was so thick and impenetrable. This was in late July. This Marine Navigation and Icebreaking Services fee is an additional financial burden heaped onto the shoulders of those who already pay the high cost of business and living in the Eastern Arctic and cannot be linked directly to the services they pay for. Our MP, the Hon. Hunter Tootoo, not only knows about this problem, but, as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I hope he is in a position to fix it. Understand, Honourable Senators, that we only have very rudimentary navigational and related services in the Arctic. There is no commercial dock for any of Nunavut’s 26 coastal communities. I have previously protested the imposition of this cost on commercial vessel owners working in the Arctic, which increases the cost of living in a place where costs of everything are excessive.
Costs like that of food.
Remember, we cannot bring non-perishable goods to any community anywhere in Nunavut by truck or rail. Everything has to either go on the summer sealift – there are between three to four ships per month that come to Iqaluit- or by air freight, which currently costs $4.84 per kilo from Ottawa to a relatively nearby location in Nunavut plus a 23% fuel surcharge and a 6.5% Nav Canada surcharge. The highest cost per kilo listed by one carrier, First Air, is $16.74 per kilo from Ottawa to Ulukhaktok, which would also be subject to the fuel and Nav Canada surcharges.
This leads to outrageously high food costs such as $28 for a bag of grapes recently posted in Sanikiluaq. The Facebook group, Feeding My Family, started by Nunavut resident, Leesee Papatsie, aims to raise awareness of the high food cost in the north. Ms. Papatsie states that she hopes that this awareness could also be the impetus to helping Inuit “[learn] more about hunting…or fishing”; the group currently has 24,467 members.
High costs of living and doing business in the north are reasons why the promise made by the Liberals in their platform in the last election to increase the Northern Residents’ Tax Deduction was a welcome one. It is a measure that would impact every territorial resident who files a tax return. The Northern Residents’ Tax Deduction has not been adjusted for inflation since 2008. The government has promised to increase the amount of the deduction to 33% to a maximum of $22 per day. I will hope this eagerly awaited and equitable measure will be implemented in time for the coming tax filing season and will be watching for it in next month’s budget. This will benefit all people who live north of 60, where living costs are the highest in Canada. Honourable senators, the Speech from the Throne touched on many areas of import to the people of the North and I hope that it signals a continued commitment by the Government of Canada to improve the lives of northerners.