The Trudeau government’s first budget will deliver ‘real change’ for NWT residents, according to MP Michael McLeod.

Federal finance minister Bill Morneau tabled the 2016-2017 budget in the House of Commons Tuesday, projecting a $29.4 billion deficit.

McLeod says it’s a solid budget and should be seen as an indication that the territory is back on Canada’s radar.

Within it, an increase was announced to the Northern Residents Tax Deduction. The bump will see the maximum daily residency deduction rise from $16.50 a day to $22 to address the cost of living.

McLeod says further investments in social housing and the Nutrition North food subsidy program will also go a long way in improving life in the territory.

“We needed real and meaningful investment in the North,” McLeod told Moose FM from Ottawa.

“We looked at a number of ways to lower the cost of living through tax breaks or the Northern Residency Deduction and I think a lot of people in the Northwest Territories were counting on this increase.

“It’s going to allow people to put a little bit more money in their pockets right across the board from our young to our seniors.”

Over the next five years, the federal government will invest $64.5 million in Nutrition North, and $13.8 million per year ongoing to expand the program to all isolated northern communities.

According to McLeod, the program will expand to include all communities that were left out of Nutrition North after it replaced a freight subsidy program called Food Mail.

“People really felt [Nutrition North] wasn’t going far enough and the money committed in years past wasn’t enough to make a significant difference,” he said.

Since the election, McLeod says the government has spent a significant amount of time reviewing the program trying to identify potential improvements.

McLeod says a new Canada Child Benefit and an additional investment of $27 million in social housing will also provide relief for families across the NWT.

“We all know the issues around housing in the North,” he said. “This will certainly help address some of our housing challenges that constituents have been voicing.”

Aboriginal focus

The Liberal government has also earmarked $8.4 billion over five years to improve the lives of indigenous peoples across the country.

“This is probably the biggest investment we’ve seen historically in Aboriginal peoples,” said McLeod. “Throughout my campaign in the Northwest Territories, I heard about jobs, housing and cost of living.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus.

“Every one of those areas has been recognized and we’ve seen investment so I think all of us should feel good about it.

“Having said that though, we’re still early in the life of this government so there is more work to come.”

The budget was also welcomed by Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, who says he’s satisfied with commitments made to communities throughout the NWT.

However, the Dene Nation is encouraging funds to be transferred directly from the Treasury Board to Dene governments.

““We have to do this,” said Erasmus in a statement. “The federal government has a legal economic duty to provide treasury board dollars to treaty Indians.

“The new budget does not say the money will go to the territorial governments.”

Over the next five years, the budget has also set aside $1.8 billion to improve water quality on reserves and $2.6 billion for primary and secondary education.

It will also invest $10.4 million over three years for the renovation and construction of shelters for victims of violence.

Other highlights in the 2016-2017 budget for Northerners include:

  • $12 million over two years for affordable housing, including an extra $15 million for the Inuvialuit settlement region
  • $500 million over five years for a new program to extend and enhance broadband service in rural and remote communities
  • $40 million over two years to renew the Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development program delivered by the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
  • $21.6 million to pave highways through Wood Buffalo National Park