Politics
Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

Money-Go-Round: Who’s Offering What

Federal Promise Watch: As the NDP releases its Northern platform, a recap of all the pledges and largesse tossed our way so far during this extended campaign.

As the NDP attempt to arrest their headlong dive in the national polls, NDP incumbent Dennis Bevington has unveiled his vision for the North.

The plan, announced this morning, closely followed the promises made by Tom Mulcair during his Iqaluit visit last week: $32 million over four years to expand Nutrition North subsidies to 50 more remote communities across the North (as well as a promise for a “comprehensive review” of the program); $100 million to help 25 diesel-powered communities shift towards alternative energy sources.

“That works out to about $200 to $250 per capita, per year investment in renewable energy,” says Bevington, comparing those numbers to the Conservative investment in renewable energy across the country over nine years, which he claims has been “approximately $7 per capita per year on renewable energy.”

Bevington’s announcement did contain some North-related details not revealed by Mulcair. Notably, he promised that an NDP government would increase the Northern Residents Tax Deduction and index it to inflation in the North. Unlike the Liberals, who promised to raise the residential allowance by 33 percent, Bevington avoided giving any specifics — “We are still working on the number” — but suggested the NDP would raise it by a more modest five percent or so.

Other NDP promises for the North

  •  – Bevington says the NDP would invest $200 million in “northern roads, bridges and ports.” He avoided making commitments to any major new road building projects, such as the coveted highways from Wrigley to Norman Wells or up into the Slave Geological Province. “The priority of making those choices has to remain with the legislative assembly… Yes, the federal government still has responsibility under the NWT Act for new highway construction, but that doesn’t in any way change the importance of that decision-making remaining in the North.”
  •  – Across the country, the NDP are promising to increase gas tax transfers to municipalities by $1.5 billion annually. “I think it works out to 20 million a year in the Northwest Territories,” says Bevington.
  •  – Bevington says the NDP would reverse the devolution deal decision to amalgamate the territory’s land and water boards. “We’re very fortunate the Tlicho injunction has stopped the creation of the super board. It will be very easy for us to change it once we get rid of the Conservatives.”

The problem with promises

As with all campaign promises, we have to take Bevington’s with a large grain of salt. Many of them, as with those currently being made by Michael McLeod and Floyd Roland (who’s actually been rather quiet on the promise front so far, leaving most of the rhetoric to Harper), depend on the NWT snagging a piece of the much larger pie that’s being served up to the whole country. Take, for example, Bevington’s announcement the NDP would put $2.7 billion towards housing construction and retrofits across the country. It remains to be seen how much of that would ever come North; Bevington’s answer when asked how much we’ll get was noncommittal: “It’s the responsibility of a member of parliament to ensure this simply isn’t divided on a per-capita basis, but has a needs basis attached to it. And certainly we can make an argument that in the North the needs are very high.”

But perhaps it’s better, or at least more honest, to under-commit than over-commit, as McLeod might be learning. Last week, the Liberal candidate was promising a whopping 50-percent increase in the residential component of the Northern Resident Tax Deduction, but quickly found himself in the media roaster when the CBC pointed out the Liberal Party’s official platform was promising 33 percent. It’s still a much larger promise than either the NDP or the Conservatives are making, but the retreat makes McLeod’s promise look either disingenuous or out of touch with what the party’s actually pushing for.

Then there was Yellowknife’s submarine pipeline issue highlighted by NNSL last week. As they pointed out, McLeod is not in a position to make such a specific municipal funding promise. Though to be fair, as he told them in a nifty bit of verbal gymnastics, he wasn’t promising anything, rather “committing to support it.” He later took to social media to clarify his position: “This dedicated funding will be made available to the city of Yellowknife on a project-by-project basis, and the water pipe meets the criteria and will receive funding through the plan.”

The move from bullet-point promises to more nuanced, reality-based discussions of funding can seem like a bit of a retreat. And in a sense it is. But it also highlights the fine balance would-be MPs have to tread between committing to things they can’t realistically guarantee and being criticized for speaking in bland generalities.

On that note, and taking every grain of salt we can collectively muster, here’s a quick roundup of the things that Conservatives and Liberals have been promising to wet our Northern palate:   

Liberals

  •  – The Liberals say they will increase the residential component of the Northern Resident Tax Deduction by 33 percent percent, to a maximum of $22 a day. That’s up from $16.50 a day. They’re also promising to index it to keep with inflation.
  •  – They will increase investments in the Nutrition North program by $40 million, over four years. That’s $8 million more than is being promised by the NDP.
  •  – There’s a possibility that some of the Liberals’ promised $125 billion in infrastructure spending could trickle north to things like municipal infrastructure and highway construction. McLeod has avoided committing to any major highway projects but has given some hints for things he’d push for: “If we had a road down the Mackenzie Valley that would help with the cost [of living]; there are things we can do beside providing subsidies.”

Conservatives

  •  – The Conservatives are promising “approximately $421 million in dedicated federal funding” for the NWT over the next 10 years, according to Stephen Harper’s response to Premier McLeod’s letter to federal party leaders. This includes the $72 million they committed to NWT highway repairs in late July. It also includes a promise to put $100 million over five years into CanNor’s Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development program.
  •  – They’ve also promised to spend $14 million chip-sealing the 68-kilometre stretch of highway through Wood Buffalo Park to Fort Smith. Though Bevington claims that money had already been budgeted by Parks Canada long before Harper announced the project during his junket to Hay River: “This is not new money, this is money that exists.”
  •  – The Conservatives aren’t committing to any specific increases in the Northern Resident’s Tax Deductions but Harper promised a “review… to ensure they are appropriate to the realities of living and working in Canada’s North, including places like the NWT.”