The North's new gold rush: mining the government
In 2006, Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories received a combined $2.2 billion in federal transfer payments. This year, according to last month's ill-fated federal budget, which Finance Minister is expected to re-submit when Parliament resumes, the payments stand at more than $3 billion - equal to roughly $30,000 per Northerner.
The North's glut of federal cash has made for some bizarre infrastructure projects. The 3,500-person town of Inuvik is close to cutting the ribbon on a $100-million K-12 school. Whitehorse has a $46-million sports multiplex and a fully-equipped 400-seat performing arts centre – despite having only 20,000 residents. The subarctic city also has a $100,000 downtown water park, which is covered in snow for eight months of the year.
The North also boasts Canada's highest per-capita rates of artistic grants. The Yukon collects the most of all three territories at more than $400 per person. Despite having limited audiences, Yellowknife, Iqaluit and Whitehorse all host vibrant communities of professional artists. In 2009, the Yukon's handful of semi-professional filmmakers alone received almost $900,000 in government support.
The Yukon, for one, used to spend its federal dollars on highways and dams, says Mr. Halliday, but in modern times the government is more apt to pour money into hospitals in remote communities. Rather than building up a viable economic base, the Yukon has simply saddled itself with a larger share of budget commitments.
"I'm worried we'll look back on this as a time of big spending and nothing to show for it," says Mr. Halliday. For the time being, the North's budgets are secure, thanks to a strong Northern focus from the Tory government.
Each year since his 2006 election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it an annual summer tradition to travel through the North announcing new federal spending. Still, Mr. Coates predicts that it is only a matter of time before Ottawa's Northern-fixation comes to an end. "It's inevitable that somebody's going to look at it and say, 'Gee, why are we spending so much here?'" says Mr. Coates.
Federal money has peppered Northern territories with some generous infrastructure, including: