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As Nunavut approaches the 20th anniversary of its creation, the territory has tabled a mostly stand-pat budget that plans modest spending increases to fight some of its social problems.

“We look ahead to the next 20 years and beyond with anticipation, hope, motivation and great respect to the people, traditions and innovation that brought us to this point,” Finance Minister George Hickes told the territorial legislature Wednesday.

His budget forecasts a tiny deficit of $12-million on revenues of about $2.2-billion – about 90 per cent of which will come from federal transfers. That makes it the territory’s third red-ink budget in a row.

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A view of Iqaluit shown in 2015. Nunavut is coming off a financially healthy year and expects economic growth of almost five per cent in 2019.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

New social spending includes almost $5-million for addictions and trauma treatment, including what would be the territory’s first recovery centre. The spending is also intended to create on-the-land camps for Inuit to reconnect with their culture.

“Many communities, families and individuals in Nunavut struggle with the adverse impacts of substance use and related personal trauma,” said Hickes. “Our priority is to help Nunavummiut access support to heal.”

The budget also adds nearly $3-million for law enforcement, and emergency shelters are to receive another $2-million.

Nunavut was created April 1, 1999, when it was split off from the Northwest Territories. In his speech, Hickes played up Nunavut’s accomplishments over its first two decades.

Its population has grown 40 per cent to 38,000. The size of its economy has more than doubled.

Although it has no shortage of worst-in-Canada social indicators from suicide to violence to poor housing, there’s progress aswell, Hickes said.

The percentage of high school graduates has increased to 48 per cent in 2017 from 21 per cent in 1999.

Nunavut is coming off a financially healthy year and expects economic growth of almost five per cent in 2019. Hickes said that’s because of population growth, investment in infrastructure such as ports and airports, and a strong mining sector.

Spending on mines increased 20 per cent in 2018 and another 20 per cent increase is forecast this year. Two new gold mines in Nunavut are expected to begin production. Mining will represent about one-fifth of the territory’s economy.

That helps reduce dependence on public-sector jobs, said Hickes.

“The economy has begun to diversify, which is something that we really need.

“We cannot rely solely on the public sector to create jobs and grow our economy. The best growth opportunities are found in the private sector, like mining. As more mines export gold, iron and other commodities, more jobs open up.”

Still, Hickes noted that government jobs remain the backbone of Nunavut’s economy and that Inuit still only make up half the public service.

To address that, a new human resources department is to be created to build Inuit capacity and employment in government, he said.

Hickes told the legislature that the federal government’s carbon tax is likely to take about $15-million from Nunavut.

“Our government will recover all of that revenue and is developing options on how best to return that revenue to Nunavummiut.”

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