Canada’s 2019 Federal Budget and the Arctic

By Justin Barnes
Parliament Hill, Ottawa. © Asif A Ali

Justin Barnes

On 19 March 2019, the federal government of Canada released their 2019 budget that contains a number of new Arctic-specific investments. Although it is a pre-election budget focused on many of the current Liberal government’s election priorities (i.e. the middle class), the federal government has committed $700 million over the next decade to programs and initiatives specific to Canada’s North. In comparison to the federal government’s 2018 budget, the government’s 2019 budget is more explicit in recognising the Arctic as a unique region through a variety of new Arctic-specific investments. These investments can be found in a section specifically dedicated to Canada’s Arctic: Strong Arctic and Northern Communities.

The 2019 budget reaffirms the federal government’s commitment to co-developing a new Arctic and Northern Policy Framework alongside Indigenous groups, outlines its continuing commitments in the region, and highlights newly proposed investments in the areas of health, infrastructure, education, research, innovation and economic development, and environment and climate programs. Additionally, the budget reveals Canada’s commitment to furthering its participation in the circumpolar community through its proposed funding for Global Affairs Canada “to enhance Canada’s global Arctic leadership, by strengthening Canada’s engagement in the Arctic Council, creating the first Arctic Council-related permanent secretariat in Canada (for the Sustainable Development Working Group), increasing the participation of northerners in Arctic Council and Arctic research activities, and providing northern youth with international learning opportunities” (Government of Canada, 2019, p. 300).

The Inuit-specific investments found in the budget have so far been welcomed by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) President Natan Obed, GNWT Finance Minister George Hickes and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) President Aluki Kotierk in separate press releases (Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, 2019; GNWT, 2019; NTI, 2019). In an announcement from ITK, President Natan Obed stated that “ITK is pleased that Inuit priorities are included in a dedicated section of this year’s budget” and that the budget “reflects the progress we have made through the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee” (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, 2019). The ITK and NTI, however, have also shared their concern with the lack of investment in areas such as housing and with “the continued exclusion of Inuit from infrastructure investment and decision-making opportunities in our homelands” (Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, 2019). Ultimately, all three territories and Indigenous groups have been promised specific investments in a variety of important areas. Although the Canadian Arctic may benefit from a number of nation-wide investments found in the budget, an outline of the federal government’s Arctic specific commitments in the 2019 budget can be found below:


Significant investments have been made to address a variety of health issues including the establishment of an addiction facility in Nunavut. Although a specific dollar amount is not mentioned, the budget states: “Together with contributions from the Government of Nunavut and Inuit partners, as part of budget 2019, the government announces its commitment to support the construction and ongoing operation of a treatment facility in Nunavut.” Other commitments involve the following proposed investments:

  • $15 million over five years to the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency to establish a “Northern Isolated Community Initiatives Fund” to support community-led food production systems.
  • $50 million over 10 years to support Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s (ITK) National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy that is working to address deaths by suicide in Inuit communities that remains at a rate 5 to 25 times the national average.


In recognition of the infrastructure and energy challenges that exist in Canada’s North, the federal government has allocated the following funds:

  • $400 million over eight years beginning in 2020/21 to increase the allocation of the National Trade Corridors funs to $800 million. This funding is meant to improve and expand infrastructure, including roads between communities.
  • $18 million over three years to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada with the purpose of supporting the GNWT during its planning for its proposed Taitson hydroelectricity expansion project that would more than double hydroelectricity capacity in the NWT.
  • As part of a national plan for increasing internet access in rural and remote communities, the government proposes setting a target of having internet speeds of minimum 50/10 mbps in every Canadian home within the next 10 years.
  • A proposal to consolidate federal programs concerning the reduction of diesel reliance in communities


  • $14 million over five years to the Canadian Space Agency to identify opportunities where space, health and Indigenous partners could work together to find solutions to challenges common to both deep space and remote health care environments.


  • $26 million over five years to assist Yukon College in its transformation into a hybrid university
  • $13 million over five years for the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning in the NWT to support the delivery of culturally appropriate curricula
  • $1 million over two years to establish a task force to produce a study and recommendations regarding post-secondary education in Canada’s Arctic and northern regions

Innovation and Economic Development

  • $75 million over five years to the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency to enhance its current programs and assist in creating Inclusive Diversification and Economic Advancement in the North (IDEANorth), a new initiative meant to support the development of economic infrastructure.
  • Extension of Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for an additional five years until March 31, 2024 in recognition of the resource development economy in the territories.

Environment and Climate

  • $10 million over two years to assist the Polar Continental Shelf Program respond to growing demand of its critical logistics support for Canadian researchers
  • $21.8 million over five years to Environment and Climate Change Canada for critical repairs and upgrades to the Eureka Weather Station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.
  • $49.9 million over fifteen years ($2.2 billion on a cash basis) beginning in 2020/21 to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to establish the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program that will clean up abandoned and contaminated mining sites.
  • $7.9 million over five years to Natural Resources Canada in order to continue providing support for Canada’s claim to its continental shelf in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.
  • Announcement that the federal government will work with Nunavut and Qikiqtani Inuit Association to advance the potential creation of a marine conservation area in the High Arctic Basin, a portion of the region that is expected to be the last area to retain summer sea ice.

Inuit Specific Investments

The federal government has proposed $286.2 million over five years to support a number of initiatives including an Inuit-led post-secondary education strategy, the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy, health and social services for Inuit children, and support for a distinctions-based approach to indigenous language revitalisation projects.

Works Cited:

Government of Canada. (2019). Retrieved on March 20, 2019 from:
GNWT. (2019). Retrieved on March 20, 2019 from:
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. (2019). Retrieved on March 20, 2019 from:
NTI. (2019). Retrieved on March 20, 2019 from:

Justin Barnes is a Canada Fellow at Polar Research and Policy Initiative. At present, he is also the Assistant Editor of the Arctic Yearbook 2019: Redefining Arctic Security and is pursuing an internship at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) in the Division for Sustainable Development Goals. Justin is currently an MA candidate in the Sustainability Studies program at Trent University’s School of the Environment, where his research is focusing on climate change adaptation and sustainable development in Canada’s coastal communities on the Arctic Ocean. As part of this research, Justin is exploring the concept of environmental security, the role this form of security plays in shaping social, economic, and environmental policies, and its influence on resource and infrastructure development in the Arctic. Justin is also actively involved in the sport of Sailing and represented Canada internationally on the World Sailing circuit as an athlete on the Canadian Sailing Team for five years (2013 – 2018).
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