No federal funding in budget for major highway project in Canada’s Northwest Territories

Federal Minister Dominic LeBlanc (left), N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod and Minister Wally Schumann (right) announced $1.2 million for the Taltson hydroelectric expansion project in Yellowknife on Jan. 23. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)
The federal Liberal’s latest budget does not earmark money specifically for the proposed Mackenzie Valley Highway, but they are open to working with the Northwest Territories government on developing the project, says Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

The territorial government has long lobbied for the Mackenzie Valley Highway, a massive all-season road proposal that would connect N.W.T. communities of the Mackenzie Valley with the south.

“We didn’t think we should be prescriptive in something as big as a multi-billion-dollar, multi-year investment in infrastructure,” LeBlanc said of the project. “We want to talk to the government of Premier McLeod, we want to talk to other partners and, frankly, follow their priorities,” he said.

The budget, released on Tuesday, proposes more money to expand and improve northern roads, ports and other infrastructure — an increase of up to $400 million over eight years, starting in the 2020-21 fiscal year, under the National Trade Corridors Fund.

LeBlanc said that funding increase is in response to requests he’s received from territorial premiers and Indigenous leaders in the North.

“There is a recognition across the board that infrastructure costs in northern Canada are necessarily more expensive than similar projects in southern Canada, whether it’s port infrastructure, highway infrastructure … even access to materials make the cost of these projects, in many cases, prohibitive,” LeBlanc said in an interview.

The Mackenzie Valley Highway would run north from Wrigley to the Dempster Highway, near Inuvik, if completed. (CBC)
Funding for Taltson hydro project

The budget earmarks $18 million over the next three years for detailed engineering and environmental planning for the proposed Taltson hydroelectric system expansion.

LeBlanc said while the planning is underway — a process that he said is expected to take two to three years — the government would be looking to identify a number of federal funding sources for the construction.

“So one of the things I think we’d want as part of the planning exercise is to see exactly where the Taltson expansion should properly fit into sources of federal funding, and there are a number of options and it probably should not only be one,” he said.

“So my conversations with Michael McLeod and Bob [McLeod] have very much been focused on the Government of Canada finding a number of options where we could partner. The first thing we need to do is have a detailed engineering and environmental plan that we can then shop around to the proper funding partners.”

Written by Donna Lee, based on an interview by The Trailbreaker’s Alyssa Mosher

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Federal budget hints at content of Canada’s Arctic Policy Framework: expert, Radio Canada International

Finland: Budget cuts threaten international Sámi language cooperation, Yle News

Russia: Northern Sea Route needs €143 billion in private funds to meet shipping goals: report, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish PM Stefan Löfven unveils new cabinet, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska governor faces tough criticism over proposed budget cuts, Alaska Public Media

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