Canadian eastern Arctic: Nunavut-Greenland fibre cable to cost $80M more than planned

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main chastises the Nunavut government for choosing to spend an additional $80 million on a fibre link to bring high speed internet to the territory. (Beth Brown/CBC)
The GN’s plan to boost internet in the Qikiqtaaluk region, in Canada’s eastern Arctic, through an undersea fibre link between Nunavut and Greenland is going to cost $80 million dollars more than planned.

MLAs approved the project, co-funded by the federal government, at around $126 million in October last year. The government finished a marine study for the 1,700 kilometre cabled link last summer.

The department of Community and Government Services learned in May that the project was going to need more money, Minister Lorne Kusugak told MLAs in committee of the whole on Wednesday.

The fibre link now rings in at around $209 million.

Finance Minister George Hickes said in the legislature Thursday that the federal government always planned to pay for three-quarters of the link. In August, the Nunavut government received $151 million toward the fibre project through a federal fund for rural and northern communities.

“The federal government has upped their contribution to the project so as a GN we’re not on the hook for $80 million dollars,” he said. “We’re on the hook for 25 per cent of that. We will be looking down the road in future fiscal years, at additional funds to complete this project.”

The Nunavut government already has $30 million pegged for the fibre link.

Money was eligible for health, education infrastructure, MLA says

Nunavut MLAs have had a lot of questions about the cost spike.

“The extent to which this project will benefit communities and residents outside of the capital remains an issue of concern to a number of members,” Hudson Bay MLA Allan Rumbolt said. That was on Wednesday during opening remarks for a regular members review of Community and Government Services capital estimates.

The fibre link would see Iqaluit and Kimmirut on fibre internet by 2023. Nunavut is the only province or territory without access to fibre. When it was first approved, Kusugak said the Nunavut government is looking to get into the fibre industry so that it doesn’t have to keep renting critical broadband.

Nunavut’s Minister of Community and Government Services Lorne Kusugak promises $30 million to a fibre link between Nunavut and Greenland, at an event in Iqaluit, the territorial capital, this August. (David Gunn/CBC)

“We should have processes in place to protect against this type of cost escalation,” Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main said Thursday. He’s brought up the cost hike many times this week, calling the link a “mega-project” that he’s never been in favour of as government capital.

“It’s unacceptable,” said Main. “I look at my colleagues here and we have a lot of suggested uses for $80 million.”

The program that’s to fund the link supports infrastructure projects other than broadband, he said. That includes projects for food security, health, education, roads and air travel.

Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk asked on Wednesday if the department gave the project due process when it planned for the $80 million increase inside of one year. “Did it go through the preplanning stages?” he asked.

“We have been working on this for a very long time, as there is no connection through fibre optics in Nunavut,” Kusugak said. The project cost has changed pricing categories within the departments a few times, he said. “Once we got more information, we found out that it would be much more expensive.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Northwestel looking to build fibre line under Great Slave Lake in Northern Canada, CBC News

Finland: Major step towards a Europe-Asia Arctic cable link, Yle News

Norway: New satellites to boost communications in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian military to get fast, secure internet through trans-Arctic cable, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Alaska’s first wireless 5G network to be built in Anchorage, Alaska Public Media

Beth Brown, CBC News

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