07/30/2015 05:59 EDT | Updated 07/30/2016 05:59 EDT

Federal government announces $64M for long-awaited Iqaluit port

Federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq has promised $64 million for a long-awaited harbour in Iqaluit — with one caveat.

Aglukkaq was in the northern capital Thursday to say the federal government is committing up to $64 million to finance the long-awaited project, which has been at the top of Nunavut's wish list for years.

During her announcement, though, she alluded that ensuring the funding remains for the project may be contingent on the results of the upcoming election.

"What I can say is that if I'm re-elected, I'm going to make sure that the funding remains here," she said. "And I've committed to it, I've announced it today, and that it is my commitment to delivering on this project"

Sources say a federal election is expected to be called this weekend, and Conservative ministers are appearing coast-to-coast to make funding announcements.

$85M project under development 'for years'

"This project has been under development for many years," Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna said in a release.

"It will provide, for the first time in Nunavut, a deepwater port for commercial, sealift and cruise ship traffic, as well as a safe harbour for local hunters, fishermen and boaters."

All but one of Nunavut's 25 communities are on the coast. Only one has any kind of docking facilities -- a harbour was built in Pangnirtung to accommodate fish off-loading for the local processing plant.

Elsewhere, Nunavummiut have long complained that coastal regions from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island have hundreds of government-owned harbours, while they have to run their boats up on the shore.

Even in Iqaluit, supplies shipped in from the south must be loaded from ships onto barges and hauled up onto the only Coast Guard-administered beach in Canada. Tourists on cruise ships must cross sometimes choppy waters on tiny inflatable boats if they want to visit the communities they pass.

It's not only inconvenient, it's unsafe. At least one Inuit fisherman has died while trying to get to his boat moored offshore, which he was trying to move in advance of a storm.

As early as 2006, federal ministers had a proposal — complete with designs and economic impacts — for seven ports around the territory. The total cost would have been $41 million over five years.

The single port in Thursday's announcement is expected to cost $85 million, which includes about $20 million from Nunavut. 

No timeline for construction or completion of the port has been released. Nor is there information about what size of vessel the port could accommodate.

Once built, the port is expected to reduce the off-loading time of dry cargo to 20 working days from 60 and cut fuel off-loading times to five working days from 15.

It will increase safety and reduce risk of damage to small boats. 

It could also be a potential base of operations for military or search and rescue operations