Op-ed by NDP House Leader Peter Julian
There were two problems with Justin Trudeau’s recent apology to the Inuit for the federal government’s treatment of tuberculosis patients. Firstly, it left the Dene and others who suffered under similar policies feeling forgotten again. An apology should do no further harm. Secondly, like so much this government does, the apology was a symbolic gesture without any of the action a real apology demands. An apology that doesn’t address the North’s current tuberculosis crisis is hardly an apology at all.
The chronic housing shortage in Nunavut is the cause of Nunavut’s current tuberculosis crisis. Nunavut has a tuberculosis rate of 261 cases per 100,000. A child in Nunavut is 300 times more likely to get tuberculosis than a child in the south. Nunavut’s government spends more than $10-million a year treating tuberculosis, but the Nunavummiut living in crowded homes are put at risk of contracting the disease. The Liberal response has been to announce amounts of money to be spent over long periods of time, amounting to band-aid levels of annual spending.
The other two territories haven’t been spared a housing crisis. In the Yukon, vacancy rates can be as low as 1.9 per cent for single bedroom apartments. Residents of Whitehorse have said that unless you earn a government salary, you are priced out of the rental market and put in a situation of housing insecurity.
The Northwest Territories has 928 people on a waiting listing for public housing. This represents more than two per cent of the territory’s population. One of those waiting was a man named Emmanuel Vachon, from the hamlet of Fort Providence. He froze to death last November, while sleeping in a tent.
Many of this government’s failures spring from their unwillingness to generate needed revenues by eliminating the tax advantages the wealthiest Canadians enjoy. When it comes to northern issues, however, the problem goes deeper. This government has no vision for the North.
A University of Toronto study recently showed that 46 per cent of households in Nunavut were experiencing food insecurity in 2016, up from 33.1 per cent in 2011, when Nutrition North was introduced. Yvonne Jones, the MP responsible for the program has acknowledged that Nutrition North won’t solve food security on its own. But the government has failed to articulate any plan to meaningfully supplement the program.
This paucity of ideas and resolve from the government is particularly dispiriting because it is out of step with the wealth of creativity and determination from Northerners themselves. Talk with any Northerners and you will hear fantastic solutions for building environmentally and financially sustainable communities. Too often however, the federal government acts as a barrier to innovation.
In 2011, Liberal MPs like Justin Trudeau, Dominic LeBlanc, and Yukon MP Larry Bagnell voted for NDP MP Dennis Bevington’s bill to create a set formula for the amount of deficit the government of the Northwest Territories is able to run in a given year. Once in government, however, these MPs have maintained a system where the territories endure unpredictable funding and the federal government controls deficit spending. This has resulted in the troubling practice of the territorial governments turning to public-private partnerships to get major infrastructure projects built. Yellowknife’s new Stanton Hospital will be financed, designed, built and operated by a for-profit company-something many in Canada’s south would never dream of under our public health-care system.
Northerners have also been some of the most moving advocates for meaningful action to mitigate climate change. Sheila Watt-Cloutier and others sounded the alarm. We know that Northern communities are particularly at risk from the impacts of climate change, with the North warming at a higher rate than the rest of the country.
Northerners are anxious to reduce their own carbon emissions, but the government has offered little help. The NDP understands that the federal government must work with Indigenous and Northern communities to help end the North’s dependence on diesel and secure a more sustainable future.
The Liberals love to invoke the North as a symbol in photo ops and speeches. But when it comes to implementing a vision and making a real difference in people’s lives, this Liberal government is absent above the 60th parallel.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian, who represents New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C., is his party’s energy critic and deputy finance critic.« Back to News