Speech from the throne continues to deliver the same goals for Canada’s North

The issue: Federal priorities
We say: Study less, act faster

On Sept. 23, Governor General Julie Payette delivered Canada’s speech from the throne.

It hit all the major talking points – housing, health care, education, policing, climate change, green energy and so much more – just as these speeches always do, while leaving out any mention of how these lofty goals might be achieved.

The other thing missing from the speech was any mention of Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, delivered last year on the eve of the federal election being called, and how the eight goals outlined in excruciating detail might be realized.

Top of mind for the federal government was affordable housing for Indigenous and Northern communities. This only makes sense, since one of the greatest social determinants of health is access to housing – every problem seems a little smaller when you’ve got a safe place to stay.

Premier Joe Savikataaq said in every interaction he has with the prime minister and federal ministers, he always emphasizes Nunavut’s infrastructure deficit.

“My saying has been that we are so far behind that we’re not even at the starting line and that the federal government has to do some nation-building within Nunavut so that we can at least get to the starting line,” said Savikataaq.

There is a shortfall of more than 3,000 houses that must be built to meet existing needs and the number of new homes added each year doesn’t even meet growing demand. The housing crisis has boiled over in Nunavut.

“Our government has invested, financially, more dollars in partnership with Indigenous nations than any government in recent memory,” said Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal. “We are making progress, believe it or not, but the problem is the gaps are so large that the progress is hardly noticeable. So we need to continue what we’re doing – we need to do more of it and we need to do it for a long time.”

There are billions of dollars being poured into housing and infrastructure nationally. A new $1 billion rapid-housing program to convert vacant buildings into residences sounds promising, if indeed there are any suitable unused structures for Nunavut to funnel some of these resources toward.

Vandal also cited a $700-million, 10-year housing agreement with the three Northern territories and a $300-million, 10-year housing agreement with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami as evidence that the federal government is addressing the issue.

Energy-efficient retrofits, clean energy and rural broadband were all included as areas for improvement in the throne speech. None of which will make any difference without adequate housing for all Nunavummiut.
Health care accessibility and greater steps to address food security are also goals to attain, but they have been goals for decades.

More than anything, what we should demand from Ottawa is progress. Access to federal funding pots is only part of the solution. If we want to achieve the first outcome of the first goal in Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework – to eliminate poverty in the North – there must be short-term solutions realized while we continue undoing the ham-fisted work of past colonial governments.

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