If we can find one word to describe the Liberal government’s 11th hour Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, it would have to be ‘ambitious.’
Unveiled Sept. 10, the day before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a federal election, the first list of objectives identified in the framework says it all: End poverty; eradicate hunger; eliminate homelessness and overcrowding; reduce suicides.
That is some list, and that’s only the first four objectives noted in the item “Goal 1.” There are eight other goals in this framework, each with their own list of objectives.
Forgive us for seeming incredulous but we have only been reporting on these issues for the past 20 years. Poverty, hunger, overcrowding, suicide – our pages are full of stories on these issues week after week, year after year.
They are all painful to note – and damning. But the Liberals – and Conservative governments before and after them – have had years to deliver policies to alleviate these problems. Yet these more or less are the statistics in Nunavut today:
- Nearly 50 per cent of the Nunavut population collected welfare in 2008.
- Food is up to three times more expensive than in the rest of Canada.
- The annual rate of tuberculosis is 290 times higher than with Canadian-born non-indigenous people.
- Nunavut, by far, has the highest suicide rate in the country at 71 deaths per 100,000 people.
Sad and shocking figures for sure but nothing new. The framework aims to deliver on its goals through 2030. The document certainly sings the right tune. It acknowledges the lower life expectancy among Inuit and other Indigenous groups, the high rates of violence and addiction, the Herculean effort required bring the Northern standard of living up to a level comparable to the rest of Canada.
The goals to combat these problems – better housing, more infrastructure, for example – are straightforward and specific. But identifying the problems and committing them to paper is the easy part. It’s the fulfillment part that causes us to be skeptical.
These are things any government, whether Liberal, Conservative or otherwise, ought to commit to but for a variety of reasons have not made significant headway. Federal governments have many priorities and the North is far away and sparsely populated.
Not to be cynical but it’s easy to kick the can down the road when there are only a handful of seats in the House of Commons the Northern regions can deliver.
The card Northerners have left to play is the pure shame of their predicament. It ought to be intolerable to boast of Canada’s achievements in education, progress and prosperity when the situation in the North is so starkly different.
Now that Nunavummiut have this document, it must be held in the face of every federal MP, governor-general, or any other high-ranking southerner who steps foot into Nunavut. Canada needs to deliver– that is the message. And it begins with this federal election.