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Liberal pledges on TB, Inuit housing a good start, ITK president says

Trudeau government to fund tuberculosis elimination, new national Inuit health survey, housing in three Inuit regions


Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Iqaluit on Feb. 9, 2017, when they signed the landmark Inuit-Crown partnership agreement. One of the Inuit priorities communicated through that process is federal government action on combating tuberculosis, which led to a $27.5-million commitment yesterday on the elimination of TB from Inuit Nunangat. (FILE PHOTO)

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Iqaluit on Feb. 9, 2017, when they signed the landmark Inuit-Crown partnership agreement. One of the Inuit priorities communicated through that process is federal government action on combating tuberculosis, which led to a $27.5-million commitment yesterday on the elimination of TB from Inuit Nunangat. (FILE PHOTO)

OTTAWA—The federal government’s commitments on tuberculosis elimination, a national Inuit health survey and Inuit social housing laid out in Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s 2018-19 budget, tabled yesterday, represent a good start, Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, told Nunatsiaq News yesterday.

Though Morneau did not cite them specifically in his speech, those commitments, described in budget documents, include:

• $27.5 million over five years to eliminate TB in Inuit Nunangat, a priority of the Inuit-Crown partnership committee created last year.

• $82 million over 10 years, and $6 million a year to follow, for a second national Inuit health survey that the federal government will co-create with ITK.

• $400 million over 10 years for an Inuit-specific housing plan in three regions: Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and the Inuvialuit region. (Nunavut received $240 million over 10 years for housing in last year’s federal budget.)

• $161.2 million over five years through the Inuit stream of a program called Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program, or “ISET,” formerly known as “ASET.”

“We’re encouraged by the investments, especially in relation to housing. The $400 million over 10 years is a good start. We know that the need is much greater,” Obed said.

Because of the great need for housing in those regions, Obed said he views the money announced yesterday as a “down payment” that will help begin to alleviate the longstanding Inuit housing crisis.

“But it will take a lot more time and effort,” he said.

On that, ITK is working with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and the Indigenous Services department on a national Inuit housing strategy that will likely be released this summer.

As for the spending promise on the elimination of TB from Inuit Nunangat, that too is a “good first step,” Obed said.

But Obed said it will eventually take more than that to meet the goal that Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced this past January in Ottawa: the total elimination of tuberculosis from Inuit Nunangat.

“I’ve had conversations with Minister Philpott after the budget and she encouraged me to think about it as a starting point and not necessarily as the entirety of the investment,” Obed said.

Preventative work and public health outreach work in Inuit Nunangat will cost a lot more money, since TB is inextricably linked to things like poverty, poor housing, food insecurity and smoking, he said.

But he suggested he trusts Philpott’s commitment to eliminate TB from the four Inuit regions.

“Minister Philpott is a champion for this particular initiative. It is rare that a federal minister is pushing timelines on national issues,” Obed said.

Philpott said that on March 24, this year’s World Tuberculosis Day, she and ITK will announce a target date for TB elimination.

Obed did not say what that target date will be, but he said the World Health Organization has set 2030 as its own target date for eliminating TB globally and that he hopes Philpott’s target will be at least as ambitious, if not more so.

“Again, we expect that over time, the money will be there when we need it,” Obed said.

For now, ITK is working with Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Indigenous Services Canada to cost out short-term measures for TB elimination, he said.

As for the money that Ottawa will commit to a new national Inuit health survey, that’s “a game-changer,” Obed said.

“This money, this investment is going to be transformative in the way in which we understand our people and the health needs of our population.”

The first national Inuit health survey was conducted through three regions—Nunavut, Nunatsiavut and the Inuvialuit region—in 2007 and 2008, using research funds made available through Canada’s contribution to the International Polar Year.

A similar Quebec-based survey had been done in 2004 for Nunavik. A follow-up Nunavik survey was completed last year.

The new money will not only pay for a new survey in the three Inuit regions outside Quebec. It will turn the national Inuit health survey into a permanent program, led by ITK, the federal government and other partners.

“ITK will be a central administrator, providing overarching structural support for the Inuit health survey,” he said.

And keeping it going over a longer period of time means the survey can now produce “longitudinal” data, which means data that measures changes in health status over given periods of time.

And Obed said in the future, the team working on the health survey will look for ways to include Nunavik.

In general, Obed said he’s pleased that the federal government is recognizing the distinctiveness of Inuit, and is no longer putting Inuit together with First Nations.

“We have never before had in a federal budget, in an Indigenous section or any other part, a section specific to Inuit and to Inuit Nunangat,” Obed said.

Cathy McLeod, the Conservative party’s shadow minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, gave Morneau’s budget a less glowing review.

And she slammed the Trudeau government for its imposition of a carbon tax and for its abrupt moratorium on Arctic offshore oil and gas exploration in late 2016.

“They can put money into programs, but this government is not very good at creating an environment for success for businesses, if you look at the arbitrary moratorium [on offshore oil and gas] without any conversation, and if you look at the carbon tax that impacts northerners perhaps more than anyone,” McLeod told Nunatsiaq News.

“So there was nothing supporting an environment for job creation for northerners, which is really something that is very important for northerners.”

And despite the growing interest of global powers like Russian and China in the Arctic, there was no sign of a plan for the Arctic, McLeod said.

On the other hand, she said the money committed for Inuit housing represents “significant dollars” and she hopes the federal government works with Inuit to make sure it’s well spent.

She also said the TB treatment money is “welcome” but she pointed out that there is nothing for suicide prevention.

“There’s no doubt that there are gaps,” McLeod said.

Nunavut Premier Paul Quassa said he’s happy about the health and training money that Morneau announced yesterday.

“We will be working closely with our partners in the federal government, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. to affirm our roles in delivering Inuit-specific funding and programs in Nunavut,” Quassa said in a statement.

Quassa also said he supports a proposed amendment to the Nunavut Act that would let the Government of Nunavut manage wildlife when it applies to the harvesting of country food.

Quassa said the GN also supports proposed increases to the Canada Child Benefit.

Also in a statement, Hunter Tootoo, the independent MP for Nunavut, said he’s disappointed the Nutrition North Canada program was not addressed in the budget, and that he’ll have more to say about that in the next few days.

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