ITK leader spells out wish list for federal stimulus package

Simon urges $1 billion for Inuit programs

By CHRIS WINDEYER

Any economic stimulus package in the upcoming federal budget should contain as much as $1 billion for Inuit housing, education and economic development programs, says Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

The two-and-a-half-hour meeting between aboriginal leaders, provincial and territorial premiers, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper came one day before first ministers gathered separately to discuss ways to kick start a flagging Canadian economy.

It's widely expected that the Jan. 27 federal budget will be rich with tax cuts, spending, and a deficit in a bid to do just that.

"Two and half hours is never enough to discuss the complex issues facing us in the Arctic," Simon said in an email interview.

"[But] the time we had with the prime minister and the premiers was enough time to present our priorities so that when the government of Canada prepares the stimulus package and the budget they will consider our requests."

Simon said she'd like to see the money doled out over two years.

Speaking to first ministers in Ottawa Jan. 15, Simon called on Ottawa to dedicate $1 billion of any stimulus package to Inuit needs.

She outlined an eight-point economic wish list for Canadian Inuit. Simon urged Ottawa to:

  • consult Inuit when setting up the new Northern economic development agency;
  • build more houses;
  • fast-track regulatory approvals of the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline;
  • invest in Beaufort Delta infrastructure projects
  • upgrade fuel storage, drinking water and waste treatment facilities in Inuit communities;
  • build treatment centres for addictions and mental illness in the Arctic;
  • spend more on transportation infrastructure, especially small craft harbours;
  • improve the Arctic's glacier-slow internet connections.

For Nunavut, Simon wants to see a four-year, $300 million renewal of the Nunavut Housing Trust.

ITK says more than 1,000 families in Nunavut are waiting for housing units. Building homes for them creates jobs in the communities while buying millions of dollars worth of Canadian-produced building supplies.

"Inuit still face the worst housing conditions of any group in Canada," Simon said. "Not only does good housing combat against the day to day suffering that bad housing creates, but if properly conceived and delivered, it can generate large spin-off economic benefits in the form of small business development, employment and skills acquisition, reduced health care costs and even better educational outcomes."

ITK is also looking for money to implement the Inuit Education Accord expected to be signed by Inuit organizations, and federal, provincial and territorial governments next month.

The Assembly of First Nations put forward a $4-billion infrastructure pitch that would fund the construction and repair of schools, houses and water systems on reserves, and a repayable loan fund to help First Nation-owned businesses.

After the meeting with first ministers, AFN national chief Phil Fontaine said he was optimistic about what would be included in the upcoming federal budget.

"The themes in our plan were consistently and positively echoed by First Ministers around the table," Fontaine said in a statement.

Simon also called on Harper to hold a first ministers' meeting on aboriginal issues as soon as possible.

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