'Your visit tells us Canada is serious about the North.'

Tories praised for helping Nunavut with housing


The job of convincing members of parliament to pass the federal budget is done, so all that's left for Conservative cabinet ministers now is photo opportunities.

Chuck Strahl, the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut's MP and the federal health minister, toured a social housing construction site in Iqaluit Feb. 19, with Strahl deftly slicing a piece of lumber with a circular saw.

They also basked in praise from the Government of Nunavut, grateful for $100 million more in badly-needed housing money that was included in the Jan. 27 federal budget.

"Your visit tells us again that Canada is serious about the North," said Eva Aariak, the premier, speaking to Strahl and Aglukkaq during a news conference at the legislative assembly.

The House of Commons passed the Conservative government's budget earlier this month, guaranteeing Nuna­vut will get $100 million over two years to build roughly 300 more houses. Northern housing ministers have said they'd like a long-term funding plan for housing, but no one who strode to the podium Feb. 19 viewed the current commitment by Ottawa as anything but good news.

"This is an installment payment," said Housing Minister Hunter Tootoo, praising the federal government for putting "their money where their mouth is."

"We'd start [building houses] today if we didn't have to worry about shipping stuff up," Tootoo said.

Aglukkaq said the housing money is part of an integrated Northern strategy designed to improve the quality of life of Northerners.

"This begins at home, making it all the more important to have the housing needs of rapidly growing Northern communities be met."

Aariak said every new house in Nunavut helps ease other social ills that plague the territory's health and education systems. The new homes, she said, will be more energy efficient and feature culturally sensitive designs.

And Strahl described the arrangement as an example of federal and territorial partnerships. Ottawa provides the money, he said, but Nunavut knows what its own needs are.

"We recognize that from an Ottawa perspective, we can't get the job done," he said.

But the housing money is also billed as part of a massive package designed to get the Canadian economy, now mired in recession, growing again. As Aariak noted, half of the $100 million will end up flowing back down South with the purchase of construction materials and other supplies.

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