Coping with poverty in Nunavut
As the recent near closure of Iqaluit’s homeless shelter clearly demonstrates, Nunavut’s ability to cope with the immense problems of the poor is severely limited.
We know as well that the Nunavut government’s bargain basement budget provides few policy options – especially those that require more money.
Like it or not, Nunavut’s government just doesn’t have enough money to do what ought to be done. For now, we have no choice but to do only what is possible.
The creation of Nunavut on April 1 left a proud glow in everyone’s hearts. But if Nunavut’s political leaders refuse to acknowledge Nunavut’s social realities, the glow will quickly dissipate.
So far, the creation of Nunavut has brought economic benefits to a select few – those who have been lucky enough to find lucrative jobs and contracts within the new land claim bureacracies and within the Nunavut government. Many of these people are non-Inuit newcomers.
For the great majority, however, Nunavut has brought no concrete benefits. The value of new-found hope and new-found pride cannot be underestimated. But pride and hope alone are not enough to pay the rent and put food on the table. Pride and hope alone will not be enough to stave off the inevitable social conflicts that Nunavut’s growing class divisions will inevitably produce.
So what can Nunavut’s underfunded government do? Here are a few suggestions:
· Develop a better knowledge base.
New policies should be based on accurate, objective facts, not vague assumptions. The Nunavut government needs to encourage and sponsor more research into the causes and effects of poverty in Nunavut. For example, we know far too little about the relationships between poverty and things like mental illness, substance abuse, malnutrition, and crime.
· Acknowledge that Nunavut is poor and underdeveloped.
Too many Nunavut leaders react with childish defensiveness when confronted with the incontrovertible fact that Nunavut is – socially and economically – the weakest of Canada’s provinces and territories. Real leaders do not evade reality. They face it, then act upon their knowledge of it.
· Stop blaming the poor for being on welfare.
Yes, there are a few people who abuse the social assistance system. But the majority have no choice, espcially those who are physcially or mentally disabled, or those who cannot fit into the new yuppie-dominated world of computers, sterile offices and advanced education.
· Go back to Ottawa for more money.
Nunavut’s formula financing agreement contains a provision that allows it to be re-opened after two years. Nunavut government officials should gather as much evidence as they can to support a more generous agreement, especially one that allows Nunavut to at least meet the basic needs of the poor.
It’s also imperative that Ottawa reinstate funding for the construction of new social housing in Nunavut. If not, our housing crisis will one day turn into a catastrophe.JB