National housing minister makes Nunavut wait

“We’ve lost a year already. I don’t want to see any more time lost”


He didn’t say yes, and he didn’t say no.

That means Joe Fontana, the federal housing minister, will make the people of Nunavut wait a little longer before he gives a clear answer to a $1.9 billion Inuit-specific housing proposal submitted nearly a year ago by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Government of Nunavut.

Fontana slipped in and out of Nunavut late last week in a three-day, low-profile tour of Rankin Inlet, Whale Cove, Chesterfield Inlet and Iqaluit.

NTI President Paul Kaludjak, who met with Fontana in Rankin Inlet on Aug. 18, said the housing minister made no definite promises but did say the federal government may make a decision on the GN-NTI proposal next month.

But that does little to ease Kaludjak’s growing frustration with how long it’s taking the federal government to respond.

“We’ve lost a year already. I don’t want to see any more time lost,” Kaludjak said.

This past June, Kaludjak, and Jose Kusugak, the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, got so tired of waiting they went over Fontana’s head and appealed directly to Prime Minister Paul Martin.

In their letter to Martin, dated June 24, Kaludjak and Kusugak asked Martin to “personally intervene” and order Fontana to act on the plan, which, by then, had been in Fontana’s hands for more than 10 months.

“We stressed to him that our proposal was not getting the fast-track. There was a level of frustration at how slow it is going,” Kaludjak said.

After joining forces on the issue in 2003, NTI and the GN worked on their Inuit housing proposal for a year and a half before presenting it to the federal government in September of 2004.

The plan calls on Ottawa to spend $1.9 billion over the next 10 years on the following:

* 3,000 new housing units to catch up with Nunavut’s current need and to reduce overcrowding;
* 2,730 units – 273 a year for 10 years – to keep pace with the growth of Nunavut’s Inuit population;
* the renovation of 1,000 existing units, 200 units a year for five years;
* a $400 million contribution over 10 years to cover the operation and maintenance costs of the new units.

A new body called the Inuit Social Housing Trust would be created to administer the scheme, with a board of directors drawn from Inuit organizations, the Nunavut Housing Corp. and the federal and territorial governments.

Kaludjak said that in their meeting last week, Fontana did not commit to any dollar figures, but did say that “it will be difficult to get the $1.9 billion.”

But Kaludjak also said Fontana told him that the federal government is working on an “implementation plan” for the proposal – a sign that something, at least, is in the works.

By the end of the week, however, Kaludjak was just as frustrated as he was before.

“When we have not made any gains you slowly lose confidence in the current system in Ottawa,” Kaludjak said.

Meanwhile, Fontana did announce a reorganization of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s northern functions.

On July 1, an entity called CMHC Northern Housing started up – from an office in Calgary.

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