Northern affairs minister hints at more housing money for Nunavut

“We hear the message loud and clear that it’s a priority”

Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal speaks at the Northern Lights conference and trade show in Ottawa this past Feb. 5. (Photo by Lisa Gregoire)

By Jim Bell

The implementation of the Liberal government’s new Arctic and northern policy framework likely means that Ottawa will have to put more money into housing for Nunavut, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal told Nunatsiaq News this week.

“We want to put teeth into that framework with some funding for housing. We hear the message loud and clear that it’s a priority,” Vandal said in a telephone interview from Rankin Inlet.

Vandal made his first visit to Nunavut as Northern Affairs Minister this past Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, when he visited Rankin Inlet and Arviat and met with Premier Joe Savikataaq and other regional leaders.

He also visited participants in Arviat’s young hunters program, which has received $1.23 million in funding from the federal government.

The Liberal government released its Arctic policy framework last September, the day before the federal election campaign kicked off, with no implementation plan for its numerous recommendations.

Now, that plan will be “co-implemented” in the same way that the framework itself had been co-developed with 25 Indigenous organizations and six territorial and provincial governments, Vandal said.

And he said that in meetings and briefings he’s attended since taking on the Northern Affairs portfolio, housing has emerged as a top priority.

“You know what? Everywhere I go, people, they talk about housing as being a priority for the North,” he said.

He also referred to the Liberal government’s national housing strategy, released in 2017, calling it “Canada’s most ambitious housing program.”

But in Nunavut, the federal government has made no new commitments to social housing construction since 2017, when they promised about $240 million, spread out over 10 years.

Nunavut government officials have said that doesn’t come close to meeting the territory’s need: 3,100 units. That needs gap means about 5,000 people, or 2,500 families, don’t have adequate housing.

But Vandal said he understands that implementing the Arctic policy framework means his government must spend more on the North.

“There’s a lot of policy areas within the framework and we know at the end of the day, it’s going to cost money to actually implement some of those policies, whether its transportation, or infrastructure, or housing,” he said.

Concrete dollars for treatment centre

As for Nunavut’s planned addictions and trauma recovery centre, there’s no uncertainty over the federal government’s willingness to help fund its construction and continued operation.

Repeating promises that the federal government made last August when they signed an agreement to build the facility, Vandal said Ottawa’s commitment is rock solid.

“We are working positively with Nunavut Tunngavik on a comprehensive Inuit-driven approach to address substance abuse and trauma in Nunavut. We are 100-per-cent committed to that treatment centre,” he said.

That means the federal government will put at least $47.5 million into the centre for construction, and spend up to $9.5 million dollars a year for five years to cover its operating costs.

And NTI, through the Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corp., which it controls, will put in $11.85 million over five years to train Inuit counsellors.

As for the Government of Nunavut’s desire to build high-level extended-care homes in the territory, Vandal said he’s talked about that issue with Premier Joe Savikataaq at a meeting in Ottawa.

But though he looks forward to talking about the elder care issue, he said “we haven’t reached a conclusion on that subject yet.”

Vandal, the Liberal MP for Saint Boniface-Saint Vital in Winnipeg and a citizen of the Métis Nation, describes himself as a “proud Manitoban.”

For that reason, he said he strongly supports a proposal to build a Kivalliq-Manitoba hydro-electric line and fibre optic link.

“I think it would be a great, great partnership to get that done,” Vandal said.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    Not trying to throw a monkey wrench on your housing plans, why not look into curbing the astronomical birth rate in Nunavut?
    The Governments and the private sector simply cannot keep up. By the time those 3,100 units are finally built, the territory will need 3,100 more at the present rate of babies being born.
    When a child is pregnant with a baby, I often wonder how that unborn will be housed. Most likely with their grandparents unit considering the overcrowded houses in all the communities. Those kids don’t even have parenting skills.
    The territory needs to change its view of birth control. Young Inuit mothers are just proud to become grandmothers once their child gives birth.
    We are no longer living in the old times where a tribe needed as many helping hands in order to succeed. Inuit also have to stop looking at more Child Tax if they get a newborn.

    • Posted by Crisis numbers on

      You would have to be naive to look at the living conditions of most families in Nunavut and act like this is not a housing crisis. The other end of the stick, though, is that Nunavut also has the highest birth rate in Canada. 16 year old girls getting pregnant because they think they are in “love”, then dropping out of school, having their boyfriend run off on them, and then they are 20-years old, 3 kids, no education and no job. It is a vicious cycle that people need to speak up about.

      • Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

        The first two comments, on a link between housing problems and high birth rates, are shockingly misguided.
        If the population of Nunavut did not change at all for the next half century, the territory would still be 3,000 units behind now, and the situation would get worse as children grew up and needed their own places while older housing deteriorated. The present situation is a crisis, and you don’t wave it aside because of concern for how many babies people are having!
        Secondly, this is Canada, not China. We don’t pressure people to limit family size.
        Thirdly, the complaints are targeted at young Inuit girls – taints of racism, sexism.
        There are very good reasons to educate young people of both sexes and any race to delay having children until education is complete and both parents can participate in raising the children, but the need for housing is not one of them.

      • Posted by Inuk Person on

        Human beings are animals, they defend their territory and start wars with others if anyone tries to take their land and/or resources. Humans also have biological needs, just like the animals, and have the urge to pass on their genes and reproduce. Inuit, and other races, will always produce offspring when they’re biologically capable. It’s in their genes. It’s their individual choice, you have no right to tell them to stop producing children.
        The housing crisis would not have happened if the Government of Canada/NWT had immediately acted when the arctic became part of Canada in 1872 (Rupert’s Land bought by Canada and became NWT). Instead, they left the arctic people alone until the 1940s. When the Inuit began to move to settlements, the government promised free or cheap housing. The arctic is Canada’s neglected child, it’s better off if the arctic became the possession of another country.

  2. Posted by Still not the answer on

    Once those units are built, say 3000, the average annual cost to maintain each is 26,000.00. That is a lot of annual funding that needs a revenue stream. Anyone who thinks this is sustainable is living in a dream world. The answer is promote education, jobs, development of resources and become self reliant.

    • Posted by Yes on

      I agree, and add to that ways of making home ownership more accessible.

  3. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Governments deal with the housing issue like it is one that throwing money will fix, when nothing could be farther form the truth. Even if the GN and the Feds miraculously came up with the billion or so dollars needed to house everyone in the territory those houses need to maintained and heated and repaired. Where is that money going to come from? Nunavut can’t expect the Feds to be endlessly pouring money into the housing black hole. More Nunavummiut need to buy and own their own homes that means better jobs and better educational outcomes not just handouts for housing.

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