Quebec poverty strategy moving slowly

Provincial cabinet shuffle delays progress


MONTREAL — Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corporation, would like to see immediate action from Quebec to offset the high cost of living in Nunavik.

Makivik’s suggestions include transportation subsidies to reduce the cost of goods needed for traditional activities, as well as tax exemptions for the sale of goods and services connected with traditional activities.

“I wish we were the government,” Aatami said. “Because then we could really help the people.”

Quebec has promised a new strategy to fight poverty, what the Parti Québecois government calls a “systematic offensive” against poverty. Last month, Nicole Léger, Quebec’s minister responsible for the elimination of poverty, visited Inukjuak and heard about the dire straits of many Nunavimmiut.

A spokesperson for Léger’s office, Marie-Josée Dionne, said officials from Léger’s office have met with their counterparts at Quebec’s native affairs secretariat, Le sécrétariat des affaires autochtones, to see what can be done.

However, Quebec may not move as quickly as expected on its new anti-poverty strategy. In January’s cabinet shuffle, one of the two ministers responsible for developing Quebec’s strategy to fight poverty, Jean Rochon, was switched to another portfolio, and his successor, Linda Goupil, wants more time to study the issue.

Meanwhile, many Nunavimmiut are desperate for jobs and money so they can put food on the table for their families. Elders and middle-aged people who lack formal education find the choice of jobs is very limited and the cost of living is extremely high.

That’s what Aatami heard over and over again during a recent tour of every Nunavik community.

“It’s hard when you go to a community, and they’re crying out for help,” Aatami said.

People who live in Kuujjuaq, the administrative centre of Nunavik, are fairly well-off in terms of job opportunities. But those who live in other places, particularly along the Hudson Bay coast, are not as fortunate.

Aatami said it’s not Kuujjuaq’s fault so many jobs and services are concentrated in a single community. Aatami said federal and provincial governments prefer to put their offices and personnel in a centralized location.

But this lack of decentralization makes finding jobs in other communities much tougher.

“That’s why we have to come up with innovative ways [for economic development],” Aatami said.

By assisting those involved in traditional activities such as hunting and sewing, Aatami said Makivik, as the birthright development corporation for Inuit in Nunavik, is trying to alleviate poverty in the region.

For the past two years, Makivik has distributed about $200,000 a year to hunters, trappers and sewers.

This year, as one way of assisting sewers, Makivik hired women in every Nunavik community to make parkas to be worn by Nunavik’s athletes during the Arctic Winter Games.

Makivik has also distributed $250,000 twice a year to needy residents, through the Kativik Regional Government.

Those in need receive vouchers from their municipal offices that they can exchange for food at local stores.

“It’s really saving lives, but it’s not enough,” Aatami said.

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