Where housing is concerned, even old news is good news

Nunavut politicians give Godfrey’s recycled message a good-natured reception



About 30 good-natured politicians clapped politely for visiting Infrastructure Secretary of State John Godfrey last Thursday, even though the “announcement” he delivered was old news.

Twenty-five minutes of podium speeches revealed only that the Canada-Nunavut Strategic Infrastructure Fund would put $40 million into social housing across the territory.

“It’s a good thing — we already spent the money,” said one member of the audience who works for the Nunavut Housing Corp.

The funding was originally announced in October, 2003.

But any progress on Nunavut’s chronic housing shortages is viewed in a positive light.

Johnny Ningeongan, mayor of Coral Harbour and president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, said he was pleased that the fund will distribute 160 new social housing units in all of Nunavut’s communities.

Ningeongan was also “very encouraged” to see that NAM was included in short- and long-term infrastructure planning. Godfrey’s first stop on his trip to Nunavut was dinner with the NAM executive. The next day, he met with them again, along with Housing Minister Peter Kilabuk.

“Basically our thoughts were being rubber-stamped,” Ningeongan said.

Several politicians crowded into the foyer of the Legislative Assembly said Godfrey’s visit would have a positive impact on the territory. Godfrey managed to pack a community infrastructure tour into his tight, three-day schedule.

High winds ruled out a planned trip to Pangnirtung, where a community infrastructure tour had been planned for the minister. Instead, a flight was arranged to sunny Kimmirut later that morning, where Godfrey managed a short hamlet tour before hopping back on a plane 45 minutes later.

The opportunity to see a remote, northern community was not lost on the minister.

“Obviously the most significant challenge with the growing population in Nunavut is housing,” Godfrey said. “I have been made aware of it now in a dramatic and personal way.”

The Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund, which contributed $20 million to the $40 million housing fund for Nunavut, is not generally used for social housing. In other parts of the country, the fund is spent on public transit, highways and tourism infrastructure projects.

An exception was made for Nunavut, where the housing shortage makes new homes a vital infrastructure need.

In his speech Kilabuk and Godfrey acknowledged that $40 million only goes so far.

“Over half of Nunavut’s Inuit live in overcrowded conditions… this is not acceptable. It is crucial to remember that in Nunavut our social housing units are home to over half our population,” Kilabuk said.

“People with diverse housing needs must be accommodated within social housing because there are almost no other choices. An important example is our homeless population — people who would be out on the streets if they lived anywhere else in Canada.”

Addressing a number of dignitaries — including Senator Willie Adams, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Jose Kusugak, Nunavut Tunngavik president Paul Kaludjak, MP Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the NAM executive and several MLAs — Godfrey also promised future announcements related to Paul Martin’s Northern Strategy.

“Things are on track for an announcement on the consolidated approach of the northern strategy this spring,” he said. “And as you know, there are many key issues to be addressed to properly meet the unique needs of the North.”

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