Twenty-ninth Report of National Finance Committee on Subject Matter—Debate Concluded
1st Session, 42nd Parliament
Volume 150, Issue 224
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the twenty-ninth report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, which speaks to Bill C-74, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 27, 2018 and other measures.
On February 9, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new Inuit-Crown Partnership and, along with Inuit leaders representing the four land claim beneficiary groups and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Inuit Nunangat Declaration was signed. This document set out a broad framework for addressing the many concerns of Inuit Nunangat and established a joint process for tackling the massive amount of work to be done. The declaration recognizes and affirms the inherent rights of Inuit. It clearly acknowledges that the prosperity of Inuit leads to the prosperity of Canada as a whole. In particular, it recognizes:
. . . the disproportionate socio-economic and cultural inequity facing Inuit compared to most other Canadians, and committing to working in partnership to create socio-economic and cultural equity between Inuit and other Canadians. This commitment includes energetically and creatively pursuing the socio-economic, cultural, and environmental conditions of success through the full implementation of land claims agreements as well as reconciliation . . . .
On March 29, 2018, the government released a set of shared priorities that had been identified through the collaborative process. Amongst them was a call for “Long-term funding to support housing in Nunavut and an Inuit-led housing plan in the Inuit regions of Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, and Inuvialuit Settlement Region.”
These announcements raised expectations and gave hope that our dismal housing situation in the North would be on its way to being rectified.
However, I am sorry to say, honourable senators, that my hopes have been dashed. Budget 2018 contained a section entitled “Supporting Inuit Priorities” and announced “$400 million over 10 years for housing in the Inuit regions of Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and Inuvialuit to help address significant overcrowding and repair needs in Inuit communities.”
First and foremost, I would note that my home territory of Nunavut is not listed in that group despite being the largest of the four claims and regions that make up Inuit Nunangat.
Second, I would invite honourable senators to do the math on the amount announced. Each region would be awarded a portion of $40 million each year. With houses, unfortunately, because of our remoteness, single detached units — a little less for multiplex units — are costing $400,000 or $500,000 each, and this falls far short of addressing the well-documented housing shortfalls throughout those regions.
In 2016, the Standing Senate Committee Aboriginal Peoples studied the state of housing in Inuit Nunangat. I must take this opportunity to thank Senator Dyck and colleagues on that committee for leading our committee throughout this important major study and for visiting those regions to see for themselves the overcrowded housing conditions: the mould, the more than 20 people sleeping in shifts in a three-bedroom home, the plywood shack we saw that had been built behind a house in Igloolik where a small family pushed out of the overcrowded house lived in winter conditions with an infant in uninsulated plywood shacks.
Senator Dyck and I saw the shack. Our report, entitled We Can Do Better: Housing in Inuit Nunangat, found that the average cost of constructing a home was between $400,000 and $550,000. If we take the higher of those two numbers, it means that Budget 2018 actually provides for 73 new homes throughout three of the four Inuit regions.
Our report found that there is a deficit of approximately 3,400 units throughout the region. Add to that the fact that the 2016 Census revealed that the Indigenous population has a growth rate more than four times the growth rate of the non-Indigenous population, with the Inuit population growing 26 per cent over a 10-year period as opposed to the non-Indigenous population growing at 8 per cent over the same period.
Colleagues, 72 units per year for three of the four Inuit regions in need does not come close to keeping pace with the high population growth rate.
I was surprised to be so disappointed, considering the numerous announcements made by this government to address the issues of Inuit. This makes me alarmed as I carry with me a great amount of hope that the social implications of legalized cannabis for Nunavut’s fragile social fabric will be addressed appropriately.
There will be $200 million over five years in Budget 2018 for Indigenous mental health services. Representatives from the Pujualussait Proposal in Pangnirtung were in the chamber when Bill C-45 was addressed. They heard the promises made by Minister Philpott and Minister Petitpas Taylor that they would address the needs of the Aboriginal peoples for mental health and addictions services; that they would respond to the observations made by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples that Aboriginal people, having suffered trauma in their lives, are vulnerable to mental health impacts from cannabis; and that there is a high correlation between Aboriginal youth required to go to treatment centres in the South where they are available — a correlation as high as 70 per cent with heavy cannabis use.
I would like to thank Minister Philpott for having met with me recently to better understand the problem and for having had her officials meet with representatives of the community of Pangnirtung, where they have had experience in training Inuit community health workers and mental health workers, and establishing community wellness programs.
The folks from Pangnirtung told me that in January 12 young women made attempts to take their own lives, and there have been suicides there since. The community is in crisis; the Minister of Health for Nunavut described that community as being in crisis. Sadly, that is all too representative of many communities in my region of Nunavut, where, as I’ve said in this chamber before, we have frequent standoffs with the RCMP, where SWAT teams have to be flown in and the community put in lockdown. This is a regular occurrence, colleagues. These are mental health issues.
There was one in Sanikiluaq just last week. The whole community suffered the stress of an anguished young person with a rifle, putting the whole community on lockdown.
These needs are urgent, honourable colleagues. I want to say, in speaking to the budget, that I am terribly disappointed in the failure to respond to the urgent housing needs that were outlined very thoroughly and thoughtfully by the Standing Senate Committee of Aboriginal Peoples. Housing is fundamental to education and employment. How can kids do homework when there are 23 people in a three-bedroom house, sleeping in shifts? Why do we have a TB epidemic in Nunavut? It’s largely because of overcrowded housing. I haven’t even mentioned the other health issues there are in Nunavut, including infant respiratory syndrome.
Colleagues, I know we’re nearing the end of our deliberations and our session, but I am grateful for the opportunity to alert you to the fact that we are not making progress in dealing with the fundamental issue of housing, despite the promises of reconciliation; reaching out to Inuit; and addressing the disproportionate socio-economic and cultural inequity facing Inuit compared to most other Canadians, as recited in the Inuit Nunangat declaration. This budget does not reflect any progress or any response to the Inuit Nunangat declaration that is meaningful to my constituents who are suffering every day from overcrowded housing and all of the implications that flow from that.
I am hopeful that we will be making some progress on the mental wellness, community wellness, and mental health and addictions treatment services that are so sorely needed and that have to be delivered by Inuit to be effective. That was an observation made by the Aboriginal Peoples Committee. Of course, it applies to Aboriginal peoples all across the country.
Colleagues, I appreciate the opportunity to tell you that we are still waiting for results from the promised reconciliation with Inuit. Thank you.