The agreement announced last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to spend millions on social and community housing in Nunavut marks progress but is not a solution to the problem, said one northern senator.
In an interview with the West Block’s Mike Le Couteur, Conservative Sen. Dennis Patterson, who represents Iqaluit in the Senate, said the $290 million over eight years to “protect, renew and expand” housing in the North is only a start to solving the broader problems posed by lack of affordable housing in the region.
“This is a great step forward,” said Patterson, who is also a former premier of the Northwest Territories and worked on the campaign to create the territory of Nunavut in 1999.
“But more work needs to be done.”
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There are roughly 4,900 people on waiting lists for affordable housing in the territory.
But officials said last week during the trip by Trudeau to Nunavut that the territory needs about 3,000 additional units to meet the existing demand.
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Patterson pointed to the challenge of climate change as one that is aggravating the housing supply problem in the region, with challenges like mould and unstable foundations becoming more prevalent as the permafrost beneath buildings in the North melts.
Both were issues he raised in a Senate report released in June, titled, Northern Lights: A Wake-Up Call for the Future of Canada.
That report examined the “significant and rapid changes to the Arctic and impacts on original inhabitants,” and called for significant investment in infrastructure and resource development both to support the individuals living in the North and to help reduce dependencies on the federal government.
“Right now there’s only one port on the whole Northwest Passage and another one being built some distance away in Iqaluit as a commitment from the previous government,” Patterson stressed.
“We rely on satellite communication with no fibre optics and no backup. We have total reliance in Nunavut on diesel power with no alternate energy sources or backup. So there’s a need for Canada to invest in the Arctic just as we’re busy investing in shortening commuter times in southern Canada.
“We don’t want to be so dependent on Canada.”
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Nunavut has the fastest-growing and youngest population in the country, according to census data from Statistics Canada.
Between 2011 and 2016, its population grew by 12.7 per cent and, for the first time, it boasted more residents than the neighbouring Northwest Territories.
That’s because the fertility rate in Nunavut stands at an average of 2.9 children per woman in her lifetime, compared to the national average of 1.6.
Nunavut maintained its fastest-growing status in the 2018 numbers released in March 2019.
— With files from the Canadian Press.