The Liberals promised Monday to pour billions of dollars into housing and mental health for Indigenous communities if re-elected, a move they said would help address long-standing gaps in supports for both urban and rural communities.
The party unveiled a plan to spend $2 billion over four years on housing for First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities — with more than half flowing in time for the upcoming summer construction season — as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau greeted supporters at a campaign rally in Iqaluit.
The plan would see another $300 million allocated to co-developing a housing strategy for Indigenous urban, rural and northern communities, in partnership with Indigenous organizations.
The Liberals have long highlighted funding for urban Indigenous housing providers as the missing piece of the national housing strategy, but did not include any such measures in their latest budget. Housing providers have been asking for specific funding to meet their needs.
The Liberals also promised an additional $1.4 billion over five years for a mental health and wellness strategy to be developed with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Nation. The sum would be on top of previously announced funding of more than $597 million, they said.
Speaking at an outdoor rally, Trudeau said the funding will ensure that Inuit get “properly cultural, sensitive, grounded supports” they need.
“We saw during this pandemic mental health is a huge challenge, but it continues to be and we need to be there to support each other,” he said.
Before Trudeau addressed the crowd, he made his way through it, posing for photos in close proximity with children and adults, masked and unmasked. Trudeau himself wore a mask at all times.
As of July 30, masks are no longer mandatory in Nunavut, which has no active cases of COVID-19. Their use remains strongly encouraged, however.
Rebecca Veevee was among several Iqaluit elders who met Trudeau on Monday. When asked how she felt about his trip to Nunavut, Veevee replied, “About time.”
Veevee said she met the Liberal leader five years ago during a previous visit to Iqaluit, but she thinks federal politicians should make more of an effort to visit the territory.
“Sometimes we need help… we talk about it but nobody listens,” Veevee said.
Like Veevee, Grise Fiord resident Anne Akeeagok said she was happy to see the Liberal leader make the trip up North.
“I think it’s great that we’re not forgotten,” Akeeagok said.
For her, Trudeau’s announcement was good news, but she said she wants to see words followed up with actions. “Even if you put a lot of money into housing, you have to find money to maintain them,” she said.
Cedric Bohemier, who grew up in Iqaluit, sat among a crowd of other residents gathered in a semicircle outside Iqaluit’s elders home as kids and a few loose dogs ducked in and out of sight.
Bohemier said meeting Trudeau outside the elders home made things feel personal.
“There’s not bars and chains in the way. It feels like an open discussion,” Bohemier said.
The early evening announcement capped off a day that also saw the Liberal leader stop in Granby, Que., to pledge $1 billion over a decade to protect and restore Canada’s big lakes and river systems.
A re-elected Liberal government would also build on its budget commitments by fully funding the creation of a new Canada Water Agency to co-ordinate freshwater initiatives, with a launch set for next year, Trudeau said.
The 2021 budget allocated $17.4 million over two years to begin work in preparation of the agency’s launch and in establishing the scope of its mandate.
Trudeau branded his party’s new campaign commitments on the environment as a continuation of work started six years ago when they were first elected, warning that if the Conservatives come to power the fight against climate change would be compromised.
Trudeau said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole would set Canada back to the era of former Tory prime minister Stephen Harper, who was defeated in 2015.
Trudeau said voters face a choice of supporting his plan, which he said had the backing of environmental organizations, or “going back to the Harper targets, going back to the Harper approach on the environment under Mr. O’Toole.”
The Liberal leader also said he planned to release his party’s platform in the coming days. He has been under attack from his political opponents on the federal campaign trail for not doing that.
Trudeau needs to make inroads in Quebec if he wants to make gains in this election, so he also took aim at the environmental stewardship of his Bloc Quebecois opponent, Yves-Francois Blanchet, for his record while in his previous job as Quebec’s provincial environment minister.
Trudeau defended his government’s decision to fund the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, saying his new plan is dedicated to stopping the rise of carbon emissions from Alberta’s oilsands.
“But the industry knows that and indeed Albertans, and people in the energy industry have always been innovative and leaders in figuring out new solutions to move forward in the right way,” he said.
The freshwater funding promised Monday will first go toward initiatives involving the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River System, Lake Simcoe, the Lake Winnipeg Basin, the Fraser River Basin, and the Mackenzie River Basin, the Liberals said.
The announcement also included $37.5 million in funding over six years for freshwater research at the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Experimental Lakes Area, a natural laboratory in northwestern Ontario that the party said is the only place in the world where experiments are conducted on real lakes.
Trudeau was able to make his announcements Monday free of the hecklers and protesters that disrupted his two previous campaign appearances in Ontario.
— with files from Emma Tranter