A motion by the NDP asking the federal Liberal government to commit funds for completing 250,000 housing units in the next five years was defeated 248 to 46 in the House of Commons Feb. 5.
NDP MPs from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec hosted a press conference Jan. 30 as Parliament resumed sitting to demand government action on what they called a housing crisis in Canada’s First Nations, many of which have homes and other buildings infested with mould.
“The crisis in Cat Lake is a national disgrace, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Timmins–James Bay MP Charlie Angus, referring to an Ontario First Nation that requested government help to address their immediate housing challenges. “Mould in on-reserve housing has been an invisible crisis that the government has known about since at least 2003, when the auditor general blew the whistle. We’re 15 years, one national strategy, and countless crises later now. Communities are still losing homes and people are getting ill.”
Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said Feb. 5 that he had spoken with the Cat Lake chief and that a second meeting was planned for this week to continue planning to address their housing situation.
“I know that residents of Cat Lake need immediate action, as well as long-term solutions,” said O’Regan. “Our government will continue to work in partnership with community leadership and the Windigo Tribal Council on this critical work.”
Quebec First Nations also have housing issues, Abitibi-Baie James-Nunavik-EEyou MP Romeo Saganash said Jan. 30, and the federal government has a responsibility to alleviate them.
“Canada has signed many international human rights treaties and other instruments that it is obliged to fulfill,” said Saganash. “The prime minister has already acknowledged the right to adequate housing, and he must realize that Canada is obligated to provide housing to certain vulnerable or marginalized people. Certainly, given Canada’s history, this applies to northern and Indigenous communities. This Liberal government must stop discriminating against Indigenous Peoples.”
Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River MP Georgina Jolibois from northern Saskatchewan said mould had become the standard in many Indigenous communities.
“People have stopped reporting the mould in their homes simply because they know nothing will be done about it, so it’s not worth trying anymore,” said Jolibois. “Homes in the North are built to the standard of homes in the south, but there are very different climate and housing needs. The Liberal government need to be proactive. We have solutions and need funding, not new studies.”
Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton said Northern Manitoba First Nations are seeing their housing situation get worse because Indigenous populations are younger and faster-growing than the Canadian average, and already-crowded homes are getting more overcrowded.
“The demands on housing, on services are growing and yet the housing stock is stagnant,” she said Jan. 30. “The investments are not taking place the way they need to and as a result the pressure on the system is becoming greater and things are getting worse. It is a direct result of chronic underfunding of First Nations year after year by Liberal and Conservative governments.”
Following the defeat of the NDP’s housing motion, which also called for an additional 250,000 housing units to be built over the next 10 years in addition to the same number over the next five years, Ashton said the Liberal government is more concerned about rich cronies than suffering Indigenous people.
“The truth is, Liberals are quick to give billions in corporate tax giveaways and spend billions more on a pipeline,” she said. “But what people in Northern Manitoba need right now is safe and affordable housing. They can’t wait any longer.”
The Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP brought the subject up once more in question period Feb. 6.
“My question to the prime minister is, does he not know that this housing crisis is literally making people sick and when will his government go from talking and move to action to address the housing crisis on First Nations now?”
“When we got elected in 2015 we heard loudly and clearly from Canadians that they wanted a renewal of the relationship and investment in Indigenous peoples that would begin to close the gaps and the inequalities that exist within Canada and that’s something we set about doing from the very beginning,” replied Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “We have since lifted 78 long-term boil water advisories in Indigenous communities. We have opened hundreds of new schools, we’ve invested in new health centres and yes, we are investing in hundreds and even, indeed, thousands of new housing units right across the country in Indigenous communities.”