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‘Really frustrating’ waiting for government to address inequalities, Qaqqaq says

The federal government is too slow in releasing funds targetted for Covid-19 relief and it’s creating too many barriers for applicants, the territory’s MP said in Parliament Wednesday.

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq says more money is needed for airlines to provide critical services to Nunavut during the Covid-19 pandemic.
photo courtesy of the NDP

“It’s really frustrating to have to stand here and say the same things over and over again and continuously hear over and over again, ‘We know there are inequalities.’ Where is the action?” Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said in the House of Commons on Wednesday. “We hear nice words. Where is the backup for decreasing those gaps and eliminating those barriers?”

Qaqqaq, one of a handful of MPs present in Parliament Wednesday as social distancing is enforced, said more money is needed for airlines, which are an essential “lifeline” for Nunavummiut, bringing in workers and medical supplies and transporting territorial residents. The federal government committed up to $5 million to aid Nunavut airlines in mid-April. Qaqqaq said Canadian North, with drastically reduced passenger loads due to the Covid-19 pandemic, is reportedly losing between $1.5 million-$2 million per week. The government’s funding would be helpful for only a few weeks at that rate, she said.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller recapped Ottawa’s funding pledges but then was cut off by the Speaker due to time constraints.

Qaqqaq also demanded to know when the federal government’s $30.8 million in additional health-care money would be released to Nunavut.

“We are currently in discussions with the Government of Nunavut to flow those funds,” Miller responded. “Again, they know that they do have the financial backing of the Government of Canada.”

Qaqqaq expressed urgency to transfer the promised payment.

“Now with the vulnerability in the communities that I see in my riding, this (virus) has the potential to be much more fatal than many other places throughout Canada,” she said.

Miller noted that the government has already got $45 million out the door to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the land claims organizations “directly to protect the Inuit people and prepare for something, as the members say, that nobody can really predict the outcome of.”

The minister also acknowledged that the pre-existing vulnerabilities in the North are “unacceptable.”

“They are ones that we obviously factor in when we deploy resources, in partnership with territorial organizations and their health boards, in order to prevent the onset of Covid and when it does (appear), to stamp it out,” said Miller.

Qaqqaq also attacked the government for not choosing to give all Canadian $2,000 apiece through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, as the NDP has advocated for several weeks. Jewelers, carvers, performers and musicians may be lacking the documentation and proof to qualify for the program, she said.

“My question is why the government is so keen on creating barriers for individuals when we need to be breaking them down,” she said.

Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of Families, Children and Social Development, defended the government’s actions, describing its Covid-19 support programs as having been developed “quickly” and already helping 7.5 million Canadians.

“We knew there was more to do and that’s why we’ll continue to work,” Duclos said.