It’s been a couple of tough years, hasn’t it?
On the surface, things have stayed very much the same as they were before the pandemic arrived, threatening to cripple our fragile Northern healthcare systems.
There are still not enough jobs to go around, not enough housing – even if you were lucky enough to be hired for one of the rare GN positions outside Iqaluit – and there’s not enough trained Inuit to fill the rosters of education and health staff to help mitigate turnover and provide these essential services in the language of the territory.
We had hundreds of millions of dollars pledged at all levels of government to help solve these many issues: in September 2020, the Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC) announced it had secured $265 million in funding over the next nine years from the National Housing Strategy, which translates to about 700 new housing units across the territory.
The plan was to build 227 new public residences from 2020 to 2022. As it turns out, 116 new houses were built during the 2020-21 fiscal year. NHC used a $60.5-million budget to construct 114 housing units this past year.
More than $3 million was spent on maintenance and improvement of existing housing stock in five communities as well.
A 2010 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation survey found that 49 per cent of occupied dwellings were overcrowded, with a housing shortfall of 3,800 units across the territory. So, while it’s good that NHC has stayed on track and delivered 230 units, the availability of housing will simply never catch up with demand at this pace.
This urgent need must be met with urgent action. How much longer can Nunavummiut be expected to stay on the never-shortening housing wait lists?
Of course, as Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell pointed out recently, housing is only a small piece of the problem, when existing water and sewage infrastructure cannot support population growth.
Unless the chronic water shortages that Iqaluit has faced since 2005 are fixed, the City won’t be able to sufficiently address things such as much needed housing or the city’s growth.
“We can’t open land for housing because there’s not enough water for more people. We’re in a serious situation,” said Bell.
As far as education is concerned, retiring teacher Sarah Ayaruak of Rankin Inlet called for more educators from within Nunavut, saying she hopes to see more community members become educators and school supervisors.
“We need more local educators,” she said. “We understand where the students come from, and I think that connection is better for students with their own people.”
Nunavut’s newly-elected MLAs set five priorities for the sixth Legislative Assembly: implementing a comprehensive Elder care strategy; reinvesting in education; enhancing health, mental health and addictions services; expanding housing; and diversifying the economy.
The first session of the 6th Legislative Assembly is scheduled to convene on Feb. 21. The bar must be set high as these issues have been on the table for years. Progress is desperately needed.