On August 2, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a trip to Iqaluit for a photo-op during which he laid out his government’s alleged commitment to building new housing in Nunavut. The territory is in the midst of a severe and worsening housing crisis with Premier Joe Savikataaq saying in 2018, “We need between 3,000 to 3,330 houses right now. We are not even keeping up with today’s demand and every day that demand is growing.” This crisis is anticipated to be exacerbated in the future by the fact that Nunavut has the country’s fastest growing population.
While the Liberals have “pledged $200 million and promised nearly $510 million over the next nine years for the territory,” according to the CBC, “Nunavut…has a waiting list of nearly 5,000 people for public housing, and, with existing money, it will take 60 years to house those who currently need homes.”
As an example of how inadequate the government response really is, at current levels the funding “in the 2019-2020 fiscal year will build 83 houses.”
Considerable funds will also be required to maintain existing housing and, according to Iqaluit Senator Dennis Patterson, “challenges like mould and unstable foundations [are] becoming more prevalent as the permafrost beneath buildings in the North melts” due to climate change.
By any estimation this is a critical humanitarian issue, and yet the government is failing utterly to address it in a meaningful way. It is even more disturbing in the context of the housing and clean water issues affecting Indigenous communities across the country, that have been ignored for decades due to government indifference, racism and colonialism.
While, no doubt, Trudeau and the Liberals would cite the fact that funding has increased dramatically versus the nearly criminal neglect of the Harper years, and while they would also undoubtedly try to frame the pledges as reasonable in the present fiscal context, the money to build the needed housing much more quickly absolutely exists.
How do we know this?
In May 2018, when Kinder Morgan was going to walk away from the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion due to the opposition of the BC government and Indigenous peoples, as well as delays resulting from court decisions and environmental concerns, the Trudeau government stepped in immediately to buy the pipeline for $4.5 billion. Even the Globe and Mail deemed this an “extraordinary step.”
$4.5 billion would build a lot of housing. Instead it is being used to try to ensure the expansion of a pipeline that will benefit huge multinational corporations and help sustain the environmentally disastrous Alberta tar sands. It is true that there are many jobs connected to the oil and gas sector of the economy, but it is widely accepted that developments like the tar sands are totally unsustainable even in the short term if Canada is to meet critical climate emergency prevention targets.
The billions used here and through other industry subsidies as corporate welfare could be redirected to creating a green energy sector and transitioning workers to new jobs in environmentally beneficial projects with a long-term future. Building housing and clean water facilities creates jobs as well.
The purchase of Trans Mountain from Kinder Morgan makes one thing crystal clear: When mainstream, bourgeois politicians tell you the money is not there to meet housing and other essential human needs, they are lying.
The money is there. It is just that the government places the needs of corporations ahead of those of people.
Michael Laxer is a writer and activist in Toronto. He is the founder and editor of the blog The Left Chapter.