Mr. Speaker, I am always honoured to rise in the House to discuss things that are important to my riding. It is also always nice to hear the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, who is an excellent speaker.
I have been representing the people of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for more than seven and a half years now. I have toured the riding, which is one of the largest in Canada. It covers more than half of Quebec. When I met with leaders in the Far North, indigenous or not, the first item on the agenda was always housing, without exception. I therefore find the motion moved by my colleague from Saskatoon West to be absolutely relevant because this is an urgent matter. I thank her.
I want to tell my colleagues first about a student in my riding. His name is Ken Cameron. His Inuktitut name is Papikatuk. Ken comes from the community of Salluit, about as far north as a person can travel in my riding. A couple of years ago, Ken was in secondary 4 when I spoke at his school. Yesterday, he reached out to me, asking why the government does not care about natives at all. Those are his words. Ken wants to know why the government is using the natural resources in his home while treating natives like “dirt”. He wrote:
You tried everything to become a politician in Quebec. When you talk about Quebec in general, do you think about the people in northern Quebec?
The population in the north continues to rise while northern communities have no additional housing. Established northern communities simply cannot accommodate this number of people, which is creating a dangerously high level of overcrowding in our communities. Many housing units have problems with mould, need major repairs or are simply too small for families.
The lack of housing in Inuit communities is at a crisis level. Just over 100 houses are built each year, but never enough to meet the housing needs of the region. Nunavik needs 800 units today to eliminate the housing shortage, and that number is not being addressed. A housing construction program needs to be established to eliminate the overcrowding in Inuit communities.
The Director of Public Health for the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services concluded in his report that “the problems of housing and overcrowding in Nunavik constitute a major risk factor for the population's physical and psychosocial health.” His prediction came to pass in 2012, when there was an outbreak of active tuberculosis in Nunavik, with over 90 cases of the disease reported.
One year ago, the Prime Minister said that, "Housing rights are human rights and everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home”. Those were his words. However, the government has not proven that statement to the members of my riding.
The NDP has long advocated for housing as a human right, in keeping with Canada's obligations as a signatory to the international treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Speaking of human rights, article 21 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the following:
Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security.
Article 23 of the UN declaration states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions.
The poor condition of the housing, overcrowding, major renovation needs and lack of suitability for traditional lifestyles in Quebec's far north have a devastating effect on Cree and Inuit communities. The inadequacies are changing the way of life. Overcrowding is associated with the spread of disease, higher rates of suicide and gender-based and family violence in those communities.
Many local leaders have already suggested solutions and innovative initiatives developed right in their communities. They only want to be consulted and given the support to implement them. We must apply a policy of free, prior, and informed consent to housing. Conditions cannot be improved in the north without having meaningful consultation.
Once people have appropriate housing, attendance at schools goes up and gender-based violence and suicide rates go down. A variety of social issues are addressed when people have secure housing.
The NDP is asking the federal government to forge a partnership with the first nations, Inuit and Métis to assess housing needs and design durable housing suited to traditional indigenous lifestyles and climate conditions. Culturally appropriate, on-site construction trades training would not only achieve these objectives but also help create jobs within the communities.
The remote nature of northern communities is not just their defining feature, it is often their most complicated problem. The north has an infrastructure deficit that many southerners do not consider. The vast majority of northern communities are inaccessible by road year-round.
Communities know what needs to be done, and we need to work with them. For example, Grand Chief Harvey Yesno, of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said, “The ultimate goal is all-weather roads.... to network the communities.... a regional infrastructure strategy by both levels of government.”
Ice roads can cost 60% to 70% more than all-weather roads and are substantially more dangerous to traverse.
Patterns of land use in northern communities have gone through extensive changes. This is intensified by southerners imposing ideas, imposing legislation and imposing regulations on territories and communities that face a very different reality than the south. Relocation, settlement and the introduction of a wage-based economy have permanently altered existing indigenous land use and cultural practices.
In Val-d'Or, we see a large shortage of affordable housing, making the cost of providing for one's family more and more difficult. Throughout northern Quebec, we hear the same stories. In Eeyou Istchee, there is a shortage of approximately 2,560 units. Members heard me right. That is 2,560 units to support northern Quebec James Bay Cree. Over the next 10 years, an investment of $1 billion is required for infrastructure to address the housing backlog and projected needs.
I am on a waiting list in my community of Waswanipi, and according to the rhythm of construction of houses in my community, I probably will not get my house before I am 82. That is a long time from now.
Let me conclude by saying that this situation has created many social problems in indigenous and northern communities. I wish to finish today by quoting my dear friend Cindy Blackstock.
“Children only get one childhood. They can't wait for studies.... The government knows what to do for this generation of children, they just have to get down and do it”.