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Premier, MP to feds: housing among NWT'S top needs

Premier Caroline Cochrane and NWT MP Michael McLeod agree federal help for housing needs is among a long list of top priorities for Northerners.

Both McLeod and Cochrane met with new Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, who was visiting Yellowknife and Behchoko on Jan. 14 and 15  for the first time since being named to the cabinet position in December.

Cochrane said there are priorities the NWT is identifying for the federal government, however she said those are yet to be finalized and are not yet public.

News/North earlier reported there were four priorities of support that the territorial government was seeking from the feds: help with the effects of climate change; support for early childhood education; planning for the polytechnic university; and housing, especially to support construction of new units in communities as that would also promote growth in trades.

"The GNWT is working with the federal government and we have been talking with Minister Vandal for the needs in the NWT,"  Cochrane said. "At this point, I can’t talk of the priorities being put forward because they have not been solidified yet. 

"We spent a great deal of time reinforcing needs of the North."

Cochrane said it can be assumed housing is a big one, if not the biggest one.  

"Absolutely, housing," she said. "Anyone in the NWT - or in the North, period - that wouldn’t say that housing is a concern needs to rethink that. 

"Housing has been identified in every community that we go to. And that is what people are asking for.  And that is all levels from homelessness to singles to families to seniors. "Right across the board."

Dan Vandal, northern affairs minister, centre, meets with Northern elected officials at the Dene Nation office on Tuesday. Vandal said the trip to the NWT gave him the first chance since becoming minister in November to meet with Northerners and hear from them on how the federal government can help with their biggest priorities. From left and going around the table clockwise are Matthew Spence, regional director general with Crown Indigenous Relations, Jackson McDermott, executive assistant to Dehcho Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian, Gerry Cheezie, chief of the Salt River First Nation, Dan Vandal federal Northern Affairs minister, Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya, Phil Moon Son, Chief of Staff for the Dene Nation, NWT Member of Parliament Michael McLeod, and Serge Beaudoin,  assistant deputy minister for Northern Affairs.
photo courtesy of the office of Dan Vandal

McLeod said although there were other issues that were raised, housing seemed to be the most frequently raised.

"Over the two days climate change was raised quite often, but housing was brought up more than anything else," he said. "The concern had to do with where we are at in the communities when it comes to the homelessness situation, the lack of social housing, market housing and needing involvement by Indigenous governments."

McLeod said he has travelled much across the North to witness the state of housing and the challenge of providing adequate shelter for people.

"There is a very dire state of housing inadequacy and extraordinary funding," he said.  

"In my view we need Indigenous governments to start working toward providing housing and setting up a fiscal relationship so that they can look after their own houses. Money from the NWT Housing Corporation, which goes through Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation, is the only game in town." 

Seeking equity and equality in the federation 

Cochrane said one of the points she tried to emphasize with Vandal was that the living conditions in the North are simply not equal to those in the south.

"We have so many needs," she said, noting that the 19th Legislative Assembly has identified more than 20. "The biggest thing I stressed to him is that every jurisdiction has needs but our needs are so much more because we don’t even have the basic infrastructure that other jurisdictions have. We are not connected to our communities." 

Cochrane said that she tried to communicate to Vandal that the North and the south are not equal and very different.

"I was trying to show that we are not the same (as other areas of Canada)," she said. "You can’t just say that one policy throughout Canada will effect us all equally. We need to be looked at through an equitable lens, but through an equitable lens that would bring us up to a place equality. Then we can start talking from a place of equality. But at this time, we are not there."