Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made no specific pledges during a roundtable discussion Thursday on housing in the North, but his participation shows the federal government is committed to the issue, said Premier Caroline Cochrane.
“Having our MP (Michael McLeod), Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal and our Prime Minister sit at a roundtable (shows that) action speak as much as words sometimes,” Cochrane told reporters after the meeting. “It shows the government takes this seriously. Hopefully this is the first of many roundtables to come.”
The hour-long meeting also included representatives from Northern Indigenous governments, the YWCA and Paulie Chinna, minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation.
In the throne speech on Sept. 23, Governor General Julie Payette said Canada would invest $1 billion to eliminate homelessness in Canada, but Cochrane said that in Thursday’s roundtable there was no follow-up pledge of specific funding for housing in the NWT.
“I’m optimistic we’ll see a real commitment from the federal government to address housing after the budget speech in February,” she said.
Indigenous government representatives at the roundtable highlighted that housing is the “highest priority” in their communities, with overcrowding being a major problem, Cochrane said.
“If we can address our housing needs in the NWT that will address a lot our social concerns, and I agree with that. The lack of housing puts (Indigenous communities) at the biggest risk. Covid-19 highlighted the situation we’re in.”
Most Indigenous members of the meeting said that providing more low-income housing should be the first priority in confronting the issue.
“We don’t have jobs in our smaller communities, we don’t have the opportunities for employment. We also don’t have a lot of market houses in our communities. Everyone talked about the need for subsidized housing… and the need for (capacity) to maintain housing,” Cochrane said.
Asked how her government will follow up with Ottawa after the meeting, the premier said in a couple weeks she’ll write a letter to Trudeau and the appropriate ministers outlining the specific housing needs of the NWT.
Cochrane also acknowledged that small organizations sometime struggle with the complexity of housing applications, such as through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. She said she has advocated for that to change and hopes the federal government addresses it.
“I know the federal government supports us. We’re asking for a serious increase (in funding). The GNWT also puts money into housing needs in the NWT. We (allocate) almost six per cent of our total budget towards housing, across Canada it’s just over one per cent. We’re the highest contributor to housing,” she said. “I remember when I was housing minister, (that percentage) impressed the federal government and showed our commitment to address the issue. We don’t have enough money to address our needs. We only have 45,000 people. We need their help.”