Mould causing housing crisis for First Nations across Canada: NDP
Seamus O'Regan, Minister of Indigenous Services, stands during question period in the House of Commons in the West Block of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
January 30, 2019 - 2:06 PM
OTTAWA - A housing crisis in a northern Ontario First Nation is the tip of a deep, systemic problem in communities across the country that requires the response of a task force, the federal NDP said Wednesday.
Senior government officials were to meet on Wednesday with community leaders in Cat Lake First Nation, several hundred kilometres north of Thunder Bay, to discuss a state of emergency the nation proclaimed earlier this month due to "profoundly poor conditions of housing."
A community declaration listed mould, structural issues and a lack of funds for routine maintenance as the causes of health problems including invasive bacterial diseases and lung infections.
Mould in Cat Lake constitutes a national shame, Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus said Wednesday as he joined his colleagues Georgina Jolibois, Romeo Saganash and Niki Ashton to say mould in on-reserve housing is an invisible crisis that the federal government has known about at least since an auditor general's report in 2003.
A task force needs to examine the extent of mould in Indigenous communities across the country, the MPs said.
"We are demanding a new commitment on the eve of the first budget with the Treasury Board minister (Jane Philpott) that we understand understands this file, so we want to see that commitment right around the corner," Ashton said. "First Nations deserve it and they demand it."
Philpott was until recently the country's minister of Indigenous services. Her successor, Seamus O'Regan, sent a statement pointing out that the Liberal government has funded construction or renovation of 14,000 housing units on reserves since 2015 and has conducted two "comprehensive inspections" at Cat Lake "to assess the state of their housing."
During question period on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is committed to working with Cat Lake on its housing challenges.
"We are developing both an interim and a long-term plan of action but we are, unlike what the member is saying, making significant progress in the community," Trudeau said, adding that an advisory about unsafe drinking water had been lifted there in December after being in place for 12 years.
"We know there's lots more to do and that's why we are continuing to address the community issues in partnership."
He also later referred to budget commitments to spend $600 million three years to support First Nations housing on reserves as part of a decade-long housing strategy.
Angus replied with disdain for Trudeau's responses and said the prime minister is patting himself on the back as people live in squalid conditions in frigid temperatures.
—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter
News from © The Canadian Press, 2019