There is a whiff of federal elections in the air – this would be the fourth one in just five years – as Conservatives and Liberals enter into their annual game of chicken.
This could derail the process of budgeting that is in motion right now, a vital instrument in setting economic policy for the future.
The Standing Finance Committee of the House of Commons is scheduled to stop in Yellowknife on September 30 – the only stop in the three territories – to hear what people in the North have to say about the economy. This could be cancelled, should an election be called.
PSAC North has submitted a brief to this effect, highlighting the disastrous economic conditions many Northerners live in and what needs to be done to start dealing with the problems.
The statistics for the North are quite simply appalling. I’m talking facts and figures here, provided by Statistics Canada, CMHC and other reputable agencies.
Let’s start with housing.
Total housing in need of repair:
NWT: 17.4 per cent
Yukon: 15.8 per cent
Nunavut: 38.8 per cent (Most overcrowded housing area in Canada. Would require 3,000 new public housing units just to bring them up to par with the rest of Canada.)
Canada: 13.7 per cent
Then there is the cost of living:
Nunavut households spend 92 per cent more, in real dollars, on food than the Canadian average.
NWT households spend 34 per cent more on shelter than the Canadian average.
This is compounded by the fact the average income in Nunavut and NWT is also the lowest in Canada.
And long-term unemployment: this is people who have been unemployed for a year or more.
Yukon: 5.2 per cent
NWT: 5.3 per cent
Nunavut: 10.6 per cent
Canada: 3.4 per cent
All well above the national average.
If the same conditions were to develop in any of the Canadian provinces, there would be a state of national emergency declared and billions of dollars from the federal and provincial governments would be directed at the crisis.
Why is that not the case for the North? (Insert your answer here.)
PSAC, as a union representing 15,000 workers North of 60, calls on the federal government to immediately increase transfer payments to the three northern territorial governments in the order of:
Yukon: 20 per cent
NWT: 20 per cent
Nunavut: 50 per cent
The increased funds should be, in order of priority, targeted to:
Health and Social Services
Unless these areas receive a substantial financial boost from the central Canadian government, it will be impossible for northerners to attain the level of functionality they need to have in order to fully participate in the industrial developments that are being contemplated by industry and governments now and for the future.
One cannot learn and prosper unless one has a decent house to live in, nutritious food to eat, good health and a stable, healthy family and community to live in.
There is a cost to everything we do, but there is also a larger cost to everything we do not do. The neglect of populations in the North, especially of aboriginal peoples, carries a huge human cost. Now is the time to deal with this longstanding injustice and demonstrate that Canada cares about all of its citizens, no matter how far they live from the capital.
Jean-Francois Des Lauriers
regional executive vice-president, Public Service Alliance of Canada North