The North is in trouble

There are lots of houses in the North with as many as three families in them. Crammed into these tiny, aged bungalows, kids end up taking shifts in the few beds that are available.

There are lots of houses in the North with as many as three families in them.

Crammed into these tiny, aged bungalows, kids end up taking shifts in the few beds that are available.

This is just one of the many problems Yukon MP Larry Bagnell heard about during an Arctic issues roundtable in Ottawa on Wednesday.

The Liberals have been holding roundtables all month while Parliament is prorogued.

Bagnell hosted the northern forum “to let Prime Minister Stephen Harper know about the horrendous social problems in the North.”

The event had a dozen speakers including Yukon Association of First Nations Chief Eric Morris, Laval University northern poverty expert professor Gerard Duhaime and Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences’ Dawn Conway and Tim Aston.

Several issues came up consistently, said Bagnell.

There are problems across the North with land claim implementation, he said.

And there is a whole host of social problems.

Overcrowding is huge.

And in the Eastern Arctic, out of 56 communities, there are only 14 homeless shelters.

Addiction issues also kept coming up.

“There are some communities where 85 per cent of the residents are alcoholics,” said Bagnell.

“But despite these high levels of substance abuse, there are very few residential treatment centres.”

Then there are the jails.

In Baffin Inlet, the jail is designed for 65 inmates.

“But it usually has over 100,” said Bagnell.

The decrepit Whitehorse jail is not much better.

Now, Harper’s Conservatives are trying to do away with the usual two-for-one jail time inmates serve in overcrowded conditions.

“That will just put even more people in the jails,” said Bagnell.

The high cost of living also came up.

“In the North, a jug of milk can cost 10 times what it does in Vancouver,” he said.

“But people are making the same salaries.”

Then there’s climate change.

Bagnell heard story after story about houses and bridges collapsing, and sea ice retreating.

“The Arctic Ocean’s shore is retreating at two metres a year,” he said.

“And more southern species like killer whales and red foxes are coming north.”

Scientists have been studying climate change across the North. But in 2011 funding for all this research will be cut, said Bagnell.

Education is also a huge problem, with less funding for northern students.

With the rising population in the North, we need 60 more schools, he said.

“But the government has a two per cent cap on education funding increases.

“So we are falling further and further behind.”

It’s a long list, but Bagnell keeps plugging away.

“There has been some progress made over the years,” he said.

“But we have so much more to do.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com