Liberals are on track to miss First Nations housing targets by “between 58 and 141 years,” NDP says
The Liberal government’s spending on reserve housing is poised to leave First Nations out in the cold for decades, if not more than a century, two New Democrat lawmakers indicted in Ottawa on Thursday.
Newly released figures obtained by the NDP and provided to CBC News show that the Canadian government has spent $2.37 billion on its reserve housing program since Justin Trudeau became prime minister in 2015.
That’s far less than the $40 billion to $60 billion it would take to close the housing gap — which Trudeau has pledged by 2030 — according to the First Nations Assembly, which campaigns for more than 600 chiefs nationwide.
“It will take between 58 and 141 years to meet current housing needs” if the spending ratio holds up, the NDP said in a Thursday release.
Northern Manitoba Assemblyman Niki Ashton, who obtained the internal accounts through a question on an order paper, said the reality on the ground was a “grossly unacceptable” persistence of Third World conditions.
“Enough of the symbolism. Enough of fake commitments when it comes to indigenous communities,” she told a news conference on Parliament Hill on Thursday.
“Enough of the empty promises about housing. It’s time to act.”
Ashton joined Nunavut MP Lori Idlout, an Inuk advocate and critic of the NDP’s portfolio of indigenous services, who painted a bleak picture of the crisis facing her constituents.
“People live in houses that are in dire need of repairs. People use tape and cardboard to fix cracks in floors and walls because repairs aren’t adequately funded,” Idlout said.
“Overcrowding in homes has led to severe mental health problems and the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis.”
The AFN, in a 2021 report, described the impact of the housing crisis on First Nations as “huge,” with overpopulation leading to other serious problems such as health and socioeconomic problems, homelessness and more.
Liberals committed to 2030 target: ministers
Trudeau, in her mandate letter, directed Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu to fill the infrastructure gap, with a focus on building sustainable and affordable housing.
Speaking to the Ottawa House of Commons, Hajdu said the NDP’s assessment of the numbers was “a bit exaggerated”. She said the government is still handing out earmarked money and vowed to look for more cash in the years to come.
“The goal of this government is to meet the 2030 target of closing the infrastructure gap, and that will require aggressive investments,” Hajdu said.
The numbers don’t lie, Ashton countered, calling Hajdu’s comments “pretty rich” because the numbers came from her own department.
Order Paper Questions offer parliamentarians an opportunity to have detailed or technical questions answered in writing. Ashton inquired with the Indigenous Services about the amount of money requested from the First Nations, the amount paid and the number of houses built.
The department refused to say how much money the communities were asking, calling the information confidential and releasing only the amount spent, showing a surge after Trudeau’s Liberals took over the reins.
Ottawa spent $132 million on the reserve housing program in 2015-16, which grew to $404 million the following year, the chart said.
The program dates back to 1996 and provides First Nations with cash to build, renovate and maintain homes in their territories. The policy says Canada will not cover full housing costs and expects First Nations to land cash through other channels such as private sector loans.
“There is a need for 35,000 to 85,000 homes in indigenous communities,” Ashton said.
According to the documents, between 2016 and March 2022, the program allowed First Nations to build more than 4,200 new homes, which doesn’t say how many were built in the Northwest Territories or in Métis and Inuit communities.
Last year, the NDP and the Liberals struck a deal dubbed the Supply and Confidence Deal to keep Trudeau in power until 2025. The accord included a clause obliging Ottawa to make a “significant” investment in aboriginal housing in 2022.
The Liberal budget allocated $4.3 billion over seven years to improve and expand housing in Indigenous communities, more than half of which is for First Nations housing.
Ashton and Idlout are calling for a further increase in spending on this budget but would not say exactly how much.