Housing crisis in Attawapiskat still isn’t solved
TheStar.com – opinion/editorial
2 August 2012.
When people in a Northern Ontario community were living in tents and overcrowded shacks without running water or proper heating they could have used a housing expert or maybe a builder with a load of quality supplies. Even a grocer with boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables would have come in handy.
But Ottawa’s response to this situation in the First Nations community of Attawapiskat last winter was to send in a third-party manager, essentially an accountant to look at the books.
Now, a federal court has ruled – in line with what Canadians instinctively knew at the time – that this was a completely “unreasonable” reaction to the crisis at hand. “The decision to appoint (a third-party manager) did not respond in a reasonable way to the root of the problems at Attawapiskat nor to the remedies available,” Justice Michael Phelan stated in his ruling.
The root causes of the crisis were not hard to pinpoint: too many people, in too few homes and not enough money to do anything about it. There was never going to be anything a bureaucrat could do about that, especially not with winter temperatures dropping fast.
But, then, the federal government has never bothered much about the root causes of anything on First Nations reserves. That’s why many remain chock-a-block with poverty and hopelessness.
Still, we would have thought that Ottawa would at least have had serious cause for concern before stripping a community of its financial independence. Unfortunately, even that assumption gives Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan too much credit. The federal government had no evidence of any financial wrongdoing when they sent in the manager, according to the court ruling.
That means Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who did his best to convince Canadians that the band council was to blame for the housing crisis because they had somehow mismanaged funds, was way off base. All he did was create even more distrust among native leaders. That’s the last thing Canada needs.
This episode gets more depressing still. To this day, the housing crisis in Attawapiskat – and dozens of other northern native communities – remains largely unsolved.
A few things are better, thankfully. There are 22 families now living in new trailers. That’s a drastic improvement for them. But 60 people are still living in an overcrowded and dangerous construction trailer; 20 are living on cots in a healing lodge; and still more live in houses so covered in mould they ought to be condemned, according to New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, whose riding includes Attawapiskat.
So after all that’s happened we still have a housing crisis and we still don’t have a federal commitment to a long-term plan, backed by the necessary funds, to fix it. How discouraging is that?
We would have thought that the Red Cross flying in emergency supplies to keep people from freezing would wake up Ottawa and be enough to set this community, and others like it, on the path to a better future. Apparently not.