Housing for Indigenous people living on and off reserve took centre stage during a forum in Winnipeg Wednesday night.
Several local community-based organizations hosted the event to highlight the need for more social housing not just in the province but across the country as well.
According to the national non-profit organization Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA), more than a million people live in approximately 600,000 subsidized homes in Canada, Three of the four major parties shared their platforms.
Green candidate Andrea Shalay said if elected her party would implement a minister of housing.
“We know that this is a national problem,” said Shalay, who is one of the candidates in Winnipeg Centre.
“Creating a minister position is a great way of making sure that something is getting government focus.”
(Green candidate Andrea Shalay, left, Leah Gazan who is running for the NDP and Liberal MP Jim Carr. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
Both the NDP and Liberal candidates also committed to creating a minister of housing position during a lightning round of yes or no questions.
Winnipeg South Centre incumbent Jim Carr was there for the Liberals.
Carr, who was also the Minister of International Trade Diversification, promised those advocating for affordable housing would have easier access to government, “so that we have a better understanding on the ground of the kind of hardships that people are suffering when they don’t have affordable housing.”
Carr also highlighted previous investments the Liberals made toward housing on First Nations, including $1 billion set aside in 2017 for on-reserve infrastructure including housing, water treatment systems, health facilities and other similar projects.
NDP candidate Leah Gazan is taking on Liberal incumbent Robert-Falcon Ouellette.
She rebutted Carr’s statement saying big dollar amounts don’t always address the issues.
“On the ground, in fact, that only amounts to a house and a half or less than a house depending on how remote the community is,” she said.
Things took a turn when Gazan called out the Liberals for, “bailing out a pipeline by $4.5 billion,” she said referring to the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project last year.
“If people were serious about homelessness and ending homelessness…they could have taken that money and invested in people,” said Gazan.
Gazan brought up the purchase of the pipeline several times throughout the night before Carr reminded the panel they were there to talk about housing.
“If you want to expand this debate to talk about climate and energy policy…I’m glad to do it but it would be a distraction from the major issue that we’re here to discuss,” said Carr.
Part of the night included a question and answer portion with audience members.
Katherine Thomas, who introduced herself using her spirit name Earth Old Woman, reiterated the need for more housing on traditional lands.
“We’re not thriving here,” she said referring to Indigenous people who live in the city. “The system set up here is brutal to our people…and when we go back to our lands we heal and we thrive.”
The CHRA estimates one in 15 Indigenous peoples living in urban and rural settings are homeless, compared to one in 128 for the non-Indigenous population.
Gazan was the only one to respond to the suggestion, “if the community decides that we want to have houses built on land, we want to have houses built on our traditional trap lines then we have an obligation to work with communities.”
Gazan is running in the Winnipeg Centre riding. She is also the partner of former NDP MP Romeo Saganash, who was in the audience.
Maïtée Saganash, daughter of Saganash, was also in the audience and took some time to exchange words with Carr regarding Bill C-262 and child welfare issues.
“At this point drop the reconciliation lines. The Canadian Tribunal of Human Rights proved that you’re actually discriminating [against] First Nation children, so drop the reconciliation lines. What is your plan? What are you doing?” she probed.
Carr said he would not stop working toward reconciliation.
“Your government may not be able to move down that road at a pace that is comfortable or is satisfying to some, but no I won’t stop. Are you blaming the Federal Liberal government for the votes of five Conservative senators? You and I can have a longer conversation down the road about that.”
No candidate from the Conservative party attended despite an invitation from organizers.