Canadian NDP leader vows he’ll wrest money from feds to help fix Iqaluit water woes

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks as Nunavut NDP MP Lori Idout looks on at a press conference in Iqaluit on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. It was Singh’s first trip in Nunavut since the last election. (Emma Tranter/CP)

‘We are demanding the government provide … $180 million at least, to fix this water crisis,’ Singh says

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Ottawa needs to step up and fix the water crisis in Nunavut’s capital of about 8,000 where tap water has been undrinkable since Oct. 12 due to contamination.

On his first trip North to meet with recently-elected NDP MP Lori Idlout, Singh said he’s going to apply pressure on the federal government to find money that the city and territory say is needed to remedy Iqaluit’s water crisis.

“We are demanding the government provide full funding, $180 million at least, to fix this water crisis,” Singh said, speaking to media in the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit on Tuesday morning.

Safe drinking water, along with better housing and improved services for elders and youth are the top three issues for which Singh wants to see action, he told CBC News.

If any major city had a problem with its water supply, the federal government would “immediately fix the problem,” Singh said.

Providing sufficient funding is “a starting point” for justice and fairness, he said.

Doing that is not a question of resources, “it reflects a lack of will,” Singh said.

Iqaluit on November 14. People in the city have been unable to drink the tap water since Oct. 12. (Jane George/CBC)

“There is no excuse that any community doesn’t have access to clean drinking water,” Singh said.

People from around the territory come to Iqaluit as well, he said, so the water issue impacts all of Nunavut.

“It is really serious. To not fix this will have a devastating impact. It is unimaginable,” said Singh, who also helped hand out drinkable water at Iqaluit’s curling rink.

Housing crisis, elder care

The lack of housing also needs attention, Singh said.

Housing was an issue many in Iqaluit have raised, he said, promising “we’re going to work on this.”

He said one woman he met told him that although she’s a teacher, she can’t find housing and is obliged to live with her aunt.

Singh also had an impromptu meeting in Iqaluit’s airport with Manitok Thompson, a former minister in N.W.T. and Nunavut, about the drive to repatriate elders in senior care in the South back to Nunavut.

Singh at Iqaluit at Iqaluit’s Nunatta Sunakkutaangit museum. Singh promised he would pressure the federal government to provide funding to fix the water crisis in Iqaluit. (Emma Tranter/CP)

About 22,000 people have signed a petition that calls for Nunavut elders to return from the South.

Thomson told CBC News that Singh listened closely as she told him about the trauma experienced by elders far from their families and culture.

Singh said there has to be a better way.

“We want to make sure that seniors are cared for in the community [and] stay in their homes,” he said.

Timing is right for Nunavut

While Singh didn’t arrive in Iqaluit with the kind of announcements linked to money made routinely by government ministers, he said the timing is right to gain support for Nunavut’s needs.

That’s because people across the country are saying it’s time to stop ignoring Indigenous people.

A demonstration by Iqaluit youth asking for better services for mental health care and suicide prevention also took to take place Tuesday in downtown Iqaluit.

To them, Singh promised mental health care.

“I want you to know you have been heard,” was his message he wanted them to receive.

Climate change also surfaced during Singh’s visit to Iqaluit. He said communities battered by extreme weather need money to be safe and the ability to draw on disaster mitigation funds.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Canada’s military launches scaled down annual Arctic exercise, Radio Canada International

Finland: Arctic Finland to see biggest military exercise of the year, Yle News

Norway: Norwegian army starts training with anti-tank mines near Russia border, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Arctic Sweden to welcome thousands of international troops for Northern Wind exercise, The Independent Barents Observer

United StatesRussian, U.S. foreign ministers to meet on sidelines of Arctic Council meeting, Eye on the Arctic

Jane George, CBC News

Jane George is now a reporter-editor at CBC Nunavut. Prior to August 2021, George worked at Nunatsiaq News for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her stories.

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