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This article was published 30/1/2019 (834 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Inspectors have found mould in homes on almost all Manitoba reserves in recent years, according to data obtained by the NDP, which is calling on Ottawa to speed up its housing plans for First Nations.
"In northern Manitoba, we are talking about a severe housing crisis," said MP Niki Ashton, who represents the area.
Data assembled by Indigenous Services Canada show inspectors found mould in homes at 53 of Manitoba’s 63 First Nations from November 2015 to September 2018.
Ashton said the problem is "despicable" and is "a direct result of chronic underfunding of First Nations" by Liberal and Tory governments. She said reserves have become more crowded since she took office a decade ago, in part due to a high birth rate.
Census data support that claim, with communities such as Cross Lake reporting that 42 per cent of its homes were too small for the number of occupants in 2016, while Crane River reported 90 per cent of homes required serious repairs.
Ashton said people are forced to use outhouses during extreme cold weather and children break out in rashes as mould spreads in overcrowded dwellings.
It’s so pervasive that even the Assembly of First Nations’ point man on housing has encountered household mould.
"I live this reality," said Manitoba regional chief Kevin Hart, who had a mouldy wall replaced at his home on Sagkeeng First Nation a few years ago.
On Wednesday, the NDP called on Ottawa to launch a task force, which would first collect data on housing needs and then determine funding requirements.
Hart said the AFN is trying to fill gaps in the data, by tallying current needs as well as population projections. They've so far identified a shortfall of 220,000 homes on reserves across Canada.
That need is disproportionately high in Manitoba, a province Hart said is beset by "Third World, deplorable conditions" compared with other regions of Canada. "In Manitoba, we're the worst when it comes to so many things across the board," he said.
In October 2014, an internal estimate by ISC bureaucrats in Manitoba found it would cost Ottawa $1.9 billion to fix reserve housing needs in this province alone.
NDP MP Charlie Angus accused Ottawa of building substandard homes on reserves, and claimed bureaucrats collect shoddy data so they’re not held to account. (In the documents, ISC withheld details on mould issues in individual reserves, citing privacy laws.)
Earlier this month, Cat Lake, an Ontario reserve 420 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, declared a state of emergency over a housing crisis and illness related to mould.
Ashton said northern communities that have Métis people — which are administered by the province and not the federal government — also have housing issues, but "we're not seeing the same kinds of pressures as on reserves, at all."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was defensive in question period Wednesday, saying he'd made "unprecedented investments in partnership with Indigenous peoples right across this country," from schools to drinking water.
The two most recent budgets earmarked $600 million over three years to improve housing on reserves. Ottawa has also launched a controversial $30-million "innovation challenge," a contest the government recently renamed, where Indigenous-sponsored companies and groups are vying to create better forms of housing for reserves.
ISC Minister Seamus O’Regan was not available to comment Wednesday, but his office wrote that nearly 14,000 housing units on reserves have been built, renovated or retrofitted since the Liberals took office in late 2015.
His office said "decades of neglect" require Ottawa to "co-develop a First Nations-specific housing strategy," though there is no timeline for that initiative.
Hart said the mould issue illustrates why First Nations want self-government.
He said a mouldy condo in Winnipeg would be fixed immediately by any company or other level of government. "There would be a liability issue, so why is that acceptable for First Nations people when it comes to the mould issue?" he asked. "It shows the marginalization."