Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo says the way the federal government allocates funding is failing his constituents.
He says the government should allocate funds based on need, instead of population size.
Tootoo pointed to the Liberal government’s 2017 budget as an example of the funding gap. In it the government committed $118 million over five years to First Nation and Inuit communities for mental health and wellness.
“Unfortunately, Nunavut sees a tiny fraction of this funding because of our small population,” Tootoo said.
“You know that the suicide rate in Nunavut is 10 times the national average, and has been declared a territorial crisis. And yet based on the per-capita system, we received the smallest fraction of funds for mental health.
‘We received the smallest fraction of funds for mental health.’ – Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo
“That’s just one example of many where the system fails us.”
Tootoo’s remarks came Wednesday at a Liberal Senate open caucus meeting, which saw four panelists — Tootoo included — spend two hours discussing government-Inuit relations. They touched on everything from climate change, to how Inuit should have some say on the international stage on issues directly affecting them.
In his opening remarks Tootoo highlighted some of Nunavut’s most pressing issues: the suicide crisis, troubles with the Nutrition North program, lack of housing, lack of addictions treatment facilities, lack of mental health facilities and high transportation costs.
He said one way to help alleviate those issues is to reform how funding is allocated to Nunavut.
“Currently, the per capita system of allocation is failing Nunavummiut,” Tootoo said.
“I continue to stress this to colleagues that Nunavut is unique. We have a small population, spread out over 25 completely isolated communities. I stress the fact that Nunavut requires a needs-based approach to funding allocation.”
In question period later in the day, Tootoo addressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking what the government is doing to address Nunavut’s suicide crisis.
Trudeau responded by alluding to the $118 million dollars in funding for First Nations and Inuit mental health and wellness — the same pool of money which Tootoo had just criticized just hours earlier.
Senate move for special Arctic committee
The day after the open caucus meeting, Senators kept up the momentum on Inuit issues by voting in favour of creating a special committee on the Arctic.
Senator Charlie Watt, the only Inuk in the Senate, first brought the idea forward in March saying at the time “Canada needs a well-articulated Arctic policy that puts Northerners first.”
Of particular concern to Watt is that Inuit were not included in Canada’s mapping project for its submission to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Last year, Canadian scientists wrapped up a research mission to map the limits of the Arctic continental shelf, to support its claim at the UN for resources leading up to the North Pole.
But Watt says Inuit have had little input on the matter, despite how they may have rights to areas which overlap with Canada’s offshore sovereignty claims.