Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 4 - Evidence - March 23, 2016
OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 23, 2016
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:47 p.m.
to study best practices and on- going challenges relating to housing in First
Nation and Inuit communities in Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and the Northwest
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good evening. I would like to welcome all honourable
senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing
Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, either here in the room or via CPAC or
Senators, before we begin this evening, I thought we should take a moment of
reflection to remember Mr. Jim Hillyer, member of Parliament for Medicine Hat,
who passed away earlier this morning. Our thoughts are with his family at this
difficult time and with his children. We will take a few moments here.
[Minute of silence.]
My name is Lillian Dyck. I am from Saskatchewan, and I have the privilege and
honour of chairing the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. I will
now invite my colleagues and fellow senators to introduce themselves, beginning
with our deputy chair, Senator Patterson.
Senator Patterson: Dennis Patterson, Nunavut.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas from Alberta.
Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine from British Columbia.
Senator Enverga: Tobias Enverga from Ontario.
Senator Beyak: Lynn Beyak from Ontario.
Senator Watt: Charlie Watt from Nunavik.
Senator Sibbeston: Nick Sibbeston from the Northwest Territories.
Senator Moore: Welcome. Wilfred Moore from Nova Scotia.
The Chair: Thank you, senators.
The general mandate of this committee is to examine legislation and matters
relating to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada generally.
This evening, we are continuing to hear testimony on our northern housing
study, with a mandate to study the best practices and ongoing challenges
relating to housing and First Nation and Inuit communities in Nunavut, Nunavik,
Nunatsiavut and the Northwest Territories.
Senator Watt, I see you have brought some special guests, so perhaps you
wouldn't mind indicating who they are.
Senator Watt: Yes. Thank you, Madam Chair.
[Editor's Note: Senator Watt spoke in Inuktitut.]
Those are the students from Sautjuit School in Kangirsuk, Quebec. They came
down here to learn as much as they can with regard to how we do things down
South regarding the needs of the people of this country. I'm welcoming them here
to learn from us and show what good work we do from time to time trying to
represent our people.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Watt.
Welcome to our committee. It's always wonderful to have young people here.
We're looking forward to having input from the young people when we do our
committee travel up North.
On our first panel tonight, we have Christopher Duschenes, Director, Northern
and Aboriginal Policy from the Conference Board of Canada.
Mr. Duschenes, the floor is yours for opening remarks, and then we will have
questions from senators.
Christopher Duschenes, Director, Northern and Aboriginal Policy,
Conference Board of Canada: Thank you very much. It's my pleasure to be
here. I've appeared before this committee in the past in other capacities,
having spent nearly 20 years with what is now the Department of Indigenous and
Northern Affairs and formerly with the Government of the Northwest Territories
when Senator Patterson was premier many years ago.
I am pleased to be here to share my thoughts with you.
I have to say that I am not a housing expert. I'm pleased to see that Terry
Audla and others from the Nunavut Housing Corporation are here and that you had
a chance to hear from Natan Obed from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, as well as people
from CMHC. The perspective I have is from the Conference Board of Canada. We are
a research institute. For over 60 years we have been providing evidence-based,
empirical, unbiased research on public policy issues. We don't have a particular
opinion to push forward. We do that research on behalf of members who join the
Conference Board and on behalf of others who contract us to do that research. We
pride ourselves on tackling difficult public policy issues, and we strive to
provide insight and understanding for decision makers.
We have done significant work related to housing and infrastructure in the
Arctic. I meant to bring more copies of the some of the reports we have done,
and I can provide those later. I have one copy of a report from 2012
specifically on housing, but we do a wide range of research, some that touches
housing and some that does not.
Before I get into my observations of what we have done at the Conference
Board and generally what our research team has observed over many years working
on northern Arctic issues, I think it's critical to clarify or for the committee
to give thought — and I'm sure you already have — what you hope to achieve from
this study. In my work at INAC and at the Conference Board on housing-related
issues, there are two very distinct things in my mind that have to be separated.
First, in the four Inuit regions in INAC, we are dealing with an immediate
social crisis that could have solutions in the immediate term that are very
different than taking a much longer perspective and looking at what the
solutions could be over the longer term. There are things that have to be done
immediately and things that have to be given a lot of thought for the planning
and the future to deal with housing and housing growth.
My comments are more in the context of the second one: What are some of the
issues that have been found in the past that deal more with the longer term
perspective of planning for housing and for assessing what we already know?
I decided to focus my presentation on the long term and look at some of the
high-level conclusions from the hundreds of research reports that have looked
into various aspects of housing in Inuit communities and other indigenous
communities. Other witnesses are going to have very specific information and
expertise related to their regions. At the Conference Board, we often step back
and look at the big ensemble of what research has been done in an area to
try to draw out major conclusions on what that research tells us.
I very much hope that the committee does not produce another report that
rehashes some of the same issues. I'm not saying that at all out of disrespect.
I'm saying that from our analysis of what is out there, there is a lot out
The same issues have been considered countless times by other committees, by
many researchers, including the Conference Board — we're guilty of that in some
ways— by academics, consultants and civil servants. We know a huge amount about
housing and housing needs in the Inuit regions, and we do have solutions. When I
say "we,'' I mean collectively. I'm convinced that we do not need to act in the
immediate and long term. We do not need more research now. We can benefit from
more research, but it's not absolutely necessarily.
To support this point, I undertook a very simple high-level analysis of what
is publicly available. My methodology is not scientific or exhaustive but
illustrates the point of how much has been done. My kids got a kick out of this.
I did six simple Google searches that resulted in the following: If you Google
"Aboriginal and housing,'' or "indigenous and housing,'' you get over 41 million
hits. If you google ''impacts of poor housing on Aboriginal people or indigenous
people,'' you get 14.6 million hits. The Internet pulls out everything that is
out there; so there are not 14 million reports, but there is a massive amount of
If you google "Inuit and housing,'' you get almost half a million hits:
"Inuit housing crisis, 56,000 hits; "innovative Arctic housing design,'' just
under half a million hits. I could go on. Our researchers at the Conference
Board scanned a huge amount of this information.
The point of all of this is that I would urge this committee to ensure that
what it adds to the knowledge is very much action-oriented in terms of using the
best of what is out there to develop immediate solutions. We have known that
this is a crisis, and a building and growing crisis for many years. I hope that
we can collectively find long-term solutions.
So in scanning a wide variety of the material out there, my team of
researchers came up with nine high-level observations that relate to developing
a long-term solution. From those observations, we tried to pick out the show-
stoppers, the things that if we overcome, it will lead to vast improvements in
the housing situation in all four Inuit regions.
The nine observations are: one, information. There is a huge amount of
information out there. This issue has been studied extensively. There are masses
of information on all aspects related to housing that is readily accessible.
Two, the state of the situation it impacts. There is also within that
information a huge amount of data on the poor state of housing in Inuit Nunangat
and an equal amount of analysis on the impacts of this poor state. The situation
is at a crisis level. We know that. It has major ramifications for health,
social and family cohesion, domestic violence, educational outcomes, life
chances and overall community well-being. I didn't look at 141 million reports,
but those were the themes that emerged in terms of the impact of poor housing.
The next theme that emerged was supply and demand. There has been consistent
evidence of the demand outstripping the supply and that the situation in some of
the regions is getting worse. Specifically — and Senator Watt will know this —
Nunavik is pointed out in a lot of the research where the situation has
deteriorated faster than in other regions.
Another theme that comes out on Arctic housing, technology and design, many
leading edge designs and construction techniques have been tried and there have
been many successes. Much has been researched, developed and put into practice
related to heat-recovery ventilators, insulation, energy efficiency and building
on permafrost. We have good technical solutions. They may not be ideal —
research points to that — but by and large they work. It is the same as buying a
house in Ottawa. It may not have state-of-the-art systems in it, but we know
that a certain level of proficiency means it works.
There also has been a significant amount of work related to design on
cultural appropriateness. There are examples of success in this area as well.
Another theme that has emerged from this research is that the successes are
greater when there's greater ownership and involvement at the community level.
The conceptualization, design, and building and maintenance of houses have
greater long-term success when the community feels a sense of ownership over the
process and the results.
Another theme that has emerged, number six, is capacity development. Building
and managing housing provides good opportunities for the development of capacity
in communities. There are many examples where this has been done. It's not
always the case, but often it is a huge opportunity for locally based capacity
The last three are a different category, and I would put those in the
show-stopper funding, although it's ironic that I'm presenting today on the
heels of the federal budget yesterday which, in my mind, from the outside, made
some encouraging commitments towards funding, specifically for housing in Inuit
The research shows us, though, that the cost of building in the Arctic is
very high, up to three times higher than in the South. That's not related to the
budget. There has been historically a significant lack of funding available to
solve the housing crisis. Traditional reliance on government funds has not and
will not likely solve the issue. A lot of research points to the need to
diversify funding models. I'm not saying whether that's possible or not, but
there is research in the commentary related to that which shows up
Number eight is logistics and long-term planning. The logistics of building
in the North are complicated, but with good long-range planning and management,
challenges particular to the Inuit can be lessened or overcome. There is
fantastic expertise that I'm sure the Nunavut Housing Corporation will point to
of getting the job done and getting it done effectively.
Then the last one, which is woven throughout a lot of the research, is that
there are many players involved in the housing game in the Inuit regions, and
it's not always clear who is doing what, who is responsible for what, where the
accountability lies and how overall housing is governed from conception to the
finished product. In some cases, there is more clarity than others, but the
research and what has been written often point to the lack of clarity on roles
and responsibilities, which can create roadblocks, inertia and
As a result of that, there is a lot that points to the need for significant
interagency, intergovernmental coordination and cooperation. I'm very pleased
that you have heard from several people from the Canada Mortgage and Housing
Corporation, because I've had those conversations with them also.
Just in conclusion and summary, what the Conference Board has found in its
fairly superficial overview of the vast amount of material out there is that
more funding is required, and innovative approaches for accessing that funding
and finding new ways to implement it is required.
Sustained interagency cooperation and coordination for effective governance
is needed with significant community involvement. The governance models will
need to be appropriate for each Inuit region and perhaps even each Inuit
The third overall conclusion and observation is that good long-term planning
is required to address logistical, associated infrastructure and
capacity-development challenges and opportunities.
This is by no means an exhaustive review of the literature out there. My
overall point is that there's a huge amount of information, and it would be a
missed opportunity not to pull the best of what already has been done out there
to then try to highlight and find solutions to those show-stoppers.
The issue is incredibly complex. I don't want to undersell the complexity,
but I feel that in many areas, although our knowledge is not perfect, we know
enough to act. If we wait for the perfect series of circumstances and
information to be in place, the crisis will only deepen.
I applaud the committee's commitment to address this issue. However, I think
very serious consideration, as I've mentioned before, has to be given to the end
product of your report and deliberations, and how it can be as influential and
helpful to those who are on the ground planning for and doing the contracting
and building of houses and for community members to be as effective as possible.
In 2012, the Conference Board was asked to do an overview of case studies of
some of the most successful housing initiatives in the North. As I mentioned, I
have one copy of that report here. What was really affirming about doing that
research — although that was before I joined the Conference Board — was that it
wasn't hard to find case studies of some exciting, innovative and interesting
things across the Canadian Arctic, across the circumpolar world. How we position
ourselves as a country, a jurisdiction and research organizations to capitalize
on those successes is the biggest challenge that lies ahead.
Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Duschenes, for that excellent overview and
pointing out to us and our analysts the welcome information that's available to
us. We shall have to ensure that we have a good focus and that our report does
not just sit on the shelf.
As a whole, I think Senate committee reports in general tend to be quite
widely read and useful. Perhaps it could be said that one of the main advantages
to a Senate report is that we can actually direct it to the minister and ask the
minister to pay attention, make recommendations and continue with some kind of
follow up. We will certainly take your words into consideration.
We have heard some of these comments previously, even as early as last
evening, about the lack of a good relationship between the different partners
involved in housing, and that leads to impacts upon the people who live in that
housing, so the policies and programs don't work the way they're meant to work.
Before we start the questioning, considering that there is so much known and
there have been recommendations in all of those reports, what would you consider
to be the major factor that has led to there being what you might call inertia
or perhaps not significant enough progress in the housing situation up North?
Mr. Duschenes: That's a very good question. It's hard to speculate.
First of all, I certainly was not implying that Senate committee reports are
The Chair: I didn't mean that, sir.
Mr. Duschenes: Good; I'm glad.
There is definitely a combination of factors. My most direct involvement has
been in Nunavik and working very closely with Makivik and the La Société
d'habitation du Québec on trying to figure out a way to solve the Nunavik
housing issue. A few things have come into play historically that I'm sure
Senator Watt can speak to that much more eloquently as I can, for example, the
not necessarily unanticipated but incredibly rapid growth of new family
formation, of population growth outstripping the ability to build. The lack of
historical levels of consistent funding, so those who are building and
implementing know what they are working with financially and are able to plan
accordingly, not just for the construction but for the ongoing maintenance of
the houses, means that capacity in some of the organizations goes up and down
according to how much funding has been made available. If that is unknown, it's
very difficult to plan.
Also, to give the technical people credit, high-level construction in the
North or high-tech construction, good quality housing, is an evolving market.
It's an evolving science. There are things that have perhaps not gone as fast as
anticipated as the science evolves.
I had very interesting conversations a few weeks ago with people from CMHC
about heat-recovery ventilators that were designed for X amount of people in a
house. Then all of a sudden with overcrowding and that many more people in the
house, air quality goes down, you get mould issues, the houses deteriorate
faster, and, as the houses deteriorate faster, they become uninhabitable. That
exacerbates the problem.
In response to your question, so many factors have contributed to the lack of
housing that I don't think that we can pinpoint one particular thing. Those
incremental things add up to it being a crisis.
Have you heard from any representatives of the Nunatsiavut government? No?
With Nunatsiavut, under their self- government agreement they get a block
transfer. By and large, it's up to them as to where that gets spent in certain
areas. There are areas that have become greater priority and lesser priority.
Their hands are somewhat tied in dealing with their global financial annual
budget in terms of what gets allocated and where, and there simply hasn't been
enough money for housing. They have had a hard time accessing provincial
allocations under the Affordable Housing Initiative from CMHC that gets
transferred to the provinces.
There is another case where their self-government agreement perhaps doesn't
provide the financial resources required, plus they have not been successful in
accessing federal funds transferred to the province for social housing.
The Chair: Thank you.
Now I will turn to our deputy chair, Senator Patterson, to be followed by
Senator Patterson: Thank you for the presentation. You are urging us
to look at longer term rather than short-term issues. I think that's advice we
hope to follow.
You say a lot has already been studied and learned. I think our view is that,
for whatever reasons, parliamentary committees focused a lot on these issues, so
I'm glad we're doing that.
You say we should pull together the best of what has already been done. How
can that be done? Perhaps it's a dumb question, but if we were to follow your
advice, what is the best way of doing exactly that, namely, not reinventing the
wheel and discovering what has been, as you said, learned already?
Mr. Duschenes: That is a very good and quite troubling question. I
actually think that this issue suffers from being over-studied. It is not that
the individual studies are bad, but it gets to a point of being overwhelming
with respect to how to separate the wheat from — I don't know if there is a
Northern equivalent — muktuk from something else.
There is so much out there that when Mr. Palmer asked me whether I wanted to
do this, it became instantly overwhelming for both me and my little team of
researchers as to which were the best of the best in those 140 million Google
That's a very good question. I think you need researchers that are able to do
that triage in certain areas. What is the best that has been done on culturally
appropriate design? What is the best that has been done on the technical side,
including building on permafrost? There is a whole series of literature on the
effects of building on permafrost, but there is the whole building envelope
question, too. What are the best examples of community involvement and
governance? What are the best examples — and this is where I think there is the
biggest hole — of interjurisdictional cooperation?
Senator Patterson, it is a big job to go out there and pull the best of the
best. Maybe things have been done by the various northern housing corporations
where they know what the best of the best is. However, doing it from the outside
in the short amount of time to prepare for this discussion, it is an
overwhelming quantity of information.
We at the Conference Board did pull out case studies on a few that had been
brought to our attention. It is by no means an exhaustive list. I would assume,
though, the land claims organizations in the four Inuit regions, with the
territorial governments, the Governments of Quebec and Newfoundland and
Labrador, have a sense of what the best of the best is, but it is overwhelming.
There is a huge amount of information.
It didn't occur to me in looking through the literature, but now that you
mention it, it's true: I don't recall coming across parliamentary reports in
great numbers related to housing. I find that interesting. A lot of them are
done by research institutes, by academics, by the land claim organizations, by
the housing corporations or others, but there are fewer from the public sector.
Senator Patterson: You talked about successes in some areas. I guess
it's called best practices or best initiatives that were identified in your 2012
report. Could you elaborate on that? Where might we look for those promising
examples amidst the crisis?
Mr. Duschenes: Yes. It's nice that you put it in the context of
"amidst the crisis.''
One of the issues that we looked at were these snap together houses, these
insulated panel houses that go up quickly. The piles are put in the community,
and the houses are essentially insulated panels that are made in the South and
brought up, snapped together and are ready to live in quickly.
Going back to my earlier remarks, to deal with a crisis, that is a best
practice. You need shelter. You need housing. It can be done quickly. It was
done by a company in Prescott, I think — Kott.
Senator Watt: The company is in Ontario?
Mr. Duschenes: The company is in Ontario; the insulated panels were
shipped to Nunavut and then built. That is the best practice in terms of quickly
providing housing and shelter. Is that a best practice for northern capacity
development and community ownership or involvement in the process? No.
The best practices are going to be, in my mind, very dependent on your end
goal. If this is about long-term planning, then that is not a good solution. If
this is about providing immediate shelter — maybe "immediate'' is not the right
word — in a very short turnaround time and getting the logistics to do that,
that is a best practice.
I think you categorize best practices according to what you are trying to
achieve. The literature definitely points to different pieces of best practice.
You're not going to find one home that represents all the best practices. You're
going to find one home that, for that particular situation, air quality or
energy efficiency may be the best practice; permafrost design may be a best
practice over here. It's hard to say that this is the best practice.
Turning to Makivik, from my experience they probably have the best practices
in terms of capacity development and how things become capacity-built locally.
Senator Watt: And also the cost.
Mr. Duschenes: And also the cost factor per square foot. Makivik is
certainly leading the way doing that.
Is there a best practice? We have not found best practices on innovative
financing models. Regarding the literature, there is a bit of a gap there
looking at other ways. I think you're probably all aware of the situation
related to market- based housing, whether on reserve or in the North. It is a
complex and perhaps untenable approach.
There are some interesting Habitat for Humanity examples, but innovative
financing and not relying on public sector money, not much has been written
about that and not much research has been done on that.
Senator Patterson: We'll have to study your report, of course, but on
the question of best practices, did the Conference Board look at how other
regions around the world — maybe around the circumpolar world, Greenland and
Alaska — have addressed housing issues in their regions, and are there lessons
we might learn beyond our borders?
Mr. Duschenes: That was not something we specifically looked at. It
has been discussed fairly extensively. I actually did meet with people from
Arctic Council, people from Global Affairs Canada and the senior Arctic
official, before she assumed the position in Miami, about whether the World
Economic Forum, through the Arctic agenda council, was perhaps interested in
looking at a comparative model of how infrastructure was funded and some of the
best practices of infrastructure funding and infrastructure construction.
However, no, the Conference Board has not looked at that in the circumpolar
Senator Watt: Madam Chair, don't cut me off too quickly this time.
This is a very interesting approach that you're taking. For quite a long time
I've been expecting that somebody will come over from somewhere in the
government who will participate in the discussion and dialogue — such as in a
committee, like we're doing — and examine a certain issue that we, too, have to
rely on: the ability to have a roof over our heads. There is a cost factor we
have to take into consideration. The lifespan of those individual buildings, and
so on, we have to take that into consideration. How long would it take for those
building materials to deteriorate?
I've been witness to renovation of the existing houses. That money is spent
mostly by the Government of Quebec because the federal government has been slow
in terms of injecting money into the housing question, which we needed. There
are many factors involved in terms of not helping us to answer the needs of our
You mentioned that there is a social crisis now in our communities. It
doesn't matter whether it's Nunavik, Nunavut, Nunatsiavut or N.W.T. We have a
lot of problems due to the fact that those small houses are packed. You might
have two, three or even four generations living in the same house. Without even
putting a great deal of thinking into it, if you have a huge number of people in
those small trailers, you're bound to have all kinds of social problems. When
you look at the hardship that the people are going through, it's understandable
in a sense that they have a social problem because they live in a very tight
In terms of answering the short-term needs, I don't know whether we can
answer. Maybe we can partially answer the short-term needs of individual
communities. But the problem is where are you going to get the capital? It
always comes down to who is going to pay for it.
The individual residents of those houses don't have purchasing power, as you
know. If you have lived in the North — in the Northwest Territories, across the
Arctic — purchasing power is almost down to nil. How do we become more
productive, knowing that our purchasing power is down to nil? Let's say the
closest community to the south is Kuujjuaq. Their purchasing power only
represents 25 cents, according to a study undertaken by Laval University.
Knowing that factor, and talking about who is going to pay for it, this is an
area that I believe, when you're dealing with the question of housing, should
also be approached to see whether we can find a solution to try to balance the
people who live in the North and the people who live in the South, because there
is no balance whatsoever. People in the North have no savings because of the
high cost of living, transportation and goods. Everything costs money, even in
terms of accessing food. I would say that the Inuit are very lucky in that sense
that they can go out into the country and bring food back to the table. If we
didn't have that access, where would we be today? We would have a hard time
making ends meet.
Equipment costs a lot of money. You have to have a boat, canoes, motors, a
snow machine. Those cost a lot of money. Those factors must be brought in as
part of the solution if we're going to find the solution.
I'd like to return to the point about renovation. I have seen houses that
were put up and that have been in existence for, let's say, five to six years.
Already at the end of the five years you're injecting another $500,000 to
renovate that same house, the same house that you already pumped $500,000 into.
It is a vicious circle that we're living in, so we need to move in the direction
of finding a solution.
Getting back to the point that you raised about the long term, I think there
is a solution. One thing that I don't think we have begun to start examining is
what kinds of local materials might be available to us — building materials, for
example. It might cost a lot of money up front in terms of getting the
equipment, but in the long run it will probably be a lot cheaper. It will
probably be much more affordable for those people who have only 25 per cent
purchasing power. So the purchasing side has to be examined.
If you are talking about innovative technology and finding a solution for the
long term, I tend to think that there is one. I don't think it is too far away.
I don't think we need to go to the international community. I think we have that
technology here in this country.
What we need to do is find a way. What are we going to build? Are we going to
change the landscape, the look of the Arctic — in other words, eliminate all the
houses we have now, for the long term, and replace them with the innovative
technology type of living quarters?
For example, the Inuit, before they started living in wooden houses, they
lived in igloos. In summertime they lived in a tent. An igloo shape and type of
a new technology, a dome, maybe that is an acceptable solution in the long run,
if we're looking to come up with an answer in the long run. I think that would
also be a lot more feasible in the sense that it would cost less money for the
residents of those houses.
I think there is a solution. However, if we're going to continue looking at —
as you said, and I do agree with you — the short term and try to provide a quick
answer for the need, and if we keep going in that direction, I don't think we're
going to reach the point in terms of changing the look of the Arctic. If you
begin to start building dome houses that look like igloos, they may be bigger
dome houses, and maybe that's the way to go.
The Chair: Senator Watt, we have three other senators.
Senator Watt: Here she is, cutting me off again before I have a chance
to make my point. You have interfered again in what I was trying to say, and I
really don't appreciate that.
Nevertheless, I think you hit us pretty hard. I don't disagree with you at
all. I think what you bring to the table here is what needs to be said. Enough
research has been done. A lot of materials already exist, but who will provide
the materials that already exist? Maybe the committee should be examining what
you brought to our attention.
If you could furnish that information, it would be very helpful to this
committee so we don't end up doing the same thing that we have done before. I
think you are warning us on that aspect, and I do agree with you.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Watt. I meant no disrespect, but we do
have a number of other senators who want to ask questions. We have Senator
Sibbeston, to be followed by Senator Tannas
Senator Sibbeston: Thank you.
You are probably the best organization to which a question like this can be
posed. If you look at the history of the North — in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s,
ever since the federal government became interested in the North and the people
there — anybody who has ever had a role in administering the North, and
eventually when government was set up, there was always the question of how to
house the people of the North, recognizing that people came from igloos and a
way of life living on the land. There was a phenomenon of people moving into
town and becoming settled.
The question has always been, how do we house people? How do we provide
people with housing?
I know that in countries like Greenland, the government has taken a central
government approach of setting up large complexes for people to live in. That is
my understanding of how they did it in Greenland. We see pictures of Siberia,
Russia, where there are large complexes for people to move into. In Canada, we
didn't take that approach. We went to individual houses.
I'm wondering, as a think tank and organization that studies things of this
sort, has there ever been a study on the different ways of housing Inuit people
in the North, whether the approach they've taken is costly and whether there
could have been a more economical and functional way of housing Inuit people in
larger buildings and complexes — though maybe not as large as what Greenland
provides — which would be more efficient? Have you ever looked at an alternative
to the system we have now, because it's very expensive to house individual
families in the North?
Mr. Duschenes: To my knowledge, the Conference Board has not done
that. However, in the cursory literature review that we did undertake over the
last week or so, the issue of culturally appropriate houses and multiplexes, or
large buildings, is something that comes up fairly regularly as a potential
point of contention or a potential opportunity. I'm sure the housing corporation
can speak in much more detail with regard to multiplexes. There are more and
more multiplexes coming up, but there is also a lot in the literature about
whether multiplexes and culturally appropriate housing always mesh.
The other thing from Greenland and the Irkutsk area of Siberia is that there
were mass investments in Greenland and Siberia, maybe 20 years ago, in
infrastructure at the time when I guess decisions were made centrally for
housing and infrastructure issues to be dealt with comprehensively.
The Conference Board, to my knowledge, has not done a cost-benefit analysis
of multiplexes versus individual buildings and has not really looked at the
whole issue of multiplexes or larger buildings. It's certainly something we
would be interested in doing.
Senator Tannas: I was looking at some of our briefing notes and the
potential questions we could ask, and I was listening to Senator Watt. I just
got this feeling of what it must have been like to be in Moscow, as part of the
central planning department for whatever problems they needed to solve that have
been around for a long time. We talk and can't ever get to the bottom of it and
can't solve it. I was thinking about what makes us different, and what makes us
different, typically, is that our society relies on individuals and an
individual's ability to innovate.
I'd like your comments on this, Mr. Duschenes. I'd also be interested to know
what Mr. Audla thinks, so he has a little more time than Mr. Duschenes to
It's plain that there is not enough money being spent on this problem, but
the money that we do spend today, we pour into the top and there's a sift called
INAC. There's another sift at the chief and council level, and a whole bunch of
priorities have to be dealt with. These are all the frictional costs that go
along with us before the money ever gets into the hands of the beneficiary or
into the services the beneficiary needs.
Would it ever make sense to just cut all of that off and turn the money over
to individuals? I'm not talking about a little bit of money; I'm talking about a
lot of money for a lot of different things. I wonder how many people have sat in
my chair as a senator and struggled with these issues and listened to testimony.
I'd be interested to know what your thoughts are on us thinking as a national
government, as the people of Canada, about turning this over and empowering
individuals to make their own arrangements and providing the appropriate
financial resources to do so.
Mr. Duschenes: I wish I was Terry and had more time to think about it.
That's a very interesting idea.
The thing that strikes me first and foremost is that the complexity of
building houses in the North, figuring out what to do and how, is much greater
than here. If I was a northerner and somebody said to me, "Don't deal with the
local housing authority, don't deal with the Nunavut Housing Corporation, it's
up to you,'' I would feel totally overwhelmed.
Would I know, as an individual up North in Grise Fjord or in Kuujjuaq, that
the first step would be to say, "Okay, I'm going to build myself or get myself a
house?'' I don't think so.
This maybe gets to Senator Sibbeston's question about multiplexes, but there
must be an enormous economy of scale related to the sealift, central planning,
and housing engineering expertise in one place that you would have a hard time
accessing as an individual.
Getting back to Senator Patterson's question about best practices, there are
certainly case studies — hybrids — from a governance perspective where it's not
entirely up to the individuals, but where communities and individuals have a
large say on how the process works. They seem to be very promising. It's not
turning everything over to the individual, and it's not being completely
centralized like the Russian example you gave. It may be simpler, in fact. It's
somewhere in between. It's empowering the community to have a role, empowering
families to have a role, but having the necessary supports, the housing
corporations, the sealift organizations. It's a very interesting conceptual
Would it solve the problem? I don't know. Maybe in some communities that
Senator Moore: Thank you, Mr. Duschenes, for being here.
I don't know what was ever wrong with the igloo design. It worked for
thousands of years. Why weren't the great minds in the South thinking of that
and working with that? I don't understand that.
You said that there's an historical, significant lack of funding available to
solve the crisis, and that traditional reliance on government funds has not and
will not solve the issue. So has the Conference Board looked at other means of
funding? If we know that government funds have not solved and will not solve the
issue, what will?
Mr. Duschenes: That is a very good and timely question.
In my Northern Aboriginal Policy group at the Conference Board, there is
something called the Centre for the North, which is a collective research centre
where private sector indigenous groups and the public sector join together and
decide on their research priorities and contribute to that research and where
the Conference Board goes out and does that research. One of the things that has
been identified — and we're actually working with the council on P3s out of
Toronto — is that there is the need for a collective think, a round table, on
alternative funding for infrastructure, including housing.
To answer your question, we haven't done it yet, but we are in the planning
stage of thinking who has to be around the table to have that discussion about
what other models of financing, other ways of financing, could be developed.
The issue had been pushed initially. One of the members of the Centre for the
North is TD bank. I've met several times with Clint Davis, who you may be
familiar with, the VP of Aboriginal Banking at TD, and it's one of the bees in
his bonnet. He is a Nunatsiavut beneficiary. He has said, "There must be a
better way of developing a financing or funding model that is not purely reliant
on the public sector.'' Maybe there isn't, but what the Conference Board —
Senator Moore: The Conference Board has existed for 60 years. I'm kind
of surprised you haven't looked at that stuff.
Mr. Duschenes: The Conference Board was established 60 years ago
mainly as an economic think tank. The economic projections are probably what you
hear about in the news, territorial forecasts related to labour market and
The focus on public policy at the Conference Board is much more recent, and
the focus on northern and Aboriginal policy has only been at the Conference
Board only since 2009.
Senator Moore: You didn't look at it before that?
Mr. Duschenes: No. The Northern and Aboriginal Policy group was formed
in 2009. The board of directors at the Conference Board is constantly scanning
for gaps where the Conference Board could —
Senator Moore: Did the board looked at issues involving other First
Nations prior to that?
Mr. Duschenes: There was some work done in the health sphere and in
the education sphere, some with Aboriginal financial institutions, but there was
never a focus group dedicated to Aboriginal policy issues until 2009.
Senator Moore: Thank you.
Senator Enverga: Thank you for the presentation.
I'm looking at your Google searches. I'm impressed by how much information is
there in Google, but I also know that sometimes the hits are multiplied a few
I noted that you did not search on Inuit infrastructure or Aboriginal
infrastructure. Is it possible that the reason we have a housing crisis right
now or there's a housing issue is related to lack of infrastructure
availability? Can you tell me more about that, please?
Mr. Duschenes: Something in the research that comes up is that one
cannot look at housing in the absence of looking at the supporting
infrastructure, obviously. So water, sewer, electricity and whatever else a
company needs for housing are mentioned in a lot of the research as being
critical. It does not seem to be — and this is, again, not very scientific — the
major limiting factor. Senator Watt and others from the North would be able to
speak to this better than I can. The lack of supporting infrastructure does not
seem to be the major barrier for a community saying, "We can't build anymore
houses because the rest of the infrastructure can't support it.'' That's my
impression more than anything scientific.
What is interesting about the other part of your question is that the
Conference Board did work on an assessment of the infrastructure needs generally
in the North. One of the big challenges is that the other infrastructure needs —
hamlet council offices, recreation centres, health centres — are huge as well,
so you're often competing for funds between housing and other core
infrastructure needs. There has been a tendency to try to find funding in the
middle, where you fund some housing and fund other infrastructure. But
essentially there are limited dollars and people are completing for them. Often,
major infrastructure, like health services, is absolutely critical, and that may
I believe that housing was not eligible for some of the federal stimulus
funding from 2008 in infrastructure. I may be wrong about that, but I don't
think housing was an eligible shovel-ready project.
Senator Enverga: As a follow-up question, though it may not be
related, you mentioned earlier in your presentation that you think the budget is
encouraging and will create some solutions. Can you let us know more about that?
Mr. Duschenes: What I find encouraging in the budget is that the four
Inuit regions are mentioned, and there's specific recognition of Nunavik and
Nunatsiavut. I haven't scoured the other budgets, but in my recollection, I do
not think that allocations specifically for Nunavik and Nunatsiavut have been
mentioned in other budgets.
Am I encouraged that this is going to solve something entirely? I don't know,
but given my history of working in the area, I find the fact that it has been
highlighted in the budget documents as being a critical need — it and other
indigenous issues — to be encouraging.
Senator Enverga: You find that just the mention of the names is
encouraging, but do you think the money involved will be enough or could solve
some of the issues we're having now?
Mr. Duschenes: Again, Senator Watt would know. I think Nunavik is
missing 1,200 houses at the moment. There's a shortfall of —
Senator Watt: Just over 1,000.
Mr. Duschenes: — just over 1,000 houses.
Will the $50 million over two years solve the cost of building in Nunavik?
Probably not. But could there be matching funds from the provincial government?
Could Makivik put some in?
I don't think this money can be looked at in isolation, thinking of the other
partners out there that could contribute to it. But the federal government being
able to put some money on the table perhaps will open doors or encourage
innovative approaches or provincial governments or territorial governments to
match other sources. I don't know whether it will solve the problem, but given
my history on this issue, it seems encouraging.
Senator Enverga: Are you saying that the previous budget did not give
Mr. Duschenes: No, not at all. Again, the housing corporation would be
better placed to speak to this. Previous budgets, under the Affordable Housing
Initiative, transferred significant money to the territories and significant
money to the provinces, but, in my recollection, I don't think I ever saw a
dedicated allocation to Nunavik in northern Quebec and Nunatsiavut in Labrador
in any of the other budgets. There was mention of transfers to the provinces —
the Government of Quebec and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. To my
knowledge, this is the first time that Nunavik and Nunatsiavut have been singled
Nunavut and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region are mentioned as well, but the
thing that struck me yesterday was the mention of the two Inuit regions in the
Senator Beyak: Thank you very much for your presentation. Your
experience and insight are very helpful to us.
I wonder if you could enlighten me a little. I live in northwestern Ontario
and it seems you're saying there are groups and individuals at all levels of
government, well meaning, well intentioned, that have been studying this to
death and we need a call to action. We have models in my area that are working
so well: contented and prosperous. Do you have a way in your research to do that
across Canada, to find models that are working in the Far North, in the West, in
Ontario, the North, midsections, that we could use as examples?
Mr. Duschenes: Yes. The Centre for the North has a three-year research
plan, including a snapshot. One of the things the research items that our
members have asked us to do is a snapshot across the northern provinces and in
the territories of the state of play in housing with a focus on some big
successes and on some major roadblocks.
That piece of research is not slated to start I think until about a year from
now, the spring of 2017. We're certainly open to having the conversation with
anybody as to whether that can be accelerated. Is there a critical mass of
people pushing in that direction? Absolutely.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much. We all know this is a very complex
subject. I was interested in your opening remarks where you talked about short
term and long term and that we really needed to define what we want to get out
of our study.
If we look at just the short term right now and the crisis happening, do you
have any recommendations or examples of what can be done quickly, short term,
to, if you like, save the people who are there from such hardship?
Mr. Duschenes: That's when it becomes a shelter issue. What are the
immediate solutions that have been tried elsewhere to provide, not 20-year
shelter, but quick, sustainable, shorter term shelter?
Do I have recommendations? Not really. I was at a workshop organized by Polar
Knowledge Canada with the new agency CHARS, the Canadian High Arctic Research
Station and the Canadian Polar Commission where there was an interesting Inuk
woman from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association on the phone who articulately put
forward that she was tired of hearing about culturally appropriate design, HRVs
and insulation and long-term solutions. She wanted to go home to a house that
wasn't overcrowded and wasn't unpleasant to live in. Her immediate goal was to
come up with solutions, exactly as you say, senator, for quick shelter fixes.
What are those? The one example we looked at and I mentioned before was these
snap-together SIP panels that Kott designed and developed. It's not immediate
like in a refugee camp but it is shorter term, and within 18 months 140 SIP
houses were built in Nunavut in a fairly short time.
Again, I can't see the reaction of the people from the housing corporation
behind me, but I'm sure they would be better placed to speak to what some of
those immediate or shorter term solutions may be.
There is the danger, though. Are you building shorter term that has very high
up-front costs where the sustainability and the longer term, as Senator Watt
mentioned, buildings that deteriorate very quickly, that you're solving a short-
term problem but creating a longer term issue?
Again, quoting the woman from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, she was very
interested in the short term because her day-to-day life was very difficult in
the current housing situation that she was in.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Duschenes, for the excellent information and
the cautions that you have given to the committee as we conduct our study.
Mr. Duschenes: Thank you very much for having me.
The Chair: For our second panel tonight, we are pleased to welcome the
Nunavut Housing Corporation. We have as our witnesses tonight, Terry Audla,
President and Chief Executive Officer; Gershom Moyo, Vice President and Chief
Financial Officer; and Tim Brown, Director, Policy and Strategic Planning.
We will begin with your statements and then we will follow, as is our usual
practice, with questions from the senators. Gentlemen, if you would take over,
Terry Audla, President and CEO, Nunavut Housing Corporation: Thank
you, Madam Chair, and good evening. I apologize in advance as I just got off a
three-hour flight, am just getting over a flu I've had for four days, and I've
been up since three o'clock this morning. If I fumble, stumble, or mumble, I
With my opening comments, there is a handout that each of you should have. It
will sort of flow with my speaking notes. If you do get lost as to where I am
with my opening statements and comments, I'll try to refer to the pages as I go
through. Thank you for the invitation to discuss northern housing issues with
you today. I am encouraged by what seems to be a growing focus on housing across
Page 2: it is no secret that Nunavut is facing a severe housing crisis,
marked most significantly by a severe housing shortage and rates of overcrowding
unparalleled anywhere else in the country. Today I wish to speak to you more
about how we can move beyond these staggering statistics and what can or should
be done to ensure Inuit in Nunavut have access to the same housing opportunities
and options as other Canadians have. I'll begin with an overview of Nunavut's
ongoing challenges as they relate to the financing of construction, operations
and maintenance of housing in Nunavut. Everything costs more in the North and
housing is no exception.
Page 3: To put this in perspective, between 1999 and 2009, the average
housing expenditures by the Government of Nunavut were 13 per cent of the
territory's revenue. This is an aggregate over 13 times greater than the
aggregate for all provinces and territories, which is at between 0.7 per cent
and 1.2 per cent.
Page 4: Construction costs in Nunavut are extremely high in comparison to
Southern Canada. On average, construction in Nunavut costs three times more than
in the Greater Toronto Area. In Nunavut, costs vary by community. The average
cost of a new public housing unit is between $400,000 and $550,000. The Nunavut
Housing Corporation has taken steps in recent years to reduce costs, including
changes in contracting methods and building multiplexes. However, considering
all the associated costs, such as shipping, land development, and labour,
housing construction is and will continue to be more costly than in the south.
Page 5: Similarly, the cost of operating and maintaining public housing units
is also very high in comparison to Southern Canada. The yearly operating cost of
one public housing unit is approximately $26,000, the majority of which can be
attributed to utility costs such as water and electricity.
Page 6: The underlying challenge is that there is very little opportunity for
the Government of Nunavut to recover its costs. Rental revenues from public
housing tenants in Nunavut are limited by the territory's lack of economic
opportunities for individuals. In 2014-15, 75 per cent of public tenants made
less than $23,000 annually. Because all public housing rent is geared to income,
the vast majority of tenants pay the minimum rent of only $60 per month.
Addressing Nunavut's housing crisis is not something that the Government of
Nunavut can tackle alone. We will continue to require support from the federal
government for both new units as well as greater support to address our
increasing operational costs.
Page 7: By now, you are likely aware of the declining social housing
agreement funds. The impact of this decline is already being felt by the
Government of Nunavut as it has to steadily increase its funding for operating
public housing units. As of this fiscal year, the funding for social housing has
already declined by $10.56 million. The impact of declining social housing
funding is amplified by the twofold pressure on already limited Government of
Nunavut budgets. Not only does the Government of Nunavut have to compensate for
diminishing social housing funding but also, as the housing stock grows through
new construction, the overall costs of maintaining the stock increases.
Page 8: Currently, the Government of Nunavut's contribution to social housing
alone makes up 9 per cent of its total O&M budget of $1.5 billion. As we begin
to address the 3,000-unit gap through new construction, we predict that the
costs of maintaining public housing units will grow to 16 per cent of the GN's
Page 9: With regard to new construction, there are two ways in which capital
funding flows to Nunavut. The first is through the 2014-19 investment in the
affordable housing agreement, which requires a 100 per cent cost match from the
Government of Nunavut, and will have provided a total of $7.3 million or $1.46
million per annum in federal funding to address Nunavut's need for new social
While the partnership and longevity of the agreement are beneficial, the
actual level of commitment is population- based by jurisdiction. While this type
of calculation may work well in the southern context, it is not suitable for the
realities of Nunavut. Because of its inadequate size, the true impact of
investment in affordable housing funding is limited. Unless combined with other
Government-of-Nunavut-sponsored capital funding, this investment cannot
realistically be used to construct new units to address the growing gap. To a
certain extent, the investment in affordable housing comes to represent token
funding from the federal government used to top up existing Government of
Nunavut capital funding for new construction.
Page 10: The second way in which capital funding flows to Nunavut from the
federal government is through large, one-time capital funding injections.
Examples of this include the Nunavut Housing Trust, Canadian economic action
plan, and, most recently in 2013, the $100 million economic action plan funding.
These types of capital injections are welcome because they demonstrate a better
reflection of the degree of investment required to address Nunavut's housing
crisis. However, the unpredictable nature of these investments represents
We'd like to make that more of a flat line rather than the up and down, boom
and bust aspect of these types of funding. For example, sporadic investments
seriously hinder the ability for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, the Government
of Nunavut and municipalities to plan ahead to implement better land-use
policies and plan for community infrastructure needs in relation to community
priorities. Unpredictable funding also limits the ability for the Government of
Nunavut to accomplish additional economic outcomes through initiatives that
require longer horizons, such as apprenticeship and training. Lack of
predictability limits planning, and this also creates a feast-or- famine
environment for local contractors and impedes a sustainable approach to economic
development at the community level.
However, the impact of such sporadic investment is short-lived. It cannot
address long-term effects such as population growth. In 2004, the Nunavut
Housing Corporation collaborated with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated to develop
the Nunavut Ten-Year Inuit Housing Action Plan, which called for the
construction of 3,000 units for crisis relief to address overcrowding. In 2016,
more than 10 years later and after more than $500 million invested in new
construction, we are back to where we started. We are calling still today for
new 3,000 units to close the housing gap between Nunavut and the rest of Canada,
in addition to what is needed to keep place with the population growth.
Consistent, predictable and adequate funding for new housing, along with
increased support for operational costs, would allow Nunavut to develop at a
much more meaningful pace to truly maximize the return on investment for the
federal government. Funding with long-term planning horizons would support the
development of neighbourhoods aimed at enhancing community wellness.
Longer planning horizons would allow the Nunavut Housing Corporation to take
advantage of new technologies in housing construction and maintenance. The local
workforce capacity is very limited in many communities across the territory.
This means that using and installing the latest technologies in our housing
units is impractical as, in many cases, there is no one in the community with
the knowledge or expertise to maintain or fix these new technologies — nor do we
have the easy access to Home Hardware, Canadian Tire or Home Depot.
One interesting factoid I wanted to bring up, as well, is that, in the
Northwest Territories, I have worked with my counterparts Mr. Sanderson with the
housing corporation in the N.W.T., as well as the Yukon. They had suggested that
they are maintaining their social housing units with the older model type of
forced air heating, because it's easier to maintain. It's not that much more
difficult to maintain in the sense that you can train maintainers for that
purpose; whereas in Nunavut, we've been progressing more into the glycol type of
heating — the radiation heating — and that's become an issue locally, based on
the fact that we don't have the expertise or training that we could keep up with
in terms of that.
Too often pressure from the South to maximize energy efficiency or improve
delivery methods to reduce construction costs are proposed for the sake of
political expediency and are not based on any standard of research adequate for
Northern realities. The Nunavut Housing Corporation's new housing designs all
have very high energy- efficiency ratings. It's up to 83 or 85 per cent — up to
that range. You could unplug it off of the grid, and they'd be efficient enough
to maintain the warmth and the low energy required to actually heat the home,
based on their R rating and construction.
The Nunavut Housing Corporation will work with other partners on addressing
energy consumption among tenants, but considering the climate and the level of
overcrowding, consumption is relatively low. Once the Nunavut Housing
Corporation has addressed its housing needs, only then can we dedicate the time
needed to carry out effective energy-efficiency research.
Limitations to developing diverse housing options are what prevent Nunavut
from having a full housing continuum. A housing continuum can be described as a
line with two extremes: At one end is an owner-occupied home; at the other end
is homelessness. Somewhere in between is supportive housing for those unable to
Longer-term funding commitments could assist in developing a more robust
housing continuum, not only by supporting the training for the maintenance
workers needed to support diverse housing, but also by allowing longer planning
horizons so that the Government of Nunavut could better determine the true needs
of Nunavummiut and have the flexibility to meet these needs with whatever types
of housing are most suitable.
As you know, there were several arguments for increased federal involvement,
including as was argued in the 2004 Inuit housing action plan, a fiduciary duty
to support housing of Canada's northern-most Aboriginal people.
I will stress again that a long-term funding strategy with the federal
government to address Nunavut's housing crisis is what is most needed. I am
pretty much echoing what Mr. Duschenes had said earlier, based on all the
research out there. There is a lot of research, and we feel that in order for
the housing crisis to be addressed, we need to look at more of a longer-term
type of funding arrangement — more of a continuous type of funding, looking at
the long term.
We came together with Inuit organizations to ask for this in 2004.
Last, having said this, I don't want you to think that the Government of
Nunavut has sat idly by, waiting for a housing solution to come from the federal
government. The Government of Nunavut has invested and continues to invest
significant capital funds for housing construction in Nunavut and has now made
its commitments for long term.
The Nunavut Housing Corporation has also been leading a three-part initiative
for the Government of Nunavut to develop a holistic and comprehensive approach
to address the territory's housing crisis. We are currently in the process of
completing the final phase of this initiative that seeks to reduce the costs of
housing, increase the supply of housing and determine more definitively the
housing needs of Nunavummiut. The success of the initiative, however, will be
greatly impacted by the level of commitment the federal government is willing to
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak before you and to speak to
you this evening about the housing crisis facing Inuit in Nunavut. I am now open
to any questions you may have.
The Chair: Thank you for that presentation. It is very comprehensive
and has given us a lot of detail and information. If I may, I think I will just
start out with one short question.
You were talking about your 10-year Inuit action plan in 2004. I wasn't clear
on whether that plan was ever actually implemented. Was it something that you
had come together with that sounded like eight different organizations, and was
the plan actually ever implemented?
Mr. Audla: Unfortunately, that plan was never implemented.
The Chair: If that plan were to be reincarnated today, would that plan
still contain the necessary strategy policies or recommendations that would work
Mr. Audla: Yes, Madam Chair. The information that had been gathered
for that action plan is still very relevant for today, and we hope to use that
as part of our planning process, as well, for the next phase of the blueprint
for action that we're currently working towards and developing within the
Government of Nunavut and the Nunavut territory.
The Chair: And that is the plan that you referred to at the conclusion
of your remarks?
Mr. Audla: Yes.
The Chair: When are you anticipating that you will have finished that
Mr. Audla: We're hoping for fall of this year. I believe it is in
October that we are seeking government and cabinet approval within the
Government of Nunavut.
The Chair: Are we allowed a sneak peek at it? I'm just kind of kidding
here. Would you share bits and pieces with us when we come to visit?
Mr. Audla: Thank you, Madam Chair. We can probably send the initial
engagement session focus discussion points that we hope to have within the
Government of Nunavut, as well as with the other stakeholders within the Nunavut
territory. I would be very much willing to share that document with you.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Patterson: I'd like to ask some very specific questions,
mainly for information, but one thing I'd like to start out with is about home
I know you've said in your presentation that it's not feasible to have your
tenants own and maintain their own homes because of their low income, their
average $23,000 income I think was the figure you stated, and this is a striking
number. However, I would like to ask you about the potential for home ownership
My theory is that there are tenants in so-called social housing or public
housing who are earning significantly more money than that average and who also
have capabilities of taking care of their houses. We have a growing middle class
amongst Inuit, some of whom work in mines, and I think that the Inuit have
always been self-reliant and there would be an appetite for home ownership if
the right conditions could be created.
Senator Sibbeston was the housing minister in the N.W.T. and I have my own
experience so I'm going to draw on a bit of that as well. I'd like to ask you
specifically about the HAP program, the Home Ownership Assistance Program of the
Government of the Northwest Territories, which saw houses built all across the
Arctic in remote communities by people who wanted to put their sweat equity into
building the homes and felt they could maintain them.
In my view, the program was a great success. It was interesting because
people were given sizable cash grants — and this is maybe what Senator Tannas
was saying — we spend a lot of money, but it doesn't always trickle down to the
homeowner or the tenant. People were given sizable amounts of cash. They were
given designs that they could choose from, like Greenland style houses with
peaked roofs. They were given materials by the housing corporation. The
materials were assembled and delivered so they didn't have to worry will the
logistics of sea lift and all that, and there were a lot of homes created that
are still standing to this day, and this was in the 1980s.
Have you looked at the HAP program? Can it be replicated again since it was a
success? I'm also wondering if you could describe either now or later about your
home ownership programs. I think it's called the Down Payment Assistance
A lot of people say that it is income tested and the people who have the
incomes that are too high aren't eligible, yet they need a big infusion of
capital to get started.
My first question is: Have you done an analysis of the HAP program? Can we
replicate that today if it was a success? How do your homeownership programs
work in Nunavut?
I'll just say one other thing. We know that the rent scale is hard to review
and adjust, but I do understand that elders get privileges in the North and if
there is an elder in a house there is minimal rent that tends to be paid. I
don't know if all the income in the household is kind of overlooked because the
tenant is an elder and gets to pay $60 a month, but I think there is more income
to be found than maybe the statistics show if you had the courage to review the
There are a lot of questions there, but I hope you know what I'm getting at.
Mr. Audla: Thank you, Madam Chair and Senator Patterson.
You're right that the HAP program, the Home Ownership Assistance Program that
was developed in the 1980s by the Government of the Northwest Territories was
actually quite successful, and we had done some research into how it was
successful and whether we can replicate it and there have been attempts. The
problem is there have been changes in the realities as we've progressed and it
turned out that the evolving programs that followed weren't as successful as the
Do we want to somehow replicate that? We do offer different types of
homeownership programs to the residents of Nunavut but, as I mentioned earlier,
the difficulty in the individual accessing contractors or people who have the
expertise to build the house or to maintain that house, as difficult as it is
within a smaller community in an isolated setting, we have had to deal with a
lot of quit claims. There are foreclosures but more dealing with the housing
corporation based on the fact that we have some equity in the house, such that
we did offer some assistance for the home ownership aspect of it. Those quit
claims might be for not being able to afford the fuel or electricity or water,
all of the stuff that's needed to maintain a home.
We need to look at that. We need to do further studies on how we can
replicate the successful HAP program that was created in the 1980s, and maybe
this is now the time, based on the increase in middle-income earners within
Nunavut. That's one thing that we will be looking at for sure.
The other is the ineligibility of some individuals based on their income
because they have too high of an income that they're not eligible for the
Senator Patterson: What stops you from helping them? Will they be
weaned from your O&M budget? What stops you?
Mr. Audla: We're hoping that they will have the wherewithal to go to
the banks to access the loans or the mortgage needed to build their own home,
but we can certainly look at that and see what we can do there.
The staff housing is another aspect where we have Government of Nunavut staff
in staff housing units that we'd like to encourage to get into their own homes
so that we can free up more units for either the social housing or other staff,
and that's something we need to look at over the next few years. The blueprint
for action is going to cover that aspect of it. We're hoping that somehow we can
look at how we can replicate what was successful, what are the best examples out
there and how can we address the issue of either the lack of expertise or
maintainers within the communities in the isolated settings, and the materials,
whether the local housing organizations can be that point of access to material.
And to do it in such a way that if it's done in a one-window aspect then you
have that spending power because you are able to do it in bulk, in a sense. Lack
of infrastructure, transportation costs, those are major issues that we still
have to face. None of the 25 communities within Nunavut are connected to any
road system, so we have to rely on the short summer shipping season.
There has always been the push to innovate. Mr. Duschenes had mentioned what
they're doing in Nunavik with respect to pre-fab homes and having these walls
built and ready to assemble within the community. However, we are also still
somewhat beholden to the land claim and labour requirements under the land
claims, under article 24 of the new land claim agreement.
Senator Patterson: To employ Inuit?
Mr. Audla: Yes. If we do the pre-fab solution, where it's all built
down in southern Canada, then that labour component is not there. That's
something we need to look at and address.
The other aspect is why not do regional pre-fabs, but then you're doubling
the cost of the material in transportation. It needs to be transported to the
pre-fab centre and then further transported into the smaller communities. That
doubles the cost of the transportation of that material. So we're stuck between
a rock and a hard place in that aspect.
We do offer programs to our elders to assist them in maintaining their homes.
Their income bracket is somewhat higher than the other homeownership programs
that we offer to those who aren't elders. We need to look at the number of quick
claims that we have, the foreclosures. Sometimes the elders no longer have an
income, so they have to give up their home. Either they will it to their
children or let their children take it over. In a lot of cases, the children
don't want anything to do with it, so we have to look at buying it back and then
maybe offering it to the elder as a social housing tenant. These are some of the
things that we have to deal with on a very regular basis. We're hoping that we
can look at the HAP program and see how we can replicate the success that
happened in the 1980s and how to make it sustainable in the long term. I hope
that answers your questions.
Senator Patterson: The SIPs program that was described by Mr.
Duschenes, the modular program, there were many people in Nunavut who thought it
was an utter disaster; high price, cost overruns. It was a factor in the $110
million overage on the $300 million that came in from the federal government in
There was a study called "lessons learned'' done by the corporation at that
time. While we don't want to necessarily look at failures, maybe there are some
things we can learn from that. I wonder if you could share that document with
us, if that's available. I'll just leave that with you.
Could give us the revenue from tenants? I'm not sure if that was in your
presentation. We know you're spending $127 million on O&M funding. What do you
get back from tenants?
What impact did the closure of the CMHC office in Nunavut have on the
corporation from your point of view?
The big news, $76.7 million for Nunavut in the budget this week over two
years. Can you lever that money? Has consideration been given to whether that
capital can be leveraged with Inuit development corporations, banks, maybe other
financial instruments towards meeting the housing needs? We know with over 3,000
units required, and $500,000 per unit — maybe I'm off by a bit — even the $76.7
million over two year — which we're glad to have received, more than the other
two territories — it's certainly not enough. Can it be leveraged?
Those are a number of questions, Madam Chair, I'd like to just put on the
The Chair: Yes. Perhaps you could respond quickly to some and then
others you may need to research, you could submit to the committee in writing.
Mr. Audla: The current revenue for the rent is at $13.5 million, with
arrears of $29 million. We have been working towards trying to improve our
collection of those arrears.
With respect to the leveraging of the recent budget announcement, due to debt
cap, we can't do that. The $77 million is three-quarters of our initial ask. We
were hoping for $105 million just to catch up with respect to the amount of
housing we can construct within that time period.
We're also in discussions right now with the CMHC on how that $77 million
will be dispersed, what type of disbursement will be made, with respect to how
we will spend it and what time period. The Nunavut Housing Corporation is used
to receiving these huge sums of money in spits and spurts. We're always at the
ready. Sometimes we go through this feast and famine aspect of our existence of
trying to address the housing issue within Nunavut. Because of that, we can't
concentrate on the long-term vision with respect to how we can address a lot of
these issues. We do get into the long-term vision aspect of it within our own
internal setups, especially with the Government of Nunavut. We're hoping to come
up with that blueprint for action in the fall. However, we need federal
engagement and from the CMHC as well as to how we can better address the housing
crisis within Nunavut.
The closure of the CMHC office, I agree, we need a Northern office. We need
CMHC in the North.
Senator Patterson: They said a Yellowknife office would take care of
Mr. Audla: Well, we created Nunavut just to address the issue of
things being done in Yellowknife and having the government closer to home. This
is the reason why we feel that federal representation within Nunavut, if it's
not there, then it's a deficit.
Senator Patterson: I asked about the "lessons learned'' document.
Mr. Audla: We will definitely forward that document to the committee.
Senator Sibbeston: I was going to also talk about the $76.7 million
that the federal government is providing to the Nunavut government. It seems to
be aimed at affordable housing.
My understanding of affordable housing in First Nations communities
throughout Canada, particularly the communities that we visit, is that there's a
subsidized housing program provided by the federal government to assist people
so that they can afford to either rent or even purchase these buildings.
Can you tell me, in Nunavut, when we talk about affordable housing, what does
it mean? Is there actually a program where Inuit people can own their own homes
with the subsidies that the federal government provides?
Mr. Audla: Thank you, Senator Sibbeston. That we're still trying to
figure out, because it was under the umbrella of affordable housing. Our last
affordable housing funding arrangement with the government required that the
Government of Nunavut, match what was contributed. I'm pretty confident that $77
million can't be matched by the GN right now due to other commitments, but we're
still in discussions right now — just yesterday — with the CMHC about how we're
going to look at accessing these dollars.
In our experience, affordable housing funds have gone mostly towards social
housing. I did mention some of the homeownership programs that we offer, but
that's more to the tune of $4.6 million, in that area. That's for existing
homeowners as well as potential new homeowners.
Senator Sibbeston: Without question, the essence of housing for
anybody is that they would eventually own their own house. That's the way it is
in the south, and that's the way it is amongst people everywhere: to own their
own house. I can't help but think that ought to be one of the primary goals of
the Nunavut government and the Nunavut Housing Corporation. I would be
interested to know if there's a real movement towards that happening.
In the West, what is happening with First Nations and Metis people that live
in the western N.W.T. is that as they become wealthy and self-sufficient and
move up the economic ladder, as it were, with secure jobs and so forth, many of
them want their own homes. They get out of government housing and eventually buy
their own housing, such as a trailer, or they build their own. That has been the
movement. Independent, sufficiently financially able people are able to own
their own homes. That's everybody's goal. Everybody's goal in the North is to
have a house and to have a Ford truck. Those two things: a house and a truck.
That's what everybody strives for in the North. I'm curious whether you see this
movement in Nunavut.
The other point I was going to make is that since the 1980s, and since the
government has come to the West, in a sense, and has been in the business of
helping people build houses, there has been a lot of training. There have been a
lot of skills and expertise gained by people in the communities to the point
where they can build their own houses. In some instances, local people have
developed little companies that can take on contracts to build houses. I'm just
wondering whether this has happened in Nunavut. Is there a body of skilled local
people that are now able to build their own houses as opposed to having crews
come in from the south and build them houses?
Mr. Audla: Thank you, Senator Sibbeston. To that last question, no. We
still rely on a lot of southern contractors and labourers. We are trying to
forever address that within Nunavut with respect to training up the local
workforce, as well as making it so that the workforce gets to that level of
continuity so that we're able to access them for each and every major housing
project within the communities or the regions.
I want to turn your attention to the housing continuum in your handouts as
well. This is a big part of our discussions within the Blueprint for Action that
we hope to finalize in the fall. It goes into the whole aspect of every single
Canadian resident having some form of shelter from the day they're born to the
day we die. That form of shelter progresses as life progresses.
The one thing that is really missing within Nunavut, when it comes to the
homeownership aspect of it and — I identify within this housing continuum — are
the gaps. There's the emergency shelter aspect and housing the vulnerable, the
hindered and homeless, and the couch surfers. Those need to be addressed. We
need to figure out how we can work towards filling that gap. Within rental
housing, right now as it stands, the catch-all is the public housing aspect of
it, but we want to move away from that to where we eventually get into the
homeownership aspect of it. This is where that gap is. We're currently trying to
figure that out. We're looking at the success of the HAP program, and we have
offered homeownership type of arrangements.
Last year, the housing corporation approved 319, 40 of which were for down
payment assistance. Related to that, as well, we're looking at strata-type
ownership, corporation housing or condo type arrangements where a group of
individuals can own a multiplex type of arrangement, or simply own their own
home. But that's going to take a lot more planning and discussion as to how we
can fill those gaps within that housing continuum. I appreciate your comments.
Senator Tannas: I'm interested in your answer to my prior question. I
guess what I'm looking for is, if that paradigm shift occurred and your client,
for money, was now the people for whom you needed to come up with housing
alternatives, as opposed to your client for money being Ottawa, what would
change? What would change for the good and what do you think would change for
the bad, assuming that there was enough money to meet basic housing needs?
Let's set the money aside for a minute: What would change?
Mr. Audla: Thank you, Senator Tannas, for that question. It's related
to that previous one, when Mr. Duschenes was before the committee: Why not give
$400,000 or $500,000 to these individuals and have them build their own homes?.
The problems within that concept would probably be for those individuals to try
and find either the material at prices that are fair outside of them being
purchased in bulk, the design, or architectural soundness.
Senator Tannas: I understand that. You provide that today, right? You
are the provider of that.
Mr. Audla: We do provide that, and it's a matter of how we can take
that $400,000, $500,000 per unit that we spend and do it in such a way that we
increase home ownership. Again, it's that gap we're trying to address somehow.
Senator Tannas: So maybe it isn't $500,000, because I don't think that
would be practical.
Mr. Audla: No.
Senator Tannas: But maybe my family has transfers coming from
government for housing, we can afford $50,000 a year and we'd like you to
provide us with a suite of alternatives that might work for us. Would that be
possible? Could that happen? Instead of saying "I've got to wait to see what
money falls from Ottawa,'' if you had thousands of people saying to you, "We'd
like a house, please, and we can demonstrate and pay you 50 grand a year for
it.'' Could you imagine a world where that would happen, what your role in it
might be and how it might be different?
Mr. Audla: Yes and no, but I'll defer to Mr. Brown with respect to his
thoughts. Mr. Brown is the director of policy. He has been with the Nunavut
Housing Corporation for the past 12 years and has seen it all. I just started as
of January, so I'll defer to Mr. Brown, if that's okay with you, Madam Chair.
Tim Brown, Director, Policy and Strategic Planning, Nunavut Housing
Corporation: With regard to the issue of being able to improve home
ownership across the territory, there's an assumption — I think Senator
Sibbeston was getting to it — that we want to move to home ownership naturally.
The problem for Nunavut is that the capacity to be able to do so, the numbers
we're looking at in terms of our actual housing needs, are so minuscule. We're
not going to get thousands. We'd be lucky if we can get a hundred across the
whole territory that will be able to afford that within the public housing
There's another range out there within staff housing, about 20 per cent of
our tenants in Government of Nunavut staff housing are Inuit that would be a
better pool for home ownership that way and from the sustainability.
The underlying issue, and I think what Terry is trying to get at, is the
financial literacy around being able to access home ownership on top of other
more practical or pragmatic issues like land availability or general cost of
construction or cost of home ownership in the North.
For me, I can't fathom that kind of a situation where we'd be giving that
level of subsidy, even at $50,000, mostly because of our experience that we're
dealing with now, the experience we have in terms of the legacy of home
ownership programs that have come through the decades since the 1970s in the
Terry was alluding to our issues with quick claims and foreclosures. The
issue there is not so much about the affordability on the financing of the home;
it's the operational costs of being able to maintain that home overall.
We spend a lot of money, about $4 million a year, in home ownership
programming, most of that going to home repair and maintenance. In terms of the
overall applications that we get, 40 out of 300 were only for down payment
assistance programs, for example, last year.
It's difficult to imagine that kind of a world when we have 35 per cent
overcrowding, 80 per cent of the 19,000 tenants we have make less than $23,000,
what level of financing would we have to be able to provide in order to make
that significant of a paradigm shift?
The Chair: Senators, we are running late. We have five minutes left,
so if we could keep our questions short, please.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much. I must say I look forward to
coming to Nunavut and seeing the situation for myself. It's a little bit
On page 5 I just wanted a clarification. What does LHO maintenance and LHO
Senator Patterson: Local housing authority.
Senator Raine: Thank you. I should have known that. On page 7, could
you explain the history of the social housing agreement? It just looks like a
terrible thing that we're in, because obviously that is not helping the crisis
that's going on right now. Was that a program that suddenly was stopped or was
it always set up that way?
Mr. Audla: Thank you, Senator Raine, for that question. It has always
been set up that way. We entered into this agreement back in 1998, and it was
for a term up to 2037. The plan was for that funding to diminish to the point
where it's no longer there for 2037. The government back in 1998 was the
Government of the Northwest Territories before division, and they entered into
an agreement that that money would no longer be needed based on the fact that,
looking forward, we'd probably be a little more self-sufficient.
But as it's diminishing we're finding within the Government of Nunavut that
we're finding it tougher to keep up, based on the amount of stock that's been
increasing, which directly relates to our O&M costs of that stock. What wasn't
taken into account was the actual O&M of these units.
The expenses that I mentioned of what it costs to maintain a unit, $26,000
per annum per unit, I was actually surprised when I first got in that the
highest expense was actually water as opposed to electricity. I always assumed
that it would be electricity, based on the fuel.
To think that Nunavut, which is rich in water resources, would be one of the
most expensive places for water as a utility expense —
Senator Raine: And why is that?
Mr. Audla: It's local in the sense that the utility rates are
determined by the municipalities. The municipalities have very little other
controls of where they can create revenue, and water is one where they can. They
see that as a way of increasing their revenues, and we have to somehow deal with
Electricity is not far behind. It used to be that electricity was a higher
expense but now it's water, and it's mostly based on the fact that the local
municipalities have been using water as a way of creating revenue.
Senator Raine: What you're saying is that the municipality is
basically downloading the cost of water onto the territory, onto Nunavut?
Mr. Audla: Yes, to a certain degree, but I'll have Tim respond further
to that, if that's okay, Madam Chair.
Mr. Brown: A lot of it comes down to housing policy generally across
the country. The social housing agreement is a national one. It's been signed in
every jurisdiction. Nunavut signed on in 1998, and that was the deal. It was a
conversion of mortgages through the assets for operating costs, basically. We'll
get to own all these units ourselves free and clear in 2037; however we also
have the added responsibility of maintaining them. The issue for Nunavut is we
get 95 per cent of our funding from the feds anyway, so how do we keep
maintaining those units?
With regard to water costs and water subsidies, that's also historical in the
sense that before the social housing agreement the Government of the Northwest
Territories had figured out you have a better cost-mastering ratio with the
federal government if you can run costs through the public housing program, as
opposed to through the municipal programs. I believe it was 25/75 versus 50/50.
What has stayed is that municipalities by law have to balance their books.
The only way they can realistically get revenue is through the water program
because we are the biggest consumer of water in the communities. Close to 70 per
cent of housing in the communities is social housing outside Iqaluit.
Senator Enverga: I learned that your corporation built Arviat, a
Northern sustainable house. Could you tell us about it? Is it applicable to
other areas in the North?
Mr. Audla: That is in partnership with the CMHC. Unfortunately,
because it took so long to actually complete, the innovations aspect of it were
already built into the stock built following that first initiative. Initially,
it was going to be a standalone, but everything that followed, the designs and
innovative aspects of that design, were then built into future designs.
Senator Enverga: Okay. Can you give us more information about that?
Mr. Audla: The CMHC and the NHC could work more collaboratively in
that sense if we only made the time and put in the resources to truly see the
Arviat project as an example of how we can build efficiencies into a home. It
would certainly be something that we want to encourage and entertain. As I said
before, we're just trying to keep up with all the other stuff. We'd prefer to
try to address the gap, the 3,000 units that we are in need of right now.
[Editor's Note: Senator Watt spoke in Inuktitut.]
Senator Watt: I would like to go back to what I heard from the other
presenters, basically encouraging us not to necessarily come up with a
short-term solution but to look at it in the long term or we'll be reinventing
the wheel by concentrating on the short term.
What would it be mean to Nunavut that still requires a substantial number of
houses to be built? Is there a possibility that we can put the brakes on the
amount of money being spent by the Government of Canada or by the territories or
the provinces for that matter to say, slow down? Let's think in the long term,
and if need be, establish a special committee to concentrate on that. We are in
a dilemma right now knowing that we've been implementing old technology into the
houses that are available. But they never really satisfy the needs of the
community and have deteriorated so quickly.
If we're going to look at the long term, is there a possibility that you
could recommend to us, a committee examining this, what we should do? We know
what the problems are. This is not new information we're getting. Year after
year, over the last 32 years I've been here, it's been sort of a vicious cycle.
The same topics are being talked about. We never get to the point of a solution.
Is it possible for this committee to come up with a report that makes a
strong recommendation to the government to say, okay, we have a model that we
would like to promote. If that model is acceptable, it's affordable in a sense
because it would not cost too much money, the way the existing houses do now,
taking into consideration that very little rent is being collected today, as you
mentioned. You also said you have a shortfall of 29,000, maybe even more. The
problem is right across the board, not only in Nunavik but right across the
country and not only within Inuit society but also in First Nations' society.
If this committee can help to identify the solution, we can begin to look at
maybe not a subsidy that goes directly to the house but one that helps the
engineering and architecture sides, which cost money. You need capital to get
those things going.
If we move in that direction, would it be more acceptable to an organization
like yours? If this could be understood and realized would it be the way to go,
because we have to stop sometime? If we know it's not working, it will not help
to continue bringing in materials from the south to the North because of the
high transportation costs, high cost of living, high cost of goods and the
purchasing power almost down to nil. We need to find a quick solution. What
direction should we take to accommodate the needs of the people?
There is a possibility, because there are some innovative, technical people
available in this country. If they put their heads together, they will find a
solution. I have seen one. I have not brought it to the attention of the
committee yet, but I'm planning to. I've been speaking to a very innovative
person that came up with the design. It's sort of an igloo shape, a dome, with
For example, a dome building can have 38 apartments attached to it. People
would all live in their own houses, but not necessarily be crowded. You may
think about how we can use that as a way to also help with the social problems
in the community. If we move in that direction and try to find absolute
technology that could work in the North, I think it would be the way to go.
Could you comment on that? We have to get away from what we are used to
delivering to the North because they're not working and won't last.
[Editor's Note: Mr. Audla spoke in Inuktitut.]
Mr. Audla: We are looking forward to the opportunity to be engaged in
the recent budget announcement on a national housing strategy over the next
year. This is timely, but what will it achieve? We're hoping that our blueprint
for action that we hope to finalize by October will be a huge contributor
towards that. Within that blueprint for action, we'll be looking at innovations,
such as you mentioned, and the types of technologies and materials that are out
there and what the options are. We'll also be looking at what Senator Patterson
had mentioned about the success of a home ownership assistance program, as an
example, to try to fill those gaps within that continuum.
It's a tall order, but I think we have enough research, enough people that
have been involved for decades, such as Senator Patterson, Senator Sibbeston and
you. There have been decades and decades of these types of discussions, and it's
a matter of now putting it all together and doing it in such a way that we
actually address the shelter, the home, within Canada's North. As a nation, I
think Canada should now be looking at their North —
Senator Watt: Modernize the North.
Mr. Audla: Our North as something that needs the commitment and the
infrastructure to adequately house the people and residents of the North.
The Chair: I would like, on behalf of all of the committee members, to
thank the representatives here tonight from the Nunavut Housing Corporation: Mr.
Audla, Mr. Moyo, and Mr. Brown. Thank you for your presentations and for
answering all of the questions from the senators. We look forward to interacting
with you in the near future.
With that, the meeting is adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)