- By Rick Garrick
Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Don Rusnak recently focused on housing and education issues at meetings and consultation sessions in his riding and across the region. Rusnak and Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu hosted First Nations housing, national housing strategy and pre-budget consultation sessions on Oct. 14 at the Moose Hall in Thunder Bay.
“It was a smaller session than we hoped for but there’s huge issues in terms of First Nations housing,” Rusnak says about the First Nations housing consultation session. “There’s issues from the number of houses, there’s a lack of housing in First Nations, the quality of houses, the problems with mold, the problems with livability. We heard from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) representative that 4.5 people live in their houses up there. I think they need 5,300 homes in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory, which is just an astronomical cost. And that’s just the need in their territory; imagine the need across the country.”
Fort William Chief Peter Collins says there are close to 300 people waiting for a house in his community.
“We have some houses that need some major renovations (to deal) with mold and different aspects because of their age and the structure is starting to fall apart,” Collins says. “So there is a lot of money that needs to be put into retrofitting some of the older homes.”
Collins says the First Nations housing issue will take “a lot of work and a lot of commitment” from the federal government.
“Housing is a crisis in a lot of communities and INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) needs to address these issues,” Collins says.
Rusnak and Hajdu also participated in a $2.7 million funding announcement for an Oshki-Pimache-O-Win Education and Training Institute Trades Training Mobile Lab on Oct. 13 by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.
“Through their innovative Trades Training Mobile Lab, this project will enable the institute to provide specialized training for First Nation people in 49 communities across NAN,” Bains says. “The institute will also upgrade the trade labs at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School to provide more training opportunities for First Nation youth. This project will make a difference in the lives of local youth for new options for training and employment, and this in turn will bring positive contributions to the local economy.”
Bains’ announcement also included $18 million for the construction of Confederation College’s new Technology Education and Collaboration Hub.
“These investments demonstrate our government’s commitment to innovative technology-based learning in northern Ontario,” Rusnak says. “By investing in education and students, we are investing in the future. I look forward to seeing
the success that these projects will bring to our region.”
Rusnak also met with students at Rainy River High School in September.
“We had some excellent conversations with students from Big Grassy and Big Island two weeks ago,” Rusnak says. “They had some concerns about development that is going on in the area. Conversation is the way you get problems solved, so we are hoping to facilitate those conversations.”
Rusnak has been working on developing a non-partisan youth council to gather their perspectives on various issues. Students from across the riding have signed up for the youth council.
“Hopefully before Christmas we will have our first youth council meeting,” Rusnak says. “Youth are more engaged than ever, perhaps because of our prime minister. They were more engaged in this past election than they ever have been and we are hoping to continue that trend. It is important for us to listen to them and take those views back to Ottawa.”