Importing modular homes wouldn't help employ Inuit, minister says

The Nunavut government won't be importing homes from outside of the country any time soon, Minister of Community and Government Services Lorne Kusugak said in the Legislative Assembly Thursday.

That's after Iqaluit-Manirajaq MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone asked if the department could construct homes and buildings the way the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation is building a new hotel in Iqaluit.

The Inuit corporation and business arm of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association is building a 94-room hotel using ready-made hotel rooms imported from China. The block-style rooms for the Aqsarniit Hotel and Conference Centre on Federal Road arrived by sealift from Shanghai and were installed in around two weeks. The Qikiqtaaluk Corporation broke ground for the hotel last spring.

"I myself and my colleagues were surprised by the speed at which this large construction project was put up," Arreak Lightstone said.

"I understand the important role that our capital projects have in maintaining our economy ... it's unfortunate many of the modular units were constructed in China," he said. "That being said, is the minister willing to consider undertaking a pilot project using that type of technology?"

'Something this house would not entertain'

Kusugak said the only thing he learned from the Aqsarniit hotel project was that it was built outside of the country.

There would be an "uproar" in the house, and within the territory's private sector, if the government started buying homes from overseas and having local labour add on the "siding and window trim," he said.

Travis Burke/CBC
Travis Burke/CBC

Kusugak said the private sector is not beholden to article 23 of the Nunavut Agreement. That article calls for Inuit employment levels that represent the population.

"I have to answer to this house … it would not be something this house would entertain," he said.

While it is owned by a regional Inuit association, the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation is a private company.

"We need to have Inuit employment in our contracts to build any government facilities," he said. "I assure you, if this government built homes in China to bring to all the homeless people in Nunavut everybody would be opposed because there are no Inuit building those houses."

Right now in Nunavut around 5,000 people are on a wait list for public housing. Around half of the population live in overcrowded homes. The Nunavut Housing Corporation estimates that the territory needs to see at least 3,000 housing units built to meet current need.

David Gunn/CBC
David Gunn/CBC

The ground floor for the Aqsarniit Hotel is built from scratch.The Qikiqtaaluk Corporation said it chose to import the hotel rooms to save time and money, after the project was stalled.

The modular hotel rooms were purchased through a Canadian company, Stack Modular, that imports modular units from China. Qikiqtaaluk Corporation's construction management company, Bird Construction, holds shares in Stack Modular.