NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said today Ottawa needs to step up and fix the water crisis in Nunavut's capital Iqaluit, where tap water has been undrinkable since Oct. 12 due to contamination.
On his first trip north to meet with recently-elected NDP MP Lori Idlout, Singh said he's going to press the federal government to find the money that the territory and the city of about 8,000 say is needed to remedy Iqaluit's water crisis.
"We are demanding the government provide full funding, $180 million at least, to fix this water crisis," Singh said, speaking to journalists in the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit on Tuesday morning.
Singh said safe drinking water, better housing and improved services for elders and youth are his top priorities for the region.
If any major city had a problem with its water supply, he said, the federal government would "immediately fix the problem."
The federal government should provide sufficient funding as "a starting point," Singh said, adding that failing to do so would reflect "a lack of will."
"There is no excuse that any community doesn't have access to clean drinking water," he said.
People from around the territory come to Iqaluit as well, he said, so the city's water problem affects all of Nunavut.
"It is really serious. To not fix this will have a devastating impact. It is unimaginable," said Singh, who helped to hand out drinkable water at Iqaluit's curling rink.
Singh calls for action on housing, elder care
Singh said he also heard from a lot of people about the region's housing shortage. "We're going to work on this," he said.
Singh said one woman told him that although she's a teacher, she can't find housing of her own and is obliged to live with her aunt.
Singh also had an impromptu meeting in Iqaluit's airport with Manitok Thompson, a former minister in N.W.T. and Nunavut, about the drive to bring elders in senior care elsewhere in the country back to Nunavut.
About 22,000 people have signed a petition that calls for the return of Nunavut elders from the South.
Thompson told CBC News that Singh listened closely as she told him about the trauma experienced by elders sent far from their families and culture.
Singh said there has to be a better way.
"We want to make sure that seniors are cared for in the community [and] stay in their homes," he said.
As leader of an opposition party, Singh couldn't come to Iqaluit promising new spending — but he did say he believes the political climate is more conducive to getting Nunavut what it needs now.
Singh's visit happened on the day that Iqaluit youth demonstrated in downtown Iqaluit to call for better mental health care and suicide prevention services.
"I want you to know you have been heard," Singh said.
Climate change also surfaced during Singh's visit to Iqaluit. He said communities battered by extreme weather need money to secure themselves and the ability to draw on disaster mitigation funds.