Cat Lake First Nation leaders, area MPP, call for Ontario's help with housing, health crisis

Leaders in Cat Lake First Nation and the MPP for the riding that includes the remote Ontario community are renewing calls for Ontario to step in and help with an ongoing housing crisis, after the federal government pledged over $10 million to start repairing and replacing mould-infested homes.

Provincial Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford wrote to federal counterparts in Jan. pledging assistance

Sol Mamakwa is the New Democrat MPP for the Kiiwetinoong riding. He called for specialized health teams to visit Cat Lake to deal with, what community leaders say, are persistent health problems due to mould. (CBC)

Leaders in Cat Lake First Nation and the MPP for the riding that includes the remote Ontario community are renewing calls for Ontario to step in and help with an ongoing housing crisis, after the federal government pledged over $10 million to start repairing and replacing mould-infested homes.

"We're calling on the province, if they want to come in, they can come in and help," Cat Lake's head councillor Derek Spence told a press conference in Thunder Bay on Thursday, where the interim framework agreement that commits Ottawa's share was announced.

At the press conference, Cat Lake's leaders said they may be looking to Ontario to help with additional portable homes or other interim help. The agreement with the federal government — a final draft of which is scheduled to be signed within two weeks — commits $3 million for the transportation and installation of 10 portable homes to be used for transitional housing while work is ongoing, then set up as permanent homes.

The agreement also commits funding for the repair and reconstruction of 47 other housing units and associated work.

At Queen's Park, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa called for the province to send a specialized health assessment team to Cat Lake to deal with, what community leaders have called, chronic health problems due to long-term exposure to mould.

"The mould crisis in Cat Lake is now a public health emergency," he said.

Cat Lake, located about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, declared a state of emergency in January, where leaders cited "profoundly poor" housing, including widespread mould and a litany of other structural and safety issues. Community members have long suffered from health problems associated with the poor housing, leaders say.

Specialized help is needed in the community, according to Cat Lake Coun. Joyce Cook.

"We need more specialists for the different kinds of [conditions] that are going [around] our community," she said. "Like a bacteria that's spreading throughout the community."

A dermatologist and a pediatric rheumatologist have been working in the community dealing with health problems affecting a number of children, according to federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan.

Greg Rickford is Ontario's Indigenous affairs minister. (CBC)

In January, after Cat Lake declared its state of emergency, Ontario Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford wrote to his federal counterparts calling for Ottawa to take action on the community's concerns, adding that the province "stands ready to assist the federal government in meeting its responsibilities."

A statement from Rickford's office on Friday said that the province will "continue to work to find ways to reduce the impact this crisis will have on the residents of Cat Lake."

The statement added that the province has "identified alternative solutions for temporary housing," should they be required, and is working with the Windigo Tribal Council on responding to the state of emergency. Rickford's office added that the provincial emergency operations centre is also ready to coordinate an evacuation if needed.

"Ontario is ready to mobilize emergency supports as identified by the community," the statement said.

Rickford told the legislature on Thursday, prior to the announcement of the interim framework agreement between Cat Lake and Ottawa, that the province continues to "work in a coordinated manner with all of our stakeholders and partners under the declaration of an emergency."

O'Regan said Thursday he hadn't yet spoken with provincial officials about what role they could play.

"We're hoping the province will come on board with its part," he said. "We'll keep working together."