As It Happens

New Nunavut MP Lori Idlout wants to shift territory's relationship with federal government

Lori Idlout, who was elected the new NDP MP for Nunavut this week, said she wants to negotiate with the federal government from "a position of power."

'We know that the federal government wants resources from us, too,' she says

Lori Idlout is the incoming Nunavut MP, after winning in her riding on Monday. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

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Lori Idlout, who was elected the new NDP MP for Nunavut this week, hopes to shift the balance of power in the relationship between her territory and the federal government. 

"Up to this point, Nunavummiut, Indigenous Canadians basically are begging for more resources, begging for more services," she told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"We need to shift that relationship so that we get the federal government to realize that we can negotiate ... in a position of power, because we know that the federal government wants resources from us, too."

The task may prove challenging for Idlout, as her predecessor before the election, former NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, was outspoken about the challenges she faced on Parliament Hill and why she decided not to seek re-election. 

"While I'm concerned, I know that I'll have the coping skills to be able to deal with it and to have a sense of what she's experienced helps me to prepare as much as I can mentally before I arrive there," said Idlout. 

Dealing with racism

In her farewell speech to the House of Commons in June, Qaqqaq denounced Canada as country built on the oppression of Indigenous people. She said she was constantly reminded as an Indigenous woman that she didn't belong on Parliament Hill, and said she was racially profiled.

Qaqqaq told As It Happens it was difficult to hear about reconciliation when she struggled to see it in action.

"To be told all the time as an Indigenous person, as someone that looks like me, that they know there's a problem, they know there needs to be more done, is incredibly frustrating."

Idlout said she has empathy for Qaqqaq's experience, and found herself in a similar position when she went south to pursue education. 

"I've experienced racism. I know what it's like. I know how challenging it is to be judged just for the colour of my skin," she said. 

Lori Idlout says the housing crisis in Nunavut is one of her top concerns, as she heads to Ottawa. (Submitted by Lori Idlout)

Housing tops agenda for Idlout

Idlout is a lawyer by profession and recently acted on behalf of the group of people protesting developments at Baffinland Iron Mines' Mary River Mine.

But, she said, the issue at the top of her agenda is the ongoing housing crisis in the north. 

"Housing was definitely the biggest issue, not just to increase housing, but to address the mould crisis, to make sure that we're renovating the old houses that were built many years ago, and to also make sure that we keep our elders in our communities. It's a huge concern."

While campaigning in August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised $360 million to address the housing crisis in Nunavut. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the cost of construction, which means that plans to build new public housing have often been delayed.

Idlout said she wasn't confident that the territory would see the money "very, very soon" as Trudeau promised.

"He's promised more housing funds for the last six years," she said.

"His promises, even those amounts result in, based on an analysis that we were given, in three new houses per community per year. And three new houses in one community will not address the housing crisis."

Written by Andrea Bellemare with files from CBC News. Interview with Lori Idlout produced by Sarah Jackson.