It’s time to keep the promise made to Kashechewan

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Carol Hughes, MP
Carol Hughes, MP

The seemingly annual flooding event that displaces residents from the community of Kashechewan to southern communities is under way.  The evacuation will move over 2,000 residents with as many as 500 going to Kapuskasing. The cost of these evacuations is reported to be about $15-20 million every time breakup on the Albany River threatens the community begging the question, shouldn’t the government just allocate the resources to move the community?

That’s what is making this year’s state of emergency especially frustrating. People in Kashechewan felt they were making progress on a relocation until very recently.  The bad news came when the federal budget had no funding in it to move the community.  The government claims it remains committed to its promised plan to move Kashechewan, but every year that money isn’t allocated, is another year of frustration for residents and observers who see little point in delaying the inevitable.

Kashechewan as a dot on a map is fairly recent. The community was created in the 1950s and is one of two that were built from the old Fort Albany.  Flooding began in 2004 and has become a regular feature of spring breakup for the Albany River in the years since.  The community is protected by a dike, but that hasn’t been enough to stop these events, and some feel it is just a matter of time until a catastrophic event destroys the community altogether.

The problem has been studied and was reported on in 2006 by former Ontario cabinet minister, Alan Pope.  At that time the community had been evacuated three times over fifteen months due to flooding, sewage backup, and water quality issues.  Efforts to relocate to higher ground have been going on for years and the community has a signed agreement with the provincial and federal governments, but every budget that has been delivered since fails to come up with the necessary funding.

While the goodwill of the host communities goes a long way to making this experience bearable for those displaced, it’s no surprise that these evacuations are no holiday either.  Lives are disrupted, children lose time at school, and it is particularly difficult for the elderly and those with mobility challenges.  The trauma related to these events is multiplied when there is no expectation that things will change any time soon.

The plan has been to proceed with the building of a new community in a period of five to 10 years.  However, delays in beginning the project, along with yearly costs associated with evacuation drive up the total cost.  It makes little sense to spend on further evacuations when everyone involved knows the community will eventually be moved, but that is the cycle we are trapped in until the government decides otherwise.

Meanwhile the problems in Kashechewan could amount to a laundry list of items that challenge First Nation communities.  Water quality issues and waste water system problems, mouldy housing, insufficient health care options, and this past autumn the elementary school was closed because of health concerns.  There have been many promises from governments, but without funding they remain unkept.

Le moment est venu d’honorer la promesse faite à Kashechewan

L’inondation annuelle qui a forcé le déplacement des résidents de Kashechewan vers des localités plus au sud se poursuit. L’évacuation touchera plus de 2 000 habitants, dont pas moins de 500 vont arriver à Kapuskasing. L’évacuation de chaque débâcle de la rivière Albany coûte entre 15 à 20 millions de dollars. Ce coût pèse sur la communauté qui se pose la question suivante : le gouvernement ne devrait-il pas accorder les ressources nécessaires à sa réinstallation?

Voilà ce qui rend l’état d’urgence de cette année particulièrement frustrant. Les gens de Kashechewan croyaient bien faire avancer leur réinstallation jusqu’à tout récemment, puis les mauvaises nouvelles sont tombées. Le budget fédéral ne prévoyait aucun fonds pour leur déménagement. Le gouvernement prétend qu’il s’en tient à son plan de réinstaller la communauté de Kashechewan, mais, tous les ans, il néglige d’affecter les fonds. Il s’agit d’une autre année de frustration pour les résidents et les observateurs qui ne voient pas l’utilité de retarder l’inévitable.

Kashechewan est un point sur la carte depuis peu. Son établissement remonte seulement aux années 1950, et elle est l’une des deux communautés bâties sur l’ancien Fort Albany. Depuis 2004, les inondations se produisent souvent durant la débâcle du printemps de la rivière Albany. Comme Kashechewan est protégée par une digue insuffisante, ce n’est qu’une question de temps, selon certains, avant qu’une catastrophe la détruise complètement.

L’ancien ministre de l’Ontario Alan Pope s’est penché et a publié un rapport sur le problème en 2006. À cette époque, les inondations, le refoulement d’égouts et les problèmes de qualité de l’eau avaient déjà causé trois évacuations en quinze mois. On s’efforce depuis des années de réinstaller la communauté sur un terrain plus élevé. Malgré l’entente entre la communauté et les gouvernements fédéral et provincial, tous les budgets annoncés depuis ne prévoient pas les fonds nécessaires à la réinstallation.

La bonne volonté des communautés hôtes a beau énormément contribuer à rendre l’expérience vécue par les personnes déplacées plus tolérable, mais il n’est pas étonnant que ces évacuations ne soient pas une partie de plaisir. Les vies sont perturbées et les enfants ratent l’école, sans compter que les personnes âgées et à mobilité réduite trouvent la situation particulièrement difficile. D’ailleurs, le traumatisme causé est amplifié quand rien ne laisse présager une quelconque amélioration rapide.

On prévoyait la construction d’une nouvelle communauté sur cinq à dix ans, mais les retards en début de projet et les coûts annuels des évacuations ont fait gonfler la facture totale. Il est bien peu sensé de dépenser davantage pour d’autres évacuations quand toutes les parties intéressées savent que la communauté déménagera. Voilà le cycle dans lequel nous sommes pris jusqu’à ce que le gouvernement en décide autrement.

En attendant, les problèmes à Kashechewan pourraient former la longue liste d’épreuves auxquelles les communautés des Premières Nations font face, notamment la qualité de l’eau, le système d’égout, la moisissure dans les maisons, l’insuffisance des soins de santé et la fermeture de l’école primaire l’automne passé à cause de risques pour la santé. Les gouvernements ont fait bien des promesses, qui sont restées lettre morte, faute de financement.

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Carol Hughes MP
Carol is a three-term MP who has worked hard for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing since being elected in 2008. In addition to her role as MP, Carol serves as Assistant Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole in Canada’s 42nd Parliament. A tireless advocate for the communities she serves, Carol was a leading figure in the fight to preserve ten federal constituencies for Northern Ontario. She has been a prominent spokesperson for passenger rail service, preserving postal service outlets, and good jobs in the region. Carol has worked with First Nations on local and national issues and served as the New Democrat critic for First Nations Health prior to assuming the responsibilities of Assistant Deputy Speaker. With decades of labour experience, Carol understands the priorities of hardworking families. She has introduced legislation to expand access to Employment Insurance benefits and to require mandatory reporting of workplace accidents and occupational diseases. She has also worked with veterans on legislation that will create a Defence of Canada Medal to honour those who served domestically to protect Canada during the Cold War. Committed to serving all her constituents, Carol maintains full constituency offices in both Kapuskasing and Elliot Lake. She also holds regular clinics in communities throughout the riding. Before entering politics, Carol was a regional representative for the Canadian Labour Congress. Earlier, she worked for Probation and Parole Services in Elliot Lake and Youth Justice Services in Sudbury. A long-time community volunteer and activist, Carol lived in Elliot Lake for nearly three decades with her husband Kieth. And as a proud mother and grandmother, Carol is committed to building a better Canada for future generations.

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