The federal minister of northern affairs on Friday acknowledged economic supports announced by Ottawa won’t be enough to cover living costs for many northerners if they lose their livelihoods.
Speaking to Cabin Radio, Dan Vandal said “everybody in cabinet acknowledges the cost of living in the territories is hugely expensive” and the federal government would be coming back with more.
“What I can say is what we’ve announced thus far is not the end of what we’re going to be announcing,” said Vandal, though there is no detail on what further supports for northerners could look like.
At the moment, employment insurance pays a maximum of $573 per week. An emergency care benefit – announced by the federal government for those who don’t qualify for employment insurance – would pay up to $900 every two weeks.
Global News: How to apply for these benefits if you need them
A report last year found the living wage in Yellowknife (the sum of money you need to afford a basic standard of living) to be in the region of $45,000 to $50,000 annually, before tax.
Either employment insurance or the emergency care benefit would provide the equivalent of just over half the recommended Yellowknife living wage.
The living wage in more remote communities, while more difficult to accurately assess, would be higher.
Money for life on the land?
Vandal spoke with Premier Caroline Cochrane and northern Indigenous leaders earlier in the week as the coronavirus pandemic restrictions tightened.
One of those leaders was Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya, who departed onto the land on Friday having urged others to do so as a social distancing measure.
Yakeleya has asked for a share of $305 million in federal emergency funding for Indigenous peoples, announced earlier this week, to be given to northerners to help with the cost of going out on the land.
Vandal on Friday said he agreed in principle with that request.
“I have spoken with the Dene National Chief several times in the past week,” Vandal said. “Our public servants are establishing the criteria for those funds.
“I see no reason why the Dene National Chief would not get support for his initiatives. We’re doing all things necessary to make sure we can get some funds out.”
Yakeleya expects to spend at least a month on the land outside Fort Providence with family.
On Friday, warning a “storm is coming” in the shape of the pandemic, he said he had been working with communities to ensure medical supports would be available for those who headed out onto the land, if required.
“We are working with all levels of government to develop community plans based on factual information,” Yakeleya said.