Canada's NDP


March 11th, 2020

MP REPORT: Real Concerns About Being Prepared for the Coronavirus in our Region

It has always been a matter of time before we saw another major pandemic.

There is growing evidence that the coronavirus COVID-19, which has spread to more than 90 countries, is that pandemic.

As the virus spreads, the question is whether we are prepared to protect Canadians, including people here in our region. I have raised serious questions about whether the federal government is in fact prepared.

In preparing for a potential outbreak here in Canada, it is vital that we do not repeat the mistakes that were made in response to the H1N1 flu virus outbreak, particularly when it comes to First Nations living on reserve.

The federal government was unprepared to meet the unique challenges faced by Northern and Indigenous communities during the H1N1 outbreak. Consequently, First Nations in Northern Manitoba were forced to issue state of emergency declarations in order to divert funds to help stop the transmission of the virus. First Nations on reserve were already at higher risk of infection due to a lack of running water and inadequate housing.

As a result, the H1N1 outbreak disproportionately affected First Nations and Inuit. The average infection rate across Canada was 24 per 100,000, while First Nations in Manitoba were infected at a rate of 130 per 100,000. In Nunavut, the infection rate was 1,070 per 100,000.

To date, we have seen little evidence to indicate the federal government has learned from these mistakes. Public health officials have advised individuals to avoid transmission of the coronavirus through measures such as frequent hand washing, self-isolation, and social distancing. This is sound, evidence-based guidance. Unfortunately, it is of little assistance to First Nations communities without running water or adequate housing.

Moreover, in creating a new Cabinet Committee on COVID-19, the government excluded the Minister of Indigenous Services. This oversight demonstrates an insufficient focus on the health and safety of Indigenous people. After all, for First Nations peoples living on reserve, health care is predominately the federal government’s responsibility.

I joined with our leader Jagmeet Singh in calling on the federal government to appoint the Minister of Indigenous Services as a regular member of the new Cabinet Committee on COVID-19, and work in full partnership with Indigenous communities to prepare for a potential outbreak of COVID-19.

I have also called for action to address everything from the lack of running water, to overcrowded housing and the fact that many communities, including large communities such as Cross Lake and the Island Lake communities, do not have a hospital.

We need to act now, before it is too late.