As the province heads toward Phase 3 of its economic roadmap for recovery, the Manitoba Metis Federation is already deep into its many plans.
"We’re growing during this transition," said David Chartrand, the federation’s president.
"We’ve expanded our economic engine."
The federation is building daycare centres — one newly completed in Duck Bay, and one green-lit for Swan River. It is building its second pharmacy in Dauphin, as well as following up on other construction plans there. Also in the southwest region, there are plans for a building to house a head start program and local government offices, with a third pharmacy planned for Brandon. The federation is building in Selkirk, in Portage la Prairie and in Winnipeg.
"That’s just the beginning of what we’re doing," Chartrand said, adding each new project is built on the foundation of partnerships within the local private sector.
"To be successful, you need partners."
To directly benefit Métis, before COVID-19 hit, the federation began a first-time homebuyers’ program, which Chartrand calls the missing link for his people, as "it’s cheaper than renting."
In the final nine months of 2019, Métis people bought 254 houses, while 160 have been approved in the past few months. That amounts to 414 new Métis homeowners, which by Chartrand’s calculations, means approximately $95 million in mortgages contributing to the Manitoba economy.
The Louis Riel Capital Corporation administers the $5-million program.
"And what do home buyers need to do? They have to buy a lawnmower. They have to buy stuff to take care of their yards. They will probably buy new curtains, new kitchen supplies, new stuff to go into their homes. So there’s that spinoff. You can see the value of the program in helping the economy of Manitoba," Chartrand said.
He also says the federation’s program has surpassed Canada’s first-time homebuyer program.
"I know within probably two years there will about 500 to 600 to 700 homebuyers in Manitoba, which are Métis families," he said.
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s numbers to Feb. 1, the federal First-Time Home Buyer Incentive, launched Sept. 1, has seen 132 new homebuyers use that program in Manitoba.
The federation then launched HELP — Home Enhancement Loan Program — on May 1.
"You have to be a private homeowner and you can get a grant (forgivable loan) of $15,000 to help revive your house for longevity, for another 10 to 20 years," Chartrand said.
"We just announced it, and within a month we have 216 applicants approved."
Chartrand said the beauty of the multi-year, $10-million program means homeowners will need to hire contractors to do the work.
"It begins to create an employment infrastructure," he said, adding approximately 50 contractors, Métis and non- Métis, have put their names in for the tender process.
"Each contractor will have two to three people working for them, I guarantee you. That’s 150 jobs created. And that’s a constant program for another seven years."
Further, the federation is in discussions with the federal government to administer a similar program for low- to moderate-income homeowners once administered by the province.
"That’s a program that helped so many people, not just Métis and First Nations. It helped farmers and non-Indigenous people in Manitoba. We used to manage it. The provincial government took it, said, ‘We’ll do a better job.’ But it was costing them too much money, they said. All they had to do is put 25 cents on the dollar, and Canada would give you the remaining 75 cents. They gave it back to Canada. We want to deliver that. We’ll put in the 25 cents," Chartrand said.
Finally, realizing that there may be a second wave of COVID-19, the federation is keeping its 96-bed isolation facility in Treherne at the ready. The isolation camp set up in Winnipegosis is being considered for transformation into a youth camp, but for now it’s being kept as an isolation facility just in case.
"But we are mobilizing assets, right now, from canoes to activities, at the same time looking at the skill set for hiring counsellors," Chartrand said.
Five tiny homes, set up across the province, will remain available for isolation if a community should require it.
"We called our program HOPE — Helping Our People Exit COVID — and at the same time never, ever taking COVID lightly. It could still catch one of us and the next thing you know it spreads across our nation," Chartrand said, pointing to the situation at La Loche in Saskatchewan.
That province’s northern region was hit hardest by COVID-19, with La Loche experiencing an outbreak with the rate of transmission double that of other communities. Métis make up almost 70 per cent of the community’s population.
"Given the vast services, the width and the depth, we have to provide — it’s not one isolated reserve where you have one sector of citizens living in collectivity in one location," Chartrand said. "We’ve got a province-wide delivery we’ve got to figure out."
When it comes to dealing with COVID-19 so far, Chartrand has only one grievance.
"We’ve been very successful, knock on wood. The only failure we have is the province not wanting to work with us," he said. "That’s not a failure on our side. That’s a failure of the province."
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.
As we navigate through unprecedented times, our journalists are working harder than ever to bring you the latest local updates to keep you safe and informed.
Now, more than ever, we need your support.
Starting at $4.99/month you can access your Brandon Sun online and full access to all content as it appears on our website.Subscribe Now
or call circulation directly at (204) 727-0527.
Your pledge helps to ensure we provide the news that matters most to your community!