Today's Toronto Star reports that things have been as they are in Attawapiskat for decades -- and there's not a lot of hope that they will change:
The community was founded in 1893 by Catholic missionaries. The steepled church, an aging grey structure next to the Attawapiskat River, remains the most striking structure.
In 1901, the Hudson’s Bay Co. built a store here. Most natives lived in the bush at the time, hunting, trapping and fishing, and it was only in the 1930s that the settlement began to grow. Housing came in the 1970s, running water and sewage treatment arrived in the 1990s.
It’s been unravelling since it all began.
The local priest says that the main problem is that there's nothing to do -- unemployment is at 70%. Therefore, kids there see they have no future, and they simply don't attend school:
The children feel no obligation to attend because they wake up in households where they have never seen their parents go to work. “What is the point, they think,” says Vezina.
No education, no employment. It’s that simple, he sighs.
Homes and a new school need to be built. But that work has been stalled. Attawpaiskat is a microcosm of what's happening nationally. While governments tell us we have a debt crisis, Paul Krugman has been writing for years that we have a jobs crisis.
It's not that there are no things which need doing. In Toronto, the Gardiner Expressway is crumbling. In Montreal, pieces of the Ville Marie Expressway fall on cars; and the Champlain Bridge is on the verge of falling into the St. Lawrence. But the chorus from all government benches is the same: "We can't afford it." The books must be balanced.
The American economist Dean Baker wrote recently that, "Of course, the point of economic policy is to produce an economy that improves the lives of the people in a sustainable way." By that measure, what is happening at Attawapkiskat -- and in Canada in general -- is an abject failure.
In the words of another economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, our economic policy has generated "private wealth and public squalor."