As the director of health and social services in Nunavik, Minnie Grey says the health care system in northern Quebec has created class divisions.
One where non-Inuit can make $40,000 in non-salary benefits, while local Inuit receive only a quarter of that.
“Can we just do away with what was given in the ’60s so we can all just be even?” Grey testified at the Quebec inquiry that has been examining discrimination experienced by Indigenous Quebecers.
The reason for the difference, according to union rules for health service providers, is that workers working more than 50 kilometres from home are entitled to greater benefits.
Those include vehicle expenses, flights back home and, perhaps most offensive to Grey, free housing where overcrowding is rampant.
“The inequality comes in the fact that we’re not offering these incentives to local people, so we’re not attracting them to be working in our services,” she said.
Because many jobs in Nunavik require knowledge of Inuit culture and language, so local workers are highly sought after. Many leave their communities to make what non-Inuit make, which in turn makes things more expensive.
There is also the issue of a lack of qualified Inuit.
Jean-Francois Arteau, a lawyer for Nunavik Health Services, testified Quebec is not meeting its education and training obligations under the James Bay Agreement.
“It’s been 40 years since the agreement has been signed, we’re not in the first few years of operation, we’re 40 years later and it’s still complicated for Inuit to access jobs that were targeted for them,” said Arteau.
Grey said her team has proposed a solution – create positions just for Inuit workers and pay them their fair share.
“The fact that we’re still trying to convince the ministry that giving equality to local workers can save a lot of money because we have a very high turnover of non-locals,” she said.
It’s not something the province has jumped at, she said, but Grey is happy to share her knowledge with the inquiry.
“I’m very pleased that I was able to be here with my colleagues and to have a voice and someone is listening,” she said.