Liberal MPs blasted their own government last week for letting housing conditions deteriorate into a crisis in the Cree communities.

“I believe people in the Indian Affairs department are working as hermits,” said Guy St-Julien, Liberal MP for Abitibi-Baie James-Nunavik.

“They are working in an ivory tower.

They don’t know what’s happening in the Cree communities,” said St-Julien, whose riding includes 12,000 Crees.

St-Julien spoke up during hearings last week of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, which heard Cree testimony about the housing emergency.

In last fall’s election, St-Julien promised to fix the Cree overcrowding problem by April 1,2001. With the deadline fast approaching and no solution in sight, St-Julien hastily arranged the committee hearings. He said the committee will hear more testimony this week from other First Nations and government officials.

“I’m not happy with my government, which hasn’t woken up,” he said.

“This is a very pressing problem. If we are able as a government to give millions of dollars to museums, to the Armed Forces, I find it very strange that officials would write to the chief that they are delaying solutions.”

He was referring to an Indian Affairs official’s letter to the Chisasibi band saying there is no funding for dealing with health problems associated with the overcrowding.

Other Liberal MPs also called on their government to act. “You would have to be blind not to agree there is a national (Aboriginal) housing crisis, not only in your communities, but across the country,” Liberal MP Benoit Serré told Crees.

“This is a major, major problem. If we can spend $500 million on the Toronto waterfront, I think we can spend $500 million for Aboriginal housing.

“We have an obligation as a national government.”

Gérard Binet, another Liberal MR promised to pressure his government for help for the Crees: “It’s a crying problem.”

MPs from the other parties were just as critical. The Bloc’s Richard Marceau said he was “revolted” by the problem.

“It’s obviously a very urgent problem,” agreed NDP MP Pat Martin, saying the government can easily afford the $427 million Crees estimate is needed to fix the problem. “I don’t find that a staggering amount of money given the problems in the communities and the surplus the government is showing.”