Chabot, Marcelle and Gerard Duhaime (1998) Land-use planning and participation: the case of Inuit public housing (Nunavik, Canada). Habitat International22(4): 429-447

Keywords: Canadian federal governmentcitizen participationhistory of housing policyKuujjuaqplanningNunaviksocial housingSociété d'habitation du Québec (SHQ)

This article examines the role of participation in land-use planning. It discusses a concrete example of planning, related to the construction of social housing in Nunavik, the most northerly region of Quebec, Canada, inhabited mainly by Inuit. This case study focuses on the construction by Société d'habitation du Québec (SHQ), a government corporation responsible for social housing throughout Quebec, of 41 dwelling units in 31 buildings at Kuujjuaq in 1992 under the agency low-rental public housing program for Inuit. Kuujjuaq, which is located south of Ungava Bay, had a population of around 1400 Inuit at that time. This research shows that citizen participation plays a relatively limited role in planning in Nunavik, even though existing legislation makes it an integral part of the process. The authors analyze the land-use planning since 1959 to present time in Nunavik.

Prior to 1959, there were almost no villages in this region. Instead people usually converged on temporary seasonal meeting places, except for a few families who erected makeshift dwellings around the clusters of buildings owned by fur trading companies, religious missions and police. The arrangement of their cabins and tents reflected the traditional social structure, based on kinship. With the decline of the commercial fur trade in the 1940s, several Inuit families began to take up residence near posts or military bases in the hope of finding employment. In 1959, the federal government introduced a pan-Canadian Arctic residential construction program, which provided for the erection of small, one-room houses made of prefabricated panels and measuring about 25 square meters that were sold to the Inuit. These were called matchbox houses, and had no electricity or running water. The occupants were responsible for assembling these structures and deciding where they would be located.

The public housing program launched in 1959 was the first planned land-use initiative in Arctic Canada. During the planning stages, residents could choose the location and layout of their home. The houses were small and easily portable. However, even though the participation of the Inuit was subject to few restrictions, they were invited to take part in the planning process only at the very end, when all that was left to do was put up the buildings.

The region’s administrative structure consisted of only a colonial civil servant. The location of the houses was decided by the federal civil servants and the community councils. By the late 1970s, thirteen villages in Nunavik had well-developed infrastructure: schools, streets, dispensaries, businesses, churches, warehouses, landing strips, administrative buildings and dozens of houses. The entire population and its activities was concentrated in these settlements.  In addition, occupants now had access to municipal services, such as garbage collection, drinking water and electrical power. As of 1980, the number of levels of government involved in housing production increased from two to four as local and regional governments were established in Nunavik. Development was characterized by the participation of more experts, bureaucrats, and citizens in accordance to complex formal procedures.

Citizen participation remained limited. When the Inuit did take part, it was mainly through elected representatives. They were asked to participate in the process only to express their preferences and needs or to obtain specific information. The types of housing ordered were never questioned. Today, administrative responsibilities are embedded within a complex system in which the population has some influence. The authors argue these findings suggest that the limited role of citizens in land-use planning consequently reaffirms the power of the state.