That the House recognize the urgent need to improve the quality of life of Canada’s Aboriginals, First Nations, Inuit and Métis, living both on and off reserve, which requires focused and immediate initiatives by the government in areas such as health, water, housing, education, and economic opportunities and, especially, immediately moving forward with the implementation of the Kelowna Accord with its full funding commitments.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a motion on behalf of the official opposition, a motion that most in the House wish would not have been necessary.
It is a resolution that reflects a course of action that I believe again that most in the House wish was now well underway.
It is a resolution that promises hope and opportunity for a large number of aboriginal Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
It is a resolution that acknowledges the responsibility that flows from historic claims and relationships between aboriginal people and the non-aboriginal majority.
It is a resolution that speaks to the future of our country, to social justice and to economic prosperity.
It is a resolution that speaks to the potential of loss: the loss of opportunity, the loss of growth and the cost of doing nothing.
It is a resolution that speaks of the loss of international reputation.
It is a resolution that acknowledges the magnitude of an agreement of this kind with so many participants after so many aborted attempts.
It is a resolution that speaks to relationships and trust.
And it is a resolution that speaks to the honour of the Crown, to the integrity of the processes of the negotiations between governments themselves and between governments and aboriginal leadership across this country.
I speak of the Kelowna accord.
This past November, a solidly crafted and visionary agreement was concluded by a committed group of leaders in this country. Those present at that memorable meeting included the leadership of the five aboriginal organizations in the country, the AFN, ITK, Métis National Council, NWAC and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the former Prime Minister of Canada, and the first ministers of all of Canada's provinces and territories.
It is important to reiterate here what the Kelowna accord was about. It was about an integrated, far-reaching plan to achieve a clear set of targets and goals to ensure that aboriginal Canadians throughout this abundant and inclusive country of ours have the prospects and opportunities of all Canadians.
The Kelowna accord was a clear plan to address the historic social and economic disparities that exist between aboriginal Canadians and others.
It was about eradicating the poverty and loss of opportunity that plagues aboriginal peoples.
It was about improving educational outcomes and opportunities for aboriginal young people and sometimes their parents as well.
It was about addressing an enormous housing challenge that haunts so many communities and contributes to profound social unrest. I
It was about providing the resources to improve water systems and train those who maintain them.
It was about ensuring that health care is available for aboriginal people, not just reducing waiting times. What is required is available services, so that infants do not die, so that teenagers do not commit suicide, so that diabetes is addressed, and so that tuberculosis is dealt with and becomes obsolete in this country.
The Kelowna accord was about creating economic opportunities.
It was about a commitment to aboriginal women for a stand alone summit to address their particular issues, including violence and matrimonial real property as addressed by Bill C-31 in 1985.
The Kelowna accord was a recognition that what is required in the far north may be different from what is required on reserve, which may in turn be different from what is required in the cities.
And it was the recognition that the needs of first nations, Inuit and Métis are themselves different, and that within these communities disparities exist.
The Kelowna accord was a plan that was developed by all the partners, very much a ground up approach, based on plans developed by the aboriginal organizations. As National Chief Phil Fontaine said at the aboriginal affairs committee last week:
We were able to convince the 14 jurisdictions of the validity and legitimacy of this plan--a plan that was considered by all as reasonable, doable, and achievable.
There were 18 months of consultation and collaboration that took place. Meetings were held, plans refined, memorandums to cabinet prepared, and memorandums to cabinet approved. Moneys were identified and moneys were allocated. Consultations were held between premiers, with each other and with aboriginal leaders. The consultations were held between aboriginal leaders, and between leaders and their constituent communities.
There were 18 months of discussion and dialogue, of give and take, of compromise and concession.
The agreement was concluded at a full meeting last November 24 and 25 with all the participants and all the players, before the television cameras and the media of the country, and with Canadians from coast to coast to coast observing a truly transparent and open process which all in the House support.
A comprehensive 10 year plan was in place to achieve a clear set of goals and targets, $5.1 billion was provided for the first five years of this plan, and $700 million was allocated under earlier agreements. The remainder was booked and allocated in the unallocated surplus of the economic and fiscal update of November 2005 as confirmed by the finance department officials at the meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance on May 10, 2006 in the sources and uses table.
Public statements and acknowledgments were made of what had been accomplished and handshakes by all the leaders were undertaken.
Yet, we hear from members opposite that either it was written on a napkin, it was a so-called accord, or comments that it was only a single piece of paper, or that there were issues concerning whether it was really an agreement or just a press release.
What has been described by colleagues opposite as a single piece of paper or written on a napkin was understood by all present as a firm agreement, a major achievement, a strong commitment, and a decision to proceed.
Let me advise the House of what the leaders present from all political parties and from all the aboriginal communities said of the agreement at the time and since.
Mr. Campbell, Premier of British Columbia said:
It has taken us 138 years as a nation to arrive at this moment. It has taken decades of dialogue and a tortured path of frustration and failure to bring us to this moment of clarity and commitment.
Conservative Premier Ralph Klein of Alberta said:
To make those improvements happen we need the federal government to live up to its constitutional responsibilities for aboriginal people, and it has been indicated here that you are indeed going to do that.
The NDP premier of my own province of Manitoba said, “This is the most significant contribution to aboriginals made by any Prime Minister in the last 30 years”.
In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty said
For the first time ever, first ministers have agreed to targets and time frames on improving aboriginal lives and there exists a strong consensus to act immediately.
From Quebec, Premier Charest said, “Failure is not an option. The time has come to move ahead”.
Assemblies of First Nations Grand Chief Phil Fontaine said:
The country is watching us here. The commitments that are made are significant and it's going to be very, very difficult for any government to retreat from those commitments here.
We heard from Chief Ed John from the First Nations Summit who said, “We're off and running with this agreement. This is a great day”.
Jose Kusugak from the ITK said: “Everything we wanted to achieve, we achieved. We are very happy”.
When the government first brought in its budget, it contained an 80% cut in promised funding for aboriginal Canadians and their leaders were profoundly disappointed.
The Kelowna accord designated $5.1 billion toward issues such as health, education, economic opportunity, housing, accountability and relationships.
The Conservative budget committed $450 million toward on-reserve programs with the money being contingent upon there being a federal surplus. The government did not make a firm commitment. At the same time that it killed the Kelowna accord, it attached an asterisk to the limited amounts that it did commit.
Here are some of the reactions from the aboriginal leaders, the country over, to the budget.
Bev Jacobs, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada said, “I do not believe that the amount in this budget will be able to deal with complex and deep issues that face aboriginal communities and aboriginal women today. The issue of health was not addressed, and that is very discouraging”.
Grand Council Chief Beaucage from the Union of Ontario Indians said: “This budget is a far cry from what was committed by the first ministers. Once again we've been left out in the cold”.
Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said:
Our fear, suspicion and mistrust of the [Conservative] government to support the historic Kelowna Accord were well placed. I had hoped, however, that the [Conservative] government would have the integrity and political will to fully implement the historic Kelowna Accord representing a $5.1 billion dollar investment in Aboriginal communities.
Clément Chartier, President of the Métis National Council said:
Despite years of hard work and great progress as we experienced with the previous government, Conservatives have not stood up for the Métis Nation.
David Chartrand from Manitoba said:
The Kelowna Accord would have helped the Métis People educate our youth and provide the necessary financial supports for sustainable housing and to combat diabetes in our communities.
Again we heard from National Chief Phil Fontaine when he said:
The approaches developed in Kelowna were developed with and supported by Aboriginal leaders, provinces and territories. These were not commitments from a particular party, but by the federal and all provincial and territorial governments.
The disingenuous of the minister, whom I have great respect for I might add, speaking on this issue is breathtaking. In reply to the private member's bill introduced by my colleague, the former Prime Minister, he said:
Aboriginal poverty is deep rooted. It is a complex issue. I say, with all due respect, that I do not think anyone can table a single page at the close of a first ministers' meeting as a compilation of numbers, issue a press release and believe aboriginal poverty has been solved.
What a profound lack of respect, courtesy and regard for the processes undertaken to get to that day and an even greater lack of respect for those people involved in getting there. The minister then went on to say:
The problems in this country are much deeper than that. They require a long term commitment, structural reform and renovation in consultation with first nations. Unless that is done, we will not succeed in the eradication of aboriginal poverty.
I believe that everyone that day in November believed that was exactly what Kelowna was about.
Let me tell the House what the loss of Kelowna means in concrete terms. It means that capital projects for education are being delayed for years as moneys are being reallocated or are not available. There are no funds for aboriginal health care identified in the budget while the tuberculosis outbreak continues to grow at Garden Hill First Nation, now 27 identified cases and 86 identified contacts. All perpetuated by many crowded, mouldy houses.
The Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick has a detailed plan to address an ongoing substance abuse problem in their community. There has been no response and no funds.
The Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba has a desperate need for new homes. Often 26 people live in one house. Again there was no response.
A large number of young people I met in Winnipeg will not be able to go on to post-secondary education, and yet we talk about skill shortages in Canada. The list goes on.
We have heard little commitment from the government to aboriginal peoples. We have heard some empty rhetoric, often a deafening silence, a frequent attempt to change the channel, and talk of more studies and little action. But there was a glimmer of hope.
When first appointed to the portfolio, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development said:
Aboriginal Canadians are nosk as long as I am the mt going to live at riinister.
I would like to remind the minister and his colleagues of one of the many wise comments by the late Martin Luther King Jr. when he said:
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
It is indeed time for members of the government to sit down and listen to the aboriginal leadership throughout this country, to listen to their colleagues in the House of Commons, to listen to the provincial and territorial leaders, and most important, to listen to Canadians across this country who understand the loss for them and their neighbours by not proceeding with the Kelowna accord.
It is time for that ray of sunshine to shine on Canada's aboriginal people and it is time to let the wheels of Kelowna move forward.
We have heard much about accountability from the government. We all support accountability, but accountability is not just about dollars. It is also about a government's accountability, or lack thereof, to its citizens and its partners in Confederation. Accountability is indeed a two-way street.
This is the opportunity to ensure that the Kelowna agreement is not added to the record of injustices and failures that have plagued aboriginal peoples over the decades in this country.
Let me close with a statement by Richard Paton from ITK when he appeared before the aboriginal affairs committee on June 7, 2006. His statement sums up the feelings of many across this great land. He said:
In my view, and as stated by our president recently in Gimli at the western premiers meeting, acting honourably means at a minimum keeping your word. The word that was pledged to the first ministers meeting on the federal side was not the word of a particular individual or political party; it was the word of the Prime Minister of Canada, the highest-level servant of the Crown and the people and an important custodian of the honour of the Crown and, by extension, the honour of the people of Canada. We cannot run federalism, indeed we cannot run Canada, on the basis that high-level multi-governmental commitments to tackle fundamental societal ills that are the product of mature deliberation can be summarily discarded because one of the signatories doesn't find it expedient on partisan grounds.
I implore colleagues opposite to listen to the speakers here today, to reconsider and to look at the far-reaching impact of the Kelowna accord across this land of ours. I urge all in this House to unanimously adopt the motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to tell the House how the current government is working to improve the quality of life of first nations, the Inuit and the Métis.
I agree with many of the things that have been said in the House and some of the comments put forward by the member for Winnipeg South Centre. I do not doubt her sincerity and I acknowledge the work she has done in the past on behalf of aboriginal people in the area of education. I do, however, disagree quite vehemently with her in terms of the way forward and I intend to speak to that without, in any way, disparaging her as a member of Parliament.
The approach we have tried to follow involves working together with other parties in the House. We have had good dialogue with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan and the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue. We will continue to approach this in a constructive and thoughtful way.
I would also like to speak definitively in the House to the fine work that has been carried out by the member for Winnipeg South, who is my parliamentary secretary. He is one of the youngest parliamentary secretaries in the new Government of Canada. He has done an extraordinary job. He is a Canadian of aboriginal ancestry. I can say unequivocally in the House that I am proud to have him as a colleague. I think the people of Winnipeg should be extraordinarily proud to have a young Canadian of this quality in the government.
The motion put forward speaks to the need for action in the areas of health, water, education and economic opportunities. Each and every one of us in the House recognizes the importance of moving forward on an agenda that deals with aboriginal issues and addresses the real issues of aboriginal poverty.
I worked on land claims for many years. My work gave me the opportunity to visit a number of aboriginal communities long before I came to Parliament. As a member of the opposition, I was my party's critic for Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
I have come face to face with the conditions aboriginal Canadians experience. I have been to many of the Indian reserves in this country, perhaps as many as half of the Indian reserves across Canada. It has led me to believe that the eradication of aboriginal poverty is one of the greatest social issues that the country faces. There is a willingness on my part to proceed, to be thoughtful and to work in collaboration with aboriginal Canadians to deal with these difficult issues.
While I agree with the member opposite that we need to work together to improve the quality of life for aboriginal Canadians, we disagree on the methodology.
The first speech I gave in the House of Commons 18 months ago related to what we see inscribed in stone on the front portal of the House of Commons as we come through the door. It is inscribed, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. I use that inscription on the front door of the House of Commons, which can be seen several stories up in large letters, to talk about the Liberal record in dealing with aboriginal issues in this country. It is a record that is shameful. History will judge the Liberal government harshly on what it has done on aboriginal policy and how it has dealt with aboriginal poverty. It will be judged on a 13 year period of empty promises and dark poverty for aboriginal Canadians.
This government is committed to taking real steps to deal with these issues. We are committed to dealing with some of the tough questions, the structural issues which underlie aboriginal poverty and we are committed to moving forward in a way that the Liberal government did not and never would.
Where we differ with the Liberals is in how to approach these problems. Over the last 13 years, Canadians have seen one approach, the Liberal approach. This approach was recently judged harshly by the Auditor General of Canada, who said essentially that on every major indicator of the quality of life of aboriginal Canadians, 13 years of Liberal government had been a failure. That is shameful. What Canadians have seen is rhetoric and what Canadians no longer want to see, whether aboriginal or non-aboriginal Canadians, is a continuation of that kind of approach to dealing with aboriginal poverty.
Does anybody in this House still remember the promises put forward by the Liberals in the 1993 campaign platform, the famous red book? There were promises regarding unemployment, health problems, poor housing, unequal education opportunities and unsafe drinking water. I have been through all the Liberal throne speeches and all of the Liberal red books during the time we were in opposition and they contained more and more Liberal empty rhetoric to aboriginal Canadians.
Finally, in 2004, after 12 years, the last Liberal throne speech admitted that “The conditions in far too many aboriginal communities can only be described as shameful”, an epitaph offered to 12 years of Liberal government by the Liberal government itself. That is the situation the new Government of Canada, a Conservative government, has inherited.
My friend spoke about the issue of water. This government took action within 45 days of coming into office to deal with the water situation. What were we left with by the members opposite, by the Liberal government? We were left with a situation where 21 communities in this country were living as communities at risk in terms of their water system, situations such as Kashechewan where e-coli was migrating into drinking water. Beyond that, 170 communities were living at high risk, which is a lower standard than a community at risk.
We took action. We instituted a system to get to the bottom of it. We introduced a certain amount of science. We have empowered a water panel to take the national standards, which this government announced, and implement them in law. That is the kind of approach this government will follow. We will take real action. We will deal with national standards. We will advance funds to deal with issues, with the assurance that there will be accountability and action. We are not interested in a continuation of Liberal rhetoric.
My friend spoke about the $700 million that the Liberals promised for aboriginal health care. I am astounded that the member would come to this chamber and have the audacity to even raise the Liberal record of this $700 million. The $700 million was promised to aboriginal Canadians during the fix for a generation, the 2003 health care discussions. At that meeting the previous prime minister of Canada said that he had fixed health care for a generation and part of the fix was that $700 million would be paid to aboriginal Canadians to deal with health issues.
The premiers met again in 2004. Not one penny of the $700 million had ever been spent, not a cent, not a farthing. The Liberals repromised the $700 million in the 2004 June election. Still none of the money had been spent. After the election they promised the money again in the House of Commons in the context of the minority Parliament.
When the Conservative government took office two years after those promises were put on the table, none of the $700 million had ever been spent. It was fiction. It was rhetoric. It was nonsense. The money was never advanced to deal with the difficult issues of aboriginal Canadians. It is one of the most shameful records that exists in recent years in the House of Commons.
Finally, in the last days of the last government there was another grand gesture, another grand promise.
The Kelowna agreement never really reflected reality. The Kelowna process did not include all of Canada.
The province of Quebec, represented by Ghislain Picard, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, did not participate in the process or in the Kelowna conference. Therefore, there was no Canada-wide consensus as such.
Mr. Picard was not even there and the aboriginal people of Quebec did not even participate in the process of Kelowna. In that sense a national consensus was not captured at all.
I was in Kelowna. There was no signed agreement. There was no consensus on funding. There was no shared financial commitment binding all the governments. If there were, I would say so in the House of Commons.
In the closing moments after the Kelowna accord conference finished, I met with the aboriginal leaders and I talked to many of the premiers. There was no consensus. There was confusion on what the prime minister had tabled, the single page compilation of numbers totalling $5.085 billion. There was no understanding on how that money would be spent, who would receive it, how much of it would be advanced to the provinces, how much would be advanced to the territories, what portion would go to the Inuit, what portion would go to the public governments in the north, what portion would go to go to the Assembly of First Nations and how much the Native Women's Association would get. None of those questions was answered.
Some of the first nation leaders, about which my friend speaks, had never seen those numbers. Anyone who stands in the House of Commons and tells Canadians that there was an 18 month negotiation process, leading to that single page compilation of numbers, is facetious. It never happened. If we asked the aboriginal people, who were there, they had never seen the numbers when they were tabled.
My friend from the riding of Kelowna—Lake Country properly mentions this. If there is a motion in the House to implement the Kelowna accord, perhaps someone at least could table the accord, put it in front of us so we could consider it. The point is they cannot because it does not exist. There is no such document.
Prior to the conference, a 20 page document described the circumstances of aboriginal poverty. It talked about targets, about the importance of five and ten year plans. I have never disagreed that it is a useful document and provides some guidance on the way forward, but there was no financial plan built around that document at Kelowna. It just did not happen.
Today we are discussing what was essentially a unilateral press release with the pre-campaign promise of money, no point by point plan, no budget for the year ahead, something that was tabled essentially three days before an election was called. As the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, I am talking about a different approach. We have to seriously address the underlying issues of aboriginal poverty and it will take more than a press release.
I said this previously, when the former prime minister tabled his private member's bill in the House, and I say it again today. Anyone who believes we can deal with the most pressing social justice issue in our country, namely aboriginal poverty, by tabling a one page document at the close of a meeting, does not appreciate the scope and the nature of the problem.
I believe everyone in the House is well-meaning in terms of tackling the problem and dealing with the issue, but this is not the way to do it. It reflects the lack of understanding, which the Liberals have shown for 13 years, about what the fundamental problems are. For 13 years, the Liberals never took any action to provide water standards. Why were registered status Indian people the only Canadians living without water standards until the Conservative government arrived? It has nothing to do with Kelowna. It has everything to do with a government that was not prepared to act.
Why are aboriginal first nation children the only kids who do not have the protection of an education statute that defines curriculum, classroom sizes, certification, teacher-student ratios? The only children in Canada who do not have that protection are Indian registered status Indian children. This is after 13 years of Liberal ineptitude. This is the situation that we inherited.
It is said that a goal without a plan is just a wish, just a promise in the case of the Liberals.
I said before that I supported the targets discussed by the first ministers and the national aboriginal leaders. However, we will have a different approach to getting there. We are setting goals. We are taking concrete steps to meet them. We are budgeting properly and we are bringing financial plans before Parliament. We will deal with the structural issues.
Again, we have rhetoric from the Liberals. Why, after 13 years of Liberal government, is there still no matrimonial property rights for aboriginal women? How can the Liberals stand in the House of Commons and seriously argue, on behalf of aboriginal people, when for 13 years they were not prepared to deal with one of the most fundamental wrongs that exists in Canada today? That is the fact that aboriginal women do not have matrimonial property rights. Promises, rhetoric, red books, throne speeches, all of that, but never any action, just a continuation of rhetoric.
One of the other issues we need to discuss is how we will make the system work better for aboriginal Canadians. What do we have to do to give individuals a better sense of empowerment? How do we match job training to take advantage of the changing economy and the opportunities so some of our economic growth stories benefit aboriginal people?
How do we move beyond the Indian Act, the most outdated piece of legislation in Canada? How do we give first nations the tools to get beyond the Indian Act? The Indian Act was a compilation of pre-confederation statutes. It should be no wonder to the Liberals why many things are not working for aboriginal Canadians when the basic governance structure, which applies to everything that happens on reserve, is legislation that was developed 150 years ago. There was no action from the former government to deal with that reality.
These are tough, fundamental questions and they have gone unanswered for too long. The government intends to move forward. We intend to deal with these issues and we will work in collaboration and in consultation with national and regional organizations to do so.
I am optimistic. As Winston Churchill once said, “For myself, I am an optimist, because I don't see much use in being anything else”. We can move forward on these issues and we have already in the budget.
My friend said, I think quite unfairly, and I want the record of the House of Commons corrected on this, that the government had put forward a budget that cut 80% of the funding to aboriginal Canadians. The budget put forward by the Conservative government contains more dollar expenditures for aboriginal Canadians than any budget that has ever been put forward in the history of the House of Commons and, for sure, more money than the Liberals ever put forward.
At this point, the Government of Canada is spending something close to $9 billion on aboriginal programs and services. Our budget contained a number of extraordinary measures, totalling $3.7 billion. We budgeted $2.2 billion to deal with the residential school agreement. We included $300 million for northern housing; $300 million for off reserve housing, $125 million additional in the budget this year, $450 million in the budget in the following; and a $325 million increase in the department's estimates. The total additional funds in that sense are $1.075 billion. When we add that to the $2.2 billion set aside for the residential school agreement, this is a very generous budget. As aboriginal leaders across Canada have said, it does more for aboriginal Canadians than the Liberals ever did.
Yet what we hear is a continuation from the other side of the House about Liberal rhetoric, about promises and about moving forward. All of this disrespects the House of Commons. The money in terms of Kelowna was never budgeted for by the House of Commons. It was open to the Liberals, as a government, to bring forward a budget that included that money, to have it approved by the Parliament of Canada and to move forward. They never did. They are carrying on today with the same approach. The private member's bill that has been put forward, again, provides no money. There are more promises or regurgitation of previous promises, but no money.
What aboriginal Canadians have come to believe and come to see is that for real results they are going to see action from our government. The government has the courage to move forward and bring forward a vision that is different from where we have been.
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating a motion on the Kelowna accord, a rather unorthodox accord from the point of view of a non-aboriginal who has never dealt with any aboriginals whatsoever and who probably never has had any extended contact with aboriginals.
I want to remind hon. members that for an aboriginal, a handshake, especially in front of witnesses, is still stronger than a signature from certain people. We are talking about the Kelowna accord, entitled, “Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap”. The motion reads as follows:
That the House recognize the urgent need to improve the quality of life of Canada’s Aboriginals, First Nations, Inuit and Métis, living both on and off reserve, which requires focused and immediate initiatives by the government in areas such as health, water, housing, education, and economic opportunities and, especially, immediately moving forward with the implementation of the Kelowna Accord with its full funding commitments.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of this motion in principle, as am I. However, allow me to be skeptical about the real intentions of the leader of the previous government. Please remind me of a single time when he respected a single promise to the middle class or people who are struggling. We could even go back to his employees, both those on his ships and in his offices, to the days of the Voyageur bus line, for example. I think it has been well over 20 years. These employees, mostly women, are still waiting for their modest pension, which this former prime minister had the indecency to refuse to pay.
I believe the former government would indeed have had the opportunity to negotiate and implement such an agreement. Members of the government also would have had enough time to extend the peace of the braves for the James Bay Cree, but they were in the government. And just like the Conservatives today, they prefer to be surrounded by lobbyists, which is much more profitable politically than being surrounded by Indians who, in any event, will still continue to vote for them. They have always done so and I hope one day they will see the error of their ways and that we will finally see change in Canada.
I would like to remind hon. members that, in my opinion, the previous government was the main architect of the disastrous situation in which the vast majority of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are mired today, both on and off reserve. In fact, I wonder whether, if that party had been re-elected, we would be discussing the same motion today, only this time introduced by the Conservative Party.
In its platform, the Conservative Party claims that it wants to achieve the objectives of the Kelowna accord. How does it hope to reduce the education gaps between aboriginal secondary school graduates and other Canadian graduates and the health gap between non-native and native Canadians? The government's 2006 budget does not provide a lot of money for aboriginal education and health. How does the government hope to know all the needs of aboriginal people without consulting the communities concerned?
This shows the opinion I have of both these parties when it comes to the power or the will to take tangible measures to address this issue or issues such as equalization, the fiscal imbalance, the softwood lumber dispute, Quebec's place at UNESCO, tax breaks for taxpayers and global warming, whether it is dealt with through the Kyoto protocol or something better. I have no more faith in one party than the other. If we were to put the two of them into a bag, shake it and pull one out, we would get exactly what we have always had: a dominating government that centralizes all the powers and assets of what is still this confederation.
Like all the fine promises made to Quebeckers, whether by the previous government or this one, that have turned out to be blatant intellectual dishonesty, this agreement could very well be used as a trap during the next election campaign.
How can the government go to first nations chiefs, negotiators or representatives today and claim that the agreement does not exist because it was not signed? Were all the provincial premiers not there? And what do they have to say?
All governments and all politicians worthy of the name, although very few remain, know full well what it means to shake hands with an aboriginal leader, or with his or her negotiators in certain circumstances.
We acknowledge that this agreement is still far from what the first nations could have hoped for. However, waiting to conclude the agreement required to achieve equality among the nations could seriously compromise this objective, which, we believe, could not be otherwise achieved, nor could the current situation be stabilized given the sums that were set aside for that purpose.
At least this agreement could slow the constant widening of the gap between aboriginals and Quebeckers and other Canadians.
We must face the facts and, for now, hope that the accord is implemented because, although it may be imperfect and insufficient, it can at least bring some relief to the gap that continues to grow between aboriginals, Quebeckers and other Canadians. I would remind the House that on November 25, 2005, despite the disagreement of the first nations peoples of Quebec and Labrador, this agreement was sealed by first nations peoples from the rest of Canada, the provincial premiers and the Prime Minister of Canada. If the accord is not respected, the provinces could find themselves in a very difficult situation, both financially and politically.
It does not matter how this agreement was sealed. From the moment each of the participants shook hands, according to the custom of one or more of the nations present, this accord was accepted. Various witnesses in this House, during the debates or question periods, have indicated that a number of personalities from the current government attended these negotiations. I raise this point because nowhere is there any mention of disagreement or anything else at the time and it would not be right to claim today that a handshake does not have the same value as a signature. We must consider that there was agreement, despite my skepticism about the will of the main signatory, to implement the accord.
How can billions of dollars be invested in companies that have never indicated any need, like the oil companies? How can there be such an open and intense search for manpower through immigration, given the cost this represents, when no effort is made to include our own citizens in a constructive and fulfilling system? It might be a good idea to plan for, even encourage, the establishment of industry in these communities, thereby rewarding the efforts made toward independence and self-government by all these nations for a number of years now.
We must consider these persons. Indeed, they are persons, just like the Quebec nation, which, by the way, is celebrating its national holiday this coming Saturday, June 24. Aboriginals are celebrating their holiday a few days earlier on June 21. All these persons cherish their languages and cultures. It is their fundamental right. They want to adapt at their own rhythm to another language and culture, while maintaining their own. It is not necessarily by choice that they are doing so and they do not necessarily have the motivation we would have hoped for in adapting to these other languages and cultures.
The Government of Quebec has understood this and it is in constant negotiation with most of the communities. One of the best successes was the peace of the braves that most of the other communities, in Quebec in any case, would like to achieve even though the intended purpose has not been reached yet because of the previous federal government, which the current government seems to want to imitate when it comes to the lack of motivation to achieve the same existing recognition in Quebec. The signatories of this agreement nonetheless gained self-government and very good economic strength in the Cree communities in northern Quebec.
As is the case in Quebec, the aboriginal and Inuit peoples are founding peoples of Canada and should have all the rights of other Canadians, including the right to self-government, to their own culture, language and traditions, the right to property, the right to participate in and to profit from economic development and the right to healthy housing.
The first nations must have the foundation on which to build the social equilibrium required to forge a true alliance with the nations of Quebec and Canada. To this end, it is vital that the Kelowna accord be implemented while continuing to make every effort to negotiate complementary agreements needed to achieve true relations in a spirit of equality for all nations.
I was in northern Quebec, in Nunavik, not long ago.
At four in the morning I heard children talking outside. I looked out the window and saw six young people between eight and eleven years old, at the most. These children had to leave their home because their parents were fighting. The houses are overcrowded: between 10 and 14 people live in one unit. Young couples with four or five children live with their grandparents, brothers or sisters. They do not have time to look after their children. The tension becomes so intense that when the arguing breaks out, the grandparents and the young ones leave the house to avoid the fighting.
And it is not true that the children in the streets at four in the morning will be in school the next day. Those who do attend school find themselves, when they return home in the evening, without the parental support to help them advance in their studies.
For this reason, no matter the amount of money involved, the programs must be reviewed with each of the interested communities, in order to establish programs that meet their individual needs.
We will support this agreement in the hope that the government will continue to improve existing conditions.
Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today on behalf of the New Democratic Party in support of the motion.
However, it is with some frustration that I speak to this matter. We are having this debate today because the former Liberal government did nothing for 13 years to address some of the crises facing the first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples across the country. It is sad to say that what galvanized the Liberals to action was a previous minority government.
Unfortunately, the current minority government has not yet been galvanized to the same kind of action. In fact, the current minority government has turned its back on a very important agreement that had support from the federal government, provincial governments and first nations, Inuit and Métis leaderships across the country.
I want to set a bit of context for this. I will go back to a press release put out after the first ministers and national aboriginal leaders met in Kelowna back in November 2005. In a document called, “Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap”, it talks about some of the important issues around housing, education and economic development that were critical for first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples to join the rest of Canadians in a quality of life that many of us take for granted.
Much has been said about the fact that there was no signed agreement. People have talked about it being written on the back of a napkin. None of that is true. The agreement came about after extensive meetings and discussions were held over a number of months. In our country people's verbal commitment to things is considered binding. This agreement, in many people's minds, when we talk about the honour of the Crown, reflects the honour of the Crown.
The previous federal government said that it was committed to improving the quality of life for first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, that it was committed to putting money on the table and that it was committed to having discussions with leaderships across Canada. People understood this agreement to be a meaningful commitment and that it was directly tied to the honour of the Crown.
I want to talk about the conclusion in the document, “Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap”, because it sets out some of the principles and the agreement that people understood. It states:
This document represents a shared commitment to action by all parties. The initiatives set out in this document are the first step in a 10-year dedicated effort to improve the quality of life of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Based on their shared commitment, First Ministers and National Aboriginal Leaders agree to take immediate action, to build on their commitments over time, wherever possible, and to move forward in a manner that will achieve the maximum results for the Aboriginal peoples of Canada which include the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.
Two of the important words in this document are “shared commitment”. It is that shared commitment that people are quite disappointed with in the current government's approach.
In case anyone thinks there is no reality around some of the conditions on first nations reserves and for Inuit and Métis people, I have a copy of the Economic and Social Council's report from May 2006. Canada is being cited on an international stage for its handling of indigenous issues. I will not read the whole report because I am sure most members of the House have paid attention to this report with a great deal of interest, but the committee noted, with particular concern, that poverty rates remained very high among disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, such as aboriginal peoples.
Also in the report the committee talks about disparities. It states:
The disparities that still persist between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of the Canadian population in the enjoyment of Covenant rights, as well as the discrimination still experienced by Aboriginal women in matters of matrimonial property.
The report goes on to deal with things such as water, health and housing, which are the fundamental elements in the agreement that was struck back in the fall in Kelowna around closing the poverty gap. The report states:
The Committee is also concerned by the significant disparities still remaining between Aboriginal people and the rest of the population in areas of employment, access to water, health, housing and education,
The Committee, while noting that the State party has withdrawn, since 1998, the requirement for an express reference to extinguishment of Aboriginal rights and titles either in a comprehensive claim agreement or in the settlement legislation ratifying the agreement, remains concerned that the new approaches, namely the “modified rights model” and the “non-assertion model”, do not differ much from the extinguishment and surrender approach.
It further regrets not having received detailed information on other approaches based on recognition and coexistence of rights, which are currently under study.
A little later on I will link the treaty rights back to closing the poverty gap because it is a fundamental principle. Not only is it not in the motion before the House today, it also was not part of the Kelowna agreement.
The report goes on to actually talk about a variety of programs. Again, culture, language and education are fundamental in terms of having people move forward with education and with economic development. The United Nations committee states:
The Committee, while noting the numerous programmes adopted to preserve Aboriginal languages in the State party, as well as the studies conducted in the area of the protection of traditional knowledge, regrets that no time frame has been set up for the consideration and implementation of the recommendations of the Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures, and that no concrete measures have been adopted in the area of intellectual property for the protection and promotion of ancestral rights and traditional knowledge of Aboriginal peoples.
Those are serious problems that have been identified in the international community and are directly related to self-sufficiency and to addressing the poverty gap.
The last piece that I just talked about was around culture and language. Part of what was in the original Kelowna agreement around closing the poverty gap was a very substantial commitment to education and that education needs to be culturally relevant. It needs to include access to language. That important commitment has been lost by not having the Conservative government agree to proceed with those matters.
I mentioned earlier that much has been said about not having a signed agreement and the honour of the Crown. The premier in my province of British Columbia took it at face value that the federal government was committed to moving forward with this. The provincial government and the first nations leadership in British Columbia signed something called the transformative change accord. When people move forward by signing other documents they feel that it will happen. They thought this was a deal.
In a letter dated May 4, 2006 and addressed to the current Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said that they had thought that the current minister had made public commitments to put wheels on the Kelowna accord.
However, the government has chosen not to uphold the honour of the Crown. The government has reneged on this historic, multi-government agreement and has proceeded to unilaterally implement its own plan to address our issues without any consultations.
The consultation that led to that agreement in Kelowna was an integral part of what happened. The verbal agreement was destroyed without any consultation with aboriginal people. The leadership goes on to say:
The funds announced in your budget will do very little to remedy chronic under-fundincrushing poverty and appg or the alling socio-economic conditions of First Nations communities. True recognition, reconciliation and social justice with respect to lands, territories and resources, as well as social and economic programs, are becoming even more distant goals.
Part of closing that poverty gap was a commitment to four key areas. It was also a commitment to funding, so I am going to turn my attention to funding.
In the letter that the first nations leadership in British Columbia wrote to the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Finance and Indian and Northern Affairs, they talked about the funding. They said:
Your government has abandoned this Accord and your budget reflects only a fraction of the financial commitments already committed by the Government of Canada to help improve the quality of life for First Nations and Aboriginal Canadians.
Your government has committed to addressing the fiscal imbalance with the provinces, yet this budget does nothing to address the fiscal imbalance faced by First Nations governments. Spending on First Nations programs has been kept at 2% for the past 10 years and is far outpaced by rapid population growth and rising costs.
When we are talking about money, I think it is really important that we talk about how much money is actually available and about some of the realities in first nations, Métis and Inuit communities. In a recent report by the Auditor General, she herself talks about the fact that funding has not kept pace with population growth. In the Auditor General's report, she says that between 1999 and 2004 funding increased by only 1.6% and yet population growth in first nations communities was at 11.2%. That is quite a significant difference.
As well, when we are talking about funding we have to actually talk about where money is spent and how it is allocated. In the department's own facts, it says that between 2005 and 2006 the government is forecasted to spend $9.1 billion directly on aboriginal programs, policies and initiatives. It is important to note that 80% of this spending is directed toward basic province-like services such as infrastructure, housing and education.
I want to turn briefly to a report put out by the Assembly of First Nations in 2004, “Federal Government Funding to First Nations: The Facts, the Myths and the Way Forward”. The reason I specifically wanted to reference that report is that, using the department's own figures, it talks about the fact that funding has actually decreased and says that funding for core services such as education, economic and social development, capital facilities and maintenance has decreased by almost 13% since 1999-2000.
We have a crisis happening with first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. We have a population that is growing and we have an infrastructure deficit. Many first nations communities do not have access to clean drinking water. They do not have access to sewer systems. They do not have access to adequate housing. We talk about the fact that the federal government actually has an obligation to provide “comparable services”. Comparable services means services that are similar to those that people who live in provinces and municipalities have access to. I would argue that many first nations, Métis and Inuit communities not only do not have comparable services, but their services are so substandard that most Canadians would not even dream of living there.
This Kelowna agreement, this closing of the poverty gap, was a step, a significant step. It would not be the answer to all of the problems, but it was a significant step in moving forward and addressing some of those issues.
In addition, in her report the Auditor General talked about the fact that the failures she was outlining were mostly to do with quality of life issues, well-being issues, and much of what she addressed actually falls squarely in the laps of the previous Liberal government. Her report was a condemnation of past policies and programs that are still failing to meet some of those very critical issues around housing, education and land claims.
Earlier I mentioned that I was going to touch briefly on land claims. This is not mentioned in the current motion and was not part of the agreement in Kelowna. Specifically, I am bringing up land claims in this context because treaties, comprehensive land claims and specific land claims are all part of paving the way for first nations communities to move forward, paving the way for first nations communities to have meaningful economic development, and paving the way for first nations communities to actually be able to take charge of some of the infrastructure programs and the educational aspects that are very important in that economic survival and the community.
I am going to come back to the United Nations report that I was quoting from earlier because it made a couple of recommendations that tie directly to this. Recommendation 37 states:
The Committee urges the State party to re-examine its policies and practices towards the inherent rights and titles of Aboriginal peoples to ensure that policies and practices do not result in extinguishment of those rights and titles.
Recommendation 38 states:
The Committee strongly recommends that the State party resume negotiations with the Lubicon Lake Band, with a view to finding a solution to the claims of the Band that ensures the enjoyment of their rights under the Covenant. The Committee also strongly recommends the State party to conduct effective consultation with the Band prior to the grant of licences for economic purposes in the disputed land, and to ensure that such activities do not jeopardize the rights recognized under the Covenant.
I specifically quoted the recommendation on the Lubicon Lake Band because I think it is a microcosm of a fact that many first nations communities are faced with. Because they cannot get adequate treaties or comprehensive land claims or specific land claims, they are unable to move forward with the economic development that is so critical to their survival and well-being.
I want to turn just for a moment to my home riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan. For a number of years, the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group has been in negotiations with the government. Part of the reason for their lack of community well-being they attribute to the lack of movement on the treaty.
Again, tying it back to the Kelowna accord and the Auditor General's comments around economic well-being, there is an index called the community well-being index. This was used to examine the well-being of Canadian communities. In my riding, six Hul'qumi'num communities scored between 448 and 482 out of 486 communities surveyed in B.C. Those are grim numbers. We are talking about poverty, unemployment, poor health, lack of access to education, and the list goes on. In the province of British Columbia, when six of these Hul'qumi'num communities score at the very bottom, that is of grave concern.
Part of what the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group is calling for is for the government to move forward on treaty and land claims so that people can take control of their lives, so that they can move forward and stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of Canadians.
In an article in the Cultural Survival Quarterly of March 27, 2006, Robert Morales talks about Canada's own royal commission. He states:
Canada's own Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recognized that “Aboriginal peoples need much more territory to become economically, culturally and politically self-sufficient. If they cannot obtain a greater share of the land and resources in this country, their institutions of self-government will fail”. This is, they said, “the most pressing human rights issue facing Canadians, and failure to obtain a more global solution can only continue to tarnish Canada's reputation and accomplishments”.
What we know is that without meaningful movement on land claims, on specific comprehensive land claims and treaties, it is going to be very difficult for first nations communities to take charge of their economic self-sufficiency, as Robert Morales points out in his article.
It has been a long haul. I was speaking to one of the chiefs on Vancouver Island. He told me that at the age of nine, at his grandfather's knee, he listened to his grandfather talk to him about land claims and treaties. He talked about the fact that “soon it would be settled”. This chief is now 63 and his band still does not have a treaty.
In conclusion, I would like to urge each and every member of the House to support this very important initiative brought forward by the official opposition. We would like to be in a situation in 10 years' time where the United Nations is talking about the great progress Canada has made in terms of closing this poverty gap, in terms of enshrining the cultural and language rights, and in terms of economic self-sufficiency for first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
I urge all members of the House to support the motion and I urge the government to then actually allocate the funds to make sure that we can truly close the poverty gap in this country in this day and age.
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for Toronto Centre.
The motion states:
That the House recognize the urgent need to improve the quality of life of Canada's Aboriginals, First Nations, Inuit and Métis, living both on and off reserve, which requires focused and immediate initiatives by the government in areas such as health, water, housing, education, and economic opportunities and, especially, immediately moving forward with the implementation of the Kelowna Accord with its full funding commitments.
If we talked to Canadians from coast to coast to coast, we would find that they support this motion. If Canadians went to Métis communities, Inuit communities, and first nations communities throughout this land and saw the shortcomings in those communities they would ask why governments are not getting together and working with these people to address their concerns. They would ask why we do not see the shortcomings in these communities, why we do not see the potential in these communities. Canadians would ask why we are not addressing these problems together rather than all levels of government taking individual initiatives. When each level of government has its own initiative, they are often disjointed and seldom reach what we would like to achieve.
What was the Kelowna accord? It was not a deal done on a napkin prior to a press release. The Kelowna accord was the result of a lot of lobbying done by people in those communities talking to the federal government, the provincial government and local municipalities. Negotiations were held among federal and provincial officials and first nations. An agreement was reached.
To cancel the accord sends the wrong message. It does not recognize our responsibilities as Canadians. It does not look at the errors we have made in the past and provide solutions for the future. The Kelowna accord was a very good initiative. It was very well supported. To be able to get the provinces, the territories and communities together to come to an understanding took a lot of work, a good plan and a lot of compromise. Now it has been cancelled.
What are we telling those communities? What are we telling the young people who have dreams and aspirations? We are telling them that they cannot look to governments for help. We are telling them that they cannot trust the Government of Canada to enter into an agreement with them because a minority government on a whim might renege on it and remove federal participation.
The situation in which these communities find themselves is unfortunate and regrettable.
People are losing their faith and see no future in using the institutions available to them. They use means that I completely disapprove of.
Nevertheless, they see no other solutions. The burgeoning difficulties and the lack of partnership make them feel that they have to barricade roads, hunt and fish illegally—hence poach—and use illegal means to boost the economy of their community.
Canadians and the federal government should recognize that they have an obligation to guarantee to them that when a document is signed or a verbal agreement is made, the agreement is honourable and will be honoured.
We hear often from members on the opposite side who tend to be very, very right wing that if we do a special agreement, it is race based. We have to recognize the specific needs of these communities. We have to work together.
Sometimes I hear it said that the court is ruling Canada. Sometimes it is because sometimes these decisions are forced by the court. Sometimes the court forces us into action only when we do not recognize our responsibilities. Generation after generation do not see what the treaties really mean and do not recognize that perhaps we have some liabilities and some responsibilities as Canadians toward those treaties. I remember a member of another opposition party saying that when we buy the dog, we get the fleas. With those treaties came some responsibilities and we have not always met them. For the first nations in most cases, it all has not worked to their advantage.
We should go to the communities and see the lands that they have lost. They were forced to live on reserves, their resources stripped from them, their potential stripped from them and they were reduced to a mere existence. That is not acceptable. We cross oceans so that does not apply to other nations, to other countries, to other peoples. We send our military. We send our aid. This is what we have to do in Canada, but not in the same way. We have to recognize the majority.
I had the opportunity to work with Bob Nault, as well as the member for Fredericton, when each was the Minister of Indian Affairs. We would want to work with the communities, to look at the fundamental problems in the governance and the administration, to look at the role of women, to look at the possibilities, to look at the shortcomings and how we can address them.
When we look at an agreement like Kelowna that gave such a sense of hope, that looked at those elements, at health care, at education, at infrastructure, at water and sewers, how can we back out of that? How can we go home and tell our people that our government has led us down this path?