|| That the House, recognizing the broad-based demand for action, call on the government to make the improvement of economic outcomes of First Nations, Inuit and Métis a central focus of Budget 2013, and to commit to action on treaty implementation and full and meaningful consultation on legislation that affects the rights of Aboriginal Canadians, as required by domestic and international law.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
The reason the NDP has brought the motion forward today is that what we have seen, both from Conservatives and Liberals, is years of broken promises. We are seeing continuing poverty in first nation, Métis and Inuit communities. We are seeing a grassroots movement from coast to coast to coast, like Idle No More, signifying that people on the ground are simply tired of these broken promises. We have seen the Assembly of First Nations put forward an eight-point plan and we have seen a 13-point declaration of commitment that is called, “First Nations: Working Towards Fundamental Change”.
In this context, New Democrats felt it was important for us to bring this matter to the House and to have a fulsome debate about three key elements: that is, economic development, treaties and duty to consult.
I am going to focus on those three elements in my brief 10 minutes.
I want to begin with economic development, and I want to refer to the report of the Auditor General from 2011. In that report, the Auditor General indicated it is clear that living conditions are poorer on first nation reserves than anywhere else in Canada. The Auditor General went on to indicate in the report that the department agreed with that and had developed a community well-being index, based upon a United Nations' measure. In 2010, the department reported that the index showed little or no progress in the well-being of first nation communities between 2001 and 2006. Instead, the average well-being of those communities continued to rank significantly below that of other Canadian communities.
Conditions on too many reserves are poor and have not improved significantly and, of course, the Auditor General went on to criticize government performance and to recommend a number of ways in which the government could move forward. Part of those ways did focus on aspects of economic development. When we are talking about economic development, there are a number of principles that have been outlined in numerous reports and studies that talk about local employment, local ownership and decision-making, reinvestment of profits in communities, local knowledge and skill development, positive environmental impact and increased health and well-being in the community.
It would seem to be to the government's advantage to talk about investing in things like education and infrastructure, to do that duty to consult to make sure the programs were reflecting community needs, but we have seen an ongoing absence of that kind of priority with the current government.
I mentioned there have been numerous studies. I want to touch briefly on the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. Now, this was done in the United States, but this was two decades of research that talked about the key elements that needed to be in place for first nations—in the United States at least—to have fulsome economic development. It indicated a number of matters, but I just want to touch briefly on three of them.
Sovereignty matters. When native nations make their own decisions about what development approaches to take, they consistently outperform external decision-makers on matters as diverse as governmental form, natural resources, economic development, health care and social service provision.
Institutions matter. For development to take hold, assertions of sovereignty must be backed by capable institutions of governance.
Culture matters. Successful economies stand on the shoulders of legitimate, culturally grounded institutions of self-government. Indigenous societies are diverse. Each nation must equip itself with a governing structure, economic system, policies and procedures that fit its own contemporary cultures.
Again, it seems there is a road map for the government to invest in the mechanisms that will support economic development in communities, and we only need to look at the continuing desperate conditions in some communities.
I must point out that there are first nation communities that are very successful. Westbank comes to mind. There are very good examples out there, and there are ways that some of those best practices could be made available to other communities.
I want to touch on treaties. I went to the government's own website on this as a starting point, and it was very interesting to read its “Fact Sheet: Treaties with Aboriginal people in Canada”. It states:
|| The Government of Canada and the courts understand treaties between the Crown and Aboriginal people to be solemn agreements that set out promises, obligations and benefits for both parties.
|| Starting in 1701, in what was to eventually become Canada, the British Crown entered into solemn treaties to encourage peaceful relations between First Nations and non-Aboriginal people. Over the next several centuries, treaties were signed to define, among other things, the respective rights of Aboriginal people and governments to use and enjoy lands that Aboriginal people traditionally occupied.
Reading that statement on the government's own website, one would think the government would come to the table with an intent to respect promises that have been made over centuries. When we are talking about treaties in Canada, we have very different situations from coast to coast to coast. We have the numbered treaties, which are old treaties in this country. We have land claims. We have a situation in British Columbia where we have some modern treaties; however, a large part of British Columbia has no treaties in place.
I want to touch on three aspects of these treaties, and I will turn to the land claims coalition. Why should Canadians care about treaties? I think the coalition lays it out very well. It indicates, in part:
|| Fully implemented modern treaties benefit all Canadians. They clarify the terms of the ongoing relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown, and of the Crown's occupation and use in conjunction with Aboriginal peoples of their traditional lands and resources. In other words, modern treaties define how resources on traditional lands can be used and co-managed to the great benefit of all Canadians.
|| For Aboriginal signatories, modern treaties offer new opportunities for self-reliance, political and economic development, as well as cultural and social well-being. They are the basis for building a new and positive relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the wider Canadian society.
Having read the government's website about fulfillment of promises, one would think the land claims coalition would be celebrating the success of these land claims agreements. Instead, what has happened is that the agreements are signed and then the government walks away from the spirit and intent of those agreements. The land claims coalition has had to come together to hold the government's feet to the fire. It has raised a number of implementation issues, and because I only have 10 minutes I cannot go over all of them.
However, there are a couple of key points. It says there have been numerous reports that have reaffirmed the intent of the land claims agreements and treaties, and that these reports “...have confirmed that the Government of Canada is fulfilling neither its obligations in full under these agreements nor their spirit and intent. Consequently modern treaties are failing to achieve their overall fundamental developmental objectives”. Instead, we are seeing that some of the nations have been forced into courts to try to get the government to uphold its promises.
Turning to Nunavut, it is in the courts as we speak, to try to get the government to live up to the self-government and land claims agreement.
I will touch briefly on numbered treaties. There was the proclamation back in 1763, and then we had numbered treaties signed between 1870 and 1921. On a site called Our Legacy, the section entitled “Treaties: Negotiations and Rights” outlines the continued problems with how the numbered treaties are not being respected. It says, in part, that “the government of Canada questions the original Spirit and Intent of Treaty”.
We are starting to see a theme here: land claims, numbered treaties. I will get to B.C. in a minute about the spirit and intent. It continues:
|| It is a very simple answer. Non-Indigenous People were granted the right to live in Indigenous Peoples' territories so long as they maintained peace and respected the land. In exchange Indigenous Peoples were to receive benefits such as health care and education.
We see the government continuing to quibble about what those treaties meant instead of honouring their spirit and intent and moving the treaties that were signed decades ago into the modern day to honour those commitments.
I will touch briefly on the B.C. treaty process. I come from British Columbia, and I need to talk about this. An article titled “Report on treaty negotiations holds key to progress” says that those treaties are very important in terms of the economic development and stability in British Columbia.
There is resource development happening in British Columbia. Without movement forward on those treaties, we will not have the economic stability that is important for first nations, for Métis, for Inuit in the north, and for the rest of British Columbians and Canadians. I urge all members of this House to support this important motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking today in support of this important motion put forward by my colleague for . I wish to thank her for her tireless efforts and dedication. I consider it a privilege to work alongside such a strong Canadian representative in our ranks.
Today we have a motion of extreme importance before us, one that can represent the start of a better future for all Canadians, if all parties in the House seize upon this important moment.
For nearly two months we have seen the issues of indigenous nations of Canada brought to the fore in ways that have never been seen before, with the Idle No More movement. We have seen peaceful protests, combined with proud expressions of aboriginal culture, raise awareness of these issues like never before. Who knew it would be a round dance revolution that would start this discussion in earnest? This movement has brought many issues onto the public agenda, some of which we are focusing on today and that call upon the government to act immediately.
However, from my observations, Idle No More comes back to some very simple principles: respect, partnership and a better future for all who now call this land home. When we talk about respect, we are talking about respecting the treaties and subsequent agreements that the Crown and Canada have entered into with indigenous nations. When we are talking about partnership, we are talking about the relationship those treaties envisioned: two peoples working together for the prosperity of all. When we talk about a better future for all, we are talking about what is possible if we finally tackle these outstanding issues rather than leaving them to fester.
These principles are the very foundation of our country. Do not forget: first peoples in this country were not conquered or defeated in some major military battle. Our ancestors welcomed the newcomers to their land, shared it with them and signed treaties that would become the legal foundation for the Canada of today.
These treaties that Canada and the Crown signed with aboriginal nations are an integral part of our foundational documents, along with the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We, the NDP, have been conscious of those facts for a long time now, and our policies and approaches incorporate them.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the current government. Its actions and words demonstrate that either it does not know our history or it is choosing to ignore it.
APTN News recently uncovered a staggering example of this very problem. On January 25, it reported details of a leaked confidential accounting of the 's January 11 meeting with some first nations leaders. In that document, some very disturbing comments made by the came to light. The document began by stating that he referred to the meeting as a meeting with “a group of at risk Canadians...”. Let that sink in for a moment. The minister of the Crown referred to the leaders and their peoples, not as Cree, Mi’kmaq, Ojibwa, Algonquin, or the proper name of any aboriginal nation; he referred to them as a group of at risk Canadians.
Some might call that a mistake, and others might call it a bad start, when restarting our foundational relationship. Most would call it disrespectful. I would hope that the hon. member for would take the chance at some point during this debate to apologize for that poor choice of words.
Unfortunately, that was not the only comment that came from the member at that meeting. The document went on to quote the admitting that he did not understand the treaty relationship or why that discussion needs to occur before economic development.
I have to question why the took a minister with such lack of knowledge into the meeting, while benching his , who I know has a very strong grasp of the issues, into that meeting. I have a great deal of respect for the knowledge and experience of the hon. member for , and I cannot help but wonder how serious the is when he leaves such a resource sitting on the sidelines.
The hon. member for has considerable experience in federal and provincial government consultations. The member for and provided a good example of his lack of knowledge. According to the media in his riding, a few days after the January 11 meeting, he explained what he meant by “consultation”. Questioned about the fact that aboriginals were not consulted about Bill , he said that there was a consultation; it was called a federal election. Wrong answer.
Recently, seemingly in response to the Idle No More movement, the government has started to use some language about its duties that I have found rather worrisome. The and his ministers have started to say they are happy to “work with willing partners” when it comes to dealing with outstanding aboriginal issues. The last time I checked, the Government of Canada had a duty to consult and accommodate all aboriginal peoples, not just those the government believes are willing. The government needs to understand it cannot ignore the situations it sees as more difficult. It might be harder to arrive at solutions in those cases, but it will not get any easier by simply ignoring them. As an example, why should the Innu of Labrador find that the Government of Canada will work with them because the government might consider them more willing, while the Innu from Quebec, represented by my good friend from , have their longstanding grievances ignored because the government is not willing to talk to them?
The motion before us today calls upon the government to “commit to action on treaty implementation and full and meaningful consultation on legislation that affects the rights of Aboriginal Canadians, as required by domestic and international law.” However, as we know, the Constitution and international law are continually evolving thanks to new legal instruments, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and court rulings.
I find it sad that I have to remind the House that aboriginal people are among the small number of groups that constantly have to turn to the courts to have their basic constitutional rights respected.
It is estimated that the Government of Canada spends $300 million a year opposing the rights of aboriginal peoples before the courts. More often than not, the government loses those cases. The government has spent billions of dollars in recent decades trying to stop the inevitable, and meanwhile, court decisions are not implemented in a timely manner and progress continues to be impeded.
Earlier this month the Federal Court ruled in the Daniels decision that Métis and non-status aboriginals are Indians under the Constitution Act of 1867. This decision could have big implications once negotiations around its implementation are completed. This case was brought forward 13 years ago by the Métis leader Harry Daniels. Sadly, Harry passed away in 2004, eight years before this decision.
Thirteen years is a long time to have a case before the courts, not to mention it being very costly. For 13 years both Liberal and Conservative governments spent millions upon millions trying to deny Métis and non-status people their rights under the Constitution.
The government has yet to publicly state if it will appeal this ruling. If history is a guide, it is very likely the government will.
Some members on the government benches might be wondering what this has to do with the motion before us today. My answer is simple: one cannot properly act on implementing rights or start to take part in meaningful consultations while at the same time fighting the very concept of these rights in the courts.
In closing, the Conservative government has a lot to learn about this, and I sincerely hope it will begin doing things differently so we can see some real progress. In June 2008, the stood in this place and apologized for residential schools, and he promised a new relationship. Nearly five years later, it is quite clear that very little has changed for the better. We can accomplish great things, and quickly, when there is political will to do so. We in the official opposition have that will.
This motion is meant to help build a better future for everyone.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion by the member for . The member's motion calls for improved economic outcomes for first nations, Inuit and Métis, and a commitment on treaty implementation and meaningful consultation on legislation with aboriginal peoples in Canada.
I am proud of our government's record on improving the lives of aboriginal people in Canada. Since 2006, our government has made unprecedented investments that will make a concrete difference in the lives of aboriginal people, including skills training, housing on reserves, potable water, schools, treaty rights, protection of the rights of women and the resolution of land claims.
For example, we have built over 30 new schools on reserve and renovated more than 200 others. We have invested in a major way in safe drinking water systems. We have built over 10,000 new homes and renovated thousands more. We have increased funding for child and family services by 25%. We have legislated that the Canadian Human Rights Act will apply to first nation individuals living on reserves. This was a glaring discriminatory provision in the Canadian Human Rights Act, which we reversed, over the objections of the opposition.
We introduced legislation to improve the accountability of first nation governments to their people. We introduced legislation to create an open and transparent elections process, necessary for economic development. We have settled over 80 outstanding land claims, many of which had been languishing for 20 years in the hopper. We have invested in over 700 projects, linking aboriginals across Canada with job training and counselling services.
I have had a long history with first nations and have seen a lot of change over the years. I am very encouraged to see firsthand many examples of strong first nation leadership driving very positive change.
Aboriginal peoples represent the fastest growing population in Canada. Given the country's labour shortages and the proximity of first nation communities to resource development projects, there is a tremendous economic opportunity before us. That is why we have consistently invested in measures to improve aboriginal participation in the economy.
Like economic action plan 2012, economic action plan 2013 will be focused on jobs and opportunities for all Canadians, including first nations, Inuit and Métis.
Finding ways to ensure that first nations can benefit from resource development is a priority. It is good for first nations, for Canada, for our Métis and for our Inuit. Our government is investing in measures that will help ensure that first nations are well-positioned to take advantage of these and other economic opportunities. For example, our government has invested in over 700 initiatives to link aboriginal people with job training, mentoring and other supports. We also invest more than $400 million annually in direct funding for aboriginal skills development and training.
My department's major projects and investment funds initiative has also contributed over $22 million to support aboriginal participation in 87 energy and resource projects, such as hydro, mining, renewable energy and forestry. These contributions have helped create over 400 jobs and levered just over $307 million from public and private debt and equity financing sources.
In addition to these investments, our government has worked to modernize legislation to allow first nations and aboriginal organizations to operate at the speed of business. Last year, our government introduced Bill to allow first nations community members access to the same basic financial information about their government and their elected officials available to all other Canadians.
More specifically, the bill would require first nation elected officials to publish their statements of remuneration and expenses as well as their audited consolidated financial statements. The bill would provide community members with the information required to make informed decisions about their leadership and to provide investors with the confidence they need to enter into financial partnerships with first nations.
Now that the legislation is before the Senate committee, we hope to see it passed into law very soon.
The first nations financial transparency act was driven by grassroots first nation members who were calling for greater accountability from their governments. Many of these people have suffered retribution, including intimidation and verbal and physical abuse, for having spoken in support of greater transparency and accountability.
Another important legislative initiative that would foster jobs and economic growth is Bill , the northern jobs and growth act, which includes the Nunavut planning and project assessment act and the Northwest Territories surface rights board act, along with related amendments to the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act. Together, these measures would fulfill outstanding obligations under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, as well as the Gwich'in and Sahtu land claims agreements, and respond to calls for measures to streamline and improve regulatory processes in the north. The bill is currently being studied by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
Amendments to the land designation sections of the Indian Act that comprised a portion of Bill would also create economic opportunities. These amendments would speed up the process for leasing lands for economic development purposes, while allowing first nations to maintain full ownership of their lands. As a result, it would provide greater flexibility for first nations to act on time-sensitive economic development opportunities. These amendments responded directly to first nations who had expressed frustration to me, to the standing committee and to other members with the overly complex and lengthy process of designating land, which was an impediment to investment opportunities.
I quote from Chief Shane Gottfriedson, chief of the Tk'emlúps Indian Band in British Columbia, speaking about these changes to the land designation process in Bill . “[Before the changes] it was just horrific for us to try and do any sort of business within our territory”.
Chief Reginald Bellerose of the Muskowekwan First Nation in Saskatchewan also spoke in favour of the changes: “[Muskowekwan First Nation] recognizes the positive steps the federal government has made to assist First Nation communities to operate in a more efficient and commercial manner. Specifically, Bill C-45 provides for a more efficient land designation vote process”.
We have heard from first nations that they want to be able to move at the speed of business and we continue to work with willing partners to remove economic barriers to the success of first nation communities as they seek out opportunities to generate wealth for their communities and their members.
If further proof was needed that legislative action can speed economic development, I would like to point to my announcement just last week on new regulations under the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act that will allow the Kitimat natural gas facility on the Haisla First Nation's Bees Indian Reserve No. 6 to move forward. The Kitimat LNG facility will provide Canada's energy producers with a doorway to overseas markets. It will create well-paying jobs and economic growth opportunities for the Haisla First Nation and the entire northwest region of British Columbia.
We have also invested in modernizing the land management regimes for first nations so that they can unlock the potential of their lands and natural resources. This past month I announced that eight more first nations will soon be operating under the First Nations Land Management Act. These first nations have chosen freedom from 34 land-related sections of the Indian Act, which were holding them back from achieving their full economic potential. They now have power over their own reserve lands and resources so that they can take advantage of economic activities without wading through bureaucratic red tape.
This is in addition to 18 other first nations that I announced last January, making a total of 69 first nations that can now develop their own land codes, which will allow them to more quickly and effectively pursue economic opportunities and create jobs. Through these initiatives we are putting in place the building blocks for future success. These foundational pieces will help prepare communities to take advantage of new economic opportunities available to them.
We are a business-like government. We like to obtain concrete results. We are making unprecedented investments in the spirit of partnership and we recognize historical grievances. This is why we have settled outstanding land claims that have been long languishing.
The government is committed to continue building on the progress we have made to improve living conditions for first nations and to create jobs and economic opportunities in their communities. Specifically, we are committed to expediting comprehensive claims and treaty implementation. We all recognize that while much progress has been made, more work remains to be done. We are taking steps to improve land claim and self-government negotiation processes. This includes identifying alternatives to negotiations that meet the interests of the parties as well as practical measures to make sure that first nations are ready and able to fully engage and participate in the process.
In some cases there are alternatives to comprehensive claims and we are good with that. For example, the Haisla, the Squamish First Nation and Westbank First Nation are not specifically interested in pursuing treaties. They realize there are other measures that can and have been put in place, which are expediting the conditions for economic prosperity for their communities. We are also involved currently in self-government negotiations on a number of historic treaties. An example of that is the Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation in Manitoba, where we anticipate imminently the conclusion of self-government negotiations.
There is a clear link between the strength of the relationship and the economic prosperity of first nations and all Canadians. Protection of aboriginal treaty rights and consultations with aboriginals are enshrined in our laws, which have been passed by this Parliament. This government fully respects our duty to consult. That is why we have conducted more than 5,000 consultations annually. As minister, I have visited over 50 first nation communities since 2010 and I have had hundreds of productive meetings with first nation chiefs, councillors and community members across Canada.
This government also undertook unprecedented consultations on Bill , the safe drinking water for first nations act. We are currently in the midst of intensive consultations with first nation leaders, teachers, students and educators in the development of a first nation education act. I would like to highlight some of the important work that has been done on the development of a first nation education act.
In economic action plan 2012, our government committed to work with willing partners to establish a first nation education act that will establish the structures and standards to support strong and accountable education systems on reserve. Through intense consultations, we have committed to work with willing partners to have the legislation in place by September 2014. We are determined to follow through on this commitment.
First nation students are the only children in Canada whose education system is not governed by legislation. Our government, unlike previous governments, is committed to bringing forward such legislation. The legislation would provide the modern framework necessary to build standards and structures, strengthen governance and accountability, and provide the mechanism for stable, predictable and sustainable funding.
I would like to add that, as recently as yesterday, I met with the first nation education steering committee in British Columbia. We have other examples, such as Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey in Nova Scotia, where these parameters are already in place. An important part of our consultation is to meet with first nation authorities that have already done much work in this area and are obtaining results of the kind that are setting a great example.
We are making other investments. We have also invested an additional $100 million over three years to help ensure readiness for the new education system to be put in place by September 2014. We committed an incremental $175 million, on top of the $200 million that we spend on an annual basis, to new school projects. It is unfortunate that the member who brought forward today's motion chose to vote against these investments in first nation education.
This past December I announced the launch of intensive face-to-face consultation with first nation parents, students, leaders, educators and others on the initiative. The first in a series of sessions began in Halifax last week. The second session will be in Saskatoon next week.
I want to state very clearly that there is no legislation drafted. The purpose of these ongoing consultations is to get views and feedback so that legislation can be drafted. The input gathered during consultations will help shape the drafting of the legislation. Once drafted, the proposed legislation will be shared with every first nation across Canada, as well as with provincial governments and other stakeholders for feedback.
Modern land claims and self-government agreements can also provide a path to self-sufficiency and unlock economic opportunities. We are working in partnership with first nations on a new results-based approach to treaty and self-government negotiations to achieve more treaties in less time so that aboriginal communities can begin to unlock economic opportunities that can be realized through treaties.
Under the new approach, our government will focus its resources on tables with the greatest potential for success to bring treaties to fruition. The chief commissioner of the B.C. Treaty Commission is strongly supportive of our new approach, saying that she is encouraged our government is accelerating progress. We have heard first nations' concerns and we are delivering necessary change. It is also clear that there are options to the treaty process. Our goal is to achieve treaties where we can and to develop options to treaties where we cannot.
I will conclude by saying that moving forward will take time and dedicated effort from all parties. We are fully committed to taking further steps along this journey. We will continue to focus on real structural reforms and increasing the effectiveness of long-term investments.
Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the chance to enter into this discussion today. It is going to be one of those moments in the House of Commons where, at the conclusion of the debate, it sounds as if every party will vote in favour of the motion brought forward by the member for the New Democratic Party.
However, I do not think we should paper over some of the differences and tensions which exist in the House. At the same time, I do not think we should underestimate the degree to which it is, from time to time, possible in our country for us to move beyond partisanship to a greater understanding of the issues that are at stake in this debate.
On many other occasions in the House and outside, I have said that the issue of the reconciliation of the relationship between the first nations, the Métis and Inuit people of Canada and the rest of us is the largest piece of unfinished business in the country. I say this having spent some considerable time as both a federal and provincial politician and political leader and also in my time in private life.
There are many reasons for this. Members opposite may be surprised to hear me say this. It is an issue that genuinely goes beyond partisanship, because if someone were to say if we looked at the record of other governments in the past and say that they were either blameless or perfect and that all the fault lied in one government, then that, frankly, would be a ludicrous comment. It would be an inaccurate comment. The fact is that both federally and provincially, as Canadian governments, we all have our share of responsibility for a relationship that has simply not been established in a way that would make us an even better country than we are. At the same time, we surely are allowed to comment on the fact that certain decisions have been made by one government or another which have set us back.
One thing the minister did not comment on in his remarks and one thing he did not say when he talked about the legacy of issues that was left to the new government to assume responsibility for is this. One of the very first decisions the Government of Canada made in 2006 was this. I refer to it as the Government of Canada because I am not allowed to use the colloquial term, which the government itself insists it uses in all of its press releases, because I would break the rules of the House. The Conservative government tore up an agreement that had been reached between the Government of Canada, the previous Martin government, and all of the provinces and the first nations' leadership of the country. It is not an act of partisanship on my part to say that the Conservative government was worse than being simply dishonourable. It was also a mistake because a year and a half of consultation had gone into those discussions, those improvements in education, housing, to the political priority that was to be given to moving forward on a government-to-government basis with the leadership of the first nations. All of that was scrapped. All of that was put aside and the new government said that it knew better, that it would spend less, that it would, in effect, do less, that it would invest less and that was the way it would be.
When we look at the housing budgets, the education budgets, the clean water budgets, the self-government budgets and the treaty making budgets, they were all reduced in comparison with the commitments that were made and budgeted in the Kelowna accord. They were not simply a declaration made by the Government of Canada. They were an understanding reached with the provinces and the first nations as well.
Therefore, I feel an obligation to at least put on the record the fact that there was a government that said we have to change things and that made changing things a priority. It is regrettable that the government that succeeded the Liberal government decided not to proceed on that basis but, in effect, to start all over again. One might say every government has the right to say it will do it its own way, that it has a better answer.
Let us not forget that it was the Reform Party that kept the House in knots for days and days because it opposed the Nisga'a treaty, as it did not accept the principle of self-government. It did not accept the principle of government-to-government negotiation and did not accept the arrangements that had been arrived at.
It is very difficult for us simply to say let us turn the page and pretend that did not happen. Wherever there is a lingering after-effect of the Reform Party agenda regarding this question, the question of the relationship between aboriginal people and the governments of Canada, it is not a positive after-effect, because it is one that does not accept the whole principle that there is a treaty relationship with the Crown that extends way past Confederation, deep into our history.
Even today, the Supreme Court of Canada and our provincial courts of appeal are having to make decisions on what does a duty to consult mean? How do we interpret the treaty rights? How do we give them life?
Admittedly, we began to make progress in every province by recognizing the nature of historic rights. The member for , who just spoke, played an important role in the discussions between the James Bay nations and communities and the Government of Quebec at a historic time. One would think that it would have been difficult to find solutions in the 1970s, but on the contrary, they did it.
Progress was made. When the Constitution was repatriated, I remember the moment when the government had to accept the fact that treaties were to be honoured by our Constitution and that the government had to be clear on the issue. That was a historic moment.
At this time, with the decision of the majority government and the support of the New Democratic Party in the House of Commons, we have embarked on a discussion that recognizes the constitutional reality and the need to respect the rights enshrined therein. The age of paternalism or colonialism, with all its problems, is finally drawing to a close. To be frank, institutional racism and a sense of marginalization were at the very core of the problems and made our situation a difficult one. Constitutional discussions were held. After the failure of the Meech Lake accord, further talks were held in Charlottetown, in which I was directly involved.
I well remember the Charlottetown discussions because I was very directly involved. The discussions came from a conclusion that was reached by the leadership of the country collectively, not New Democrat, Liberal, or Conservative, not provincial or federal, but a determination that if we are to make progress in this area it has to include everyone. If we are to have a constitutional discussion, it cannot just include the provinces; it also has to include the first nations, the Métis, non-status Indians and the Inuit people.
That made the discussion complicated. It meant that instead of having 9 or 10 around the table we had up to 17 people. It meant that the discussions took time. It meant that we had long discussions in the corridor and outside the corridor. We had resistance and finally we had acceptance. Then when we went to a vote we had rejection.
What is interesting is that despite the rejection and the referendum in Charlottetown, it has been court decisions that have shown the way and said yes, there are implications of treaty rights, there is a meaning and a substance to treaty rights and a meaning and a substance to self-government, which take us beyond where we have been.
We could all recite the statistics, the 35% graduation rates from secondary school on reserve, and 80% in the provinces where they are located. The government has now said that it has an 8% target that takes it up to 43%, which means that it would take 25 years to get to the same graduation rate as the rest of the country. We cannot wait 25 years to have genuine equality and funding for schools. However, it is not just a funding issue; it is also about the outcomes and how we are taking the steps. That is why I attach importance to the 's statement that the government will come forward with a proposal with respect to first nations education. I just want to make sure that we all have an opportunity to discuss it and that it is not something that is just suddenly created by the Government of Canada. I know there has been a long consultation process, but it sometimes takes time to get these things right. We want to get them right. We want to contribute and be useful partners in making sure we have the governance structures that make sense. However, above all, we want the governance structures to be acceptable to the aboriginal people themselves.
The statistics are amazing. They really date back and come forward from the far-seeing royal commission, which came to force in 1992-1993. There is no greater mistake in public policy than the fact that governments put that report on a shelf—and I say that as a Liberal. We should not have put that report on a shelf because it had some important things to say. First of all, it documented for Canadians the history of discrimination. It also documented something else for Canadians, the demographic revolution taking place in aboriginal communities in cities and on reserve. For example, 50% of the aboriginal population is under the age of 25. We will have 400,000 new aboriginal entrants into the labour market over the next 10 years. Are we ready? Are we training? Are we providing the education? Are we dealing with the challenges? I do not think we are.
That is not to lay all of the blame at the foot of the or to say that the is single-handedly to blame; it is to say that it will take extraordinary acts of leadership to deal with the extent of the challenge and the opportunity. We should not see this as a problem. We should not see it as a problem that in Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton or Calgary we will see the aboriginal population grow exponentially over the next 20 years. It is a challenge. It is a challenge because we have not created the institutional structures and realized what we have to do.
The reason self-government is important and why I hope that self-government will be part of the governance structure for education, just as it needs to be part of the governance structure for health care and everything that goes on, is that the patterns of paternalism and a bureaucratic structure imposed on aboriginal peoples across our land mass, the second largest on the globe, is unsustainable. It is not workable. It wastes money. It creates expenditures that cannot be justified. It also creates inequalities in funding, which are not acceptable.
I would conclude by saying that we will obviously be in support of this resolution. We want to see the government's rhetoric and the minister's statements today matched in the budget by real and genuine progress.
I want to be able to go back to the Six Nations Reserve, which I visited over a couple of months ago, and to the delegation from the city of Brantford and the county of Brant I met more recently, and the Six Nations leaders, who all said, “You have to resolve the land claim issue here because it is blocking all of the progress we need to make in our communities”.
In many ways the communities have gone beyond the government. The government has to catch up. We want to see these changes made in the budget. We want to see real progress made, and we want to see it made on a basis that truly respects the fact there is another level and order of government and governance in this country.
I say to my fellow Canadians, when Samuel de Champlain came here, that level of governance was here. We did not come to this country and find a wilderness in which no people lived. There were people working, living, celebrating, praying and creating cultures and languages thousands and thousands of years old.
They were not savages, although they were treated as such for a long time. They did not need to be civilized by the Europeans when they arrived. They already had their own civilization.
All over the Americas there was a civilization. It was a civilization that was proud, complex, deep and rich, one that the clash of civilizations, the arrival of European settlement, helped to destroy, by disease, by war, by conquest and by an attitude of imperialism that has no place in where we are today as Canadians.
We genuinely have a rendezvous with our own destiny, with an understanding that even now it is not too late, that even now there is still time; but it is time not just for rhetoric, not just for words or even just for structures. It is a time for real action, and the budget is the test. The budget will be the test of action and the budget will be the test of commitment. We look forward to seeing the budget and to the government's actions matching its rhetoric.
I would like to see action from the government matching the eloquence of the 's apology on the floor of the House of Commons. I was in the House on that day. No one in the House on that day could not have been moved by the sincerity, by the depth, by the compassion and by the understanding it showed, but now the walk begins. The walk has to match the talk of that discussion. The sincerity of that apology has to be matched by the sincerity of our commitments.
I say to the minister, we shall continue to work with him and the government. We take a positive, constructive attitude to this. There is no monopoly on the truth in any political party, but there has to be a common ground of political will, and let this resolution express a political will that is more than just words.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I have the privilege of speaking about the motion introduced by the hon. member for . I would like to use my time to elaborate on the idea of first nations consultation, as it is described in the motion that has been presented to the House for consideration.
As I already mentioned on Monday, my speech today will focus on the idea of pro forma consultation. I often use Latinisms because they make my speeches sound more exotic. In English, pro forma means “as a matter of form”. When a criminal trial is held and there is a pro forma hearing, the client does not need to be present. Such a trial merely serves to move the proceedings forward.
Too often, the idea of public consultation is seen and thought of in an unrealistic way. A consultation process will be held but, in reality, people's needs and desires are barely taken into account. This reasoning also applies to the Canadian population as a whole.
The Conservatives, and most likely the governments that preceded them, are of the opinion that they have consulted the public properly if they have met with a certain group or held a public meeting and recorded and compiled people's reactions, regardless of the number of participants. The Conservatives then believe that they can proceed with their agenda, whether it be corporatist, social or cultural, unimpeded. In short, the government has erred in fact and in law, particularly when it comes to aboriginal people.
I would like to explain my reasoning. When it comes to consultations with first nations, we must never overlook the fact that there is always a possibility that the first nations will not support or consent to the measure that is being proposed. This also applies to the Canadian population as a whole.
Canadians have the option of opposing the proposed measure and making the government understand that the measure in question is quite simply unacceptable and should not be implemented. The government has to deal with that variable because it is a valid response that could very well be given if the public is consulted, whether it be with regard to policies or resource extraction initiatives.
Since my colleague's motion primarily has to do with consulting the first nations, it is important to ensure that a significant percentage of the public is canvassed and that there is a plebiscite that is observed and that can be observed on the ground.
In 2013, and I will discuss this further during my speech, the government is trying to find roundabout ways to circumvent the tribal management agencies, the band councils, in order to hold consultations without truly caring about the real impact, the actual desire to be consulted and how it will be carried out in a given community.
I will come back to this, but we must keep in mind that band councils were instituted by the Indian Act and their jurisdiction is limited to reserve lands. When it comes to consultations for mining projects, forestry projects or any other topics involving traditional territories, using the wrong approach complicates matters.
My opinion—which some might say would be arguable in a court of law—is that it would be in the government's best interest to consult the communities and hold extensive town-hall meetings. It would at least be a bit more transparent than what we are seeing now.
The people are increasingly rejecting many of the socio-economic measures put forward by community management organizations, the band councils, as they are too often modelled on the government's program for economic expansion and blind exploitation of natural resources. This rejection is a testament to the sharp increase in a renewed sense of self that we are seeing within communities in the country.
I say “in the country”, but this wave of assertiveness is being seen around the globe. We even saw it last spring in the streets of Montreal during the uprising, the massive turnout of people, by the hundreds of thousands. And that wave is travelling around the world. However, it is more present and visible in aboriginal communities. Of course, there is Idle No More. But that is not a trademark, and it is being cited a bit too often. It is a positive mobilization that is a testament to this increased assertiveness. That was not seen as often in the past.
This affirmation is not unrelated to the fact that the people are sometimes opposed to this tendency and reject, in a way, many decisions and policies made by these tribal government management agencies—including decisions involving traditional lands—for reasons I have already explained. Band councils cannot interfere with or manage relationships between the people and traditional lands, because their mandate and expertise are limited to reserve lands.
And that is why it is essential—and it should be a requirement—that the Government of Canada use 2013 to travel to communities and speak directly with the people. The Government of Canada would speak with the nine community leaders—chiefs and other counsellors in their capacity as community members—as well as all the other members of the community. The government should not just speak with the nine leaders, take that response and then make a lot of noise about how it has consulted the people. That is utterly untrue.
There are 3,000 people in my community. If the government listens only to the nine individuals who lead the community, the results will be markedly biased. It puts all of the power in the hands of nine people. To ensure real transparency, the people need to be consulted.
Some will say right away that if every resource development initiative were subject to massive consultations, it would be terribly expensive. That is true. However, many questions can always be combined in a single consultation. This is imperative.
Communities are often criticized for not mobilizing, not participating and not even voting, which is false. Some 4,000 Indians voted for me in the last election. First time ever. That had not happened before. When you make an effort, when you go and meet people, when you consult the community, when you go out and see people, they will mobilize and respond positively.
That is what needs to be done here. If the government really wants to get a feel for what people across the country are thinking and what their concerns are, it has to go to the people directly. It must not go through organizations and settle for a less than substantial response. Meaningful effort needs to be made, despite the vagaries of such a process. Once again, some will say there is a good chance this could go awry and that there are too many unknowns. The Conservatives are afraid to go into aboriginal communities. Technically, although extensive public consultation will inevitably involve some vagaries because the public may be less than receptive or less than supportive of a given initiative, such a process would at least have the advantage of being transparent.
Although the exercise in direct democracy associated with holding public consultations on aboriginal lands presents a number of vagaries on the face of it, the Canadian government could thereby establish the transparency of the process aimed at figuring out where people stand regarding proposed initiatives, whether they are legislative initiatives or initiatives on the ground.
This I submit to you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak after my colleague from , who gave an excellent speech.
I am pleased to speak to this motion today and happy that we are getting an opportunity to address some of the long-standing concerns for Canada's first nation, Inuit and Métis people. It took New Democrats to bring this debate about, since the Conservative government has proven it does not understand the challenges, is unwilling to work in a respectful manner with first nations and is bereft of any ideas that would actually improve the situation for this section of our population, which has been trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty that is unacceptable.
Canadians are proud of our country, and for many good reasons. We are rated sixth on the United Nations human development index. However, when first nation-specific statistics are applied to that same index, first nations in Canada are rated—get this—63rd.
How could any member elected to this place not see this as a significant and pressing challenge?
It is clear that the current government does not know where to start. It has insisted on presenting its own solutions that pick away at the margins, instead of working with first nations to arrive at a mutually agreeable path of action that could get to the heart of the problem. In doing so, it invites a negative response. By dismissing its duty to consult, it not only angers first nations, but also manages to come up with legislation that acts as a lightning rod for communities that have grown weary of commitments that bear no fruit and of demands that are unreasonable.
Instead of doing something to truly address living conditions and employment opportunities on first nations, the current government has saddled them with onerous accounting regulations that duplicate work that is already being done in a different format.
Instead of doing something to create employment for this chronically underemployed segment of our population, the government meddled in the way that bands make decisions on how to allocate their land.
This Parliament has been seized with bills and budgets that dictate to first nations and do little, if anything, to address the real challenges that would help that United Nations human development index number start to move in the right direction.
For now, the sad fact is that decades of inaction and failure on the part of past governments are catching up with Canada, and the current government's heavy-handed treatment of aboriginal people has brought about a significant and strong reaction from people who have, frankly, had enough. That explains the Idle No More movement that has swept Canada.
However, it would be unfair to say that the movement is a reaction to just that.
Idle No More came about as a response to the hatchet job the current government did on the Navigable Waters Protection Act and picked up steam from there. That issue affects all Canadians, as does the worrisome direction the government has taken on many environmental issues.
I would like to read from a letter that is being circulated by the Chief of the Sturgeon clan in Whitefish River First Nation that helps explain these grassroots activists. Chief Shining Turtle's letter speaks to the pride he feels as he watches young people in that community become engaged in the political process and attempt to take control of their future by taking part in the political discourse of the day. He writes:
|| These Idle No More drums are not just for us: they beat for you because the legislation we are protesting does not just harm us—it hurts you and your children and your grandchildren. This is not about your aboriginal neighbours, it is about 'justice' for you, too. The omnibus budget bills change the law in ways that will forever harm the water and earth that we all rely on....
|| These bills take power away from the public—both aboriginal and non-aboriginal—to review and understand and speak out about projects which could harm the environment. Your children and grandchildren, and my grandchildren, will live in an unhealthier and, as a result, poorer world because of it.
We can see the issues are not confined to first nation-specific items. There is no doubt that there are many of those types of issues that helped create the climate of discontent, but it was the dismantling of the Navigable Waters Protection Act that provided the spark. Now, it is up to us to do something creative with the fire that has been lit.
We should learn from our mistakes and do that work in a respectful way in full partnership with our aboriginal neighbours, by making certain to fulfill our constitutional obligations, such as the duty to consult. Certainly there is much that can be done from this place that could help with that.
New Democrats are promoting ideas that could help create more employment for aboriginal populations. Instead of bringing in more temporary foreign workers, the NDP believes the government should address labour shortage by bringing in a job and skills plan that provides stable, predictable and sustainable funding. It should be developed in consultation with first nations for the successful aboriginal skills and employment training strategy, and for other programs to help first nations and other aboriginal groups fill skilled job shortages.
We believe the government should provide equitable funding for all first nations schools based on the motion called “Shannen's Dream”, passed unanimously by the House in February 2012, including core and program funding that is stable, sustainable and predictable, and that is determined in consultation with first nations.
That would be a start. However, there are more items that require attention as well. There are also numerous unresolved comprehensive land claims, which are in various stages of negotiation. In , the council of Thessalon First Nation and Chief Alfred Bisaillon recently published a letter to their neighbours that explains the land claim dispute they are trying to work through. The letter explains how the Lake Huron Treaty of 1850 contains a serious mistake in the translation from Ojibwa to English, which resulted in their reserve being surveyed at 40 square miles instead of 144 square miles. They have been frustrated by their dealings with the Canadian government on this, as has the mayor of the township of Huron Shores, Gil Reeves. They have been relegated to observer status as the provincial government hands out logging and mining permits on their land without consent or benefit for their community. Today there are an estimated 900 specific claims that remain unresolved. At the present rate it is expected to take a hundred years to settle them all.
At the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, we have heard repeatedly that these unresolved land claims stand in the way of the kind of development on these lands that the government is seeking. That is the order of operations that first nations are telling us has to be followed, and no amount of bullying by the government is going to make them budge on that.
This brings us to the federal government's legal duty to consult. That constitutionally entrenched duty has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the courts. Needless to say, the government's obligation to consult and accommodate first nations, Inuit and Métis before passing legislation that affects aboriginal lands, waters and communities was not adhered to when the Conservatives gutted the Navigable Waters Protection Act and weakened environmental protection laws.
As we have heard, the government's failure to follow through on its obligations concerning aboriginal and treaty rights is at the root of the grassroots movement that has swept across the country. New Democrats consistently warned how reckless it was to introduce fundamental changes to environmental protection laws in omnibus budget bills and then ram them through Parliament. However, the Conservatives did not want to hear that, and they turned their backs on their obligation to consult with people affected by these changes. They chose instead to take a divisive and confrontational approach, which is how we find ourselves at a crossroad in Canada. What remains to be seen is whether the government will continue to dictate and polarize the relationship or turn a page and start to listen.
New Democrats are hopeful that it will be the latter. We believe in building a new relationship on a nation-to-nation basis with first nation, Inuit and Métis peoples and are committed to the principles of meaningful consultation and real co-operation. We understand that Canada is a stronger place when we choose to work together.
It is clear the government has not acted in a way that shows it shares this opinion. It made commitments at the first nations-Crown gathering that were abandoned in a few months. Despite promises for respectful consultations, it rammed through legislation without fulfilling its legal obligation to consult aboriginal peoples. When coupled with inaction on longstanding and pressing aboriginal issues, this behaviour has led to an historic and growing wave of grassroots actions sweeping first nations communities. That is why New Democrats are asking for a clear and concrete commitment from the House in order to help realize the potential that exists within first nation, Inuit and Métis communities.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion brought forward by the member for . I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Our government has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to self-government and land claim settlements. We know they are the keys to increasing opportunities, jobs and prosperity for first nations. Enabling first nations to participate more fully in the economic improvements, both for their financial and social well-being, contributes to healthier, more sustainable communities. Equally important, self-government gives greater control to first nations leaders and residents over the decisions that affect their daily lives.
Our government is committed to working with willing first nations to make changes to elements of the Indian Act that are barriers to first nations governance and economic growth. This past month, the announced that eight more first nations have joined the First Nations Land Management Act and chosen freedom from 34 land-related sections of the Indian Act. They now have power over their own reserve lands and resources, so they are able to take advantage of the economic activities without wading through bureaucratic red tape.
The First Nations Land Management Act is an important stepping stone to achieving self-government because it builds community capacity. Since first nations opted into this act and are no longer required to adhere to these land-related sections of the Indian Act, they have developed experience with land management. This experience, as well as developing a strong governance structure, sets the stage for greater self-government responsibilities down the road and improving accountability to members of first nation communities.
When a first nation opts into the First Nations Land Management Act regime, it opts out of the 34 land-related sections of the Indian Act. This frees the community from the outdated land management provisions of the Indian Act, which have not kept pace with first nations' desire for increased participation in the Canadian economy. There have been 69 first nations that have already made the decision to use this tool. We look forward to welcoming many more of them.
Communities deserve to be responsible for land-related issues that were previously administered by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. This shift gives back the responsibility to the first nations to take greater ownership of economic development on reserve and encourages partnership with the private sector. This is a key component of our government's shared goal with first nations people to increase autonomy and self-sufficient communities. Our government believes that incremental amendments to the Indian Act to bring our concrete, practical changes will lead to real results for grassroots first nations people and enable them to achieve greater self-sufficiency and prosperity.
Another example is Bill , the first nations financial transparency act. Canadians understand the importance of transparency and accountability to promote confidence in their leaders. They know that first nations members deserve the same from their leadership, and they need access to adequate information to ensure their elected leaders are acting in their best interest. Bill puts in place the same types of rules for first nations on financial transparency that already apply to other levels of government in Canada. Let me remind my hon. colleagues that chiefs belonging to the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution at their special chiefs assembly in December 2010 regarding financial disclosure. They affirm the need to publicly release information regarding salaries and expenses to their members. They have also agreed to make financial information available via the Internet where applicable.
Sadly, implementation of this resolution is far from complete. Even the AFN knows that financial disclosure is needed for first nation communities. The bill will provide an important new tool that will enable first nation leaders to be more accountable to their members. Transparency is at the foundation of a healthy democracy. To this end, Bill is designed to empower first nation community members to hold their leaders to account. Further, this initiative is part of a wider government effort to create greater accountability to enhance economic growth for first nations and all Canadians.
This legislation is something first nation residents are demanding. The real genesis of this legislation rests at the grassroots level. Individual members of first nations and, in some cases, community coalition groups formed across the country have repeatedly complained about questionable financial practices by their band councils. Too many first nation members say that they do not have access to the information they need to hold their officials to account. Bill will require the salaries and expenses of chiefs and councillors and the audited consolidated financial statements of the first nation as a whole to be publicly disclosed. It will put in place rules regarding financial transparency that are comparable to those that apply to governments across Canada.
Most important, the public availability of this data will result in greater and more consistent transparency practices that will increase investor confidence in first nation communities. The proposed legislation has benefited from the input of first nation leaders, such as Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan. Chief Bear stated during his appearance before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs that transparency and accountability were among the principle factors that turned the Whitecap Dakota First Nation from near bankruptcy to the model vibrant community it is today.
Bill complements Bill , the first nations elections act. These are both important pieces of legislation that support democratic practices and will empower first nations in the future. If passed, Bill will help ensure that first nations have a modern legislative framework to better support democracy, accountability and transparent governments, allowing first nation community members to make informed decisions about their leadership and create a better environment for private sector investment. This could in turn lead to greater economic development opportunities and improve the quality of life for first nation communities.
Our government is committed to working with willing first nations to strengthen financial and government transparency and accountability on reserve. The Indian Act cannot be replaced overnight, but our government has committed to working together to create the conditions to enable sustainable and economic success for first nations.
Furthermore, our government is investing in programs such as the aboriginal skills and employment training strategy, and the skills partnership fund. A set $1.68 billion has been committed from 2010 to 2015 to increase first nation participation in the Canadian labour force. I believe this is a great move forward, and I look forward, as a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, to working further with first nations to ensure that they move forward as all Canadians should.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important matter today and share with the House some of the initiatives that our government has undertaken. As I have a short period of time, I will only be able to touch on a few important steps that our government has undertaken over the last number of years and months.
I thank the member for for bringing it forward. She is a valued member of our committee and we have a great opportunity to work in that capacity together.
There is no doubt that aboriginal people face situations that make finding work oftentimes very difficult. Canadians who live in remote, rural and northern communities, which is the case for many aboriginal communities, often find that the challenges are magnified in finding and keeping work.
At the same time, there are tremendous opportunities to promote and encourage greater aboriginal participation in the Canadian economy, for example, our mining and mineral exploration industry. Our country is one of the largest mining industrial sectors in the world, producing more than 60 different metals and minerals.
The Canadian mining industry is truly a giant among giants, accounting for 4.5% of our gross domestic product and 23%, close to a quarter, of all Canadian exports in 2011. The sector is the main industry in more than 115 communities and yet it is about to face some serious labour shortages that will absolutely be acute if the sector grows as much as it is estimated in the next decade.
The energy and natural resource sector represents a huge opportunity for aboriginal communities since many of them are located near mines and other natural resource sites. Aboriginal communities are also in close proximity to many exploration projects and can play an important role in providing local labour. Aboriginal people have the potential to be a driving force behind the successes of these industries.
The mining industry is the largest private sector employer of aboriginal people today, however, there is still much that needs to be done. Unemployment rates among the aboriginal people are still too high. One might ask why there is a high percentage of unemployed people in areas with such robust industries like mining and natural resource exploration. Clearly, there seems to be a mismatch between the demands for skilled workers and the supply for those skilled workers. These skill shortages are likely to get worse because of Canada's low birth rates and the retirement of many experienced older workers from the baby boomer generation. Aboriginals must play an important role in Canada's strategy to address growing skills and labour shortages.
Aboriginal youth between the ages of 15 and 30 years old are the fastest growing population in Canada today. We recognize that this presents a well of talent that is currently not properly being tapped. That is why our government remains committed to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians.
Unfortunately, many Canadians living in rural and remote parts of northern communities in Canada do not always have the education and work experience they need to find employment within the resource sector. That is why our government works with partners to ensure aboriginal people are able to take full advantage of the economic opportunities. Several measures are in place to help aboriginal people develop the skills they need to enter the workforce.
One of these measures is the aboriginal skills and employment training strategy, or ASETS as it is often called. The program supports over 80 aboriginal organizations to design and deliver skills development and training programs to increase the participation of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in the labour market. Agreement holders tailor their training programs to the specific needs of the community and work in partnership with the private sector. Training institutions and the provinces and territories also work toward this effort.
In 2011 and 2012 ASETS was able to find 11,000 jobs for aboriginals in their local areas. ASETS is looking to build off the successes of last year and hopes to see between 12,000 and 16,000 jobs created this year alone.
Another measure is the skills and partnership fund, the SPF as it is often referred to, which supports innovative partner-based projects for aboriginal skill development that responds to economic opportunities. There are currently over 60 projects across Canada that are giving aboriginals the tools that they need to succeed in the labour market. Our government shares the view that partnerships are the key to match skill development and training with the labour market demand. We will continue to make this a priority in especially rural and remote communities.
However, before we get to this point, a solid elementary and secondary education is the way that will give aboriginal children and youth the start that they need in order to succeed.
In budget 2012 our government committed $275 million over three years to improve school infrastructure and provide early literacy programming and other supports to first nations school systems to pave the way for the development of the first nation education act. Unfortunately the unprecedented support for first nations students was voted against by both NDP and Liberal members.
Our government is also working to help all adult Canadians get the essential skills they need to get to work, to stay employed and to contribute to their communities. By essential skills we mean the skills that are used in nearly every job, every day and in every aspect of life. These skills are used in different ways and at varying levels of complexity. Essential skills include reading and writing and of course, but not limited to, computer use and also oral communications and working with others.
The initiatives and investments that I have outlined today are designed to help aboriginal people find and keep work. They aim to build jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all aboriginal communities across Canada.
It is in our long-term social and economic interest to see that all Canadians have the education, skills and employment they need to build good lives for themselves and their families, whether they live in remote communities or in urban centres, whether they are aboriginal or non-aboriginal.
To remain competitive in the global economy, we must focus our efforts on increasing our labour force participation, in other words, get more people working as soon as possible.
While our government remains focused on working with willing partners to ensure that aboriginals can attain the skills and training they need to succeed in the labour market, the opposition parties remain committed to obstructing and voting against all of our efforts.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am very proud to speak to the motion about the need for the House of Commons to finally get serious and understand its obligation to address the longstanding moral, economic, social and historic deficit that has left so much of our country in absolutely abominable condition, which must change.
We have always told ourselves that Canada is the greatest country in the world. The international index of human indicators of health and social well-being always placed Canada right at the very top until it started to factor in the fact there are two worlds in Canada. There is the non-native world and then there is the fourth world that the aboriginal communities are living in. When that was factored in, Canada started to drop year-by-year. We are now down to eighth place, that is, taken as a whole. In terms of first nation communities, we are down in 63rd place among communities in the world.
We are seeing talk from the government. Conservatives have their message box. They have press releases and they expect the young generation marching out there in the streets to be patient. We have seen from the Idle No More campaign an unprecedented response across this country, a virtual uprising of people who have come to feel they are hostages in their own country, that somehow they are a colonized people in their own land. They are saying they are not putting up with it any more.
There is a sense of urgency, an urgency that needs us to move beyond party lines, because this problem did not start with the present Conservative government. This is well over a century in the making. Now is the time to pay up and start fixing some of these fundamental problems. We have 39% of first nation communities at high risk from poor water quality and 34% at medium risk. That amounts to some 83% of first nation communities in this country not having safe drinking water. How can a country this rich say that is okay?
How can we tell young people to be patient when they have substandard systems of education, set up in a manner that is a form of systemic discrimination? Every child in this country walks into a school with an inalienable set of rights unless they live on a first nation, and then they get whatever the government gives them. Those kids are being told to be patient.
They were told to be patient in Attawapiskat when, under the federal government's watch, diesel fumes from a contaminant leak were coming up in classrooms and the kids were passing out in the grade 1 classroom and coming home stinking of diesel fuel from their daily exposure to benzines and xylenes, cancer-causing agents. The families were told to be patient, that it would be fixed. Well it was never fixed. It went on year after year.
That is why people are marching in the streets, because they are not going to be patient any longer. This generation has seen that the time has now come to pay up. It is never convenient to do the right thing. It is never an opportune time to do the right thing. We do the right thing because at a certain point in our juncture or history, it becomes clear that we are not the nation we were meant to be unless we meet that fundamental debt, unless we pay that debt. That is what we are called to do.
We need to deal with the education deficit. I speak about this issue because I saw it through a child's eyes. That is probably the thing I most learned in this job, seeing what it was like through the eyes of a child in Attawapiskat, Shannen Koostachin, who saw her life passing before her because she had gone to school in crappy portables. She knew she had a substandard education. She knew that if she did not get that one chance to get a better education, it would be too late for her and her generation. I saw that look in her eyes. I saw that look in the eyes of those children and I realized that all the talk that goes on in the House is not enough. We need to start seeing action.
There are a number of steps we need to take in terms of economic development and meeting basic treaty commitments. I would like to talk about treaties, because there is an idea out there that we won, they lost, and why do they not just shut up? What is their problem? That is not what the treaties were about.
When Treaty 9 was signed, representing a large region of the Nishnawbe Aski territory I represent, they went from community to community and asked the people to sign an agreement to share the land. Some people may think this happened in ancient times, but it did not. I know people whose families signed the treaty. Grand Chief Stan Louttit's grandfather signed that treaty. Theresa Spence's grandfather signed the treaty. Government representatives came to Fort Hope saying that this would be a great agreement, gave everyone eight bucks, and told the first nation people: “You go off and do your thing and we'll do ours”.
However, Chief Elijah Moonias—and we have another version of Chief Elijah Moonias alive today in Marten Falls dealing with the Ring of Fire—stood up and said to the people: “Wait a minute. What's going on here? The white guys have come up and offered us eight bucks and they're telling us that we don't have to give anything in return”. That is in the records. Chief Elijah Moonias warned the people about signing the treaty because they did not know what they were signing on to.
The records also show when first nations were signing Treaty 9 that one of the reasons they felt they needed to sign was that they were worried about the future. They were willing to share the land, but in exchange they wanted education. It was actually in the Treaty 9 documents that they saw that the future for their kids was an education. So the white commissioners signed that. However, they gave them the residential schools. They took their children away from them and tried to destroy them as a people. That is what they got in return for signing Treaty 9.
If we look at the history of Treaty 9, before the community leaders signed it, they asked two clear questions. These people communicated orally, they did not write it down, but they asked for clarification at the treaty signings. One question was: “What will happen to our hunting and fishing rights and our ability to use our lands?” The government answered: “Those will not be impacted in any way”. Well, they were lied to there.
The second question they asked was: “Will we be forced to live on these reserves that you're setting up?” The government answered: “No, you'll be free to live wherever you want”. This was also a promise that was broken because they are stuck on the reserves. For example, in Attawapiskat, the community cannot even be expanded to put in proper houses. All that land either belongs to the federal government or the province and they are stuck on these postage stamp-size reserves, but right beside them is one of the largest diamond mines in the world, and just down the road there will be gold mines. However, when the treaty was signed, the government said that they would not be impacted in any way in their ability to use the land in traditional ways.
Now the current Conservative government might not recognize those treaties, but they have been recognized by the Constitution of this country under section 35. They have been recognized in court decision after court decision. There is no ambivalence about the need to consult because the first nation people never gave up the right to use the land, which brings us to Bill .
Bill is the government's omnibus legislation where it decided to strip protection of waters and basic environmental protections from all the northern lakes and rivers, but it did not have the guts to do it publicly. The government was not going to go and tell the first nation communities that it was open season on their waterways, the Albany River, Moose River and Attawapiskat River. No, the Conservatives stuck that into a budget bill and tried to ram it through without people noticing, and they figured they would get away with it.
However, now people are saying: “Wait a minute, you didn't consult. You didn't do your legal duty to consult”. That is what the courts have shown and that is what is in our Constitution.
The time has come to start addressing these issues. We are in this relationship together. Although it has been a very dysfunctional relationship, it is the primary relationship in this country. It is the first relationship. We must recognize that we are all treaty people, that we all share this land, and that we will all make the country what it should be when we make sure that our young first nation children have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until we do that, we will never be the country we are supposed to be. This is the moment for all parliamentarians to start making it happen. Let us tell this generation that they are not going to be betrayed the way the last generation was and the generation before them.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on what is an excellent motion from the member for .
My riding does not have a reserve in it, but there are first nation people in my riding. I have met with them and talked with them. In fact, a couple of them put on a Remembrance Day sunrise ceremony this past November to honour first nation soldiers who had fought for Canada in wars overseas. It was held at an ordinary school in my riding, Bala Avenue Community School. It was to remind the children in the school that everyone is in this, that we are all together. It was a moving and wonderful ceremony.
Another constituent has asked me on several occasions about whether it would be possible to create a native language immersion school in Toronto, because there are 10,000 native children in Toronto who need an education. We can manage to have immersion schools all over the place for the French language, as one of the nation-to-nation languages in the country, but we cannot seem to put together the wherewithal to build language education for first nation children.
I discovered as a result of my investigation that there are such native language schools at the reserve in Six Nations. They teach their kids Mohawk and Cayuga in an immersion setting from junior kindergarten all the way up to grade 8. It is wonderful. I will talk more about that later.
It is clear now, from this issue coming forward and from the events in Southern Ontario and all over Canada, that the whole issue of the relationship between the government and first nations, mostly about money but also about land claims, has proven to many first nation people across the country that there is a problem. There are people talking about whether or not it is discriminatory on the part of the government to provide less for first nation people than it provides for others and whether it is discriminatory on the part of the government to not fund education the way it should.
The Idle No More protest has created a grassroots manifestation of the frustration that has gone on for many years in first nation communities. I am talking about dozens and dozens of years since the first obligations of the treaties and it started to become clear that the governments were not going to honour some of those treaties. It is not just the treaties but the care and control of the government of the first nation people that has failed. The governments have been paternalistic, punishing and prejudiced in their behaviour toward first nation people. More recently, this government is showing its paternalistic and punishing nature with the bills it brought forward to force first nations to report in a new and different way all the money they take in and earn, because someone somewhere did not like the way it was being done. It is paternalistic and punishing, and that needs to stop.
There are some who would suggest that there is a sense of disdain for native issues among some in the Conservative caucus. The events this week by the member for and Senator Brazeau, in a fundraiser, showed some of the potential for contempt we are hearing. I hope and pray it is not widespread among the Conservative caucus, but there are those out there who fear that it is.
With that context, I went to visit the Six Nations reserve as a result of my quest to see if we could create a native language school. I discovered when I was there just how hard it is to educate children on this reserve. Whether it is in native languages or not, it is extremely difficult. They told me that they receive about half the money from the federal government that the provincial government provides to teach children off reserve.
It is roughly $10,000 per child that the provincial government gives, and the federal government gives, according to the band council on the reserve, around $5,000 per child. When they question this, the government says “Well, you can pay your teachers less.” Those who are living on reserve do not pay taxes, so that limits the teachers they can get to those on reserve. It is a sense of paternalism. It gets worse, though.
When they created this native language school, they did it not completely independent of the federal government, but as a adjunct to the federal government. They did it with fees from the parents. So it is like a private school in that the parents have to pay to send their children to this school.
However, small business people in the community have decided to contribute, to donate space to that school. So what did the federal government do when it discovered that space had been donated to the school? It deducted the value of the space from the contributions it made on behalf of the children of that school. It clawed back a donation.
Imagine if any school board in this country tried to do the same thing. If the kids were out there selling chocolate-covered almonds to raise money for a trip, and the school board said “If you raise money, if there is a donation to the school, we are going to claw it back”, that would be unheard of. It would not ever happen.
On the Six Nations Reserve, that is exactly what goes on. It is shameful that this kind of attitude takes place. It is shameful that the Six Nations Reserve cannot, with full funding from the federal government, provide whatever kind of education it wants to provide.
The Six Nations Reserve is in southern Ontario. It is in the bread basket of Canada, and yet there are 325 homes without running water. How did that happen? How is it that we have a lack of running water in homes in southern Ontario, only on a reserve?
Fourteen months ago when the member for was up speaking on first nations issues, I asked him about these 325 homes. He said:
|| Mr. Speaker, we will ensure and work toward making sure those people at Six Nations get drinking water to those 325 homes.... The infrastructure that is required to be placed into those homes has to be done through whatever means is required: putting pipes in the ground, ensuring they get to the homes, ensuring they are hooked up to the water system, and ensuring they are hooked up to the waste water system.
|| I am confident that this will occur very quickly. It is unfortunate that it has taken so long, but I can assure the House that our committee and the minister will ensure that it happens sooner than later.
Nothing has happened. That was 14 months ago. That is typical of the government of the day. “It is a priority for us”, I hear them say over and over again in answer to questions, but it does not get done because it is not really a priority. It was not in the budget. It is not in the plans. It is not in the priorities of the government. However, the government members sit there and say it is a priority, but they do not actually do it. It boils down to money.
The other big problem at the Six Nations Reserve is the land claims issue. It has been festering for many years, and in Ontario, in Caledonia, we saw the manifestation of frustration on the land claims issue in 2006 when a group of native protestors took over a housing construction project and occupied it, preventing houses from being built. They claimed that the land was disputed, and that issue is still festering. That was in 2006. That was seven years ago and it is still there.
It is not just seven years. It has been dozens and dozens of years that these native groups and first nations communities have been saying, over and over again, that their land claims have not been respected by governments, not just the Conservative government but also Liberal governments before them.
That needs to be done, on a nation-to-nation basis. What also needs to be done by the government is a real commitment to dollars. The Liberal government froze the funding for first nations activities, like education, at 2%, and the government has not changed it. It found enough money to increase the budget for the ministry of defence by 44%, but it can only find 2% for first nations. There is something wrong with the priorities of the government, and we want to change those priorities.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the motion brought by the hon. member for . The motion calls for a broad-based demand for action to make improvements to the economic outcomes for first nations, Inuit and Métis. I will speak to how our government has been doing exactly that by investing in first nations education.
As we say many times in this House, the economy is the number one priority. However, we also know that education and the economy are not mutually exclusive concepts. We cannot have one without the other. It has been stated on numerous occasions by both the Assembly of First Nations and our government that education is essential to improving the lives of aboriginal people and creating economic opportunities on reserve. We also know that a quality education is an essential building block to finding a good job, that finding a good job leads to economic growth and that economic growth will lead to community self-sufficiency.
However, we know that many Canadians living in remote and rural northern communities do not always have the education they need to find the work. That is why ensuring first nations have access to good education and improving the graduation rates for first nations children is important. It is one of our top priorities. We want to ensure that aboriginal youth are able to acquire the new skills and knowledge to enter into the labour market to contribute to a strong Canadian economy. It is not just the Canadian economy; it is, of course, the economy of our first nations. We all participate in the same economy.
Our government recognizes that education is crucial to unlocking the potential of first nations youth and to supporting the growth of prosperous and self-sufficient first nations communities. That is why we are committed to working together with willing partners to ensure that first nations students have the best possible education and all of the opportunities that go with that.
Today I will outline some of the progress the government has made over the years. The story will show we are committed, now and into the future, to work with willing partners to improve the educational system and the graduation rates for first nations students. First nations children need to be equipped with a quality education that can help them reach their full potential to take advantage of the great economic opportunities this country has to offer. That is why every year our government invests approximately $1.5 billion to support roughly 117,000 elementary and secondary students living on reserve across the country. In addition, we allocate over $200 million each year to maintain and improve school infrastructure in first nations communities. Our government is also working to improve the programs and structures that will provide the opportunity for first nations students to acquire the skills they need to take full advantage of Canada's economic opportunities.
For example, under economic action plan 2012, our government committed to investing an additional $275 million, over three years, to improve school infrastructure and education outcomes for first nations students. These additional funds will ensure that more first nations students get the education they need so they can pursue the same opportunities that are available to all Canadian students. Sadly, as we see time and time again, the NDP, including the member who has brought forward this motion today, vote against these investments. Of the additional $275 million, $175 million will go to renovating schools on reserves and providing first nations students with a better learning environment. There will be $100 million allocated to support early literacy programs, services and partnerships with provincial school systems. Again, by voting against these investments time and again, the opposition members are not supportive of improving the educational opportunities for first nations.
These new investments would help ensure that first nation education systems on reserve are prepared for the implementation of a new first nations education act. This proposed act would establish structures and standards to support strong and accountable education systems on reserve. Through intense consultations, we have committed to work with willing partners to have this legislation in place by no later than September 2014.
First nation students are the only children in Canada whose education system is not governed by any legislation. Unlike previous governments, our government is committed to working to bring forward such legislation. This legislation would provide the modern framework necessary to build standards and structures, strengthen governance and accountability, and provide a mechanism for stable, predictable and sustainable funding, which are key ingredients to educational success. Our government is committed to working with first nations to develop a first nations education act, and we are consulting with first nations leaders, educators, parents, students and other interested stakeholders. We are determined to follow through on this commitment.
The first consultation took place in Halifax on January 22, and provided participants with an opportunity to share their views on first nation education reform and the proposed approach to the development of a first nations education act. These intense consultations will include additional methods for interested individuals to provide us with their perspectives and feedback online, through the departmental website. Intensive consultations with first nation parents, students, leaders and educators, as well as the provinces, are integral to the development and drafting of this legislation.
I must clarify that no legislation has actually been drafted. The purpose of these ongoing consultations is to get views and feedback so the legislation can be drafted. The input gathered during consultations will help shape the drafting of proposed education legislation. Once drafted, the proposed legislation would be shared with every single first nation community across Canada, as well as with provincial governments and other stakeholders, to get their valuable feedback.
Furthermore, I must clarify that a first nations education act would not override aboriginal rights or treaties. The proposed approach will not apply to self-governing first nations that have adopted laws related to education. We all need to continue working together to create the structures and standards that support strong, accountable education systems on reserve that ultimately contribute to the success of individuals, students and their communities.
This is about putting more choice in the hands of first nations and clearly defining and formalizing the roles and responsibilities that are needed to build a strong accountable education system. Our government's efforts on education reform are not intended to create more bureaucracy or burdensome reporting requirements. A modern framework for education would promote accountability and transparency and minimize red tape for first nation schools and organizations. The overall objective is to give first nation students the best chance of success in order for them to graduate, obtain jobs, contribute to their communities and, of course, contribute to the Canadian economy. Our government recognizes that a sound piece of legislation will only be achieved with proper consultations. That is why we must work together.
The rising importance of education is reflected in the new demands of a global economy that is more integrated and interconnected than ever. Education is essential to helping a first nation student realize his or her potential.
Our government has also supported first nation education through committed partnerships that have led to tripartite education agreements across the country. To date, seven tripartite agreements have been entered into, in addition to pre-existing tripartite partnerships in both British Columbia and Nova Scotia. These partnerships have helped strengthen education programs, and services and standards between on-reserve and provincial education systems, so students can transfer between the two systems without any academic penalty. For example, last January our government, along with the B.C. government and the First Nations Education Steering Committee, signed a tripartite framework agreement. The agreement aims to provide B.C. first nation students with access to quality education programs whether they attend school on or off reserve.
Under this agreement, the First Nations Education Steering Committee supports the delivery of quality education programs and services, meeting standards that will allow first nations students to transfer, without academic penalty, at similar levels of achievement between first nations schools and provincial public schools.
In Nova Scotia, the 11 first nations bands have signed on to the final agreement with respect to Mi'kmaq education in Nova Scotia. That agreement states that participating communities shall provide “primary, elementary and secondary education programs and services...”.
|| [The educational programs and services provide by a community must be] comparable to the programs and services provided by other education systems in Canada in order to permit the transfer of students to and from those systems without academic penalty...”.
This is a great leap forward for first nation students. Education agreements like these are an example of the progress being made in education through dedicated partnerships; these are partnerships that we want to replicate and emulate with legislation. We expect more tripartite agreements like the ones currently in place to come soon. Tripartite framework agreements are focused on putting the building blocks in place to strengthen first nations schools.
Our progress in education in recent years builds on numerous reports, including the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, as well as the work stemming from the National Panel on First Nations Elementary and Secondary Education. In June 2010, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations launched the independent National Panel on First Nations Elementary and Secondary Education. The national panel consulted with first nation leaders, parents, elders, students, teachers, provincial officials and the private sector across the country. In February 2012, the national panel released its final report, characterizing the current situation as a non-system that has failed first nations. We know we must work hand in hand with first nations communities to address these challenges. There is simply no other way.
As important as education itself is the building where the learning takes place. Improved learning environments facilitate better educational experiences for first nation students. Since 2006, the government has provided funding for over 260 school projects, including 36 brand new schools and 30 major school renovations or additions.
As I have mentioned, our government invests over $200 million annually on school infrastructure. In economic action plan 2012, our government committed an additional $100 million towards schools on reserve. Through a new “strong schools, successful students initiative”, this funding will help to strengthen the ability of regional first nation organizations to provide students with education supports and services, including tripartite partnerships like the ones I have discussed. First nation schools and educational organizations will benefit from this. These funds will also support programs to improve the school management capacity, initiatives to strengthen the relationship with provincial school systems, and early literacy programming and other supports and services for first nation students in grades K to 12. The “strong schools, successful student initiative” provides new funding for new activities that support capacity development, in areas such as governance and leadership, parental and community involvement, planning, performance measurement, and risk management and organizational planning. This initiative and investment is one more way our government is working to place a good education within the grasp of all first nation students.
A good education opens the door to opportunities, jobs and personal success. With the actions and investments I have outlined today, the government is working to improve access to a good education and graduation rates for first nation students. Structural reforms will make this happen. Partnerships will make this happen. Our government is taking the necessary steps to bring a 21st century education system to our first nations children.
I urge the opposition to support us in these efforts. The stakes are simply too high for us not to make first nations education a priority. Improving the educational outcomes of first nation children will be a key element in overcoming the socio-economic challenges that face many first nation communities.
Improving the educational outcomes of first nation children will also help strengthen our country's prosperity. As our first nations are more successful, the Canadian economy will be more successful.
I am confident that all hon. members must agree with me. The future success of first nations in Canada will be intrinsically linked to the graduation rates of its members. That is why education on first nations is such a priority.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
The motion before us reads:
|| That the House, recognizing the broad-based demand for action, call on the government to make the improvement of economic outcomes of First Nations, Inuit and Métis a central focus of Budget 2013, and to commit to action on treaty implementation and full and meaningful consultation on legislation that affects the rights of Aboriginal Canadians, as required by domestic and international law.
I want to take some time to focus on the Northwest Territories, which is a singularly unique area of Canada where we have settled and unsettled claims. We found the best way to improve the economic situation of our indigenous people in the Northwest Territories is to settle land resources and self-government claims.
In the parts of the Northwest Territories where the claims have been settled, people have increased prosperity and the private sector, which wants to invest there, has certainty in the regulatory process. That is very clear. The opposite is true for those areas of the Northwest Territories, which still have unsettled claims.
In testimony before the members of aboriginal affairs and northern development committee during hearings in Yellowknife on Bill , the NWT and Nunavut Mining Associations and the NWT Chamber of Commerce both stressed the value of having settled claims.
There are some examples of how settled claims can improve the economic situation of first nations people, Inuit people, and I will speak to two of them.
One is the Inuvialuit. The Inuvialuit were the first to settle their claims in the Northwest Territories. They did a very good job of it in 1984, with excellent claim settlement. They took over large pieces of their traditional territory. They got surface and subsurface rights in the oil-rich Mackenzie Delta and the Beaufort Sea area. They were in a position to take advantage of resource development, resource exploration in that area, and they have built an amazing Inuvialuit Development Corporation, which owns outfits like Canadian North Aviation. Members may have flown on it themselves. It owns the Northern Transportation Company Limited. It has investments and opportunities for Inuvialuit people throughout the Northwest Territories, at all levels of employment.
It is through this settlement that the Inuvialuit were to get their heads into economic development, rather than spending their time trying to fight with the federal government over land claim settlements.
We could talk about the Tlicho government, settled under the Liberal government in 2004. Its land extends through diamond-rich areas of the Northwest Territories. It has rights to large areas of land, surface, subsurface. It has opportunities on that land. What has it done with them? It has created the Tlicho Development Corporation. That development corporation, in less than 10 years, has gross revenue in excess of $130 million, employing 800 people.
This is the kind of effort that could be made by first nations when they achieve control over traditional lands and territories, not when they are stuck on reserves, not when they do not have the opportunity to participate fully in the resource economy.
However, this is not the case in the areas of the Northwest Territories that do not have settled claims. In the Dehcho and the Akaitcho regions, both incredibly rich areas of the Northwest Territories, the Dehcho with its gas deposits, the Akaitcho once again with mining and great opportunities as well, negotiations on land claims are stalled. They have been stalled with the government for many years.
Much of the fault lies with the federal government through actions like continually changing negotiators, never giving negotiators the ability to make decisions, revisiting areas which have been agreed to in negotiations and changing negotiation mandates. These are all things that completely obfuscate the system.
In these two regions there is much uncertainty. The investment is difficult. Now there are brave companies, and I speak of Avalon as one company that is going through the environment assessment process. It won awards for its ability to talk to the first nations in those regions and to bring them into the process themselves.
We see industry taking over the role of government in providing the authority to first nations to make decisions on their land. That is what it takes in unsettled areas.
Chief Roy Fabian of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation recently told the aboriginal affairs committee the following during hearings on Bill on the Surface Rights Board Act:
|| This legislation is a serious matter that strikes at the heart of Treaty 8 and jeopardizes our attempt at reconciliation with Canada. The legislation appears to be an attempt to circumvent our land claims process and undermine our authority over our lands.
||...I want to make it clear that this Bill, if passed, will not be recognized as valid law on Katlodeeche territory. If the federal government attempts to impose this legislation on our Treaty land then we will consider our legal options to oppose this legislation and resist every attempt to grant an access order on our land.
Where does that leave industry? Where does that leave certainty? Where are we going with that? That is not working, is it?
Chief Fabian highlights a key element in current federal-aboriginal relations, namely that federal action or inaction is causing a rising sense of dissatisfaction among Canada's first nations, its aboriginal people, leading to movements like Idle No More. It is leading directly there. It is leading to a movement that we can all get behind: we should not all be idle on this issue. We should not be obfuscating. We should not be trying to make this a harder thing to accomplish, to get land claims settled in this country.
Canada's aboriginal people are no longer content to just sit patiently while Ottawa gets around to finally addressing their concerns. They are idle no more. Congratulations to first nations. Congratulations should come from all Canadians. We are glad they are idle no more. We are glad they are standing up for their rights. We are glad they are standing up for the land and the environment. These are things that have to be done. They are not getting done by the government. First nations can provide the leadership.
Canada's first nations want full settlement of their claims on traditional territories and will not wait while federal negotiators play games. They will be idle no more when it comes to getting these claims settled.
Canada's aboriginal people want to be treated fairly. They want to build the economies of their communities and regions. They are not opposed to development. I have shown that. They want to be full partners in development have a say in how it occurs. However because of delays by the federal government, they are no longer willing to wait.
Canadians should get behind them. Let us all be idle no more when it comes to first nation issues.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague from for moving a motion that expresses the sense of urgency that we, the NDP, feel with respect to Canada's aboriginals.
Before I begin my remarks, I would ask the House to take a few moments to honour the January 19 passing of Gilles Ottawa, an Atikamekw historian from Manawan. His contribution to the Atikamekw collective memory was unique and continues to enrich the entire community. The man is no more, but his wisdom and knowledge will endure.
I would like to explain how important this motion is to the future of aboriginals. I believe that it highlights the failings of generations of Canadian governments and their unclear policies on aboriginals. I would like to talk about the three main points of this motion: the economy, treaties and the law.
Clearly, resolving all of these issues will require considerable effort. But anyone listening to what is going on in reserves across Canada and paying attention to the youth activists and social movements would be naive to believe that the status quo can remain in place. We do not want a naive government, do we?
As a society, we have reached the threshold of a new relationship with this country's aboriginals. We need a complete paradigm shift to face future challenges together. The Conservatives' penchant for throwing the word “economy” around has become a joke. Often used with the word “growth”, this concept is as hackneyed as can be. Once a social science, economics was rebranded as a pure science through pressure from a certain school of thought, and now it is used to justify savage attacks on the environment, our democracy and ultimately, our collective identity.
And so, it is not surprising that the Conservatives are saying quite seriously that the ecocide development projects generated by the mammoth bills will benefit aboriginal people despite the fact that their game plan does not include any consultation. They seriously believe that. However, the idea that the creation of wealth will naturally benefit the public, and aboriginal people in particular, is completely false. By way of evidence, we need only look at the tax credits given to large corporations that are not being reinvested in the economy. In aboriginal communities, things are often much worse. Given the unemployment rate of 27% on the reserves, clearly aboriginal people are not the first to be asked to work on the project sites. What is more, 70% of students who live on reserve do not finish high school.
This is true across Canada and in my riding. I have seen it first-hand in Manawan. There, the elementary school is dilapidated and substandard. At the high school level, the failure rate is 86% and the drop-out rate is almost 50%. Of all the reserves in Quebec, Manawan receives the lowest amount of funding for education, getting only about a third of the amount allocated per student in the rest of the province. Is this normal? Is this how we are going to train good workers and good citizens? Of course not, since that is not Canada's objective right now. For hundreds of years of colonialism, the efforts made to keep aboriginal people down and assimilate them has surpassed those made toward their development. That is clear.
Since 1996, the government has capped the increase in annual funding for basic programs on reserves at 2%, which is lower than the inflation rate and the demographic growth on reserves. Without any help from the government, aboriginal people will have a great deal of difficulty getting out of poverty. That is what is happening right now, whether we like it or not. The status quo cannot continue and we must immediately take real action to improve the economic prospects of aboriginal people in Canada.
It is surprising to see how a government that travels across the globe to sign treaties can be so unwilling to honour the ones it has signed in its own country.
The NDP believes in a nation-to-nation approach to negotiations with aboriginals. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the government, which does not honour the commitments made in treaties between 1701 and 1923.
This hypocrisy was shared equally between the Conservatives and the Liberals. There are currently between 700 and 800 cases of broken treaties that are still unresolved. At the current rate, it will take 100 years to settle all of these cases. That kind of neglect is the epitome of bad faith.
What is worse, again in 2012 and 2013, the Conservative government reiterated its commitment to “respect and honour its treaty relationships and advance approaches to find common ground on treaty implementation”. Big talk.
It would be far more appropriate to talk about “uncommon ground”. Consulting aboriginals is not a choice, it is an obligation of the federal government under the Constitution Act, 1867. Period. So do not try to tell me that the government is doing aboriginals a favour by promising consultations that will never end up happening.
Many independent observers have condemned the Canadian government's actions: the Auditor General in 2003, the Auditor General in 2007, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and the UN Special Rapporteur. They all agreed that Canada was not honouring its commitments. What they are saying is common sense: do your homework.
After years of negligence, aboriginal people realized that they had no choice but to protest in the street, block bridges or starve themselves in order to have a dialogue. That is not normal. In a country ranked sixth in the world on the UN's human development index, it is inconceivable that we have allowed our aboriginal population to rank 63rd. Yet that is what is happening, what this government is allowing to happen with complete and utter contempt. This is terrible.
Lastly, I would like to say a few words about legislation. In 2012, when Canada finally agreed to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, one might have hoped to see a shift in the government's perspective. Yet nothing happened; nothing has changed, apart from a few empty promises that the government cannot keep. It is easy to sign legal treaties that cannot be enforced and then not respect them. After all, who is going to come and force the government to respect them? Meanwhile, Canada's honour and credibility have taken a beating. As the saying goes, the government needs to walk the talk. Aboriginal people expect nothing less.
The government also has obligations under other international human rights conventions: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. All of these agreements are invaluable, because they identify the kind of world we want to live in. They encompass the values that are important to all Canadians. So why exclude aboriginal people?
I encourage hon. members to vote in favour of this motion, which is meant simply to make up for lost time. A dramatic change in the government's relationship with aboriginal people is needed, because the current situation cannot and will not endure. Those who do not believe me can just sit back and watch, for it will happen, with or without them.