Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge, before I begin, that we are speaking here today on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
As we begin the second reading debate on Bill , an act to provide for the establishment of a national council for reconciliation, I think it is important to highlight that since locating unmarked graves at former residential schools a year and a half ago, Canada's relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis has evolved and often in a painful way. Survivors, their families, communities and all indigenous peoples across the country were heard as they shared the violent truth of residential schools.
It is our moral obligation as a country and as people to honour survivors and pursue the truth. It is also our responsibility to support all of those suffering from intergenerational trauma in their search for truth and closure. Addressing these ongoing impacts is at the heart of reconciliation and at the core of truth-seeking and the renewal of the relationship with indigenous people, particularly those who attended these horrible institutions.
This summer, after years of advocacy by first nations, Inuit and Métis, His Holiness Pope Francis visited Canada and offered a formal apology for the Roman Catholic Church's role in the abuse of indigenous children at residential schools. Although this apology was seen as a step in the right direction by many people, it is important to recognize the systemic nature of this harmful legacy and the ongoing impacts of the trauma at residential schools that was both instigated and perpetuated by the Government of Canada and religious institutions.
A few weeks ago, I joined the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to raise the survivors' flag on Parliament Hill. This flag honours the survivors and those affected by residential schools. It represents our individual and collective responsibility and also our commitment to advancing reconciliation.
At the flag-raising ceremony, the reminded us that reconciliation is something for every person in Canada and all levels of government to participate in, and that includes every member present in the House today.
We are coming up on the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which is observed on September 30 pursuant to the passage of Bill last year, and I recognize that there is still much work to be done. Canadians understandably want to see more tangible progress. In particular, we must respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. The national day responds to call to action 80.
As we move forward, we need to be able to measure our progress so that the government and Canada are held accountable for our commitments to indigenous peoples. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission wrote in its final report, progress on reconciliation at all levels of government and civil society organizations needs vigilant attention and measurement to determine improvements.
However, as many partners, particularly indigenous organizations, have pointed out, the government cannot evaluate and grade itself when it comes to reconciliation. Independent oversight is necessary and appropriate. That is why, in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked the Parliament of Canada to create a national council for reconciliation, which is exactly what Bill will do if it is passed. It will establish a national council for reconciliation as an independent, non-political, permanent and indigenous-led organization. The council would monitor the long-term progress being made toward reconciliation here in Canada and evaluate and report on the implementation of the 94 calls to action set out in the commission's report. That is in keeping with what many indigenous leaders have been calling for for many years: greater accountability, greater transparency and a way of holding the Government of Canada to account for the role it plays in reconciliation and the search for the truth.
If passed, this bill will enable the creation of the national council for reconciliation, immediately fulfilling call to action 53. It would also respond to calls to action 54, 55 and 56, which expand on the funding, responsibilities and expectations of transparency for the council and the federal government. The bill would ensure that Canada responds formally to the council's annual report.
I would like to take some time to reflect on the genesis of this legislation. The road to get here required collaboration and a lot of work. Bill has been in the making for many years.
In 2019, an interim board composed of six notable indigenous leaders, including Dr. Wilton Littlechild, one of the commissioners from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, made recommendations based on their extensive research and public engagement on the council's mandate, governance and operations, which were the basis for a consultation legislative framework. They also recommended the appointment of a transitional committee to advance this initiative.
Last December, I was pleased to announce and support the establishment of this transitional committee. The committee members reviewed the draft framework, engaged with indigenous and non-indigenous technical experts and provided our government with further recommendations that led to the bill we see before us today.
The bill is a culmination of substantial work and many years of advocacy by indigenous leaders, experts and communities in particular. Therefore, establishing the national council for reconciliation is one of the best opportunities to guide us in achieving truth and reconciliation in this country.
The proposed bill defines the process for establishing the council of nine to 13 individuals and sets out parameters to ensure that a diverse range of people are appointed to the first board of directors. The bill states that at least two-thirds of the board must be indigenous and must include the voices of first nations, Inuit and Métis; indigenous organizations, including a nominee each from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council; youth, women, men and gender-diverse people; and people from all regions of Canada, including urban, rural and remote regions.
The council will be tasked with advancing efforts for reconciliation in Canada, including by monitoring and evaluating the government's progress on all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.
This means that the council must have access to the relevant information on how governments are fulfilling their own commitments. Our government will have to develop a protocol for disclosing Government of Canada information, not unlike the disclosure of documents regarding residential schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in order to hold the government accountable and better understand the legacy of residential schools. I will be responsible for ensuring that the council has the information it needs to do its job. That is imperative.
I also want to point out that the council will be fully independent from the government and will be managed similar to a not-for-profit organization. This means that it will not have any ties to the government or the Crown. The Government of Canada will provide an endowment and initial funding in accordance with call to action 54.
If it is set up as a not-for-profit organization, the council will be required to report annually to Parliament on the progress made on reconciliation in Canada and to make recommendations for advancing reconciliation efforts. It will have to provide annual reports and financial reports to which the government will have to respond. The government will have to respond to the report every year. These reports would help the government set objectives and develop plans to advance reconciliation based on the council's recommendations. This reporting mechanism set out in Bill will ensure transparency and accountability as we make progress on the calls to action.
Finally, the bill outlines the purpose and functions of the council. The mission of the council would be to hold the government accountable on reconciliation and the calls to action. The council would be responsible for developing and implementing a multi-year national action plan to advance efforts on reconciliation. The council would also conduct research and engage with partners on the progress being made toward reconciliation in all sectors of Canadian society and, crucially, by all governments. This includes monitoring efforts to implement the calls to action.
The bill is not exhaustive; rather, it is intended to be a flexible framework. The council would have the authority to pursue other measures it deems important and necessary to achieve its purpose.
In closing, I want to emphasize one last important point: We must pass this bill as soon as possible. It has been seven years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its final report and its calls to action. It has been 16 months since the first unmarked graves were discovered in Kamloops. It has been three months since Bill was introduced in the House.
With each passing moment, survivors, elders, knowledge-keepers and families are getting older. Many survivors have already passed away without having seen the full scope of our efforts to advance reconciliation. I ask hon. members here today to press forward and support the establishment of the council as quickly as possible. We owe it to the survivors, indigenous peoples and all Canadians.
Finally, I want to thank all residential school survivors, once again, for sharing their truths and their experiences, and I honour those who continue to suffer in silence. Without them, we would not be here today. We see them. We hear them. We believe them.
Mr. Speaker, kwe
. Hello. Bonjour
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that Canada's Parliament is located on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words today as we gather to debate this important bill. Part of the shameful and racist colonial policy of residential schools was to forcibly remove indigenous children, first nations, Inuit and Métis, from their communities and deny them their families' languages and culture, all while they endured widespread abuse. Many of the children, we know now, did not come home.
The root of many of the inequalities we see today can still be traced back to the loss of culture, identity and family connections, and the abuse perpetrated by the residential school system. The harmful legacy of this system continues to affect survivors, family and indigenous communities to this day. We see it in the high rates of violence, incarceration and suicide, and in the high demand for mental health and addiction services across Canada for indigenous people. We must take action to reverse this legacy.
The creation of the national council of reconciliation, through Bill , would be an important step toward enhancing reconciliation and strengthening the relationship between indigenous people and the Government of Canada, a relationship based on respect and recognition of rights.
As we begin to debate this bill, I would like to step back and look at the bill from a broader historical perspective. Canada had a system of residential schools starting in the 1830s and lasting until the final school closed in 1998. The aim of these residential schools was to kill the Indian in the child.
In the 2000s, survivors of the system organized a class action, bringing light to the abuses suffered in the residential schools. I recall during my time at the Assembly of First Nations, as part of the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council, witnessing first-hand the leadership of survivors, such as former national chief Phil Fontaine, who was one of the first leaders to courageously share publicly his experience at residential school.
I am also reminded of the late Mi'kmaq advocate Nora Bernard, whose tireless pursuit of justice led to a class action lawsuit on behalf of the survivors in Nova Scotia. It was direct action and courage from indigenous survivors that led to a legal settlement with residential school survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives, the federal government and church representatives.
In 2008, the resilience of survivors led to Canada making a formal apology to survivors for Canada's role in the residential school system. A very important part of that settlement agreement was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which had a crucial mandate to inform all Canadians about the truth of what happened in Indian residential schools.
The commission's great work from 2007 to 2015 helped bring the truth of residential schools to light and begin the work of reconciliation among former residential school survivors, their families, their communities and, indeed, all of Canada. During this time, the commissioners conducted interviews and hearings with survivors and their families to document what had happened at these residential schools. Their work was extensive. They hosted seven national events, countless regional and community events across Canada and conducted more than 6,500 interviews, which resulted in the 94 calls to action we now discuss today.
These 94 calls to action laid the groundwork to the further reconciliation between Canadians and indigenous people. It is clear reconciliation might mean different things to different people, but the commission gave us a point to start from. It gave us a way of solidifying a complex set of ideas, bringing them together in a blueprint for addressing systemic racism in this country.
It describes reconciliation as an ongoing individual collective process that “will require commitment from all those affected including First Nations, Inuit and Métis former Indian residential school students, their families, communities, religious entities, former school employees, government and the people of Canada.” This involves all of us, and this journey of reconciliation is one we must take together.
In relation to the bill before us today, calls to action 53 to 56 directly call upon the government to do what the government plans to do with Bill today, which is to establish a national council for reconciliation.
Among the 94 calls to action, our government has already taken steps along this journey. We have created the first Indigenous Languages Act. We have for the first time an indigenous languages commissioner, and we have passed legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Bill . Next week, we will be celebrating the first anniversary of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. While I am proud of these accomplishments, there is more work that needs to be done. It needs to be done at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Bill would ensure that we stay committed to this important work.
Some of the functions of an independent national council for reconciliation would be to develop and implement a multi-year national action plan to advance efforts in reconciliation, conduct research on promising practices that advance efforts for reconciliation, educate the public about indigenous peoples' realities and histories, stimulate dialogue and address all other matters that the independent council determines are necessary to advance reconciliation.
Education is an important part of the work we need to do moving forward. In my previous role as a treaty education lead in Nova Scotia, I presented many times on reconciliation, and it was only then did I realize that most Canadians were not getting the entire history of Canada. Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Murray Sinclair, who is also a former senator, said it best when he pointed out, “While Indigenous children were being mistreated in residential schools being told they were heathens, savages and pagans and inferior people — that same message was being delivered in the public schools of this country.”
All levels of government and the Canadian public have a responsibility to educate and create awareness of our shared history, not only the things we are proud of as Canadians, but also the dark chapters in our history. We must do so by taking steps to decolonize our structures and education system and putting an emphasis on indigenous knowledge and indigenous voices. When we listen to indigenous voices and knowledge to work hand in hand with our indigenous partners, we create better, more inclusive legislation. That is why this proposed legislation has been led, at every step of the way, by indigenous voices.
From the interim board to the transitional committee, legislation has been led by indigenous leaders, such as former commissioner Dr. Wilton Littlechild, who was an integral part of the interim board, and the work he is currently doing gives continuity to the valuable work that had been done already. I will emphasize that this bill responds to the voices of indigenous leaders who worked closely with survivors, families and communities affected by residential schools. They led a process to build the resources and the space to try to heal, as well as build understanding between indigenous people and other Canadians.
The Government of Canada has respected that process and looks forward to advancing this bill with members' support. In doing so, we are directly responding to TRC calls to action 53 to 56 and the recommendations of the interim board and transitional committee.
In this important historical context, I call on all members of Parliament to join me in supporting this important bill and continuing to advance reconciliation.
Mr. Speaker, while it is always an honour to rise in this place and speak on behalf of the people of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, this week as we return to Parliament, especially as a member from northern Saskatchewan, I come with a heavy heart. As I begin today, I want to acknowledge the recent tragic events in northern Saskatchewan in the communities of James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon. As the healing journey begins for so many, it is important that in the days and weeks ahead we do not allow our focus to be lost from what is going to be a long and difficult journey for many. Often as the media attention diminishes, so can the help and support. The heavy burden these communities will carry will require a resolve, a resolve to continue to be there for family, friends and neighbours. We must not allow them to walk this journey alone.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I rise to speak on Bill , an act to provide for the establishment of a national council for reconciliation. The work of truth and reconciliation needs to be viewed as a journey rather than a destination. Relationships are not easy, especially ones that have a long history of distrust. That distrust is the reason why a bill like Bill deserves to be looked at through a lens that focuses on a consensus-building approach. This will create better legislation. It is what is needed and, quite frankly, deserved.
Bill attempts to honour calls to action 53 to 56 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by creating an accountability mechanism on the progress of reconciliation across the country. Our party supports accountability. In fact, as the party that established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we welcome it. We will support this bill to go to committee and work there to make improvements.
With the purpose of building better legislation and in the advancement of reconciliation, there are a few matters that I feel should be addressed, some concerns, some questions and some suggestions we will make. I would like to take the next few minutes to speak to some of those concerns.
The first concern I will address is around the appointment process of the board of directors of the national council for reconciliation, its transparency and its independence. To help explain this, I want to speak to some of the steps and timelines that led up to Bill being tabled in the House.
In December of 2017, the announced that he would start the process of establishing a national council for reconciliation by establishing an interim board of directors. By June 2018, only six months later, the interim board of directors presented its final report, with 20 very specific recommendations. It is worth noting, and it was confirmed by the technical briefing last night, that those 20 recommendations were the basis for the draft legal framework. One of those recommendations also included setting up a transitional committee to continue the work that was started.
I want to read a quote from that final report. It states:
As indicated in our interim report, the interim board believes it is important that a transitional committee be set up to continue the work proposed in the interim and final reports. During our tenure, we have heard from various organizations and community members that we need to move forward with speed and maintain the momentum to establish the NCR.
However, inexplicably, it took three and a half years, until December 2021, for the minister to finally get around to appointing the members of the transitional committee. Again, let us be clear. The development of the basis for the legal framework of Bill was already finished in June 2018. Why the delay?
The current government, time and again on indigenous issues, makes big announcements, holds press conferences, takes photographs and then proceeds to ignore the real and difficult work. Now we fast-forward to June of 2022, when the minister finally tabled Bill , with just two days left in the spring session I might add. That is four years after the recommendations.
It is not just the unacceptable time frames, but the lack of independence and transparency of the selection process that is concerning. From the interim board of directors to the transitional committee to the board of directors of the council, the process of selecting members has been at the sole discretion of the minister. In June, while Bill was being introduced, there were indigenous organizations that were very public with their own concerns about this process. These concerns are valid, because according to the TRC’s call to action 53, the national council for reconciliation is supposed to be an independent body. I have a simple question. How is it independent if, per clause 8 of this bill, the first board of directors is “selected by the Minister”?
Does the government really expect us to believe, based on its history, that it deserves the benefit of the doubt, and that it would never put forward any undue pressure to get what it wants? Finally, there are the ’s own words when explaining how this oversight body is needed. He said, “It isn’t up to Canada to be grading itself.”
I think the concerns around the selection process require the to be very clear in the House and, more importantly, to indigenous peoples on why he is comfortable in having so much direct control and influence on a body that will be tasked with holding his own government to account on advancing reconciliation.
My next concern is that there is nothing in Bill that has anything concrete as far as measuring outcomes. Quantifying reconciliation is difficult, I admit, but a close look at call to action number 55 will show that it includes several items that are, in fact, measurable. I will give a few examples: the comparative number of indigenous children to non-indigenous children in care and the reasons for that; the comparative funding for education of on- and off-reserve first nations children; the comparative education and income attainments of indigenous to non-indigenous people; progress on closing the gap on health outcomes; progress on eliminating overrepresentation of indigenous children in youth custody; progress on reducing the rate of criminal victimization in homicide, family violence and other crimes; and, finally, progress on reducing overrepresentation in the justice and correctional systems.
The concern is that, if we want to measure accountability, we must set targets that determine success from failure. Like the axiom, what gets measured gets done.
The PBO recently released a report in response to a Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs request that was very critical of the departments of ISC and CIRNAC for spending increases without improvements in outcomes. I am going to quote from the report: “The analysis conducted indicates that the increased spending did not result in a commensurate improvement in the ability of these organizations to achieve the goals that they had set for themselves.” That paragraph ends with, “Based on the qualitative review the ability to achieve the targets specified has declined.”
Maybe this is what the government is afraid of. Not only is there a lack of measurable outcomes in Bill , but the wording seems to be purposely vague, just vague enough to avoid accountability. Chief Wilton Littlechild, who sat on both the interim board of directors and the transitional committee, when referring to the bill, told CBC News that the wording needs to be strengthened.
For example, the purpose section of the bill uses the text “to advance efforts for reconciliation”, but Littlechild said the word “efforts” needs deletion. He says the bill should instead say, “advance reconciliation” because it is building on work that has already laid a foundation. The preamble of the bill states that the government should provide “relevant” information, which Littlechild says leaves the government to determine what is important or not. “We could've taken out those kind of words,” he said.
When added all together, it seems that there is a pattern of reducing the risk of accountability in the wording of the bill and in the lack of measurable outcomes that would require the government to follow through on its words and actions.
My final concern is around who responds to the annual report issued by the national council. Subclause 17(3) of the bill states that the must respond to the matters addressed by the NCR’s annual report by “publishing an annual report on the state of Indigenous peoples that outlines the Government of Canada’s plans for advancing reconciliation.” This does not honour the TRC’s call to action number 56, which clearly and unequivocally calls on the of Canada to formally respond.
The has consistently said that, “No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples.” Actions speak louder than words and the Prime Minister should be the one responding directly, not delegating that responsibility to the minister.
In closing, as I stated earlier, our party will support Bill and, in the spirit of collaboration and in response to the 's own words of being willing to be open to “perfecting” the bill, will work with the members of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs and will offer some amendments that we believe will make this bill better.
It is now our duty to ensure that Bill is a piece of legislation that truly advances reconciliation.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill , the national council for reconciliation act. This bill is the government's attempt after six and a half years to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action 53 through 56. Indeed, since 2015, the Liberal government, for all its rhetoric on reconciliation, has only fully implemented 11 out of the 94 calls to action and only eight of the 76 calls that actually fall under its jurisdiction.
Bill C-29 is long overdue, and the rush by the government to implement something has produced a flawed bill. If we are to continue down the path of reconciliation with indigenous people, a robust and inclusive response to calls to action 53 to 56 is needed. Unfortunately, the government has failed to produce that response. Bill provides a framework for the implementation of a national council for reconciliation, but the foundation is cracked and will need some care and attention at committee if the government hopes to provide a workable council that is respected by all indigenous leaders, communities and organizations across Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that the government establish a national council for reconciliation in call to action 53. Bill would address this through the creation of a not-for-profit corporation that would have between nine and 13 members who would monitor and report the progress of the government on their efforts for reconciliation with indigenous people. The council would not be an agent of His Majesty in the right of Canada, nor would it be governed by the Financial Administration Act. It would be, in every practical sense, an independent body, or at least it should be.
Here we find the first of several issues I have with Bill . How independent would this council be if the members of the board are picked by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations? The bill stipulates that the first board of directors would “be selected by the Minister in collaboration with the transitional committee”. However, let us not forget that the transitional committee was selected by the minister in December 2021. Why is this important? First, the board would have the vital task of establishing the articles of incorporation and other founding documents that set aside how future boards would be elected and who would constitute a member. In other words, the minister and his hand-picked transitional team would determine the future of this so-called independent council, and its job would include taking the minister to task over their failed record on reconciliation.
Call to action 54 calls on the government to provide multi-year funding for the national council. The government did so in budget 2019 through the allocation of $126.5 million, yet the act would not require any accountability on the expenditure of this money, and not one financial report would need to be filed by the council.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognized the importance that relevant and timely information be provided to the council for it to actually do its work. This was enshrined in call to action 55, where all levels of government are required to provide annual reports and current data on a wide range of areas related to indigenous matters, including but not limited to child care, education, health, incarceration rates, criminality and victimization rates. It would be interesting to hear from provincial and municipal authorities how they are able to implement this requirement. I hope, for the council's sake, that a lot of the work to streamline these requests has already taken place between the crown-indigenous relations ministry, including Northern Affairs Canada, and their provincial counterparts. I also hope that there will not be any undue burdens placed on our already taxed municipal governments with respect to extra reporting requirements.
Call to action 56 calls on the government, the Prime Minister in fact, to formally respond to the report by issuing a state of indigenous peoples' report that outlines the government's reconciliation plan. Bill utterly fails here, designating the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, rather than the Prime Minister, to make the response.
One of the most glaring issues with Bill is the lack of representation on the national council for reconciliation. The bill sets aside three seats for the AFN, ITK and MNC, three national organizations that the Liberal government almost exclusively deals with when it comes to indigenous issues, yet they are not the only national indigenous organizations in Canada. In fact, large swaths of urban and poor people would be ignored. There is no representation of women or children designated on the council. There is no acknowledgement of the work of the on-the-ground community organizations that do the work day in and day out for indigenous people.
The Liberals will argue that those organization could get elected by the membership, and sure they could, but why do some organizations get guaranteed spots and not others? Why have important national organizations, such as the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples or the National Association of Friendship Centres, been designated as second-class organizations by the government? Where are the other Métis and indigenous voices?
What about organizations focused on the important work of economic reconciliation? I often hear in meetings with indigenous leaders about the importance of economic reconciliation, not just to address their own issues with their own resources, but to also to return a sense of self-sufficiency and honour to people who have had it stripped away by a paternalistic, archaic, and irreparably broken Indian Act.
If the government of Canada is serious about true reconciliation, we need to address the elephant in the room. I believe that we need to immediately, and in partnership with indigenous leaders, do a comprehensive review of the Indian Act with the intent of removing the legislative barriers to participation in Canada’s economy and developing a long-term plan to fully transition away from the Indian Act.
Some indigenous communities are already there. Some are in the process, and some are not ready for that conversation. That is why we need a cautious approach to supporting the abolition of the Indian Act by providing indigenous communities that are prepared for self-government with the legislative avenues to do so, while also ensuring that a robust and national dialogue on the plan for what is next is held inclusively with indigenous and non-indigenous people and ensuring that any new legislation is based on consultation relating to autonomy, taxation, transparency, accountability and property rights.
At the same time, it is my belief that we need establish a national dialogue with indigenous leadership and organizations to remove the bureaucratic barriers to economic prosperity that exist at Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, with the goal of phasing out these government bureaucracies all together. There is no reason why indigenous communities and organizations cannot deal directly with finance or health or any other government entity without consulting the gatekeepers at those two ministries.
We need to modernize the land treaties system to initiate economic prosperity for indigenous communities; provide the tools for indigenous communities to determine their own destiny while balancing the rights of Canada; ensure the need for certainty and finality of terms, so as not to impede the overall governance of the nation; and provide future certainty for governments, industry, and indigenous and non-indigenous people.
The existing model of federal public servants determining who is and who is not ready for self-governance needs to change. Reconciliation must be centred on the future of indigenous people, not what is in the best interest of this Liberal government. By modernizing our approach to indigenous partnerships through the eventual abolition of the Indian Act, we modernize Canada, and we usher in a new age of economic prosperity and equality for opportunity.
Bill , which disregards the important counsel of organizations devoted to indigenous people, women's and children’s issues, urban and poor first nations, and self-sufficiency and equality is a symptom of a much larger issue. Conservatives support reconciliation with indigenous people, and we are ready to have conversation.
Mr. Speaker, today I am speaking on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill , which provides for the establishment of a national council for reconciliation.
I am especially grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate because I am a member of the Huron-Wendat nation, the first Huron-Wendat to be elected to the House of Commons. Like the minister, I too was present when the survivors' flag was raised on Parliament Hill a few weeks ago. With us was my colleague from , who is the Bloc Québécois's indigenous affairs critic. We are still a very long way from having fully measured the tragic consequences of a vicious colonial regime.
We need to acknowledge a historical fact. The meeting of two worlds, of indigenous nations and European empires, heralded a brutal culture shock, to say the least. In the name of introducing peoples deemed inferior to the glories of civilization, nations were expropriated and crushed. For those nations, the freedom promised by westerners was actually, more often than not, oppression.
The bill before us today responds to calls to action 53 to 56 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established through a legal agreement between residential school survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives, and those responsible for creating and running the schools, in other words, Ottawa and religious authorities.
The commission's mandate was to ensure that all Canadians were aware of what happened in residential schools. The commission has documented and provided us with a great deal of new information about survivors, their families, communities, and anyone else who was ultimately directly affected by the residential school experience, including former students who were first nations, Inuit, or Métis, as well as family members, communities, churches, former residential school staff, government officials and other Canadians. A tremendous amount of investigative and research work was required.
Let us not forget that from 2007 to 2015, Ottawa paid money, $72 million, to support the work of the commission. The commission members spent six years all across the country to hear more than 6,500 testimonies. They also held seven national events in different regions of the country to mobilize the Canadian public, raise public awareness about the history of residential schools and the scars they left, and share and commemorate the experiences of former students and their families.
In June 2015, the commission held its closing event in Ottawa, at which time it released the executive summary of its final report in several volumes. The summary outlines 94 calls to action and recommendations to promote reconciliation between Canadians and indigenous peoples.
As is the case in many bills, the intention is often commendable, but at times the devil is in the details. In this case, I would like to say from the outset that the Bloc Québécois is voting in favour of the principle of Bill C‑29.
The Bloc Québécois is a vocal advocate for nation-to-nation relations between Quebec and first nations. Giving indigenous peoples a stronger voice and allowing them to be heard during the reconciliation process is entirely in line with our position. Remember, the Bloc Québécois is a political party that supports Quebec's independence. In our opinion, this is the best way to achieve a new partnership between nations: a new regime that will no longer have any ties to the racist system of the Indian Act, whose very name is insulting. In fact, my status card says “CERTIFICATE OF INDIAN STATUS”. This is not a card from the 1950s. It is from 2012 at the earliest, not that long ago. Do not be fooled. That term is as insulting and disrespectful as the N-word and, yes, they are absolutely comparable.
The term Indians is just as insulting to first nations. For the Bloc, international relations start at home, in our own country. The Bloc Québécois is working with indigenous nations at the federal level to strengthen and guarantee their inherent rights. It is ensuring that the federal government applies the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in its entirety in federal areas of responsibility. The Bloc has also come out in support of indigenous nations receiving their due, and we will continue to apply pressure on Ottawa to ensure it responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.
On June 21, 2021, the Bloc secured the unanimous passage of a motion to ensure that indigenous communities have all the resources needed to lift the veil on the historical reality of residential schools and to force the churches to open their archives. We could say that this bill works towards that and it is one reason why we will support it.
We also announced that we want to ensure that there will be predictable and sustainable funding for programs to help residential school survivors heal, such as the health support program that was specially designed for that purpose. This bill would establish a council to provide ongoing follow-up for this file.
The bill provides for the establishment of a national council for reconciliation, an independent, non-political, permanent organization. The minister stressed that earlier. This organization, whose mission is to advance efforts for reconciliation with indigenous peoples, must be led by indigenous people. It responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's calls to action 53 to 56. I am going to read them, because they are important.
Call to action 53 reads as follows, and I quote:
We call upon the Parliament of Canada, in consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to enact legislation to establish a National Council for Reconciliation.
That is a good start.
Call to action 54 reads:
We call upon the Government of Canada to provide multi-year funding for the National Council for Reconciliation to ensure that it has the financial, human, and technical resources required to conduct its work, including the endowment of a National Reconciliation Trust to advance the cause of reconciliation.
Call to action 55 reads:
We call upon all levels of government to provide annual reports or any current data requested by the National Council for Reconciliation so that it can report on the progress towards reconciliation.
Call to action 56 reads:
We call upon the prime minister of Canada to formally respond to the report of the National Council for Reconciliation by issuing an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report, which would outline the government’s plans for advancing the cause of reconciliation.
Naturally, we are fully and firmly in favour of these calls to action. Earlier, the minister thoroughly explained the organization's mission, its mandate, its governance structure and representativeness on the board. That was all well explained, and the bill is fairly straightforward. We also applaud the obligation to table a report in Parliament and the government's obligation to respond to that report. We approve of all that and have no issue with any of it.
Nevertheless, some questions remain unanswered, and I urge the House to pay close attention to these issues. The first is funding. The 2019 federal budget included an envelope of $126.5 million to establish the national council for reconciliation, including $1.5 million in first-year operational, or start-up, funding, but we have no information about ongoing funding or how long that envelope is supposed to last. Details about how this is actually supposed to work are lacking.
Another lingering question is that of the scope. One thing that recurs frequently in this bill is all the entities the council will monitor in order to make recommendations. We can see that the council's current purpose is to “monitor...the progress being made towards reconciliation in all sectors of Canadian society and by all governments in Canada” and to “recommend measures to promote, prioritize and coordinate efforts for reconciliation in all sectors of Canadian society and by all governments in Canada”.
First of all, what does that mean? We would like to understand what is meant by “all sectors of Canadian society”. Crown corporations, surely, would be included. There are Crown corporations in Canada that could be scrutinized by the council, and government departments, too.
Will federally regulated private businesses also be subject to monitoring and investigation? Would an independent airline, for example, be included in the mandate to monitor and make recommendations?
The scope is very broad. It is perhaps a little too vague in the bill. The bill gives the council a great deal of latitude in its activities. This is not a problem in itself, but it could also undermine the council's effectiveness, because we think it could narrow its focus on government entities, rather than on private businesses. This is not to say that private businesses should be ignored, but rather, if there is one thing that should be looked at, it is the government, because the government needs to be held to a higher standard. Focusing on the government, then, only makes sense.
The other thing we need to keep an eye on is the monitoring of all Canadian governments. The bill refers to “governments” in the plural, so we see that there is a desire to monitor the provincial and territorial governments. Although indigenous affairs currently falls under federal jurisdiction, the challenges affecting first nations also relate to many provincial jurisdictions, such as health and education. We see here that the government wants to disregard jurisdiction and allow the council to monitor all government activities in Canada, including those of the provinces and Quebec.
I must admit that that is an irritant for us because we cannot support a federal council that would seek to put Quebec on trial. We are going to keep a close eye on that aspect of things, even though we are in favour of the principle of the bill, as I said earlier. This aspect does not change that support, but it is something members should be aware of.
The Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Québec, otherwise known as the Viens commission, was put in place to determine the underlying causes of all forms of violence, discrimination and differential treatment of indigenous men and women in the delivery of certain public services in Quebec.
In his report, the commissioner made 135 recommendations to the Government of Quebec. The report contains 142 recommendations in all, but seven of those were not for the Government of Quebec. We are left with 135 recommendations involving the Government of Quebec. These calls to action apply to all of the services that the government provides to indigenous peoples, such as justice, correctional services, law enforcement, health care, social services and youth protection.
The Government of Quebec announced $200 million in its 2020 budget to implement the commission's calls to action. Since October 2020, $125 million has been invested in enhancing, ensuring the sustainability of and improving public services, in addition to implementing cultural safety measures.
In the interest of independent and impartial monitoring, the Quebec ombudsman was given the mandate to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations set out in the Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Québec. The Quebec ombudsman has established an advisory committee that includes first nations and Inuit people in order to promote collaboration and ensure that the Viens commission's calls to action are translated into measures that meet the needs of first nations and Inuit representatives.
Another committee, made up primarily of university researchers and people from civil society, was also created to independently document the implementation of these calls to action. It operates out of the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and its first report was published in 2021. This is a great model to follow, in our opinion. We applaud all of Quebec's efforts in this area.
Getting back to the current bill, it could be said that despite what I just stated about what Quebec has already done, we may be seeing the establishment of another body to provide oversight and make recommendations in addition to the two that already exist in Quebec. Therefore, we can wonder if there will be overlapping jurisdictions, meddling in jurisdictions by Ottawa, or if the council will focus just on federal issues in Quebec by analyzing only matters under federal jurisdiction.
The council will be responsible for providing oversight and making recommendations. To that end it will need investigators and analysts. For the committee to properly carry out its responsibilities in this era of labour shortages, it will also be interesting to know the number of staff that this council will need. In short, despite our support, there are many grey areas as I have just mentioned.
In conclusion, it is time to leave behind the rhetoric, crocodile tears and symbolic acts and to take action. Quebec's motto is “Je me souviens” or “I remember”. Today, let us remember. We owe it to the victims of these repugnant acts that in many respects we have barely uncovered or understood.
I will end my speech by saying tiawenhk, which means thank you in the Wendat language.
, I would like to first thank my constituents in Nunavut for putting me here, for putting their trust in me. I will continue to work hard to ensure their needs are being met and to ensure their voices are being heard.
I also extend a warm welcome back to all the MPs. I hope they had a good summer, and I am hopeful that we will make changes that will have positive impacts for indigenous peoples and for Canada, in general.
I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the New Democrats on Bill , an act to provide for the establishment of a national council for reconciliation. The basis of this bill stems from important recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. I honour it for its work. I truly believe that when the commission made its calls to action, it did so founded in the knowledge that systemic changes would be made.
This bill has the potential to advance reconciliation efforts for Canada and for people who call Canada their home. However, the language of this bill requires amendments for clarity. The wording of this language is not strong enough for the important role it has. It does not reference the important legal obligations enshrined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and case law.
There seems to be a disconnect between indigenous-led recommendations and how the government will implement these changes. Without a clear process in place, communication and actionable change can fall through the cracks, as they have done for decades. New Democrats will propose changes so that indigenous peoples take the lead on reconciliation and the government, to implement recommendations made by the council that will be created. The government needs to hear the voices of indigenous communities and implement changes based on the solutions offered to it.
Indigenous peoples know what changes need to be made. Indeed, the Government of Canada has been told where the disconnections are. Canada must now continue to reconcile its relationship and perceptions with indigenous peoples. Indigenous people have completed a lot of research and advocacy on reconciliation. The government's response must acknowledge this work and be guided in its actions going forward. The many areas requiring reconciliation demand that this council be created so that reconciliation is acted on, measured and maintained.
Before I turn to some of these areas, I will share a personal story. I have spoken in this House about government interference in my life. This summer, I was reminded of some of this interference. I was contacted by a former teacher, and she emailed the following: “Did you attend grade 5/6 at Maani Ulujuk School in Rankin Inlet for part of the school year? I taught grade 5 and 6 and had a student in my class, a lovely little girl, who one day was suddenly called to the office by social services and put on a plane with her mother (and maybe brother) and sent somewhere, if I recall, Pond Inlet. I never heard after what happened to her. Was that you? It would have been 35 years ago.” The sad fact, in addition to this, is that this was not the first time I was taken out of a class to be flown to yet another community.
Having shared this, I ask members, what does reconciliation mean? Unfortunately, my story as an indigenous person is not unique in Canada. Unfortunately, my story is too common among indigenous peoples.
Compensation for the confirmed discrimination against first nations children in the foster care system continues to be fought by the federal government. Changes in housing accessibility and affordability, employment opportunities based on their existing strengths, and language accessibility for federal services are areas of great concern.
Mental health services need to be highlighted across Canada. Processes that have worked and proved to be successful are those run through indigenous practices, and they could be acknowledged. Social justice support for victims of crime and funding in support of such services can be acknowledged through this process. The needs of indigenous persons are important. They are the needs that they see and speak to.
There need to be mechanisms for stronger language and incorporating indigenous laws. Many Canadians recognize the two official languages of Canada as only French and English. With many federal and territorial services being translated into only these two languages, many people are left out of conversations. These conversations are essential and need to include those who speak languages that are indigenous, including Inuktitut.
The public should learn more about indigenous cultures through their viewpoint, which is critical to educating the next generation to prevent future atrocities like those that have occurred here in Canada. By learning history through indigenous perspectives, there is a bright future in which Canadians can know and learn from the past.
We support the passing of this bill to help support indigenous-led reconciliation. Bill would offer support in facing what has happened here in Canada. Too long has Canada ignored the voices of indigenous peoples. Too long has there been inequality in safe, accessible housing and meaningful infrastructure.
The Government of Canada must take a rights-based approach to ensuring that efforts toward reconciliation have positive impacts on indigenous peoples. We will, at debate, push for the use of such instruments.
There are 94 calls to action. These calls to action must be used as a framework for reconciliation.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be implemented in all its intents. Many elements of UNDRIP are incredibly important when speaking about reconciliation within Canada. In particular, I want to highlight the focus on education, health, and social and economic security. Article 21 states:
Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including...housing, sanitation, health and social security.
Finally, another instrument that must be drawn upon is the landmark Supreme Court decision in Haida Nation. This important case stated that reconciliation must be enacted honourably. Haida Nation states:
The controlling question in all situations is what is required to maintain the honour of the Crown and to effect reconciliation between the Crown and the Aboriginal people with respect to the interests at stake.
I have tried to respond to the former teacher who reached out to me. I was so touched by the fact that my long-forgotten memory of such government interference was indeed real. It felt so long ago that I wondered if it was a memory that I had made up.
I now stand here among members, having been elected by my constituents in Nunavut. As an indigenous MP, with my unique experience and voice, I stand among members as an equal. I plead for us to be the parliamentarians who stop the deprivation of indigenous people's rights and who respect, protect and govern based on indigenous people's strengths.
In creating this council, the federal government must implement its recommendations. With a clear plan and process in place, Canada can start to move in a new direction, a direction that acknowledges the past and seeks justice for the future—
Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the member for , for outlining what I think is a really important message to all parliamentarians.
With respect to this file, I have sympathy for the government and even the official opposition. This is a very difficult topic, understanding indigenous people, who are so absent from this place, and the ways we can create laws to have a better outcome. There is a deep irony in that.
When I was first elected I knew, coming from my position as the national director for the Métis of Alberta, that my experience there would in many ways influence my experience here. The conclusion I came to, when deciding whether or not my presence in this place would in fact be beneficial for the outcome of indigenous peoples, I returned to what I learned from folks who were houseless living in Edmonton Griesbach. That was the idea of harm reduction, that for every form of violence or oppression that could be committed by this institution to impact people there is also an ability for it to restrict its ability to harm people.
Where I come from in Alberta this actually happened. To make a quick reference, I was born in a small place called the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement. It is unique in Canada. It is the only place where Métis people have a land base still today. I should note, just to one of the official opposition member's comments, that the people were not consulted, nor are they planning to be consulted on this, which is a huge red flag.
However, returning to the point, indigenous people often see that if we can reduce the level of unilateral impact this place can have on our nations, that is a good thing. Therefore, when I decided finally that it would be a good decision for me to be in this place, it was to understand and share that message with all parliamentarians, through you, Madam Speaker, that we have a role. It is not just to make laws and to govern, but to have a responsibility to reduce harm where we see it.
This piece of legislation is important. It will seek to do that work. The government has tabled what has been a call to action by many survivors and many indigenous nations for a very long time, codified in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. I really commend the government for its ability to table this legislation, but I agree, in many ways, with many of the speakers who have made mention of the criticisms and failures of the bill as drafted.
One is that the government may unilaterally, by the minister's discretion, appoint two of the board members it feels would be appropriate to sit there. That is a huge concern when we think about the mass diversity of indigenous peoples in Canada. There is no one body or one function that can truly represent the interests of the many nations and the many people who live in Canada who are indigenous. That is a huge concern that I think the current government should be willing to address.
What I heard from the government today is that it is willing, through committee, to listen to these very important aspects presented by both the official opposition and the New Democratic Party. It is important that we understand that consultation, when we do it wrong, creates a generation of people who feel left out. It is my greatest caution to the government that it not replicate the systems that have excluded people for so long.
I invite the minister to come to Alberta and seek permission from indigenous peoples in all provinces, ask what a national body toward the implementation of these TRC calls to action means for them, and do it in a way that is public and transparent so that Canadians can join the conversation. Right now, this happens behind closed doors. Canadians do not know what is happening. Many indigenous people do not know what is happening.
I know my time is limited and I will have another opportunity to speak on this in the future. I just want to make sure that we can do this work at committee. I encourage the government to work with members of the opposition to do that.