Madam Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in the House for the first time in debate. I am grateful for the support of my family, friends, volunteers and of course the residents of Calgary Forest Lawn for putting their trust in me to represent them in this great House.
I immigrated to Calgary Forest Lawn when I was five years old and grew up there along with my parents, brother and sister. I am forever grateful to my parents, who sacrificed so much. My mom worked multiple jobs and my dad worked hard as a taxi driver to provide for my siblings and me. We lived through many racist experiences. When I look back to them, rather than being angry, I use them to help me grow and to teach others important lessons. I learned to work through it all.
I went to high school there, where I met my beautiful wife and played many different sports. My wife's dedication to me and our two daughters is the reason I am able to be here. Her endless love and support keep me going every day and remind me of why I am here. She really has three children to put up with, and she does it with a smile.
I am a son of the community and learned many valuable lessons growing up here. This great country provided my family and me the opportunities to succeed, and we are so grateful for that.
I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the service of the previous member, the late hon. Deepak Obhrai, who served the residents of Calgary for 22 years until his untimely passing last year. Mr. Obhrai saw a lot of changes throughout his years in the House, including four prime ministers. He served in the Harper cabinet and he travelled the world. He is missed by many, and his 22 years have set a standard for me to live up to.
I also want to pay tribute to a mentor of mine who passed away far too young: the late hon. Manmeet Bhullar, an amazing MLA and leader. He taught me that seva, or selfless service to community, was the most important aspect of life. Manmeet died doing what he loved and what he taught, helping someone on the side of the highway on his way back to the legislature in Edmonton. His shoes are very big, both in the northeast and in communities at large. My goal is to continue what he started.
Turning to the topic at hand, the citizenship oath is very close to me and my family and so many of my friends and constituents. There are 108 languages spoken in Calgary Forest Lawn, so one might guess that many immigrants to Canada live in my area. Truly, I am proud to stand today as the member of Parliament for one of Canada's most diverse ridings, a place that people from all over the world call home and that is a success story of Canadian multiculturalism.
For many of those so privileged to recite the oath of citizenship, the moment is the culmination of a long journey. Some may have fled conflict-ridden countries in search of safety. Others may have fled poverty in search of opportunity. Whatever their story, they carry with them their experiences and cultures as they begin a new chapter with a solemn promise to bear allegiance to the Queen, to faithfully observe the laws of Canada and to fulfill their duties as a Canadian citizen.
While short and succinct, the words are not to be taken lightly. I do not believe for a second that any well-intentioned person who recites the oath is taking it lightly. Therefore, when individuals promise to faithfully observe the laws Canada, they are doing just that. They are not promising to obey some laws and not others, as if leisurely browsing a diner's menu for their preferred items. It is implied, indeed obviously understood, that they are promising to obey all laws. This of course includes the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations.
There are also some practical issues with the wording proposed in the bill. A 2017 National Post article anticipating similar changes to the oath remarked, “just as with a peace treaty between nation states, there's no real room for individual citizens to uphold or invalidate them.”
Also in the article, Michael Coyle, a Western University legal expert on indigenous land claims and treaty rights, is referenced as saying, “Off-hand, I cannot think of how an individual non-Indigenous Canadian could ‘fail to observe’ a treaty unless they were acting as a representative of the federal or provincial government.” If they were, and if I am not mistaken, in this situation indigenous communities can already make a legal claim against the Crown.
Additionally, what about the indigenous communities that never signed a treaty with the Crown? The majority of nations in B.C. are not under a treaty. The proposed wording of the statement would not acknowledge them and may even be perceived as an exclusion. The reality is that the current citizenship oath is fine as is and that this consideration of additional wording only brings up unnecessary issues. Why, then, has the Liberal government moved the bill in the infancy of this parliamentary session when there are more pressing issues facing this country?
The Liberals are wasting time in having the House debate the wording of an already well-worded oath. There are so many nations around the country that need access to fresh water and employment opportunities. There are daily suicides from despair, especially in the north, and the Liberals are focused on meaningless virtue signalling. The Liberals would say this is an important step on the path toward reconciliation, but Canadians see through their endless virtue signalling. Canadians see through the Liberals' desire to mask their inaction, at worst obstruction, by fixing an oath that was never broken in the first place.
The Conservative Party believes in the reconciliation process. After all, it was under a previous Conservative government that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established. Rather than focusing on fixing an unbroken oath, we believe in bringing forward policies that make real and measurable improvements in the lives of Canada's indigenous peoples.
The Liberals have failed to create sustainable, economic opportunities for indigenous people. There can be no lasting reconciliation without economic reconciliation. The Liberals deliberately delayed approval of the Teck project, which was recently pulled by the company due to the Liberal inaction that created regulatory uncertainty. They held a project hostage that had the wide support of the local first nations communities and would have provided their children with jobs and opportunity.
Within the last two weeks, the Liberals' inaction on the blockades has allowed radical protestors, many of whom are not indigenous, to harm the national economy and threaten the LNG project that has the support of the majority of the Wet'suwet'en people. These blockades are an example of the blockades the Liberals have been putting up against the energy industry.
For the Liberals to claim that they are advancing reconciliation by including additional words in the citizenship oath, while hindering legitimate economic projects that provide jobs and opportunity to first nations communities, is ridiculous. We should get the federal government out of the way and allow the first nations that want to get out from under their dependency on the government to succeed on their own.