Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion by the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. 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 C-27, the first nations financial transparency act 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 C-47, 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 C-45 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 C-45. “[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 S-8, 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.