Interventions in Committee
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View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
First of all Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you and the other members of the committee for having invited me in connection with the review of Bill C-292.
Mr. Chair, I want to thank you for the opportunity you're providing Mr. Goodale, Mr. Scott and me to speak to you as you commence consideration of Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord.
What is the accord about? First and foremost, it's about reducing the shameful gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, gaps that exist no matter where they reside, gaps in health, in education, in housing, in clean water and economic opportunity.
It's about working better. It's about governments and aboriginal leaders, working in partnership and in collaboration, finding new, innovative solutions, holding ourselves accountable by setting targets and by reporting on results.
Each of the policy areas agreed upon in Kelowna was subject to careful cabinet consideration. They were fully costed and built into the fiscal framework. I want to state without any equivocation--and I'm sure the former Minister of Finance who was with me will confirm this--that the $5.1 billion committed to in Kelowna was fully within the fiscal framework. Any suggestion that we had not accounted for these expenditures is without foundation.
The Kelowna Accord was what triggered a specific commitment: over a 10-year period, to take steps to reduce an unacceptable socioeconomic divide.
The accord commits the government authorities, whether federal, provincial or territorial, to develop implementation plans and to set objectives for each of the provinces and territories, working together with the appropriate Aboriginal authorities in each province and territory.
Mr. Scott and I, for example, following Kelowna, were able to conclude with the Government of British Columbia and the British Columbia first nations leadership the Transformative Change Accord, which is a focused action plan that sets out specific shared goals and the steps to achieve them, all in the areas, as I've mentioned, of education, clean water, health, housing, and economic opportunities. This was the first of what would have been action plans in each part of the country to allow us to tailor approaches to the unique circumstances of aboriginal Canadians in each province or territory.
Mr. Chairman, the question really is partnership and collaboration, innovative solutions, hard targets, and reporting on results. Why does anybody want to shy away from this? Why would anybody object to hard targets, to all of the governments coming together to deal with the very issues that are at the foundation of the shameful poverty in which aboriginal Canadians find themselves?
On September 12, 2004, first ministers and national aboriginal leaders met to address important aboriginal health issues. At that meeting we made a federal investment of $700 million in the aboriginal health blueprint. This was to help build modern, integrated health services for first nations and other aboriginal Canadians, and to train aboriginal health professionals to work in nursing and in medicine.
At that time, the first ministers and aboriginal leaders agreed that there should be a first ministers meeting directed at the root causes of aboriginal poverty. This was the beginning of a journey that 14 months later led us to our destination--the meeting held in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Those short months allowed all governments and each of the aboriginal organizations to consult academics, community professionals, and experts. Those months allowed all of the aboriginal leadership gathered under the various organizations to ensure that all who were present were equipped with the best solutions, both in and out of the box, going into the meeting.
As first ministers, we were determined in Kelowna, Mr. Chairman, to develop better harmonization of programs and services, recognizing the central role of aboriginal governments and service providers in this whole area and seeking to end the jurisdictional turnstile that limits program efficiency and effectiveness.
For instance, the aboriginal health blueprint was designed to ensure for the first time that we had a seamless harmonization of our health delivery systems for aboriginal Canadians in every province and territory. Officials and ministers worked to ensure that the issues of aboriginal women were front and centre, and we committed at Kelowna to hold an aboriginal women's summit to move forward on issues too long ignored. That summit should have been held by now.
We worked to ensure that no longer was the Métis nation excluded from intergovernmental processes and that all governments were committed to ensuring Métis-specific adaptation of programs and services. We worked hard to ensure programs for the Inuit that were tailored to work in the unique conditions of northern Canada, and we worked to ensure that for the first time ever, federal funding was available to assist provinces and territories in adapting approaches to serve the very pressing needs of the growing urban aboriginal population in very significant ways.
All of the governments agreed that education was essential for any progress to be made, and that it was the key factor in improving the economic status of Aboriginal Canadians, and for providing them with better employment prospects, for giving them the means to exploit economic opportunities, and in general improve their health and living conditions.
We agreed under the Kelowna Accord to establish a regional school system for the first nations and to provide them the support they desire in addition to the legal authority needed to implement modern institutional structures and to manage institutions responsibly so that young Aboriginal people can be provided with a quality education.
The provinces and territories committed to this and agreed to cooperate in setting up such a system, to ensure that it would mesh with the existing public education system and train future teachers and education professionals to work in these institutions under the authority of the first nations. They also made a commitment to take various measures to improve learning conditions for young Aboriginal people in the pubic education institutions that most of them attend.
These measures include the following: encouraging family participation in education; establishing local objectives about the number of young Aboriginal people completing Grade 12; facilitating the transition of public education systems to the new first nations education system and vice-versa; working together with Aboriginal educators and parents to meet the needs of children encountering learning difficulties and on curriculum development; lastly, and this is every bit as important, to increase the number of teachers and education professionals who are Aboriginal people and to increase the Aboriginal content of programs of study dispensed in each province and territory.
Mr. Chairman, I could speak to the other innovative aspects of the Kelowna accord. Undoubtedly, we will get into this in the discussion to follow. But given the time constraints, let me close by speaking to a very different area of importance. That is the agreement that all governments, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, are to hold themselves accountable to reporting publicly on progress.
Governments have never been short on rhetoric when it comes to the aboriginal file. Setting agreed-upon objectives, establishing regional targets, and public reporting were designed to ensure that all governments—aboriginal and non-aboriginal, federal, provincial, and territorial—were accountable for progress. In this way, the results, not rhetoric, become the objective. Despair would be replaced by hope as we move forward. We set ambitious targets to eliminate the gaps in educational achievement and housing and to make significant strides in health care and clean water. Mr. Chairman, these targets are fully achievable with the right innovation, investment, and partnership.
A new forum of federal, provincial, and territorial ministers, and aboriginal leaders would ensure progress and keep us on track. The accord specified this forum would meet annually and that it would be mandated to take corrective action. This forum, Mr. Chairman, should be meeting now. The days of empty promises were over, to be replaced by a focus on the results achieved and the successes won. What all of us believed is that we had to establish an accountability framework, and that the setting of goals, the reporting of data, and the court of public opinion would ensure that each government and each organization would challenge its respective officials and institutional partners to make progress. In that way, real results would benchmark the track that we were on, to share the best practices based on what each jurisdiction was doing better than another, to bring progress everywhere, and to ensure that no one was left behind.
Parliament and parliamentarians now have the opportunity to act. All the parties to the Kelowna accord—the aboriginal leadership; provincial and territorial governments, of all political stripes; and all opposition parties in the House—support the Kelowna accord. They support its goals and its principles.
Mr. Chairman, the Government of Canada gave its word in Kelowna. So let me just say that first ministers, aboriginal leaders, and Canadians across the country are watching us. I would encourage all members of this committee to support the speedy passage of Bill C-292.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Ms. Neville.
I don't think there's any doubt—and I think this will be confirmed by everyone who was at Kelowna—that Kelowna had a tremendously positive effect on relationships. I simply ask you to go back to long before Confederation. The relationship between Canada's aboriginal peoples and the government in Ottawa has consisted of the government in Ottawa telling, dictating, imposing, and the aboriginal Canadians having to accept, with no buy-in. The kinds of problems that we're facing in terms of health care and education, the problems involving our youngest and fastest growing segment of our population, are not going to be solved by a central government or provincial government simply dictating the answer. There has to be a buy-in, and that buy-in only comes if you work together.
That's why Kelowna didn't take place only in Kelowna that day. Kelowna began over a year and a half earlier, when we began to work together in round table after round table—and Mr. Scott can go into this. That's what really built and meant to build its success. And that's why, in fact, the relationship was so strong coming out of Kelowna. It was for precisely that reason: for the first time, there was a true partnership.
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
Your question demands a brief response, and that response is yes. It does threaten the direction that we, you, the provincial and territorial governments and the Aboriginal chiefs identified, which is to say the need to remedy the absolutely unacceptable situation that you have just described.
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
The amount is certainly not sufficiently high to fill the gap, but it would certainly allow for significant progress.
I would also like to add that for housing, the total we discussed was over $1.6 billion, which is much more than $300 million. In any event, you are right: $300 million would certainly be a good start. You are also right to say that the Kelowna Accord is not the end of the road, but rather the very beginning.
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Chair, there have been over the course of the last number of years some very extensive studies on the relationship, and on the policies of the Government of Canada and of a number of other provincial governments going back to Confederation and then to union governments before Confederation, regarding how aboriginal issues were dealt with. I don't think any Canadian reading those would feel very proud of what transpired.
The point you're making in asking how this could have happened over these years may be explained by the circumstances of the time, but I don't think I would buy that as an answer. I think this has been a very deeply human issue in which paternalistic policies misapplied have led to the situation in which we now find ourselves.
Let me just answer for one second.
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
I've got to say that if you look at the debates in the House of Commons, in which all the political parties who have been here historically were involved, you find very little debate that really focused on the human tragedy and the need to turn it around. I think the answer is that we all bear our share of the blame. I think the aboriginal leadership also must step forward and accept its responsibilities.
The question you now ask is what we should do. I believe that the course in which we should engage includes the original meetings between the aboriginal leadership and cabinet, the round tables that Mr. Scott engaged in right across the country--because they have to be involved--and then the setting of very clear targets and the commitment of money to achieve them. That is by far the best answer.
I think you are absolutely right. I wish it had been done much earlier.
A lot was done earlier with the healing fund and the aboriginal head start program, but I think this is the first time a policy with such a comprehensive nature has been followed. Mr. Scott may want to complement this, but I do believe that this is the right course.
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
No, I didn't, but we can certainly get one for you very quickly. There are a lot of them available.
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
Probably not, because I assumed that you had read it. It was tabled in the House of Commons.
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
All 13 leaders at a publicly televised meeting stood up and endorsed the accord, as did the leadership--
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
I'm answering you. And following that, there was a signed agreement with the province of British Columbia to have a transformative change agreement.
View Paul Martin Profile
Lib. (QC)
You saw the provincial leaders and the Prime Minister of Canada all stand up and endorse the accord. You saw it happen. You saw the official signing with the Premier of British Columbia of the--
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