Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, this is a very important motion and one that this House needs to act on very quickly. I would like to ask my hon. colleague this question. What does she think the positive impact of implementing these recommendations would be on the aboriginal community?
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion presented by the member from the New Democratic Party. I sat with her on the aboriginal affairs committee for a period of time.
I rise because this issue is very important to me. I probably would not be standing here today if not for the post-secondary program in my community. My wife and I were the first university graduates from our families and we were both the first in our families to graduate from grade 12. If not for the post-secondary program, I honestly and truly really would not be here. The quality of life that my children and my family enjoy today is key. The key to that quality of life has been the support I got from the post-secondary education program.
With both our families coming from poverty and being raised in northern isolated communities, we did not and could not afford the opportunity to attend post-secondary education. I feel that I serve my country and my people much better as a productive member of Canada by having secured an education and by contributing to what needs to be done to make our country even better.
This is what the post-secondary program has done for me, my wife and my kids. My two eldest children are now going to university as well. I know that they both are going to be a tremendous success and will continue to contribute to their community, their province and their country in the way that I hope I am doing in the role I am enjoying today as a member of Parliament in this great House of Commons.
When I look back at my situation and the situations back home, this is the aspiration of many first nations, Métis and Inuit youth in this country: to secure an education and to secure the support, because many of my people, whether they are first nations, Métis or Inuit, unfortunately find themselves in a situation where poverty is a daily reality. Education is the key to being able to rise from that poverty, as the parliamentary secretary spoke about and as my hon. colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan and many others have spoken about.
Having grown up in a community where poverty and such things are unfortunately the norm, we are starting to see a change. We are starting to see an emerging reality where there is a positive attitude, where people can see a light at the end of the tunnel. One of the biggest ways to support achieving that new pinnacle or that next level, moving out of poverty, is by securing that education.
I agree with the parliamentary secretary that the K to 12 system is key to this, but we cannot ignore post-secondary today, and I will speak a bit more to that as we move on.
For the most part, aboriginal people have existed on the margins of this great country. I will speak very briefly about three modern phases of aboriginal-state relations and I will put into context why post-secondary funding and institution support funding are key today.
From shortly after the world war ended until about 1969, aboriginal people were in their communities. Governments knew we were there, but there was never any response unless there was a crisis. Until a crisis occurred, the government response was usually ad hoc. There was no real resolution in the short, medium or long term. It was just an ad hoc crisis. That is the name of that phase. It was just an ad hoc crisis relationship between the aboriginal peoples of this country and the state.
Something changed in 1969. The spark that caused an upwelling within the aboriginal community was the issue we are talking about today: education. The white paper was introduced in 1969. One of the keys in that document, aside from language that our people did not like, was that in order for us to be contributing members of Canadian society, we needed to access post-secondary education, or our education system needed improvement.
That launched the next phase. Aboriginal people were tired of being marginalized. It was only in recent memory that they were able to hire lawyers and able to leave the reserves to shop or do anything. They needed a permit from the Indian agent. They all still remember not being able to vote until just recently. Coming out of that phase into the next phase, they challenged, stood up and wanted their rights recognized. The key issue that arose at that point was the Indian control of the Indian education document that came out in 1972.
From about 1970 until the early 1990s, it was very much a phase where aboriginal state relations were best characterized as confrontational. Aboriginal people used the courts to identify, protect and advance their rights. Unfortunately, blockades and other events occurred in Oka and Ipperwash where lives were lost. This was not a very positive time in that relationship phase from the early seventies to the mid-nineties.
However, out of that came some clarity. The Supreme Court, the Federal Court and the provincial courts said that enough was enough. They said that there were enough case law and decisions that the government and the first nations, Métis and Inuit people should use to guide the next stage of the relationship. They told all parties to take those tools and use them as a framework to establish a new relationship between Canada's aboriginal people and Canada.
With RCAP in 1993, we began to see a bit of a change in the relationship that began as an ad hoc crisis. It was “we know you're there but we really don't care if you're there” attitude. It was a phase where there was confrontation. The early nineties started with a more collaborative approach, in part fuelled by RCAP. We saw an increase in the devolution of programs to aboriginal communities. We saw over 100 self-government tables spring up across the country.
What we saw from the nineties to now was an emerging consensus that we were here to stay in this country and that we all needed to work together. We needed to build on the rights that were there. We needed to put them within the Canadian context so we could be Canadian together.
Having been a chief at the time that the Kelowna accord was negotiated, the Kelowna was the high-water mark in that relationship. The political accords signed between the first nations, the Métis and the Inuit were key documents which spelled out how the Government of Canada should proceed in its relationship with first nations, Métis and Inuit people to discuss issues of mutual concern, such as post-secondary education, housing, economic development, health and so on.
Unfortunately, that high-water mark was erased. What concerns me today is that we are starting to see a relationship going back to the middle phase, a phase that nobody wants. Certainly the first nations, Métis and Inuit people do not want to go back to that more confrontational phase after they have invested blood, sweat and tears to get to the relationship where collaboration ruled the day.
The number one priority achieved with the Kelowna accord and the political accords was to break the back of poverty in aboriginal communities. That had to be the number one pressing issue we had to address. Having said that, I am concerned that we are moving backward after achieving so much.
That is characterizing a bit of where we are at. It helps to set a context. I want to speak about aboriginal people themselves. I do not know how many of us in this House understand that 50% of the aboriginal population is under the age of 18 for the most part, for sure under the age of 20. In communities in my riding, 50% are under the age of 18. That represents potential that cannot go wasted, a potential that, if we mobilize this young population properly, could help break the back of the poverty that I spoke about earlier. This is a population we cannot ignore.
Yes, $305 million were talked about but I, respectfully, wholeheartedly disagreed with the parliamentary secretary's comment that the money could be spent in a better way. Sure, that could probably happen, but there is not enough there to meet the demand we have today. Any money can be spent in a more appropriate way but it is important to point out that what the parliamentary secretary and the government ignore is that government has not provided the infrastructure for proper data collection to occur.
We then have irrational numbers that people pick and choose and use against each other. The fact is that today we have the highest number of young people that we have ever seen in the history of the country who need support to go to post-secondary education because, unfortunately, many of them living in poverty. Start of story, end a story.
Therefore, we need that investment, they need that investment and Canada needs that investment today.
I am also concerned about some of the messaging coming from the government side that aboriginal people are to blame for the mess they are in. I think it is absolutely critical to understand that government policies, not necessarily just the Conservative government, but the past government, have forced aboriginal people, more particularly first nations people, to implement policies that discriminate against their own. Therefore, we have discrimination between on reserve and off reserve, between men and women, between children with disabilities and children without and between what status one was born with under the Indian Act membership code and what one was not born with.
It is those policies that have contributed to painting a real negative picture because people do not understand. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, which is what we have across the floor. It is that little knowledge about the realities that gets assembled to point the finger specifically at aboriginal people for the situation they find themselves in. That is what concerns me the most.
It must be understood that aboriginal people across the country are out there getting jobs. They are going to work in the morning. They are seeing their kids off to school, registering them, if they can, in minor hockey and minor sports, and they are paying their bills trying to do what Canadians do every day.
However, the future has them worried because the opportunities for success are extraordinarily narrower for aboriginal people than they are for the average Canadian because of the poverty they find themselves in.
What concerns me is that we see the media and many others profess that the sins of the aboriginal people are their own. However, they go too far when they say that. We have people who confuse the culture of poverty with the culture of the aboriginal people. The culture of poverty does not discriminate between the colour of our skin. Poverty wreaks havoc in one's life. Sometimes I get concerned with the messaging from all sectors of Canada that confuse the two and say, “It's your fault that you're in the situation that you're in”.
The good news in the aboriginal community is that we are seeing some of the highest rates of graduation from grade 12 in the history of this country and some of the highest rates of graduation from post-secondary institutions in this country. We are seeing the highest rates of business development, new businesses, successful businesses being developed in aboriginal communities by aboriginal people in this country that we have never seen before. It is unprecedented.
There is good news out there and I would like all members of the House to take the time to find out about that good news because it is simply too easy to find out the bad. When we confuse the bad with the message of connecting cultural poverty with the culture of aboriginal people, we are doing a huge disservice to aboriginal people and to Canadians in general. There is good news out there and there is a tremendous and positive amount of things happening.
Where is Canada at? This country is going through an economic boom in many sectors but mostly in the resource sector. Economic activity in the resource sector typically occurs near aboriginal communities. That economic activity provides the opportunity for skilled jobs in many different areas. It provides an opportunity for business development. When we talk about this economic boom in the resource sector, trades, professional training, management training, all these things become available. Skilled labour is needed within the mines or in whatever the resource activity. There are joint venture partnerships in business, partnerships in general and sole ownership. Opportunities present themselves. We need to look at where we are today and line up the resources to capitalize on the youthful population.
Canada is experiencing a labour shortage. Baby boomers are retiring at an alarming rate. Within the next five years I hear that up to 50% of teachers in the Canadian Teachers' Federation will be retired. We are seeing similar numbers in the nursing profession, doctors and in the trades. One just needs to look at the cost of building a house in Saskatoon now.
We have a tremendous opportunity before us and we have the circumstances lining up in the best possible way. The economic boom, the labour shortage and the healthy state of the country's fiscal capacity all line up to state very clearly that if we see investing in post-secondary education as an investment, we will see a huge payback to this country in the form of increased productivity and, at the end of the day, we would begin to break the back of poverty.
Investment in post-secondary training for our aboriginal youth is an investment in Canada, in the provinces and in rural Canada even more today as we stand here but, more important, it provides the opportunity to break the back of poverty.
I will now switch gears and talk about student funding. The parliamentary secretary mentioned some numbers a few minutes ago. A 2% cap on post-secondary funding was implemented in 1996 and it has prevented thousands of first nations students from attending post-secondary education just in that short few years. In 2007 and 2008, at least 2,858 students, first nations students in particular, will be denied access to post-secondary funding.
Since 2001, that is 13,000 students. Think about what 13,000 young people, working and contributing to Canada's productivity, would do for their families, their communities and Canada. Instead, unfortunately, many of them are still in their communities collecting social assistance because there are very few jobs. The cost of doing nothing is huge.
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples said that by 2016, if we maintain the status quo, it will cost government 47% more. That is a drawdown on Canada's productivity. Instead, if we invested we would see an increase in Canada's productivity.
This response today is extremely disappointing. It fails first nations youth who aspire to pursue their dreams of post-secondary education by not investing in the youth to ensure their success. We are seeing the government off-loading some of its fiduciary responsibility to the provinces. First nations, Métis and Inuit institutions are extremely successful but they need investment.
The government's response to the report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, “No Higher Priority: Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education in Canada”, is a complete, wholehearted, huge disappointment. I could not express it in words, from the phone calls and the correspondence I get from across the country. People are very disappointed that it is abandoning our youth.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, I point out that the minister, in his report, stated that the government would rather be forward-looking than looking at the loss of these 13,000 kids who could have gone to school because the it wanted to maximize opportunities for all qualified learners.
The minister needs to understand that these are qualified learners. They have their applications in, and they are waiting. Thirteen thousands students were denied funding, and way more than that have applied. Thirteen thousand is only the number of students who have their forms in, through the various stages of approval, only to be turned down at the end of the day.
That is only back to 2001. If we were to go back to 1996, it would be at least double that, I suspect. As we move forward, my biggest concern is that baby boom, which is bulging its way up into that 15 to 24 age bracket. It is that bubble that is coming up and if we keep the 2% cap, I am very concerned. This is where we are headed. This is why the investment needs to occur now.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, the government has to understand that the B.C. agreement fits a B.C. reality. The devolution of school control, or self-administration as I call it, in the prairie provinces happened almost 30 years ago. In the prairie provinces we have the primary level of education delivery. Joint parallel developments of secondary and third level services in Saskatchewan in particular and Manitoba far exceed where B.C. is at right now.
In many respects, the prairie provinces are further ahead with their educational system development than British Columbia. That is why the British Columbia chiefs who were here said that the B.C. model would not work in the rest of the country because this is a specific B.C. solution.
I would be more than glad to meet with the member to talk about what we could do in the prairie provinces and in many other parts of the country to make the system stronger. We are seeing huge success levels coming out of the first nations system in the prairie provinces.
My former tribal council did an education indicator's report that showed 92% of the students from grade 12 graduated versus the provincial system which was in the 80% range. I get concerned that first nation systems are being held up as not as good as the provinces, and that is completely wrong and misinformed.
I want to pass one compliment on to the minister and her department. I understand some people met with some representatives from the department, who are being very proactive in the aboriginal human resource sector development area trying to get some positive, forward moving initiatives done. I would be happy to contribute there if I can.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, we have to understand that the actual machinery of government operates separately from the executive in many cases. This is an example where the bureaucracy decided to undertake this path. Once the first nations, Métis and Inuit community across the country spoke with the previous Liberal government, measures were taken to begin to rescind and move away from that.
In fact, the member for Prince Albert successfully got the money that a Saskatchewan junior hockey league team received not to be taxed.
These are things that we have to work on as we move forward.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, I guess the best way for me to answer is to say that I watched a documentary about northern Ontario reserves. It probably was a reserve in the riding of my hon. colleague. The reporter asked a little girl, who was about 12 years old, if she had money what would she buy. The little girl said food. She did not say an iPod. She did not say a cellphone.
This is the situation in which many of these young people find themselves. This is why that bubble about which I speak is a huge, perhaps unfathomable to many members in the House. We must invest in that bubble because it will help Canada at the end of the day.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-52. I am going to speak mostly from a Saskatchewan perspective.
I have heard a few things that I am quite disappointed about from my colleagues across the floor with respect to Saskatchewan. I want to break it down and talk specifically about some of the things that I think are drastically unfair when it comes to Saskatchewan's treatment under Bill C-52, the budget of Canada.
First of all, we have heard the Conservative members from Saskatchewan boast about the spending in Saskatchewan. I think this is quite misleading from the perspective that we have also seen increases in taxes to Saskatchewan. It is from that perspective that I am going to spend a bit of time.
First of all, we have seen that taxes have been raised in Saskatchewan by tinkering with the basic exemption. Most people in Saskatchewan unfortunately earn middle to lower income salaries. What the tinkering with the basic exemption has done is cause most people in Saskatchewan to pay more taxes at the end of the year. This is not good because it clearly does not help Saskatchewan. That is one issue.
Then we have the issue of the child tax credit. It is not available to lower income families because it is non-deductible. We have a demographic in Saskatchewan, the low wage earners, who probably need this type of supplement the most but they are virtually unable to get it because it does not apply to them. The group that needs it the most is denied it. Other tax credits are not available to low income people, and again they are being shut out, for example, spousal support and so on and so forth.
The tax regime is not favourable to the majority of Saskatchewan residents because the tax treatment they are getting at the end of the day raises their taxes and does not allow them to participate in a lot of the supposed investments that the government has announced in Bill C-52. That is a concern for a lot of people in Saskatchewan right now. It has been one tax year already, and they have seen at the end of the year that holy cow, they are paying more taxes than they ever did and that is not good. They cannot find places to reduce the tax grab from the government. They are not very pleased.
Then there is the income trust fiasco. A lot of people in Saskatchewan lost their life savings because of the flip-flop that occurred. The Conservatives promised they would not do it. People took them at their word and people in Saskatchewan have suffered. We should chalk it up as another attack on Saskatchewan. People lost their life savings, and they are not very happy about that. I certainly would not be happy. I know many people who have lost a lot of money because of that broken promise, which is just one of many broken promises.
Then there is the registered education savings plan. Again, it can be argued that by raising it and changing it in the way the government did it could be good, but lower income people could not even meet the original benchmark. The government raised it but what help is it providing to lower income people to allow their children to pursue their dreams, to obtain a post-secondary education, to pursue the careers they would like to pursue? In effect they have been cut out. They are not happy with that either.
The working income tax benefit does nothing for lower income people. It does not help them scale the welfare wall. They are kept in the situation they are in because lower income people cannot access the benefit. They are not happy with that.
The gist of my speech so far is that lower income people in Saskatchewan are being left out.
The GST cut is fine but not if one does not have the income to purchase, because it is a consumer tax. Most lower income people do not have the disposable income to make large purchases so they benefit very little from the GST cut of 1%. Again it is the lower income people who are left out in the cold. They are not happy. I get calls. I talk to people, I get phone calls, and I visit different communities. People ask why they are being targeted. It is not fair.
I guess one of the biggest things on which everybody in Saskatchewan agrees is that the Kelowna accord was virtually killed and gutted. In my previous statements in the House, I talked about how Saskatchewan's share of the Kelowna accord, if it were implemented fully, would have been approximately $600 million or $700 million over five years. This is money that would have been invested in that young aboriginal population, to mobilize them into post-secondary education, to mobilize them into the workforce, to invest in housing, to improve the quality of life for aboriginal people in that province. When they do well, Saskatchewan does well.
With the Kelowna accord we would have seen aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people in Saskatchewan walking hand in hand, prospering, taking advantage of the opportunities available for them. Saskatchewan is doing fairly well. Saskatchewan just moved out of a have not status to a have status. We are worried because we do not want to slip back. Resource revenue is just that; it is one time and once it is gone, it is gone. What is Saskatchewan to do? Saskatchewan needs to firmly establish itself so it never slips back into being a have not province.
With the killing of the Kelowna accord, not only did the Conservative government abandon the aboriginal people in Saskatchewan, it abandoned all people in Saskatchewan, because as I said, when aboriginal people do well in Saskatchewan everybody does well. They would have walked hand in hand. They would have prospered and been able to capitalize on the benefits that Saskatchewan has to offer its residents.
I guess one of the big issues over the last month has been the broken promise to exclude resource revenue from the equalization formula. Very clearly, a promise was made. The Conservatives very clearly have broken their promise to Saskatchewan.
My colleagues from Saskatchewan are feeling the pressure, and I do not blame them for feeling that pressure, not only from Saskatchewan residents but I am sure from all sectors. Saskatchewan media has chastised my colleagues from Saskatchewan for their lack of action to stand up for Saskatchewan, for trying to mislead Saskatchewan with irrational numbers which I heard today. As I said previously, the Conservatives give a new definition to the algebraic term of “irrational numbers” because their numbers simply do not make sense. They are trying to confuse and distract from their broken promise. Very clearly, a promise was made and a promise was broken. That is what people in Saskatchewan understand.
People in Saskatchewan may be misled once, but they will not be misled again. People in Saskatchewan do not like to be taken advantage of or taken for granted. Do this once and they will not let it happen again. People in Saskatchewan do not think that the government cares for them, and they are going to be voicing their displeasure through many and various means.
I talked about income tax being raised in Saskatchewan. My colleagues across said, “Look, we are putting some $250 million into Saskatchewan this year”. People in Saskatchewan are paying for that because their taxes have been increased. They are paying for it because they are not able to access the tax deductions that are made available to everybody else.
At the end of the day, people in Saskatchewan are paying for their own lack of funding from the Conservative government. At the end, it is zero. I would say there is a net loss at the end of the day to people in Saskatchewan because of the way the Conservative government has manipulated the numbers.
It is a shame to mislead the people in Saskatchewan, but it is more of a shame to take advantage of lower income people who work very hard to make a living in Saskatchewan. Instead, they see their taxes are being raised. They are being marginalized even more. They are being given no support and then there is the promise that has been broken. It is unfortunate.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, a few things the member brought up were interesting. Yes, I mentioned some things from the previous budget, but Saskatchewan people are feeling the effects today and are not very happy. Then they see more of the same in this budget, which is bad, bad and bad. They are not very happy.
I cannot remember the name of the riding my colleague gave, but he said he would like to move to Saskatchewan. I would encourage him to move to Saskatchewan and maybe prop up some of the Conservative MPs there to maybe deal with this issue.
It is interesting that he talks about the Kelowna accord and says that the government is investing now. I do not know if the member realizes it but last year's announcement for aboriginal funding actually never left Ottawa because it was designed not to leave.
After talking to Saskatchewan people and others across the country, they have actually had a net loss in funding. That is unfortunate. I am not sure where this imaginary funding is coming from that the member speaks of.
One of the things we heard Mr. Calvert say was that this is one time money, that 85% of what we are supposedly getting is one time only. He said Manitoba is getting more than his province next year. Saskatchewan gets zero next year. This is not a good deal for us. Saskatchewan is being shafted. That is the end of the story and Saskatchewan people know it.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, the Saskatchewan Association of Northern Communities, better known as New North, has recently launched an ambitious program aimed at empowering youth, aged 13 to 29, in my riding.
The Northern Youth Leadership Program is designed to allow young people to play an active role with their local village and town councils.
Ten communities in my riding, La Ronge, Beauval, Buffalo Narrows, Cumberland House, Île-à-la-Crosse, La Loche, Pinehouse Lake, Sandy Bay, Stony Rapids and Black Lake are involved in the project so far.
The program allows first nations, Métis and non-aboriginal young people to participate in elected youth councils that run parallel to the local councils and report to them once a month. The goal of the program is to engage a generation of young people in civic issues so that they may encourage their peers to reject crime, substance abuse, vandalism and violence. Some of the project ideas in the various communities include the creation of a youth centre, a skate park and working more closely with elders.
The Northern Youth Leadership Program aims to provide practical, hands on experience for tomorrow's generation of leaders. I ask my colleagues to join me in wishing them success.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Cape Breton—Canso.
I am quite pleased today to speak on the subject of equalization. I am pleased because this debate affords me the opportunity to speak about this important topic while raising issues such as fairness, justice, truthfulness and honesty. Some people might argue that terms such as these may be a bit flowery for the often arcane statistical language one uses when speaking about Canada's complex equalization formula. The precise details are well known to those of us who deal with the minutiae of government policy on a day to day basis, but these details may not be known to the average Canadian.
Regular folks do not have the time to pore over the thousands and thousands of pages of information on government programs produced by our country's hard-working public servants. Regular folks are more concerned with working hard, making sure that their children and grandchildren grow up with good values so that they too may some day contribute in meaningful ways to their communities.
Regular folks expect their elected officials to do the monotonous work of combing through the endless documents to make sure that nothing is lost in the fine lines and they expect their public officials to do this in a fair, just, true and honest manner. Regular folks in Saskatchewan in most instances probably could not quote the precise numbers of the equalization formula, but regular folks in Saskatchewan know that a promise is a promise and that the Conservative government has broken far too many of them.
While I am pleased today to speak on this subject, I must admit that I get no pleasure in seeing the way the Conservative government has treated Saskatchewan's share of equalization in the last budget. I would like to take a brief moment to quote Premier Lorne Calvert's testimony to the Standing Committee on Finance last week. He said:
I'd like to begin by reminding committee members of commitments that were made to the people of Saskatchewan regarding proposed changes to equalization, in a letter delivered to myself from the now Prime Minister of Canada.... He said to me, “The Conservative Party of Canada will alter the equalization program to remove all non-renewable resources from the formula, as well as move the program to a ten-province standard.
Mr. Calvert went on during this testimony to outline promises from the 2006 Conservative election platform which restate the same promises that he received in the 2004 letter from the then leader of the opposition and now our Prime Minister.
Whether here in Ottawa or at home in Saskatchewan, Mr. Calvert has been a tireless crusader advocating fairness for Saskatchewan in equalization at every opportunity. While I may not agree with the New Democratic premier of Saskatchewan and many of his ideological positions, as a proud resident of that great province I admire his tenacity and the way in which he represents honesty and integrity.
Some have argued that his campaign is to bring attention to the Conservative government's betrayal of Saskatchewan as simple posturing, an attempt to shift attention away from his own government's issues and place blame on Ottawa's politicians. Like some of my colleagues in the House, I certainly would not try to know the thoughts or motivations of Mr. Calvert, but I am proud to say that I agree with his logic on this issue 100%.
Simply, a promise was made to Saskatchewan and a promise was broken to Saskatchewan. It appears as though promises were made to Canadians and to the people of Saskatchewan simply to mislead for political gain. When a political party or a government misleads the electorate, the political games are short-lived. Canadians do not like to be used for a political party's or MP's personal gain.
I am disappointed in what I have heard coming from the Conservative Party's Saskatchewan members of Parliament when this subject is discussed. Never in my time in public life, whether here in Ottawa or in first nations government and education have I been a witness to such deceit and breach of trust when people are placed in a position of prominence whereby their actions could help raise awareness of a great injustice and yet decide to sit mutely and do as they are told. Indeed it is a great tragedy.
Promises were made to the people of Saskatchewan by the Conservatives regarding the equalization formula, promises that were wilfully not kept, promises to remove non-renewable resources from the formula, promises not to claw back resource revenues and promises to ensure that as Saskatchewan further develops its resources its residents are not penalized for their success.
In some ways Saskatchewan has had a rough go of it in recent times vis-à-vis its neighbours, especially Alberta and British Columbia. There was a time not so long ago that Saskatchewan was the third most populous province in this great country. Decades of stagnation, out-migration and systemic changes in the agricultural economy have led to Saskatchewan's designation as a have not province more often than not, but this does not have to be a sad story.
I am proud to report that Saskatchewan is on the cusp of a major comeback focused on two important factors: our wealth of natural resources and our emerging competitive advantage brought about by unique and exciting demographic factors in the form of our fastest growing youthful aboriginal population.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government in a remarkably short period of time has taken steps to slow Saskatchewan's comeback through these broken promises which will adversely affect the amount of fiscal benefit derived from our natural resources.
We spent decades struggling to transition Saskatchewan out of its have not status toward have status. It is very simple to understand that non-renewable resources are non-renewable. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. Saskatchewan wants to keep the fiscal benefit derived from its non-renewable resources to build a stronger Saskatchewan, a strong, vibrant and viable economy that would entrench Saskatchewan as a have province for decades to come and at the same time make Canada stronger.
What the federal government has done is put the long term socio-economic viability of Saskatchewan at risk. I know Saskatchewan very well and this deceit from the Conservatives is a huge blow. It is a huge blow that is compounded by another betrayal.
The cancellation of the Kelowna accord harms the potential of our other underutilized natural resource, our first nations and Métis young people. The Conservative government has purposefully disadvantaged Saskatchewan. I believe it does not even have a clue or even understand what it has done to hurt Saskatchewan.
The Kelowna accord was a necessary first step that would have worked toward closing the gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians in areas such as poverty, housing, education and health.
The previous Liberal government, the provincial and territorial governments and aboriginal governments all agreed Kelowna was a historic event and yet the Conservative government dismissed and betrayed first nations, Métis and Inuit people across this country.
Saskatchewan's lost share of Kelowna was projected to be in the neighbourhood of $650 million to $700 million over five years, coupled with the twin blow of the broken equalization promise showing that aiding Saskatchewan's return to greatness is not a priority for the government. I believe Saskatchewan will make it despite these challenges, but the government certainly is not making that situation any easier.
The silence of the Saskatchewan caucus is a shame. In only one year the Conservatives have dealt a $1.5 billion blow to Saskatchewan. Instead of fairness that allows a province to reap the rewards of its economic development, we are given a new formula with pitiful justifications for its implementation.
Instead of the justice that Kelowna would have provided, we are given inequality, prejudice and discrimination. Instead of truthfulness and honesty, we are given broken promises defended through clumsy talking points that are so embarrassing the speakers must quietly shudder to themselves every time they have to repeat them.
To conclude, I would like to acknowledge the tremendous courage shown by the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley on June 5. Similar to Saskatchewan, the people in Nova Scotia were subjected to promises and agreements that were arbitrarily and capriciously thrown away by the Conservative government.
Media reports make reference to a heated debate behind the scenes during the past few weeks between the courageous member from Nova Scotia and his colleagues regarding how this budget negatively affects equalization in his province. It appears as though the member in question was not the only one among his now former Atlantic Conservative colleagues to raise concerns. Irrespective of how his colleagues may have individually voted, it appears as though several of the Atlantic Canadian Conservative members at least tried to do the right thing for their constituents. At least they tried.
The comparison between the members from Atlantic Canada and their seatmates from Saskatchewan is not flattering for the latter group. We have yet to see one small example of backbone from the terrified 12 on the subject of Saskatchewan's equalization. I must admit, however, that they are well practised in the art of parroting the finance minister's talking points.
Meanwhile regular folks in Saskatchewan go about their business, saddened in the knowledge that so many of their elected representatives refuse to fight for what is right. It appears to me that they are either too scared to stand up for their province or they truly believe that breaking promises which damage and risk Saskatchewan's future is the proper course of action. I do not know which prospect is scarier.
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Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that they try to deflect blame from the real issue here and not really talk about the promise to Saskatchewan that has been broken.
On June 5, the StarPhoenix called the Saskatchewan Conservative members “a group of political sycophants willing to bend the truth with constituents and try to convince them that black is white, instead of standing up for what they know to be true”.
I think they know what the truth is because on July 25, 2006, the Saskatchewan caucus wrote a letter to the finance minister and the Prime Minister, stating that “anything less than substantial compliance with our commitment will cause us no end of political difficulty during the next federal election”.
It is interesting that the truth is there. The promise has been broken. Saskatchewan people know this.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the lecture from the pulpit on this issue by the hon. member across. Members being treated in the way they have been treated over the last little while is certainly an issue that Canadians are paying attention to and are watching very closely.
In my province, for example, I know that when it comes to representing our constituents and standing up for our province we have to do what is best for our constituents, because the people in Saskatchewan are busy doing their jobs, paying their bills and getting their kids off to school. They are busy with life.
It seems as though the Conservative government has taken the algebraic term “irrational numbers” to a new level and is simply not moving on its promise. It is unfortunate that we are having this debate. As the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley said, it takes a simple solution, and that simple solution is simply not one that the government is prepared to undertake.
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, yesterday a courageous Nova Scotia MP decided that he could no longer stand idly by while the Prime Minister broke his word to his home province. He decided to keep his honour and stand up against the Prime Minister's promise-breaking ways. Unfortunately, not one of the Saskatchewan Conservative MPs has the same courage.
Today the StarPhoenix called Saskatchewan Conservative members:
—a group of political sycophants willing to bend the truth with constituents and try to convince them that black is white, instead of standing up for what they know to be true.
Why could at least one Conservative MP not stand up for Saskatchewan?
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, the Saskatchewan people are asking, Premier Calvert is asking, I am asking, where are our Saskatchewan Conservative members? Perhaps they have all joined the member for Palliser who ran away from the tough questions reporters were asking on equalization to buy a doughnut. None of them have the clout or the influence to fight for Saskatchewan. The residents of Saskatchewan know this. They also know the budget is bad for them.
How could Canadians from any province believe, much less trust, a Conservative government and a Prime Minister whose word is not worth the price of a doughnut?
View Gary Merasty Profile
Lib. (SK)
Mr. Speaker, the minister assigns blame and exaggerates the sins of first nations people for his government's blatant human rights violations. It provides no support for: children with disabilities; replacing burned down schools; people dying from black mould; and, worst of all, it is denying children their rights.
First nations people have a right to be angry. They are being blamed for the government's human rights violations.
The minister is clearly playing games with first nations funding. Why is he providing funding for first nations only until the end of June? Oh, right, that is when the national day of action is scheduled.
Why is the minister playing games with first nations funding? Is he afraid of the truth?
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