The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Mr. Greg Rickford (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to this motion, tabled by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. I appreciate the working relationship that we have on the standing committee.
Our government's number one focus is on creating jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. We are seeing the results of this work. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the global economy remains fragile but Canada has produced more than 900,000 net new jobs in recent years. This is no small feat in the current economic climate.
As we move forward in 2013, our focus remains the economy. We know that in continuing to develop, provide our children with access to good education, train for the job skills of tomorrow, reduce red tape and equip our businesses to succeed worldwide, this includes expanding opportunities for aboriginal peoples to fully participate in the economy. We know there are tremendous opportunities to promote and encourage greater aboriginal participation in the economy and we remain committed to working with willing partners to do exactly that. We are focused on removing barriers to economic development on reserve, helping aboriginal people develop the skills they need to enter the workforce and providing first nation communities and the regions they are located in with greater autonomy to manage their own land and resources.
We can all agree that increasing aboriginal participation in the economy is one of the most effective ways to improve the well-being and quality of life of aboriginal peoples in Canada. It is also vital to Canada's future economic prosperity.
Since the economic action plan was implemented in response to the global economic crisis, Canada has recovered almost all of the output and jobs lost during the recession. The number of jobs has gone up by more than 750,000 since July 2009, and it is now 260,000 higher than the peak reached before the recession, which represents the highest job growth among the G7 countries. These figures are very reassuring to Canadians, in light of the continuing economic uncertainty around the world.
Key to our economic strength is the continued participation of aboriginal peoples in the economy. The natural resource sector is an important case in point. Canada's natural resource sector employs close to 800,000 Canadians. The mining sector is the largest private employer of aboriginal people, who make up some 7.5% of its workforce. Aboriginal people represent 4.3% of the energy sector's workforce and 10% of the oil sands' workforce. The resource sectors also generate billions of dollars' worth of tax royalties and revenues annually to help pay for government programs and services.
Our resource strength is set to continue to expand well into the future. We currently estimate that over the next decade there will potentially be as many as 600 new projects, representing more than $650 billion in investments, across the country in resource development. Some of these will be taking place in northwestern Ontario in the great Kenora riding. These projects will create jobs across our region and throughout Canada and will continue to substantially improve our country's economic prosperity. In fact, the numbers continue to climb as new opportunities are identified.
Resource development is vitally important to aboriginal communities across Canada. Take, for example, Fort McKay First Nation in Alberta. It has the largest business relationship with oil sands producers of any first nation community. Fort McKay has gone from having a single janitorial contract in 1986 to running corporations with reported earnings in 2008 of over $120 million. Unemployment in the community is under 5%. It has a youth centre, a health clinic, and a new housing complex with a hundred homes rented to community members.
Prior to the development of diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, the Tlicho First Nation had small, local businesses in traditional pursuits. Today, it has far more diversified economic activity ranging from retailing to multi-million dollar mining service companies.
There are many more examples of our government partnering with aboriginal communities on resource development projects through the aboriginal business development program. The Kitsaki mining limited partnership is a $3 million commercial mining extraction equipment project for use in the operations of the open-pit and underground La Ronge gold mine project of Golden Band Resources in Saskatchewan. Our government contributed $1.1 million to this project.
Just last week, the minister was in British Columbia to announce new regulations under the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act that would allow for the Kitimat LNG liquefied natural gas facility on the Haisla First Nation's Bees Indian Reserve No. 6 to move forward. This natural gas facility will provide Canada's energy producers with a doorway to overseas markets, in addition to creating well-paying skilled jobs and economic opportunities for the Haisla First Nation and the entire northwestern region of British Columbia.
These economic development projects obviously have economic spinoffs for all sectors of the Canadian economy, and especially for first nations communities. That is why it is important for Canada to do what is necessary to attract international investments in the provinces and territories. This includes regulatory reform north and south of the 60th parallel.
Regulatory processes that are simplified and clearly laid out will give businesses the confidence they need to take advantage of economic opportunities and maximize the use of the resource sector to create jobs for Canadians across Canada, including aboriginal peoples, while still protecting the environment.
In 2009, the government fundamentally changed the way it does business with aboriginal peoples. Instead of promoting economic development using an outdated, ad hoc approach that we had seen used by prior governments, we are focused on forging strategic partnerships with willing partners and developing innovative ways to overcome the traditional structural barriers to economic opportunity in aboriginal communities.
This includes growing private sector partnerships and investment; strengthening aboriginal entrepreneurship; having small business centres on reserves, including isolated and remote first nation communities; developing the aboriginal labour force through skills and trade investments in HRSDC; and enhancing the value of aboriginal assets.
Through this approach, our government is working with its partners to ensure that aboriginal peoples benefit from the same job, income and wealth creation opportunities as other Canadians.
On average, we have created or contributed over $45 million annually to support aboriginal business development, aboriginal participation in large-scale energy and resource development projects and improved access to capital for aboriginal business development opportunities.
We are also working with aboriginal peoples to remove the structural barriers that are holding them back from fully participating in the economy. For example, just this past month the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development announced that eight more first nations will soon be operating or developing their land codes under the First Nations Land Management Act. These eight first nations joined the 18 first nations that were added last January, bringing the total number of first nations benefiting from this regime to 69 first nation communities. This regime gives first nations freedom from the 34 land-related sections under the Indian Act, and provides them with greater autonomy by taking the minister out of the equation and giving them back control over their reserve lands and its resources. More specifically, first nations can now determine how they want to develop, protect, and use their own land on reserve.
The benefits of this regime are clear. First nations operating with their own land codes are successfully taking advantage of more and more economic development opportunities because they are able to operate at the speed of business. Imagine that.
For example, Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan has been operating under the First Nations Land Management Act since 2004. Since that time, over 700 jobs have been created in the community and currently generate approximately $90 million in revenue annually. It is incredible.
Last spring, Bill C-38 amended the FNLMA to enable first nations operating under the act to further unlock the economic development potential of their reserve lands. These amendments simplified the process of developing their own land codes, further removing the legislative barriers that were preventing or delaying first nations from taking full advantage of the benefits of assuming full responsibility for their lands under FNLMA.
More recently, as part of Bill C-45, the Jobs and Growth Act, 2012, our government introduced amendments to the land designation provisions of the Indian Act that will allow first nations to more quickly pursue economic development opportunities through leasing portions of the reserve land while retaining full ownership of their lands. These amendments respond to many first nations who have expressed frustration at the cumbersome and time-consuming process that existed previously and which had negatively impacted their ability to attract and retain investors at the speed of business.
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation spread in the media and in the first nation communities as to what these amendments involve. I want to reiterate that these amendments have nothing to do with land surrender. They have to do with the leasing of land for economic development purposes through a decision-making process that takes place in first nation communities by their citizens and their government. It really is as simple as that.
Our government is working with our aboriginal partners as well as with the provincial and territorial governments and the private sector to increase aboriginal participation in key sectors of the Canadian economy.
For example, in 2010, we launched the strategic partnerships initiative, which helps aboriginal Canadians take advantage of complex, market-driven opportunities for resource development, particularly in priority economic sectors such as forestry, fisheries, mining, energy and agriculture.
To this day the initiative has supported more than 60 aboriginal communities and some of the largest resource development opportunities across Canada, including the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario and the lower Churchill energy project in Atlantic Canada.
However, we are not only focused on resource projects south of 60. We also know that Canada's north is home to world-class natural resources, representing tremendous economic potential.
During his trip to the north this past August, the Prime Minister stated that our government is committed to ensuring that northerners benefit from the tremendous reserves of natural resource found in their region. For the benefits to flow, it is necessary to get resource projects up and running in an effective, responsible and sustainable way, to put agreements in place with territorial governments and first nations to ensure that revenues generated by these initiatives are to their direct benefit and stay where they belong, up in the north.
To this end, our government has taken significant steps to reduce red tape and streamline regulatory requirements in the north. We introduced Bill C-47, the northern jobs and growth act, in the House of Commons on November 6, 2012. This bill is currently before committee and if passed into law will increase certainty and help create a better climate for private sector investment and development across the territories. The bill includes the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act and the Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act. It also includes amendments related to the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act.
These measures fulfill outstanding legislative obligations under the Nunavut land claim agreement, as well as the Gwich'in and Sahtu land claim agreements. They also respond to calls from aboriginal groups, government and the private sector for improvements to regulatory processes in the north.
Improving the regulatory regimes for the abundant natural resources in the north could help Canada prosper and could create billions of jobs for decades. The meaningful action we are taking in the Northern Jobs and Growth Act will help release this potential.
Our government will continue to develop Canada's abundant natural resources to benefit Canadians, including aboriginal peoples. We have a vision of a future in which the aboriginal peoples are autonomous and prosperous, manage their own activities and make a significant contribution to the well-being of the entire country.
Our government continues to take concrete steps to build the conditions necessary for aboriginal communities to participate more fully in Canada's economy.
In closing, we remain committed to working with willing partners to improve the long-term prosperity, health and sustainability of aboriginal people, their communities and all Canadians.
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with my esteemed colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona.
It is with some pleasure that I enter the debate, because as I read out to the parliamentary secretary, the New Democrats, the official opposition to the government, have asked the House to confirm the government's commitment to follow the law. We have asked the government's commitment to actually begin and fully implement treaties and consult first nations before the government enacts laws that affect first nations.
For Idle No More and the concerns that have happened across the land on specific resource projects or any of those disruptions, the government only has itself to blame. Time and time again, the Conservatives say the words we hear in this place about consulting and respecting first nations' rights and title, then they bring in another law without consulting first nations' rights and title and wonder why first nations from coast to coast to coast rise up against the government and say that they expect and demand better.
I come from northwestern British Columbia, and 35% to 40% of the constituents I represent are from first nation backgrounds. Not only are the first nations a profound part of our history and culture, but a crucial and critical part of our future. First nations are informing the way that we work, the way that we live, the way that we think about our land and our communities. This is an important lesson the government would do well to serve.
I remember the Prime Minister visiting in his Challenger jet with all his security into the northwest at one point. He flew in for an exclusive fundraiser at a lake that was very nice. By some coincidence, the same day, the first nation territory was raising four totem poles. It was the first time they had done such a thing in almost a century.
Being a good parliamentarian, I extended an invitation to the Prime Minister through his office to say, “Why do you not come down? There is a feast happening. The first nations there will treat you with honour and respect, even if they disagree with your policies, because they know what honour and respect actually look like”. The response of the Prime Minister's Office was, “Not a chance, ever”.
The Prime Minister went to his exclusive fundraiser while the first nations were raising four totem poles. While the extension of the offer and the invitation had come from the first nations themselves, the Prime Minister's Office, and one would only assume under the direction of the Prime Minister, felt that it was not an appropriate way for a Prime Minister to spend his time.
There is a problem that happens too often in politics, and particularly with Parliament and first nations, where we only hear the negative stories, the hard stories, because there are so many of them. In first nation communities, we are all too familiar with the statistics and the realities of first nation people. We know about the elevated suicide rate. We know about the depression and the economic backwardness in which government after government has left first nations. We know that first nation students going to school this morning received one-third less funding than non-first nation students, students who do not live on reserves.
It seems to me that there is also an important conversation to have about the successes, and not the cherry-picked successes. The government likes to play favourites and say that all we have to do is free up property rights. Then places such as Kelowna, Kamloops, downtown Vancouver and the oil patch will be the examples that all first nations can use, because obviously all the reserves around Canada are situated on such absolutely high-value property as the ones outside of Kelowna or in the oil patch in northern Alberta. That is in fact not the case for the vast majority of reserves that the Canadian government saw fit to place first nations on. That is a fact.
The success stories that I talk about, coming from the northwest of British Columbia, are homemade success stories. They are success stories that pushed and fought and struggled against government doctrine, against the ignorance of the government of the day.
I think of the Haida First Nation, who fought on the line with the Government of Canada and British Columbia to defend their island of Haida Gwaii. They fought to establish a regime in which land management is a co-management process, where half of the boards on land management use in Haida Gwaii are Haida and half or non-Haida. They find ways as neighbours, as partners, to develop the land but not the way the Canadian and B.C. governments wanted to do, which was to strip-mine the soul of the island. They actually foresee a future in which our children have an opportunity.
I think of the Tahltan First Nation in northern B.C. faced with the prospect of Shell Canada, this government and previous governments wanting to drill for gas and frack at the very heart of the Sacred Headwaters of the Stikine, the Skeena and the Nass rivers, three of the most critical rivers in all of British Columbia. They wanted to drill and frack for gas at that very same place and had no ability to actually confirm that there would not be poisoned wells coming up everywhere.
The Tahltan First Nation, without any money, without big support and without any help from people in the government, stood up against one of the most powerful companies in the world and got it to see reason, to see that there are better prospects and better places to be. Just recently, Shell, against all odds and against the advice of the government, decided to forgo its leases in the Sacred Headwaters. The B.C. government finally came on side and said that maybe it was time to protect certain places, that drilling for oil and gas everywhere might not be such a great idea. It was the Tahltan First Nation that led that.
I think of the Kitsumkalum and the Kitselas nations that just recently signed a deal with CN. This was quite an amazing day. On a day just next to the day of national action for Idle No More, I was at an event in Kitsumkalum, just outside of Terrace, B.C. We stood on the railway track of a new railway spur, with the first nations in full regalia standing across the railway line in front of a train. They stopped that train. The RCMP and the broader community were in attendance. We were there to cut a ribbon because CN had negotiated with the first nations to have a revenue-sharing agreement to allow that rail spur to be built to a quarry that is now building jobs for the entire community.
It was somewhat ironic to see a model of what it looks like if the parties actually negotiate in good faith with first nations. All seem to benefit. I think of the Haisla First Nation that has stood up against the northern gateway even though money gets splashed around, even though the government tries to bully anybody who happens to have an independent thought on putting an 1,100-kilometre pipeline from Alberta to the port at Kitimat, and then driving 250 supertankers through some of the most narrow and treacherous waters in the world.
When the Haisla First Nation stood up, they said they were open for business but under their management. They were able to sign deals with resource developers on their terms. They will not be bullied. They lawyered up. They invested in their young people and got education going a generation, two generations, three generations ago, despite all the adversity of the residential school and the travesties that government after government set upon first nations.
I think of the Nisga’a signing the first modern-day treaty. They are still pleading with the government to actually have a relationship. The government talks about respect. It talks the talk but will not walk the walk. It will not even meet with the Nisga'a, who are a model for first nations across this country on how to develop a full first nation governance and constitution. The government simply washes its hands of the entire experience.
The Canadian government and the Crown's relationship with first nations is well documented as a dysfunctional relationship. I sat in the House as the Prime Minister welcomed in first nation, Métis, Inuit leaders to this place to express what I believed was a sincere apology to the first nation, Métis and Inuit people of Canada for the travesty of residential schools.
We can all agree, whatever our political persuasion, that when such a thing is prosecuted upon young people and families as an official policy of the Canadian government, generation after generation, there comes a time to face up to that reality and that history and apologize. An apology often means that behaviour will be corrected. If someone apologizes to me and they mean it, then I suspect that the thing that they did that brought on the apology will not be continued.
However, what was the very next thing the government decided to do? It was to cut the funding to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which had been established to help people deal with the effects of residential school experiences. That was the next thing it did after it apologized.
The Conservatives wonder, as they are attacking first nation leadership, why the first nations are so upset. Why will they not trust the government when it only wants to be friends? Yet time and time again when first nations come to the table with their hands extended to try to reason and negotiate with the government of the day, the government has other voices in its ear, other friends it would like to listen to first.
If there is some inconvenience for the oil companies in environmental assessments and first nation law, then it will try to shuffle those out of the way and create profound uncertainty in the resource sector. I have heard this, not from first nation leaders alone but from those in the oil and gas sector. They say that the government hands them, time and again, a poisoned chalice where they cannot acquire the social licence to build a project because the public watches the government in action, watches it strip down environmental laws, watches it treat first nations with total disrespect, calling them radicals and enemies of the state.
What do first nations and people who have any concern for first nations' rights and title, and the environment do? They stand up to that bullying. They stand up and resist and join hands, community to community, family to family, friend to friend. That creates the very uncertainty that the Conservatives think they are somehow not a part of, but they are implicated.
We must be allies in the true sense of the word. We must find a way to get over the arrogance and inability of Canadian governments, Liberal and Conservative, consistently down the line to listen and understand the realities of first nations. The government must not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. It means not bringing in legislation that overrides first nations' rights and title and the duty to accommodate and consult, or forcing first nations into courts and costing the Canadian taxpayer untold millions of dollars fighting court case after court case and making lawyers rich, when the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly defines what is going to happen at the end of the day.
Now we find out from government lawyers in the Department of Justice that in fact the government consistently gets advice that legislation the Conservatives bring in will end up in court because it is fundamentally unconstitutional and would not pass a charter challenge. Thereby the government knowingly brings in things for politics that ultimately cost millions of dollars. It serves to make no one better, but helps the Conservatives score a cheap point for some photo-op for a minister they think is on the ropes again.
This has to stop, and it will stop when a government actually sits down, listens and attends that pole-raising ceremony and attends the feast with respect and humility as one does nation to nation. Until that happens, all of these kind words and sentiments of economic development and prosperity for one and all do not mean anything because they will not happen. The way they will happen is with respect, sincere friendship and finally the Canadian government, if we can imagine the day, acting as an ally to first nations rather than what it is.
Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to share this time with the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. I share his passion for this topic.
I also share the passion of the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan who has tabled this motion. On behalf of the first nations who I am in consultation with, I wish to thank her for bringing forward this matter to the House.
I absolutely stand in support of this motion that calls for greater action and the improvement of the economic outlook for first nations Inuit and Métis, particularly in the coming budget, to commit action to treaty implementation and full and meaningful consultation.
The proof will be in the pudding when the next budget is tabled. We have heard lots of promises from across the floor. I can assure members that it will not just be the official opposition or other opposition parties will be watching that document carefully, but also all of the indigenous peoples of our country.
On treaty implementation, which I will get to in a minute, certainly the government has been falling down. Even though some mechanisms were put in place to resolve specific claims, the actions by the government have in fact not resolved the matter and have made things worse.
First, I want to reiterate the call by my colleague, the MP for Timmins—James Bay, who called for Parliament to step up and finally take serious action on the economic, social and moral deficit in respect for and taking action to lift our aboriginal peoples from a century of discrimination and poverty. It is very important we reiterate that we should not just talk about economic strategies and the implementation of treaties, but that we should talk about the basic issue of why it is critical to move forward on those matters.
Second, he reminded us that we were all treaty people. There is one thing I have heard over and over again over the last year, including when I had the honour of being the critic for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. It is the reminder which has come from the elders, the chiefs and council members, the aboriginal youth and National Chief Shawn Atleo, which treaties were entered into by both sides. We have responsibilities under the treaty in the same way as the first nations. We are treaty people.
Third, concrete action is needed to restore a good faith relationship. We have heard that over and over again today.
The government claims that the real issue is real engagement in the economy and jobs. Engagement in the economy requires equitable access to education. How does one get a well-paying job unless he or she has access to advanced education, or even to get through grammar school with a 35% graduation rate as National Chief Shawn Atleo has frequently pointed out? He is a great advocate for greater support for indigenous education. He has said that there is a higher rate of incarceration of aboriginal youth than graduation from high school. Clearly, they cannot get a job that is well paying and contribute to the economy unless they have equitable access.
With respect to safe living conditions, how will those youth study if their houses or schools are s full of mould and they do not have a steady supply of electricity, heat or safe drinking water?
These are simple facts that we Canadians take for granted.
We should concentrate actions to provide jobs to the hardest hit. We hear lots of examples, as my colleagues have pointed out, of the success cases. When I was a critic and I participated in the committee review of the initiatives, the changes to the land management regime, many of the first nation leaders came in and said that it was not the same for all of them, that they did not all have the fortune of having a reserve immediately adjacent to a major industrial centre or municipality. It is very hard for the isolated communities. Frankly, their particular concern was with respect to a fair benefit agreement on the traditional lands, not necessarily developing their reserve lands.
The parliamentary secretary pointed out Fort McKay. Fort McKay First Nation in northern Alberta, right in the centre of the oil sands development, by necessity has forged agreements with industry so it can benefit, and it has had a number of contracts. However, it is important to recognize that even Fort McKay is drawing a line in the sand. The last of its important lands, which are specifically designated for traditional practices, are about to be hurt. They are about to be completely circled by oil sands development.
They, like all the other first nations that have come forward, want not just a piece of the pie, not just a job. They want a say in the decision making about the resource development in their territories and in areas next door to their territories where they might be impacted.
The engagement process in the economy also means that they need to have equitable benefit agreements. We hear time after time where some isolated first nations, on their own, are left to try to negotiate fair agreements with major corporations. In some cases, they do well. In other cases, they do not. Where is the federal government's responsibility to ensure they are supported in those endeavours?
What is the starting point for measuring progress?
We hear all the time from the government about all the money it spends. Any question that is asked, whether it is with regard to education, safe drinking water, the right to be consulted, or the right to a job, the government replies with, “Look at all the money we have spent”.
What is the starting point for measuring progress? Is it the date of the signing of the treaties? Is it over 100 years back, with the historic and the numbered treaties? Is it the date of the signing of the modern treaties?
We have been hearing ongoing concerns in committee and in delegations meeting with members of Parliament about the failure of the government to live up to and implement the treaties.
Is it the date of the addition of section 35 to the Constitution? Is it the repeat calls by the Auditor General to take action on better protections for first nations?
In the last audit issued by then Auditor General Sheila Fraser singled out the conditions on first nation reserves and said that the federal government had taken some action but simply not enough. In her words:
|| It's no secret that their living conditions are worse than elsewhere in Canada. For example, only 41 percent of students on reserves graduate from high school, compared with 77 percent of students in the rest of the country. And more than half of the drinking water systems on reserves still pose a health threat.
As has been pointed, there are still more than 100 boil water advisories in the 21st century.
Sheila Fraser then said:
|| What’s truly shocking, however, is the lack of improvement. Last year, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada reported that between 2001 and 2006 there was little or no progress in the well-being of First Nations communities. In a wealthy country like Canada, this gap is simply unacceptable.
My colleagues on the other side were saying that it was the Liberals. It is important to note that the succeeding two auditor generals after Sheila Fraser raised exactly the same issue, so still not a lot of progress.
Is it the date of the 2012 First Nation-Crown summit, where a lot of undertakings were made? Is it the unanimous vote for the Shannen's Dream motion, calling for equitable access to education? Is it the promise to expedite settlement of languishing specific claims? Is it the recommendations of the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education?
There are many points of juncture where we could begin measuring progress. Sadly, we are still not seeing a lot of substantive progress across the board.
It is very important to point out that what first nations peoples, Métis and Inuit are calling for are substantive rights and procedural rights, both of which are guaranteed in the Constitution and legislation.
What is appalling is this continued reference by the government of the day to “willing partners, willing first nations”. The question has to be raised. We know fully its disregard for any first nation that resorts to the courts. They are being forced to resort to the courts because of the government's abject refusal to properly consult. There have been a number of actions filed just in the last month by first nations in northern Alberta and in Saskatchewan, lambasting the government for failure to consult on its budget.
The first nations people view the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as carrying that obligation even further, that they should have the right to consent.
I would like to share that I was profoundly impacted by the opportunity of participating in some of Idle No More gatherings, and I say gatherings. These were not protests. These were gatherings, led by elders, including youth, including chiefs in regalia. I had the opportunity to talk to many youth who desperately wanted to participate in the economy, who desperately wanted to have their voices heard. I have been approached by the treaty chiefs and councillors in my province, in Treaty 6, 7 and 8, asking for my advice on how they can get the government to open up the budget, to reverse its decisions on undermining the environmental laws which protect their traditional lands.
I look forward to the government supporting our motion, but more than that, actually moving to take action.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, over the Christmas holidays our family went to see Les Misérables
. It was almost impossible to watch that movie without feeling strongly the parallel situation taking place here in Canada.
In the song Do You Hear the People Sing?, the question is asked:
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
The drums have been beating strongly in Canada and around the world to draw attention to the greatest social injustice in this country. As a doctor, when I hear the drums I hear a heartbeat. It is the same sixty beats per minute that I heard through a stethoscope years and years ago. The sound is very familiar.
Over these past weeks, it has been very poignant to hear the drums. There was a time we worried that the heartbeat of Chief Theresa Spence was going to stop. I want to thank the Liberal leader for the leadership he gave to that life being saved. I also want everyone to know that the tipping point in the relationship between first nations and the government meant Chief Theresa Spence felt she had to take drastic action. This has to change.
On December 21, January 11, and Monday, as we returned here to Parliament Hill, hundreds of people gathered on the Hill as part of Idle No More, and in solidarity with them, across the country. These protests were about the government's sweeping changes to environmental oversight and to urge real action on aboriginal rights issues.
Again, it has been this feeling:
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
This is about young people, optimism and how things have to change.
Tomorrow begins today. This motion calls on the government to make the improvement of economic outcomes of first nations, Inuit and Métis a central focus of budget 2013.
I urge the government to support this motion from the hard-working hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.
The government caucus met yesterday. The Prime Minister did not say one word about the issues facing aboriginal people. It has not been a priority for the government. I hope that voting for this motion will be a signal that it will take this issue seriously.
It is time for government members to understand that building human capital is the key factor in improving economic success for aboriginal people and communities, but also for all Canadians. Urgent collaborative action is needed to unlock the human and economic potential in aboriginal communities across this country.
At a time of unprecedented skills shortages, an estimated 400,000 aboriginal Canadians will reach the age to enter the labour market over the next decade. Yet, the significant education gap that exists between Canadian first nations and non-first nations populations high school graduation rates remains a major obstacle to full participation of aboriginal people in the workforce.
Members know that education is the key to success. Appallingly, the high school graduation rate is getting worse under the Conservative government. The Conservatives promised to close the disgraceful education funding gaps. Yet, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs followed that promise with confrontation and actually denied that the per student funding gap exists at all.
According to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the high school graduation rate for first nation students living on reserve is 35%. By comparison, 77% of non-aboriginal people in Canada have a high school diploma. Further, the number of aboriginal post-secondary graduates lags way behind the rest of Canada. For example, fewer than 10% of aboriginal people in Canada have a university degree compared to the national average of 23%.
The Conservatives goal for improving first nations on reserve high school graduation is an 8% increase over the next five years, as our leader pointed out today in question period. They have no targets for increasing first nations post-secondary education enrolment or graduation. As the Auditor General has noted, at the current rate it would take 28 years for first nations communities to close the high school education gap.
We have asked the government to address this gap in the next budget by working with first nations to bring graduation rates up to the national average on an urgent basis. This was the 10 year target of the Kelowna accord and should be our goal moving forward. Yet, after seven years we have seen zero progress on this from the Conservative government. Talking points cannot change the facts. Idle No More means talking points no more. We actually need action and the truth.
The Centre for the Study of Living Standards has noted that raising educational and labour market outcomes for aboriginal Canadians to the same level as non-aboriginal Canadians would increase the GDP by $36 billion, increase government revenues by $3.5 billion, and reduce government expenditures by $14.2 billion, by 2026.
As the Senate reported in its 2007 study on aboriginal economic development, there is a need to strengthen investments in aboriginal governing capacities that support economic success. However, the government has opted to make significant cuts to aboriginal governing capacities as part of the 2012 budget reductions. Even resources that directly contribute to economic success for aboriginal people are not above being cut from the government's strategy.
Shockingly, on February 12, 2013, the government plans to close the aboriginal Canada portal website, a single window to first nations, Métis and Inuit online resources for government programs and services. The portal includes links to government and non-governmental sources that pertain to employment and human resources. It links employment opportunities and jobs available for aboriginal job seekers across Canada. Employers can even post the job openings for free. The aboriginal Canada portal does not just provide one-stop shopping for employment; it also provides, at very little cost to taxpayers, essential information on topics ranging from claims and treaties to economic development, business, justice and policing. The closure will make it even more difficult for Canadians to navigate an already complicated federal bureaucracy.
This compilation of information on all matters aboriginal in government, currently maintained with a small expenditure, will now be scattered, making it even more difficult for all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, to use. One need only look at the statement on the website, which shows all of the places an individual has to now go to find the information that was once there in one-stop shopping.
Clearly one cannot even think about economic development when people are living in third world conditions. The first nations, Inuit and Métis education gap has been widening, as we have said, in terms of both funding and outcomes. Housing shortages are becoming more acute. Water and waste water systems are in crisis, and tragic gaps in terms of first nations health outcomes are continuing unabated.
The Conservatives defend their refusal to deal with the on-reserve housing crisis by claiming they have built 10,000 homes over the past six years. The fact is that they are trying to take credit for falling short of what should have been 13,800 homes built under funding levels predating their government.The government also defends its appalling record on first nations water and waste water by noting that it conducted the largest assessment of safe waste water in this country so we can move forward with prioritization. Yet, almost two years after the federal assessment, 117 first nations communities across Canada are under drinking water advisories, which is an increase of over 23% since 2006. The government has no long-term plan to get a handle on this crisis.
The government study showed it would take $6 billion, over 10 years, to fix this problem. Right now, there is $1.2 billion in investment that is urgently needed. What did we see? We saw $330 million in the last budget, and then the minister had the audacity to re-announce that $330 million the day after the supposedly important January 11 meeting. Talk about hypocrisy. That is insulting.
What more is there? Too many resource development projects are moving forward without aboriginal people receiving a fair share of the economic benefits or being partners in their development.
This motion also calls on the government to commit to action on treaty implementation and to engage in full and meaningful consultation on legislation that affects the rights of aboriginal Canadians, as required by domestic law.
The Conservatives signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires free, prior and informed consent, and then in every piece of correspondence they refer to that pledge as “aspirational”. This was the whole basis of the Crown–first nations gathering in January 2012, where they stated that they would commit to work toward the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation. Absolutely no work has been done with the provinces to honour those treaties or to ensure that first nations are able to share in the prosperity that is Canada.
The failure of the government to even begin to deal with the imperative of sharing Canada's natural resource revenues fairly has resulted in relations with Canada's indigenous population reaching a dangerous tipping point. First nations are pursuing their rights and winning almost every time in the courts, as the leader pointed out in a recent speech. Thousands of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people are demonstrating, as we are seeing, across Canada through Idle No More and online. Almost every resource development activity in Canada, the Conservatives need to remind themselves, that is currently operating or planned is occurring within 200 kilometres of a first nation community or on traditional lands. Despite this, the settling of comprehensive claims agreements between aboriginal people and the government, which address the critical issues surrounding economic development including resource royalties sharing, has proceeded at an astonishingly slow pace.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives has said that aboriginal people must be true partners in resource and energy projects. Yet the President of the Treasury Board alienated first nations by dismissing their calls for a joint review panel on the Ring of Fire resource development, arguing it would only bring up “irrelevant issues”. Even the Prime Minister's own former senior cabinet minister, Jim Prentice, has chastised the government, saying, “The Crown obligation to engage first nations in a meaningful way has yet to be taken up”.
The number of comprehensive claims settled by the government has fallen steadily since 2005, despite the promise from the Conservatives to revolutionize the land claims process in 2007. As of today, more than half of the nearly 100 agreements under negotiation have been ongoing for at least 16 years. These delays are often the result of the government's negotiation strategy, which embraces a take it or leave it approach rather than flexibility and fairness, and it is quite clear that the negotiators do not have the mandate to compromise.
The frustration of aboriginal people is understandable, given the complete lack of progress on their issues and the refusal of the government to fulfill its legal obligation to consult them on matters that may impact their inherent and/or treaty rights and the fact that we find in government documents that the Conservatives actually see first nations, Inuit and Métis in this country as adversaries.
More recently, that frustration has manifested itself in the failure of consultation about the changes to environmental protection on aboriginal lands and navigable waterways contained in the two latest budget implementation acts.
This type of unilateral action has created a fracture in the relationship between the Conservative government and first nations. It has led to the formation of Idle No More, which precipitated the hastily organized January 11 meeting between the Prime Minister and aboriginal leaders. The fact that coming out of that meeting the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development indicated his belief the government had fulfilled its duty to consult on various controversial bills shows that the Conservatives still do not seem to grasp what true consultation means. There was no consultation with aboriginal people on Bill C-38 or Bill C-45. The minister admitted in committee that there had been no consultation on the aboriginal governance bill. There was consultation on the private member's bill but no consultation on the government bill and even the chief, previously supportive, viewed it as a kind of bait and switch opportunity.
We believe the government should work with aboriginal leaders to establish an arm's length legal advisory committee that would evaluate all draft legislation with the potential to affect aboriginal rights and provide an opinion on the federal government's duty to consult before the legislation is tabled. Given that the aboriginal population is the youngest and fastest growing in Canada and that almost every natural resource development is occurring on aboriginal territorial lands, we believe that if the government truly wants to put all its economic eggs in a natural resources basket, it had better just get with the program and turn this around.
The Prime Minister must understand the gravity of the situation and the potential impact on all Canadians. It is time for action. It is time for the government to work with aboriginal people in Canada toward a new nation-to-nation relationship based on the spirit of partnership, respect and the co-operation for mutual benefit that characterized our original relationship. We are all treaty people. There were two signatories to the document. The 96% of Canadians not from aboriginal backgrounds need to understand the gravity of the situation, and we need to go forward in the House and make sure that happens.
Idle No More will not go away. The young people can see what needs to be done to right past wrongs and to deal with the greatest social and economic injustice facing Canada.
In the week before Christmas I was at the native men's shelter in my riding. It was quite clear. These young men, who had been homeless the week before, were asking me what an omnibus bill is and if it affects their treaty rights. The next night in North Bay, at the Idle No More teach-in with the member from North Bay, we could not believe it. There were a hundred people in the friendship centre going through the PowerPoint presentation of every bill that has affected them that has not had consultation. They are now armed with information and they are ready to fight.
It is really important that we understand that this is difficult. However, the government ignores it at its peril. I ask the government: Can it hear the people sing? When the beating of their hearts echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes. That tomorrow is today, right now. The government could show some decent faith by voting for this motion.
Mr. Murray Rankin (Victoria, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Churchill.
I rise today to deliver my first speech as the member of Parliament for Victoria. I am anxious to contribute to this historic debate on the plight of aboriginal peoples, but before doing so please permit me to begin by sincerely thanking the people of Victoria for giving me the opportunity to serve in this role.
As everyone in this place knows, there is no greater honour or privilege than to serve our fellow citizens. Being part of the Canadian democratic process up close and personal as a candidate recently was without doubt one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I did so with the support not only of my family but also with the help of virtually hundreds of dedicated and selfless volunteers. I want to pay tribute to them for their tireless work because I will never forget that without them I would not be here today.
I must also acknowledge the constant support of the former member of Parliament for Victoria, Denise Savoie, who was so well respected on both sides of the House. Not only was she a very successful Deputy Speaker, but her behaviour in this place was also a true example of the kind of civility and respect I desire to follow. On the basis of conversations with countless members, I can say for sure that she will be greatly missed in this place.
I wish to place my remarks today in context and tell members a bit about why I am so honoured personally to speak about the continuing quest of aboriginal people for justice.
I had the opportunity to work for governments, industry and first nations in consultation efforts before becoming an MP. I was a treaty negotiator for over a decade on Vancouver Island, representing the Province of British Columbia, and I have visited virtually every first nation community on Vancouver Island. I also worked with first nations and Inuit in Nunavut, as well as first nations in northeastern British Columbia in negotiating economic development agreements. I think this work has given me some familiarity with the sense of desperation that marks the lives of so many of our fellow citizens, not only those who live on remote reserves but also those who live in poverty in our major cities.
There is probably little value in repeating the litany of shocking statistics that we all know so well: the suicide rates, the dropout rates, the infant mortality rates, and the deplorable conditions of those living in communities like Attawapiskat or closer to my home in Victoria, the Pacheedaht First Nation.
In trying to come up with solutions, I also believe there is little utility in bringing up the failures and disappointments of the past. It does not help to bemoan the fact that the Kelowna accord was never implemented or that so little seems to have been done with the sweeping and excellent recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
Instead, Canadians of good faith must work together urgently to seek fresh solutions, solutions that are grounded in the work of the past and the blueprint of the Dussault-Erasmus report, but only as a point of departure, because the time for action is certainly long overdue. Fresh ideas are desperately needed, grounded in the recognition of the constitutional rights of first nations to meaningful consultation and recognition of a nation-to-nation relationship between the Crown and first nation peoples.
It is about the word “respect”. All first nations I have been privileged to work with constantly remind us of the need for respect. For example, the language of the Nuu-chah-nulth people uses the word eesok to connote that concept of respect. First nations have demanded that we establish a new relationship grounded on this bedrock principle of respect.
There are two things I would like to speak to today in this context that are essential to meaningful, ongoing economic development that will work for the Inuit, the Métis and first nation peoples in Canada. They are consultation, and the recognition of self-government. The Conservative government simply must do a better job on consultation.
We all know the constitutional duty to consult and, where appropriate, to accommodate aboriginal and treaty rights. However, it is not through endless lawsuits that the concept of consultation will be determined. It is not through these rote exercises of counting how many meetings one attended or seeing who was there, tallying it up and seeing if a court will later say it was satisfactory. That is not what it is about. It is about respect. It is about communication and it is about establishing long-term relationships. These are the three things that will ultimately make the difference.
Courts are not going to accept going through the motions and lots of words. They have not in the past. They will insist on meaningful consultation and, as they have reminded us recently, this is grounded in the honour of the Crown. This will always be the touchstone of our relationship with first nations going forward.
As the recent Idle No More movement and aboriginal leadership has so passionately argued, the current government has weakened the environmental protection laws on which first nation communities depend.
The regrettable omnibus budget bills have failed to take into account treaty rights, the basis of the historic relationship between the Crown and first nation people.
In some parts of the country, notably British Columbia and the north, there were no historic treaties, and so it is section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, that is the basis of aboriginal rights and aboriginal title, as enshrined.
Aboriginal communities simply have a right to participate in the management and disposition of lands and resources over which they have asserted claims, even if those claims have not yet been recognized by the courts or finally resolved.
In more modern times in British Columbia, the duty to consult and accommodate has simply not been observed by the government. For example, the application by Enbridge to build its bitumen pipeline from the oil sands to Kitimat has attracted vociferous opposition from first nations across the province. They are joined by the majority of non-aboriginal British Columbians in saying they oppose this deeply flawed proposal.
The vast majority of first nation communities have said no to this kind of dangerous pipeline and tanker project, as have the people of British Columbia by majority. The risks we are being asked to assume are simply unacceptable. As a recent candidate in a coastal community like Victoria, there is enormous opposition to this project by aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike. I think it is time for the government as well to say no to the kind of shortsighted development that Enbridge represents. It simply has to do a better job with consultation.
Turning to self-government, what does that mean? It means, according to Stephen Cornell of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, three things: that jurisdiction counts, self-government matters, that effective governing institutions are essential and that these governing institutions must be appropriate for the cultures in which they are situated. In short, good government matters.
That is why I would like to salute the excellent work being done by Miles Richardson, former president of the Haida nation, who is now working as a senior associate with the Institute on Governance. The objective is to improve governance arrangements for first nations so they can be more effective partners in economic development.
As I mentioned, the government institutions have to be culturally appropriate and have the support of the people. As Professor Cornell states:
|| Institutions that match contemporary indigenous cultures are more successful than those that don’t.
In conclusion, I know that the Conservatives will simply say that budget 2013 is all about job creation and economic development and that first nations will benefit as other Canadians do. That is the mantra.
However, without the real application of the constitutional requirements of meaningful consultation and a recognition of self-government and government-to-government relationships, this economic development will not occur and will not be meaningful on the ground of first nations.
Ms. Niki Ashton (Churchill, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow my colleague, the newly elected member for Victoria, who I know has a proud history of work with aboriginal people. It is certainly a pleasure to work with him in the House.
It is an honour for me to rise today to speak to the NDP motion, a motion that truly reflects the principles of the NDP and a motion that also truly serves as a test for the government.
This opposition day motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, and supported by all of us really goes beyond the day-to-day actions of the House and the day-to-debates of the House. It gives the chance to the House, to the government, to other opposition parties, to stand with us and recognize that we need to change course, that Parliament needs to change course and that first nations, Métis and Inuit people deserve better from Parliament.
We are recognizing the broad-based demand for action, and that is fundamental to who we are as New Democrats, recognizing that the people who have started Idle No More, who have been part of the rallies, who have been part of the flash mob round dances, who have been part of the workshops and information sessions, who have been to Parliament, demanding meetings with ministers and, of course, with the Prime Minister, are saying that things need to change.
I am also honoured to rise as the MP for Churchill in support of the motion. I have the pleasure of representing 33 first nations across northern Manitoba and many Métis communities.
I come from a vibrant part of Canada, with tremendous diversity, with a very rich history and tremendous opportunity. However, there is no question that the challenges we face in the north are tremendous, and those challenges are even greater and more extreme for many aboriginal people in northern Manitoba.
Aboriginal people in northern Manitoba and across Canada face extreme levels of poverty and high unemployment. In my constituency alone, 42% of aboriginal people have less than a high school diploma. Many of them live in conditions that can only be characterized as third world.
In fact, we know that at the international level, first nations in Canada are rated 63rd on the United Nations' human development index. That reality is not just in numbers. It can be seen clearly if one visits any of the first nations in northern Manitoba and so many across Canada. People will see substandard housing, with 10, 15 and over 20 people sharing one home because there is inadequate housing. People succumb to illness, like the basic flu, in much greater numbers because there is no running water in their communities. Young people reach the point of wishing to take their own lives and many unfortunately we lose to suicide because they feel they have no hope and nothing to live for. So many people from communities unfortunately fall through the cracks and end up in the correctional system, making it so Canada has some of the highest rates of indigenous people in its correctional system, disproportionate to the number of indigenous people in Canada.
As many of us know, this is the result of a dark history of colonization and oppression. Unfortunately, government after government, at the federal level, have not managed to break free and chart a new course. Despite promises to do the opposite, they have shown, through their actions, that they are willing to continue the paternalistic, colonialist relationship that has been around for so long.
One need not look any further than the last few years in Parliament. The Prime Minister of Canada rose and gave an apology some years ago for the atrocity of the residential school experience.
I remember being at the offices of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the head office of the northern chiefs, and sharing with so many people who were moved, survivors, families of survivors, non-aboriginal people as well, by this apology, an apology that I am proud our late leader Jack Layton helped realize.
Instead of truly standing by those words of changing course and committing to a new relationship with first nations, Métis and Inuit people, the government did more of the same.
Bill C-38 and most recently Bill C-45 came up with a tremendous attack on treaty rights of first nations people and aboriginal rights more broadly. There was a lack of consultation at every step along the way, particularly when it came to control over treaty lands and the lands that aboriginal people hold title to.
Aboriginal peoples' voices, despite the constitutional responsibility to consult, were silenced and ignored by the Conservative government.
One wishes that was the end of the story. However, in the last few years there have been unprecedented cuts to organizations and institutions that truly speak on behalf and with aboriginal people. I would like to mention some of those: Sisters in Spirit; the First Nations Statistical Institute; the Aboriginal Healing Foundation; the National Centre for First Nations Governance; the Assembly of First Nations; Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami; Native Women's Association; the National Aboriginal Health Organization; Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada; and the list goes on.
In the fall of 2012 we heard that tribal councils and aboriginal political organizations, like in my region, the Keewatin Tribal Council, the Swampy Cree Tribal Council, MKO, SCO, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, would be cut disproportionately.
These are the voices of aboriginal people. These are institutions that look out for housing, education, advocate on behalf of communities, work in conjunction with band councils and fight for aboriginal communities that are, in many cases, remote and do not have a voice at the table.
The other side of the coin is that first nations, Métis and Inuit people have had enough. There is no better example than the last few months in our country, where we have witnessed what is singularly one of the most historic events in aboriginal people and their leadership in recent history. We have seen an unprecedented approach to fighting back against the government through the Idle No More movement, through the leadership and courage many leaders have taken, and through immense sacrifice.
I want to take a moment during my speech to recognize two people I can call friends: Grand Elder Raymond Robinson of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation, who joined Chief Theresa Spence on Victoria Island to commit to a hunger strike in order to call the federal government to action, and Wilson Hartie from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, who also was on a hunger strike, calling for the Prime Minister to act. These two men, their families and their communities took a stand. These two men made an ultimate sacrifice, asking all of us to act.
I also want to recognize the organizers of Idle No More in my home community, in Thompson: Lisa Currier, Clint Saulteaux, Val Charlette and the many people who helped to raise awareness and to worked with young people who said, “We've had enough”.
The opposition day motion today reflects those voices. Not only should the budget of 2013 commit to economic outcomes for first nations, Inuit and Métis people, but the government needs to commit to action on treaty implementation and full and meaningful consultation on legislation that affects the rights of aboriginal Canadians.
This has gone on long enough. We have a chance to stand with aboriginal people across the country and make history, to chart a new course that respects the treaties and truly honours the anniversary of the royal proclamation of 250 years, which we will celebrate this year. This is a chance to do much better and show the international community that in a country as wealthy as Canada its first peoples must live in dignity.
I want to share the words that both Wilson and Raymond shared with me on many occasions. They said to me, “I'm doing this for my children and my grandchildren. I'm not doing it for politics or for attention. I'm doing it for things to change”. I want to thank them. In their words and honour, I would like to ask the government and Parliament to finally change course, support the opposition day motion and commit to building a better day with aboriginal peoples in Canada.