House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a final and quite direct question for the member of the NDP. When the Liberals brought in the conditional sentencing bill some years ago, there was a provision in there, despite calls from the opposition for there not to be, that people who committed violent crimes would have an opportunity to receive conditional sentences. Despite the assurance that it would not happen, we have seen a multitude of instances where violent crime offenders, when convicted, received conditional sentences.

I want to ask the member this directly. Does he believe that people who commit violent crimes as we know them, such as sexual assault and armed robbery, violent crimes of that sort, should be eligible to receive conditional sentencing? If not, will he support this bill?

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I fully agree with the hon. member. The problem is that we are not dealing with that bill today. We are not dealing with a bill dealing with the need to ensure that people who are committing violent crimes are not getting conditional sentencing. We are dealing with a much larger omnibus bill that is dragging in a whole lot of other people.

If the member's government was willing to carve that out, to look at this legislation and come back to Parliament with that legislation very clearly defined, I am sure he would find strong support across the House of Commons. The other option would be--

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Don Valley West.

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the point that I would like to bring to the debate is that while this is a remarkably short bill, the implications of it are quite remarkable.

What I find particularly interesting is we are talking about a bill that says it is not possible to have a conditional sentence if the penalty is 10 years or more, but then when we actually go to the list of possible crimes and misdemeanours which would be worth 10 years or more, it is quite astonishing.

For example, one can be sentenced to 14 years for intimidating Parliament. Whether that might demand a conditional sentence under some conditions, I cannot say. Forging a passport or using a forged passport has a penalty of 14 years. With respect to communicating false information, I would think there has to be some more detail about this one because the penalty could be life imprisonment. I would think there might be some conditions where a conditional sentence would be more appropriate. Contradictory evidence with an intent to mislead is worth 14 years. Perjury is worth 14 years. Fabricating evidence is worth 14 years.

Do we think under all of those conditions there might not be a situation in which a conditional sentence would be more appropriate?

Theft over $5,000 is worth 10 years. A public servant who refuses to deliver property could get 14 years. Cattle theft is included. One has the sense of the majesty and history of the Criminal Code with this roll call of fascinating things. Destroying documents of title is worth 10 years, but could someone not be given a conditional sentence for that? What about the unauthorized use of a computer? I would bet there has been a little bit of that around here. How long is that? Ten years.

Disguise with intent is another one. That happens in the political world all the time. It is worth 10 years.

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

An hon. member

Disguised as a Liberal.

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Don Valley West, ON

That is right. Disguised as decent kind of Liberal people. Disguised with intent. Looks like Hallowe'en is in some difficulty.

If we were simply to go with the bill as it is, a lot of us would ask, what about specific cases in this long list that includes things that have changed and evolved over time? Would it not be more appropriate for us to send the bill to committee, which this side is willing to do, to examine in detail the effects that this surprisingly deceptively short bill has, to make sure that we are not inadvertently doing something quite foolish? It seems to me that is the task of Parliament and that is indeed the task of parliamentary committees.

The whole concept of conditional sentencing itself is rather sophisticated. It has been developed as part of the tool kit of restorative justice. It is basically a good idea to have it. We want to make sure in simply passing the bill that we do not undo the good things that come from conditional sentencing. That would be a very important reason for us not to support the bill in its present form because of these questions, and for us to have a proper sorting out at second reading of all of the implications so that we will not be in a worse situation than we are. We are not denying that in some cases this might make sense, but let us go through all the cases where it might apply.

There is another question that arises out of our examination of Bill C-2. It is the whole question of whether this has been certified as constitutional. We have gone through a certain amount of ambiguity, where certain legal officers in the context of Bill C-2 have said they do not think that bill satisfies the constitutionality test. We heard from the Attorney General in the case of Bill C-2 that it does, but when there is that kind of ambiguity it seems to me that it raises flags about all the legislation that comes before us.

What we ought to do is make absolutely certain that this bill has had that kind of certification from the Attorney General so that we find ourselves in a position of clarity.

This is one of the reasons that we need to give greater examination to the detail, because the detail is not in the bill itself; it is in all that is implied, the whole philosophical background behind conditional sentencing. We know that if we do not get it right, we will undo all of the good work, the advances in thinking on this that have occurred.

I would ask the government to work with us in a cooperative--

Criminal Code

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I have been signalling to the member about his time.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

June 2nd, 2006 / 1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin LaSalle—Émard, QC

moved that Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, on too many reserves and in too many cities there is an unacceptable gap between what ought to be the hopeful promise of youth and the experience of aboriginal adulthood, a gap made even more unacceptable by the fact that aboriginal Canadians represent the largest segment of our youth and the fastest growing segment of our population.

We face a moral imperative. In a country as wealthy as ours, a country that is the envy of the world, good health and good education should be givens. They are the pillars underpinning equality of opportunity, which in turn is the foundation on which our society is built.

I rise today because the descendants of the people who first occupied this land deserve to have an equal opportunity to work for and to enjoy the benefits of our collective prosperity. Today the majority do not because of gaps in education and skills, in health care and housing, and because of limited opportunities for employment. Put simply, these gaps between aboriginal Canadians and other Canadians are not acceptable in the 21st century. They never were acceptable.

Last fall the Government of Canada came to an extraordinary agreement with an extraordinary group of people. These included the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the first ministers of Canada's provinces and territories.

Together we developed a plan to narrow and eventually eliminate the gaps that afflict aboriginal Canadians. It became known as the Kelowna accord.

The history of aboriginal communities is heart-rending. For a year and a half, we worked to establish objectives in order to make progress in five crucial areas: education, health, housing, drinking water and economic development. Our goal was to make a real difference, to do everything in our power to change what is a harsh reality for many of our fellow citizens through investments that would bring about real change in the daily lives of aboriginal peoples.

We began by studying the gap in education. Giving young people the chance to reach their potential is essential to all of the other initiatives we set out. This means building schools and training teachers. This means ensuring that students complete their studies. This means making all types of post-secondary education available to young people. This means encouraging them to get professional training so they can get better jobs. We must ensure they have the means to succeed at all of these pursuits.

This is why the government committed to establishing a network of first nations school systems run by aboriginals in cooperation with the provinces, which are responsible for education. Our plan also included making aboriginal, Inuit or Métis culture an integral part of the curriculum in certain urban public schools.

The number of major economic projects underway in the north is staggering. Employment opportunities are abundant, and the number of well-paid jobs is remarkable. Aboriginal people will really be able to benefit from this, but only if training starts now.

This is why we committed to working with our public and private sector partners to create the apprenticeship training programs Canadian aboriginals need to get good jobs. The goal of the Kelowna accord is to close the gap between aboriginals and non-aboriginals within 10 years. The accord will ensure that the aboriginal population has the same proportion of high school graduates as the non-aboriginal population, and it will halve the post-secondary studies gap. That is just the beginning.

In terms of health care, the gaps that persist between aboriginal health and the health of most Canadians are simply unconscionable. The incidence of infant mortality is almost 20% higher for first nations than for the rest of Canada. Suicide can be anywhere from three times to eleven times more common. Teen pregnancies are nine times the national average. It is evident that these heartbreaking statistics and facts speak not just to health care. They speak to the psychic and emotional turmoil in communities, which we must find ways urgently to address.

We started this effort two years ago when aboriginal leaders participated in the first ministers meeting on health care. There we recognized the need for a new health framework and we began work on an unprecedented document, the aboriginal health blueprint, a comprehensive plan for the delivery of reliable health care in every province and territory on and off reserve.

We aimed to double the number of aboriginal health professionals in 10 years from 150 physicians and 1,200 nurses today. We aimed to focus on core measures of health, which we can monitor and improve upon in each community. We set goals to reduce the gaps in key areas, such as infant mortality, youth suicide, childhood obesity and diabetes.

This is only a start. No one will be satisfied until these gaps are closed completely.

We addressed the issue of clean water and housing. Housing is about more than having a roof over one's head. It is about dignity. It is about pride of place. It is about having a stake in the community and an investment in the future. We recognize the need to reduce these gaps significantly with a comprehensive effort to expand the skills of first nations, Inuit and Métis to manage their land, infrastructure and financing. It is estimated, by implementing the Kelowna accord, that we could realistically close the housing gap on reserve by 40% within 5 years and by 80% within 10 years.

The Kelowna accord is a comprehensive 10 year plan to achieve a clear set of goals and targets. We provided $5.1 billion for the first five years. Let me be very clear. The funds were fully provided for in the fiscal framework. The government has the money. It is a fiscal framework, incidentally, which has, since that time, produced a surplus substantially larger than was originally projected. We made it clear that for the second five years of the program, enhanced resources based on the success obtained would be provided.

It is a measurable plan, with targets to be attained and evaluated every two to three years, giving Canadians the ability to hold everyone who is involved accountable. It was developed through a non-partisan, collaborative approach in concert with the aboriginal leadership. All political parties and government across the country, Liberal, Conservative and NDP, were at the table. The Government of Canada, on behalf of the people of Canada, gave its solemn word that we would work to achieve these goals.

Aboriginal Canadians, provinces and territories have made it clear that they want to see a commitment from the new government to honour the Kelowna accord. Despite this, five months later, after inheriting a very healthy balance sheet, one much better than it had anticipated, the new government refuses to say whether it will support the nation's commitment to these goals and objectives. Its budget did not confirm the funds necessary to attain those goals.

Wherein lies the problem? Is it that the government disagrees with the goals that are set out in the accord? Is it that it does not want to work with the provinces, territories and the aboriginal leadership, all of whom share these goals?

On the other hand, the government agrees with the objectives that are laid out in the accord. Why will it not take advantage of a plan that was developed over 18 months by experts in 14 governments across Canada and in our aboriginal communities?

Let us be honest, we have consulted long enough. We have studied enough. The time has come for the government to act. Why will the government not recognize that, because of its lack of commitment, it has already wasted precious months, precious months in which critical progress could have been made toward the attaining of our interim targets?

The goals and objectives of the Kelowna agreement will not go away. This was never a partisan issue. The premier of British Columbia, speaking recently in his legislature, said the following:

I characterized that agreement as Canada's 'moment of truth.' It was our time to do something that has eluded our nation for 138 years. It was our chance to end the disparities in health, education, housing and economic opportunity. All first ministers rose to that moment of truth alongside Canada's aboriginal leaders to undertake that challenge....

Similarly, this week during their meeting in Gimli, western premiers said the following:

Having previously made an extraordinary national commitment, failure to follow through on that commitment will only make us poorer as a nation.

That is the premiers talking about a commitment.

The premier of Manitoba, who chaired that meeting, added that it would be morally wrong to walk away from the accord.

It is because of this that I have taken the unfortunate necessary step of introducing the bill entitled an act to implement the Kelowna accord. I do so with only one goal in mind, and that is to provide the government and the House with the opportunity to reaffirm what was, by all accounts, a historic agreement for Canada, for Canadians.

The bill is about confirming national commitment lest it be lost. It is also about another potential loss, the loss of the goodwill and the optimism that characterized the Kelowna meeting, the positive spirit, which played a huge role in helping us reach an agreement. All of us at that meeting left imbued with a new sense of hope for the future. That hope was underpinned by an expectation that all the parties to the agreement would live up to their commitment.

Unfortunately, for aboriginal Canadians, new hope has been replaced by doubt. Goodwill has been displaced by worry as the government engages in red herring after red herring. Too many aboriginal Canadians today endured crushing poverty in one of the world's most prosperous countries. That is why I chose, as a new prime minister, to make it a central issue for my government.

The new government is responsible for making a clear commitment to aboriginal peoples. It must respect the promises made and honour the Kelowna accord.

We need a clear commitment, not just in words but in action. We need a clear commitment to meet the challenges facing our aboriginal people by living up to the Kelowna accord.

I ask the government and the ministers here present to rise above partisanship. I ask them and all members of the House, for the sake of our aboriginal people and the future of our great country, to support the bill.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, in the right hon. member's speech, he referenced the Kelowna accord quite often. As an aboriginal Canadian, would he explain to me where is the accord, where are the signatures on the accord, as he has described it, and why was it not brought before the House?

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a copy of the accord here. I understand it was tabled in the House yesterday. I understand when the minister tabled it, he said that it was on the government's website. In fact, he said that he found it also in the Library of Parliament. The accord can be found in a number places. It can be found in the minister's own file. There is no doubt about the accord.

Anybody who was there, and indeed the minister was there himself, saw not only the Prime Minister of Canada, but every one of the provincial and territorial first ministers stand and endorse the accord as did all the aboriginal leadership. It was televised and visible to 32 million Canadians. There is no doubt about the degree of depth of support for this accord and its reality.

I do not understand how the hon. member can stand and ask “where is the accord?” as if it never happened. It is a fact of history.

When the premier of British Columbia, when the western premiers and when the premier of Manitoba stand and say “You cannot walk away from an accord”, what are they saying we cannot walk away from? They are saying we cannot walk away from a commitment of the Government of Canada to the aboriginal people of our country.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague's statement about commitments from the Government of Canada.

I worked for the people of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. I remember the 1998 agreement signed by the federal government to rebuild that community and how the federal government walked away from that agreement right after.

I remember being with nearly 200 people from Barriere who came to meet the Indian affairs minister, and he refused. The people of that community sat out in the rain in October for two weeks. One day 160 elders and children came to Parliament Hill. They said that they had a simple request. They wanted to see the Indian affairs minister. I remember the RCMP coming out to tell Grand Chief Carol McBride that the Indian affairs minister had said, “Send the RCMP to deal with these people”. They were sick. They had been in the rain for two weeks. That agreement was never honoured by the Government of Canada.

I find it hard to hear him now talk about commitments. Nothing was done for the people of Barriere Lake and the people of Attawapiskat, who were promised a new school by the former Indian affairs minister six years ago. He walked away. I guess I am a little stunned at some of the language I have heard from him.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud of what the Liberal Government of Canada did. I am very proud of the $350 million healing fund. I am very proud that it was a Liberal government that signed the residential schools agreement, recognizing the compensation from those schools.

As the premier of British Columbia has said, we go back 138 years of broken promises. I believe it is now incumbent upon us to take advantage of the Kelowna accord, which is a historic agreement that recognizes that all governments came to the table wishing that they had done more, going back to the earliest beginnings of Confederation.

What I also find hard to understand is that a member of the NDP would stand in the House, when the government is refusing to commit to the Kelowna accord, and not endorse the position taken by the NDP premier of Saskatchewan and the NDP premier of Manitoba when they say this accord should go forward. Where is the federal NDP?

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the right hon. member's comments. He indicated that money was in place in the fiscal framework. When was a money bill brought forward to Parliament for it to deal with the so-called Kelowna accord?

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows full well it was after the Kelowna accord that the government was brought down. However, the hon. member also ought to know that in the fiscal update produced by the minister of finance at the time, he indicated that the Kelowna accord was in the process of being discussed and that the money would be provided.

There is a source and uses of funds prepared by the government, which is an internal government document, in which the commitments are made. The commitment is there. If that commitment is not there, it is not because it was not made by the previous minister of finance and the previous prime minister, but because it was withdrawn by the new government.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Jim Prentice Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, my right hon. friend, the former prime minister of the country, and I both share a commitment to improving the lives of aboriginal Canadians. I certainly do not question his bona fides in that sense and, I assume, as a gentleman, that he does not question mine.

Long before I was elected I worked on land claims. I have spent a significant part of my life working in the aid of aboriginal Canadians. I have seen aboriginal poverty firsthand, both on reserves and in urban centres, which is why I truly believe that one of Canada's greatest challenges is the issue of aboriginal poverty. In that sense, he and I are of common ground.

Where we differ is how we should go about making a difference in the lives of aboriginal Canadians. Aboriginal poverty is deep rooted. It is a complex issue. I say, with all due respect, that I do not think anyone can table a single page at the close of a first ministers' meeting as a compilation of numbers, issue a press release and believe aboriginal poverty has been solved.

The problems in this country are much deeper than that. They require a long term commitment, structural reform and renovation in consultation with first nations. Unless that is done, we will not succeed in the eradication of aboriginal poverty.

I support the principles and the targets that were discussed at Kelowna in the course of that first ministers' meeting. I also acknowledge the efforts that were undertaken to draw together the premiers and the aboriginal leaders. However, the issue is where to go from there.

I was in Kelowna that fall and the dialogue, to be sure, was useful and inspiring in some ways, but the results at the end were unclear. The conference did not conclude with a signed document by the participants entitled “The Kelowna Accord”. I talked to many of the premiers at the close of the conference and to all the aboriginal leaders who were present at the table. I asked them about the page that was tabled at the close of the meeting by the prime minister. There was no consensus with respect to those figures. There was no commonality as to how money would be spent, how it would be distributed among the provinces and the territories or how it would be divided among the aboriginal organizations that were present. It did not happen. I was there. I did the due diligence to ensure that those were the facts at the time.

My friend says today that the money was put forward in a press release. We should make it clear for Canadians that we are not talking about an accord signed by the premiers and the territorial leaders. In fact, there was specific disagreement between the province of Quebec as I understand it and the other participants with respect to the health aspects of the accord, which was one of the reasons that no document was produced.

The Kelowna accord also did not reflect any sort of process that involved all of Canada. The province of Quebec, as represented by the Assembly of First Nations' regional chief for Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard, did not participate in the process and did not take part in Kelowna. It does not reflect a Canadian consensus.

My friend referred quite specifically to Mr. Doer and stated that Mr. Doer had referred to the morality of the current government. Mr. Doer is an NDP premier of another province and hardly one who would be proselytizing for the Conservative cause. I would like the House and Canadians to know precisely what he said because his comments about morality were a scathing criticism of the former government. He said the following:

--the former government did not contain the so-called Kelowna money. We don't want to be unfair to the [Prime Minister's] government because the former government did not put the Kelowna money in the fiscal framework as every journal--the journals here know. And they did not flow the money from 2004. So we're dealing with a promise in 2004. We're dealing with a promise in 2006. And I would argue if we don't proceed with the principles of Kelowna we're dealing with broken promises again....

He carried on to make his comment about the morality of the situation.

In terms of Mr. Doer's comments, that is what happened at the premiers conference. When we speak of the Kelowna process, we should put the facts in context.

Our discussion today is about more than the right way to go about the financial aspects of this matter. It is about asking the important questions of what the next steps are beyond Kelowna, beyond that first ministers meeting and beyond the process that did engage the provinces, the federal government and aboriginal leaders.

The most fundamental flaw in the bill before us today is that it does not change in any way the legislative framework that governs the relationship between Canada and first nations peoples. We must address the root causes of aboriginal poverty and we must understand the history if we are to correct those problems.

First nations in this country live under one of the country's most outdated laws, the Indian Act. The Indian Act is a compilation of pre-Confederation statutes. It is an act that requires significant change. It is a legal framework that must be updated by the federal government, working in consultation with first nations, if there is to be a future with aboriginal Canadians operating inside a legislative framework that is modern, aspiring and works in the 21st century.

In 13 years, the previous government did not replace the Indian Act with a modern legislative framework. That is the most important next step and that is what I have spoken to, as the minister, with aboriginal leaders in this country, about a process that would take us down that road, about creating a modern legislative framework that goes beyond the Indian Act and takes the first peoples into the 21st century on a position of parity with other Canadians.

Structural change is required. It is not simply a question of tabling a press release at the close of a conference and offering $5.1 billion over the course of five years. It is a deeper problem and it requires structural change.

We must set priorities that come with achievable goals and clear benchmarks. I see some clear priorities as we move forward, which I have spoken with aboriginal leaders about: better support for aboriginal women; addressing the issue of matrimonial property rights, an issue that the previous government did not address, even though committees of both the Senate and the House of Commons called upon the Government of Canada to address the circumstances of aboriginal women; education, child and welfare reforms in concert with the provinces and aboriginal organizations; clarified accountabilities; and, as was suggested at Kelowna, market based approaches to deal with housing issues.

I am talking about priorities because this government is taking a business like approach to these matters. We set priorities. We budget for them. We act upon them. We find the money before we make the promises. We do not intend to govern this country through the issuance of press releases. We set clear goals and then we deliver.

Another illustration of that was yesterday in this House when I expressed my disappointment upon learning that my predecessor made an ad hoc commitment in the context of the community of Kashechewan but failed to include the costs of those commitments in the government's long term finance plan.

Let me be clear. This government will find a lasting solution for the people of Kashechewan. We will work with the community to do so and we will do it right away. I have spoken with my hon. colleague from another party on this issue, but the solution is one that must be clearly supported, not only with a rational basis on which to proceed so that the community is not repeatedly flooded, but also in consultation with the community.

That, together with other initiatives that we have taken, shows the way forward that this government will follow in dealing with the post-Kelowna era. We will do so in full consultation and full collaboration with the premiers, the territorial leaders and aboriginal Canadians.