House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.

Topics

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak at third reading of Bill C-292, the Kelowna accord implementation act.

The so-called Kelowna accord is the product of a meeting held more than a year ago of the former prime minister, the provincial and territorial premiers and several national aboriginal leaders.

The actual document that is represented as the accord, what the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard purports to be a binding commitment of the Government of Canada, is in fact a news release presented by the government of the day at the close of the meeting. The release lists several proposed investments that total more than $5 billion over a period of five years.

Although the former government says that it meant this to be a statement of the amount of money it wished to spend, there was no consensus among participants regarding how the money was to be disbursed. There was no detailed plan on how the government would allocate this new funding and how it would ensure that these resources would be spent wisely and produce measurable results.

Indeed, the provincial and territorial premiers and national aboriginal leaders who attended the Kelowna meeting clearly indicated in subsequent statements that considerably more work was needed to develop specific policies, programs and implementation plans.

The challenges that face aboriginal peoples in our country are simply too daunting to be overcome through unfocused, unaccountable spending. A more considered approach is required if we hope to improve socio-economic conditions and to ensure that aboriginal peoples have a standard of living comparable to that of other Canadians.

Canada's new government has developed and begun to implement precisely this type of approach. It is based on practical solutions, targeted expenditures, clear roles and responsibilities, measurable results and accountability, all fundamental elements of prudent, effective administration.

In the short time this government has been in office, our pragmatic, results based approach has generated tangible results for aboriginal peoples. In fact, the number of achievements is too vast for me to recount in the time that is available to me this evening.

Instead, to illustrate the success of our approach, let me use the last time that the House debated Bill C-292, on October 18, 2006, as a reference point. Let me share with the House just a few examples since that date of how this government has taken concrete steps to begin to improve the quality of life of aboriginal peoples in Canada.

On October 20, Bearspaw First Nation in Alberta opened a state of the art water treatment plant. This achievement stems directly from the plan of action to ensure safe water supplies for first nation communities announced by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development last March.

As the House is no doubt aware, soon after this government came into office we learned that more than 200 first nations communities had drinking water systems that were classified as high risk or worse. To address this crisis, Canada's new government devoted some $450 million to address issues affecting quality of life, including safe drinking water.

In addition to this vital budgetary measure, the minister and the Assembly of First Nations appointed a three member expert panel to provide legislative options for safe drinking water in first nations communities.

On December 7, the minister tabled in the House the expert panel's findings and recommendations, along with a report that outlined progress made on all aspects of the government's plan of action. This includes the removal of several drinking water advisories, improvements to a number of water treatment plants, and increased assistance and training for plant operators. The minister is now considering the panel's recommendations and I expect we will be hearing more on the government's initiative.

Along with helping first nations communities to overcome such crises, this government is working to ensure a brighter long term future for these communities. Indeed, when it comes to land claim settlements, we are living through an extraordinary period of Canadian history, particularly in British Columbia.

In recent months, negotiating teams have achieved a series of unprecedented agreements.

On October 29, federal, provincial and first nations negotiators initialled the Lheidli T'enneh final agreement, the first settlement reached through the British Columbia treaty process.

On December 8, the minister was in Delta, B.C. to attend the initialling of the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement, the first final agreement for a B.C. first nation whose traditional lands are situated in an urban area.

On December 9, the minister witnessed the initialling of the Maa-nulth First Nations final agreement, the first final agreement in British Columbia that involves more than one first nation community.

I am happy to report that the successful resolution of land claims is not restricted to British Columbia. On December 1, the government signed a land claims agreement with the Inuit of Nunavik resolving a claim over offshore areas in northern Quebec and Labrador that had dragged on for more than 13 years.

Canada's new government has also partnered with first nation groups in Quebec to improve school performance among students from first nations communities in the province.

A landmark memorandum of understanding signed on October 26 will lead to incentives for first nation schools to create stimulating learning environments, enhance teaching quality and improve accountability to parents and students.

Education is also the focus of a historic bill that received royal assent on December 12 of last year. The First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act will enable first nations communities in B.C. to assume increasingly greater control over on reserve education. It is an important step in ensuring first nation students receive a high quality education that respects their languages, cultures and traditions.

On December 13, our new government introduced in the House another significant piece of legislation: Bill C-44. By repealing section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the bill would ensure that all members of first nations communities will have the legal authority to defend their human rights, a power that all Canadians should be entitled to enjoy.

Despite these and other significant achievements, I readily concede that much work remains to be done to ensure that aboriginal peoples have living standards comparable to those of other Canadians. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development recognize this fact but action to help aboriginal peoples achieve this objective does not come from legislation based on a news release presented at the close of a meeting.

Genuine progress is difficult. It requires clear thinking, diligent effort, patience and collaboration. Canada's new government will continue to work in concert with our aboriginal, provincial and territorial partners to achieve this progress. Together, we will create practical solutions. We will allocate appropriate funds. We will establish clear roles and responsibilities. We will set goals and we will achieve them.

Accordingly, I will be voting against Bill C-292 and I urge my colleagues to do the same.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure and the honour of speaking in this final debate on the Kelowna accord, or Bill C-292, tabled by the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.

I do not agree with what the hon. member, who is also the Chair of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, just said.

First of all, I would say that the Kelowna accord was and still is a nation-to-nation agreement. That is what the current government does not and is not willing to acknowledge. It is making a mistake by not acknowledging that it is a nation-to-nation agreement between the first nations of Canada and the Government of Canada.

I would like to quickly read a statement made by the former Prime Minister of Canada on November 24, 2005, following the signing of the Kelowna accord. He is now the member for LaSalle—Émard and will surely not deny what he said, and I quote:

I share this only to illustrate what we all know to be true not only in the remote communities of the north, but on too many reserves and in too many cities — that there is an unacceptable gap between the hopeful promise of youth and the experience of Aboriginal adulthood.

The member for LaSalle—Émard said it over and over:

[This] gap [is] made even more unacceptable by the fact that aboriginal youth represent the largest segment of Canadian youth and the fastest growing. We face a moral imperative: In a country as wealthy as ours, a country that is the envy of the world, good health care and good education should be taken for granted; they are the tools leading to equality of opportunities—the foundation on which our society is built.

That is what the honourable member for LaSalle—Émard said and that is what was supposed to be in the Kelowna accord, which this government is not honouring.

The previous speaker thinks that there were no numbers to back up the Kelowna accord. How quickly he forgets what the people who were the driving force behind this accord told the committee.

This is how the $5.098 billion in the accord was to be spent: $1.8 billion for education over the next five years. That is what first nations would have received for early childhood, primary, secondary and post-secondary education. There was $500 million for scholarships for post-secondary studies and training; $1.05 billion to promote innovation in on-reserve education; $150 million for off-reserve initiatives in the public school system; $50 million to improve education in the north; and $100 million to prepare children for school. That is what the accord included for education.

For housing, the Government of Canada would have invested $1.6 billion in improving housing conditions over the five years following the Kelowna accord.

Of that $1.6 billion, an amount of $600 million was planned for the transformation of social housing on-reserve; $300 million to support new federal-provincial-territorial partnership agreements for aboriginal housing off-reserve; and $300 million for housing partnerships.

As well, $400 million was planned for water supply and other infrastructure, as well as an acceleration of the first nations water management strategy. In addition, $1.3 billion was to be allocated for health programs over the next five years, including $870 million to stabilize the first nation and Inuit health system; and $445 million to promote transformation and to build capacity.

Our neighbours across the way will say that no numbers were given, but that is false.

Furthermore, there is also the matter of economic development. The federal government was to invest $200 million over the next five years to promote the economic development of aboriginal people, including $12 million toward accelerating the regulatory regime under the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act for commercial and industrial activities; and, $188 million for economic development framework initiatives.

When I hear the present government tell us that no numbers were given, that it was put together haphazardly and that there is no obligation to respect it, I find that shameful. I hope that the first nations who are listening to us tonight heard clearly all the amounts that I have just quoted. I was not there when the Kelowna accord was signed but our research and the witnesses who testified in committee have enabled us to know exactly what amounts were involved.

If that was not enough, the member for LaSalle—Émard—who was the Prime Minister of Canada when the Kelowna accord was signed—was asked whether, in addition to the $6 billion annual budget for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, he had included in his budget funding needed to implement this accord. His answer was “Yes”; he had allocated $1.2 billion per year for the next five years.

What do the first nations need? They need $1.2 billion per year. Although the present government wants to make us believe otherwise, it has not invested an additional $1 billion in native peoples and nations.

What are we doing? Not only are we creating a huge fiscal imbalance with regard to the first nations, but we are also creating a huge social imbalance. That is what the current government will have to address.

We are told that investments are being made. When I look at the budget tabled by the new Minister of Finance, I notice that there is nothing for this year—nothing. There is an additional $150 million for the first nations. That is it. That is nowhere near the $1.2 billion per year. Given that the Kelowna accord was signed in November 2005, there should have been $1.2 billion in 2006, $1.2 billion in 2007, and we should have seen an additional $1.2 billion in the budget just tabled. We are not even close to the $3.6 billion that the first nations should have received.

This evening, I am telling the first nations that a great deal of pressure will have to be exerted because the development of the first nations is not a priority for this government.

It is true—

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am sorry to interrupt the honourable member, but his time is up.

The honourable member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this private members' bill. I unequivocally state that the New Democrats will be supporting this private members' bill.

It is important to put some things in context. There are some fundamental differences in the understanding of what happened at that historic moment in Kelowna. I want to quote from Justice Thomas Berger's book A Long and Terrible Shadow. This is in the context of the Nisga'a agreement, but I think his analysis captures the challenges that are facing us. Justice Berger, in talking about Chief Justice Davey's inability to comprehend the true nature of native culture and native claims, said:

It results in an attitude toward Native people that exasperates them when it does not infuriate them. This attitude is sometimes manifested in an attempt to preserve Native culture and sometimes in an attempt to eradicate it, but it is always manifested in a patronizing way. It assumes that Native culture cannot be viable in a contemporary context. This is the crux of the matter. Native people insist that their culture is still a vital force in their own lives, that it informs their own view of themselves, of the world about them, and of the dominant society.

That particular quote applies to the fact that there are Conservative members of the House who deny the reality of the important work that led up to Kelowna. They deny the reality of 18 months of work, when provinces, the federal government and native leaders from a number of organizations from coast to coast to coast met to talk about the elements that were important for people to come together and agree upon, to talk about the important elements around budgetary requirements.

The Conservative government denies that oral tradition. It denies the validity of the handshake. It denies the validity of a consultation process. Instead, it quibbles about whether or not there was a signed document.

What I know is that in the province of British Columbia where I live the premier of British Columbia, the former prime minister and the leadership council of British Columbia actually signed an agreement based on their understanding of what happened in Kelowna. They signed a tripartite agreement that transformed the discussions in Kelowna into tangible benchmarks. They had a plan. There were results that they were hoping to achieve through the efforts that happened in Kelowna.

What we are facing here is a fundamental difference in a cultural approach. The Conservative government out of hand dismisses that cultural approach to negotiating a deal. I urge the Conservative members to take a second look at what is culturally appropriate for first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples across this country and accept the fact that there is a consultation process that can end up in tangible results that work for all parties.

There is much material and numerous reports on the state of affairs in first nations, Métis and Inuit communities across the country. I could use up my entire time in talking about the desperate poverty, but I will only highlight a couple of points.

The Assembly of First Nations issued a report, “Royal Commission on Aboriginal People at 10 Years: A Report Card”. Overall the government response over 10 years has been a dismal failure. Overall the report card was an F, a complete failure. I will talk about a couple of points here. It was a bit of a reality check.

Under the heading “The Reality”, there is the statement:

No sustained investment in meeting the basic needs of First Nations communities, or in addressing key determinants of health/well-being.

Under the heading “Canada's Failure to Act”, there is the statement:

No structural change in the relationship between First Nations and the Canadian government, as recommended by RCAP.

It also says that there has been inadequate funding growth for health programs, capped at 3% for 10 years.

In case people want to think that these are only numbers, I am going to talk about a couple of communities across the country. In a news article in the Toronto Star on November 18, 2006, entitled “Where tragedy falls off Canada's map”, it is stated:

The United Nations Human Development Index equates the Aboriginal standard of living in this country with that of Brazil, well below the Canadian norm.

She talked to many people in her travels across the country and talked about two people she met in her travels. She says:

This year, I met Phyllis and Andy Chelsea, a Shuswap couple in B.C. whose house is rotting with mould. Statistics Canada says 50 per cent of reserve housing is like this.

In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, many houses are rotting with mould and yet we do not have any concrete programs to look at mould remediation. We do not even have a handle on the number of houses that need to be fixed due to mould.

She goes on in the same article to say:

After spending a year going in and out of Aboriginal communities, after reading dozens of books and countless reports, I've come to believe we have driven the original inhabitants of this country into a place where their survival is at risk.

Those are very hard words. Surely, in this day and age and in one of the richest countries in the world we should not have citizens living in third world conditions. Save the Children visited two reserves in northern Ontario and now we have more international attention on the desperate conditions on these reserves which have mouldy houses, contaminated drinking water and no running water. It goes on and on.

The Kelowna accord is an opportunity to at least look at some of the program dollars. The Kelowna accord fell short in talking about specific land claims, comprehensive land claims, treaty settlements and self-governance but it was a step in the right direction.

This is a budget that has failed to deliver. A number of the native leaders have spoken up quite strongly. Because their words are far more powerful than mine could ever be, I want to quote from some of these leaders. National Chief Phil Fontaine stated:

We don't see any reason to believe that the government cares about the shameful conditions of First Nations. We have tried dialogue and tabled a rational plan to address it.

There are so many frustrated people in our communities—especially our young people. And it's becoming increasingly clear that there's very little tolerance left in our communities for the kind of poverty that's been imposed on our people.

Further in the same article from The Guardian of March 20, he states:

It is clear that First Nations have been left out of the “stronger, safer, better Canada” painted by the finance minister.

In the same article, Beverley Jacobs, the head of the Native Women's Association of Canada, blamed a Conservative government approach to aboriginal issues that she says is essentially a “racist one”.

She goes on to say:

Racism is ignorance. It's not being aware of the history of our people, and the history of the impacts of Canada's assimilation policies—that's the reason why we're dealing with poverty and the impacts of (Indian) residential schools.

We know that Indian residential schools have a generational impact and that many first nation communities are suffering because of a lack of attention. Yes, there has been money for the residential school agreements but there is much more that could be done around healing and reconciliation. In fact, I would argue that the very first agenda item should be an apology from the Conservatives and the Prime Minister of the day for what happened at residential schools.

In a release from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, entitled “The $9 Billion Myth Exposed: Why First Nations Poverty Endures”, they talk about the fact that once all the departmental and administration costs are factored in, each status Indian receives only $7,505.25 in programs and services, not the $15,100 as stated by the government.

A number of other organizations have spoken up about the fact that Kelowna was a step in the right direction and that there was an opportunity in this budget to acknowledge the work that had been done. They are dismayed at the failure of the Conservative government to move forward on some of the issues around housing, education, water, sewage treatment, infrastructure in the communities and more economic development.

I would urge members of this House to support this private member's bill and at least signify an intent to move forward to address the desperate poverty in many first nations, Métis and Inuit communities in this country.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The mover of the motion will now have a five minute right of reply. The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

March 20th, 2007 / 6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the members who have spoken in favour of the Kelowna accord tonight and previously. I would like to thank the members who voted for it.

I would also like to thank the aboriginal leaders, from coast to coast, who spoke publicly in favour of a fundamental improvement in the situation of their fellow citizens.

The Kelowna accord is not simply important because a group of people, the federal government, the prime minister, ministers, provincial and territorial premiers and leaders, and the leaders of Canada's aboriginal people, the Métis nation, the first nations, the Inuit, came together at Kelowna. It is important because at that historic moment the nation came together and said that the lack of decent water, the lack of decent housing and the lack of economic opportunity is not acceptable.

We have heard members of the opposition parties speak here tonight. I would ask members of the government if they think it is acceptable that one million Canadians, the youngest and the fastest growing segment of our population, should at the same time have the highest incidence of infant mortality, the lowest life expectancy, that they should have the highest incidence of AIDS, tuberculosis and diabetes.

Do they think the dropout rate among aboriginals in our country should be double—and almost triple— that of other Canadians?

Kelowna is about saying to the youngest segment of our population that they have the right to the same educational opportunities as other Canadians. It says that in a world in which we must compete with other countries which are showing great productivity and great growth, we believe that every single Canadian counts.

Kelowna is also about the way in which it was arrived at. Members of the current government witnessed it on television with their own eyes. All of the political leaders in this country came together to say that we will no longer impose upon the aboriginal communities of this country our way of looking at things, that we will work with them.

Kelowna is important for its objectives, but it is also important for the way in which it was arrived at, the 16 to 18 months of fundamental discussions in community after community, in province after province, in territory after territory, as to how in fact this great partnership between us as Canadians should work. That is what Kelowna is all about.

For members of the government to stand here and say that that never happened is a denial of a fundamental reality and a historic coming together.

I am very proud of the Kelowna accord and I am very proud of the members of Parliament who have supported it.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 21, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, what brings us here this evening is that on November 28, some four months ago, I raised the following question in the House. I said:

--Huseyincan Celil is a Canadian. The Chinese government is holding him against our country's will and has violated international law. It does not get more serious than this. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister has suggested a high level diplomatic delegation be sent to China to secure his release. The Celil family has requested one.

When will the government send a diplomatic mission to China to ensure consular access and when will the Prime Minister appoint a special envoy to stand up for this Canadian?

As far as I was concerned, the answers I received on November 28 were insufficient.

In March 2000, the U.S. government's “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” severely criticized Beijing for “further backsliding on a dismal human rights performance”.

Although there was some reason to hope that China's human rights record might be improving in light of the Olympic Games, it just does not seem to be the case.

We believe that raising the issue of China's record on human rights is important and in fact critical, but the government's criticism is causing a communication breakdown between our countries.

A real dialogue about issues is not about accusations of cancelled meetings, using the press as the medium. It is an honest, open and accountable process that takes times and sets meaningful objectives.

Today, Huseyin Celil has been in prison for more than one year. We continue to call for a high level delegation to go to China. We do not want to send diplomatic officials to stake out the courtroom, as the Prime Minister has suggested. It seems to be less than appropriate to do that. We do want the Chinese government to take our demands very seriously.

I would like to read for the information of the House some material posted in the Toronto Star and written by Errol Mendes. Entitled “China won't yield to lectures from us: Top Canadians and business leaders must persuade Chinese that their trade interests are best served when Beijing adheres to the rule of law”, the article stated that the Prime Minister recently expressed anger, doing so because:

--our embassy officials in Beijing did not attend the start of the criminal trial of Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil in Urumqi, a remote urban centre in China. Canadians were informed of his trial by his relatives in Canada, not by anyone in the government. His relatives, who attended the trial, claim Celil disclosed that he had been tortured and threatened with being buried alive if he did not confess to the alleged terror-related charges.

[The Prime Minister] is demanding that embassy officials stake out the trial, even if they are not admitted to the proceedings.

Even if the officials followed the Prime Minister's instructions, it is unlikely to affect the outcome of what is only nominally a trial, given the possibility of torture and forced confessions.

It does not bode well that China refuses to recognize Celil's Canadian citizenship and have also broken international legal obligations by refusing to allow consular officials to visit him in prison.

Only the direct intervention by the Prime Minister with President [of China] Hu Jintao could possibly affect Celil's bleak future. There is also a possibility that even [the Prime Minister's] intervention may not suffice, given the state of relations--