House of Commons Hansard #157 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Opposition Motion—The Environment
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, my thanks go to my colleagues in the NDP for ensuring that Bill C-30 sees the light of day.

My question concerns previous comments made by a Liberal colleague who said that this bill in fact was unnecessary and that the Canadian Environmental Protection Act ensures environmental protection.

It is my understanding that one of the reasons the previous Liberal government failed to act on the environment, even after signing the Kyoto accord, was because these decisions had to be made under this act, under CEPA, behind closed doors, and even the environment minister could not get support for initiatives on the environment.

Could my hon. colleague comment on the changes in Bill C-30 and the importance of public accountability on environmental issues?

Opposition Motion—The Environment
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has one minute left for questions and comments.

Opposition Motion—The Environment
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course, every member in this House knows that, although it is in force, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is little enforced. I would say that, since 1997, Canada's greatest failure has been this inability on the part of the federal government to work together with its provincial partners, which have jurisdiction over natural resources and their management.

The answer is clear. Let us recall what the former Commissioner of the Environment, Ms. Gélinas, said. She said that it was imperative that it create partnerships with the provinces. Why? Simply because the provinces are responsible for producing and distributing energy. Energy consumption comes under the purview of the provinces.

As far as I am concerned, it is clear that as long as we do not have a federal government capable of working together with the provinces, we are likely to see this Canadian failure repeat itself in the future.

Opposition Motion—The Environment
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 1:30 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings.

Pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, May 29 at 5:30 p.m.

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.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

May 18th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child first principle, based on Jordan's Principle, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present Motion No. 296 to the House, which calls on the government to immediately adopt a child first principle based on Jordan's principle. This motion has been motivated by the need for this country to look at ending discrimination against first nations children.

Before I speak about the circumstances, I want to specifically acknowledge Jordan and his family, the many people who have stood behind them and the Norway House Cree Nation in bringing this matter to the House's attention. Others like the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada have all worked tirelessly to ensure that we truly do put substance behind the notion that children should be first in this country. Amnesty International has also stood behind the people working on this very important matter.

I want to tell the House a bit about Jordan and who he is. Jordan was born in 1999 with a complex set of genetic and medical conditions. For the first two years of his life he was in hospital and required a wide variety of medical services. The unfortunate story is that because of the lack of services on the reserve, his family had to make the decision to give the child up so he could access the best possible care.

After two years of being in hospital, the medical team determined that Jordan was able to leave the hospital and go to a special foster home where he could get the kind of care that would substantially improve his quality of life. Unfortunately, during the two years when Jordan could have gone into a home and had all the sights, sounds, senses and the love that a home environment would provide, Jordan spent those last two years in hospital.

The reason he spent that time in hospital was because governments had to argue, wrangle and discuss who should pay for Jordan's care. We talk about children being one of our most valuable assets, about being a country that cherishes its children, and yet we allowed that child to die in a hospital without the benefit of a home setting.

I would argue that appropriate care is one of the most fundamental of human rights in this country. Just in case we thought that perhaps it was going to be far too expensive to put Jordan into a foster home, I want to quote from a paper called “Honouring Jordan: Putting first nations children first and funding fights second”. It was a paper written by Trudy Lavallee.

In the paper she talks about the fact that it was not that foster care was more expensive and that the remedies were not available to provide this child the benefit of a home. She stated:

If the use of public funds in a responsible manner were at the centre of the storm of government disagreements, it was not evident because they paid the hospital twice the rate of what it would have cost to place him in a foster home.

If we are talking about accountability, governments would have been far more accountable to provide this child with a home than to allow him to languish in hospital until he died. I cannot imagine, as a mother and grandmother, what it must have been like for his parents to know that their son did not have access to a home in the final two years of his life.

I wish I could stand here and say that the situation has changed. Here we are two years later and there are still first nations children living on reserves who do not have access to the same quality of care that other children in this country have access to.

There was a recent release by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs dated April 3, 2007 entitled, “Disabled children lose services because governments won't pay”. It is about Norway House and states:

Thirty-seven profoundly disabled children on this First Nations reserve will lose essential services--

Again, this is because of ongoing jurisdictional disputes.

Further on down in the paper it says:

A recent research report in Manitoba found that First Nations parents often place their children with disabilities in child welfare care, so they can be sure the children get access to the specialized services they so desperately need. Yet children whose parents want to keep them at home may suffer physical pain without those services.

Even today mothers and fathers are having to give up their children to the state in order to ensure that they receive adequate care because we fail to provide, as a federal government, adequate funding to ensure that these children get the care they need in their homes.

We often speak in Canada about how proud we are that we are a country that has a high quality standard of living. Under the United Nations human development index, Canada is rated as number six. However, when we actually factor the plight of aboriginal children and their families into the complex system that talks about well-being in this country, Canada is ranked 78th, and that rank places us between Lebanon and Kazakhstan.

We have had international agencies looking at the plight of children and families on first nations reserves in this country. They talk about the water, housing, health care, and certainly the issue around child care, access to protective care and welfare services for children.

The Assembly of First Nations has actually filed a Canadian human rights complaint about the lack of funding for first nations children. Right now we have more than 27,000 first nations children in care in this country from coast to coast to coast.

We have more children removed from their families than at the height of the residential schools system. I cannot imagine the grief that this causes to families because they do not have the support they need in order to care for their children.

Much has been made of the fact that many of these children are removed from their families, but they are removed from their families because of issues around poverty. They are removed from their families because their families do not have the resources to provide that adequate housing and other services.

We had something called least disruptive measures. In our country the federal government will fund to have children removed from their homes, but it will not fund those least disruptive measures.

Many provinces have already agreed that this is the most effective way to work with children who need some additional services, but our federal government has failed to provide that.

These are the key findings from the “Wen:de we are coming to the light of day and the journey continues” report. This is a summary that was put out on March 12, 2007. In that summary it says:

The primary reason why First Nations children come to the attention of the child welfare system is neglect. When researchers unpack the definition of neglect, poverty, substance misuse and poor housing are the key factors contributing to the over representation of First Nations children amongst substantiated child welfare cases.

Further on in this report it talks about the fact that an additional $109 million is needed in year one of the proposed formula to redress existing funding shortfalls along with the levels of funding indicated for subsequent years.

They also talk about the fact that jurisdictional disputes between and among federal and provincial governments are substantial problems with 12 first nations child and family service agencies experiencing 393 jurisdictional disputes in this last year alone. These disputes often result in first nations children on reserve being denied or delayed receipt of services that are otherwise available to other Canadian children.

In a country that prides itself on its human rights record, I would argue that by having children continue to not have access to services on reserve that we take for granted in every other part of this country is truly a violation of human rights.

In a recent report that the other place is been putting out, it looked at the UN convention on the rights of the child. In that UN convention on the rights of the child report, we are again cited internationally for what is happening to aboriginal children in this country.

There are a couple of points I want to raise from that report under child protection issues. It says that one of the most prominent and recurring themes with respect to aboriginal children in Canada is their disproportionate representation within the child welfare system.

Not only are children overrepresented, but as we have seen in the case of Jordan, we cannot even agree upon what adequate services would be and then fund them.

There were lots of experts in Jordan's case who talked about the fact that he needed access to a wheelchair, a special shower head, and yet the federal government would not come to the table and put Jordan's needs first. They refused to say that this child needed the care that he needed and that they would worry about who would pay later.

Again, in the UN Convention on the rights of the child it talks about the fact that a report released by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada in August 2005 stated that between 1995 and 2001 the number of registered Indian children entering care rose by 71.5% nationally.

The organization's 2005 one day report found that there are three times more first nations children in care now than at the height of the residential schools era in the 1940s. It goes on to say that the situation is particularly dire in British Columbia where over 50% of children in permanent care are aboriginal, and in Saskatchewan and Manitoba 80% of children in care are aboriginal. These numbers are startling.

The work that the Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and Norway House Cree Nation have been doing over the years has all fallen on deaf ears. This has been going on for decades, but Jordan's case arose in 1999.

It is through their efforts that finally in 2007 this matter is finally on the floor of the House of Commons.

How many other children in the last six years have ended up being removed from their homes and not receiving the services they need because of this wrangling?

I would urge each and every member of this House to support the motion I have brought before the House to say that first nations children in Canada on reserve truly should come first and should receive the same care that other children in Canada receive.

I will close with a quote from a release by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Fontaine. He said:

The motion asks a simply question: Do Canadians accept the fact that their health care system treats certain children differently because of the race or community they belong to? And further, do Canadians accept that this double standard can result in death or disability? This practice should not be allowed to exist or be accepted as a normal business practice. We must stand together to protect and nurture the health and well-being of all children across Canada.

I would ask each and every member here to support this important motion and say that first nations children on reserve do deserve to be treated fairly, equally and with justice in this country.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the speech from our hon. colleague over in the NDP wing of the House. I certainly sympathize with the view that she is presenting.

Whenever we see children that are suffering through no fault of their own, but because of the circumstances that they are in, it makes us think that we have to do something.

I know in our family our son and his new wife went to Rwanda to help look after the orphans after that very difficult situation. So many of these children lost their parents, either because they disappeared or they were killed. Our kids went there with our blessing and support because these are children that needed to have that help. I appreciate what the member has said.

What I would like to ask the member is, does she have any idea about the real root causes for this negligence? It is easy to say that it is the government's fault that it has not been looked after properly. Perhaps that is part of it. I sometimes think that perhaps there is a deeper societal element that we need to look at, and see if we can identify the root of the problem and look at corrective measures from that regard.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would argue that if the member wants to look to the roots for the despair and poverty in many first nations communities from coast to coast to coast, he would only need to look back over 150 years at the policies that practised assimilation, and some would even argue genocide.

We have had report after report, and we only have to go back to 1996 to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. If we want to right some of the wrongs of successive governments in the country, parties of all political stripes need to own their responsibility around this issue. We need to work hand in glove with first nations people, Métis and Inuit people across this country to develop the solutions.

We know that part of the solution certainly is money. There has been a 2% cap in place for over 10 years, which has limited the ability of first nations communities to respond to the pressing and urgent needs in their communities.

I would argue that what we need to do is to sit down in a meaningful way, in a true partnership, in a true nation to nation way with first nations across this country and develop the solutions to the problems that exist today.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, continuing on in that vein, there is a common misunderstanding around these issues. Somehow there is blame attributed to the communities.

As the member mentioned, very clearly it is a systemic issue that has never been addressed. Could the member inform the House about the initiatives, the types of efforts that first nations have been taking to address this devastating issue in a very responsible and responsive way?

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are many creative and innovative solutions in this country, again from coast to coast to coast.

Just to step back a little bit, around children and care, the numbers clearly show that first nations agencies that provide services and care for children are 22% underfunded. That is well documented. Yet we can look to many other nations, like Westbank and Membertou, and the work that is happening in my own community, Cowichan Tribes, where people are putting together solutions. They are looking at culture and language training, which is revitalizing their communities, and which respects their traditions. They are looking at providing on the ground services. We have seen many examples of healing circles and restorative justice that are working very effectively in communities.

There are many good examples on which we can build.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Before I recognize the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul, I would like to thank the hon. member for Victoria who occupied the chair for part of the speech by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, one of the rare times when a woman occupies the chair in this 39th Parliament, and she did it in an exemplary way.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to explain why I will vote in favour of the motion introduced by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. The motion calls on all levels of government to place the interests of first nation children above jurisdictional considerations.

This government is determined to continue to make improvements in the lives of first nation children, women and families, and certainly supports a child first principle. The child first approach espoused by Jordan's principle is both noble and laudable.

Children are precious. They represent Canada's most valuable resource and should be cherished. But far too often first nations children have not been and are not now accorded the same respect as other Canadian children. This situation is tragic and we must work to change it.

The child who inspired Jordan's principle became caught in the tangle of regulations and funding mechanisms that underpin first nations child and family services. The quality and availability of these services vary widely across our nation. So do the nature of service agreements and how they are administered.

This government acknowledges that the current first nations child and family services program had been in need of modernization and improvement, and we have worked hard to that end.

Two recent reports have shed new light on the complex issues at the heart of this matter. In 2005, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada commissioned the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada to conduct original research into these issues. The result, known as the Wen:de report, for the first time clearly illustrates the challenges facing first nations child and family services across Canada and provides good direction for change in such a critical area. A second study just completed by the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights and entitled “Children: the Silenced Citizens” was tabled on April 27.

Both reports are useful to us in our work. As they make all too clear, there is no simple solution to the problem of first nations child and family services. Resolving the issue will require a prolonged and concentrated effort. It will require creativity and commitment, and it will require the collaboration of first nations, provinces and territories, and the Government of Canada. It was these essential elements that contributed to a historic partnership announced in Alberta last month.

This partnership between the federal government, the province of Alberta and Alberta first nations is based on a model of child welfare introduced by that province some six years ago. The Alberta response model focuses on prevention and collaboration. In essence, the model gets professionals, administrators and families to work together toward meeting the needs of children at risk. This collaboration has ensured that appropriate services are being delivered before a crisis erupts, and when a crisis does occur that the response is timely, effective and culturally appropriate.

In the six years since the introduction of the enhanced prevention model, child intervention caseloads in communities served by the province of Alberta have dropped by an average of 22%. This includes seven first nation communities where interventions have decreased by 10%. During the same period, the caseloads of first nations child and family service agencies, which are not under the model, increased by 4%.

All of the parties involved, the province, the Government of Canada and Alberta first nations, are determined to achieve similarly positive results for children living on reserve.

It is worth noting that before the province could implement the Alberta response model, it had to amend the provincial legislation that governs child and family services. The old law focused on crisis intervention. Service agencies could intervene in families only once a formal complaint had been lodged. The new law, known as the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, enables provincial agencies to be more proactive, to offer services such as parenting courses or respite care. The enhancement act effectively places greater emphasis on prevention services, while continuing to empower agencies to intervene to protect children.

Under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, agencies are now placing an at risk child with other family members, often grandparents, uncles or aunts who maintain healthy, stable households. In this way, a child's connection with the community and the larger family is not necessarily severed.

During the 1960s, first nations children were often removed from their homes, if they were subjected to neglect or abuse, and placed in non-aboriginal foster homes. While such moves typically protected children from neglect or abuse, they were also disconnected from their cultures. Many of these children struggled in a no man's land of sorts. They had little familiarity with the culture of their forefathers and grew up in a culture that has not always treated aboriginal peoples well.

Now, with the provincial response model in place, at risk first nations children are more likely to be placed in suitable foster homes with family members.

To support the implementation of the new model in Alberta first nations, this government will be contributing an additional $15.3 million in support of this partnership. This government is keen that first nations in other parts of the country also have access to modernized child and family services. In order for us to achieve this goal, we must all show the same type of collaboration and creativity that produced the agreement in Alberta.

I am happy to report that federal and first nations officials are working with their provincial counterparts across the country.

The modernization of child and family service systems is only one part of this government's plan to improve the lives of first nations people. The plan also includes targeted investments and initiatives to enhance the quality of life experienced by first nations peoples and families.

A few weeks ago, for instance, this government invested additional funds, more than $50 million, for improved educational facilities in first nation communities. Furthermore, to support the network of shelters that help first nations women and children escape family violence, we invested $6 million in the family violence prevention program last fall.

On the legislative front, a bill granting first nations in British Columbia greater control over on reserve education gained the unanimous approval of this House late last year. Another bill now before the House proposes to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and better protect the fundamental rights of residents of first nations communities.

This government believes that first nations people should have the same opportunities as other Canadians. They should have access to a quality education, clean drinking water and adequate housing. Their rights should be respected and their children should be afforded the same level of protection available to other Canadian children.

This government recognizes the vital importance of providing for children, for their physical, emotional and educational well-being. There is no more valuable effort we can undertake. That is why we are re-examining the first nations child and family services program to ensure we are delivering the best services possible. That is also why we support Jordan's principle.

A child first principle calls on all levels of government to work together and treat first nations children with greater respect. I am glad to proclaim my support for the motion introduced by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I feel especially privileged to speak in the House today to this private member's motion put forward by the NDP member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. I thank her for her effort and for bringing this to the House. It is my most sincere hope that we listen to this issue today and move forward on it in a non-partisan manner.

I would first like to acknowledge Jordan's memory and Jordan's family; the people of his home community, Kinosao Sipi, Norway House Cree Nation, and their counsellor, Mike Muswagon, who is here today; the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs; Grand Chief Ron Evans; and Trudy Lavallee of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs who is also here today. Also here today is Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada.

I would like to also acknowledge Amnesty International and the court challenges program.

When the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan raised this matter she was articulate, thorough and concise in her request. The Jordan principle is simply about putting the child first. It is the child first principle which is, of course, a basic standard of international law.

This is an issue that is incomprehensible to me. I have been well aware of the hard work that has been done to bring international attention to Jordan's principle and, domestically, to have governments commit to the principle and funding agreements.

Jordan's principle reflects a practice of neglect which has had the most devastating of devastating impacts. I have met with families, child welfare workers, educators, community leaders and regional leaders from the first nations in my riding and it is, without a doubt, the most shameful situation that, in our country, first nations children are not entitled to the same services as other children.

What has been most disturbing is that as the battle has been waged interdepartmentally between Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the First Nations and Inuit Health branch, and interjurisdictionally between the feds and the provinces, these same governments have had no hesitation in doling out costs, often much higher costs, for care than for family or community based care, and those costs would go to institutions.

We heard that Jordan never left the hospital and that the cost of keeping him there far exceeded the cost of having him in his home community, in a home setting. It is reprehensible that first nations children are forced to be separated from their families and communities rather than set funding arrangements and policy to ensure that children with complex medical needs or disabilities have access to services.

Members will note that I did not use the term appropriate services because there are no services for these children and their families.

I want to be very clear. There is no funding mechanism to deliver services for these children in first nations. The federal departments responsible for services and programs in first nations, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the First Nations and Inuit Health branch, volley the issue claiming that it is either a social cost or a health cost, and the provinces will not provide service on reserve. It is not their jurisdiction.

In my riding of Churchill, five first nations child welfare agencies have for years and years worked with families and, as in Jordan's case, the children must come into care to access services. The agencies have been under enormous sustained pressure to negotiate adequate services for the children once they are in care, on a case by case basis, because, as I mentioned earlier, there are no funding agreements or policies.

Earlier today at a press conference about Jordan's principle, hosted by the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, we heard Councillor Mike Muswagon from Kinosao Sipi, Norway House Cree Nation, speak about flood moneys that had been used to provide services for more than 30 children in his community.

The flood moneys he was referring to were under a compensation agreement with Manitoba Hydro. These moneys will be unavailable and it is uncertain as to what will happen with the 30 children and, most likely, they will also be forced into care to access services.

Under the previous Liberal government, a national policy review committee was working with agencies, researchers and the federal government to ensure a delivery mechanism was established.

It is the responsibility of the current government to hear what is being presented today, to heed the story and the memory of Jordan's life, and to ensure that we, the country of the charter and a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, respect not only the aboriginal treaty rights of first nations but the principle, which is simply the dignity of respect for the child first principle in Jordan's principle.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to motion M-296 introduced by our colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan, British Columbia.

I will take the time to read the motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child first principle, based on Jordan's principle, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of first nations children.

First and foremost, I want to assure all the members of the House of Commons that the Bloc Québécois supports our NDP colleague's motion in principle.

However, it is important to remember that Quebec and some provinces have already put in place legislation and assistance procedures. Still, we support this motion.

The federal government must therefore do its part by helping to fund services for first nations children.

The basic question is this: who will pay for child protection? Quebec's youth protection legislation includes a provision whereby first nations communities play an active role in youth protection.

I would also point out that Motion M-296 allows for the protection of children based on the child first principle, while waiting for the federal government and provincial governments to reach an official agreement on the various terms and conditions on services, and the payment of services, provided to children from first nations communities.

Jordan's principle is worth discussing. Jordan's principle is the name given to the child first principle, which puts the interest of the child before constitutional conflicts when it comes to access to services. The Canadian Constitution does not specify which level of government is responsible for providing services to first nations children. Thus, there are many legal conflicts concerning the protection of children.

Under the Constitution, who is financially and morally responsible for first nations children? The debate centres on this fundamental question. The answer to this question will have an impact on the availability of services and programs intended for aboriginal children.

I would like to share a statistic that illustrates the shortcomings of democracy in this country, when it comes to recognizing the rights of a minority made up of first nations peoples from Canada and Quebec. This statistic was taken from The Joint National Policy Review on First Nations Child and Family Services by McDonald and Ladd, published in 2000.

That report says:

The average Canadian gets services from federal, provincial and municipal governments at an amount that is almost two and a half times greater than that received by First Nations citizens.

This is one of my main reasons for being here today. We must put an end to such situations. This is unacceptable. According to several stakeholders, the best way to manage jurisdictional conflicts is to prevent them. Jordan's principle represents a provisional measure, while waiting for the federal and provincial governments to reach an agreement on jurisdictions.

The Bloc believes, and people will agree, that Quebec sovereignty is the best solution. Indeed, our position on first nations peoples began to change back in 1977, under the Lévesque government, which adopted provisions concerning first nations children within this large territory, the future sovereign country of Quebec.

We nevertheless wish to comment on jurisdictions and responsibility, and I continue in that direction.

We will present a brief overview of the jurisdictional difficulties that Motion no. 296 will not resolve. However, it will place first nations children and families on an equal footing with Quebec and Canadian children and families by enabling them to receive social and health services.

As stated in the report of the Joint National Policy Review on First Nations Child and Family Services, from which I quoted earlier, the different government levels are passing the buck with respect to jurisdiction.

The federal government has said that the provinces are responsible for providing child services to first nations, in accordance with Section 92 of the 1867 Constitution. Participation by the federal government in the provision of programs and services, in its view, is quite simply discretionary.

As for the provinces, they believe that the federal government is responsible for reserve Indians, pursuant to section 91(24) of the Constitution Act.

Thus, provincial and territorial governments are concerned that the federal government is offloading on them its responsibilities with respect to aboriginal peoples and argue that:

—the federal government has the constitutional, historical, and fiduciary responsibility arising from the treaties with aboriginals who live on and off reserves.

According to a report published in 2005 by the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada, the first nations have adopted the same position as the provinces.

The first nations are the only peoples to suffer from the lack of responsibility and accountability of the federal government and to ask that it maintain:

—its tutelage and its fiduciary duties towards the first nations, including its children, families and community services.

The federal government funds first nations child and family support agencies pursuant to Directive 20-1—hence a matter of administration— and not, in its view, because of its fiduciary responsibility. The federal government refuses to change its position and has stated that the delivery of programs and services to first nations is discretionary.

There is nevertheless an important vision to be presented here. First nations children are entitled to be treated with respect and Canada, in its current structure, must ensure that these children are respected, as requested by stakeholders, the chiefs and governments of the first nations and with the insight brought by the first nations and the provincial governments to a federal government that must assume its responsibilities in full.

Therefore, I hope and pray that Jordan's principle will be applied.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to support Motion No. 296. It is unconscionable that we would rank 78th on the United Nations Human Development Index in terms of first nations children.

People call this Jordan's principle. There are some other principles that go along with this. How about principles that say patience not paper? How about some principles about kids first, not bureaucracy first?

When we talk about the treatment of children, in this case first nations children, whatever the agency of first contact is, it provides the service. I do not care which one it is. We can figure out later who pays the bill. It is not fair for a young child to have to lay in a hospital bed waiting for something which adults are bickering about, or they cannot decide on, or they are shuffling papers or they are arguing over jurisdictional issues. There is nothing moral about that.

I want to talk a bit about some experiences I have had in this area. As the minister of health, the minister of education and the minister of children and families in British Columbia, I have heard many heart-rending stories. However, I will go back some time before that.

I am a pediatric nurse and I worked at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. There were young toddlers, two, three, four, five year olds, on the surgical floor. Many aboriginal children came to that hospital. In those days it was almost the only hospital with intensive pediatric experience. Children from northern Ontario and northern Manitoba would come to the hospital and they would be there for extensive lengths of time.

Let me talk about a child I will call Michael, although Michael is really a composite of a number of children that I knew. Michael was from northern Ontario and he came to the hospital have surgery. His surgery was very complicated. He needed rehabilitation after the surgery and then other surgeries later. It involved orthopedics. By the time I met him, he had been there for about 22 months.

It was Christmastime. Anybody who knows Toronto, knows the Santa Claus Parade used to go down University Avenue. The windows of the Hospital for Sick Children face University Avenue. We would gather all the children in front of the window so they could watch as the parade went by. Like many hospitals, people try to take as many people home as possible. By Christmas Eve the ward was fairly empty, except Michael was there as were other aboriginal children.

Where was Christmas for them? They had seen Santa Claus go by, they had heard the other children on their ward getting excited about being home and talking about their stockings and being with their families. Michael and other aboriginal children were in the hospital in beds and cribs.

I remember going to work at midnight and checking to ensure everybody was asleep. There were probably two or three of us tiptoeing around, hanging stockings on the ends of beds and cribs and filling them with toys so in the morning those children would know that somehow Santa had found them.

Michael was there for another year and a half. There was no money for his parents to visit. None of his family could visit him. There was no Ronald McDonald House at that time. One might say that I was nursing a long time ago, and I was, but it is not substantially different now. His family could not come down to visit him and he could not be flying back and forth, with the kind of surgery and rehabilitation he was having.

What do children that age think when they have not seen their parents in a year and a half or two years? They think they have been abandoned. They think it is their fault. They think they have done something wrong. Because they have not seen their family, they think nobody loves them.

Eventually Michael went home, but I am trying to imagine the kinds of family support services and resources that would have had to be there in order to build that family again for a child who had been away for that length of time. Those services were not in place then and many of them are not in place now.

There were other children with Michael who could not go home because no one could decide where they could go. They were “in care”, but no one could make the decision about what foster home it would be, funded by whom, where it would be, and whether it would be in their home community, so they just continued to stay.

These are children at their most formative ages.

For a minute I want to look at this through the eyes of Michael. Michael has seen on television and read books about what home is, but he has never seen one. He has heard the kids on the ward talk about what a home is and what they do at home and where they play at home, but he has never seen one. What does Michael do? He wonders what is wrong with him that he cannot have the same home that the other children do. Why is he different? What is wrong with him that nobody wants him?

First nations agencies should have all the capacity and resources they need to provide all of the services that first nations children require, and I repeat, all of the capacity and resources. In some provinces some of that is starting to work, but my Lord, it has been far too long in coming, and for many aboriginal children it is not anywhere close to being there yet.

If we are truly child centred, then it is about the child. Everyone knows that I am an adopted only child, and sometimes folks suggest they could guess that without my telling them, so I have no extended family. The potential for extended family support for first nations children is huge. It is something that I and my children will never experience.

As a mom, I cannot imagine not having the experience of going in every night to tuck my child in and of tiptoeing in before I go to bed to see if they are asleep. That is what these first nations parents cannot do. That is the joy that comes from parenthood.

How can there be any reason whatsoever that we cannot support this? If we cannot treat a child immediately under all circumstances, then as a country we have failed and as a society we have failed. Jordan cannot have waited or died in vain. Let no child wait again.

Aboriginal Affairs
Private Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to voice my support for the aims of the child first approach in responding to the needs of first nations children. There can be no doubt that the various levels and agencies of government are struggling with many issues, including cross-jurisdictional issues, when it comes to the health and safety of at risk first nations children.

Let me add that I applaud the efforts of my colleague from Nanaimo--Cowichan to improve the lot of first nations communities and individuals all across Canada. I have the privilege of serving with her on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Jordan's principle proposes a direct approach to ensuring that first nations children get the care they need. By putting the needs of children first, it advances a straightforward solution which should ensure that services are delivered in a timely fashion.

For these reasons, I am keen to endorse this private member's motion and the principle it espouses.

However, despite my enthusiasm about a child first principle, I recognize that there are some limitations to our ability to adopt this motion immediately.

Jordan's principle is about results, not processes. It is not a solution to the problems surrounding the delivery of services to at risk first nations children. It does, however, provide invaluable guidance about the nature of that solution.

Acknowledging Jordan's principle and starting to work on cross-jurisdictional solutions is the first step toward resolving these issues. However, the principle does not address the root causes, and only by resolving these underlying problems can we arrive at a sustainable solution.

This government believes that the only way to resolve many aboriginal issues is to address root causes, whether jurisdictional or legislative. Since taking office, the government has adopted this approach on several key issues such as unsafe drinking water in first nations communities and poor educational outcomes in on reserve schools.

Although the issues are radically different, the same critical factor stands in the way of an immediate solution. Policies and programs in these areas, as well as child and family services, require structural reform so we can ensure that we are meeting the needs of first nations communities and families.

In a nutshell, child and family services fall under provincial jurisdiction. However, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada pays for the delivery of child and family services to first nations on reserve. In many cases, the services are delivered by first nations agencies pursuant to agreements negotiated with the provinces. In other cases, provincial and territorial agencies deliver these services.

Given this complexity, it should come as no surprise that the quality and availability of first nations child and family services vary widely across Canada. Despite the best efforts of the talented and dedicated men and women who provide and administer services, the system sometimes exacerbates the difficulties of children such as Jordan, the three year old boy, now deceased, who inspires the principle at the heart of the motion under debate.

The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has directed his officials to work with their provincial, territorial and first nations counterparts to improve the systems currently in place. I am glad to say that we are beginning to see some improvement.

Late last month, the Government of Canada, the province of Alberta and Alberta first nations established an historic partnership. This partnership establishes a new foundation for first nations child and family services in the province. There is every reason to believe that this new approach to child welfare will provide a lasting solution.

In essence, this partnership validates a project launched by the province of Alberta more than six years ago. The project aimed to improve the province's child welfare system by implementing something called the Alberta response model.

This model involves a major shift in emphasis for child and family services. Rather than focus on crisis intervention, this model emphasizes prevention and collaboration. The idea is to get professionals, administrators and families working together to prevent a crisis.

Since the province of Alberta adopted the model, the number of child interventions in the communities served by the province has dropped significantly, by some 22%. This included seven first nations communities in which the interventions decreased by 10%. By way of comparison, the number of child interventions in first nations communities not under this model increased by 4% during that same period. Under the agreement reached last month, the Alberta response model will be implemented by all first nations child and family services in Alberta.

This government is confident that the Alberta response model will lead to better results for first nations children over the long term. We have invested $15.3 million to implement this new approach over the next year.

The government has also taken decisive action to make constructive changes to the existing framework and other areas to better support first nations children and families. For example, late last year a bill that transformed on reserve education in British Columbia earned the unanimous approval of this House. First nations in that province are now able to design and implement appropriate curricula, set relevant standards and engage residents of their communities in the vital work of educating children. There is no doubt that this legislation will lead to improved outcomes for first nations students in British Columbia.

The government is determined to improve the quality of life experienced by all first nations in Canada. By taking careful stock of our existing programs and services and implementing structural or legislative change where necessary, we will make measurable progress.

I endorse the motion introduce by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, with the note of caution that we are unlikely to resolve the jurisdictional issues merely by saying so. We do want, however, to send a message that this is the direction we want to move in and move in that direction as quickly as possible.