House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak on this very serious matter. I want to begin with a fundamental question that I think we should all consider. Will land claims fundamentally improve the lives of aboriginal people?

A week ago I went to one of the reserves in my riding, the Pacheedaht reserve near Port Renfrew. When one goes to this reserve, one sees conditions that are very much like those in a developing country. The houses are rundown. The windows are smashed. Mould is infecting these houses. We know that the presence of mould in these types of homes is a major risk factor for tuberculosis and is a contributing factor in the very high rate of tuberculosis among aboriginal people.

While I was there, I noticed very few people.

I went to the reserve because in my community we have created libraries for children on some of the reserves in my riding. We have set up three libraries on reserves.

As I said, when I went to Pacheedaht, there were very few people around. There was a sense of foreboding and bleakness. The reason was that the night before one of the young women on the reserve had been raped. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation on this and a number of other reserves that I have had occasion to visit. It speaks to a much larger and bleaker situation that exists for too many aboriginal people living on and off reserve.

What is it like? As a physician I had the opportunity in British Columbia to fly in to some aboriginal reserves, where I would pay house calls. I would visit the communities and see people and treat them in their homes.

There is nothing as heart-wrenching as going into communities where more than eight people are living in hermetically sealed houses. There are a grandmother and a grandfather sleeping on urine-stained mattresses. Sitting out in front of their homes are children with impetigo, a really bad skin infection. People are lying right beside the children, drunk at 10 o'clock in the morning. Unemployment rates exceed 50%. Essentially in these communities there is no hope.

There is a fundamental question I would ask. Treaties must be honoured. The treaties must be completed and land claims must settled, but at the end of the day, will the completion of those treaties fundamentally improve the bleak situation that we see on and off reserves for too many aboriginal people?

There are hundreds of statistics. Let me illustrate a few of them. The incidence of male aboriginals being incarcerated is 11 times that of non-aboriginals. For female aboriginals the incidence of being incarcerated is 250 times that of non-aboriginals. In other words, the risk of an aboriginal woman being incarcerated is 250 times higher than it is for a non-aboriginal woman.

The median income for aboriginals is $13,500.

Seventy-five per cent of aboriginal children do not graduate from high school.

The level of sexual violence and the incidence of HIV-AIDS and of tuberculosis are far higher than what we see in non-aboriginal communities.

The question I would ask is this: will these treaties fundamentally improve the lives of people living on and off reserve?

For 10,000 years, aboriginal people lived in independence. They lived and flourished on this continent. However, something happened that changed everything, and that was the Indian Act. For the last 130 years, the Indian Act has ruled the lives of aboriginal people.

What is the Indian Act? It is a racist act. It is an act that separates aboriginal people from non-aboriginal people. The Indian Act is like a rock tied to the ankles of aboriginal people. It prevents them from being integrated and equal--not assimilated but integrated--in society in North America. It prevents them from having the economic ability that we as non-aboriginals are ensured.

Separate development is apartheid. Tragically, we have apartheid in Canada. It is not something that we should be proud of. It is something we should be ashamed of. In my view, the racist Indian Act should be scrapped because it is a rock tied to the ankles of aboriginal people and it prevents them from being able to move forward and be champions and masters of their destiny.

If we were to try to develop land and engage in economic development on reserve, we would have to go through a minimum of six different departments. It would take use four times the length of time to develop that land. If a developer or a business opportunity came to us, it would take us that length to have any chance to move this forward.

Where does capital go? Will it go to on reserve? It does not. Because the structure is such that no matter how hard-working, no matter how diligent, no matter how hopeful, no matter how inspired aboriginal members and leaders are to develop on their land, to provide for their people, to provide a sustainable future for their people, they cannot. We can. However, the structure prevents them from doing that. Is that fair? Is it reasonable? It is immoral. It is appalling that this situation is allowed to continue.

Land claims are all well and good to complete, for the importance of land and the culture and history and as a matter of fairness with respect to aboriginal people, but we have to go beyond that. The resolution of these claims will be unable to address the fundamental socio-economic tragedies and trauma that are inflicted by aboriginals on aboriginal people every day, day in and day out.

We have to give those children on a reserve a chance. We have to give them hope. We have to ensure they will have access to the same opportunity that we have, but they do not. There is no chance they will be able to do that. That is the most heartbreaking of all.

We can take a look at some of the communities, and there are some phenomenal communities. Chief Clarence Louie, for example, in Osoyoos, has done some remarkable work as have others leaders. They are true leaders who have taken things upon themselves, despite overwhelming and very difficult circumstances.

I can hardly hear myself think, Mr. Speaker, because of all the chatter going on.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

If I could have the attention of the House for a moment. The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is close to me and I cannot hear him because members on my far right, and maybe on my far left, are making more noise than I have authorized. The only member who has been authorized to speak is the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, and he has four minutes.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have inadvertently created a welfare dependency trap for aboriginal people and it is fundamentally important that the trap be removed. I would submit that the Department of Indian Affairs needs to work with aboriginal leaders to remove the existing obstacles that prevent them from being able to be masters of their own destiny. As I said before, it is immoral that the status quo is allowed to exist.

I will provide the House with some solutions.

I mentioned that the Indian Act should be scrubbed.

One of the challenges facing aboriginal people is capacity building. When aboriginal leaders on reserve want to develop something, be it land or whatever, they need to hire experts to help them. However, some of these experts are actually criminally negligent in their behaviour. They often receive money for substandard work. It is similar with band managers. Some band managers are good and some are not.

It would be helpful if the Department of Indian Affairs worked with the AFN to build a website where a chief and council could determine which individuals give good service and which do not. A chief or council member could then link to those individuals who would do a good job.

Second, on the issue of capacity building, the Department of Indian Affairs needs to do a lot more with its budget of $9.1 billion to ensure that aboriginal children have access to education.

Third, property rights need to change. Aboriginal people need to own their own property so they can build up some wealth and be able to use that land for their own benefit. They then would be able to provide for themselves, for their families and for their communities.

Fourth, we need to ensure that aboriginal people have access to health care.

In my riding, the Pacheedaht reserve does not have clean water. Many times it has asked, begged and pleaded for help from the Department of Indian Affairs and it has received the cold shoulder. The Pacheedaht reserve needs water and it needs it now. Can anyone imagine not having access to clean water? That is a fundamental right of life. Being forced to drink filthy water is a health hazard. It is immoral, sickening and fundamentally unfair.

As my time is winding to a close, I want to press upon the government the need to talk about integration on assimilation. We need to scrap the Indian Act and we need to work together with aboriginal peoples so they will have a better future for themselves, their families and their communities. We should not constrain them as we have done for so long.

The House resumed from May 8 consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 6:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion of the member for Sault Ste. Marie relating to the business of supply.

When we return to the study of Bill C-30, the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca will have nine minutes left.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #109

Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

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

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, on April 3, 2008, just over a month ago, I asked a question about the fiscal imbalance. I asked when the government was going to keep the promise the Prime Minister made in December 2005, to introduce a bill on spending power that would control the federal spending power. It is not very complicated. It is a matter of controlling spending power, or “providing the unconditional right to opt out with full financial compensation in respect of any new or existing federal program, whether cost-shared or not, which interferes in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction”.

That is precisely what Quebeckers expect when it comes to the federal spending power. This is an important aspect of the fiscal imbalance that has not been resolved. We have a hard time understanding why the government has not introduced such a bill. Where is it? The government has had more than enough time to introduce it. The Quebec nation has been recognized. The Prime Minister made that promise during the election campaign but he seems unable to keep it.

Why has the bill not been introduced? Is it being held up somewhere in the bureaucracy? Would the federal bureaucracy try to block such a bill in some way? Is the government afraid of how English Canada might react? I do not know why, but I do know that this is an important issue for Quebec. This is not just a sovereigntist issue.

I remember way back when I was just getting interested in politics, when Robert Bourassa was premier of Quebec, similar demands were being made. Then the Parti Québécois was in power, and then the Liberals were back in. Even the Action démocratique du Québec demanded this. Everyone wants the federal spending power to be controlled so that the federal government cannot intervene in areas that are under Quebec's jurisdiction, yet the federal government has not been doing anything to make that happen.

Quebeckers want the federal government to take concrete action to prove that it has a different way of seeing things and that its recognition of the Quebec nation is more than just words. Concrete action means introducing a bill to put limits on the federal spending power. Why is the federal government not moving forward on this? Why is it not keeping its election promise?

7 p.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to respond to the question put by the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup on the federal spending power.

I would first like to remind the hon. member that on November 22, 2006, the Prime Minister affirmed that the Québécois form a nation within Canada. Certainly, that was an unprecedented and historic step on the part of a Canadian Prime Minister. It was also consistent with the government's unprecedented efforts to restoring fiscal balance.

Our government committed to working together with our provincial and territorial partners to build a better future for our country, and that is exactly what we are doing. For Quebeckers this means unprecedented support from the federal government of over $16.7 billion in 2008-09, an increase of $1.6 billion from last year and over $4.5 billion since 2005-06.

Quebec will see $8 billion in 2008-09 in equalization, an increase of over 67% from 2005-06. Payments to Quebec under equalization have increased by almost $870 million or 12.1% from 2007-08. Quebec will also receive $5.5 billion through the Canada health transfer and $2.5 billion through the Canada social transfer.

After more than a decade of uncertainty caused by the previous Liberal government, this Conservative government answered the call from the provinces and territories, and has provided long term predictable funding. In fact, budget 2007, which dealt with the fiscal balance, was very well received in the province of Quebec.

Former Quebec finance minister Yves Séguin called it prudent, realistic and “a big step forward”. He said that it significantly redressed a long time sore spot, the fiscal imbalance.

More recently, budget 2008 ended the millennium scholarships and replaced them by a bigger student grant program and streamlined the loan system. This gets Ottawa out of a provincial jurisdiction. Quebec will be able to opt out of the grant system with full compensation and it should be more useful to more students. A Montreal Gazette editorial stated:

Quebec will welcome this. It's no wonder [the Liberal leader] quickly said he would not vote against this budget.

Similarly, a new crown corporation to set employment insurance rates on a break even basis meets another longstanding demand of Quebec. Clearly, this government is fulfilling its long standing commitment to respect jurisdiction.

However, the Bloc Québécois voted against budget 2008 and Quebeckers have taken notice that the Bloc's rhetoric does not match its actions. In the spirit of open federalism, budget 2008 and the Speech from the Throne committed to formerly limiting the federal spending power through legislation.

7 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, in his response, my colleague provided the important element—the Quebec nation was recognized because of pressure from the Bloc Québécois, which moved a motion to which the Prime Minister reacted.

We now have a resolution—the Canadian state recognizes the Quebec nation. However, in December 2005, the Prime Minister committed to introducing a bill about spending power, which would ensure an unconditional right to opt out, with full financial compensation, of any new or existing federal program, whether cost-shared or not, which interferes in our areas of jurisdiction.

It is a permanent decision. A bill of this kind would ensure that Quebeckers are safe from federal government excesses. We are still waiting for the Prime Minister to follow through. Why will he not introduce this bill so that we can vote quickly? It would be a concrete way to keep a promise and fix another part of the fiscal imbalance, which has yet to be fixed.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I might remind the House that the previous Liberal government denied that a fiscal imbalance even existed. This Conservative government is different, however.

Under our fiscal balance plan, we have committed to respecting roles and responsibilities among governments. Budget 2007 clarified and strengthened fiscal arrangements with provinces and territories. In the spirit of open federalism, our 2007 Speech from the Throne committed to formally limiting the federal spending power through legislation.

As the hon. member knows, this takes time, but I can assure the hon. member that we are moving forward to meet this commitment.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted.

Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:06 p.m.)