House of Commons Hansard #144 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague for Saanich—Gulf Islands brought up that which is germane to this debate, the preaching of one thing and the practising of another.

By way of illustration, my colleague who sits in front of me here from (Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte and I voted in the last session of Parliament. There was a minority. The majority of the House voted to reject the idea of signing onto a NAFO agreement, the international body that governs fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic. The majority of this House said no by way of votes. The very next day the Conservative government signed on to it. Prior to that, in the campaign, the Conservatives said that they would bring international agreements to the House. What was the point of that? The very next day they turned around and did the exact opposite of what they said they would do. At what point have they practised what they used to preach?

Going back to my friend's illustration, she brings up the point of the UN declaration. Every indicator in the language within this declaration said that transparency would be there and, certainly when it comes to communication, informed opinion. We get the statistics. It is a cut. We also get the level of transparency that they talk about here going way beyond—to use the term, they have been gobsmacked in this particular situation because they were absolutely surprised because they went counter to what they said.

Here is another illustration. The government stood up in the middle of the Alps of Switzerland and said that it may want to change the age of eligibility for old age security. It was said in a way that led people to believe that it was already known. I do not remember the Conservatives ever talking about that in the campaign. I remember hearing about the extra money they wanted to put in the guaranteed income supplement that was only one-third of the way to alleviating poverty.

Let us go back to that declaration once again. The indicators were definitely there. It was preached about. Back home it was practised in the opposite direction.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

June 20th, 2012 / 9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise again on this issue. Today I want to say that aside from the absolutely appalling example the government set in not giving the Parliamentary Budget Officer the information he requires, there was another way. The First Nations Governance Institute was helping nation after nation, hundreds of nations that have come, as it says on its website, to restore their nations. It is helping first nations bottom up that is going to be the only way forward.

As Nellie Cournoyea said in 1975 in the Status of Women document entitled “Speaking Together”, “Paternalism has been a total disaster”. It is just not right that instead of helping first nations help themselves with institutions like the First Nations Governance Institute, the minister has chosen to cut all of the funding to that amazing organization that was doing all the work, building capacity first nation by first nation. Instead, he has decided to impose this thoughtless bill with untoward consequences in the House based on, as we all know, a Canadian Taxpayers Federation report that was then thought to be a good idea for a private member's bill to feed its base and continue this idea of shame and blame as opposed to truly building capacity bottom up by allowing first nations to help themselves.

We know what happens in these communities. The fact is that the government yet again has not thought it through. It never thinks it through. It has no experience on the ground with what life is really like in practically anything, from the health minister refusing to visit any community during H1N1 to now imposing this bill without really understanding what first nations are about.

Most first nations in this country consist of about 500 people. About half of those people are under 25 years of age. In those first nations there is some natural leadership. Those natural leaders become chiefs and council members, but they also sometimes become the people who run the small businesses, get a little entrepreneurial spirit and get the snow removal contract or are able to start a business. This bill would mean, as it says, “each of its councillors, acting in their capacity as such and in any other capacity, including their personal capacity”.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, if you were a member of the council, would you want to start and own a business that then other businesses could prey upon the details of your business plan and how much you pay certain people in your business? Why would anybody who is running a business on a reserve, who is setting an example for his or her community and is the head of an organization, want to run for the council or chief if it then meant that his or her business could be devastated by predatory practices of non-aboriginal companies coming on to the reserve to do the kind of work that was being properly done by first nations entrepreneurs?

This fun and games with numbers stuff is unbelievably sad, from the Prime Minister blaming Attawapiskat and throwing the number of $80 million around when we know that the investment in the education system of $7,000 per student per year is $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 less than children off reserve. It sounds over five years like a lot of money, but it is not enough money. Then the government's friends in the Fraser Institute compare Attawapiskat with Atikokan, saying the budgets are the same and they are about the same size. They ask why one community is doing well and the other community is doing terribly, purposely leaving out the fact that in Atikokan the health and education budgets are paid for by the province of Ontario, whereas in Attawapiskat those budgets come out of the community's budget.

I am a bit fed up with this in terms of how again first nations get blamed, how again legislation like this just builds on the stereotype and does not actually listen. One of my big heroes in life, Jane Jacobs, used to say that good policy comes when the decision makers can see in their mind's eye the people affected. We actually have to listen to the people on the ground wherever we have been across this country. Even the most successful first nations are saying this bill goes too far. It is not something they can live with in its present form because, again, it would actually undermine their ability to be successful and have sound economic development.

Today is a day when we are all a bit irritated. Who do these Conservatives think they are, that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has to go to court to get information from them, while they are presently trying to legislate this kind of undermining of economic development and success for first nations?

My hero, Ursula Franklin, has always said about good governance that it must be fair, must be transparent and must take people seriously. On most of the first nations that I have visited, that is the way they operate. The chief and council would not dream of going forward on any project of any magnitude without having their community with them. I hear Chief Robert Louie at Westbank say that when they have had difficult decisions to make, sometimes there are four community meetings in a month to be able to have the community with them as they go.

The minister had the audacity to announce this bill on the Whitecap Dakota Nation and Chief Darcy Bear has to bring his amendments to our committee to say the Conservatives had not thought it through. Even though the minister accepted the hospitality of the Whitecap Dakota, the government has not had the decency to make a commitment to fix this bill in the way that Chief Darcy Bear has asked.

I am saying it is about dignity, respect and free, prior and informed consent that the government signed onto with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is about stopping the paternalism. As we look at the great work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and as we look at its recommendations about aboriginal education for non-aboriginals, I am concerned that this kind of simplistic approach does nothing but interfere with that kind of relationship and mutual understanding that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is trying to do.

We know that an apology from a Prime Minister means absolutely nothing if Canadians do not know the history and do not know what the apology was about. On a daily basis, I am now saying this about that Prime Minister's apology in this House: Who would have known it would have not only been for the past but would have been for the future, with the kind of underfunding and disrespect the first nations are having to put up with in this country?

The first nations want to lead now, and they are leading in all kinds of ways: their approach to governance, which is asking not telling, making sure the community is with them as they go; their leadership in fleeing the medical modelling and helping the rest of us as physicians, nurses and health care providers to understand the importance of the medicine wheel in keeping everybody well, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We have to allow first nations in this country, and Inuit and Métis as well, to lead in terms of the things that the colonizers have made terribly wrong.

When we think of the pedagogy of first nations, which is learning by doing, that is the only way we as adults or we in our schools can go forward.

We need to listen to first nations, who say that children are not little empty vessels to have information poured into the top of and sit in tidy rows. Learning by doing is something first nations have taught us.

First nations call their senior citizens elders, while we in the south and in non-aboriginal communities call them elderly. The first nations knew about sustainability of natural resources. They knew we cannot clear cut, we cannot fish out the stock and we actually have to be sustainable.

The beautiful ceremony of the Prime Minister reversing that wampum belt was supposed to be a reset of the relationship. Instead we get a raining down of legislation telling first nations what to do and how to do it. We have a water act that has only “thou shalt” and no resources attached to it. I wrote to the minister last August to say that we as Liberals would not in any way be able to support a bill about water that did not include the resources to go with it.

It has been an extraordinarily frustrating time as we are trying to turn the page, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is trying to do its work and as the government cuts so many institutions that are really important to first nations. Where is the first nations governance institute? Where is NAHO, which was sorting out the best practices on health? The government destroyed the statistical institute and anything that was about to help first nations measure and do evidence-based and results-based management, and then imposed some simplistic bill like this.

We know on this side of the House that complex problems require complex solutions. As H.L. Mencken said, for every complex human problem, there is a neat, simple solution; it is just that it is wrong. The government continues to get it wrong, thinking there could be some sort of simple solution for something that is absolutely so complex and so difficult. These people do not even have the respect to go and visit, listen and talk to people.

As we learned, slowly, through the Kelowna accord, the real solutions come from the bottom up. They take time. The Kelowna accord took 18 months of consulting, listening and having first nations in with the Métis leaders, helping us choose the priorities. In that accord there were real targets and real markers for how we would measure success and how we would know that the money was being spent wisely. As well, and we have said this before in the House, there is the idea of a first nations auditor general that actually came from the bottom up, from the people participating in that process.

It is sad that the government members just continue to refuse to listen and to allow first nations to actually work with them to find the complex solutions for the complex problems. These kinds of simplistic bills have got to stop.

We know they have the arithmetic to get this bill through. We know of their track record of just barging through with anything they want because they have the numbers. They refused to listen on the budget bill. Out of all the so-called debate in the House, all of the witnesses heard at committee, they could not come up with one amendment, because they think they know best and they do not listen.

The government is asking us to send this to committee. What on earth kind of respect do we have for its reputation for what happens to these bills in committee? Therefore, I am asking that the minister give us some sort of promise that the kinds of amendments put forward by Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota will be entertained and enshrined in the bill, so that it cannot do any more damage than this attitude is already doing to the entrepreneurial spirit and the economic development in each of our first nations.

I hope the House has had a chance to look at the motion I put on the order paper to create a fund that would create the kind of education that aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people in Canada need. It is the only way we will go forward. In New Zealand, as we learned, Maori studies were taught in kindergarten to grade 8 and the whole thing turned around.

I hope I can seek and find all-party and unanimous consent to approve my motion before the TRC meets tomorrow night.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Excuse me. I thought the hon. member had put forward a rhetorical question not a specific question, but if that is incorrect—

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like unanimous consent for the approval of my motion as on the order paper.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member for St. Paul's have unanimous consent?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I notice the member went on at some length about the terrible water situation on reserves. I would just like to remind the member that when her government was in power it allowed an atrocious situation to develop on reserves. Since the current government has been in position, we have spent an extended amount of time doing an audit of water resources and water quality systems on reserves. In the last several budgets we have put millions of dollars into improving water systems on reserve.

Why will the member not take responsibility for the situation we received from her government, when water systems on reserves were allowed to develop into such a terrible state?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member ought to know that within the Kelowna accord and in the package on housing, $5 billion was to be assigned to those.

The Conservative government has been in power for six years. That report was ready in April of last year and the government refused to table it because it did not want the devastating results to be available before the election.

It is absolutely appalling that the report was released in July and there has been no really significant approach. Some 20% of the homes in Wasagamack and 50% of those in Garden Hill have no running water at all, let alone water that has to be boiled. There is no running water at all. It is astounding. The Minister of Health refused to visit them in the middle of the H1N1 outbreak. I have no shame. You should. The government should.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order. I would remind all hon. members to direct their comments to the Chair rather than to their colleagues.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the comments from my colleague from St. Paul's. I think her passion is very evident whenever she speaks in this House. I would like to ask her the following question.

Does my colleague think there is any chance that this transparently paternalistic bill would have any real effect on poverty conditions in our first nations communities?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the average salary of chief and council is $37,000 per year, a very small amount of the budget of any first nation. What we want is to work with first nations to deal with the economic development they want to be able to do. This legislation is so broad that it extinguishes that entrepreneurial spirit.

The bill would do absolutely nothing to deal with poverty on first nations. It is unacceptable.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:30 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by noting a contradiction in the government's attitude. If we look at the non-aboriginal population, the government keeps trying to improve efficiencies and to cut red tape with its red tape commission. It is trying to reduce expenditures and make environmental processes more efficient, everything in the direction of greater efficiency and less red tape when it comes to the non-aboriginal world.

However, when it comes to the aboriginal world, as was reported, there are no less than 60,000 reports per year that first nations have to make to the government. That is about 100 reports per year for every first nation. It is 100 to 200 reports every day of the year. It is not as if the Auditor General has not told the government to fix this, to reduce the red tape and the number of reports, and yet there is nothing in the bill.

Could my hon. colleague tell me why the government has this double standard? Why is it pushing in one direction for non-aboriginal Canadians and leaving aboriginal Canadians in a morass of red tape created by the government which the government refuses to do anything about?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:35 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has made an excellent point. The Auditor General also spoke to the lack of accountability within the department itself for results-based management, and how we do not really know what works.

What we do know is that third party management and co-management do not work and yet, when the government is in trouble, it puts in a failed policy that the former minister, Chuck Strahl, had said that he would not do. We know that itself is too costly, does not get results and does not build capacity. The government just keep trying to put these Band-Aids on things because it needs to blame first nations communities when it is in trouble.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:35 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my distinguished colleagues for their input. The problem with this bill is that it imposes on first nations communities something that the government does not impose on itself. In other words, the communities are being asked to publish documents that the department already has.

If the minister truly wants to make these documents public, then he should just create a website and send the documents to everyone. He has the information. He also has information on all the contract workers working for him and all the service contracts he signs with private companies.

Ironically, when the government does not want to share this information, even the Parliamentary Budget Officer does not have access to it.

How can the minister impose information disclosure requirements on the first nations—when that information is already available—and yet refuse to give the Parliamentary Budget Officer access to the information on the management of his own department?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

9:35 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree with the hon. member. We have learned that the morass of information at the department is totally ridiculous.

Additions to reserves cannot be tracked, which is a problem the government has, not first nations.

As we have said before, if the members of the community have a complaint about not being able to get a piece of information from their chief or council, the minister already has the power to provide it to the members of that community.

We have no idea why the government is insisting on blaming first nations.