I'm Rosemarie McPherson. I have Marc LeClair with me. We are going to be representing the Métis National Council.
I'd like to thank the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for inviting the three national organizations that represent first nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation to make presentations on Bill C-292 today.
The Right Honourable Paul Martin's private member's bill to implement the Kelowna accord is a topic of fundamental importance to the Métis Nation.
The Métis Nation offers its unqualified support to ensure Kelowna's implementation. As one of the Métis leaders who had the privilege of participating in the process leading up to the Kelowna accord and who had the opportunity to take part in the historic first ministers meeting held last year, this issue is near and dear to my heart.
By way of background, the Métis National Council is represented through province-wide governance structures from Ontario westward. These regional Métis governments include the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Métis Nations of Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Each maintains a membership list or registry of citizens, based on our national definition for citizenship, and holds province-wide elections for their leadership at regular intervals.
Based on these mandates, the Métis governments represent the interests of their respective constituents. Further, these Métis governments have well-established records of delivering effective and accountable programs and services to our people in urban, rural, and remote centres across the Métis Nation homeland. In total, Métis governments administer a combined amount of over $250 million annually in federal and provincial resources, along with self-generated revenues from various economic development initiatives.
Our regional governments come together to form the Métis National Council, which is mandated to represent the Métis Nation at the national and international levels and is governed by a six-member board of governors. The board of governors consists of the presidents of the five regional Métis governments as well as our elected national president. The women of the Métis Nation and the Métis National Youth Advisory Council also participate in all meetings of the board of governors.
Our modern-day governance structures are the contemporary expression of the century-old struggle of the Métis Nation to be self-determining within the Canadian federation. Our history demonstrates that we have consistently stood up to protect our rights, culture, language, and way of life in this country. Unfortunately, Canada's longstanding approach to the Métis people has been one of neglect, wilful blindness, and denial. As a result, our people have been marginalized from their lands and resources and have sensed that the gap between our quality of life and that of other Canadians has widened.
However, in the last few years, our people have witnessed many positive developments that signal a change from our difficult past with Canada. In 2003, in R. v. Powley, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed our existence as a distinct aboriginal people with constitutionally protected rights. In May 2005, our leadership signed the Métis Nation Framework Agreement that committed to a process to resolve many of the longstanding issues that have created challenges in our relationship with Canada.
Of course, in November 2005, our people witnessed the federal, provincial, and territorial governments agree to implement the Kelowna accord in partnership with aboriginal peoples.
In order for this committee to fully appreciate the importance of Bill C-292, the Métis Nation believes it is essential for the committee to understand what Kelowna is and what it's not.
Kelowna represents the culmination of over eighteen months of dedicated consultation and efforts that involved all levels of government in Canada, including aboriginal ones. More importantly, it involved the engagement of front-line workers, youth, community leaders, experts, and practitioners in order to bring forward the best ideas and solutions to begin to close the gap between aboriginal people and other Canadians.
The Métis people, like other aboriginal peoples, participated in this process because we believed we were on a new collaborative journey with governments, a journey where our opinions and knowledge had value, a journey where government was going to work with us, a journey where we collectively set targets and goals and measured results. For the Métis Nation, Kelowna also represents a leap of faith forward with respect to long-standing challenges that our people have faced.
As you know, the federal government's long-standing legal position is that it has no responsibility for the Métis people under section 124 of the Constitution, 1986. The provinces take the opposite legal position. This convenient positioning on the part of government leaves the Métis people being a political football. As a result, the Métis people are denied programs and services available to other aboriginal peoples, resulting in our people falling further behind other Canadians and in some instances behind other aboriginal peoples.
With Kelowna, rather than getting bogged down in the usual jurisdictional wrangling that usually arises in Crown-Métis relations, governments and the Métis Nation agreed to move past these legal stumbling blocks in order to craft a forward-looking agenda to deal with unique socio-economic challenges that Métis people face. Prior to Kelowna, when ministers of the Crown repeated the standard line of their desire to work through jurisdictional issues on the Métis file, nothing ever happened. Kelowna represents a part solution to this stalemate. Instead of worrying about petty legal positions, we focused our efforts on worrying about actual people. Simply put, Kelowna moved through the jurisdictional logjam for the Métis and worked with the communities on Métis-specific initiatives and processes to address our unique needs.
Kelowna also represents so much more than a concrete plan for closing the gap between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. It represents hope, trust, respect, and compromise on the part of all parties. Kelowna is an attempt to reconcile the claims, interests, and ambitions of the Crown with those of aboriginal peoples. The importance of ensuring that the Crown fulfils its obligations to aboriginal peoples as a part of this reconciliation process cannot be understated. In numerous cases, the Supreme Court has emphasized that it's always assumed the Crown intended to fulfil its promises to aboriginal peoples.
Reneging on Kelowna would be a new symbol of dishonour of the Crown and would only further entrench a mistrust that exists between the Crown and aboriginal people. An entire generation of aboriginal young people will grow up knowing that even if you see your leaders on television with the Prime Minister and every premier in the country agreeing to a plan to improve your future, you cannot place any trust in that.
This is not acceptable. It is not honourable. It is not consistent with Canadian values.
Moreover, Kelowna is not about one man, one government, or one political party. It is bigger than individuals or legacies. It is a solemn promise made by the Crown to aboriginal people to move past old and difficult grievances in order to improve the quality of life for first nations, Inuit, and the Métis people.
Leaders of every political stripe from across this country came together with aboriginal leaders to chart a new course of hope and opportunity. This should not be politicized by partisan politics. It should be embraced for what it is--