Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank the members of the committee for the opportunity to present a first nation perspective on Bill C-340.
The Assembly of First Nations is a nationally representative organization of 630-plus first nation communities throughout the country. The AFN is an operational arm designed to present the views of first nations through their leaders. The message that the AFN national chief clearly presents is that our communities and leadership know we face real and daunting daily issues that require our diligence and our commitment.
But a critical look at our current environment reveals the daily pressing crisis faced by first nation leaders and communities in relation to housing. We understand the importance of a role in establishing a collaborative and inclusive condition to create real change, and that's where we see the opportunity of this bill. It's an open opportunity for dialogue that will allow the voices of people and communities to come forward.
That having been said, I will point out that there's a clear opportunity for those of common purpose to come together to define common strategies and solutions.
First nation leadership has stated the importance of representing housing interests of their first nation members whether they live on-reserve or off-reserve. There's always been a distinct barrier for first nation leadership in representing their interests in the provincial/municipal environment. If we look at the transition of people from on-reserve to off-reserve, and the problems encountered in relation to the urban environment by those who are leaving real problems on first nation reserves for real problems off-reserve, we must give credence to the fact that we need to pay attention to this transition.
We don't wish to sit by the wayside and watch strategies, policies, programs, and activities continue to be developed and created by the Government of Canada and then imposed as external interventions. Up to this point, if you take a look at the involvement of first nations in the National Housing Act, this has been going on for 50 years plus and there has never been a national strategy.
There has never been an inclusion of first nations in the development of policy, in the thinking of departments or agencies of the Government of Canada, and we would ask the fundamental question: why not? We see this bill as an opportunity to shift the thinking and say that if there is going to be a solution, there's going to be a solution that's derived from the direct involvement of first nations, which are an immediate part of the problem.
The AFN has stated in the past and continues to state today that there's a need for multilateral dialogue to discuss all housing issues found in the continuum of housing need. I guess the statement is that first nations don't expect federal departments and agencies to represent their interests in the dialogue at multilateral tables concerning the downloading of social housing to the provinces and to the municipalities without the inclusion of those who are directly involved in the problem in the first place.
We feel that we have a direct interest. It's essential that first nations be included in this multilateral dialogue with the federal government and its provincial, territorial, and municipal counterparts, and that we do not have the federal government departments and agencies acting on our behalf in relation to that dialogue.
We would like to see a strategy that lays out a comprehensive viewpoint allowing for first nation considerations and for supportive capacity development measures to achieve those considerations.
We state our full support for Bill C-304 and do so in a spirit of optimism that reflects what we know can take place if we create a collaborative environment that allows for strategies to emerge within this multi-jurisdictional environment. Again, we don't expect government departments and agencies on the federal side to represent the interests of first nations while they are excluded from the formation of the policies and strategies.
I'd reinforce that this has been one of the significant factors to our detriment over the last number of years. We have not been included in policy decisions in the manner in which the federal government proceeds with programs, initiatives, activities, and other efforts.
We would ask that a national strategy meet the continuum of housing needs. We know there's an effort to focus first nations on private home ownership at the expense of such things as hidden homelessness and the deterioration of the social housing portfolio. We want to make sure that we're meeting the needs for emergency shelters for the elderly and disabled, for community-owned assets, social housing stock, and rent-to-own and private home ownership.
This national strategy needs to acknowledge what secure, adequate, accessible, and affordable housing is in the first place, because what's being presented in the bill and what the function and the actions are of federal departments and agencies constitute two different things. That needs to be considered.
When we get down to steps and measures that need to be taken and that we fully support, we want to link first nation leadership to existing and emerging multilateral tables of dialogue that will result in the ability to harmonize programs and services between on-reserve and off-reserve. Currently they're distinctly separated and have no relationship with one another. I'm not sure whether that's by design or not.
We want to participate in a long-term strategy that addresses housing needs for more culturally appropriate social housing, transitional housing for women and men, second-stage housing, and mental health programs that involve directly those whom the programs are meant to serve--not policy by exclusion and not external interventions.
We want to create new relationships that allow first nations to access programs, activities, and initiatives in the off-reserve environment. It's not the people of first nations who need to access them in a community urban or rural environment; it's leadership and community that need to sit down at these multilateral dialogue tables to determine how a seamless transition can occur between on-reserve and off-reserve and to determine how the services and programs that take place can take place.
Lastly, we want to create a first nation institutional framework for housing that assists in developing appropriate capacities for sustainable housing strategies, and we want to link that framework to the off-reserve multi-jurisdictional environment.
The bottom line is that the first nation perspective is one of stepping up to the plate and saying that we want to be included, that we add value to the effort, and that a national strategy is a very fine goal and we are providing a commitment, I think, to participating and actively moving the issue forward.
I thank you for your consideration.