Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-91 and, in that context as well, to make some broader comments about the federal government's relationship with indigenous peoples.
During his 1981 inaugural address, former United States president Ronald Reagan said the following: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Looking at the history of Crown-indigenous relations and the challenges indigenous peoples face in Canada today, it is quite clear that so many of the particular challenges faced by indigenous peoples in our time as well stem from government intervention, the intervention of government in their lives in a way that does not respect their rights as individuals and, by extension, does not respect their identity and culture.
These types of interventions, big government interventions that deny the primacy of culture, that reject parental authority and familial autonomy, and that believe that governments and special interests, as opposed to property owners and local people, should control resource development, have caused significant challenges for many indigenous communities.
While some would seek to construct a false antagonism between Conservatives and indigenous communities, we recognize that it is the fundamentally Conservative principle that families and communities are more important than the state that could have paved, and could still pave, the path to meaningful reconciliation.
On the terrible history of residential schools, these schools were rooted in the idea that government should control the education system and use it to impose values and practices that are contrary to the teachings of parents and communities. That idea was wrong. It was deeply wrong of various non-state actors to collaborate in the implementation of this policy, and all of those collaborators have apologized, along with the government.
However, we should not forget that the root of this evil policy was that the state thought that it should and could interfere in the familial lives of indigenous peoples to impose an education system that was contrary to their beliefs and values. Approaches that deny the necessary involvement of parents in the education of their children, advanced out of paternalistic notions that government functionaries can raise children better than parents, are always wrong and always deeply damaging. We should certainly endeavour never to repeat the mistake of cutting parents out of decision-making about their children's education.
Today, we are discussing, in particular, the issue of indigenous languages. As I said, I and the rest of our Conservative caucus are very much in support of this legislation. We are very supportive of the preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages, and we recognize the need for governments to play a constructive role to undo the damage, often damage done by governments in the past.
It should be clear to anyone who has learned a second language that language is more than a neutral medium for exchanging information. Languages have certain assumptions embedded in their structure about what is true and important, which makes certain ideas easier to convey in some languages than in others. People who speak a particular language also understand the cultural logic embedded in that language and can access different information and traditions through that language.
The preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages help indigenous people and all Canadians benefit from a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ideas, history, culture and values of different indigenous nations. The preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages help to preserve and revitalize indigenous traditional knowledge, knowledge that benefits indigenous people and all Canadians.
I want to make a few comments here about traditional knowledge, because it is a very important concept, frequently invoked but rarely explored. We can think of two distinct ways of knowing about things: empirical ways of knowing and traditional ways of knowing.
Empirical ways of knowing involve testing and comparison. For example, if people want to find out if eating a certain compound reduces the risk of cancer, they might conduct a study whereby they have a group of people consume the compound on a regular basis, and another, comparable group not eat the compound. They would eventually compare the outcomes for the groups and see if one group contracted cancer at a higher rate than the other.
This would be an empirical test, and it would provide good and clear information, as long as the comparative groups were large enough and the researchers were careful to control for other factors. Empirical tests are great, although they can be costly and time-consuming. Assessing impacts over time in an empirical way obviously takes a lot of time.
Traditional ways of knowing are also driven by data, but the data used is the experience of generations past. A particular culture might teach that certain practices are good for one's health. Perhaps this is because, over thousands of years of tradition, that culture has observed how people do much better or worse in certain circumstances. Traditional knowledge and wisdom generally come from observation over time and over generations, but without a clearly defined, or at least well-remembered, research design.
Of course, traditional knowledge can, in certain cases, be wrong if people develop that knowledge by drawing the wrong conclusions from their observations, but it is also the case that empirical researchers can err by drawing the wrong conclusions from their observations. Empirical research is sometimes contradicted by subsequent empirical research, just as traditional knowledge may in certain instances be contradicted by empirical research and traditional knowledge may be contradicted by other traditional knowledge.
However, it would be foolish, as some might propose, to discard or ignore traditional knowledge. It is valid and reasonable to draw at least tentative conclusions based on the experience and observation of others, including one's ancestors.
Indigenous communities in Canada have traditional knowledge about this land, about culture, about family and values, about life and dignity and about many other things. Language is often the mechanism by which that traditional knowledge is passed on.
It is also worth observing that it is not just indigenous communities here in Canada but all cultures and traditions that bring with them elements of traditional knowledge. The majority culture in the west has unfortunately become deeply skeptical of its own traditional knowledge.
Edmund Burke, the great English philosopher and politician, spoke of how we receive the goods of civilization from our parents and we pass them on to our progeny, and that we should thus be cautious in the innovations we undertake as a way to ensure that we are not unknowingly taking apart the substructure that holds together our prosperity and happiness. Burke talks, in different words, about the importance of our considering traditional knowledge in the decisions we make.
If a person buys a new house and sees that it has a pillar in a place that is not aesthetically pleasing, should this person immediately knock down the pillar or first ascertain whether the pillar is necessary for preserving the structure of the house? I would tell people not to knock down the pillar unless and until they can be certain that it is no longer needed. If they are certain it is not necessary, then it can be removed. However, if they are not certain, it is better to leave it in place, assuming that the pillar reflects the best intentions of the previous owner and knowledge the owner had about the house, knowledge the new buyer does not possess.
A person's empirical knowledge might eventually supersede deference to the status quo, but in the absence of clear, empirical evidence, a person would probably be wise to defer to the status quo in the meantime.
We see issues involving empirical knowledge and traditional knowledge in many different policy areas. One such area, for example, is the regulation of complementary or natural health products. Many are concerned that the government may seek to regulate these products in the same way that it regulates pharmaceutical products, even requiring the same types and levels of testing, but this policy ignores the possible benefit of traditional knowledge, the fact that people have been successful at using certain products for thousands of years to treat certain ailments and that this can be a valid basis for people to make choices themselves about the self-care products they choose to use.
People who do not like this approach are free to only consume things that have been demonstrated, through double-blind studies, to improve health. However, most Canadians would be open to trying complementary health products alongside conventional treatments if the benefits of those products had some traditional knowledge pointing in their favour. Trying such products is precisely a way in which more data can be gathered about the impacts of certain products, with traditional knowledge and science both developed through continuing experimentation and observation.
I have written to the chair of the health committee to ask the committee to undertake a study on the health impacts of uninsured self-care products and services because I think this is an area that requires greater engagement and study from Parliament. This is just one area among many where we should take the idea of traditional knowledge seriously and recognize that it is complementary to, not antagonistic to, empirical knowledge.
Coming back to the issue of Crown-indigenous relations, I note that the horror of Canada's experience with residential schools is precisely an example of traditional knowledge about the critical nature of the bond between parents and children being ignored in favour of radical and capricious schemes to remake the world in a different way.
The architects of the residential school experience, we should note, did not just ignore the value of indigenous traditional knowledge, but also ignored the traditional knowledge of our own society. This is traditional knowledge about the vital importance of the link between parents and children.
I wrote the following recently in a column for the Post Millennial:
The idea that parents are the primary educators of their children, that human dignity is universal and immutable, that good societies are characterized by ordered liberty rooted in a shared conception of the common good, that people ought to live in accordance with the cardinal virtues—prudence, justice, courage and temperance, that productive work is essential for well being, that human rights are universal and stem from natural law—all of these and much more are part of the traditional knowledge of our civilization.
Unlike traditional knowledge in the scientific domain, traditional knowledge in the domain of politics and morality cannot be put under a microscope—but perhaps that makes the contributions of traditional knowledge in these areas that much more important.
This legislation, Bill C-91, through its work on language, seeks to preserve, through language, indigenous traditional knowledge, so I hope we will also bring to our subsequent debates in this place a greater understanding and appreciation for traditional knowledge in general and for the need to include it and reference it in our conversations.
Also in the area of Crown-indigenous relations, I would like to make a few remarks about the impact of natural resource development on indigenous communities.
The ability of indigenous communities to preserve and revitalize their languages, their traditions and their communities in general requires some degree of opportunity. Natural resource development is not an end in and of itself, but it can provide the capital for indigenous communities to make greater investments into things that matter more, such as family, community, culture and language. For that reason, many indigenous communities believe in resource development because it allows them to get ahead and achieve the objectives they identify for themselves. It allows them to do so without leaving their communities and moving to the city.
Our legal frameworks are supposed to recognize the importance of affected indigenous communities having a meaningful say in decisions about resource development. Unfortunately, the government has a track record of imposing anti-development policies on indigenous communities, in clear contravention of its legal obligations. This hurts these communities economically and weakens their ability to preserve their culture and language. This is yet another example of how inappropriate government intervention in the lives of indigenous peoples undermines their ability to preserve their identity and culture.
I can show the House clearly how the Prime Minister is failing to meet his legal obligations to indigenous peoples in this respect.
The natural resource committee was conducting a study on best practices for indigenous consultation. On January 31 of this year, I had an opportunity to question public servants about our obligations and our actions when it comes to that consultation.
This is what I asked:
Is there a duty to consult indigenous communities when those communities have put time, resources and money into a project going forward and then a government policy stops that progress from being put forward? Is there a duty to consult if indigenous communities are trying to move forward the development of a project and the government puts in place policies to stop that progress? Is there a duty to consult in that case?
Terence Hubbard, the director general at NRCan, replied with the following:
...the Crown's duty to consult is triggered any time it's taking a decision that could impact on an aboriginal community's rights and interests.
I followed up with this:
Okay. It seems pretty obvious, then, that policies like the offshore drilling moratorium in the Arctic, like Bill C-69, like Bill C-48, like the tanker exclusion zone, would have a significant impact on indigenous communities and on their ability to provide for their own communities through economic development, which they may well have planned, and in many cases did plan, in advance of the introduction of those policies.
Let me drill down on a few of those examples.
What consultation happened by the government before the imposition of the tanker exclusion zone? I'm talking about before Bill C-48 was actually proposed, when the Prime Minister first came into office and introduced the tanker exclusion zone.
From the responses to my questions, it became clear that none of the departments represented in that hearing, none of the leading public servants who were involved in overseeing how the federal government consults with indigenous peoples, knew about anything to do with indigenous consultations around the tanker exclusion zone. Almost certainly those consultations did not happen.
While I was in the Arctic with the foreign affairs committee last fall, we spoke to many different indigenous communities about issues around cultural preservation, traditional knowledge and natural resource development. We were told on a number of occasions about concerns regarding anti-development policies coming from the government and their impact on the capacity of indigenous communities to prosper and use their resources to protect their culture in other ways they see fit. We were told in particular that the government's approach to consulting northern communities before imposing an offshore drilling ban in the Arctic was to phone local premiers 45 minutes before the announcement. There was no meaningful consultation on an offshore drilling ban. Instead, the announcement was made by the Prime Minister, along with Barrack Obama.
This showed flagrant disrespect for indigenous communities and for the way in which their ability to prosper and develop impacts their ability to preserve their culture.
These conversations we had in the Arctic and other places made it clear that the Prime Minister has absolutely no interest in consulting with indigenous communities before imposing anti-energy policies that affect their recognized right to pursue growth and opportunity within their communities.
Of course, some indigenous people, some indigenous leaders and some indigenous nations oppose certain resource development projects, and their perspectives should be incorporated into meaningful consultation processes that do not give any one community a veto over projects that impact multiple communities.
The Crown duty to consult does not just exist for pro-energy policy; it also exists for anti-energy policy, policies that deny indigenous communities the opportunity to proceed with plans to build up their own self-sufficiency and to fund projects that relate to cultural revitalization.
The government, it is clear, does not actually care about consulting indigenous communities, given its record. It simply wants to use consultation as an excuse to hold up resource development in certain cases, while completely ignoring indigenous communities when it wants to pursue an agenda that is different from what those communities want. For the government, consultation means deciding what it wants first and then finding people who agree with it to help legitimize a decision that has already been made. This is not in keeping with the spirit of reconciliation or even with the law around the duty to consult.
A Conservative government led by our leader would show real respect for indigenous people by ensuring meaningful engagement in communities, even in cases where there are differences of opinion. We will support the economic aspirations of indigenous communities, as well as their linguistic, cultural and social aspirations, because we understand that a culture is more important than politics. We will reflect our Conservative values in our approach to this critical area, recognizing that big, interfering government has held indigenous people back for too long.
The government must indeed be a constructive partner, but above all else, the government must always ensure that it is not getting in the way. Getting in the way has happened far too often in the past, and it continues, but it must come to an end.
We desire, in all of Canada, to see strong communities, strong families and strong, resilient individuals. I am very pleased to be supporting Bill C-91 and I look forward to the work that can be done to build on it in the future through the government working in partnership with indigenous communities, through the government getting out of the way of indigenous communities and supporting their own efforts to thrive, to preserve and revitalize their culture, and to strengthen their economies and their communities in so many other ways.