Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Markham—Unionville.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill, and I would also like to thank my colleague, the shadow minister on this file, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, for her hard work in the chamber and in committee on this issue. She has a very important job to do in holding the government to account when we begin to reopen the country and welcome immigrants back who will eventually become part of our Canadian family.
I rise today to speak on Bill C-8, an act to amend the Citizenship Act, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94.
I want to start by saying that I will be voting for the bill. Most of the public know what it is designed to do, which is to change the oath of citizenship. I believe that this is a very important piece of legislation that would put us one step closer to reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people.
Just to be clear, the current oath of citizenship is:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
The version proposed in the bill would change the ending to:
...and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
It is is worth acknowledging that Canada is a nation of immigrants who have come, and continue to come, for better lives. We are also a nation that stands on the traditional territories of, and shoulder to shoulder with, first nations, Inuit and Métis people.
I think we should be proud that Canada is one of only a few countries in the world where indigenous and treaty rights are entrenched in our Constitution. By recognizing and affirming the aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis in the oath of citizenship, we are also educating Canadians, especially new Canadians, about these rights.
Our Constitution is one of our most important documents, if not the most important document, and being aware and understanding some of the resolved and unresolved treaty rights in different parts of the country is something we should share with new Canadians. Educating new Canadians on the relationship with indigenous peoples is a key part of the path to reconciliation that is critical to our nation's future.
I am confident my colleagues would agree that a top priority for all of us in this chamber should be to work towards reconciliation with our indigenous peoples. For those at home watching, I was in the House of Commons in Centre Block at the time when Prime Minister Harper offered a full apology on behalf of Canadians for the residential school system. It was a historical moment, and one I will never forget. The treatment of children in Indian residential schools was a sad chapter in our history, and it had to be acknowledged. The government had to apologize for it, and rightfully did so. It was also the previous Conservative government, under Prime Minister Harper, that established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or the TRC, to facilitate reconciliation among former residential school students, their families, communities and all Canadians.
Between 2007 and 2015, the government provided about $72 million to support the commission's work. The TRC spent six years travelling to all parts of Canada and heard more than 6,500 witnesses. It also hosted seven national events across Canada to engage the Canadian public, educate people about the history and legacy of the residential school system and share and honour the experiences of former students and their families.
The TRC created a critical historical record of the residential school system and, as part of the process, the Government of Canada provided over five million records to the TRC. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba houses all the documents collected by the TRC.
Given the incredible work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many of us in the House are concerned that the government has been slow to respond to the report's calls to action. In fact, a new analysis reveals that “dreadful progress” with disappointing results has been made on the TRC's 94 calls to action. The Prime Minister embraced the calls to action at the 2015 unveiling, describing them all as a blueprint to reconciliation with indigenous peoples. However, it is clear that things are not what they need to be, and the sole reaction to the TRC's calls to action is not the only broken promise from this government.
We also have the promise on boil-water advisories. The Prime Minister recently appeared to walk back his government's promise to end all boil-water advisories in first nation communities by March 2021. He would not commit to meeting the 2021 deadline, and said that the federal government was working to lift the remaining drinking water advisory “as soon as possible”.
When is “as soon as possible”? Is it months from now, years from now or perhaps longer?
Let us take the Neskantaga First Nation as an example, which has been under a boil water advisory for more than 25 years. Officials shut off its water after an oily sheen was found in the water reserve. Tests later showed the water was contaminated with hydrocarbon. Over 200 residents have now been evacuated to Thunder Bay, where they are being housed in hotels.
The Neskantaga chief said that elders, children, infants and people with chronic health conditions were flown out of the community after the water shutdown, which closed the schools and nursing station. With no running water, the remaining residents have had to use buckets to collect water from the lake in freezing temperatures.
The chief said, “I've never had access to clean drinking water and I’m 50 years old. You hate to see your relatives, your children, your future, living in this condition.” The chief goes on to say, “Right now we are being offered band-aid solutions.”
The government originally stated in December 2015 that the community would get a new treatment plant up and running by the spring of 2018. It is November 2020 and it seems like the government has broken its promise.
Also, let us not forget winter is coming. The Prime Minister said his government has lifted many drinking water advisories since 2015, but the Indigenous Services Canada website shows that 61 first nation reserves are still living under long-term drinking water advisories.
Let us also not forget first nations people are going through a housing crisis that the government has not handled very well. Last year, the Cat Lake first nation declared a state of emergency over excessive mould, leaky roofs and other poor housing conditions. Things became worse when a Cat Lake resident died from respiratory issues. Her family was clear the death was caused by extensive mould problems in her home. There is evidence that almost half of the homes on Canadian reserves have enough mould to cause serious respiratory problems and other illnesses.
With respect to Cat Lake, I do have to say the government did provide portable homes and construction material to build new ones. However, everything it does on this file seems to be reactionary. It has to see a major crisis first, and then it acts.
The government should not be complacent. This housing crisis in first nations communities should not be costing people their lives. Indigenous leaders say that an epidemic of mould, undrinkable water and overcrowding in first nations homes remains a nationwide problem that has been largely ignored.
We have another issue in Nova Scotia, where tensions are very high over a long-standing fishery dispute. There has been violence and a lot of heated rhetoric. There have been years of concern about the issue. It is not like the government found out about it when it recently flared up. Once again, the government is being reactionary. There has been years of talks but there has been no solution.
The government has now been in place for five years and little has been done. It needs to do better, and Conservatives are more than willing to help. All this to say that indigenous people deserve government attention and reconciliation should be a top priority for all of all of us in this place. Although more can and should be done, this bill is a step in the right direction for indigenous people, and therefore, I will be supporting it.
It is not often I agree with my colleague the parliamentary secretary, but I cannot have a conversation about an oath of citizenship without talking about the extreme honour of being involved. He was bang on when he talked about what an honour it is, as members of Parliament, to be involved.
In my 16 years, certainly one of the highlights of my job is having the opportunity to attend the citizenship ceremonies. They come in all different shapes and sizes, and I have attended them on July 1, which is absolutely a particularly important and special day. I have also done them in schools, legion halls and all across Niagara.
It is quite an honour to do that, so I want to recognize what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the government in the House of Commons said. As members of Parliament, we have a pretty unique role. Just having the opportunity to hear people's stories of getting to our great country, as well as some of the hardships they have had to endure is completely inspiring.
It has been an honour to talk on this particular bill, Bill C-8. As I mentioned before, one of the amazing privileges we have as members of Parliament is having an opportunity on a fairly regular basis to attend citizenship swearing-in ceremonies, where we have the opportunity to hear great stories from people coming from all around this great world to become citizens of this great country.