Madam Speaker, it is great to be here in the House with so many friends to address this important debate, and to follow my friend, the member for Markham—Unionville, who gave an excellent speech. He said he came to Canada in 1974. I came to Canada in 1987, actually, so he has been here longer than I have.
I want to first set off my debate by talking a bit about the content of the bill. I also want to talk a bit about some of the context around the government's agenda and proposals with respect to indigenous issues.
The bill would amend the citizenship oath to read as follows:
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, 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.
The reference to first nations, Inuit and Métis people, and the references to aboriginal and treat rights, would be new references the bill proposes to add to the legislation.
The genesis for this discussion of amending the citizenship oath is a recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, specifically call to action number 94. As members have observed, the bill seems to have support from all parties and will pass second reading and go to committee. However, there is an issue we will need to hear about more at committee, which is important to note. We will need to hear from witnesses about the difference between the formulation of the oath in the legislation and the proposal that was in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendation 94.
The proposed oath, which I looked up before speaking, from the commission report was as follows:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
The formula is slightly different between the proposal in recommendation number 94 and the proposal in the bill. The bill references first nations, Inuit and Métis, and is a bit longer. Regardless, it is important to ensure that as we proceed down this road in the spirit of reconciliation, we hear from indigenous leaders along the way. Again, it will be important to elucidate at committee whether the relevant stakeholders and communities that are particularly invested in this have been consulted with respect to the difference in wording between the TRC recommendation and the bill. That will be an important point for us to follow up on.
Before I reflect on some of the specifics regarding changing the oath, I want to say that the Conservatives support the bill moving forward. We think the aspirations behind it and the substance of it are reasonable and valuable, and we look forward to further discussion and debate.
Right now we have before Parliament, at various stages, three pieces of legislation that in some sense deal with or touch directly on the relationship between the government and indigenous peoples in Canada. We have Bill C-5, Bill C-8 and Bill C-10. We are discussing Bill C-8, which amends the citizenship oath. We have Bill C-10, which is a larger, broader bill with many issues in it that would make changes to the Broadcasting Act, some of which put into the Broadcasting Act the expectation that broadcasters have diverse content reflecting different communities, including indigenous communities. Then we have Bill C-5, which deals with a statutory holiday for recognizing and remembering what happened in the context of indigenous residential schools.
All three of these bills contain important elements. The Conservatives have supported Bill C-5 and Bill C-8. We have some concerns about Bill C-10, although they are not related to the objectives, but are related to other aspects of the bill, as it is a broader bill. Regardless, in the context of the legislative agenda of the government right now, we have these three different bills.
If the Liberals are deciding what kinds of bills they are going to put forward with respect to indigenous issues, members might say they have a few different options in front of them. In considering those options, we can divide the bills they are putting forward into two broad categories. There would be bills that represent acts of recognition and then there would be bills that represent actions that target quality of life improvements.
This is an important distinction to make. Acts of recognition are things like putting in place a statutory holiday, changing wording, changing language, the legislature making statements, expressing its acknowledgement of certain facts and its will for reconciliation. These kinds of acts of recognition are things we do often as a legislature. They are important and have a place, which is why we are supporting this bill.
Other examples of acts of recognition this legislature has taken include motions where we express our appreciation for a certain community or the work done. In the last Parliament, we passed many bills that create heritage months, for example. Heritage months are a way of collectively commemorating and recognizing the contribution of certain communities. These acts of recognition and pieces of legislation that call for wider community recognition are important.
Why are they important? They create opportunities for us to call to mind, recognize and appreciate the valuable contributions made by certain communities. We are shaped by our history. As a legislature, we have a role in encouraging a recognition and awareness of that history. That is important and valuable. We can do those things and there is a legitimate place for us to do those things.
Another category of legislation we have are actions that specifically target quality of life improvements, which seek to make changes to practical circumstances in order to make peoples' lives concretely better.
These actions of recognition, whether changing an oath, commemorative day, representation in broadcasting or heritage month, are important. However, legislation that touches peoples' direct quality of life and deals with their ability to access justice with the recognition of their rights, the delivery of concrete services, whether it is health care or other supports, that deals with economic development, I would think are on balance more important.
To me, it is striking when I look at all the recommendations that have been made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I look at all of the options in front of the government in terms of prioritizing its response. We see more or less exclusively acts of recognition, as opposed to actions that are aimed at concrete quality of life improvements.
If we saw a mix of both, that would be fine. However, we need to start to be critical and ask that question when we are seeing a focus exclusively on the acts of recognition, as opposed to on those kinds of quality of life improvements I talked about earlier.
What are the areas we are missing? Where has the government failed when it comes to making quality of life improvements? There are many areas we need to look at in terms of concrete quality of life improvements. We can talk about justice and health, and many other things.
I want to start by talking about economic development. Talking to indigenous Canadians in my area and across the country, I know there is a real desire for economic development and for people to have jobs and opportunities in their own communities.
There is also a recognition that when there is economic development in different communities, it gives those communities control and ability to invest in programs that reflect the priorities of those communities. We hear calls from communities for funding from the government for programs around health, around language, around infrastructure and these sorts of things, but to the extent that communities are able to have economic development themselves, they are also able to prioritize, and invest in those priority areas without needing to come and ask the government for funding in that specific area. It is not an either-or. It is not as if communities have to choose between accessing government funding and economic development, but when communities are developing economically it gives them a greater degree of autonomy and control and it gives them the opportunity to invest in those priorities right away.
Many indigenous communities have been benefiting from being part of the energy economy, developing natural resources and pursuing other opportunities. In the course of this debate, the parliamentary secretary responded to my question about concrete actions by talking about Bill C-262 from the last Parliament. It is important to address this directly. If we want to give indigenous communities the opportunity to develop economically, they have to be able to do so in a framework that involves reasonable consultation, but ultimately gives them the opportunity to move forward. If they have, for example, an energy development project where the indigenous communities in an area are actually the proponents of that project and there is a minority that is opposing those projects, in a case where there is overwhelming support within local indigenous communities, there has to be a consultation framework that allows that project to move forward.
This is where Conservatives have parted company with other parties, especially around issues like Bill C-262, because if they put in place a framework that effectively means that one community could have a veto over the desire for the economic development of all surrounding communities, that is a problem. There needs to be a meaningful consultation process in which communities are listened to, but there also has to be an opportunity for communities to develop their own resources and the standard for consultation has to stop somewhere short of unanimity. One cannot expect that every person has to agree before we see any kind of economic development.
It has been something that maybe we have discussed less since, because COVID-19 took up all the attention in terms of discussion, but early in the year we were dealing with a situation where all of the elected community leaders wanted a particular project, the Coastal GasLink project, and a minority of hereditary chiefs were against that project going forward. That was the context, and it was debated extensively. Some members of this House behaved as if a case in which a minority within a community objected, that, in and of itself, was sufficient basis for stopping economic development from going forward. We took the view that when there is strong support within indigenous communities for a project to go forward, then that project has to be able to go forward. The consultation has to happen and if people say yes, they have to be able to develop those resources and benefit from them.
We see cases across this country where indigenous people are seeking the opportunity to pursue economic development, to develop resources. There can be debate, there can be tensions, and those debates happen within communities as well as between different communities, but the opportunity for people to pursue economic development is important.
The government members talk about the discussion we are hearing today, separate from the debate on Bill C-8 but about Bill C-262 from the last Parliament. That is concerning for a lot of indigenous Canadians who want to have this opportunity to develop their own resources, to benefit from the opportunities that flow from them, and to use those resources to invest in things like language preservation, health improvement, infrastructure improvements and so forth. They want to be able to use the benefits that flow from economic development for those things.
I want to also just add, in terms of economic development, one of the exciting and interesting opportunities when it comes to the development of things like pipeline infrastructure is that the expansion of infrastructure could also bring in things like better Internet connectivity into some of these communities.
It is not just about opportunities directly in the natural resource sector, it is about the fact that, when we have benefit agreements, we have the building of infrastructure into and around different communities, which gives people the opportunity to have better connectivity, to access different resources and education, or to work in online businesses. There is so much more opportunity that flows from these kinds of developments, which we are just on the cusp of.
This country has so much potential, and a lot of that potential is around resource development. Those who are most likely to benefit to the greatest extent from that development are those who are more likely to be living proximate to those resources.
We could talk about some of the significant issues around justice, around working to ensure our justice system is fair to all people. We are identifying the reasons there may be disproportionate impacts on certain communities and working seriously to counter those impacts. That is the kind of thing that takes hard work.
The government has made statements to recognize the problems that have existed in the way indigenous people have been treated by our justice system. It is one thing to affirm there is an issue here, again, an act of recognition, and is another thing to say we are going to take concrete action and go from that active recognition and really target those quality of life improvements.
As I said earlier during questions and comments, so often when I hear from government members when we are having debates about indigenous issues, there is a tone in the their speeches as if they are still in opposition. They will say that there have been all these problems and that we need to do better and do more.
I look across the way and think that the government has been here for five years, and it is still constantly blaming Stephen Harper and constantly talking about the failures of history that have held it back. Do I think it is possible to change everything and make everything perfect within five years? No, I do not. Do I think it could be focusing on real concrete progress as part of its agenda? Yes, I do.
I hope we do not have the current government for another five years or another 10 years, but I suspect if we did, we would still hear the same speeches. We would still hear the same members saying that we have failed for too long and we need to do better. At what point does this recognition that we need to do better come back on them and lead them to say maybe not just “we” in the abstract, somebody else needs to do better sense, but “we” as in “we as a government” need to do better?
The government here does need to do much better. The Conservative caucus is supportive of Bill C-8. We are going to be supporting it through to committee. We look forward to the committee's study on it, especially delving into some of these questions I mentioned about the distinction between the version in the legislation and the TRC recommendation. However, we want to see the government take seriously the need to advance legislation and policy that concretely improves the quality of life for indigenous Canadians.
Yes, recognition is important, but if we see bill after bill on the issue of recognition but not targeting concrete quality of life improvements, it looks increasingly like the government is trying to avoid delving into these complex policy areas that would really make a difference. If it recognizes there is a need for more resources and need for economic development, when are we going to see the legislation that is going to really support economic development within indigenous communities and make it easier to grab those opportunities? When are we going to see the legislation that seeks to address those long-standing justice issues?
The government talks about doing better. It is time for it to do better so we can see some of these concrete improvements.