I thank the NDP very much for the opportunity to have some time here.
I greet you, Chief Turtle. Thank you for your phone call a couple of nights ago and for our conversation again yesterday. I want to send greetings to the entire Asubpeeschoseewagong community. I want to speak in support of the request the community has made for a trust fund. I think I share that sentiment with my colleagues who have offered me this time.
Chief, when we talked about this, you gave me the reasons you believe it's important. We talked about the moral imperative, about the fact that thousands of people—both in your community and in surrounding communities—have been impacted by the mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon river system, and about how there is no other group of Canadians who would accept suffering such health consequences and not have appropriate health facilities to treat them.
The commitment was made on behalf of the government, as I know very well. I believe that it's incumbent upon the government to continue with that commitment.
You and others have outlined a clear clinical need. I urge people who haven't read the Mergler report to do so. It does outline not only the effects on adults, but the severe neurological effects on children of mercury contamination.
Chief, you talked to me about the exceptional circumstances that you're under and that is why you have asked for this $89-million trust. My question for you is: What do you think are the reasons it has not come to pass? I have a list of five potential theories; I wonder if any of them are reasons that you have as to why this agreement has not yet been reached.
Earlier, the officials talked about the fact that it was the mechanism of a contribution agreement versus a trust fund that was the debate. I wonder if, in fact, it's not so much the mechanism, but the amount of money because the amount of money in the trust fund is significantly larger—in the order of $89 million. However, I would argue that one can calculate $89 million to be 0.025% of what the federal government is going to spend this year. I think most Canadians would argue that spending 0.025% of this year's money to give 30 years of treatment to the people of Grassy Narrows is a very good investment.
The second possibility I have heard is that it's a question of time. Officials talked about the fact that they didn't have time to prepare the details of the trust fund. I wonder, Chief, whether you think that the thousands of officials who work in Indigenous Services Canada—along with their colleagues, the thousands of officials who work in Finance Canada—could not somehow find the time over the next couple of weeks to write up what would be necessary for a trust fund, knowing that there are examples in Ontario and others that we've heard about this morning that could be seen as a template for this.
The third theory I have is that it's a lack of political will. I don't actually believe that to be the case. I know my colleagues in the Liberal Party and in the government want to do right by indigenous peoples, so it is my sense that this is not the actual problem. I think there is, as others have said here, a shared political will of all members of Parliament to see justice for the people of Asubpeeschoseewagong.
The fourth theory I have is the trust issue. The minister spoke last week about the fact that possibly you weren't trusting the government to be able to come through with the long-term expenses. My theory is that perhaps it's the other way around. Do you think it's possible that the government doesn't trust you and your officials to be able to administer a trust fund appropriately? I'll put that to you as a possibility.
The fifth area that I think may be a stumbling block is that, in my understanding, this would be because of the size of an $89-million trust fund. It would require an off-cycle budget ask from a government that's just tabled its final budget. If that is the case, Chief, I wonder if there's a way that we could support you—and perhaps members of this committee could support you—by collectively asking the Minister of Finance to consider the possibility of an off-cycle budget ask, even at this late stage, in order to find the money necessary for this trust fund.
Imagine the legacy that this government could share with you and your community, Chief, as well as the members of this 42nd Parliament, if in fact this could be put in place before the end of the term.
I'd be interested in your thoughts on whether there are other reasons that I haven't considered and in what ways we could support you to be successful in the coming weeks.