Mr. Speaker, to start with, allow me to thank my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe for giving me the opportunity to speak today.
Of course, it will come as no surprise that I am going to deal with the financial aspect of the issue, particularly as it relates to native people. I just listened carefully to my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, and I was pleasantly surprised. For us, it was a breath of fresh air to hear such a discourse, especially following his colleague from Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, whose stand was quite the opposite.
I do hope that what the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce suggested will have precedence in cabinet. I hope that this point of view will be adopted by the Liberal government. But judging from the various views expressed so far, sadly, my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce may well be the exception.
At any rate, I too have perused the red book. We all do, do we not, inevitably? This book is supposed to provide guidance as to the intentions of this government while it is in power. The thing about this red book that is noteworthy is that it embodied a fundamental principle from the very outset, and that is the principle of equity. It was clearly stated in this book that this government would not forget the underprivileged, but all we hear about these days, with the forthcoming ministerial social program reform in particular, seams to indicate and lead us to anticipate the worst for the underprivileged. Yet I do hope this will not materialize.
I just mentioned the principle of equity set out in the red book. But recently, certain lead ministers have indicated in their remarks that it was more a matter of fighting the deficit. We will soon be in a deficit and debt fighting mode, hence our fear that the underprivileged will be made, unfortunately, to foot the bill. Now, I am listening to what this government is telling us and I cannot help but be reminded that this is the government that was responsible for starting this national debt spiral in the years 1976, 1977, 1978.
I reviewed the facts carefully. As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister was the Minister of Finance at the time, and when he was the Minister of Finance, in 1977-I looked up the figures-the deficit grew from $3.3 billion in 1976 to $7 billion in 1977, when he became the Minister of Finance. It more than doubled. And the following year, the current Prime Minister, as Minister of Finance, brought down estimates indicating that the debt would reach $10 billion in 1978.
You can see that the debt spiral was instigated by the Liberals, who were however very quick to blame the previous Conservative government for it. But if you look at the situation since 1985, you can see that it is the debt and the interest on the national debt that have driven the deficit spiral.
I think that the Liberals can also blame themselves for this. I wish to respond to the comments made by my colleague from Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine. I hope that he is now listening to me on the parliamentary channel. I do not agree at all with his statement that Canada has functioned admirably for 125 years. My findings are totally different.
It started off on the wrong foot with the Act of Union. We think that things started going downhill when the Act of Union uniting Upper and Lower Canada merged Upper Canada's debts with Lower Canada's sound management. Why are we in 16th place in terms of competitiveness when we used to be among the top five?
Why are we down in last place among G-7 countries? He keeps talking about the prestigious G-7. We should not forget that we are the poor relations of the G-7. How much overlap and duplication do we have and how much is it costing us every year? Very conservative reports now estimate that overlap is costing us up to $3 billion a year because the federal and provincial governments are continuously short-circuiting each other.
We are told that Quebecers' debt rate, I must point this out, is much lower than that of other Canadians. Quebec government management is in much better shape than federal government management. That is recognized by everyone.
As for the consistently higher unemployment rate, the Gaspé region, among others, is a typical example. The Gaspé is probably among the Quebec regions with the highest unemployment rates. Why is the unemployment rate in Quebec always higher than the Canadian average? I say that the system does not work and that as soon as Quebec gets hold of all the tools, I can assure you that its unemployment rate will fall substantially and compare favourably with countries that are much more advanced that the one we are now a part of.
I would like to add that the First Nations are concerned, and for the reasons I just enumerated. They think that this government will really go after the poorest people and hit the poor and middle classes in this society; if Canada has a class of poor people, it is certainly the First Nations.
Not only social programs, which are a sort of safety net for them, are endangered. In a few moments, I will tell you how we must get out of this trap. It is probably not by always giving the native people more social programs and making them more dependent; it is quite the opposite, as I will explain shortly. They are concerned not only with threatened cuts in the Department of Indian Affairs but also about other departments that have specific programs for the First Nations.
Take the Department of Health, for example, which has an annual budget of about $900 million for the First Nations. So clearly, if cuts are made in health, the First Nations will be affected and if there is a class of people in Canada who do not need to be affected by such cuts, it is certainly the First Nations.
It is the same in the Department of Industry and Commerce. This department has specific programs for the First Nations and so there is a danger that the economic development proposals of that department will make the First Nations even more deprived than they are now. Parts of other departments, such as Canadian Heritage, are concerned with Indian affairs.
In any case, we must realize that any cuts affecting the First Nations would be disastrous for them since they are considered to be Canada's Third World.
Although the government congratulates itself on having increased contributions to the First Nations by 119 per cent since 1983, the figures show that the money spent was already provided for in treaties, a point which is often made by the First Nations, and I think that they are right on that. Our predecessors signed a dozen treaties with the native people in Canada and these treaties required the government to provide some services and compensation; today, the commitments made then must be honoured by the government.
I remind you of the social contract of that time, because something incorrect is being put forward now to the effect that the government is trying to keep the First Nations under its wing.
It has often been said that First Nations people were all lazy. However, the social contract of the time was not about that at all. It basically said that the government would take 99 per cent of the land belonging to First Nations, and relocate these people on the one per cent left. The government would also develop all the resources. You will see later, in the proposals I am making, which are also those of the First Nations, a desire for better sharing as well as for putting an end to this paternalistic attitude and this dependency.
Here are some interesting figures. Native families receive about $7,480 yearly. Considering this annual income of $7,480, my earlier reference to third world people was not an exaggeration.
If you take the Canadian economy as a whole, it is very difficult for a family to make ends meet on $7,480 per year. In fact, this is unacceptable in today's society. Our society prides itself on having the best quality of life in the world, but if you take a close look at the situation of the First Nations and the poor in this country, you will notice an increasing gap between those who have money and those who do not. I believe that the First Nations are the real poor in Canada and in Quebec.
They have a very high degree of dependency, as confirmed last week by the Auditor General. Indeed, 43 per cent of natives are completely dependent on the government. The unemployment rate is seldom below 30 per cent. I visited some reserves where it was somewhere between 60 and 70 per cent. The only people who had jobs were those who were employed by band councils and were paid with money provided by the federal government. Except for these people, the others are totally relying on the government, not by choice, but because they find themselves in the ultimate situation of dependency and isolatin. They cannot get out of it under the present Indian Act. I will explain later how it would be possible to do so.
Over a period of ten years, the number of native people aged 19 increased 80 per cent; it did so in a situation of dependency, in the field of education among others. This situation puts enormous pressure on the education system.
I frequently receive First Nations people in my office who tell me that they cannot pay for the education of some children on these reserves, because they simply do not have the money to do that. They do not have the money, because the population under 19 years of age is growing at such a fast pace that the budgets cannot keep up. So, we will be faced with a problem not only in the education and health sectors, but in all the activities affecting our First Nations.
The rate of the native population growth has been increasing regularly since 1983 and has now reached 60 per cent, twice the rate of population growth for all of Canada. So, it is normal that the budgets will be getting increasingly tighter and more difficult to manage. The youth population is growing at such a breathtaking pace that young Natives cannot attend school and receive the same education that any other Canadian can enjoy.
Housing is also a problem. We addressed this issue last week during the debate on a private member's motion. Right now, we are 40,000 housing units short in all of Canada. This whole situation, as I said last week, was decried by the Auditor General, according to whom health and education related costs are staggering and sky-high, because these people live in undesirable and unhealthy conditions.
In fact, the Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, and I will come back to this issue later, stated in 1992 that 50 per cent of all housing units on reserves were practically unfit to live in. So, the housing policy needs to be reexamined. Unfortunately, it is not being reviewed. We are always told that there is the deficit and the budget is tight, but in the meantime people continue to live in crowded housing. The houses are inadequate and do not respect the Indian culture, but what is worse is that you can find up to four generations living under the same roof, as I have seen for myself. I think that is unacceptable in our society.
Budget decrease for native programs and services.
We know that the answer, and I am getting around to it, as I promised earlier, is for aboriginal people to take responsibility for their own affairs through more self-government and jointly administered programs, for instance. Normally, the government provides special allowances for aboriginal people so they can prepare their negotiations.
However, there has been a 7 per cent decline in the amounts allocated under these programs over the past few years. We have a situation where aboriginal people have to negotiate with a party that can afford the best lawyers and the best consultants. The federal government comes to the negotiating table in a position of strength, and the First Nations who want to face this impressive federal adversary are told: "Listen, we cannot subsidize your preparations for the negotiating process. You will have to make the best of it". I think the situation is even being used as a way to get a cheaper deal in negotiations with First Nations. I think that is also unacceptable.
I discussed at length the relative decline in subsidies for aboriginal housing. Of course, health problems, especially in connection with housing, are pretty obvious. As I said earlier, the Auditor General has been critical of the situation on many occasions. So that is not the answer.
What can we say about the participation of aboriginal people in the Canadian economy? So far, there has been a policy of exclusion. Only one statistic has gone up: welfare payments. In fact, that is something Quebec has criticized on many occasions. We represent 25 per cent of Canada's economy through our taxes and we never get the equivalent back, except in the form of welfare or unemployment insurance. We do not think that is the answer.
The answer to providing for the future of the first nations is not to tell them: "Here is unemployment insurance. Do what you can. That is all we are prepared to do". Obviously, a society based on joblessness and unemployment insurance is not a society that bodes well for the future, and I think we will have to change our approach here.
There is a better way to invest this money. But how? Probably through self-government. We have had a few examples in the Yukon. We had examples with the Sahtu Tribal Council in the Northwest Territories. Probably the first example we had in Canada was the James Bay agreement. If we look at the living conditions of the Cree in Northern Quebec today, I think there is probably not a single first nation in Canada that has reached the degree of economic development we see here, where the Cree have become quite wealthy, although I agree, they are not riding around in Mercedes.
In any case, a Mercedes would not be very useful on a Cree reserve. They would be better off with a snowmobile. In any case, compared with other first nations in Canada, these people would probably be the first to agree that the James Bay agreement was a model of its kind and that self-government gave them the tools for their economic development. This is proof that self-government is the way to go.
If I look at my Quebec counterpart, who is the Premier, since he is dealing himself with aboriginal affairs, he is also contemplating a new way of doing things: joint management. I talked about it earlier. At one point in time in the history of Canada and Quebec, we told these people: "Go live on a small piece of land, and of course it was often an unwanted piece of land, and we will pay for all the costs".
As of now, the Quebec government is thinking about a different approach, that of joint management. Therefore, in Quebec, probably with a bigger land base in mind, they will examine the possibility for these people to get part of the royalties for natural resources, among other things.
This is an example where not only native people will have a responsibility towards natural resources, but they will also have the opportunity to create their own wealth and give work to their
own people. Putting people to work is very important because it promotes pride. The right to work is there for everyone in Canada and Quebec and it should also exist for First Nations.
There are a few solutions. For example, the Minister of Finance says that everybody will have to participate in the effort.
I look at people of Third World countries and native people of Canada and Quebec and I say they have one thing in common, their despair. Some situations are absolutely outrageous. I said it before and gave a few examples, but I have others right here. Inadequate housing. I spoke at length about housing, but allow me to mention that overcrowding is 16 times higher for native people than for Canadians in general. The infant mortality rate is four times higher. The suicide rate among young people is six times higher. Life expectancy is eight years shorter for natives than for other Canadians.
The imprisonment rate is astronomical. In a given city where natives may represent 5 per cent of the population, you will find that as much as 25 or 30 per cent of the inmate population is aboriginal. That is an enormous problem. There are also problems of alcoholism and drug addiction. Finally, we can realize that, for the First Nations, the solution no longer lies in dependency, but that does not justify the minister in making all kinds of cuts there. It does justify maintaining the amounts going towards their safety net, such as social programs, and directing these amounts towards self-government and resource distribution.
Once again, I thank my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot for giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of the aboriginal nations.