Mr. Speaker, I find myself increasingly frustrated by the many roadblocks the Reform Party is attempting to erect to circumvent this important piece of legislation. This piece of legislation is good for Canada and for all Canadians. As parliamentarians we have an opportunity to do the right thing and this legislation will do that.
For all who believe in the principles of democracy and the noble ideals of this institution, the Employment Equity Act is a welcome reminder of the values we hold dear as a nation. It is an affirmation that Canadians are just and honourable people who passionately believe in fairness and dignity for all.
To those of us who are members of the designated groups, employment equity is about human decency and democracy. It is not about inequity. It is not about getting more than your fair share. It is about equity. It is the freedom to exercise our constitutionally guaranteed rights to participate in the political process and to make contributions to the economic and cultural fabric of Canada.
My expertise on this matter lies in my life and professional work experience and growing up in a northern aboriginal community where the chances were far greater that I would walk the halls of a penitentiary than the corridors of Parliament. That is why the Reform Party's damaging amendments disturb me so deeply. They would seriously weaken the intent and impact of the legislation.
Of all the ill conceived amendments proposed by my hon. colleague, none concerns me more than Motion No. 6. If adopted this amendment would diminish Bill C-64 by deleting the aboriginal employers exemption in clause 7. It would remove the provision that allows an employer engaged primarily in promoting and serving the interests of aboriginal peoples to give preference in employment to aboriginal peoples unless that preference constitutes a discriminatory practice under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
In practical terms this means the act would not allow municipal bands on Indian reserves to give preference to the hiring of aboriginal peoples, perhaps the most disadvantaged of the groups the legislation is attempting to assist.
It is a well known fact that many non-aboriginal peoples work in and around large populated areas of aboriginal people. That has been historically so and still is in some cases. It should be the intent of all parliamentarians to change that and make accessible employment opportunities and training in other labour market related areas available for aboriginal peoples. There is nothing wrong with that.
Indian band councils that employ more than 100 workers are subject to the Employment Equity Act. I want to be clear that this provision does not relieve aboriginal employers of the obligation to hire aboriginal women and/or persons with disabilities.
I remind the House that aboriginal peoples of Canada have a unique constitutional status affirmed in section 35. These agreements are done through the British parliamentary system as we have it here. These agreements are recognized nationally and internationally. This status demands special consideration for measures aimed at enhancing their cultural, economic and political autonomy. It rejects no one.
Historically, as I have stated, many aboriginal communities and populations have been served by non-aboriginal people, and well in many cases. There have been problems but that is not the issue. The issue is fairness.
Perhaps most important, this motion goes against the very grain of the Liberal commitment to self-government. We are determined to give greater autonomy to aboriginal communities and to put the running of aboriginal affairs in aboriginal peoples' hands. Why not? We have struggled with it as governments for 125 years. There
are many problems. The aboriginal people should have the opportunity to serve themselves and to serve themselves well. They should at least have the opportunity to make their own decisions.
Clause 7 of Bill C-64 supports the aspirations of aboriginal communities for economic self-sufficiency and self-determination. It simply confirms that aboriginal organizations may hire only aboriginals, provided such a hiring is justified under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
I must confess that I am very surprised that the Reform Party would take the position it has on Motion No. 6. One can only assume it is based on a profound lack of awareness of the plight of aboriginal peoples in the country. It is no secret that members on the opposite side of the Chamber are not in favour of employment equity. We know that. However, from my reading of their minority report, it appears that they still believe the Canadian Human Rights Commission has an important role to play.
There is a certain irony in the Reform's proposition. First is the fact that the commission's chair, Max Yalden, expressed his support for clause 7 when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Disabled Persons. In response to a specific question about the exemption he said:
I think that aboriginal groups are a particularly disadvantaged group, a special group. The idea that native groups would, in their very special and particular situation, have a preferential hiring policy is not unreasonable.
There is another technical reason why clause 7 cannot be removed from the act. It is to ensure consistency with the Canadian Human Rights Act. I can only conclude, as did the commissioners in the Canadian Human Rights Commission annual report last year, that occasionally the tone of the opposition to employment equity seems more than a little shrill.
Thus far I have outlined the logical and legal arguments to reject the Reform Party's proposal. Far more potent are the facts of everyday life for the aboriginal peoples of the country. Discrimination is not an abstract, philosophical concept for disadvantaged Canadians. Abuse of power by a privileged few is the daily reality for members of the designated groups, particularly if they are aboriginal.
I challenge the hon. member to test the merits of his motion on members of aboriginal communities, especially those who are unemployed. Unemployment is very high. On some reserves where there are few employment opportunities the unemployment rate can rise as high as 95 per cent.
Tragically, aboriginal peoples account for the most disturbing rate of suicide. It is five times the national average. Let us think of the communities of Pangnirtung, the Whitedog reserve and Shamattawa, some communities in which we have seen many young people commit suicide. Not only do my people have the highest rates of suicide in the country but they are the highest in the world.
At the other end of the scale aboriginal people have the lowest incomes in Canada. Almost one-half of all aboriginal adults have incomes of less than $10,000. Not coincidentally they face far more crowded housing conditions. Twenty-nine per cent of non-reserve aboriginals live in housing with more than one person per room, compared with just 2 per cent of the general population. The rate is 31 per cent for Inuit people.
There is a corresponding high welfare dependency rate as well. It is 43 per cent on reserves, or almost five times the national population, and over 50 per cent among the off reserve population.
I am sure the Reform Party knows we share its view that it is better for people to be working. It is better for aboriginal people to become independent and self-sustaining than to be on welfare. It is better that we make these opportunities available than to slam doors in their faces so that progress cannot be made where help is needed.
Young aboriginal people are the most likely to drop out of school, to become teenage parents and to abuse substances such as alcohol, drugs and even solvents. With only 3 per cent of aboriginal teens completing high school, they have the highest illiteracy rates and lowest incomes in the country. Not surprisingly, more graduate from juvenile courts than from colleges or universities.
I would never deny the successes. We have made some progress. I am willing to stand here and admit there has been progress. However it is not enough, not at this point.
We have many graduates coming out of universities and colleges. For those who manage to rise above the daunting disadvantages, the thousands of aboriginal men and women who acquire university degrees and professional skills each year, employment opportunities still do not match their availability. The unemployment rate of aboriginal peoples with university degrees is nearly double that of white males with university educations.
That is a fact. That is the truth. It is undeniable. Those highly skilled and highly trained individuals are desperately needed in their communities. That is why the act exempts aboriginal organizations from provisions which might prohibit them from hiring these invaluable employees.
In conclusion, it is a lamentable commentary on Canadian society that the odds are stacked against far too many aboriginal people. With Bill C-64 we can start to turn the statistics around. Centuries of inappropriate and damaging policies developed and administered predominantly by non-aboriginals have taught us that
it is time to let the Indian, Inuit and Metis people take control of their own destiny.
That is why we need clause 7 in Bill C-64. The focus of federal policies is on seizing opportunities. The agents of change are individuals, because we are convinced that with the right support individuals can help themselves. That philosophy is at the heart of the aboriginal employers' exemption clause. A majority of Canadians recognize-