Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Souris--Moose Mountain.
I rise as a new member of this honourable House and in so doing, allow me to say that it is a great honour for me to be here, to stand here on the floor of the House of Commons as the advocate, the spokesman, and the voice of the fine citizens of Calgary Centre-North.
This throne speech purports to offer Canadians lives of dignity characterized by cultural expression, vibrant communities and dynamic economic opportunities. Heady stuff, but not so for aboriginal Canadians because the throne speech for them speaks of another darker, more sombre Canada. For these Canadians the future is one of poverty, despair, lives overshadowed by fetal alcohol syndrome, teen suicide, chronic disease, and government failure to provide education or basic infrastructure.
Those are the government's words from the Speech from the Throne. Independent observers, such as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and, more recently, Amnesty International, are even less generous in what they have to say.
In what must surely be one of the saddest chapters in modern throne speeches, the government offers only a confession. There is no plan. There are no specifics. There is no compassion. There is no vision.
As it is written in stone, at the entrance to this hallowed building, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”, and so it shall be with our young aboriginal people in their communities unless and until the government, or more likely a future Conservative government, has the courage to address these problems.
The government is so bereft of ideas that it dares to present a throne speech which acknowledges intolerable consequences and yawning gaps. In response, it vaguely offers to meet to talk about it, and only then to set measurable goals, as though we were discussing statistical information rather than the lives of our children, for aboriginal children are our children. They are Canadian children.
There is a growing consensus on what must be done.
First, there is a need for accountability in the money that is spent. The Government of Canada will expend almost $10 billion on aboriginal programs and services in this fiscal year, yet it does so without any legislative framework for the expenditure on social services, education or health. Stated simply, there are no laws in place governing these expenditures, no laws defining what services or what standards of service aboriginal Canadians are supposed to receive. Perhaps most important, there is no way for Canadians, aboriginal or non-aboriginal, to find out how much of that money is making its way through to aboriginal Canadians themselves.
Second, the Indian Act must be replaced. It must be replaced by a modern statute providing for aboriginal self-government. Everyone agrees that the country requires an orderly devolution of full legal and democratic responsibility to aboriginal Canadians. This must happen within the context of our federal state and with full consultation with aboriginal Canadians.
It must be obvious, even to this directionless Liberal government, that it is in the process of destroying the lives of Canada's Aboriginals who have been stuck in an outdated system of governance for more than a hundred years.
Aboriginal Canadians, like other Canadians, are entitled to a governance framework which ensures stability, certainty, safety, respect for the rule of law and which allows first nations themselves to address issues such as the availability of on-reserve private property ownership.
Thirdly, Canada's Aboriginals are entitled to a system in which public funds are managed transparently and accurately. How much of the $10 billion really goes to the people who need it most?
Fourth, the government lacks the vision to propound a legislative framework for the settlement of comprehensive claims for the development of self-government agreements and the overarching resolution of specific claims, all in a way which would respect the rights of aboriginal Canadians while simultaneously ensuring constitutional harmony so that this nation is governable.
Pathetically, after 12 years of Liberal government, the speech contains only a telling admission of failure, that for many their water is unsanitary, their communities are not safe and their children, who for all of us are the repository of our hopes and dreams, live in despair.
In a democracy governed by the rule of law, there is no place to hide, and so it is for the aging and decaying regime that has penned the throne speech. The Liberal government has had the past 11 years to pursue meaningful institutional and legal reform with a view to improving the lives of aboriginal Canadians. I say unequivocally that it has failed and someday it shall bear the harsh judgment of history.
It is not just the 2004 throne speech. The 1993 Liberal red book chronicles the aboriginal frustrations of 11 years ago: unemployment, health problems, poor housing, unequal educational opportunity, unsafe drinking water. In the time since the Liberals have retreated on every difficult issue.
I have reviewed the throne speeches of these ensuing 11 years. Placed in the saddened context of teenage aboriginal suicide, they are a stunning indictment of vapid promises. In 1994 there was a promise to forge a new partnership with aboriginal people. In 1996 there was a promise to incorporate aboriginal aspirations. In 1997 there were promises to develop partnerships to build strong communities. In 1999 there was a promise to build stronger partnerships. In 2001 there was a promise to share the Canadian way with aboriginal Canadians and a commitment not to be deterred by the length of the journey of the obstacles. In 2002 there was a promise to close the life gap. In February 2004 there was a promise to start to turn the corner on the shameful circumstances on reserves. Finally in October 2004, again after 10 years, there was a new promise of partnership. In the intervening 10 years there has been no significant institutional change, no significant legislative change, no self-government legislation, no accountability legislation and no governance legislation.
What we do have is the consequences of 10 years of failure: more bad water; continued educational gaps; infrastructure shortage; and sadly, more fetal alcohol syndrome and teenage suicides.
The 2004 throne speech is correct because there is sham in all of this. I have travelled the length and the breadth of the country. I have seen the face of aboriginal poverty. I have seen the face of aboriginal despair, the despondency of fetal alcohol syndrome and of teenage suicide. I am unashamed to say, as a citizen of Canada, that I have wept in the face of the poverty I have seen on first nations.
I say today that we can do better. Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, deserve better.
We can and must do better for all Canadians, Aboriginal or not.
They deserve more than this throne speech has offered. They deserve vision, they deserve purpose, they deserve hope and they deserve a government which has the courage to effect change. Without that, that which makes this country what it is, we shall surely perish.