Mr. Speaker, I want to wish all my colleagues and my constituents of Nunavut a happy new year.
I am greatly heartened by the Speech from the Throne and the address by our Prime Minister in his reply to the throne speech. I am heartened because living in my riding of Nunavut, I see people who greatly need some assistance to participate in the richness of our country and the content of the speeches offer hope for us.
I am happy with the strong statement in the throne speech that:
We want a Canada with strong social foundations, where people are treated with dignity, where they are given a hand when needed, where no one is left behind. Where Canadians--families and communities--have the tools to find local solutions for local problems.
The direction our government is going provides opportunities for our northerners to improve their lives in the remote communities of Nunavut.
Our Prime Minister has a vision of “Enabling citizens to take charger of their lives, making them free by removing barriers and fostering opportunity”.
This has deep meaning for me. I feel northerners, especially Inuit, have a tremendous amount of knowledge, talent and vision to share with the rest of the country. A point of view unique to the people who have endured the hardest climate and living conditions and yet persevered.
We must continue to persevere but we also need to have the right tools to do this in the modern context.
Inuit were moved to settlements from a nomadic way of life mainly in the late fifties and early sixties. This is in my lifetime. Enticed to leave their nomadic lives by offers of houses to live in, Inuit left the life of their ancestors to live in the communities and be close to medical care. Inuit children were put in schools and told they had to learn a new language and a new way of life to survive.
Government administrators were given full authority over the lives of the people. The Hudson's Bay Company controlled most of the finances of the people. The RCMP and the medical staff controlled the rest. We had no control over our own lives and future for many years, and some would say they still do not.
It is only in my lifetime that Inuit could vote. The Inuit of Nunavut celebrated the 10th anniversary of our land claims agreement last year. However, despite that, the land claims agreement is yet to be fully implemented and the federal government is being asked to hold up its part of the deal.
I look forward to being able to celebrate the full implementation of the Nunavut land claim. As the government fulfills its vision of a “new agenda; a new way of working...a renewal, built on partnership, opportunity, achievement--and the real engagement of Canadians”.
Our Prime Minister wants “a Canada where we have closed the gap in life chances for aboriginal people”.
The fact is that Inuit have a life expectancy 10 years shorter than southern Canadians. There were 37 suicides in Nunavut in 2003.
Housing shortages have created crises in all of the 25 communities of Nunavut. Often three generations share a small house. This overcrowding creates far reaching problems: the rapid spread of respiratory disease, mental health problems, and social problems right down to one of our youth with nowhere to do their homework which in turn leads to dropping out of school.
As stated in the Speech from the Throne:
Aboriginal Canadians have not fully shared in our nation's good fortune. While some progress has been made, the conditions in far too many Aboriginal communities can only be described as shameful. This offends our values. It is in our collective interest to turn the corner. And we must start now.
We hope that the throne speech means the federal government will assist the territorial government in meeting this fundamental and basic need for a home. Access to good quality health care is crucial to the well-being of the people of Nunavut. If the people are not healthy, they cannot participate fully in the democracy of our country. If they have to worry constantly about feeding and clothing their children, they will not get educated, start their own businesses and improve their skills.
I am happy that last Friday the government did follow-through and gave $2 billion to the territories and provinces to help address health care costs. It has committed to meet again in the summer. Health care is another area where Nunavut is not even on the same playing field as our fellow Canadians.
As the Prime Minister stated in his reply to the throne speech, “Health care is the nation's first priority. Quality care; timely care”.
In Nunavut, approximately 85¢ of every health care dollar goes to transportation costs as Nunavummiut must come south to access what most Canadians take for granted. This is the current reality of health care available to all Nunavummiut. This much change and improve. Innovations such as tele-health have helped, but much more needs to be done.
The Speech from the Throne states:
Our goal is to see Aboriginal children get a better start in life as a foundation for greater process in acquiring the education and work-force skills needed to succeed.
Our goal is to see real economic opportunities for Aboriginal individuals and communities...education and skills development, because this is a prerequisite to individual opportunity and full participation.
The fact that the government has committed to work with the territories, provinces and aboriginal partners in a renewed aboriginal human resources development strategy is very good news.
I am very heartened by the fact that on December 12, 2003, one of the first acts by the new Prime Minister was to create and take chair of the new cabinet committee on aboriginal affairs. This clearly demonstrates that the Prime Minister is dedicated to improving the lives of the first peoples of Canada and committed to establishing a new era of cooperation and participation. On behalf of my constituents I applaud this move.
Cash strapped municipalities welcome the new deal outlined in the throne speech. They too are encouraged that they are being asked to be in a partnership to improve the lives of their residents and for their voices to be heard nationally in the newly created secretariat. The 100% GST rebate for municipalities refunding every penny of the tax spent and providing municipal services and community infrastructure is most welcome.
The population of Nunavut is the youngest and fastest growing population of Canada. I am happy that the early childhood development initiatives give caring people at the community level an opportunity to work directly with the children and parents. Child care is one of our most important investments.
The youth of Nunavut are our future and our land is a fundamental part of Inuit culture. The $3.5 billion commitment over the next 10 years for cleaning contaminated sites will ensure that the land will no longer be harmful to the residents. As the Prime Minister has said, “What could be a better investment? An investment in our children, in our future, in our health”.
The government's commitment to our Kyoto goals make me look forward to the time when Inuit mothers will not have to worry that their breast milk contains contaminants, when Inuit will no longer have to worry about our traditional diet being laced with PCBs, and when climate change no longer makes travelling on the sea ice hazardous.
Cleanup of the contaminated sites will also provide an opportunity for northerners to expand their knowledge and play a crucial role in making our land a better, cleaner place to live in.
We need to train our young people to take jobs in the north. We need them to pursue post-secondary education and take advantage of the opportunities to take different career paths. We need more financial investments in skills training. These are the types of initiatives that are needed to enable Inuit and northerners to take charge of their lives and remove barriers.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that “we must ensure that the north has greater control of its destiny”. This is a fundamental necessity. There is great excitement in Nunavut regarding our wealth of natural resources. The permits issued have greatly increased from last year to this year. I look forward to the government addressing, in a realistic way, the subject of devolution sooner than later for Nunavut.
I was blessed last December by the birth of a beautiful and healthy granddaughter. This momentous event has made me reflect upon what I hope and wish for my home of Nunavut. The future of Nunavut looks brighter every day. I know the government will ensure that we share equally in the opportunities offered to all Canadians and we can all be confident in our future. Let us build bridges between the two worlds.