Mr. Speaker, I will keep my comments brief, because I know there is interest in this place in getting the bill before the committee for some proper review.
To comment on some of the remarks that have been made by the government in terms of the NDP's intentions around election timing and other things, let me say that the New Democratic Party stands second to no one in this country when it comes to our history of supporting first nations rights and title in this country.
We can go back through all the history of our party and find our champions, such as the current member for Ottawa Centre, enforcing, pushing, coddling and imploring the government of the day to include the whole notion of rights and title in subsection 35(1) of the 1982 Constitution Act, thus ensuring that first nations have a voice.
I think back to Frank Howard, an MP from my riding at the time, who filibustered this place for three years on Fridays to ensure that first nations had the right to vote when they were living on reserve, a fundamental right that all Canadians enjoy. That was pushed by the New Democratic Party. There were Frank Calder and Jim Fulton and the list goes on. The New Democrats have stood with first nations through the ages, through time, and in debate after debate. And we stand with them today in strong support.
The idea of playing politics with important first nations issues is something that I find personally offensive. I find the tone being used by some of the government members toward the Kelowna meetings, this bill and other acts offensive, as do many of our first nations allies. The New Democrats' sole intention is to improve, once and for all, the quality of life of first nations in our country
With respect to that, I have often mentioned in this place the strong cultural history of first nations in my riding. Thirty per cent plus of the people I represent are of first nations origin. We have incredibly strong first nations that every day present their culture, their history and their hopes for the future. Too many times, these hopes have been ignored by the government over the last 12 years.
I have implored the government to change its basic understanding of how it deals with first nations by no longer using the number of announcements made and the number of dollars promised and rarely spent as the indicators for whether it is dealing with first nations problems or not.
We all know the horrendous state of affairs when it comes to the quality of life of first nations in this country, right across this country and in my riding in particular. We know that the rates of suicide, type 2 diabetes and poverty are absolutely deplorable. These are the indicators that the government would use, if it actually had any courage, when dealing with first nations and first nations issues.
One of those issues is teen suicide rates. The Lax Kw'alaams Band is a small band village in my riding. I have attempted to visit there three times in the last six months. All three times we had to cancel trips because of teen suicides, successful, if one can use that term, teen suicides. There were three. These villages, these communities, are being eroded in the most important way possible, through their young people, their young people who are not feeling any sense of hope whatsoever toward their future. They feel no sense of hope toward prosperity.
The reason New Democrats are looking forward to having this bill pass is that in some small measure we have come forward with another small step in trying to improve the quality of life of first nations across this country. We simply cannot play politics with this.
I also implore the government to stop playing politics with our Kelowna meeting. The member for Toronto--Danforth has proven time and time again that first nations are front and centre in our minds. When we renegotiated the federal budget last spring, many Canadians noticed that in each of the four main areas of the renegotiated budget, first nations were front and centre. Whether we were talking about the environment, affordable housing or education, whatever it may be, we ensured that in each of those areas first nations held a place of importance, thereby demonstrating yet again the New Democrats' passion and commitment to improving the quality of life for first nations in our country.
Highway 16 runs through my riding. For a number of years women, particularly first nations women, have gone missing year after year. This incredibly tragic issue has been absolutely ignored by both the Liberal provincial government and the federal government. It is awful and truly devastating. Due to economic poverty, people are forced to hitchhike and use other methods to get back and forth across the vast territory which is my riding. Year after year the missing persons posters go up for young first nations women who have gone missing. There is no public cry in this place or in the legislature of the province of British Columbia that resounds properly to the tragedy that we are watching unfold before us.
When it comes to the need to consult and accommodate, there is one finding that has come out of the courts time and again. I mean this in all sincerity, but I do not believe that the government has caught up to the court cases that have been presented in front of it, whether it was the Haida case or the Taku River Tlingit case, in truly understanding what it is to properly accommodate and consult. I could go through case after case that we are seeing in my riding where the government has come in and has allowed either industrial projects to go ahead or has initiated its own without that first step of proper consultation and accommodation of the first nations. I see it time and again. At some point the culture within government must change to finally come to terms with what the courts have told us for a number of years, that particularly in places where no treaty has been signed, there is a need to properly accommodate and consult.
For the country to truly prosper in the true sense of prosperity, we will need our first nations people on board. We will need them to prosper with us. No longer will it be acceptable to have all of the key indicators of quality of life improve for Canadians in general, but continually slide for first nations. The Liberals have some accounting for this. For the last decade or so on the key indicators, the ones to which we pay the most attention, first nations continue to fall further and further behind what all Canadians should come to expect, which is a high quality of life living in the greatest country on earth.