Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to reaffirm my support and that of my party for this private member's bill introduced by the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.
It is true that I too wish I did not have to stand here today in support of this bill, just as I am sure the member for LaSalle—Émard wishes he did not have to introduce the bill in the first place.
The new Conservative government was afforded an opportunity when it took power: an opportunity to provide for aboriginal peoples from coast to coast to coast. Blessed with a $13 billion surplus, due to the sound fiscal management of the previous Liberal government, and a ready made plan that only needed the confirmation of the new government, the Conservative government willingly and knowingly set back relations between Canada's aboriginal people and itself by not pledging its support for the Kelowna accord. It did this by abandoning it, trashing it and disrespecting it. The government abandoned aboriginal Canadians and, most important, it disrespected the processes aboriginal Canadians entered into in good faith.
We all know the accord is a landmark document. It signalled the start of a new era of cooperation and reconciliation in Canada, an era when our elected leaders from all parts of this great country said no. They said no to incidences of child mortality 20 times higher in aboriginal communities than in non-aboriginal communities. They said no to an unemployment rate for aboriginal Canadians that is 12% higher than that of non-aboriginal Canadians. They said no to deplorable overcrowded, mouldy housing conditions in which aboriginal Canadians, both on reserve and off reserve, find themselves. I invite members to come on a tour of some of the communities in my province to see the deplorable situations. They said no to a situation where aboriginal people are three times more susceptible to incidences of type II diabetes. They said no to third world poverty in a country such as ours. They said no to inadequate access to medical services and to third world diseases like tuberculosis.
The agreement was not between Liberals and aboriginal Canadians. It was not a partisan accord. It was an agreement between the Government of Canada, the leadership of all national aboriginal organizations in this country and the first ministers of all the provinces. This agreement spoke to the honour of the Crown. Everyone who was in Kelowna that weekend said that we had enough poverty and enough of a two tiered society.
From the outset, the Conservative government wasted no time in trashing and belittling this accord. The current immigration minister very quickly said that the accord was written on the back of a napkin. What an attitude. Unfortunately, this attitude has been borne out by subsequent events indicative of most of the views of members opposite.
The accord represented a new beginning in developing policies that affect aboriginal Canadians. It was a fully integrated and fully consultative process. It involved 18 months of talking with aboriginal Canadians, listening to aboriginal Canadians and working with aboriginal Canadians to formulate the policy and goals that are now part of the Kelowna accord. This process was a model for all departments of government for policy development. It included consultation, collaboration, stakeholder buy in, political commitment, respect for regional realities and differences, and the allocation of resources to begin the job that must be done.
To have this agreement described as being written on the back of a napkin is an insult to all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, who worked so hard and for so long to see the Kelowna accord come to fruition.
Some members opposite have said that the money for the Kelowna accord was not booked by the previous government. I suggest that is another misrepresentation and another insult.
As has been confirmed by finance department officials, the money for the Kelowna accord was designated in the fiscal update presented by the former finance minister. The money was there. The funds were booked. To say otherwise is to perpetuate a myth. It is misleading the House.
The money was designated as a line item in the sources and uses table. The only ones who can remove a line item from a sources and uses table are the Prime Minister and the finance minister.
When members opposite muse as to the whereabouts of the money for the Kelowna accord, they can ask that question of the Prime Minister or the finance minister. They removed the money. They were the ones who abandoned the Kelowna accord. They were the ones who said yes to continue third world living conditions for aboriginal Canadians. They were the ones who indicated that the pressing needs of aboriginal peoples were not a priority for this government. They hold the brunt of the responsibility.
The government has now been in power for 10 long months. Its approach to dealing with aboriginal Canadians is becoming apparent. It is quite happy to revert to confrontational times that most Canadians believed were behind us. It seems to be prepared to dictate policy with only a gesture to consultation.
Along with Russia, the government does not want to champion the rights of indigenous people at the United Nations. It is prepared to create animosity where the Kelowna accord and the consultative process leading up to it achieved much in tearing down barriers between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.
The era of the government handing down policy without consultation is behind us, or I should I say it was behind us until this government came to power. Aboriginal Canadians need to be at the table in determining policies. They do not need an overseer. They need to be a partner.
In my mind, any accord in which all of the ministers come to a consensus is a historical document. NDP premiers, Liberal premiers and Conservative premiers all said it was a historical document. They were all in support of it.
If I can quote NDP Premier Gary Doer of my province, the province of Manitoba, who said on the signing of the Kelowna accord:
This is the most significant contribution to aboriginals made by any Prime Minister in the last 30 years.
The Liberal premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, said upon its signing:
Our duty now is to ensure that when this room goes dark, the light that has been lit, the light of hope that has been lit over the last two days, lives on and burns brighter, month after month, year after year in our hearts and in Canada's corridors of power.
The Conservative Premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein, said:
We're committed to working hard on initiatives that will lead to significant improvement for aboriginal people in Canada over the next five or 10 years.
The only person who is not heeding the calls that it is time to help aboriginal Canadians is the individual who should be listening the hardest and most eager to help. That individual is the Prime Minister.
A true Prime Minister, a true leader, is the Prime Minister of all Canadians. The time for real leadership is now, leadership to alleviate the suffering of thousands of Canadians.
The Kelowna accord was an opportunity. It was an opportunity to end the shame in our country, an opportunity to allow aboriginal Canadians to be on the same level as non-aboriginal Canadians. It is the duty and responsibility of this government to see that this accord be implemented. It has failed. Not only did the Conservative government fail aboriginal Canadians but it failed all Canadians by abandoning this accord. It failed the premiers. It failed the aboriginal leadership.
As the opposition we had a choice to make. We could howl at the moon about the Prime Minister's shameful actions, or we could take action to overturn this meanspirited decision. We chose to take action, led by the efforts of the member for LaSalle—Émard and supported by the entire Liberal caucus. We are saying to Canada's aboriginal people, enough is enough.
With that in mind, and in my heart, I am pleased to support the private member's bill. I urge all members of the House to support the bill, to indicate to aboriginal people, to the aboriginal leadership of the country, to the leadership of the provinces, and indeed to all Canadians that the House is truly committed to take action to ensure that all aboriginal people have the opportunity--