Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in support of Bill C-292 and the New Democrats will be supporting this private member's bill. However, it is a sad statement that we need to bring forward a private member's bill to deal with some very serious and pressing issues in first nations communities from coast to coast to coast.
Lest we think that these conditions are new ones, the conditions that are currently in place in first nations communities are a result of decades of neglect and need to be laid, not only at the doorstep of the current Conservative government but also points to a failure of the previous Liberal government to deal with these issues.
I want to talk about some statistics that the Assembly of First Nations has put forward and the fact that it has launched a “Make Poverty History: The First Nations Plan for Creating Opportunity” campaign. The conditions it is talking about have not arisen since January 2006. These conditions have accumulated over decades. I will only talk about a few of these numbers because they are depressing and a shameful legacy for this country to be talking about the kinds of conditions that exist in first nations, Inuit and Métis communities across the country.
Let us talk about children. We often talk about family values and how important children are to our country. We talk about needing to protect our children and yet in first nations communities one in four children live in poverty compared to one in six Canadian children. The rate of disabilities among first nations children is about one in eight and is almost double the rate among Canadian children, and over one-third of first nations households with children are overcrowded.
Let us talk about homes. In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan many homes on first nations reserves are contaminated with mould and yet we seem to have very little action that addresses the crying need in these communities to have safe, clean, affordable housing. About one in three first nations people consider their main drinking water supply unsafe to drink and 12% of first nations communities have to boil their drinking water and mould contaminates almost half of all households.
In my own community there is a band called Penelakut on Kuper Island and its water source is below a decommissioned dump. The reserve has cases of rheumatic fever and the physicians in the area say that they have not seen rheumatic fever since they were in third world countries. Some of the band members talk about turning on their taps and having brown stuff come out.
I live on Vancouver Island where we have some of the cleanest water in Canada. The Cowichan Valley says that it has the cleanest water in Canada and yet the people of Penelakut cannot access clean water on a regular basis.
Let us talk about our communities and how we rank internationally. According to the AFN “Make Poverty History”, applying the United Nations human development index would rank first nations communities 68 among 174 nations. Canada has dropped from first to eighth due in part to the housing and health conditions in first nations communities. Most first nations, 80%, have personal incomes below $30,000 per year and half of all households have total incomes below that level. When people do not have the incomes to even attempt to improve their living conditions, how can we expect people to bring themselves up out of poverty?
Much has also been made about how much money is spent on first nations people. The section entitled “Fiscal Imbalance: The Truth About Spending on First Nations” states:
Per capita spending on First Nations is half the amount for average Canadians (between $7,000-$8,000 compared to $15,000-$16,000). Spending on First Nations through core federal programs is capped annually at rates lower than inflation and population growth.
A recent Auditor General's report talked about the fact that funding only increased at 1.6% per annum whereas population increased significantly more than that.
Those were just a few statistics of the reality in first nations community and it is no different for the Inuit peoples in the north, the Métis people and the off reserve and urban aboriginals.
In any other country we would be pointing to these figures, facts, conditions and quality of life and saying that it was a shameful statement on that country. In our own country we continue to have those conditions and we ignore them daily.
The Conservatives have said that the Kelowna accord was signed on November 25 and that it was scratched out on a napkin somewhere. That is a total disrespect for the 18 months of work that went into the Kelowna agreement, 18 months of people from across the country coming together to lay out a framework and address the very serious and pressing needs in communities.
In my province of British Columbia, the premier and the then prime minister took it to heart. They saw the agreement as being something real and something that Canadians, including aboriginal peoples, wanted implemented. In fact, they signed a tripartite agreement. The first nations leadership from British Columbia, the prime minister and Premier Campbell, in good faith, signed the agreement called the transformative change accord and it was between the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Canada and the leadership council representing the first nations of British Columbia.
This agreement was done with a great deal of responsibility, fiscal, social, environmental and economic. People recognized that what happened in Kelowna was a framework that would allow people to move forward. It was a commitment on the part of the Liberal government of the day and the first nations peoples and they fully expected the future government to honour that commitment.
Recognizing that people wanted to see accountability and responsibility, the agreement laid out specific items. It laid out benchmarks for improving relationships by supporting a tripartite negotiation forum to address issues having to do with the reconciliation of aboriginal rights and titles. Numbers of treaties and increased awareness by public diversity were talked about. Benchmarks were laid out for closing the education gap and for improving housing.
Nothing in that agreement said that it was a fictional exercise in Kelowna. People expected some action but instead they got a Conservative government that rolled back the work that had been done.
The Conservatives have indicated their commitment by rolling back the Kelowna accord, by failing to invest in those key areas that first nations peoples said were critical and essential to their health and well-being and they have further demonstrated their lack of commitment by failing to look at the declaration on human rights for indigenous peoples.
I just want to go back to my own riding for one moment. The Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group is a group of six nations that has been involved in treaties and it is currently looking at the dire circumstances in many communities. Under Canada's community well-being index used to examine the well-being of Canadian communities, the six Hul’qumi’num communities score between 448th and 482nd out of 486 communities surveyed in British Columbia. They could not get much farther down the list in terms of well-being. It is a shocking statement that this continues in this day and age.
The Kelowna accord was a good first step but it failed to address land claims, treaties and specific land claims. I would urge all members of the House to support the private member's bill but I also would encourage every member of the House to push for much more fair and equitable treatment in the country.