Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak on the second reading of Bill C-292.
I commend the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard for providing us with another opportunity to discuss and consider the issues of importance to all Canadians and especially aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.
Although I welcome this occasion to speak, I cannot support the proposed legislation for a very good reason. The previous Liberal government, after 13 years, clearly neglected aboriginal people all across Canada.
I am very proud to say that our new government and our new Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is interested in doing the thing the previous government was unable to do and that is to look at the structural changes needed to actually bring benefits to the people in the communities, the people who have not seen benefits in the past, and are the ones who need it; We will not be growing the bureaucracy and not growing the system like the previous government would so love to do.
I would like to point out two other objections today. First, the bill is poorly conceived. It is not proposing a clear detailed policy and blueprint but rather a series of broad political commitments in a unilateral press release. Furthermore, it purports to extend statutory recognition to a one-time event and create a vague legal obligation to fulfill a series of wide-ranging commitments, a dubious proposition at best and certainly one which is unenforceable.
Mr. Speaker, on Monday, September 25, you yourself mentioned that Bill C-292, in clause 2, does state that the government shall take all measures necessary to implement the terms of the accord, but it does not provide specific details on those measures. You said that the measures are simply not described.
In addition, Bill C-292 provides members with absolutely no idea of what obligations it would impose on government, nor whether those obligations would also apply to provinces and territories. That is an important issue for many of my colleagues in this chamber.
The second objection that I have is that Bill C-292 is redundant. Since taking office and in collaboration with our aboriginal, provincial and territorial partners, the new government has undertaken a new approach that will produce real solutions to the problems facing aboriginal people in Canada.
The approach focuses on moving aboriginal people from dependency to self-reliance through targeted efforts in four areas. The first is to empower individuals to take greater control and responsibility for their own lives through directing investments toward housing and education. Next, we are working to accelerate land claims. We are also promoting economic development, job training, skills and entrepreneurship. Finally, we are laying the ground work for responsible self-government by moving toward modern and accountable government structures.
We are already achieving results. Earlier this year, the government developed and launched an action plan to address drinking water concerns in first nation communities. This comprehensive plan consists of measures to identify communities at risk from unsafe water, ensure treatment facilities are managed by certifying operators, and implementing standards for the design, construction, operation, maintenance and monitoring of treatment facilities.
Furthermore, there is a three member panel of experts who are conducting public hearings across the country to examine and provide options on the establishment of a regulatory framework to ensure safe drinking water in first nation communities.
We are also moving forward in collaboration with first nations people, the provinces and territories to reach workable legislative solutions to resolve the challenges presented by the current situation regarding matrimonial real property on reserves which affects a disproportionate number of women and children on reserves, particularly those experiencing family violence. Matrimonial real property on reserves is obviously a pressing equality issue and one we are committed to resolving.
Unfortunately, members from the party opposite, including the member for Winnipeg South Centre, have indicated that perhaps this is not something we should be proceeding with as soon as possible. I find that to be rather surprising coming from this member whom I thought was very concerned about this issue. To that end, this government has recently announced a national consultation process aimed at resolving the difficult issue of on reserve matrimonial real property.
In this day and age, it is unacceptable that women and children, families and communities on reserve are still struggling with an issue that has been long neglected, and it is a shame. This situation is the result of a legislative void because provincial and territorial laws that deal with the matter elsewhere in the country do not apply on reserve. The federal Indian Act, which governs practically all aspects of life on reserve, is very silent on this issue.
As a result of this legislative gap, legal rights and remedies that are applicable off reserve are not available to individuals living in first nations communities. As a consequence, many women are subjected to discrimination and denied basic human rights that other Canadians all take for granted. It is essential that we deal with this issue as soon as possible because clearly, after 13 years, the previous government made no efforts in that area.
Education is yet another area in which our government is enabling real change for first nations people. In July we signed an agreement with the province of British Columbia and the British Columbia first nations education steering committee to enable first nations in B.C. to assume meaningful control on reserve elementary and secondary schools in areas such as curriculum, educational standards and teacher's certification. This means that first nations children in British Columbia will be able to obtain an education that meets provincial standards but that is also culturally relevant. That is essential.
As we know, first nations individuals all across Canada, in fact all aboriginal people, are just as capable of learning, but learning is something that requires a cultural sensitivity that we have not seen in the past. I am proud that our government is moving forward in this area.
Another issue which is very important, again left by the previous government at our feet, is a process that our minister has put forward to accelerate land claims. There is a huge backlog of claims which is completely unacceptable and indicates that the current system is clearly not up to the task.
Settlements are about justice, respect and reconciliation. More than coming to terms with the past though, settlements are also about building a better future for communities that are sometimes isolated and far from our current economic setters. Each settlement clears a path to strengthened governance and will also strengthen new economic and social opportunities. Settlements can also mean that valuable resources are spent on communities rather than courtrooms.
The Prime Minister, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and I are steadfast in our resolve to work with aboriginal partners on shared priorities to develop effective, sustainable approaches to overcome the pressing challenges in our aboriginal communities.
The government's approach to resolving aboriginal issues, including water, matrimonial real property, education, housing, women and children is all focused on tangible results and clear accountability. Bill C-292 proposes an approach characterized by vague promises and general objectives, something that the previous government was excellent at doing.
Accordingly, I will be voting against Bill C-292 and I encourage all of my colleagues to do the same.