Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-292, the Kelowna Accord Implementation Act.
First, I want to inform the House that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill. The Bloc Québécois believes that the government must respect the accord that was reached on November 25, 2005 with the aboriginal people at the first ministers' conference.
In support of the accord, Monday, May 8, 2006, our member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue and critic for aboriginal affairs, tabled on behalf of the Bloc Québécois a motion to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development recommending the implementation of the Kelowna Accord reached by representatives of Ottawa, Quebec, the provinces and national aboriginal leaders.
The tabling of this motion and Bill C-292, which we are debating today, remind us that, once again, the federal government did not respect its commitments and did not take its responsibilities toward the aboriginal people.
Here is the text of the motion that was tabled and that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has adopted:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Committee recommends that government to implement the Kelowna agreement, entitled Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap, which was reached on November 25, 2005 between the First Ministers and the National Aboriginal Leaders.
That the Committee adopt these recommendations as a report to the House and that the Chair present this report to the House.
Let us make not be mistaken: the Kelowna accord is only a temporary measure that will not improve in the long run the living conditions of native people. The accord is only a token solution to the growing gap between the quality of life of aboriginal peoples and that of other Quebeckers and Canadians.
Put into numbers, the accord represents--or did represent should I say--$5.1 billion over five years for education, health, housing and economic opportunities for aboriginal peoples. If we consider that those funds are to be divided among federal, Quebec, provincial and territorial governments before reaching first nations, Inuit and Métis, we realize that that is very little to really reduce the gap.
The needs of Quebec's first nations are tremendous, particularly in housing. The immediate needs represent $700 million for the 7,000 missing housing units, to which we must add hundreds more units every year.
As we know, this housing deficit has extremely severe human and social consequences. Some health problems are intimately linked to the housing shortage. It is urgent to stop the increase in the number of cases of poisoning, infection, tuberculosis, and so on. The presence of cases of diabetes, fetal alcohol syndrome et suicide is also a source of concern.
Suicide is a serious problem. Even though rates vary considerably from one community to the next, they are globally too high. The suicide rates of first nations youth are 5 to 7 times higher than among non-aboriginal youth. The suicide rates of Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, 11 times higher than the Canadian average. Thus, it is urgent to invest time and resources.
As far as education is concerned, if the government finally decided to tackle the problem, 27 or 28 years would be needed to close the gap with other Quebeckers and Canadians, according to the 2004 Auditor General's report.That is an understatement. The repeated reports of the Auditor General, as well as the observations from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and, more recently, the latest report from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the living conditions of the aboriginal people of Canada, are alarming.
Many recommendations supported by aboriginals, Quebeckers and Canadians have been presented to Ottawa and have fallen on deaf ears.
On the eve of the premiers' conference, the Bloc Québécois publicly supported the common position held by the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Femmes autochtones du Québec, who rejected the government's initiative. The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Femmes autochtones du Québec deplored the fact that this approach to narrowing the gap between the living conditions of first nations people and those of Quebeckers and Canadians did not address the real causes behind the first nations' situation, which are the lack of fair access to land and resources and respect for their rights.
The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Femmes autochtones du Québec also deplored the fact that the objective of the Kelowna agreement, through its blanket treatment of all aboriginals and lack of consultation with the communities to identify the real challenges, would maintain the cycle of dependence of the first nations.
The Bloc Québécois feels that concrete solutions are needed that are adapted to the reality of the various aboriginal nations to correct at the foundation the inequalities that affect their communities.
In addition, these measures must come out of discussions with the nations, because money alone will not solve the problem. On the contrary, it perpetuates the paternalistic approach of the federal government toward aboriginals.
Let us talk about the Conservative handling of the aboriginal issue. Now we know, here in this House, that the federal government has an obligation to meet the great needs of the aboriginal people, among other things those related to housing, infrastructure, education and health care. The Bloc Québécois continues to make sure that Ottawa does not shirk its obligations as a trustee. The federal government should assume its responsibilities as long as all aboriginal nations do not have the tools for self-government.
The first indications of the Conservative government's handling of the aboriginal issue are not very reassuring. For example, the initiative for a protocol for safe drinking water for first nations communities is commendable in and of itself. However, when the initiative sets aside communities with the greatest needs, those that still do not have a drinking water system and are still, today—believe or not—hauling their water in buckets, there is cause for concern.
This same protocol explains the following:
First nations are responsible for the construction, design, operation and maintenance of their water systems. INAC provides funding to First Nations for these activities, subject to the appropriate technical review and funding approval process.
With this new initiative, the Conservative government is telling communities not only that no new money is being committed to implement the protocol, but that the communities in the greatest need could have their funding withdrawn if they fail to obtain departmental approval. This is unacceptable.
The first budget is another indicator of the “new approach”, to use the words of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Aboriginal communities have critical socio-economic problems. In some cases, the situation is intolerable, and the Bloc Québécois does not believe that $450 million over two years, as announced in the budget, will be enough to properly address the problems.
Also, in its budget, the new government is giving considerable prominence to the accountability of communities in managing the funding they are given. It is important to emphasize that aboriginal peoples wholeheartedly support the principle of accountability. The same principle should also apply to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to make sure that it accounts not only to its minister, but also to the community it serves.
In its quest for a so-called new approach to improving the handling of the aboriginal issue, the Conservative government should start by going over the findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. We will recall that this royal commission was initiated under a Conservative government, at a cost of $58 million—and this at the expense of taxpayers in Quebec and Canada—and that its findings have been all but forgotten since the report was published.
The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-292, the Kelowna Accord Implementation Act.
The commitments made by the federal government in Kelowna mark a first step toward bridging the gap between aboriginal nations and Quebeckers and Canadians. The Bloc Québécois believes, however, that the root causes of existing disparities have yet to be addressed.
Aboriginal people must have all the tools to develop their own identity, namely the right to self-government and the recognition of their rights.
The Bloc Québécois wants the money promised at the Kelowna conference to be delivered.
For the future of relations between the government and the aboriginal people, we are in favour of a more comprehensive approach that responds to the aspirations of the aboriginal people and fosters the settlement of agreements from nation to nation.
I want to remind the House that we totally support the concept of the right to self-government for aboriginal peoples.
More generally, we are concerned with the self-government claims of aboriginal peoples. We recognize them as a distinct people having a right to their own cultures, languages, customs and traditions, as well as the right to develop their own identity.
In concluding, I want to remind the House that the Bloc Québécois has endorsed most of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and of the Erasmus-Dussault report. The commission outlined an approach of self-government based on the recognition of aboriginal governments as a level of government having jurisdiction over issues related to good governance and the well-being of their people. Moreover, the report was based on a recognition of the aboriginal peoples as self-governing nations having a unique place in Canada.
Thus, the aboriginal people will be able to rely on the support of the Bloc Québécois members.