Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture.
I am pleased to rise to speak in response to the motion presented by the hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore. I note that the motion says specifically that the government is being criticized for “its budget spending cuts directed at aboriginal people”.
As I begin, there is no doubt that aboriginal policy is one of the most difficult areas of public policy in our country today. There are many areas that we can legitimately debate in the House. However, I do not think that budget spending cuts directed at aboriginal people is one of them because there have been no such budget spending cuts.
In fact, I am proud to point out that quite apart from cutting government spending directed toward aboriginal people, the government's inaugural budget in May 2006 provided for a total of $3.7 billion of additional funding over two years in support of aboriginal people and northerners.
The $3.7 billion by comparison is more than the previous four Liberal budgets had contained in total. It is hardly fair to say that there have been budget spending cuts directed at aboriginal people. To miscast the debate is simply not fair and I intend to speak to that.
This government has demonstrated time and time again to the members of this House that it is determined to improve the living conditions of aboriginal peoples.
Backed by the budget resources sanctioned by Parliament, this new government has been implementing a vigorous and tightly focused approach to dealing with aboriginal issues, the challenges that aboriginal Canadians have faced for far too long and the 13 years of inaction on the part of the previous government.
Our new approach has been based upon four elements, but only one goal, and that is real tangible improvement in the lives of aboriginal Canadians provide motivation and structure to what we are doing.
We have discussed this approach several times before the House. First of all, we are in the process of investing immediately in the urgent problems that are undermining the quality of life, such as unsafe water and inadequate housing. Next, we will also be introducing legal frameworks to promote programs for responsible, transparent governance. Furthermore, we are entering into agreements with aboriginal groups in order to resolve grievances and promote good governance.
Let me reiterate that this approach has been resourced by Parliament in last year's budget, and I will detail the disposition of this funding for the benefit of the House.
The budget, which presented to Parliament last year, allocated $3.7 billion for aboriginal and northern programs, including $3.2 billion alone for aboriginal investments. It includes funds for initiatives and priorities that are essential for healthy and sustainable aboriginal communities. I refer to areas such as housing, water and education.
In particular, a $400 million fund was set aside for northern and off reserve housing. Today houses are being constructed in Nunavut, for example, as a result of this. We see real improvements for the quality of life for aboriginal peoples. Much work is left to be done, but we have made progress.
To move to specifics, the budget committed a full $450 million to investments that will have an immediate and positive impact on the lives of Canadian aboriginal peoples. The money will be allocated to investments to improve water, housing on reserve, education and supports for aboriginal women, children and families.
The requirement for safe drinking water and adequate affordable housing I think is self-evident to all Canadians. However, the government also recognizes that it is through education and training that aboriginal people, youth in particular, can live prosperous lives either on or off reserve.
What is more, it is through an educated and employed population that healthy, stable communities are developed and sustained, and women play an integral part in the strength of the cohesiveness of the family and the health of the community. I think all fair commentators would observe that the government's agenda with respect to aboriginal women has been one that is noteworthy and very positive.
Additionally, as much as $300 million has been allocated to housing improvements for aboriginals living in off-reserve communities.
Up to another $300 million will go toward affordable housing in the three territories, $200 million of which will go to Nunavut where the need is greatest and $50 million each to the Yukon and to the Northwest Territories. Earlier I had referenced $400 million. It is $300 million in northern housing and off reserve housing.
Needless to say this funding will address the needs of and will be of benefit to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal northerners. There is more.
An additional $500 million will be devoted to community development, including that of aboriginal communities for the north, with which my colleague across the way is well familiar. These are the first nations that are affected by the Mackenzie gas project, the Inuvialuit, the Deh Cho, the Sahtu and the Gwich’in.
The goal of this funding is to support regional projects that will help alleviate socio-economic impacts on communities affected by the planning, the construction and the operation of this pipeline, which is so essential to our country's future.
These budgetary commitments speak to the determination of the government to address the needs of first nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada and to support them in the building of a healthy and prosperous future.
However, we also recognize, in terms of the way forward, that we also have to acknowledge the past. To that end, one of the first things we were able to achieve as a government was to negotiate a residential schools settlement agreement and to devote $2.2 billion to provide financial recognition of the often negative impact of the residential school experience. This will be buttressed by support programs to help former students, their families and their communities and to build a better future for themselves. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation is an important part of that.
I would also like to add, with reference to aboriginal languages, that Canada's new government is committed to delivering real results for the preservation of aboriginal languages. We believe that language is a vital component of first nation, Inuit and Métis identity and an important part of Canada's heritage.
I want to emphasize that although the previous government had designated $160 million over 10 years ostensibly to support aboriginal languages, implementation of that fiscal framework was never completed and none of those funds were ever accessed by aboriginal communities, not one cent.
On the other hand, this government recognizes that aboriginal languages need stable funding so they can be protected and preserved. Therefore, we are providing long term funding of $5 million per year for the aboriginal languages initiative, to which the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Status of Women has spoken. This supports the preservation, the revitalization and the promotion of aboriginal languages. We are committed to develop a long term plan for the support and the maintenance of aboriginal languages. The Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Status of Women and her colleagues in the aboriginal community will develop a new and better approach that meets the needs of our aboriginal people.
Canada's new government has not cut spending aimed at aboriginal peoples. In that sense, the motion put forward by the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore is simply incorrect. It is erroneous. Quite the contrary, we have developed, implemented and resourced a disciplined and focused approach to the resolution of the issues that challenge aboriginal people and communities in Canada.
The first inaugural budget of the government provided significant new funds. No budget cuts were contained in that budget. We have pledged to make progress by working in partnership with aboriginal people. We can point with pride to the results that have been achieved.
We are committed to making progress by working with aboriginal peoples and we can take pride in the results we have achieved.