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House of Commons Hansard #170 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was amendments.

Topics

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

8:55 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on May 17, 2007, I referred to the minister responsible for official languages. The previous day, May 16, 2007, the National Assembly of Quebec passed another unanimous motion. All the parties of the National Assembly passed a unanimous motion demanding that decisive action be taken to defend and promote French.

An example of such action that had proven its worth was most assuredly the court challenges program, which was an essential tool. We all know what happened. The Conservatives eliminated it, without even discussing it with program officials.

The current federal government, that is, this alliance of Reformers and Conservatives, is being very hypocritical towards francophones in minority communities in Canada. The government is basically telling francophones that their rights matter, but they are losing their means of defending them.

I asked the minister for her reaction to the situation. Of course, since it was question period and not answer period, I was very disappointed by her answer.

For a right to have any significance, one has to be able to defend it. Eliminating the court challenges program goes against this principle. The court challenges program was created to avoid an unfair situation between parents and volunteers who want to tell the government—whether the federal, provincial, municipal government or any school board—that it is making a mistake, that it is doing something that violates the Canadian Constitution and interferes with the rights of the people who want to go to court. The government—the federal or provincial government—can show up with a team of lawyers, while the parents who want to have schools for their children or volunteers who want to ensure that their hospital does not close, do not have that kind of resources. The court challenges program was a very useful tool in that sense.

Thanks to two reviews of the program, one in 1997 and the other in 2003, it was shown that the court challenges program was more than adequate. In 1997, among other things, it was said that the court challenges program made it easier to settle a number of disputes and largely contributed to clarifying constitutional rights. Just think about the recognition of minority francophones to manage their own schools.

Tomorrow, in the Standing Committee on Official Languages, we will have the opportunity to speak to someone who worked very hard on this level. He will tell us, for example, that parents in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan, had to mortgage their homes to get francophone teachers in their community.

Another aspect became clear in 2003. It was said that the clarification process was permanent and, by all accounts, it would go on indefinitely.

The court challenges program is essential because society evolves. Furthermore, it reaches out to linguistic minorities as well as disadvantaged citizens.

On that note, I will leave the floor to my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages. I hope she will have better answers than her colleague, the minister.

9 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to respond to the question from the member for Gatineau about the court challenges program and the responsibilities of the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages with respect to official language minority communities.

As he knows very well, a case concerning the court challenges program is presently before the courts. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to comment at this time.

However, I would like to make a few comments about what our government has accomplished for official language minority communities throughout our country. I am convinced that this will be of great interest to the member for Gatineau.

Since taking office, the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages has made a point of meeting official language minority communities in all regions of the country.

For example, in April, she participated in a round table in New Brunswick with young Acadians discussing the concerns of and matters of interest to young people. These youths were very engaged and she was quite impressed by their enthusiasm. We firmly believe that it is important to strengthen relationships with young people in order to ensure the future of the official languages.

She also had the opportunity to meet with many members of the network of associations in New Brunswick, including the Société nationale des Acadiens, the Société des Acadiens et and the Fédération de la jeunesse francophone du Nouveau-Brunswick.

Because we believe that young people are important, the Government of Canada has signed improved four-year agreements with the 13 provinces and territories for minority language education and second language learning. These agreements reflect our desire to invest in the future of Canada's youth.

In addition, our government is continuing to support new school and community centres. Two examples come to mind.

First, our government and the Government of Saskatchewan have signed an agreement to build and renovate school and community centres for the École canadienne-française in Saskatoon. This two-year agreement, worth over $3 million, will help francophone youth get a good education in their own language.

Second, the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages recently signed a special agreement with New Brunswick to set up two school and community centres, one in Fredericton and one in St. John.

The concept of the school and community centre dates back to the late 1970s. There are currently about 20 such centres in the four Atlantic provinces, Ontario and the Prairies. These centres provide minority official language communities with a variety of activities and services in their language, which helps them preserve that language.

The Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages also recently announced funding to set up an institute to support the development of second language learning across Canada. The institute is based at the University of New Brunswick, which makes perfect sense, considering how important linguistic duality is to that province.

The federal government is also partnering with the Government of New Brunswick to implement its—

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Gatineau.

9:05 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, we heard our colleague talk about various funding announcements, but she did not say a word about the court challenges program. Under the circumstances, however, I will take the liberty of reminding her about what makes the program so good and why her government will end up restoring the program in its entirety.

Whenever people's constitutional rights were breached, the court challenges program gave them the opportunity to make sure that their rights were respected. Furthermore, the court challenges program enabled people to take any government, not just the federal government, to court whenever it failed to respect their constitutional rights. The court challenges program is a positive tool to help citizens take on governments that have vast resources to defend themselves in court. This is a matter of equality, justice and democracy.

Mr. Speaker—

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages.

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Speaking of justice, I would like to point out that all the work the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages has done makes me proud of our government's commitment in this area. I find that our government has shown a strong commitment toward linguistic duality and minority official language communities.

The Minister of Finance, showing his unequivocal support, increased funding for linguistic duality and minority official language communities for the next two years by $30 million. This new funding comes in addition to the envelopes already budgeted for the official languages support programs.

This additional funding has been allocated for after school and cultural activities and for community centres, and will help enhance the benefits related to linguistic duality for children, through exchanges and programs. This good news was received warmly by our partners in the minority official language communities.

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to follow up on my question posed to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development on May 18. Similar to other responses I have received from the government, the answer I was given that day was empty, unsatisfying and entirely rhetorical.

However, providing adequate responses is not the only thing the Conservative government seems to be struggling with lately. In recent weeks it has grown increasingly evident that the government continues to struggle with maintaining strong partners within the Canadian federation.

It began by abandoning the historic Kelowna accord and ignoring first nations health, education and poverty issues, which has led to a deterioration of the government's relationship with first nations communities. We have seen the true colours of members opposite in their style of government as they have turned their backs on first nations and now they have turned their backs on Atlantic Canada and other provinces. Rather than working together in a collaborative fashion, we are witnessing a divisive and appalling approach to government. I encourage those sitting on the government side of the House to consult with Canada's first nations, Métis and Inuit on what true consultation actually means.

I would like to point out that the member referred to the Kelowna accord as a “quasi-plan”. The member opposite used that term when he responded to my question on May 18. It reflects that party's inability to understand the issues facing first nations.

The Kelowna accord was the result of 18 months of aboriginal round tables, including all aboriginal groups in Canada. This was not to satisfy a legal obligation on consultation, which we know the Conservatives know nothing about, but was a good faith process.

If the Conservatives could deviate from their slogans for a moment, maybe they could hear what first nations are saying on such issues as matrimonial real property, Bill C-44, the anti-poverty campaign and even the human rights complaint they have been forced to file against the government on first nations child welfare. First nations want change but not in the paternalistic manner of decades past in the days of the Indian agent.

In my question to the minister I cited Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine when he commented on the Kelowna accord. He said, “for the very first time, we had...a plan...based on reason, thoughtful consideration”. He said, “That deal was set aside, dismissed”.

Under the previous Liberal government, the Kelowna accord was built on a foundation of respect, accountability and shared responsibility. It outlined five year targets in the areas of education, health, housing, infrastructure and water.

What will it take for the government to take all issues relating to first nations, Inuit and the Métis nation in Canada seriously? Why does the Conservative government treat our partners within our federation with such disdain? When will it work with aboriginal leaders on all issues to improve the quality of life for first nations?

9:10 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for bringing about this important adjournment proceeding tonight, although she might be forgetting what occurred yesterday when the Prime Minister, the Minister of Indian Affairs and others in our government announced what is an historic and important change to the Indian Specific Claims Commission by making it an independent body.

In fact, after meeting with the national chief yesterday, I can say that he was very pleased. He was happy to see such an important step forward for Canada's first nations people, so clearly the member seems to have missed some of the key details that have occurred in our new government's approach to aboriginal people. It is something that I am very proud of.

Today I am going to talk somewhat about the things that we are doing in government right now. I know that the member opposite has a shameful record that she has to prop up in regard to the Liberal Party, but thankfully our government is moving forward in working with aboriginal groups, the provinces and the territories to find workable and innovative solutions to address poverty among aboriginal people in Canada.

The government's strategy on aboriginal issues is clear: to collaborate closely with strong and willing aboriginal organizations, with provinces and territories, and with other partners to devise and implement effective solutions.

This strategy has produced and will continue to produce tangible and sustainable improvements in the lives of aboriginal people for two reasons: first, it focuses on specific challenges; and second, it will engage the very people most affected by these challenges to design and implement the solutions.

Initially, budget 2006 announced $450 million over two years, with $150 million in 2006-07 and $300 million in 2007-08, to support priority areas in education, for women, children and families, and water and housing. Budget 2007 confirms that the $300 million from this budget will continue thereafter in an ongoing funding arrangement. It will provide ongoing capacity to deal with these priority areas.

The government is making progress on these priorities. For instance, on April 20 the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation both announced the first nations mortgage market housing fund. This fund represents a real change in how Canada's new government supports housing on reserve and is an example of the type of innovative thinking we need to bring about a long term solution, not only for housing issues but for other major challenges that plague many first nation communities.

With regard to education, let us not forget about Bill C-34, the First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act. This act came about through collaboration between the government and the province of British Columbia and first nations in that province. Our government recognizes that first nations people and communities must determine their own educational needs and must have the tools to address them.

In collaboration with first nations, we have moved forward on other areas as well. Hon. members are well aware of the progress we have made in child and family services through the partnership we have entered into with the province of Alberta and Alberta's first nations, in the provision of safe drinking water to first nations communities, and in finding a solution to the difficult issue of matrimonial real property on reserve.

Housing, water and education, and support for women, children and families: these are the firm foundations we must build upon so that poverty in aboriginal communities can be eradicated once and for all.

9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have heard ongoing grandiose announcements from the government, but to date there has been no concrete action. It has failed to address the funding inequities for programs and services in first nations as well as the funding caps that are causing severe hardship through all sectors for first nations. I reiterate that the government has not met its duty to consult with first nations. Nor have its announcements of new funding been applicable to first nations.

When the member opposite said in this House that the previous government “simply wanted to throw dollars at problems”, it revealed a naive if not callous attitude toward the people in our great country who have been forced to call on not only aboriginal people but all Canadians to address an anti-poverty campaign for first nations. I also remind the House that a human rights complaint has been filed against that very government--

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs.

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, of course the member raises the issue of human rights and hopefully we will be able to soon pass Bill C-44, which would extend human rights to first nations people on reserve.

She also raises the point of throwing money at a broken system. This is something that our government has taken major issue with, because we feel the systems are broken. Investing money in broken systems is not the right approach for delivering to people on the streets of first nations communities.

This is one of the reasons why Canada's new government is moving forward for first nations people, thankfully, and bringing about system change to the Indian Specific Claims Commission as well as system change to the Canadian Human Rights Act, which would extend human rights to first nations people. Hopefully the member will help us in fixing the system.

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 9:19 p.m.)