Mr. Speaker, before the break for oral questions, I was discussing the whole matter of balance and how we have to address these issues. As I was saying, this is a deep concern for all Canadians. There is an ongoing dialogue among Canadians about what a balanced approach is and how we get there.
As I mentioned, the Conservative members have a strong slogan. They are involved in a war on crime, a war on drugs, and their fearmongering is reminiscent of the Republicans.
In response to the Conservatives' announcement to battle auto theft, Dan Lett, a reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press, said in an article:
[The Prime Minister's] pledge Monday was to introduce tougher laws to crack down on the trafficking of stolen vehicles and parts.
The problem is that the changes he outlined will do precious little to help the situation here, where auto theft is less about organized syndicates and more about a bunch of teenagers out for a dangerous joyride...
This approach to fighting crime is probably the best example of not actually doing anything while creating the impression something is being done.
The so-called "war" on crime is often about being seen to be addressing the problem, while ignoring the root causes that lurk below the public's radar, and seemingly outside of the grasp of politicians.
Longer sentences mean more people in remand, on trial and in jail, which means significant increases in the costs of administering the courts and of incarceration. That leaves less money for social programs that divert potential auto thieves to more wholesome activities.
As more young people experience prison—we already incarcerate youth at 10 times the rate of European countries—society can boast more graduates of what is essentially a post-secondary education in crime.
That was Dan Lett from the Winnipeg Free Press in response to the most recent announcement that the Conservatives made on their war on crime.
Those are important points to consider. They are certainly points that have been raised in the House in this debate on Bill C-26. In fact, Bill C-26 is part of a larger effort by the Conservative government in its war on crime. What is important in terms of how we move forward is that we need to look at how we address issues.
We also saw in the Winnipeg Free Press yesterday an article about a recent gang related shooting. It is a serious issue.
As I said earlier, this affects people from coast to coast to coast. We have an issue in this country that is related to drugs and gangs. We need to have a debate on finding an approach that will make a difference and make communities safer.
I would like to focus on a number of pieces that are directly related to my riding. The issues of drugs and crimes are very closely related. We look at the drug policy budget and the amount of money that is being spent on enforcement. In my riding there are dozens of first nations. They have separate jurisdiction which comes under federal jurisdiction. Their funding for their band constable program is an intrinsic part of dealing with this issue as it relates to policing.
There are four communities that are very closely situated. About a month ago, children and youth from the Island Lake communities, which include Wasagamack, Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point and Red Sucker Lake, decided to walk from the Island Lake area to Winnipeg. They were protesting the lack of attention by the government to the serious health and social issues, including drug issues and gang related issues.
In the fiscal year 2006-07 when the Conservative government took power, it cut all of those communities' band constable funding. Those four communities had band constable programs, which all first nations expect and require, as all Canadians do, to participate in policing efforts. That band constable funding went from an average of $70,000, which each of those communities was receiving, to zero in 2006-07. Those funds were reinstated in the last fiscal budget.
There is an impact when the government cuts literacy and housing programs. The member for Trinity—Spadina talked about the relation between housing and gangs and drugs. It is a critical issue. As Dan Lett so aptly said, it is the root cause and we cannot ignore the root cause in this dialogue.
When we talk specifically about drug policy, we are talking about issues related to prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement but we are also talking about the other issues. The government, which claims to be tough on crime, has not made any effort to ensure that as a society we address all the issues in order to ensure safer communities. We cannot address this issue piecemeal.
Building more jails in order to be tough on crime is part of a Republican strategy that creates more criminals. In fact, many of the amendments that we are talking about are going to have an impact not on the big drug suppliers or the people who are involved in organized crime but the people at the lower end of the chain. Research has found that mandatory minimum sentences are blunt instruments that fail to distinguish between hard core and transient drug users.
We want to participate in an effort to build safer societies and communities. That is the approach that the Liberals are condoning. That is the approach we have to move forward on. Without a doubt, the relationship between drugs and gangs is something that does not escape anybody.
In fact, one of the primary pieces of work with respect to the Mental Health Commission has been around the issue of addiction. The Mental Health Commission has seen that as a priority. It is moving forward to create pilot projects. I am sad to say that this is another piece in which northern Canada has not been identified as a part of the country that will be participating in this pilot project. I have a very large riding. It encompasses about two-thirds of the province of Manitoba. There are dozens and dozens of communities and they require these services as well.
Where we have all these group causes and support systems within communities and within a society that are intrinsic in building a healthy community, we have seen the government make very little effort. In fact, it eliminated the national child care strategies, which affected not only all of the provinces, but also first nations. Through the Assembly of First Nations, first nations signed the national child care strategy with the government.
We also have the issue of housing. The government often says that it has identified more money than any government for first nations housing, but not one penny of that money was identified for on reserve housing. A primary concern the youth who participated in a walk from the Island Lake Tribal Council area is around social issues, overcrowded housing which would be completely unacceptable in any other part of our country, being one of the issues.
As I said, we could not find a group of youth who are more committed to trying to raise the issue of the crisis in which they live. There is the issue of health services. The government talks about its commitment to human rights, yet it brought forward a bill on human rights, which sought to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act for first nations, exempting the Indian Act. The aboriginal affairs committee worked very hard and long on this issue. Approximately 95% of the witnesses who presented at committee made recommendations to ensure the collective rights of indigenous peoples to participate in Canadian society and human rights for first nations.
I raise this matter again because it is dumbfounding to me that children residing on reserve do not get health services for complex medical needs. Health care should be a universal right in Canada. The youth from the Island Lake Tribal Council walked because they were concerned about drugs and gangs in their own communities. They are seeking assurance from the government that they can move forward.
We on this side of the House are recommending a holistic way of moving forward, addressing these issues, their root causes and identifying how we can hear from Canadians and amend the bill so it ensures we are moving toward a safe society.