Mr. Speaker, I move that the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Status of Women presented on Monday, February 25, 2008, be concurred in.
I am especially proud to speak to this motion today because we have been trying to get the current government to find solutions to this recurring and difficult issue.
I would like to read part of the report to the House. It states:
It requests that the Minister for the Status of Women and the Minister for Indian Affairs:
--increase recurrent core funding for aboriginal women’s shelters, as is already the case for shelters in Quebec;
--put a stop to the delays in the evaluation of aboriginal women’s shelters, scheduled for March.
I represent the riding of Churchill, which is located in Manitoba, and I have dozens of first nations in my riding that are represented by a number of political organizations, one of which is a northern political organization referred to as MKO, a second political organization called the Southern Chiefs' Organization, and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
I mentioned those organizations because a lot of critical work has been done on this issue in conjunction with first nations political organizations and first nations women's councils within those political organizations. This is a key point in this discussion because one of the discussions we are having with the current government is on an issue that is specific to first nations women, which is the issue of matrimonial real property.
Earlier this week, the government introduced Bill C-47 dealing with the issue of matrimonial real property. The reason it is important for Canadians to understand why all three opposition parties want the bill to go to committee for further discussion and to hear from witnesses is that there was a process in place on that bill. The current government engaged in a process with the Assembly of First Nations Women's Council and the Native Women's Association of Canada and, as we all know, the Assembly of First Nations represents first nations all across the country.
I would like to add that it is often inferred that the Assembly of First Nations is a male organization that is made up of men who represent women. However, the Assembly of First Nations and the first nations women's council are very proud of the fact that they have a high representation of women in politics and, in fact, a greater representation of women in politics than here in the House. There are over 120 women chiefs in Canada who feel that their voices are vital and that there is an equitable relationship at that political table.
It would be great if we could work with a government that respects those voices, as we saw in the process for the creation of the matrimonial real property legislation. The government communicated with first nations women and hired a fine representative, Wendy Grant-John, as the ministerial representative to undertake dialogue sessions across this country. It was encouraging because first nations women felt that they were participating in the process, which is what the House called for.
First nations women and aboriginal women across the country have called for development on this matter for 25 years. Since Bill C-31 in the mid-eighties, we have seen that first nations women and aboriginal women in Canada have felt it was critical that their voices be heard on these issues. We cannot have bodies making laws and policies without their input and participation because it will not work. We saw that with Bill C-31 and we see the impact of that today as that case moves to the Supreme Court of Canada.
It is now more than 20 years later and we do not want to be doing that any more. The role of parliamentarians is to represent Canadians and my role, as the member for Churchill, is to represent my constituents and ensure we engage Canadians in a process to responsibly make legislation.
I will go back to the process in which first nations women and aboriginal women across the country were encouraged by the process of developing MRP legislation. A comprehensive report was written by the ministerial representative and it had many recommendations. Lo and behold, the legislation was created without any participation by the Native Women's Association of Canada or the Assembly of First Nations Women's Council. The legislation was introduced and a big press release went out from the federal government but neither of those organizations were informed.
It is discouraging and disappointing that the legislation does not take into account the numerous recommendations that were made. I think that is sort of the fundamental dialogue that has been happening in many of the departments.
Although we were encouraged by the process in the beginning, we could have been looking to other patterns from the federal government that might have indicated to us that we were being too hopeful.
On the issue of Status of Women Canada, it has been very clear from the time the Conservatives took power that there were serious concerns from the opposition parties and from women across this country because one of the initial steps the government took was to cut $5 million from Status of Women Canada. The government referred to that as an effective savings exercise. I think the former president of the treasury board, now the Minister of the Environment, used the crass term “trimming the fat”.
There still are great inequities for all Canadian women. In fact, the women in this caucus have made a commitment to undertake a gender equity study. We want to commit ourselves and continue to put pressure on the government toward women's equity. We know, after decades of discussion around women's issues, that Canadian women still only earn 70% of what men earn in this country.
When I talk about Canadian women, we need to be cognizant of the inequities. We have a gender inequity to begin with. What has happened to aboriginal women in this country has no comparison. Aboriginal women fall far below what non-aboriginal women have in terms of access to services. Myself and many members in this House have talked about the great inequity in services for first nations women.
When we talk about women's issues we need to talk about it in a holistic manner. There is absolutely no other way that we can talk about this issue around family violence, women's shelters and the critical need to deal with these issues. This is not an issue in and of itself. It is about all the root causes. When we talk about the root causes of inequity for Canadian women we need to talk about it for aboriginal women as well.
I have met with aboriginal women in my constituency over the last couple of years to discuss women's issues. Often, people would think that women's issues would deal with gender equity, but what the aboriginal women and first nations women have repeatedly said is that their priority issues are their families.
There is a cumulative effect of policies that have not worked for first nations people. For instance, yesterday we had the aboriginal affairs minister at committee and one of the things we were talking about was child and family services for first nations. This is grossly underfunded compared to services for Canadians, so we have that inequity.
We have education systems for schooling on reserve. The Conservative government tends to use this type of language that would make Canadians think that first nations schools do not follow provincial curricula, as if the tripartite agreements really are the only way in which there can be a relationship with first nations where they are educating their children with similar standards to other Canadians, but that is not so.
All first nations schools have to follow a provincial curriculum and meet provincial standards, yet their per capita funding for their students is significantly less than that for Canadian students. It may range per capita between 50% and 75%. Again, what we are talking about is underfunding for first nations children education, which is K to 12. That is not even post-secondary.
The other area of concern is health services. We have unanimously adopted Jordan's principle in this House. Jordan's principle originated from a family in my home community of Norway House Cree Nation and I am so proud of the family for being able to go public with their story because it was a tragedy.
For those Canadians who do not know, Jordan was a boy who had been born with a rare syndrome and had to be hospitalized for the first couple of years of his life. When the doctors said that Jordan would be able to go home but would require certain services, some medical devices and such, these were services that any other Canadian child would have. Any other child in that same situation would go home and provincial health care would pick up those services. That is normal.
In this case, because the child was residing on reserve, the provincial jurisdiction in Manitoba would not provide those services on reserve. The federal government, through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and through the First Nations and Inuit Health branch, said that it did not have a responsibility to provide those services.
It developed into an interdepartmental battle, even though first nations are under federal jurisdiction, and there was a jurisdictional battle between the province and the feds. So, when Jordan was ready to go home, there was no jurisdiction that would pick up the cost of his services, which any other Canadian child would have been entitled to. It is what we refer to as universal health care in this country.
Jordan was two years old and as this battle waged on between departments and between jurisdictions, two years passed and Jordan lost his life. He passed away at a hospital and he never did get to go home because the issue of who would pay for his services was never settled.
It is a tragedy beyond belief in this great country of ours, a country which is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that this would occur and yet these are issues that first nations families are dealing with on a daily basis.
There are systematic challenges in health because we do not have the same spectrum of health services under first nations and Inuit health grants. We do not have the ability to access provincial health services on reserve. So we are talking about health services. We are talking about chronic underfunding in education for first nations children. We are talking about chronic underfunding for first nations educational infrastructure and we are also talking about chronic underfunding for children and family services.
Last week the Auditor General released a report on the first nations child and family services program. One of the items which the government has been so proud of is that it is working on a new model in Alberta. We have heard about this model now for over two years. One of the things that I thought was really interesting in this report was that the current minister and the previous minister have said publicly that “money is not the solution to the problem”. I am paraphrasing but if the parliamentary secretary is going to insist on the exact wording, I will have that later today.
I found information within the Auditor General's report on the Alberta model. Although on the one hand Conservatives keep insisting that money is not the problem, even though all these systems are underfunded, on the other hand their Alberta model, the operation and prevention components, will have increased in funding by 74% when the new formula is fully implemented.
That is really significant because it says that we do need to look at equitable funding. Absolutely, we need the systems to be effective. When we talk about effective results, we are talking about the lives of children and that is a priority concern for first nations women. That has been inextricable from the discussions on first nations women's issues.
The reason I went into all of this discussion around all of these issues and this dynamic with the current government and the historical impacts that are affecting first nations women and their families is because it is really important.
There are two points. We have a government which has not increased funding on reserve by one penny in the last three budgets. Conservatives talk about the $300 million that they transferred to the provinces for off reserve housing, yet we can get no accounting for that money. In Manitoba that meant $32 million, so again, we have aboriginal women off reserve, on reserve.
Off reserve means we have no accounting for that money. On the issue of housing we have heard the Conservatives talk numerous times about the $300 million they committed to private home ownership on reserve. Again, we have no accounting for that money. We had the departmental officials at our committee yesterday and again no information was forthcoming.
The reason this is all so important is because all of these issues are contributing factors to the whole issue of violence. When people are frustrated, when people are challenged, when people are dealing with the residential school impact, what we refer to as historical trauma, then we are dealing with challenging situations. In my riding I have some communities that are so challenged for housing that they have two dozen people living in one home. They have no health services and no adequate education services.
It becomes an enormous burden on women and families. There is a need to address the issue of shelters at a time when they are so critically underfunded, as well as prevention and supports for families, not only in shelters but for child and family services. It is time the government commits itself to truly do work that will benefit aboriginal women.