Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House and engage in this important debate. A majority of parliamentarians have just sent a message to the government that a debate around prison farms needs to take place in the House. We represent Canadians who view the continuation of prison farms as key to the work we do in corrections, to the work we do in terms of rehabilitation, and to the work we do as a country in our treatment of people in our correctional system and how we move forward as communities and as Canadians.
I represent an area where people often fall through the cracks and end up in a cycle of violence. They sometimes end up in the correctional system in a much more disproportionate way. The way that we work with these people to rehabilitate them and bring them back to our communities is critical, especially to my part of the country, which is northern Manitoba.
I am part of a generation that has seen the U.S. crime and punishment policies fail. The U.S. has invested billions of dollars in a correctional system that has not been found to be successful when it comes to reducing crime rates and rehabilitating people.
Many of us find it extremely problematic that our Canadian government is carrying on with such ineffective policies when it comes to corrections and public safety. These policies are completely ineffective and are not based on factual information, which is disturbing.
I have had the honour of speaking out, along with many of my NDP colleagues, on the importance of prison farms in our correctional system. Whether it was at committee, at hearings across the country or at community meetings, the message from Canadians was clear. They understand in a big way that prison farms are a key part of our correctional system.
Beyond the specific skills that are taught to inmates at prison farms, numerous other benefits also accrue. I would like to list a number of ways in which the prison farm system is valuable to our correctional system.
Inmates receive vocational training while working on a farming operation, whether it is meat-cutting or equipment maintenance or other direct skills. They are taught a strong work ethic. They wake up early and work long and hard hours. These are skills that they will take back into their communities after they leave the farms.
Working with animals has well established therapeutic value, helping to teach inmates empathy and providing a mutual avenue for caring and affection, something that was perhaps missed in their upbringing, as is often the case.
Inmates learn to work as part of a team and towards common goals, providing direction and motivation that is usually lacking in a prison environment.
Prison farms provide wholesome, locally grown food to correctional institutions and surrounding communities at discount prices. This provides an important link with local communities outside the correctional system.
Prison farms have donated thousands of dollars worth of food to local food banks, which nobody can dispute as not being beneficial.
Prison farms are an avenue for community involvement in our prison system. One successful example is the Wallace abattoir partnership in Kingston.
The prison farm system offers many benefits. To discount those benefits, and certainly to hear the government disregard those benefits and put them aside, truly speaks to the lack of key information that holds this kind of system, this system towards rehabilitation, in place.
Echoing some of the discussions that have taken place in this House already on this important issue is the fact that what we are seeing here, the attack on prison farms, the attack on a rehabilitation policy that has been effective, is truly an ideological attack on the way we ought to be dealing with inmates, with people who have done wrong, but certainly, in many cases, people who want to go through a system and build better lives for themselves, for their families and for their communities.
It is disappointing to let people down who are willing to take that step. In many cases, as we know, prison farms are the best kind of work for inmates and it is not until their record within a correctional institution is a positive one that they get that chance to work on a prison farm.
Many have noted that a prison farm system is one that motivates inmates to do better, to improve while they are in prison. Certainly it builds a system where they hope to get into prison farm work. To lose that kind of motivation, that reason they ought to perhaps do better, is truly damaging in terms of creating incentives, of creating safer places within our correctional system, and of course, it is letting down prisoners who are committed to furthering their skill set but certainly to improving as human beings as well.
A friend of mine works in a correctional system and did work at Stony Mountain prison in my home province of Manitoba, and she spoke of the challenge that rehabilitation systems across the board have faced in terms of lack of funding. She noted that, for many people, while they signed up for a life skills program or a program that would help them, the lack of funding meant that the waiting lists were so huge that people actually finished their terms before they could access this kind of programming.
To me, that is absolutely unacceptable. Here are inmates who recognize that they need to engage in improving, that they need to prepare themselves to get out into society, and the system lets them down. By starving these programs of proper funding, the government is letting them down. We are truly setting them up to fail, to go back into communities without the skills that would help them. Therefore, we see the re-creation of this revolving door that certainly the Conservative Party likes to speak of, but with these kinds of steps, it is certainly encouraging that revolving-door policy in the justice system.
I would like to point out as well my particular exposure to the Rockwood facility in Manitoba. I had the opportunity to speak with people who were associated with this institution and I saw first-hand the good work that took place there. I was also speaking with my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona, who had the opportunity to visit this facility and he shared how powerful it was and how clear it was that such facilities are absolutely essential.
A friend of mine in Northern Manitoba, elder Dave Sanderson, who works in the justice field, spoke of the aboriginal healing programs that took place at Rockwood. We know that our correctional facilities have a disproportionate number of aboriginal, first nations and Métis peoples in them. To get rid of the facilities that allowed for aboriginal-specific programming to take place on their territory, on their grounds, is unbelievable, knowing who is in the system and what kind of help they need. Once again the government is shutting down the capacity for aboriginal people to rehabilitate, to get back into society and get back into contributing to their families and to their communities in a productive way.
There is much debate as to exactly why these prison farms are being shut down. I had the opportunity to visit rural Manitoba and talk about the importance of prison farms. The area that I was in was heavily agricultural. It was shocking to many people that the initial statement that was made about why the Conservative government wanted to shut these prison farms down was because agricultural skills are somehow not needed in Canadian society anymore.
I cannot think of anything more offensive to one of the founding industries of our country than that statement. In Manitoba, across the Prairies and across Canada, we know the agricultural industry is key to our economy and the employment it generates is key to our communities and our regional economies.
We also know there has been an increased demand for temporary foreign workers. Here we have an opportunity to train people who could go back and work on these farms, who could contribute to this economy, and we are throwing that opportunity out the window. At the same time, we are certainly bringing offence to the hard work that people in the agricultural industry in our country engage in day in and day out. That is simply not right, especially coming from a party that claims to stand up for people working in agriculture, for farmers and agricultural communities.
Another critical dimension to this debate is how we are approaching the important discussion around food security. We have heard from many witnesses at committee and across the country about the contribution of prison farms to the food security in the prisons themselves, by way of producing food and the livestock necessary for feeding the inmates, but also the contribution to the surrounding communities, either through the food banks or through the different linkages they have created.
I know in Manitoba work was being done in terms of fertilizer contribution to neighbouring communities, and certainly the agricultural work that happens in the Interlake area. To lose those kinds of linkages is not just damaging in the context of the prisons and the surrounding communities but also speaks to the failure of the government to truly devise a real framework when it comes to establishing food security across the board.
We have seen the government's attack on the Canadian Wheat Board. We have seen the government's attack when it comes to establishing food security in northern areas and the imposed changes on the food mail program. We have seen the government turn a blind eye to the demands made by agriculturalists and producers across the country with respect to the challenges they are facing.
We as Canadians need a government that steps in and says that we have such wealth in terms of resources across our country that we should be looking at making sure that Canadians have food security that they can depend on, that the linkages are serving our communities, that we are supporting local farmers and farming families and are not breaking down these linkages that support these communities and this economy in the name of, well, we are not quite sure what it is in the name of, because the government's decision on prison farms, similar to other agricultural policies, has lacked some factual foundation. And I would use the Canadian Wheat Board example once again.
There is that need for the government to stand up for our communities and for these community linkages, as my area knows quite well.
Increasingly, we do not have a government that stands up for Canadians, no matter what they are going through, to say that what we are facing is not right. I use the most recent example of the need for the federal government to step up and work to protect jobs in the community that I am in, in Thompson, when it comes to mining, for example, the same as we see when it comes to agriculture across western Canada.
When it comes to prison farms, we see the approach to agriculture, at the smaller scale, to be very much in the same vein. The government is pulling back and saying that somehow it does not have a role to play to support these kinds of skills and truly to support Canadians who are on the margins of society. In this case, we are speaking of inmates who, in many cases, made wrong decisions, who want to make a change, who want to come back to contribute to our communities and to our country. As New Democrats, we believe the government has a role to play. It should stand up for these Canadians. It should stand up for implementing effective crime and public safety policy and for protecting prison farms—