Madam Speaker, I wish to reiterate the comments made by my colleague from Nova Scotia. It is with great regret that the time is now limited. The government is forcing us to make fewer comments on what we consider are great inadequacies in this budget. So, I will try, in 10 minutes, to share some of the concerns that have been raised with me about the budget document tabled here today, Bill C-13.
Canadians face an historic deficit, through no fault of those impacted by the recession, and yet those most reliant on federal programs will suffer the effects of cuts to those critical services and programs, as we have been hearing for the last couple of weeks: cuts to Service Canada, assistance, employment insurance, immigration, pension benefits. I can speak personally for my riding that people desperately need assistance. They do want a 1-800 number.
Shifts to computerize further centralized responses deeply hurts those who most need this assistance: immigrants, those who live in isolated communities, the people of the regions.
Many seniors and aboriginal peoples are challenged in gaining access to computers. Many have problems with basic literacy.
To their credit, some volunteer organizations have stepped up to the plate, including the South East Edmonton Seniors Association in my riding which, with some help from the government, is actually trying to train the seniors on how to access this kind of information on line. However, it is still very stressful for seniors.
Many immigrants are challenged by government systems and language skills, in particular, temporary foreign workers. The reference to “just go and look it up on a computer” is basically not helpful to these contributing members to our society.
The second aspect of concern to this budget, which some of my colleagues have spoken to, is innovation in the next generation economy. Most disturbing are the blinders on the government in recognizing the need to invest in the new, cleaner energy economy. Strong support has been expressed for enhanced investment in the clean energy economy from provinces, the fossil fuel sector, the energy efficiency sector and by a lot of think tanks, including the right-wing think tanks.
However, most surprising is the support for investment by the federal government in moving forward on a Canadian energy strategy so that Canadian businesses and, generally, Canadians, can benefit from the investments that have been made around the world. What is happening is that our clean energy sector, our energy efficiency sector, because of the reneging of investments by the government, are moving to other nations. We are losing in investment in securing our economy of the future.
Instead, the government is gifting billions in public dollars to a handful of energy companies to simply test technologies to deal with carbon, with no obligation in law to reduce the carbon emissions and no obligation to invest in R and D. The fossil fuel sector is known to be one of the worst sectors in the Canadian economy in investing in R and D. This is short-sighted and would put Canada at risk as a player in the new economy.
The third segment of my comments are about aboriginal Canadians. No segment of our population has suffered more under the Conservative economic strategy than aboriginal Canadians. This was clearly delineated by our former auditor general, Sheila Fraser, in her final audit this year.
Among her key messages for the 2011 audit was the failure by the current government and previous Liberal governments to take action on her 31 audit reports on aboriginal issues; 16 reports in the last decade addressing first nation and Inuit issues and 15 additional chapters dealing with issues of importance to aboriginal peoples.
As noted by the former auditor general:
It’s no secret that their living conditions are worse than elsewhere in Canada. Only 41 percent of students on reserves graduate [from high school], compared with 77 percent of students in the rest of the country. And more than half of the drinking water systems on reserves still pose a health threat.
She went on to say:
What’s truly shocking, however, is the lack of improvement. Last year, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada reported that between 2001 and 2006 there was little or no progress in the well-being of First Nations communities. In a wealthy country like Canada, this gap is simply unacceptable.
Over the past two years, the former auditor general presented 31 reports. However, despite those 31 reports and despite some federal action, some attempts by the bureaucracy, the first nations still lack, according to the auditor general, what most other Canadians take for granted. “On the surface”, she said, “it seems that the government simply needs to work harder”. She suggested that we needed to look much deeper, and that, after 10 years, she had come to believe that we needed fundamental changes and that we needed to see meaning progress in the well-being of our first nations.
The auditor general said that we could not simply turn to the same old ways of doing business, that we needed substantive changes. We need funding but we also need major legislative initiatives. We see none of that in the budget tabled.
More specifically, the auditor general pointed out that there was no action on education. First nation children still receive 2% less support than other children. As for access to quality water sources, far too many communities still do not have access to safe drinking water. As for housing shortage, there is disrepair and dangerous mould in houses. Child and family services are not being delivered. First nation children are eight times more likely to be removed from their homes. Still, there is no major commitment by the government. It wants to address crime but where is the investment in facilities to help youth come together with elders and actually avoid the gangs with which they are becoming entangled?
The government has failed to implement obligations under land claims agreement. I have heard delegation after delegation of first nations concerned both with the specific treaty process and with the overall comprehensive treaty. The government is simply not living up to the honour of the Crown.
The problems that the auditor general reported involved not just the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, but also Health Canada, CMHC and Treasury Board. The auditor general, parliamentary committees and expert panels appointed by the government have all recommended deeper reforms beyond budget allocations. These include legislative regimes to govern such things as education, child and family services, health services and drinking water. They are the kinds of regimes that other Canadians benefit from.
However, the key to developing these regimes, as the auditor general recommended, as the Assembly of First Nations recommended and as many individual first nations recommended, is that they need to be consulted and accommodated. They need to be directly engaged. What the first nations do not want is one size fits all. They want to have the support of the government to provide the framework so that they, too, can be engaged, as the provincial and territorial jurisdictions are, in the delivery of their own services to the people in their communities.
The government fully endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. By endorsing the UNDRIP, Canada has committed to ending discrimination against indigenous peoples in this country and yet we see nothing specific in this budget to address the long-standing discrimination, despite unilateral federal jurisdiction and the duty to uphold the honour of the Crown.
The government has criticized aboriginal leaders who, in frustration, are taking their concerns to the courts or to the media. Where else are our aboriginal leaders to turn? I call upon the government to reconsider its spending priorities, to provide hope to young aboriginals and to show that we value their potential to contribute to society and to contribute to the economy.