Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
I will start by quoting Shakespeare, who said, "Much ado about nothing". Clearly, with regard to drinking water, we have a collective obligation to achieve a result. It is not enough just to talk about it; we actually have to do something about it.
We have before us a bill that comes from the Senate, which in theory embodies wisdom and experience. However, this Senate is asleep at the wheel. They only wake up at about the same time as my colleagues in the Liberal Party. The Liberals were in power for 12 years, and now that they are in the opposition, they realize there is a problem with drinking water. It is sad to say, but it is astonishing to see how some people are concerned about problems not when they are in a position to solve them, but only once people have withdrawn their support. The current Conservative government policy is based on the policy that was developed by our colleagues in the Liberal Party.
There are people who do not deliver on their mandate, and who never deliver on their mandate. They only want to talk about these problems once they are in opposition. For example, the 2% increase on spending on higher education was introduced by the Liberal Party. It would be interesting if, one day, the Liberal Party actually put their money where their mouth is. They should stop saying one thing and doing another. That would solve a lot of problems.
Unfortunately, Canada as a whole is affected by this record of failure, and this is the main problem. There is an old proverb that says, “Charity begins at home”. In the future, Liberal policies will have to be distinct from Conservative policies, once they are in power. The record on the whole range of aboriginal issues is a disaster on every point right down the line, and drinking water is only one problem among many.
Infrastructure is not tailored to suit the needs of the aboriginal communities. It is deteriorating while the first nations population is experiencing its highest growth rate ever. This is not a problem that will diminish, but one that will intensify over the years. People on reserves are living in third world conditions. They are living in third world conditions here, in Canada. In a country that claims to be rich and developed, we allow a part of our population to live in conditions that are comparable with those in the third world. This situation is the result of a long-standing lack of political will.
Support for education is very low. We talked about it again this fall. The government talks about it, but perhaps it should stop introducing Senate bills and private members' motions and actually decide to take action on education.
I would like to bring up a particularly important point and say that education is probably the best way for people to lift themselves out of poverty and to participate fully in the prosperity of this country. This is important to note.
Access to health care is difficult and sometimes there are no health care services. Aboriginal communities have the highest rate of suicide in Canada. More attention must be given to health care and prevention. All this results in an extremely high unemployment rate and grinding poverty, and leads to exclusion. It makes me wonder whether so much negligence is perhaps not race-related.
If there were no drinking water for a week in a neighbourhood in my riding, there would be a riot, and the whole of Parliament would support me in finding a solution to the problem. In this example, I am talking about a drinking water shortage that lasts just a few weeks, but in aboriginal communities it is a problem that has gone on for years and years.
It is obvious that Parliament is still at the discussion and research stage. That is where the problem lies.
We are dealing with a government that invites white supremacists to speak before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We can only imagine what it will do with petitions from aboriginal peoples. They are the government’s lowest priority, and it shows.
I invite everyone here to observe the reaction of the Conservatives when aboriginal communities appear before the Standing Committee on Finance. They ignore them, barely listen to them, are paternalistic and behave in a haughty manner towards them. The problem with fine speeches is that “words are wasted on a hungry man”. We suggest that the government “deliver the goods”. Once it does that, we might be able to listen to its proposals a little more attentively. Credibility is something that has to be built.
Since 1911, there has been a long string of reports, including one on aboriginal communities and their right to a water and sewer system. The report stated clearly that a substantial financial commitment would be necessary for the development of infrastructure and that it would cost $4.7 billion over 10 years to meet the needs of the community. An amount and an objective are clearly stated: it will cost this much for drinking water and for sewer systems.
In response to the urgent need to invest $1.2 billion, the government committed to paying $330 million over two years, in 2010, and nothing in 2011. It simply threw in the towel. It is all very well to talk about projects, but promises must be kept. The funds need to be available, but they are not. It has been claimed that efforts were made in the past, but they were clearly inadequate and did not continue.
This leads us to ask an important question. Are the Conservatives really in power to serve Canadians? Providing drinking water to Canadians ought to be a government priority, because the government should care for its citizens. But no, they do not see the urgency of the situation.
I can guarantee that if there were ever a shortage of drinking water somewhere in a Conservative riding, the Conservatives would not talk about it for six years before taking action. Things would move more quickly. Studies carried out over a 10-year period have shown that first nations communities do not have access to drinking water. This is not exactly news.
The bill includes the following words:
[...] to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on first nations lands.
It was a United Nations priority. The problem is that the current government pays about as much attention to the United Nations priorities for aboriginal peoples as it does to aboriginal peoples themselves.
The results have been disastrous. Let us not forgot that the government, in fact all parliamentarians and the people of Canada, have an indisputable moral obligation as human beings to provide assistance to anyone who is in danger. It is even mentioned in the Criminal Code. Unfortunately, when aboriginal people are involved, this moral obligation disappears.
As a people, If we deny assistance to others in need, we become accomplices to genocide. It is morally unacceptable and amounts to throwing in the towel. The NDP refuses to do so, and to be a party to the inaction of far too many previous successive governments.
It is a debate that we, the NDP members, will engage in once we are in power. We will deliver the goods.