Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this issue today.
Earlier, when the minister introduced the legislation, we suggested that it would be nice if, as the critic for the Liberal Party said, the minister would have the bill go to the aboriginal committee. Obviously, the minster decided against that.
Further, in a question for a member from the New Democratic Party I asked about the benefits of taking the issue outside of Ottawa and having it go into different communities.
I think what we need to acknowledge right at the very beginning is that when the legislation passes the impact will be quite significant.
With respect to the importance of first nation issues, on a number of occasions I have had the opportunity to stand to speak to many of those issues and how important it is that our first nation communities feel they are directly involved. Many, including me, would suggest that they should be playing a leadership role in the development of the legislation. I am not convinced that the government has done a good job in terms of going into our first nation communities and working in good faith with those communities.
When we talk about respecting and working with first nations, the government, in this particular case, has failed to meet that marker and as a result I believe that the legislation has some fundamental flaws in it.
The government has decided to move forward with the legislation and, as has been pointed out by the Liberal Party critic, has made the decision that, after second reading here in the House, the bill would not go to the aboriginal standing committee but to the status of women standing committee.
I think this is interesting. There was a study brought to that particular committee with respect to women and young girls and the issue of social and economic well-being, and the suggestion was that aboriginal women should be incorporated and taken into consideration. It was actually the Liberal Party's seniors critic from York West, who ultimately, through a minority report, said that the status of women committee did not do the study justice, at least in part, in not recognizing the importance of the needs of aboriginal women. Now we have the minister responsible saying that when the bill passes, it is going to that committee.
From my perspective, we have nothing against the fine work the members do at that particular committee. However, I do believe, as the critic for the Liberal Party talked about in her speech, that it is not the most appropriate committee for the bill to go to. The most appropriate committee is the aboriginal standing committee.
We say that because we want to ensure that all the interested stakeholders, and there are good number of stakeholders, have the ability to come forward, provide witnesses and comment on the bill. We ultimately believe that the aboriginal affairs committee is the best committee to ensure that we are doing the best job we can.
Further, we would suggest that if the government were genuine in its beliefs and recognized the importance of our first nations, it would recognize that given the very nature of this legislation there is merit in taking those committee meetings outside of Ottawa. Many, including me, would suggest that having that committee go into provinces such as Manitoba and others, where I know there would be a great deal of interest in being able to present and attend these committee hearings, would be of great value. It would show that the government is prepared to work with our first nation communities.
I think the worst thing we can do, and it appears to be the direction we are going, is to say that we know best. Yes, there has been some work done. I have heard a recital of the history of the bill, where it has come from and why it is here before us today. However, I do not believe we have seen the type of engagement with our first nations communities that would empower them to provide good, strong leadership so that there would be more universal support for this important legislation.
Going into these rural communities would be of great value for us because I think the legislation could be improved upon. Ultimately, it would have that much more credibility if in fact it did reach out into the communities.
I mentioned Manitoba, but I suspect it could go into a number of different provinces. Obviously I have a bias for the province of Manitoba because I believe there is a huge amount of interest there on this particular issue. That is the reason I am calling upon not only the minister responsible but also the Prime Minister to recognize the importance of this issue.
As I pointed out, the issue goes beyond splitting up assets and so forth, to the manner in which we treat first nation issues here in the House. That is why I would suggest the Prime Minister would do well to recognize that and to see Bill S-2 as a piece of legislation that could go a long way to assist in that sense of cooperation and empowerment, by at the very least taking the committee and going into these different provinces.
I would ask that the Prime Minister and the minister responsible take the Liberal Party up on the suggestion that they have the committee meetings outside of Ottawa.
Over the last few decades we have seen first-hand how laws and norms in society have changed significantly in regard to family breakups. For the most part, one will find that it has been very progressive in its changes and in ensuring there is a sense of fairness. Whenever there is a family breakup, the turmoil that is caused has a huge financial impact on everyone having to endure that breakup. It also has a significant impact, both emotionally and socially, in terms of everything from living conditions to friends who are gained or in most cases lost.
It is the lead-up to a family breakup that ultimately causes a great deal of harm. In many situations, and this is a point that really has not been emphasized this morning, because of uncertainly, quite often family situations remain intact because of the threat of the unknown or what is going to happen with the house or living conditions. That is, if people were to leave a relationship, what would be the ramifications of that decision?
That tells me there is a need to provide clarity and for us to look at ways in which we can improve the situation. If we were to work with the first nations and the leadership within first nations, we would find they too have answers and solutions to many of the problems that are caused within family units when a family unit has to break up. We have to be sensitive to the differences, for instance, between reserve property versus property that is outside the reserve.
From a personal point of view, we have to ensure that women and children are protected to the nth degree when it comes to family breakups. All members of the House support taking measures that ultimately ensure there is a sense of fairness and that ensure people are out of abusive relationships. There is a sense of equality, but there are ways to do it and ways not to do it. I would suggest that the government has missed the mark on it. Therefore, I know the Liberal Party is not going to support the bill, for a number of reasons. The government has not been able to get the type of support for the legislation that one would have expected it to get, in particular from first nations.
The other point I want to pick up on is the issue of government policies and the types of things government does or does not do that have a significant impact on the family unit. Over the years, I have experienced different types of government policies and their impact. When sufficient resources are not provided for housing, that will have an impact. If we do not provide or encourage sufficient economic development in certain areas, it does have an impact on the family unit. We have to ask what impact government policy is having on keeping families together with regard to the types of policies we develop and programs we provide. Are they helping or are they hurting? Whether it is keeping a family together, or in the case where a family does break up, to what degree is the government supporting families that have to break up?
I would suggest that the government can do more. One of the more common issues I have had to deal with in the past is an excellent example, and it is the issue of gaming and the profound impact it has had on the province of Manitoba. When gaming first came to Manitoba, which was one of the first provinces to get into the whole gaming industry, the province was totally amazed at the amount of revenue it started to generate.
Through that revenue, it seemed to get a lot of public support. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, and the government was more than happy to take in that money. However, what the government did not recognize was the negative impact of gaming policy. The reason I use “gaming policy” is because this is 100% government policy. When we talk about government policy and the way it impacts people in a real and tangible way, this is a great example. The government gets addicted to the revenues but fails to recognize the social costs.
I had the opportunity to be the critic for lotteries in the province of Manitoba many years ago. We would hear of cases which would ultimately involve families breaking up. We would have people becoming addicted to gaming. As opposed to providing food for their families, they would spend their money in the LT machines. We had young children in the parking lots of large casinos and the parents were inside the casinos spending money. The social costs involve everything from suicides, to breaking up of families to individuals ending up in jail because they steal in order to feed their addiction. One might ask how that relates to this particular bill. I suggest that we would have a lot more family unity if there were a more progressive way of looking at government policy and how that policy affects our communities.
The aboriginal community, in this situation, has been profoundly affected. I have had the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of how that policy has ultimately led to family breakup. I see governments taking action in what would appear to be an arbitrary fashion, taking it upon themselves because we have not seen the leadership coming from our first nations. We know the first nations want to be engaged, but we do not see the government seeking that engagement. The first nations leadership, even though I am sure it would welcome some of the issues this bill would deal with being resolved, is equally concerned about some of those other issues. That is why there is great value in having more of those stakeholders involved. It is not just one focus.
This legislation is focused purely on the breaking up of families and how the government is prepared to assist in that. It fails to recognize there are other things the government could be doing that would assist families, whether keeping them together or allowing them to break up. At the end of the day, I am hopeful the Conservatives will recognize that the government has a strong role to play in both situations. This particular piece of legislation does not have the type of support that is necessary to go to committee because the Conservatives do not have support from our aboriginal community. Unfortunately, because they have a majority, I believe the bill will ultimately get to committee, and even though it is the wrong committee, we ask that the Conservatives seriously consider going into the communities so they can hear about the family breakups and some of the government policies that ultimately contribute to that.