I represent communities across the vast region of northern Ontario, and many of my communities are ground zero for the dysfunction in the relationship between the federal government and first nations.
In Kashechewan First Nation, we had two mass evacuations within one year. Not only the nation was shocked, but the world was shocked by the horrific conditions in Attawapiskat last year. Children in Attawapiskat, in a fight to get a basic grade school, had to take their fight all the way to the United Nations. We are talking about a very broken relationship. We talk about accountability. Accountability is a fundamental of re-establishing that relationship.
From my work within first nations and as a member of Parliament, I think that if the government were serious about addressing the fundamental dysfunction, it would start to shine the light of accountability within the Department of Indian Affairs, first and foremost. I have seen a black hole of accountability in that department. It shocks me that government after government continues on with the same broken old colonial system.
Getting basic numbers from Indian Affairs is an issue. The Conservatives talk about bands posting numbers. We are talking about budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars that have no accountability mechanisms to the people who should be receiving that accountability: the communities.
For example, I was trying to find out why we had such a lack of construction for schools. I was a school board trustee for the Northeastern Catholic District School Board, a little rural school board with some 15 schools spread over 400 kilometres.
Rural school board trustees have the same principles as trustees in a city like Toronto or Vancouver. They have to follow the rules. The rules are written. Literally they are the law of the land, because when children walk into a school, they have a set of rights. They do not even know what those rights are, but those rights are guaranteed in law—for example, the guarantee of a class size ratio, how much funding per pupil, how much funding to be set aside for teachers' salaries. The actual size of the classroom is written into law. Those things are all written in the laws of each of the provinces, and the funding is within ring fencing. Ring fencing is a fundamental principle of accountability.
For example, it would be impossible for the community of London, Ontario, to call its school board and tell the trustees that they are not getting a school, that the community is taking it because it has to give higher salaries to some of its staff, or that they cannot have the school because the community will be fixing some roads this year. That would be illegal.
That happens in the world of Indian Affairs all the time. The basic principle of ring fencing does not exist at Indian Affairs, because it does not want it to exist. What does that mean? Between 1999 and 2007, $579 million was taken out of the capital facilities and maintenance program at Indian Affairs. This was $579 million that would have been spent on schools, on water treatment plants and on housing.
It was roughly $72 million a year that was pilfered from these communities. Where was it spent? An answer to an order paper question explained that it was spent on management, on legal services, litigation, public affairs and communication.
While our kids were going to school on the largest, contaminated, toxic brown field in North America and being exposed to levels of benzene that caused liver cancers, skin cancers and bone cancers, Indian Affairs was taking that money and blowing it on spin doctors and lawyers. That is its lack of accountability. Until that changes, nothing will begin to move forward in these communities.
The Conservatives talk about Canadians having a right to information while they are telling the Parliamentary Budget Officer to take them to court if he wants to know how they are spending money. It was the Parliamentary Budget Officer who had to shine a light on this government's absolute failure to protect the rights of children.
Let us go back to the issue of child rights. Every child in this country has a set of rights, unless they live on reserve. Then they get whatever Indian Affairs gives them.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer looked at the situation of education on reserves. What was found was appalling, that management of school assets was erratic, haphazard and without any coherent capital methodology whatsoever.
What does that mean? It means that in half of the provinces where the federal government has jurisdiction, the capital assets are not even monitored. It is not known if the schools are open, if they are full of mould or if they are shut.
It is not known that the Conservatives had taken over $122 million out of school construction and spent it elsewhere. They said that half of the existing schools were in good condition, but they could not really tell because they had not investigated any of them. There were 77 schools listed as temporary structures. What the heck is a “temporary structure”? Is that a tent?
Canada is a signatory to international treaties on the rights of the child. Young Shannen Koostachin from Attawapiskat challenged the government. She asked why it was that because her skin was brown and she lived in Attawapiskat First Nation she was denied the rights that a child in Timmins or Toronto takes for granted.
The right to an education is not just the right to a school, which the children in Attawapiskat were not being given. I can say from a school board perspective that the right to an education is a plan for education. We have to have that plan and methodology. However, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer showed, year after year the government completely failed. It was not just this government. There has been a long-standing failure to address basic issues.
My community of Marten Falls is now seven years into a boiled water advisory, in a first world nation. This is a community that happens to be sitting right beside the Ring of Fire. I see Dalton McGuinty in Ontario saying that the Ring of Fire will save Ontario. Governments just cannot wait to get their money on those resources. I hear that from the federal government. Meanwhile, the people who are sitting beside the Ring of Fire have had to boil their water for seven years, and the government has just announced that it will cut off bottled water to the community because it is too expensive. That is a lack of accountability.
There was a plan this past summer in Attawapiskat to build 30 permanent houses. That would have gone a long way to alleviating the crisis in housing that still exists within that community. There was an agreement signed with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which does not sign agreements unless the financial wherewithal is there to pull them off. It was going to be a rent-to-own plan. It would have been a really good news story. This is what taxpayers want to hear. The government could have said that it has a rent-to-own plan with the people who are building the houses. The Indian affairs minister scuttled that deal. He scuttled it to punish the community because it made him look bad.
Under this bill, the minister gets to decide whether or not the government will withhold funds to a band that he decides he does not like. Let us talk about what that was like in Attawapiskat last January when the minister cut off education dollars to children. He used children in one of my communities as hostages to try to force the band council to its knees over the third party manager.
The third party manager finally went to federal court, which came out with a decision that the government's decision was indefensible and that it had no basis for the accusations it made against the community. However, throughout that, for three months, last January to March, the government cut off the funding to the children. That would be illegal anywhere else. That could not be done in the provincial system. If it was fighting with a town—