Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan for moving a motion that expresses the sense of urgency that we, the NDP, feel with respect to Canada's aboriginals.
Before I begin my remarks, I would ask the House to take a few moments to honour the January 19 passing of Gilles Ottawa, an Atikamekw historian from Manawan. His contribution to the Atikamekw collective memory was unique and continues to enrich the entire community. The man is no more, but his wisdom and knowledge will endure.
I would like to explain how important this motion is to the future of aboriginals. I believe that it highlights the failings of generations of Canadian governments and their unclear policies on aboriginals. I would like to talk about the three main points of this motion: the economy, treaties and the law.
Clearly, resolving all of these issues will require considerable effort. But anyone listening to what is going on in reserves across Canada and paying attention to the youth activists and social movements would be naive to believe that the status quo can remain in place. We do not want a naive government, do we?
As a society, we have reached the threshold of a new relationship with this country's aboriginals. We need a complete paradigm shift to face future challenges together. The Conservatives' penchant for throwing the word “economy” around has become a joke. Often used with the word “growth”, this concept is as hackneyed as can be. Once a social science, economics was rebranded as a pure science through pressure from a certain school of thought, and now it is used to justify savage attacks on the environment, our democracy and ultimately, our collective identity.
And so, it is not surprising that the Conservatives are saying quite seriously that the ecocide development projects generated by the mammoth bills will benefit aboriginal people despite the fact that their game plan does not include any consultation. They seriously believe that. However, the idea that the creation of wealth will naturally benefit the public, and aboriginal people in particular, is completely false. By way of evidence, we need only look at the tax credits given to large corporations that are not being reinvested in the economy. In aboriginal communities, things are often much worse. Given the unemployment rate of 27% on the reserves, clearly aboriginal people are not the first to be asked to work on the project sites. What is more, 70% of students who live on reserve do not finish high school.
This is true across Canada and in my riding. I have seen it first-hand in Manawan. There, the elementary school is dilapidated and substandard. At the high school level, the failure rate is 86% and the drop-out rate is almost 50%. Of all the reserves in Quebec, Manawan receives the lowest amount of funding for education, getting only about a third of the amount allocated per student in the rest of the province. Is this normal? Is this how we are going to train good workers and good citizens? Of course not, since that is not Canada's objective right now. For hundreds of years of colonialism, the efforts made to keep aboriginal people down and assimilate them has surpassed those made toward their development. That is clear.
Since 1996, the government has capped the increase in annual funding for basic programs on reserves at 2%, which is lower than the inflation rate and the demographic growth on reserves. Without any help from the government, aboriginal people will have a great deal of difficulty getting out of poverty. That is what is happening right now, whether we like it or not. The status quo cannot continue and we must immediately take real action to improve the economic prospects of aboriginal people in Canada.
It is surprising to see how a government that travels across the globe to sign treaties can be so unwilling to honour the ones it has signed in its own country.
The NDP believes in a nation-to-nation approach to negotiations with aboriginals. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the government, which does not honour the commitments made in treaties between 1701 and 1923.
This hypocrisy was shared equally between the Conservatives and the Liberals. There are currently between 700 and 800 cases of broken treaties that are still unresolved. At the current rate, it will take 100 years to settle all of these cases. That kind of neglect is the epitome of bad faith.
What is worse, again in 2012 and 2013, the Conservative government reiterated its commitment to “respect and honour its treaty relationships and advance approaches to find common ground on treaty implementation”. Big talk.
It would be far more appropriate to talk about “uncommon ground”. Consulting aboriginals is not a choice, it is an obligation of the federal government under the Constitution Act, 1867. Period. So do not try to tell me that the government is doing aboriginals a favour by promising consultations that will never end up happening.
Many independent observers have condemned the Canadian government's actions: the Auditor General in 2003, the Auditor General in 2007, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and the UN Special Rapporteur. They all agreed that Canada was not honouring its commitments. What they are saying is common sense: do your homework.
After years of negligence, aboriginal people realized that they had no choice but to protest in the street, block bridges or starve themselves in order to have a dialogue. That is not normal. In a country ranked sixth in the world on the UN's human development index, it is inconceivable that we have allowed our aboriginal population to rank 63rd. Yet that is what is happening, what this government is allowing to happen with complete and utter contempt. This is terrible.
Lastly, I would like to say a few words about legislation. In 2012, when Canada finally agreed to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, one might have hoped to see a shift in the government's perspective. Yet nothing happened; nothing has changed, apart from a few empty promises that the government cannot keep. It is easy to sign legal treaties that cannot be enforced and then not respect them. After all, who is going to come and force the government to respect them? Meanwhile, Canada's honour and credibility have taken a beating. As the saying goes, the government needs to walk the talk. Aboriginal people expect nothing less.
The government also has obligations under other international human rights conventions: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. All of these agreements are invaluable, because they identify the kind of world we want to live in. They encompass the values that are important to all Canadians. So why exclude aboriginal people?
I encourage hon. members to vote in favour of this motion, which is meant simply to make up for lost time. A dramatic change in the government's relationship with aboriginal people is needed, because the current situation cannot and will not endure. Those who do not believe me can just sit back and watch, for it will happen, with or without them.