Mr. Speaker, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to speak in this House on Bill C-9, An Act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations and the composition of council of those First Nations.
I stand with my colleagues in the NDP to oppose this bill in the House of Commons. This bill is very important to me as a New Democrat, but most importantly, as the member of Parliament for Churchill.
In northern Manitoba, I have the honour of representing 33 first nations. These first nations and the leadership of these first nations have often been at the front lines calling for a nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government. They have been at the front lines pointing to the way in which the Indian Act and a colonial system of legislation imposed on first nations has led to nothing but trouble.
These first nations have made clear the connection between the paternalistic attitude of successive federal governments and the way first nations are not able to deal with the serious issues they face at home, such as the third-world living conditions.
They have talked about the way in which, because of the approach of the federal government, they have not been able to get at the table or have had to struggle to get at the table to discuss basic things such as ensuring proper water and sewer services in their communities, ensuring that there is adequate housing for the people who live in their communities, and ensuring that there is equal funding for education in their communities. At every step along the way, these first nations have been told that the federal government and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs know best.
It is 2013, and if there is anything we have learned from our history, it is that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and the federal government do not know what is best for first nations. There are many incidents in our history that indicate just that, such as the residential schools, a policy that was supported by the federal government, a policy that was seen by the federal government overtly as a tool of assimilation and as the way to go. We know that it was a policy that has created long-term trauma and damage for first nations people in our country.
We had the Prime Minister, a number of years ago, doing something that many first nations took very seriously. He apologized to first nations, Métis, and Inuit people for the federal government's approach towards them. He committed to a new day, a new chapter, when it came to indigenous people in Canada.
That day has not come. First nations people in Canada are still waiting for that day. Allies of first nations people are still waiting for that day. Instead, the Prime Minister and his government have used that important symbol, the apology, as a tactic to wash themselves of the responsibility and duty to truly change course.
What they did after that apology, and every step along the way, was adhere to the same old paternalistic approach, which is that the federal government knows best. However, it makes it look as if it is engaging in some consultation. We do acknowledge that in the context of this bill, there were discussions and round tables that took place around the country. Unfortunately, the government took the feedback it got at these round tables and basically shelved it.
The government chose the discourse that suited it and came up with a bill that does not reflect the needs of first nations people. It does not reflect the real issues first nations people face in terms of their electoral system.
Instead, what the government's bill would do is give greater power to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to decide how electoral systems exist in first nations. It would take away power and models that first nations people have developed that work for them. The government has made it more difficult in terms of the appeal process.
It is really a slap in the face of first nations people when we are talking about that new chapter.
I have stood in the House far too many times in the last five years to speak out against bills from the Conservative government that would have a negative impact on first nations. I do not speak about them in theory. I have seen what they mean on the ground.
I have visited these first nations. I have heard from people first-hand what it is like to feel as if they still live in a time when paternalism rules the day. I have talked to chiefs who have fought to come to Ottawa to sit at the table with the minister, if they get that meeting. They have poured their hearts out about the pain in their communities, whether it is about housing, water and sewer services, or health care, only to be told to wait longer or that the federal government will come up with something. Instead, all we see, bill after bill, are bills that exclude first nations' voices.
It is great to have a process that listens to people, but if the final result, the final bill and the final piece of legislation, do not reflect what these people said, the Conservative government is not living up to its duty to consult. The constant paternalistic tone of knowing better has a detrimental effect on the ability of first nations to push forward.
Yesterday I was part of the special committee on missing and murdered indigenous women. It is a perfect example of the way the Conservative government is refusing to listen to first nations on the issues that really matter. A constituent of mine, Brenda Bignell, said that we need a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. We are a committee. We are looking for recommendations. Brenda Bignell's recommendation is one we could consider for our report. However, we have already heard from the Prime Minister that he does not feel that there needs to be a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
What do we tell Brenda Bignell? She has lost her stepmom, her cousin, and her brother. She talked about all of these stories. Do we say that we want to hear from her but that what she tells us will probably not end up in the end result of what we are doing here? That deeply saddens me. It saddens me to be part of a committee, when I know that the Prime Minister has set the tone on a very important issue for first nations people.
It also saddens me that day after day, week after week, month after month we have proposals by the Conservative government and bills that would change laws in our country that are created without hearing the views of first nations people. The government may have heard them, but the end result certainly does not reflect them. As I said, this has an impact on that working relationship.
Idle No More was a movement that came out as a response to Bill C-9, Bill C-27, Bill S-2, and all of the bills that have come forward that do not reflect true consultation with first nations people. Idle No More was people at the grassroots level standing up and saying “enough”. It was the first nations, Métis, and Inuit people and their allies who stood up and said that there is a pattern here and they have had enough of it.
We know that there is a long-term negative impact when it comes to the lack of consultation and the tokenistic approach of picking testimony that suits the government but not actually listening to what everybody has to say. We know that all first nations people suffer when their electoral and governance systems are not allowed to be developed based on what they think is best.
I thought we were past this. I thought that in this year, 2013, we were past this. I thought that after the apology six years ago, we were past this. I thought that after Idle No More, maybe the Prime Minister and his government had gotten the message. Business as usual is not going to work. I thought we were past this, but we clearly are not.
In addition to all of this, what bothers me is that the government uses its bills to divide our society. I have seen how it has done it in the communities I represent.
Parts of my constituency have high numbers of first nations people. Some parts do not. Interestingly, in the last election, the Conservative Party shared literature in the parts of the constituency where not many aboriginal people live that talked about corruption in first nations. It also talked about the chiefs and the councillors and those people who were using taxpayers' money. The government did not engage in a conversation with the people who live on reserve. There were some materials with vague references to accountability and transparency, which are issues we all think are important. Rather, it chose to speak in parts of the constituency and to fan the flames of division and racism. It chose to use examples of legislation to say that it is keeping people in line.
That was not just an election tactic. Unfortunately, it is a governing tactic that I have seen from the government too many times. The Conservatives go out there and use material that says that they know best and will tell the first nations how to run their business. However, they will not invest equally in first nations education or make a difference when it comes to the highest dropout rates in our country. They do not talk about the fact that, on average, aboriginal people live shorter lives than non-aboriginal people in our country. They do not talk about the fact that young first nations women are five times more likely to be killed than young non-first nations women. They do not talk about the fact that, on average, aboriginal people live in more precarious conditions, in poverty, compared to other people in our country.
The government talks about bills that will fix how things get done. The Conservatives will tell aboriginal people how to do it. They will point to a few people who maybe gave some testimony that sounded like what the Conservatives would like to say. They will not listen to people like Grand Chief Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, who currently represents first nations from across Manitoba. He said that there are problems and that they have made recommendations, and those recommendations have not been heard.
The government will not listen to Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. It will not listen to Tammy Cook-Searson, the Chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. It will not listen to people like Aimée E. Craft, the past chair of the National Aboriginal Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association. The government will not listen to first nations people who live in places like northern Manitoba. It will not listen to people who want to come to the table, want to work on a nation-to-nation relationship, and want to talk about what is best for their communities.
I have heard vague references made by some members about how they have been on a reserve or have worked on a reserve. Somehow that gives them the authority to know what is best.
Thirty-three first nations helped send me to Ottawa. What I have heard from people in my constituency, not just from the leadership but from people on the ground, is that they are still waiting for that new chapter from the Prime Minister. They are still waiting for consultation and for the word of the AMC Grand Chief to be taken seriously. He said that we have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to first nations electoral reform.
We in the NDP agree that changes need to be made, but this bill is not the way to do it. I could take any bill the government has put forward in the last five years related to first nations and raise similar issues and poke holes in the kind of paternalistic discourse it tries to use to divide Canadians and keep first nations at arm's-length. Unfortunately, it perpetuates the problematic relationship that sets so many first nations back. I wish the government would take on some of the serious day-to-day issues first nations people face with the same energy and passion.
Maybe government members could spend some time talking to the chiefs of the Island Lake First Nation. I would be happy to take them on a tour. We could visit houses that do not have sinks because they do not have running water.
Can members imagine that, in 2013? This is their regular house. They have a counter, but where there should be a sink, there is not one because there is no running water. Guess what that means? There is also no bathroom. One has to go to an outhouse.
I remember visiting an elder who had mobility issues due to diabetes. In -30° weather—the way the winter gets in northern Manitoba—he has to trudge out to the outhouse, with mobility issues, because he has no indoor bathroom. This was not 50 years ago; I was there just last year.
I could talk about other instances, such as in communities like Gods River where the chief is extremely passionate about people in his community succeeding when it comes to education. This is a community that has grown significantly over the last number of years, and the school is so overcrowded that the science lab and home economics room have been taken over for regular classrooms. This means that these children are obviously not getting the one-on-one attention they need. It also means that these kids are not able to access specialized programming because the needed classrooms equipped to do that have been dismantled and made into regular classrooms.
Often these kids see a system that has given up on them. They see their chief fighting for them, but they know that, although the chief has gone to Ottawa and Winnipeg fighting for a new school to fit their needs, year after year, that demand is denied, and many lose faith and hope.
Unfortunately, in communities like Gods River, Gods Lake Narrows, Shamattawa and Pukatawagan, too many kids have gone down that path too far and have not turned back. They have committed suicide, fallen through the cracks of our society or moved to urban centres where they have been lost and have never come back.
There would be an opportunity for change. It is not because their chief, their leadership, and people like the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs have not said what needs to be done, but that the current federal government does not listen.
Not only do the Conservatives not listen, but they choose to drive an agenda that suits them. It is an agenda that sucks up wedge issues, pits people against aboriginal people in our country and tells first nations and aboriginal leadership that they do not know how to run their business. It is an agenda that fundamentally keeps us on the path of a history that has only created trouble, is based on paternalistic colonial views and has been proven wrong.
I am proud to stand with a party that seeks justice when it comes to first nations people, which is why we are opposed to Bill C-9, and why we are opposed to so many of the first nation-related bills that the Conservative government has put forward. It is why we are asking for change, for a better future for first nation people and all Canadians.