Mr. Speaker, I probably will take the time. I am known for sometimes going on too long in the House. I am sure my Liberal friends think that. However, this is a very important issue to me, to the Conservative Party and, I am sure, to all members of Parliament in the chamber.
Indigenous youth welfare, Métis youth welfare is an area of collective failure of this Parliament since our earliest days, and there are a variety of reasons for that: cultural, historical and societal. Looking back at those failures means that we have to look forward to make sure that we fulfill the true opportunity that is Canada to all Canadians, particularly those in our first nations, Inuit and Métis communities, who have had ties to this country for far longer than all of us. That is why it is important to see that there is progress.
We support Bill C-92 going to committee, because we do think that reforms are needed in this area, and that was called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Child welfare was the first recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In fact, the future of improving the outcomes for members of these communities, reconciliation at its heart is going to be achieved by our young people. It is paramount for us to get this right.
Recommendation 1 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to reduce the number of children in foster care, in government-supported care of some sort. That was the number one recommendation, and we know why. It was because of our failed history in that regard.
This was said so eloquently by former prime minister Harper in his apology for the generations-long program of residential schools in this country. In fact, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission grew out of the work by our previous government and prime minister Harper to apologize and to make sure that we learn and never repeat the mistakes of our past.
I am going to quote from the former prime minister's apology, from June 2008:
We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions, that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that, in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done this.
Those were probably some of the most impassioned and important words said by Stephen Harper in Parliament.
The former prime minister and Speaker Milliken at the time erected a stained glass window recognizing the apology for residential schools in the Centre Block of Parliament, importantly placed over the members entrance. When I gave tours of the building to young people, friends from the military or whomever, I would point out the window and tell them that it was placed there so that members of Parliament, regardless of party, when they walk in, know that the decisions made in the chamber can impact people, families and children in a positive way or in an extremely negative way. I thought that the powerful statement of the truth and reconciliation stained glass window in Centre Block was a recognition that what we do, including the debate here today, is an important part of reconciliation.
What is key, and what I am going to speak about substantively in my concerns with the approach of the Liberal government to this bill, is that it seems to neglect the central role of the provinces.
In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report, a commission that grew out of the apology and the work done by Stephen Harper and our government, the second recommendation in the section on child welfare called for collaboration with the provinces and territories. That has not happened in the bill adequately, and that is a valid concern. I am so upset about this because it did not need to be this way.
The Prime Minister, to his credit, talked a lot about the need for reconciliation when he was running for Parliament and running to be the prime minister. In their platform, the Liberals said they would implement all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations. He said that reconciliation would be central to his term as prime minister.
Then why are we getting the most substantive piece of legislation on healing that indigenous rift in the final few months of Parliament, along with a bill on indigenous languages? It did not come early on or after two years of consulting with the provinces, but in the final months. It was introduced in February of this year. That is unfortunate, because we need to get this right.
Child welfare services are almost entirely provided by the provinces and territories. The central learnings many of them have experienced mean that some provinces are further ahead. Therefore, while we have a section 91 and section 92 debate in Parliament about the paramountcy of the federal Parliament when it comes to decisions related to indigenous peoples and Métis, we have to recognize the fact that a range of things, such as education, health, child welfare and victim services, are delivered by the provinces. Therefore, this is where reconciliation requires collaboration and consultation, not just with the provinces and territories but with first nations leadership. That can be a challenge.
In the last government, we sometimes got it right. The number of children in care went down by about 12%. However, it is still vastly too high. There are 15,000 indigenous youth in care right now. Fortunately, changes made in the last government and in the current government are bringing that number down, but not fast enough.
One way we focused on it was making sure that child welfare or child care could at least happen through family relationships within the first nations community, so that the connection to language and culture could be tied and it would not be like the sixties scoop or our failures of the past, but recognizing that this has to be centrally done with first nations leadership and with the provinces and territories. That is my disappointment.
I have said positive words here. However, why are we debating this in the final months of Parliament? There has been no significant consultation. If we were debating it now because the provinces, territories and first nations were all on board, I would say that is great, because the people at those levels of government who care, who deliver the services, feel that this bill is going to fulfill the mandate. Right now, I do not think they do.
I want to embody this in one tragedy out of many, one tear in an ocean of tears, in the 151-plus years of our country. That is the tragic case of Tina Fontaine, a young woman from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, who was tragically killed in 2014. She was brutally murdered. I would recommend to Canadians the report done by the Manitoba children's advocate, Daphne Penrose. I thank Ms. Penrose. As the children's advocate for Manitoba, she is doing important work, along with Cindy Blackstock and others. They have made recommendations. In fact, we failed Ms. Fontaine many times throughout her life. We have to learn from that. We collectively have to say that we need to do better.
Ms. Penrose's report regarding Ms. Fontaine was entitled “A Place Where It Feels Like Home”, because she did not have a home; she was in care. If we look at the report, we see that all of the central recommendations are provincial. The absentee and expulsion policies that led Ms. Fontaine out of the school system, where someone could have helped her, are provincial. Victims services, health, provincial justice and addiction support are all provincial. In some cases, the federal government is not delivering the services, and kudos to the many outstanding first nations that are looking at delivering these services on and off reserve.
I ask the government this. When this goes to committee, because we are supportive of that, let us get it right. Let us use the goodwill that is here to make sure that the provincial, territorial and first nations organizations delivering child welfare services, addiction services, victim services and education are part of the solution. That is our obligation to reconciliation. It is not just through the federal government.