Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss Bill C-92, an act respecting first nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.
As part of that, I need to refer to an interesting production that I was able to attend a few weeks ago, the New Blood dance show. New Blood is a story of reconciliation, and it was a phenomenal presentation. This widely acclaimed production blends Blackfoot music and contemporary music by Peter Gabriel to create an amazing piece of theatre celebrating Blackfoot history and traditions.
For all those who might be interested in seeing it, it is a high school group that is connected closely with Siksika. There are a lot of students in it. It was first performed in 2014, and it is performed annually, with new students as participants. It has been viewed in many places in southern Alberta and in some in British Columbia. It is based on a chief's life, going through reconciliation and becoming a chief of his people, and the ultimate goal of the teacher who developed this production was to hopefully bring it to Ottawa so that more people could see it.
I think it is fantastic, and hopefully Heritage Canada understands how important this type of production is, as it is done by indigenous youth in our country.
The legislation that we have in front of us comes on the heels of Bill C-91, which was sent back to the House from the heritage committee.
I was fundamentally supportive of Bill C-91's objectives. Its objectives were important to constituents in my riding.
Siksika Nation, which is located in Bow River, has already taken steps to offer an immersion program in the Blackfoot language for the first time this September. The program will be offered to kindergarten and grade 1 students to start. This is an incredible step in ensuring their language and culture are strengthened through future generations. The students need to be there. I hope this program is a great success.
However, even though I fundamentally supported Bill C-91, the way the government rushed through the legislation was unacceptable. As with Bill C-92, the government introduced Bill C-91 late in its mandate. This has left the government scrambling to force the legislation's passage. In fact, as we were in committee, about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to meet for clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-91, we received over 20 new Liberal amendments to that piece of legislation.
Previously, when we were discussing the bill and hearing witnesses, I had pointed out some of the constitutional challenges that I felt Bill C-91 would have. Then we had constitutional lawyers appear before the committee as witnesses, and they pointed out the same problems. They believed that this legislation would not stand in court the way it was written.
Some amendments were made and maybe that will fix the legislation, but that is the problem with both Bill C-91 and Bill C-92. They were written too hurriedly and too late. Constitutional lawyers did not have an opportunity to deal with the amendments to make this legislation better or more correct so that it does not end up in litigation for years in court.
This pattern should not be repeated with Bill C-92, but I understand that the committee is conducting a pre-study and going through the same process. It was a piece of legislation that was rushed too quickly.
I understand that Bill C-92 seeks to affirm the rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services by establishing national principles, such as best interests of the child, cultural continuity, and substantive equality to guide the interpretation and administration of the bill.
These principles are intended to guide indigenous communities on the delivery of child and family services. If the legislation meets its objectives, it would keep extended families together and in their communities, which is a critical part of the goals, but I do not know if the legislation is going to achieve that. I do not think anyone would be opposed to that goal.
Consistent with the 2008 residential school apology delivered by Prime Minister Harper, Conservatives believe steps must be taken to reduce the number of indigenous children in care. Amends need to be made for residential schools and the sixties scoop.
My mother, for example, was one of the first teachers after the transition out of residential schools to teach in what it was called a day head start program for four- and five-year-olds for indigenous children on the Blood reserve. It was the first transition for students of that age to be at home and not in a residential school.
Ultimately, this legislation can reduce the number of indigenous children in care. It is well designed, but what did we see on Bill C-91? On Bill C-91 we heard from many witnesses that they had not been consulted or that their advice was unheeded. First of all, we heard on Bill C-91 that there had been extensive consultation. Then witnesses talked about six months. Then it got down to the fact that it was actually only for three months that there was an attempt at consultations, and then we heard that it was only weeks, so it is a challenge for us to know what really happened when we hear that extensive consultations have been done.
Given that Bill C-92 aims to give indigenous communities more jurisdiction over their foster care program, I would hope that the government will actually listen to the witnesses that are coming to committee. Otherwise, this is just one more example of colonialism by the government, which the government claims it is trying to avoid.
On Bill C-91 there were a lot of witnesses with a variety of opinions that did not match the legislation. They needed more consultation. As well, when I was at committee, we once again had a tremendous variety of witnesses with different opinions on National Indigenous Peoples Day, and again it was the government making the decision with its legislation.
I understand that the first nations, Inuit and Métis continue to be overrepresented in Canada's foster care system, According to the 2016 census data from Stats Canada, there are almost 15,000 foster children in private homes under the age of 15 who are indigenous, which is 52% of foster children in Canada. Obviously, the current system is not working well for indigenous youth.
I respect the fact that the government is taking measures it believes will address the situation, even though the government waited until the very last minute to introduce this legislation. Bill C-92 emphasizes a need to focus on prevention, rather than on apprehension. When apprehension has been deemed in a child's best interest, the legislation provides an order of preference for the placement of an indigenous child with a family member or a member of their community and stresses that siblings should be kept together when it is in their best interests. That seems like a good approach, but will it work?
While I have only recently reviewed the legislation, I look forward to learning more about the government's intentions to execute this plan. That is where we will find out if it works. Just as there were flaws in Bill C-91, I trust that the committee is receiving valuable testimony from witnesses on how to fix the potential flaws in the bill and how to make it better.
I do have a particular concern about coordination of this legislation with the provinces and territories. I understand that on the day the bill was tabled, Saskatchewan's Minister of Social Services, Paul Merriman, told APTN that the federal government chose not to collaborate with the provinces and territories to develop this legislation. In the development of Bill C-91, what we heard from people from the grassroots in the education systems in indigenous communities was that there was no consultation with them, and again the provinces are saying that there was no consultation with them. This is a problem.
Jurisdiction over this file may get complicated. I hope this issue will be addressed at committee. Bill C-92 will be a better piece of legislation if the committee actually addresses some of the problems, just like in Bill C-91. The last thing we want to do is spend this time on legislation and then have it end up in the courts under appeal.