Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to once again address the House as the member of Parliament for Chilliwack—Hope, a constituency that has a large number of reserves.
The Sto:lo Nation and the Ts'elxweyeqw tribe are a key part of my community and they play a key role in partnership with the City of Chilliwack and the District of Hope in making us a great community. In a bit, I will talk a little about some great examples of reconciliation just over the last number of years in my community.
Today we have heard the parliamentary secretary to the government house leader take partisan runs at the Conservative Party. Of course, it was the Conservative Party, under the leadership of Stephen Harper, that brought forward the historic apology to former students of Indian residential schools. This was on June 11, 2008.
That was after a lot of hard work by the government and first nations, Inuit and Métis leadership. The groups were represented by chiefs and leaders from across the country, who were right on the floor of the House of Commons in the old Centre Block. That was a moving moment for all Canadians.
My father, Chuck Strahl, was the minister of Indian affairs, as it was called at the time, and it was one of the proudest moments of his long career, to be a part of that apology recognizing the impact it had on survivors of the residential school system, which was, quite frankly, a dark chapter in Canada's history. That was acknowledged for the first time here under a Conservative government.
As part of that agreement for the settlement for the residential schools, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created by the Conservative government. Over seven years, it heard from survivors from across the country. It listened to their experiences and how the residential school system had changed their lives forever, not just for them and their parents and grandparents in many cases but for future generations. We acknowledged that and we acknowledged it was wrong. We acknowledged the lasting harms the residential school system brought to first nations, Métis and Inuit communities across the country, and that was an important step.
A number of recommendations came out of the TRC, one of which we are dealing with today.
I remember I was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of aboriginal affairs when the 94 recommendations were tabled. The reason I remember it is because now Senator Sinclair gave the government the 94 recommendations just before question period. By the time the Liberals' first question had come up, they said that they supported all 94 recommendations without having read them. That is a fact.
There was an election on the horizon and the current Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations was their critic. She said that the Liberals supported all 94 recommendations without having read them. That was indicative of the importance they placed on this file. It was all symbolism right from the beginning. Unfortunately, we see that continuing here today.
I have been here for quite a while. I have been watching as well. I heard one Liberal speaker say that this was important symbolism, that words mattered. Yes, the words do matter. We can look at the words, and I will read the proposed change into the record again. It says:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
If we believe that words matter, the words of the current oath matter as well. They cover the addition to this. When we say “including the Constitution, which”, we are saying that this is already covered in “faithfully observe the laws of Canada”. Therefore, this really does not anything of substance.
The treaties, which we are called upon to recognize here, already form a part of the laws of Canada, which new Canadians are asked to affirm that they will faithfully observe. This, quite frankly, is trying to use words to make the government feel better about its relationship with indigenous Canadians, because right now that relationship continues to be strained.
The Liberals say that if new Canadians have to say these words, will that not be an important symbol to indigenous Canadians? I would argue that it would be a better symbol, a better action to indigenous communities to actually respect the laws or the treaties of the country as the Crown. I have not heard in all of my work on this file or in all my work as a member of Parliament a lot of indigenous leaders complaining that the people of Canada, individuals, new Canadians, are failing to faithfully observe the treaty. I have heard many times that the government, the Crown has failed to live up to its obligations under the law.
If we actually want to make a difference, if we want to satisfy the concerns of indigenous leadership, indigenous individuals, it will be for the government, for the Crown to fulfill and honour its obligations instead of saying to new Canadians that they should affirm the aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis people. It is a bit of misplaced symbolism if the government takes that action because it believes it is important.
The government should focus on recommendation 93 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is on education. One of the lasting legacies of the apology in 2008 is the increased awareness of residential schools, that chapter in our history, and the need to learn from it.
In the same way, recommendation 93 calls on the government to increase that portion of the new citizenship guide so when people come to that last step where they swear the oath, they have learned all about the various relationships that have formed our great country. Whether it is our two founding nations or the indigenous treaties, that it is all part of this. The residential school system and that dark chapter is all part of it.
My fear is that once we start to say follows all the laws, “including the Constitution which”, and the government will probably say, no, that this would never happen, why not at some future date say “including the Constitution, which includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”? We all believe in the charter. We should include that. It should be something that new Canadians swear an oath to, that they will follow not only the laws that are in the Constitution, which includes treaties, but also the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
What about the fact that there are two official languages in the country? Why should we not include that in the oath? Once we start to go beyond the law to include the Constitution, to include the treaties, what is stopping us from expanding it further? Saying we will faithfully observe the laws of Canada covers this quite well.
My colleague from Yellowhead mentioned this as well. We have heard a lot about reconciliation today. We are told that this debate is all about that.
I believe, and I have said this before in this House and certainly in my own community, that reconciliation is a process. It is a journey. It is not a destination that one gets to by completing checklists. It seems that this is what this is today. It is a belief that if we check this one off, if we check off recommendation 94, we will be well on our way to achieving reconciliation.
I would argue that this is one of those times when what is happening in this chamber is at fundamental odds with what is happening in real Canada. We have seen it in protestors, quite frankly, who have been out to stall an energy project; that is their main goal. Many of the protests include banners that say “Reconciliation is dead.” We see, from the Mohawks here in Ontario to the Wet'suwet'en people in British Columbia, there are some who disagree with these projects, and they are protesting the actions of the government.
Today in this place, a very safe place to speak about reconciliation, a very sterile environment, we can have these debates, these words in the House, but outside of these walls, a very different story is emerging. Indigenous communities and indigenous leaders feel let down by the government that repeatedly says, and we heard it again on Tuesday, that there is no relationship more important than the relationship with indigenous peoples.
Has that been the record of the government? I would argue that most certainly it has not. When it comes to the government's record on indigenous peoples, it is a record of profound disrespect. We saw this on many occasions. I think Canadians will remember two very clearly, and I want to talk about a few more.
There is one that sticks out the most, outside of the House of Commons where there are rules that govern how we conduct ourselves. We are all honourable members. We cannot even call each other by name. That is how structured it is here in the House. However, when we get outside of this place and we are confronted by reality, how we react there shows more of our true character.
Many Canadians will remember when the Prime Minister was giving a speech to a group of well-heeled lawyers and donors, Liberal Party donors who had given the maximum donation to his party, and he was interrupted by a young indigenous woman who could well have been referencing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendation on clean drinking water. This time it was in Grassy Narrows. She said that the Prime Minister had promised they would have a water treatment facility, that there was mercury in their water and they were dying.
The Prime Minister mocked her to her face, saying, “Thank you for your donation.” That is what he did when he was confronted outside of this safe space that is this chamber, when he was confronted with the reality of an indigenous protestor. “Thank you for your donation,” he said to great laughs from the well-heeled rich donors in a downtown hotel room, who had never had to worry about a clean drink in their entire life. That is what he did when confronted with that issue.
Talking about reconciliation, I know in British Columbia how proud first nations communities in my riding were to have the first indigenous justice minister as a member of the Liberal cabinet in 2015. She was a former Assembly of First Nations B.C. regional chief. She had been a spokesperson for indigenous issues in my province for a number of years. We did not always disagree, and in fact she was usually there to tell me, when I was the parliamentary secretary in our government, how we could be doing things better. She was a respected leader, as was her father.
We saw the reaction here when she decided to stand up to the Prime Minister. She was summarily fired from her post as the justice minister. She was then humiliated. I remember well the former member of Parliament for Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, Mr. Jati Sidhu, who said that she did not know anything, that she was just taking direction from her father, patronizing a lawyer, and justice minister and attorney general.
That was the true opinion the government had of her when she told the truth and then got kicked out of cabinet and then got kicked out of the party. One of the indigenous services ministers who got the most done in her tenure was Jane Philpott. I remember her too. She similarly got kicked out of cabinet and the Liberal Party for telling the truth to the Prime Minister.
I want to talk about a couple of other ways the Liberals have been disrespecting indigenous communities. We saw with the Wet'suwet'en, 20 first nations chiefs and councils and nine hereditary chiefs, and were told by one of those hereditary chiefs that 85% of the people in the territory support the Coastal GasLink pipeline, and that the government was nowhere to be seen. In fact, the Liberals were talking about dialoguing with people who wanted to shut down that project that would bring economic prosperity to that region.
I remember the Aboriginal Equity Partners. This is one of the greatest tragedies in the last five years. The Aboriginal Equity Partners had a 30% stake in the northern gateway pipeline. They had worked with the company. I believe it was 31 first nations and Métis communities that had worked with the company to come to an agreement that they would receive $2 billion in benefits for their communities.
With a stroke of a pen the Prime Minister tore that economic prosperity away from them. When we asked if the Liberals had consulted with them, he said that they had no obligation to consult with those first nations and Métis communities because they were taking something away. Cancelling a project and taking away that economic prosperity was not even a consideration for the government.
We saw it with Teck Frontier just today. I know many Liberals have been celebrating all day long the decision of Teck Frontier to abandon this project, the 7,000 jobs, the $20 billion in economic development up front, the $70 billion in tax revenue for all the governments. The Liberals have been celebrating that, but they have not been talking about the fact that 14 first nations are also now having an economic opportunity ripped away from them by the government. The first nations are having that torn away because the government has created such an impossible environment. It reminds me of the energy east pipeline where the Liberals said that it is just the company making the decision. Yes, the company has finally made the only decision that the government left it with. After changing the regulatory process, after moving the goalposts time and time again, the company finally said that it cannot operate in that environment.
Among the people who have lost hope and opportunity, the most tragic are those experiencing poverty and health outcomes that we would never accept in our own communities. The government seems to be willing to accept that some first nations are just going to have to continue to live in poverty, that the economic opportunities the private sector wants to work in partnership with them to achieve, those are not worth pursuing. In fact, the government will do everything it can to rip that economic opportunity away.
Again, this is a symbolic bill that is designed to make the government feel good about its reconciliation agenda. Out on the ground, out in Canada where people right now are seeing first-hand how well the government's reconciliation agenda is working and how well its economic and environmental partnering are working to get the balance right, the balance for the government is no economic development, no economic opportunity for indigenous communities that have been working in close consultation with those communities.
This is an unnecessary change to the oath. It is, quite frankly, designed to make the government feel good about itself when it is failing on the reconciliation front. We cannot support it.