Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to rise in this place and represent the people from Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, and today as I speak to Bill C-29 and the creation of a national council for reconciliation, I suggest to this place that this is a continuation of a journey that all Canadians are to be part of as we create a better future.
Speaking previously, in September, I made it clear that it was important to use a consensus-building approach to improve the legislation. Bill C-29, in its formation, deserved a responsible look at areas where it needed improvement, and I have to admit we have heard much testimony today that this was the work that was done at committee with the help of everybody there.
At second reading I pointed out a few issues that I thought needed to be addressed. I talked about the transparency and independence in the selection process of the board of directors. I talked about some words that seemed purposely vague to avoid accountability. I talked about the lack of any measurable outcomes. I talked about the fact that it took over three years to bring the bill to the House in the first place. Finally, I spoke about how the Prime Minister should be the one responding to the council's annual report, as that was the direction in call to action number 56.
In response to those concerns and the testimony of witnesses, we brought forward reasonable amendments to strengthen Bill C-29, and I am very proud today to report that 17 of the 19 amendments we put forward were passed at committee. It is the job of the official opposition to improve legislation and to make it truly representative of all voices, and that is exactly what we did at that committee.
I must admit, however, that I am a bit disappointed today to realize that the government, and specifically the minister, would not accept the democratic will of the INAN committee on the amendment to add a seat at the table for the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. This is a national indigenous organization that represents over 800,000 urban indigenous people.
A second concern I have coming out of that committee debate is that there was one amendment we proposed that was disappointingly voted down by all the other parties, and that is the one I want to spend a few minutes talking about.
As many of my colleagues have talked about today, we put forward an amendment to add a seat on the board of directors for someone from an indigenous organization that is focused on economic reconciliation. With many options available from the FNFMB, or the First Nations Financial Management Board, NACCA and the CCAB, there are many great organizations doing good work in this sphere, and finding a well-established organization that historically has done great work would have been very easy. It would not have been a barrier to find somebody to sit at that table.
However, the lack of support for this amendment, it should be pointed out, came at the expense of not listening to multiple witnesses who clearly voiced their approval for the inclusion of an economic lens as part of this board. We did not advocate for that to be the only voice; it would have been only one voice at the table. To ignore these voices discredits the very process of reconciliation.
I have observed, over the last few years, Liberal and NDP MPs aggressively challenging indigenous leaders who have appeared as witnesses at the INAN committee to advocate for economic reconciliation. I often find myself questioning why. Why is there an aversion to even having this discussion? Something does not add up. What is it that they dislike about indigenous people being the masters of their own destiny? What is it that they dislike about the creation of a healthy, strong and vibrant community through prosperity? What is it that they dislike about using own-source revenue from true partnerships that address long-standing social issues? What is it that they dislike about leaving behind the destructive grip of poverty to offer hope and opportunity for future generations?
The sad answer is that they are more interested in political power and control. By imposing their own views rather than listening to indigenous voices, they create the same environment that indigenous people have lived under in this country for far too long.
It is time for a fundamental change to that approach. In fact, for those who are listening and watching closely, the change has already begun on the ground. Economic reconciliation plays such an important role in the overall discussion. Let me begin by sharing a few stories from my own riding in northern Saskatchewan.
As I returned home this September for this year's National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I spent time at Pelican Lake First Nation with Chief Peter Bill. As we arrived in the community, I was greeted by Chief Bill, a member of the RCMP and two of Pelican Lake's own community safety officers. With first nations policing being a very important topic the day after the tragedy at James Smith Cree Nation, I asked how their newly established community safety officer program was going. Chief Bill was happy to report to me that the community now has six full-time employees and its own fully equipped vehicles, and that they were in the process of hiring more officers. The RCMP officer explained to me how helpful the program had been in achieving safety in their community.
How did Pelican Lake first nation pay for this community safety officer program? They paid with their own sourced revenue. They invested profits to assist in the overall health and safety of their community instead of waiting for years for government and bureaucrats to plan and meet, develop frameworks, do benefit assessments and feasibility studies, or use the signing of MOUs for photo ops.
Later that day, I was at Flying Dust First Nation. After the formal speeches were done, we all left the hall and participated in a walk of solidarity with residential school survivors. On that walk, if I looked one way I could see a hockey rink that was built a few years ago and just beside that was their brand new 6,000-square foot sporting goods store and facility called “Snipe and Celly Sports Excellence”. If I looked the other way, out by the highway there was the brand new Petro-Canada gas station.
This was a visual reminder of what my friend Vice Chief Richard Derocher had mentioned earlier in the speeches when he spoke positively about reconciliation. He shared his wish that, when people were either visiting or driving through our communities, they would not be able to recognize when they were leaving Flying Dust First Nation and entering Meadow Lake or vice versa. How does that happen? It is by generating prosperity through economic development, which is something that Flying Dust First Nation and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council have a proud history of doing.
In northern Saskatchewan, there are many examples of these success stories. Whether it be Athabasca Basin Development group, the Des Nedhe Group of English River, Pinehouse Business North, Kitsaki Management Limited Partnership from Lac la Ronge, Sakitawak Development Corporation from the Métis village of Île-à-la-Crosse or the Peter Ballantyne Group of Companies, each is creating prosperity and capacity through the ownership and development of business opportunities. These opportunities give their people employment and a sense of pride.
These are groups on the ground that have already started the change. Their approach is the new way forward. It is their stories that the national council for reconciliation should also be reporting, along with many other things, and sharing with all Canadians.
Often Conservatives are labelled as only caring about the economy. Maybe that is our own fault because we do not explain the why. Let me try to do that. One of those community safety officers of Pelican Lake I talked about is named Dalton. I had the privilege of coaching Dalton when he played AA midget hockey in Meadow Lake. He was a sturdy, dependable defenceman who understood his role. He never missed a practice or a game. He was a player whom any coach would love to have on his team.
Dalton took those attributes and applied them to his first career choice to become a power engineer. He was supported in that choice by his mom and dad, and he would have had many options going forward in where he wanted to work, but something inside of him called him home to Pelican Lake. It was an opportunity to go home to get trained as a community safety officer and to be a leader in his own community, to be a driver of change and to set the example for the next generation.
I could not have been prouder of Dalton as I watched young kids come to him in his uniform and ask if he had any more tattoos. They felt comfortable around him. He provided them a sense of safety. He is a quality young man who is providing leadership within his community because the opportunity was there to take. That is the why. That is the outcome of economic reconciliation.
Conservatives promote and believe in economic reconciliation because it is the solution to eradicating poverty and with it the social ills that poverty creates. By putting control back in the hands of indigenous people, they get to begin to manage prosperity instead of poverty, and they get to take concrete steps toward healing through self-determination.
To conclude, I am proud of the work that our team did in making Bill C-29 a better version than when it originally came to the House in June. Many concerns that we expressed at second reading were addressed and have been improved. That is how we follow up words with action.