Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga South.
It is a pleasure to speak to the issue before the House today which is one that touches the very heart of this great country and each of its citizens. Health care is an incredibly important concern for me and all my colleagues and, indeed, the future of Canada.
I know that I as a parent have always wanted the best for my children, the best opportunities, the best learning and the best care. I am truly thankful that my wife and I have been able to provide a safe and loving home for them.
However many of our fellow Canadians do not have this. Far too many in a land of such wealth and prosperity have little and must engage in a daily struggle for survival. Their pain far too often does not have a voice, rather, only cold, unfeeling numbers tell the undeniable story of their unspoken tragedy.
Infant mortality is a clinical phrase, one that only suggests the terrible anguish it brings. In 2000, Health Canada reported that the first nations infant mortality rate was 6.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, a rate 16% higher than the general Canadian population. Those who survive are often brought home to live in a house that overcrowded and need of repair. Indian Affairs and Northern Development reported that in 2005 12% who live in a first nations community live in overcrowded conditions in comparison to 1% elsewhere in Canada.
Moreover, 27.6% of these homes are in desperate need of major repairs or need to be replaced outright. Many of these children suffer greatly because of the twin scourges of poverty and disease. The rate of child poverty in Saskatchewan, for instance, is already far too high at 17.6%, but for off reserve first nations and Métis in Saskatchewan, the number shows a truly dire situation. Fully 55.9% of first nations children and 36% of Métis children live in poverty.
I ask members to please not confuse the culture of poverty with the culture of aboriginal people.
Too often poverty also means disease. In 2000, the gap between first nations and Canadian rates of enteric, food and water borne diseases among children aged 0 to 14 were reported by Health Canada to be 2.1 times higher for shigellosis, 6 times higher for rubella and 7 times higher for tuberculosis.
These horrible statistics are linked to other troubling and chilling numbers. Aboriginal youth are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than other Canadian youth. In Saskatchewan, 75% of all youth incarcerated are aboriginal. As a terrible last act, 22% of all deaths of first nations youth were as a result of suicide. We need more than anything to listen to these silent voices for their anguish says the most.
I ask the House to try to fully comprehend the tragedy of these numbers. This is a tragedy with silent voices, voices that all need to be given strength, to be listened to and to be responded to.
The response we need to give is one of compassion, support and help. This support is not a hand-out but a helping hand up. Right now there are little or no supports for aboriginal children aged 0 to 4 in first nations communities, especially children born with disabilities. With no services and few accessible quality early childhood intervention programs try to imagine the anguish that parents and children who want and need but they cannot get. This is what it means to be powerless.
Saskatchewan as a whole needs more spaces in order to meet the needs of dedicated working parents. A University of Toronto report recently found that Saskatchewan does not have nearly enough spaces to meet these families' needs. In fact, only 4.9% of Saskatchewan children under age 12 had access to regulated child care spaces, the lowest in the country.
The Progressive Conservative Party recognized this country's obligation to protect and nurture children. In 1959, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, a Saskatchewan boy, signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. In 1989, Prime Minister Mulroney signed its successor, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. By doing so, they entered into a pact with the world to ensure that all children, including the ones living within their own country, would not be left behind.
The Liberals, however, implemented commitments, 13 years of commitments and results, to ensure no children would be left behind. Head Start is an excellent example of this commitment. This comprehensive early childhood development program for aboriginal children and their families now serves 3,500 children in 114 communities across Canada. The on reserve component provides services to 7,700 children in 265 communities.
The national child benefit also introduced by the Liberals has also helped Canadian families greatly. The national child benefit helps: one, prevent and reduce the depth of child poverty; two, supports parents as they move into the labour market; and three, reduces overlap and duplication of government programs.
For Saskatchewan, the Liberals entered into an agreement with the province to commit $146 million in funding over five years devoted to creating 7,600 funded child care and early learning spaces, spaces that the parent experts asked for.
For first nations on reserve, the Liberals committed $100 million to child care spaces and, on top of that, committed to an additional $100 million for northern aboriginal early learning and child care agreed to at the Kelowna first ministers meeting in November 2005.
As a result of these initiatives, Canada's strong economic performance, which has been aided by eight consecutive balanced budgets, the number of low income families with children has dropped from close to 16% in 1996 to 11% in 2000. These are real achievements. This guaranteed parents and children real support and help.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government is slowly tearing these commitments down. For Saskatchewan, the funding for spaces has been choked off, closing off the opportunity to create more spaces. For aboriginals, the Kelowna accord has been tossed aside.
Instead, the government offers $3.25 a day to parents, taxable in their hands and subject to a myriad of clawbacks and hocus-pocus tax credit plan. There are few guarantees that this money could even get to families who need it most.
First, $3.25 a day will not allow needy parents to quit work when they need to earn at least $6 or $7 an hour to provide for themselves and their children. What is worse, this small amount could actually lead to more problems than it solves: clawbacks on child tax benefits, missed eligibility for GST credits, clawed back social assistance payments and so on. On top of this, these working parents will be taxed. It will be the harshest for parents who are barely at the poverty line.
At the end of day, April 30 being that day, the Caledon Institute reports that families with two working parents with a combined income of $30,000 will only take home $199 a year. The $3.25 plan becomes the 55¢ plan. Meanwhile, families making $200,000 a year with a stay at home parent will take home $1,076 a year.
Low income aboriginal Canadians need support. This $3.25, or rather 55¢, will not help with threats of disease and terrible living conditions. This is an attempt to explain away the problem without dealing with it, without building capacity, creating opportunities for early learning and care, and giving parents the support they need.
The tax credit plan will do even less. It will not create spaces on reserves with their different tax environments or in inner cities and economically marginalized areas. It does not respond to the challenges of remote and rural communities which need real commitments and real funding.
I know the government will consider this old hat but the Conservative plan is inadequate. The government needs a lesson about the differences of equality and equity. Legislating the equality of opportunity and treating everyone the same does not eliminate discrimination. The measure of equality is in the equity of results, not the equity of opportunity.
We must strive to listen to the silent voices and the voices of all Canadians who struggle and need real help and real commitment. I call upon all members to support the opposition motion.