-Mr. Speaker, it is said that a bad start in life translates into inequality during childhood and is associated with the underutilization of individual potential. The motion on eliminating child poverty, despite its wording, focuses on the socially vulnerable aspects of the parents or guardians.
I will now introduce the 2013 social statistics indicating that two out of five children living in an aboriginal community grow up in poverty. There are nearly 15,000 aboriginal constituents in Manicouagan, my riding. Out of a population of 90,000 that is quite remarkable. Some communities are remote and cut off from the rest of the world. I am thinking about Pakua Shipi, Unamen Shipu, Matimekush-Lac John, Kawawachikamach. It takes a 12-hour train ride to get to the latter two communities or thousands of dollars in plane tickets. Communities like Unamen Shipu and Pakua are simply cut off from the rest of the world. There are no roads to get there.
When I was working for Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-utenam, my own band council, the numbers brought to my attention indicated that more than 60% of the population was dependent, directly or indirectly, on Mitshim Shuniau, in other words social assistance, for money to eat. That was roughly six or seven years ago, when I was working for my band council, that more than half the working-age adult population was directly or indirectly dependent on transfers from social assistance.
Some might say, and perhaps rightly so, that the amount of social assistance paid to aboriginal communities is a bit higher than the base amount in Quebec. Nonetheless, if we take into account the cost of food and the cost of living in the remote regions, this amount is not enough for properly raising children.
Beyond the financial considerations, it is also important to address the shift in the parental model within many communities affected by the clear deterioration of the social fabric.
I believe that a massive injection of funds into dysfunctional clans should not be seen as the only solution to child poverty. The Conservatives like to talk about how their action plan focuses primarily on massive injections of funds. They toss out staggering numbers—hundreds of millions of dollars invested in communities. What I am saying is that massive injections of funds will not necessarily solve the problem once and for all. It can be part of the solution, but we certainly cannot think of it as the only answer to all of the problems in socially dysfunctional communities.
When I talk about the absence of parental models, dysfunctional parental models or even dysfunctional guardians, I am referring to statements that I made here in the House when we talked about issues related to street gangs. Members of Parliament with good memories will recall that, at the time, I pointed out that street gangs crop up when children do not have parental supervision and are forced to meet their own needs themselves. They band together and take over a house.
I am thinking about life on the reserves. Gang members take control of a house on the reserve because the parents have gone off somewhere. They often decide to turn to questionable methods to meet their needs, to feed themselves. The result is that there are houses with about fifteen young people, all minors, living together. It is a bit of a free-for-all. This happens because many parents or guardians are simply not there to supervise these children.
It is important to mention that this is not the case with all families. These are somewhat isolated cases, but they still need to be mentioned in the House. When parents receive social assistance, they revert back to being adolescents themselves. They go join a group of adults who, one might say, have veered off course, and children, particularly those who are 10, 11 or 12 years old and fairly independent, are simply left to fend for themselves. Sometimes older members of the family, often the grandparents, will decide to take care of these children. However, many children are left to fend for themselves and turn to crime.
That is unfortunate, but that is what is happening. A 10- or 11-year-old child has no other choice. These children start by stealing from malls and then it all snowballs as the years go by.
The fundamental findings of developmental psychology have shown the negative, long-term impacts of growing up in a home that does not have the financial resources required to meet the family's basic needs.
I will now talk about the insidious nature of daily exposure to negative influences within dysfunctional social units. Even children in my community who come from a functional, educated, relatively well-off family are nevertheless exposed to the same negative influences as all other children, especially in isolated communities where transportation costs are high.
When I talk about negative influences, I am referring to hardened criminals who have been incarcerated in several federal institutions. This includes sex offenders, murderers who ride around on their bicycles in the community and known HIV carriers. Promiscuity being what it is in communities, people know who is who and what everyone is doing.
In a community of just a few thousand people, such as Uashat-Maliotenam, which has a population of about 3,000, it does not take long to learn everything there is to know about each and every person. In the summer especially, because everyone lives outside, children can be exposed to all kinds of behaviours. It is not uncommon to see an alcoholic sleeping with his head on a case of beer beside the corner store, someone urinating in his pants or people who are in a toxic psychosis because they have taken PCP and need to be talked down by paramedics.
When I was a teenager, I used to invite my Quebec friends over on the day people received their social assistance cheques to have some fun. I had lost my moral compass and I considered that entertainment. On Mitshim Shuniau day, I would invite my friends over to have fun watching my neighbours consume just about anything. I would tell them that the paramedics would be coming and going all day and the show would be worth their while. That is what I thought back then.
Today, I see that it was wrong and detrimental to everyone's personal affirmation and societal betterment. However, at the time, I thought it was quite funny. Thus, on Mitshim Shuniau day, I would give my friends a bit of a guided tour of my community. We saw all kinds of things, like people walking around naked because they had taken PCP in public. Nothing mattered.
Children are exposed to these harmful influences and might consider this to be normal by the time they are 12, 13, 14 or 15 years old, especially those who do not have the opportunity to leave the reserves. They may believe that it represents the norm in Canada, which is really not the case. There are dysfunctional communities just about everywhere in Canada. However, broadly speaking, most of the Canadian population is not dysfunctional and we do not find this type of anything-goes behaviour.
A child's environment and the people around him have a great influence on his brain development. It has also been proven that just a few years of poverty can have a lasting negative impact on a child's development. The negative effects of poverty on a child, from the prenatal stage through to age five, can be especially harmful and lasting.
When I say prenatal stage, I am of course referring to fetal alcohol syndrome. Children who are victims of fetal alcohol syndrome have a lesser quality of life starting at birth. It is not always the case, but most often, there is a correlation between alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the possibility that the young person will join the workforce in the future and stay far away from alcohol use.
The NDP believes that to eliminate child poverty, we must improve the economic security of families and provide them with access to child care services, culturally integrated psychosocial services, housing and affordable nutritious food.
Today I asked a question about the nutrition north program, but we also need to focus on culturally integrated psychosocial services. Too often, the psychologists who are sent to communities to address their pressing needs have the academic training but not necessarily the tools to deal with the adversarial nature of the realities on reserve.
On July 1, Mitshim Shuniau can sometimes turn the whole community into a zoo. Every month, a single social worker might be doing the work of two to five of them, depending on how many kids are referred to the youth protection branch. Safety cannot always be guaranteed. I have seen cases in which a social worker was hit in the head by a client who was not happy to have her children removed. It was simple: this meant less money for her. When she saw the social worker at the grocery store, she hit her in the head with a can of Chef Boyardee.
That is the reality. Violence is everywhere in these communities, and social workers need to be well equipped and prepared before they show up there; otherwise, we are just throwing them to the wolves.
I submit this respectfully.