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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was environmental.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona (Alberta)

Won her last election, in 2015, with 44% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Indigenous Languages Act May 9th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, at the start I would like to acknowledge that this House rests on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin people.

It just occurred to me, in listening to the discussion here, that we do not only have the tragedy of the disappearing of our languages. My ancestors came to Newfoundland around 1610 and had friendly relations with the Beothuk. Not only have we lost the languages of the Beothuk, but the Beothuk are gone.

As a nation, we have to get serious about this and we have to make sure, going forward, in laws that this place is enacting, that we actually deliver on the United Nations declaration and deliver on the calls to action by the TRC. We have to make sure that we are really getting it because we have directly consulted with the indigenous peoples of Canada.

It is a great honour to speak to Bill C-91. Not only is it an act respecting indigenous languages, but it should be more precisely put, the language rights of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, although the Inuit are expressing concerns that it does not quite get it from their perspective.

As some renowned scholars in indigenous matters have said, we should not even talk about “indigenous languages”; we should be naming all the languages and all the peoples, because they, themselves, are distinct.

The preamble to this bill specifies that “the recognition and implementation of rights related to Indigenous languages are at the core of reconciliation.”

Reference is made to the calls to action by the TRC on language and culture, as well as the adoption and implementation of UNDRIP. If we go to these calls to action, we see that they are actually titled “Language and culture.” It is not “language”; it is “language and culture”.

The TRC calls on the federal government “to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights”. Then it goes on to say this about the legislation that is to be enacted, this bill we are speaking to right now:

i. Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.

ii. Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.

iii. The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds....

iv. The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.

v. Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.

It is right there in the calls to action. The TRC then calls upon the federal government to appoint a commissioner of aboriginal languages, which the bill does. It is to be noted that the calls to action also specifically call for the government to fully adopt and implement UNDRIP and to implement “a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures”.

In reading the actual call, we have to recognize that it is about language and culture. They are tied together. It is important to recognize that the calls to action on language and culture must be considered in the context of the bundle of rights in the TRC report and in UNDRIP, and there cannot be a handpicking of one or the other.

I would add that I have repeatedly tried to get the government to actually make UNDRIP binding in bills that come forward, in particular in decisions by the government that impact the lands and resources of indigenous peoples. Sadly, that was always rejected.

Why was the call to revitalize aboriginal languages issued? As shared so clearly in the TRC report, the very intent of the residential school program was to “take the Indian out of the Indian”. This was done by wrenching wee children from their families, communities and traditions, and forbidding their languages and cultural practices. As Commissioner Sinclair has said so clearly, it amounted to “cultural genocide”.

Far too many indigenous peoples today have lost not only their language, but the connection to their cultures and their traditional communities.

As my colleague, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, has shared:

The vast majority of indigenous languages in this country are endangered, and there is a critical need to address that challenge. There is an urgent need at this moment, as we speak, to address that challenge. Our languages are important. If the legislation fails to reflect the intent of the bill, we are not doing our indigenous brothers and sisters in this country any favours.

To the credit of indigenous peoples and other supportive groups, great efforts continue to be made to revitalize their languages and cultures. One example of an indigenous community investing in this objective is the Cayuga and Mohawk immersion initiative at Six Nations.

I had the honour a number of years ago to visit that community and to visit that school. It is absolutely inspiring to see what is done there, without government support, even though it is desperately needed.

The sad thing is that this particular school, which is working on teaching people the Gayogoho:no language, has to hold classes above the curling rink. It cannot even get the support of the government to build a proper school so that it can teach the children these languages. As I was leaving that facility, the children came out of the classrooms, and they went into a round house and sang traditional songs. I witnessed first-hand the tears of the elders, that once again their community is learning to speak their language and to understand the culture. It was phenomenal.

There are examples of non-indigenous entities supporting the development, preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages. One such entity is the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute, or CILLDI, at my alma mater, the University of Alberta. The institute brings together indigenous Canadians from across the country to work on learning their languages and how they can promote and revitalize the languages. They get university credit for this. The government actually invests in advanced education. This is an area where we should be providing similar programs right across this country.

Some members have commented on the irony that while this place is debating about indigenous languages, some of the members of this place who are indigenous were not accorded the opportunity to speak in their language. One of my colleagues, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, was not able to speak in Dene because she had to give a 48-hour notice. I am looking forward to the time in this place when we have the interpreters available. As the government moves forward and keeps changing what bills come forward, it is not necessarily possible to give advance notice about speaking in one's language. I have attended Dene gatherings in the Northwest Territories where there were 10 or 12 interpreters available. It is not that we do not have those skills in this country. We have to get serious about providing them in this place at the federal level.

We have witnessed a number of members speaking in this place. The priority has to be to ensure the opportunity for those who are indigenous to speak. Of course, it is great to hear those of us who are non-indigenous trying to speak those languages, and that is admirable.

I want to thank the member for Nunavut for raising the concerns raised by the Inuit at committee. The Inuit are deeply troubled by this bill, and it is very concerning that the government is not considering that and did not properly consult on this.

We called for a number of amendments, which it is my understanding everyone rejected. Those that are critical include the requirement that the indigenous language commissioner be indigenous, which I think is pretty obvious; to enshrine UNDRIP as a legally binding provision of this bill; to add specific reference to the discriminatory policy of the sixties scoop that led to the erosion of indigenous languages; and, finally, to include specific measures to respect the language rights of the Inuit.

Indigenous Languages Act May 9th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend both members for speaking indigenous languages. I hope that one day very soon, on my retirement from this place, I too can pursue those languages in my homeland. It is a great privilege to learn those languages.

Does the member support, and is he willing to speak to his fellows on that side of the House about supporting, amendments that have been brought forward by a number of members in this place on behalf of witnesses who appeared before committee and indigenous people who wrote to the government? They include requiring that the indigenous languages commissioner be indigenous, enshrining the United Nations declaration as a legally binding provision in the bill, adding specific reference to the sixties scoop and taking specific measures to respect the language rights of the Inuit.

Business of Supply May 7th, 2019

Madam Speaker, almost four years later, all Canadians are waiting with bated breath for the Conservatives' climate plan. We are wondering if it is going to be exactly the same as the Harper carbon control plan, which was through the use of regulation. However, can we guess which sector they never got around to dealing with? It was the oil and gas sector. Can we guess which is the greatest source of greenhouse gases and pollution, including benzene, mercury et al? It is the oil and gas sector.

I wonder if the member could speak to this aspect. The Conservatives are fine with speaking against the carbon tax, but today we have not heard them speak to the matter my colleague spoke to, the escalating price of fuel for our cars, which has nothing to do with the price of carbon, even in Alberta. Whatever happened to that proposal to regulate the emissions from the oil and gas sector?

Business of Supply May 7th, 2019

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, who is very clear and definitive on this point. What really troubles me is the change in language by the Liberals. It is no longer “put a price on carbon”; it is “put a price on pollution”. Guess what. Two years ago, the environment committee finished a study on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. That is the act that regulates toxins. The Liberals have done absolutely nothing with that report.

One of the reasons Alberta shut down those coal plants sooner was because of the health impacts. There are lots of reasons we need to reduce the use of fossil fuels and the production of electricity with fossil fuels, one of which is that they have major health impacts.

I wonder if the member would like to speak to that.

The Environment April 30th, 2019

Madam Speaker, regrettably the parliamentary secretary avoided the most important part of my question, which was the fact that the Liberals' own department was now reporting that the Liberals were nowhere close to meeting the meagre targets they had imposed. They also have not taken genuine measures to enable a transition of fossil fuel workers, including coal fire power, coal mining and all the fossil fuel sectors across Canada.

In order to ultimately meet those emission standards, as well as the fact we are being told by the International Energy Agency that into the future there is not going to be a demand for our fossil fuels, we need to be working now on a transition plan to ensure our communities are supported, as well as the workers and their families.

When are we finally going to get a genuine transition plan addressing these issues, including our indigenous communities?

The Environment April 30th, 2019

Madam Speaker, last December I once again raised concerns regarding a commitment made by the minister following the 2017 climate COP in Bonn, Germany. It was made in response to concerted pressure by labour and environmental delegates. There was a call to invest in a just transition for fossil fuel workers and their communities, yet few dollars have been distributed, despite budget allocations, one of which was made in March of last year. This was despite action by the previous New Democrat government of Alberta, which committed $50 million to a just transition for coal-fired power workers in my province.

By April of last year, the government finally committed some money toward a just transition, but it was limited to coal-fired power workers. Added to this was a commitment of additional monies, but not until after the next election. This tends to be a propensity of the government. It commits additional dollars to provide jobs for the communities that have coal-fired power, but only in 2020-21.

Despite the dollars budgeted to support transitioning coal-fired power workers, no long-term plan exists to address the longer-term transition of the majority of fossil fuel workers, including those in coal-fired power. To date, much to my surprise and to the chagrin of coal-fired power workers, less than $300,000 of the $35 million has actually been delivered. We are moving into an election this fall, and that will be a lot of lapsed money that could have gone toward retraining coal-fired power workers and supporting their communities.

I appeared as a delegate in many of the climate COPs. At meeting after meeting, international delegates called for their governments to invest in a just transition for fossil fuel workers. Finally, after a lot of pressure, the minister committed to creating a task force. That task force included the Alberta Federation of Labour, which played a huge role in the transition plan for Alberta.

The task force report issued by the minister offered few surprises. It builds on and reinforces decades of advocacy by labour unions and other progressive voices. The report reiterates calls for support of affected workers and their communities, and that they should be at the heart of any transition plans.

These were restated by the International Labour Organization, the Canadian Labour Congress, the United Nations and the CCPA. They noted that there should be income support, skills retraining, pension bridging, re-employment support and other services for affected workers, and support for their communities.

However, what is puzzling is that the task group was given a very narrow mandate, focused only on coal-fired power, even though, according to the report given to the government, only between 3,000 and 4,000 people, spread over 50 Canadian communities, actually work in that sector. That accounts for a fraction of a percentage point of this country's GDP and less than 20% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

The outstanding issue is, where is the transition plan for all the other fossil fuel workers in this country? Of course, we know that more than 100,000 workers are out of work in my province of Alberta. Where was the transition plan? The government has agreed with Alberta to shut down these plants earlier, by 2030. That is only 10 years away.

Everyone calling for this knows that a lot of advanced planning is needed. Where is the plan for the additional 50 communities across Canada? Where is the plan for all the fossil fuel communities and workers in this country?

Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1 April 11th, 2019

Madam Speaker, I spent three happy years in Nova Scotia. It is a beautiful province.

As I recall, the member mentioned that health care is a big priority for his constituents. Given that it is also a top priority not only in my constituency but across my province, I wonder if he could speak to the fact that his government chose not to introduce a national pharmacare program, despite the fact that over many decades, every commission has recommended to move now on pharmacare and that an all-party committee unanimously recommended introducing pharmacare now.

Why was that? It was because the Parliamentary Budget Officer has done an analysis showing that it is the most cost-effective way to proceed in making sure that affordable pharmaceuticals are available to everyone.

I wonder if the member could speak to that fact. Is he not disappointed and will his constituents not be disappointed that his government chose not to introduce pharmacare, which would have made those medicines available to all of his constituents at an affordable rate?

An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families April 11th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I have been sitting here since the House began and we were supposed to be debating the budget. We have spent two hours wasting time instead of allowing members to debate matters. I find it, frankly, appalling that the minister is making the suggestion that it is irrelevant for the elected representatives of the people to share what those who elected us are telling us they would like to see in the bill and that the only important one is at committee. We know what happens at committee. The majority Liberals decide who is appropriate to bring in and then what to recommend.

If the government is so committed to assisting indigenous communities to better look after their children, and surely we all agree with that, why has it been ignoring the directives of the Canadian Human Rights Commission for three years and getting complaint after complaint, contempt after contempt ruled against it? The bill is missing one major thing, which is that it commits no money. That is the main concern that indigenous communities are raising. I do not see any money in the budget, which we would like to be debating, to go to these communities.

I am deeply troubled that we have to waste half an hour debating whether we should be allowed to speak and then wasting another half hour waiting to vote when we could be debating important bills.

Criminal Records Act April 11th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I am a little stunned to hear the hon. member, who is a former senior police officer in this country, arguing that a pardon is the same as expungement.

If anyone would know, it is he who would know that expungement means that when people go to the border or volunteer for a soccer group or boys and girls club, they can honestly declare they do not have criminal records, whereas with a pardon, people have to declare at the border they have criminal records. Remarkably, I read in the news this week that one of the Liberal MPs said that if people with pardons have a problem at the border, there is a number they can call and they will get help. It was the most extraordinary thing I have ever heard.

I would like to hear from the member how he can argue that a pardon is the same as expungement, which is exactly what the member for Victoria is calling for.

Anti-Bullying April 10th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, today in a show of support for anti-bullying day I have joined many who are wearing pink, but I wish to respectfully suggest wearing pink is just not enough. As elected representatives, we can and must do more.

Yesterday, I was informed of hateful social media posts intended to demean and bully many of the young Edmontonians who participated in the recent Daughters of the Vote program. I now learn many more delegates are suffering similar levels of harassment.

Appallingly, some posts criticized the spending of tax dollars to send Muslim, indigenous and black delegates to Ottawa. These posts were, frankly, vicious and racist. Some were attacked simply because they dared to call for greater action to address Islamophobia and racism. It was suggested these young women could simply delete their pictures and bios from their Facebook pages to make themselves less visible. This is wrong.

We must demand deeper action against this much wider group spewing abuse through social media. We should all congratulate these young Canadians who continue to bravely speak truth to power.