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  • Her favourite word is young.

NDP MP for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski (Manitoba)

Won her last election, in 2015, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Health May 10th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, whether it is comments in this House or messages we hear outside, it is clear that the fight for women's equality is far from over. It is not enough to hear the Liberals say they believe in choice; the reality is that many Canadian women, because of where they live, do not have access to abortion services.

It is 2018. We have to stop playing politics on the backs of women in this country. When will the Liberal government step up, enact the Canada Health Act, and ensure that women, no matter where they live, can have access to their reproductive rights?

Employment Insurance May 8th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, Canadians fighting for their lives can no longer wait. We have asked the same question over and over, and we are seeing the same Liberal game. When the Liberals were in opposition they cared about this, but now that they are in government they have forgotten what they promised.

Enough is enough. We need action. Why have the Liberals forgotten Marie-Hélène Dubé and the half a million Canadians who want to see EI sickness benefits extended? When will we finally see the Liberals stand up for Canadian workers and for those struggling with serious illness, and when will we see them fulfill their promise to extend El sickness benefits?

Keethan Lobster, Matthew Moore-Spence, and Terrence Spence May 8th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to celebrate the lives of Keethan Lobster, Matthew Moore-Spence, and Terrence Spence. These beautiful, bright 13- and 11-year-old boys from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation died on April 28, and like so many kids, they were cycling, enjoying the first warm days, when they were struck by a drunk driver.

Unlike so many other kids, they faced challenges all too common on first nations, not just the gravel road with no lighting. Keethan's mom committed suicide a year ago. His granny had raised him since then in a trailer that was home to 18 people.

Keethan had a dream. His last words to his Uncle Curtis Lobster were, “I am going to graduate from college like you, Uncle.”

In Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in 2018, we have to ask ourselves why. We need to work with first nations to build communities that kids can be safe in, from bike paths, to roads, to lights.

We will not forget Keethan, Matthew, and Terrence, and we will work to build safer communities for kids like them.

[Member spoke in Cree as follows:]



Status of Women April 26th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, we have heard that the attack in Toronto may have been inspired by the misogynistic and hateful movement “incels”.

We must acknowledge that attacks from these groups are a form of violence rooted in misogyny. We must believe women and end the hate that they face online and off-line. Saying one is a feminist is simply not enough. We must take action. The special rapporteur for the UN said that the government's fragmented approach to gender-based violence is not working.

The Prime Minister is all words. Where is the concrete plan, with resources, to end gender-based violence in Canada?

Business of Supply April 26th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, it would be a powerful message for us to show unanimous support for this motion.

As I mentioned earlier, Parliament for decades oversaw the running of the residential school system. It is time that we begin a different journey, one of reconciliation, in the case of the Catholic residential school survivors, and there could not be any stronger message than one of unanimous support. Many of us believe that there is an openness from the Pope to begin this process of an apology. If we all come together, the message could not be stronger.

Business of Supply April 26th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, that is an important question.

Why our motion is very much focused on the Pope is that the Pope has indicated some real openness when it comes to apologizing for past wrongs and for beginning a process of reconciliation. He has done so in other parts of the world, and it is time that we see that in Canada. We know that other churches have done that, and it is time for the Catholic Church to begin on this journey as well.

It is deeply frustrating to see senior officials try to dodge this responsibility for quite some time. Survivors want an apology. It would not be in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action if that were not the case. We need to take that very seriously. It is a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That is why we are pushing for it here in Parliament. It has to be done. It is something that has been asked for by survivors, and it is part of that road to reconciliation.

For many survivors, an apology is definitely not enough, which is why we have indicated that there is a moral obligation to live up to. The church needs to make its best efforts to raise the full amount of the agreed-upon funds. We have also called for documents to be made available with respect to the Ste. Anne's case in the ongoing battle for justice from residential school survivors.

What we are calling for here is what we have heard time and time again from survivors. It is time for Parliament to respect these wishes. It is time for Parliament to stand up and defend the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is why this motion is before us today. I could not be more proud that it is the NDP that has put it forward.

Business of Supply April 26th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, access to records is an important component. My colleague, the member of Parliament for Timmins—James Bay, has been a very strong advocate with respect to the survivors of the St. Anne's residential school. Time and time again he has pointed out that despite the government's commitment to reconciliation and working with survivors, it is fighting the St. Anne's survivors in the courts. If we are really going to talk about reconciliation, that kind of action is unacceptable.

That is why we have included the measure with respect to access to relevant documents. What we are saying is that the survivors, whether it is of St. Anne's or any other school, deserve to see justice done and certainly do not deserve to be fought by their own federal government.

Business of Supply April 26th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, there is no question the intergenerational trauma of residential schools, the broken nature of many families, the struggles many parents face, are still with us today. Yes, we can see it through the child welfare system, a system that has too often hurt rather than helped.

I acknowledge that many have had to learn from the mistakes of how things were run. However, I represent a number of the communities where children are taken away from, and I will speak to the fact that we will hear from parents that the reasons they are unable to raise their kids with the support they need is that they are struggling with addictions or are struggling in abject poverty.

Where has the federal government, the successive Liberal and Conservative governments, been when it comes to addressing the absolute underfunding of key services like housing, education, and health care? Why is it that, unfortunately, too many first nations live in third world conditions, which renders the raising of strong families and healthy children a major challenge?

If we are going to get at the root of preventing apprehension, we need to talk about building stronger communities by addressing underfunding immediately. That starts with the federal government stepping up and living up to its obligations.

Business of Supply April 26th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I am tremendously honoured to rise in this House to speak in favour of a powerful opposition day motion that I am proud comes from our party, the NDP, and to acknowledge the work of my colleague, the member of Parliament for Timmins—James Bay, and my colleague, the member of Parliament for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.

To be clear, today's opposition day motion is responding to the call of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to move our nation on a path of true healing for the crimes of the residential school era. We, the House, invite Pope Francis to participate in this journey with Canadians by responding to call to action 58 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report, and issue a formal papal apology for the role of the Canadian Catholic Church in the establishment, operation, and abuses of residential schools.

We also call upon the Canadian Catholic Church to live up to their moral obligations in the spirit of the 2006 Indian residential school settlement agreement and to resume best efforts to raise the full amount of the agreed-upon funds, and we call on the Catholic entities that were involved in the running of the residential schools to make a consistent and sustained effort to turn over relevant documents when called upon by survivors of residential schools, their families, and scholars who are working to understand the full scope of the horrors of the residential school system in the interest of truth and reconciliation.

I come from northern Manitoba and grew up in Thompson, which is on the traditional territory of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation on Treaty No. 5 territory. Anyone who grows up in our north has been exposed to the trauma and the devastating experiences that so many faced going to residential schools and that so many generations following residential school survivors have faced as well.

I remember at a young age visiting with elders across our north, who talked about the residential school system and what it meant to be ripped away from your family and to go to a school where children were punished for speaking their own language. I also remember hearing references to a kind of abuse that we could not even imagine.

I grew up with kids who talked about their grandparents going to residential schools, what that meant in terms of losing their bonds to culture and traditions, and their absolute interest and passion to reconnect with those traditions, languages, and roots. It was a reconnection that they wanted to make because it was so important to them. Unfortunately, it had to be made as a reconnection, because for decades the Canadian state, in co-operation with churches, broke that critical connection.

As I began to pursue activism in the political realm, some of my most inspiring mentors were residential school survivors, people who went through unspeakable abuse and trauma, yet went on to find great strength in leading their people and their nations in fighting back.

I am reminded of people such as Elder Raymond Robinson in Cross Lake, a residential school survivor himself. Having gone through all of the challenges that so many survivors have gone through, he went on to be one of the people who helped create the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood. He talked about the importance of being engaged, the importance of reconnecting with tradition, and the importance of fighting for self-determination. He went on to be an incredible champion when it came to fighting against the devastation we saw from Manitoba Hydro and in fighting the ongoing colonial policies put forward by Ottawa in successive governments.

His legacy continues to live on. In fact, many of his children have gone on to be leaders, both elected and community leaders in Cross Lake and in other communities across our province. I am reminded that out of great difficulty came an immeasurable strength that inspired me and many others to carry on the struggle to build a better world for first nations and for northern Manitobans.

I visit communities, as I have visit over the years, I have spent a fair bit of time hearing stories about the devastation of residential schools in our area. I am sad to say that many of those residential schools were run by the Catholic Church. It is extremely disappointing, frankly, it is angering that the Catholic Church is putting up barriers when it comes to making the most simple act of reconciliation, the act of an apology, a reality.

It really hits home because a lot of the time that I spend in our north, I cross the areas in which the residential schools once stood, places like where the Guy Hill residential school used to be, a school that existed in northern Manitoba from 1926 to 1979. Just three years before I was born, this residential school continued to exist, a residential school that thousands of young people from across our region attended and one where many experienced unbelievable abuse.

The Guy Hill residential school is known for many things, but when we spend just a few moments looking at its records, we can tell very quickly that a lot of what happened there was completely unacceptable. There are records from 1951 that indicated, “This school is woefully overcrowded and I note that the double deck beds which were recommended are still lacking. From a health point of view though would be of material benefit to the children.” The documents at that time in 1951 also noted that there was a “rather serious epidemic which has affected 19 boys of various ages. This may turn out to be tuberculosis…”.

In 1958, the records at that time indicated that water at the new school was contaminated and “found to be dangerous as it contains bacteria usually found in sewage.” A year later, in 1959, the water at the school was still unhealthy to consume, yet the children who attended that school were forced to consume it and were forced to live in those conditions.

I am reminded of the work of Ian Mosby and other researchers and academics. They have talked about the way in which children underwent not just treacherous conditions but oftentimes were forced, without their knowledge of course, to undergo experiments with respect to malnutrition and to living in substandard condition. It was known that this was the reality in some of these schools and was on record at that time, yet the conditions persisted and that kind of abuse continued.

There were other residential schools in our area. The Fort Alexander residential school was in the south end of my constituency. A 1963 letter indicated that a Fort Alexander student expressed fear at returning to the institution because he alleged frequent rebukes by staff and the likelihood of corporal punishment upon return. These are the stories we hear all too often: of beatings, of physical abuse, of sexual abuse; abuse that would not be imaginable, never mind tolerated, in any setting let alone an educational setting.

I have heard many of those stories and the have everlasting impacts on survivors. I have heard how many have struggled with the trauma that has come from that. Some have turned to alcohol and substance abuse to get away from those traumatic memories and experiences. Here we are, knowing that in 1963 and 1958, and on the record, students, young people, were forced into these conditions. This is unacceptable, without question.

One residential school that is well known in our region for the kinds of inhumane conditions that existed, another residential school run by the Catholic Church, was the one in Cross Lake. There is a fair bit of information on the record from 1918 all the way to 1949 that shows there were serious issues taking place at the residential school.

The record states that in 1943:

...a doctor insisted that the spread of tuberculosis at the Cross Lake IRS was the result of poor air quality and overcrowding in the dormitories. As a result, the federal government advised the Church that no more than 80 children be kept in residence at the Cross Lake IRS during the 1943-44 school year

It further states that in 1944-45:

During the late fall and early winter, almost all the children at the Cross Lake IRS were infected with...Jaundice. A medical officer linked the epidemic to overcrowding in the dormitories, with the school population at 96 pupils, which he “strongly condemn[ed].

Respected professionals were on the record of saying that these were inhumane conditions and that children were getting sick as a result, yet the church and the government continued to oversee those inhumane conditions.

The story of Cross Lake is one we hear often back home up north. Many people felt a real sense of justice when the students actually set fire to that residential school. Although everybody was able to get out safely, there was talk of how the students took it in their own hands to put an end to a place that was causing them so much hurt.

Just the idea that children lived in those conditions, away from their families, ripped apart from their culture and community, and forced to face inhumane conditions and unspeakable abuse is shocking.

That brings me back to what we are discussing today, a motion that really reflects the desire of certainly our party, and I understand of other parliamentarians as well, to begin to address the wrongs through a formal apology from the Catholic Church. We know other churches have taken the step, and it is deeply frustrating for many people, those who are of the Catholic faith, as well as others, that the Catholic Church is still not willing to apologize. I know many people are hopeful, given the fact that the current pope, Pope Francis, has been rather progressive and open-minded when it comes to notions of reconciliation, and his work in Latin America has indicated such. Therefore, we feel there is an opening, a possibility there to begin that road of reconciliation with respect to the survivors of Catholic residential schools.

Because of certain barriers placed by senior officials in the Catholic Church, it is disappointing that it is up to Parliament to reflect where Canadians are with this, and to ask for this apology, but here we are.

It is time for us to show leadership on this front. Parliament has done so a few times on this important issue. I am reminded of the national apology in 2008. I am reminded of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which had the support of Parliament. It is only fitting that, despite the challenges, we once again call for this kind of action by the Catholic Church, and it is incumbent on us to do so, given the fact that Parliament unfortunately oversaw this kind of unspeakable abuse through its support of the residential school system.

What we are doing here today is one very small step in saying that we know the history that has come before us is one where many wrongs had been done, and that we as parliamentarians today, in 2018, must take leadership and encourage those who had the ultimate responsibility to take a moment to say they are sorry, and to begin that path of reconciliation.

The government apologized in 2008 and the various churches, except for the Catholic Church, have apologized. It is important to know that call to action 58 of the Truth and Reconciliation indicated explicitly that a papal apology was seen as key for the process of reconciliation. It is time the Pope deliver one. Popes have made similar apologies, such as the apology in 2010 to Irish victims of Catholic abuse, in 2015 by the current pope to the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas for the church's role in colonization, and on April 11 to victims of abuse in Chile.

The residential school system was created by religious organizations and governments together. Through this motion, we in Parliament are calling on our fellow partners in the residential school system, the Catholic Church, to apologize formally.

The Government of Canada inappropriately let the church off the hook for a significant part of its financial obligations under the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. It was obligated to pay $79 million and was discharged from paying back $37.8 million. The government and church were both defendants in the actions that led to the Indian residential schools process for survivors and we believe it was wrong that they were let off the hook when it came to paying this money back.

We need to recognize that we have an opportunity, as members and as a Parliament, to do the right thing. This is not about fixing a traumatic and very negative chapter in our country's history, but about encouraging those responsible to start the reconciliation process. That is why we urge Parliament to unanimously support a motion calling on the Pope and the Catholic Church to give survivors an opportunity to take a step towards reconciliation, together.

I rise in the House thinking of survivors, including my colleague, the MP for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, the survivors at home, so many who have passed, those children and grandchildren of survivors, some of whom, as friends of mine, have told me about the devastating intergenerational impacts of residential schools.

As a new parent, the idea that so many parents had their children ripped away from them, had their culture and their traditions stolen from them, were faced with unspeakable abuse is unfathomable. That is why I take this opportunity as a member of Parliament, as someone who is proud of where I come from, to say that this is our moment in time to show leadership. This is our moment in time as parliamentarians to send a unanimous message that the Catholic Church and the Pope must apologize and must begin this journey of reconciliation with survivors. It is time. Survivors deserve it. First nations deserve it. We hope, through this motion, that this day will come soon.

Supporting New Parents Act April 24th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to discuss Bill C-394, a private member's bill put forward by the leader of the official opposition.

Whereas we applaud the suggestion of investing resources for new parents, this bill misses the point. It does not address the inadequate parental leave system that exists in this country. It leaves out the fundamental issue of child care and contributes to the growing inequality in Canada. This proposal would not fix the many issues with Canada's parental leave, particularly the systemic barriers that Canadian women face.

Let us talk about inequality. Growing inequality is the result of decades of Conservative and Liberal policies of privatization and deregulation. They are policies that have ravaged our public services and dismantled our welfare state. They are policies that have attacked the foundations of what previous generations have fought for to offer better living conditions to the working class and to people across this country. They are policies that are in the interest of a few and leave the many behind.

We know that inequality in Canada does not affect everyone equally. It is gendered, racialized, indigenous, disabled, and more and more, it is generational. The millennial generation, my generation, faces the prospect of being worse off than their parents. This is the generation we are talking about when talking about new parents. Let us talk about what millennials are facing.

Millennials are facing increasingly precarious work conditions. They have to survive going from one gig to the next. They are being told to get used to the job churn. We are hearing a government telling us to embrace this reality as a new normal. We are seeing an official opposition that does not seem to get that the fundamental challenges we face cannot be fixed with a regressive tax proposal like the one in front of us. When the Conservatives were in government, they did nothing to improve the working conditions that millennials face in our country and did nothing when it came to child care.

The economy we have today is not working for Canadian millennials. A 2015 Abacus survey shows us that 59% of millennials are delaying major life milestones, such as starting a family, because of the financial pressures they face. Beyond this number are the stories of young people who are struggling to get by.

I am reminded of a young woman I met in Windsor who talked about how, given all the challenges she has faced to be able to find secure employment with multiple degrees and student debt, et cetera, the one thing she said she knew well was that she was not going to be able to have kids because she would not be able to afford to give them what her parents gave her.

In the fall of 2016, a CIBC report was published that demonstrated that not only is there a historically high rate of part-time jobs in the economy, a rate that still sits at over 19%, but the share of below average paid jobs is steadily increasing. In Canada, more and more jobs that are being created are insecure ones, and many of those are being done by young people.

Reversing growing inequality must be front and centre for us as parliamentarians. This is where the proposal put forward by the leader of the official opposition falls short.

The measure proposes an investment of $850 million annually according to some estimates. This number will be looked at by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. As it stands, an investment of this size needs to address some of the most pressing issues related to the deficient parental leave system that exists in our country.

We know that we can do better. An example within our own federation has shown us the way. Quebec has implemented measures that should be supported by the federal government. Quebec has generous and accessible parental leave and a much larger number of women and their families who can benefit from it. Women who earn minimum wage in Quebec have to work only 178 hours to have access to the Quebec parental insurance plan, or earn only $2,000 through insurable employment. That number climbs to 600 hours for other Canadians. Once they have their child, Quebec families can count on a network of affordable day care throughout Quebec. Elsewhere in Canada, day care is often too expensive. Families and often mothers have to make a tough choice: postpone starting a family, not return to work, or face financial hardship in order to pay for child care.

This is unacceptable. We can and must do better. If Quebec can do it, so can the rest of Canada. It is a matter of priority.

Therefore, what can we do?

First, we have to talk about the fact that too many Canadian parents are not eligible for parental leave. Excluding Quebec, only 64% of Canadian women can take their leave benefits after having a child. This means that more than one-third of new mothers do not qualify to take that leave.

David MacDonald from the CCPA indicated that Bill C-394's tax credit proposal will not help alleviate inequalities in Canada and in some ways will even contribute to them, and that the tax credit proposal is more likely to benefit higher-income and middle-income earners, and is less likely to benefit new parents earning lower incomes.

Barriers to access El, notably in the number of insurable hours that are required, are too high for many young women in precarious work. That reality is very much the case where I come from. Many people up north do not have access to parental leave, because of the high rates of unemployment and underemployment. Also, I hear from my neighbours and friends, and I know from my own reality as a new parent, that there is a lack of access to affordable child care, and that proves to be a major financial burden for many families where I come from.

Second, instead of providing a tax credit, we need to increase the income replacement rate. We agree that we need to put more money in the pockets of new parents because they need it. However, with this proposal, since the proposed tax credit is not refundable, new parents that earn low incomes would not benefit nearly as much as middle-income or high-income earners, since many low-income families earn only 55% of their salary when on leave.

The income replacement rate of 55% is simply too low, especially when families are dealing with many new expenses. A higher income replacement rate would benefit all levels of income earners, and would therefore not participate in increasing the already alarming growing inequality that exists in Canada.

Finally, we must address the issue of child care. For Canadian women, and for new parents to have more income available to them, we must as a country find a way to offer child care services that are affordable across Canada. In all our major cities outside of Quebec, costs for child care are making life unaffordable, and are proving to be very challenging when families are deciding their priorities. I will list off some of the numbers of the median costs of child care by city in our country: Toronto, $1,212 per month per child; Ottawa, $1,009 per month per child; and Vancouver, $950 per month per child. Canadian parents know this reality and this is the kind of priority that they want to see addressed.

We want to be clear that the NDP supports the idea that we need to invest in Canadian families and in new parents, but we disagree with the proposal that has been put forward by the Conservative leader, a proposal that will increase inequality as it will do nothing to help lower-income families. It is a proposal that will not help new parents finally access the benefits they need and deserve, by making parental leave more accessible. It is a proposal that for all of the public resources it aims to invest will not create a single affordable day care space, something that is urgently needed across our communities.

I am proud to say that, along with our colleagues, we believe that Canadian parents deserve much better.