House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was alberta.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as Liberal MP for Edmonton Centre (Alberta)

Lost his last election, in 2019, with 33% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Indigenous Languages Act May 2nd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for his work. Not only is he an impressive drummer, but I aspire to be able to speak Cree as well as he does some day.

There are tears in my eyes, because this is the right thing to do. It should have been done decades ago, but we cannot rewrite the past. What we have control over is now. There is the opportunity for all House leaders to come together, to get a shortened timeline, to see this legislation pass and to go back to our ridings, hold our heads high and say we will work with indigenous peoples to promote, protect and preserve indigenous languages. That is one of the reasons I am in Parliament and one of the reasons I am in favour of this legislation.

Indigenous Languages Act May 2nd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her steadfast work on this issue.

It is our government and, indeed, this Parliament that authorized and made sure that parliamentarians could speak in indigenous languages. One of my colleagues from Montreal has spoken in the House in Mohawk, and my colleague from Winnipeg has spoken in Cree. We are committed to making sure people are able to speak indigenous languages.

We all understand that the timing in this place is fluid and that we are approaching the end of this Parliament. What is critical is that this indigenous languages act be passed so that it can benefit indigenous people and all Canadians for seven generations and more to come.

Indigenous Languages Act May 2nd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his interest in this file. Economic benefit is part of the foundation of anyone's life and livelihood. To be able to be in a safe place to learn one's language, one needs to have a sound economic foundation. We know all too well in my city and in my riding of Edmonton Centre the challenges and triumphs faced by urban indigenous peoples.

I can say that I am proud of the work this government is doing, and not only on indigenous languages. I am proud of the deep consultations and accommodations that are going on to ensure that we are able to build the Trans Mountain pipeline in exactly the right way.

Indigenous Languages Act May 2nd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I was saying that people looked at my name badge, saw my name, and assumed I could speak French. I could not. I could not even string five sentences together.

I was so struck that it sent me on a journey of identity and a lifelong journey of acknowledging and shaping that identity. I resolved that summer to double down on learning French. I chose later to study at Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta to learn, and as I said earlier, love the language. That decision changed my life.

I think of the young indigenous people in my riding, our province and across the country, who are Cree, Dene, Blackfoot or Mohawk and who do not have access to language learning opportunities like I did. They often face the same struggle of identity and the same need to connect to the traditions, teaching and spirituality that the plunge into one's language affords.

The connection to history and the ability to share and pass on teachings in one's ancestral tongue are fundamentally important. In fact, they are a basic human right, yet indigenous languages in Canada are disappearing. Elders are dying, and with them the knowledge of their mother tongue. Our future depends on the survival of our language; so it is for indigenous peoples.

According to UNESCO, at least three-quarters of the 90 indigenous languages spoken in Canada are at risk of disappearing or are vulnerable. While we cannot change the past, we can and must work together for a better future. The time to act is now, and we will do so with the indigenous languages act.

Our government fulfilled the promise that the Prime Minister made to indigenous peoples to introduce a bill that would help them reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen their languages.

This legislation would provide the mechanisms to recognize indigenous language-related rights; support the reclamation, revitalization, strengthening and maintenance of indigenous languages in Canada; support and promote indigenous languages; provide long-term, sustainable funding to reach these goals, and establish an office of commissioner of indigenous languages. It is why, as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage earlier in my time here on Parliament Hill, I was so taken by this work and collaborated with colleagues so that we could see this day arrive.

The legislation before us was co-developed between Canada and national indigenous organizations, and through intensive engagements with indigenous specialists, knowledge keepers and experts. I would like to thank and recognize the extraordinary work done by the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council. Their insights into the invaluable role that elders play in language acquisition and preservation is critical. We heard clearly, and agree, with the deep sense of urgency to act, particularly with respect to elders and their role in revitalizing indigenous languages.

The 2005 Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures noted an urgent need for immediate action to stem the loss of languages. It goes without saying that there is a need to provide support to indigenous communities and governments to help them act immediately.

To put this in perspective, in the first nations context, for example, one in three seniors reported having an indigenous mother tongue in 2016. By comparison, about one in 10 first nations children aged 10 to 14 had an indigenous mother tongue. Some languages have few remaining speakers of the grandparents' and great-grandparents' generation.

While no indigenous languages in Canada are considered safe, it is important to state that language vitality across first nations, Inuit and Métis varies broadly. For example, among the Inuit, a higher percentage of seniors also reported having lnuktitut as their mother tongue, compared to younger generations. However, Inuit have the highest percentage of mother tongue speakers across all age groups, compared to first nations and Métis.

Less than 2% of the Métis population reported the ability to speak an indigenous language. A higher percentage of Métis seniors reported an aboriginal mother tongue and the ability to speak an aboriginal language, compared with their younger counterparts.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report stated that communities and educational institutions should be prepared to draw on valuable resources from indigenous communities to facilitate the teaching and transmission of indigenous languages.

This is not to say that indigenous languages are completely gone when there are no speakers left. Languages can be revived through the efforts of documentation and archiving. Even in this case, elders will be the most valuable asset to help build resources for their languages for generations to come.

There is also Bert Crowfoot of the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society, who saw the importance of preserving language 36 years ago when he made the decision to safeguard audio and film content on old reel-to-reel tapes, VCR cassettes and old 16-millimetre film and floppy discs that contain storytelling, interviews and music in the Cree language. Today he is helping to direct a project called Digitizing the Ancestors to create a searchable digitized archive. It will be a resource to help future generations to learn Cree by hearing voices from the past.

Young people, too, are working hard to reclaim and revitalize language and culture. Jeremy Dutcher, a classically trained artist from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, recently won the 2008 Polaris Music Prize and the 2019 Juno Award for indigenous music album of the year. Jeremy's album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, features traditional Maliseet songs, recorded a century ago, obtained from the Canadian Museum of History.

The First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres reiterated the importance of elders in their indigenous languages legislation engagement report, stating that elders guide their work and support their community base and national role as language advocates and language experts.

I am proud to share two examples of reclamation action that are close to my heart.

The Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute at the University of Alberta aims to stop language extinction through cultural education and expression. This exchange, in turn, often addresses historical traumas, mental and physical health, and both social and academic struggles for indigenous youth as they learn intimately about their history and traditional culture, sometimes for the first time.

In addition, the Royal Alberta Museum in downtown Edmonton, which is dedicated to preserving Alberta's rich history, proudly displays many of its exhibits in several indigenous languages, including Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Nakota and Michif. Further indigenous stories are interwoven throughout all six human history galleries, and this lets all Canadians learn about deep-rooted history and tradition from Alberta and across Canada.

Today on CBC, I learned that an enterprising music group from Cape Breton took Paul McCartney's song, Blackbird, and is now able to sing it in Mi'kmaq.

This bill would allow for the flexibility required to support the various states of language vitality. In some situations, that may mean supporting elders' participation in language planning, activities and programming. In other situations, enhancing access and an opportunity for elders to learn their language from their cohorts is equally important. This is based on the concept that language revitalization should be multi-faceted, meaning that it may involve more than one approach to address various segments of the community, ranging from early learning to adult immersion.

In closing, I will state that every year, sadly, indigenous communities lose more elders. It is time to act. I envision a near future in which indigenous and non-indigenous people, young and less young, can have the opportunity to learn, explore, promote and protect the languages of the ancestral peoples of this land. Our commitment to reconciliation and our fundamental values of fairness and inclusion demand nothing less of us than to pass and implement the indigenous languages act.

I remember chatting with my great-grandmother, Lucy Brown Eyes, when I was about five. She would have been about 88. She said, “These hands used to skin hides. Now they make apple pies. Some day the land will return to us, and with it, all of our languages.”

We owe it to indigenous peoples and all Canadians to get this right.

Indigenous Languages Act May 2nd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, this is a major milestone in our journey of reconciliation.

I am a proud Franco-Albertan, and over the years, I have even learned to speak Spanish.

The dynamic and growing francophone, Francophile and franco-curious community of Edmonton, Alberta, centred around Campus Saint-Jean and La Cité Francophone, fundamentally changed my life. I am here as the member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre in large part due to my ability to live and love both of Canada's official languages.

What members may not know is that despite my French last name, I grew up in a predominantly English-speaking household.

I spoke French with my grandma and grandpa, and with my aunts and uncles too.

However, at home, we spoke English.

As a 15-year-old student, I applied for and was honoured to be chosen to attend the Forum for Young Canadians in Ottawa. My then 15-year-old self was struck by the fact I could not communicate with fully 40% of the delegates, interesting and dynamic students from Quebec and New Brunswick. They assumed, by hearing my last name, that I could speak French.

Indigenous Languages Act May 2nd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, miyotôtâkewin tatawaw. That is Cree for “Guests, you're welcome, there's room here”. If my great-grandmother Lucy Brown Eyes, a full-blooded Cree woman, had been able to be elected to this place, she may well have extended the same greeting in the House from the peoples of Treaty 6.

In keeping with indigenous tradition, I would like to acknowledge that we are on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin Anishinabeg. It is a great honour to be here today to rise in support of Bill C-91, an act respecting indigenous languages.

Along the way, we as Canadians forgot the welcome and partnership that indigenous peoples offered to original European settlers. A colonial and superior mindset began to dominate the land and, over time, misguided and discriminatory policies served to turn indigenous peoples into the other.

The official government plan was to assimilate indigenous peoples. Reservations, residential schools, stripping children and elders of their language and separating families became the norm. Intergenerational cycles of grief, trauma, substance abuse, suicide, missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and societal marginalization ensued.

In the 1990s, Canada paused and held the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. I spoke with one of my mentors, who was a commissioner of that very royal commission, Dr. Peter Meekison, just last night. Despite many clear recommendations to improve the lives of aboriginal peoples, successive governments were slow to act.

As part of the 2007 Indian residential school settlement, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to listen to survivors and make recommendations to the government and Canadians. The commission met until 2015. I remember the last public meetings, which took place in 2015 in Edmonton. I was moved then and I remain moved today.

The work of the TRC informed this government on our steadfast commitment to reconciliation. Signing on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ending boil water advisories on reserve, empowering indigenous families to keep their children in their care, closing the gap on education funding and implementing Jordan's principle are but a few examples of our commitments.

With the indigenous languages act we are debating today, we are responding, in consultation with indigenous peoples, to calls to action 13, 14 and 15 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Transgender Day of Visibility April 1st, 2019

Mr. Speaker, this past Sunday marked International Transgender Day of Visibility. March 31 is an important day to celebrate transgender people and to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide.

Trans individuals come from all walks of life. We must end the discrimination they face every day. Recognizing and celebrating this tremendous community does not begin or end with one day. As Canadians, we must challenge those who continue to oppress and discriminate against our fellow citizens. Diversity is our strength. We must treat each other with the compassion and respect we all deserve.

International Transgender Day of Visibility gives voice to those who have been forgotten or left behind. My hope is that we all take the time to reflect and think of the diverse experiences faced by our fellow Canadians every day. To trans Canadians and friends, we are and will always be their allies.

International Day of La Francophonie March 20th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, today is the International Day of La Francophonie, a day to celebrate the vitality of the world's francophone community. In Alberta, that community is alive and well. The Franco-Albertan community, like many others, is thriving and growing every year.

Our investments are making a difference. Over 30% of children in Alberta are now registered in French-language programs. Thanks to the strength of francophone organizations in Alberta, such as Radio-Canada, the Cité francophone and the Regroupement artistique francophone de l'Alberta, more Albertans can live in French every day.

Our francophone community is at the heart of our identity, and our investment in that community will continue to attract francophone immigrants to Canada.

As a proud Franco-Albertan, here is what I have to say to all those who are watching at home: Whether you are francophone, francophile, “franco-curious” or “franco-queer”, the francophonie and the International Day of La Francophonie are for you.”

Infrastructure February 6th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, our government came to office with a commitment to invest in infrastructure across Canada, including my home province of Alberta and my hometown of Edmonton. Since taking office, we have been doing just that.

After a decade of inaction from the Harper government, we have been making the much-needed investments in transit, recreational infrastructure, water systems, cultural spaces and more that Edmontonians deserve.

Could the Prime Minister please update the House on the investments our government has made to support Alberta's communities and those infrastructure investments in the city of Edmonton?

Black History Month January 31st, 2019

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow is the first day of Black History Month.

It is a time to reflect on the remarkable contributions made by black Canadians to our country, a time to learn from their diverse lived experiences and to share their stories.

The Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots in Edmonton has done award-winning work in bringing some of these stories to life. With funding from the Alberta Human Rights Commission, its documentary titled The Roots explores the lasting legacy of black settlers who fled racism in the United States to settle in the Prairies.

This project has helped researchers to discover an entirely new scholarly body of research that sheds light on this important community in Alberta and across the Prairies.

On Monday, the Shiloh Centre was awarded the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Community Programming. May this project inspire us all to be vigilant in our efforts to end discrimination against black Canadians once and for all.