Alistair spoke about funding for first nations children in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the parliamentary secretary's passion for this particular issue.

I just wanted to bring light to the fact that the Liberal plan in the last election relied on $1.7 billion of pre-existing funding over the 2016-17 period to the 2019-20 period, despite no existence of that funding in three primary sets of government fiscal documents; that is, the main estimates, public accounts, and the reports on plans and priorities.

The government only has so much time left in which it can keep on blaming these problems on the previous Conservative government. It has now been in power for a year. It is time to step up to the plate.

With that in mind, I would like to get the parliamentary secretary's reactions to, first, the unanimous adoption of the motion by the Manitoba legislature yesterday, which identified that the funding gap still exists.

We have a full legislature voting on this. Second, I would also like to know whether she will be voting in favour of our motion. I would like to have a clear and definitive answer because sometimes there is a very long gap between Liberal promises and actions.



October 27th, 3:50 p.m.

Mr. Speaker, following my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, I wish I could say it is a pleasure to be rising in the House today, but frankly speaking, it is not.

We are speaking today to the motion brought forward by my courageous friend and colleague from Timmins—James Bay, who has done so much for first nations in his riding and in Canada. It was seconded by the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

It is 2016, and here we are still talking about this issue. The 149-year relationship between Canada's federal government and first nations is filled with reneged commitments, unfilled obligations, and broken promises.

We know that first nations children on reserve get less funding for child welfare services than other children, despite the fact that they have higher needs, which results in more of them being placed in state care today than at the height of the residential schools era. We know that this hardship is compounded by inequalities in other federally funded services, such as child and maternal health, early childhood programs, education, health, water, and sanitation. We know this leaves first nations children at higher risk for health and education problems, such as suicide and dropping out.

Let us talk about a solemn promise. Shortly after the October 19, 2015, election the Prime Minister promised to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. Child welfare equity is the number one call to action, and number three is full implementation of Jordan's principle to ensure first nations children can access government services on the same terms as other children. These are among the easiest of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. They are backed by solid solutions from the Auditor General and joint first nations and government reports going back two decades.

In January 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the federal government's inequitable provision of child welfare services and a failure to properly implement Jordan's principle were racially discriminatory against 163,000 first nations children. I salute the hard work of people like Cindy Blackstock and the Assembly of First Nations, who have worked for almost a decade on this file. A historic ruling was handed down this January, and the government must respect it in this House.

The tribunal found that there was sufficient evidence to establish a case of discrimination, that first nations children and families living on reserve are denied equal child and family services, and that there was a narrow definition and very inadequate implementation of Jordan's principle, resulting in service gaps, delays, and denials for first nations children.

The Liberals did not appeal this decision, and thus they have accepted the tribunal's ruling.

The problem is that the government has not met its obligations to these children as laid out by that tribunal. There have been now two compliance orders from the court because the government refuses to meet its legal and moral obligations to first nations children. I do not care what the government's plans are. It has been found in contempt of the tribunal's ruling and that is what matters, the rule of law.

This is not some kind of vindictive attack on the government, and I do know that Liberal members of Parliament feel just as passionately about this issue as I do, but it is time to bring the gap between what was promised and actions together. That is what we are talking about. Action must be taken and an immediate injection to close the funding shortfall in child welfare services must be found. It also, I acknowledge, must go hand in hand with the long-term reform of the system that caused this mess.

I was very honoured to work with the former member of Parliament, Jean Crowder, when she brought in Jordan's principle in 2007, and I want to bring it to the attention of this House that on December 12, 2007, this House of Commons passed that motion with 262 yeas and zero nays. It was absolutely unanimous. It was a proud day for this country. I truly thought that after that day we would not have need for debates like this, and yet here we are.

It is 2016, and we are still talking about it.

I know the Liberal government regularly defends its position by pointing out the $684 million it has set aside over five years. However, the Liberals regularly fail to mention the fact that over half of that money will not come until the year of the next federal election in 2019 or the year after.

That is a very long time for children in crisis to wait. The budget shortfall has been identified as $216 million by Cindy Blackstock. The Liberals only proposed $71 million, which is $155 million less than what is needed. It is not an arbitrary number, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs has stated in this House. We are not making up this number.

There has been an admission by the government that the budget response was developed by the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper, again part of that real change that was promised. This shows that the government had not even seen the decision in January before it went ahead with the response, which was totally inadequate.

While on the topic of the budget, I would like to point out the following fact. Governing is about making priorities and decisions, and the Liberal members of Parliament in this House decided to give themselves a $670 tax break costing $1.2 billion to our treasury; and the Liberals are arguing over $155 million for first nations children. If that does not get people angry, I do not know what does.

Discrimination against indigenous children and peoples is one of the oldest and greatest shames of our history. The Manitoba legislature, just yesterday, passed a unanimous motion that outlined the situation. It should be noted that the member for Winnipeg North has a personal familial connection to that. His daughter was part of that unanimous decision in that legislature. Some of the highlights of the motion's points include that first nations education is underfunded, with 30% less money spent on each indigenous student than the national average; there has been a 2% cap to funding increases to social services on reserve since the Liberal government of 1996, which has entirely failed to keep up with the growing indigenous population; and many health care services are routinely denied to first nations people, when they would otherwise be covered.

The fact is that the Liberals are not living up to their word. The Prime Minister has stated that no relationship is more important to him and to Canada than the one with indigenous children. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister's government is fighting families in court to deny care. As a standard government practice, children are still being denied critical medical procedures, and we have so many examples, far more than we can count. I know the member for Timmins—James Bay regularly brings them up in this House. The Prime Minister is still taking advice from those who were in Stephen Harper's government who led the fight against first nations children receiving care.

In my concluding remarks, I will say that the Liberals often try to shift the attention of caring Canadians to their first steps in "historic investments", and they regularly excuse their non-compliance with the excuse that they just cannot change things overnight. Did Canada fail to meet its obligation when it brought in 30,000 Syrians? No, we stepped up to the plate then. We have stepped up to the plate regularly in this country when the time has called for action, and there is absolutely no excuse for the government not to do so now.

As I look at the motion that has been brought forward by our party, I plead with Liberal members of Parliament. I plead with the government to join us in this House and make this a unanimous motion. Let us close the funding gap. Let us fully implement Jordan's principle. Let us fully comply with all the orders of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Let us stop fighting indigenous families in court. I ask the government to please make public all of the documents related to the overhaul of child welfare and the implementation of Jordan's principle.

Let us get the job done this time. This is our moment in history to repair our relationship with first nations people.


October 27th, 4 p.m.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the parliamentary secretary that the Liberal platform, as it showed earlier this year, had a $1.7 billion funding gap announced, because it was relying on what they thought was pre-existing funding that they supposed existed from 2016 to 2019-2020. The problem is that there was no existence of this funding in three primary sets of government financial documentation. It was not in existence in the main estimates, the public accounts, or the reports on plans and priorities.

Therefore, if we want to talk about facts and gaps, the Liberals are very clever at moving the numbers around and making it seem as if what they have promised is going to fix everything, but when we get to the real action, it is all hat and no cattle.


October 27th, 4:05 p.m.

Mr. Speaker, I alluded to some of that during the course of my speech. I pointed out the fact that all the Liberal members of Parliament in the House voted to give themselves a $670 tax credit, which applied to people making between $89,000 and $200,000 a year, and that is going to come at a budget shortfall of $1.2 billion. Yet, we cannot address the funding shortfall for first nation kids, which has been identified as $155 million in this year alone. How much longer will our country have to go through with this kind of continued relationship with first nations?

As my colleague for Vancouver Kingsway has pointed out, we need to look at the recommendations that were put forward in the tribunal. We need to close the very clear, black-and-white, identified funding gap and finally get onto the right promise. For far too long, successive federal governments have been making promises and not living up to them.

As my friend from Skeena—Bulkley Valley so adroitly pointed out, first nations are now getting in on this game. They know exactly what to expect, and that is a sad fact of the state of affairs of our nation.