Presentation to the Aboriginal Affairs Committee

Speaking notes for the Right Honourable Paul Martin P.C., M.P. | Ottawa, Ontario | November 9, 2006

Right Hon. Paul Martin (LaSalle—Émard, Lib.): First of all Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you and the other members of the committee for having invited me in connection with the review of Bill C-292.

Mr. Chair, I want to thank you for the opportunity you're providing Mr. Goodale, Mr. Scott and me to speak to you as you commence consideration of Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord.

What is the accord about? First and foremost, it's about reducing the shameful gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, gaps that exist no matter where they reside, gaps in health, in education, in housing, in clean water and economic opportunity.

It's about working better. It's about governments and aboriginal leaders, working in partnership and in collaboration, finding new, innovative solutions, holding ourselves accountable by setting targets and by reporting on results.

Each of the policy areas agreed upon in Kelowna was subject to careful cabinet consideration. They were fully costed and built into the fiscal framework. I want to state without any equivocation—and I'm sure the former Minister of Finance who was with me will confirm this—that the $5.1 billion committed to in Kelowna was fully within the fiscal framework. Any suggestion that we had not accounted for these expenditures is without foundation.

The Kelowna Accord was what triggered a specific commitment: over a 10-year period, to take steps to reduce an unacceptable socioeconomic divide.

The accord commits the government authorities, whether federal, provincial or territorial, to develop implementation plans and to set objectives for each of the provinces and territories, working together with the appropriate Aboriginal authorities in each province and territory.

Mr. Scott and I, for example, following Kelowna, were able to conclude with the Government of British Columbia and the British Columbia first nations leadership the Transformative Change Accord, which is a focused action plan that sets out specific shared goals and the steps to achieve them, all in the areas, as I've mentioned, of education, clean water, health, housing, and economic opportunities. This was the first of what would have been action plans in each part of the country to allow us to tailor approaches to the unique circumstances of aboriginal Canadians in each province or territory.

Mr. Chairman, the question really is partnership and collaboration, innovative solutions, hard targets, and reporting on results. Why does anybody want to shy away from this? Why would anybody object to hard targets, to all of the governments coming together to deal with the very issues that are at the foundation of the shameful poverty in which aboriginal Canadians find themselves?

On September 12, 2004, first ministers and national aboriginal leaders met to address important aboriginal health issues. At that meeting we made a federal investment of $700 million in the aboriginal health blueprint. This was to help build modern, integrated health services for first nations and other aboriginal Canadians, and to train aboriginal health professionals to work in nursing and in medicine.

At that time, the first ministers and aboriginal leaders agreed that there should be a first ministers meeting directed at the root causes of aboriginal poverty. This was the beginning of a journey that 14 months later led us to our destination—the meeting held in Kelowna, British Columbia.

Those short months allowed all governments and each of the aboriginal organizations to consult academics, community professionals, and experts. Those months allowed all of the aboriginal leadership gathered under the various organizations to ensure that all who were present were equipped with the best solutions, both in and out of the box, going into the meeting.

As first ministers, we were determined in Kelowna, Mr. Chairman, to develop better harmonization of programs and services, recognizing the central role of aboriginal governments and service providers in this whole area and seeking to end the jurisdictional turnstile that limits program efficiency and effectiveness.

For instance, the aboriginal health blueprint was designed to ensure for the first time that we had a seamless harmonization of our health delivery systems for aboriginal Canadians in every province and territory. Officials and ministers worked to ensure that the issues of aboriginal women were front and centre, and we committed at Kelowna to hold an aboriginal women's summit to move forward on issues too long ignored. That summit should have been held by now.

We worked to ensure that no longer was the Métis nation excluded from intergovernmental processes and that all governments were committed to ensuring Métis-specific adaptation of programs and services. We worked hard to ensure programs for the Inuit that were tailored to work in the unique conditions of northern Canada, and we worked to ensure that for the first time ever, federal funding was available to assist provinces and territories in adapting approaches to serve the very pressing needs of the growing urban aboriginal population in very significant ways.

All of the governments agreed that education was essential for any progress to be made, and that it was the key factor in improving the economic status of Aboriginal Canadians, and for providing them with better employment prospects, for giving them the means to exploit economic opportunities, and in general improve their health and living conditions.

We agreed under the Kelowna Accord to establish a regional school system for the first nations and to provide them the support they desire in addition to the legal authority needed to implement modern institutional structures and to manage institutions responsibly so that young Aboriginal people can be provided with a quality education.

The provinces and territories committed to this and agreed to cooperate in setting up such a system, to ensure that it would mesh with the existing public education system and train future teachers and education professionals to work in these institutions under the authority of the first nations. They also made a commitment to take various measures to improve learning conditions for young Aboriginal people in the pubic education institutions that most of them attend.

These measures include the following: encouraging family participation in education; establishing local objectives about the number of young Aboriginal people completing Grade 12; facilitating the transition of public education systems to the new first nations education system and vice-versa; working together with Aboriginal educators and parents to meet the needs of children encountering learning difficulties and on curriculum development; lastly, and this is every bit as important, to increase the number of teachers and education professionals who are Aboriginal people and to increase the Aboriginal content of programs of study dispensed in each province and territory.

Mr. Chairman, I could speak to the other innovative aspects of the Kelowna accord. Undoubtedly, we will get into this in the discussion to follow. But given the time constraints, let me close by speaking to a very different area of importance. That is the agreement that all governments, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, are to hold themselves accountable to reporting publicly on progress.

Governments have never been short on rhetoric when it comes to the aboriginal file. Setting agreed-upon objectives, establishing regional targets, and public reporting were designed to ensure that all governments—aboriginal and non-aboriginal, federal, provincial, and territorial—were accountable for progress. In this way, the results, not rhetoric, become the objective. Despair would be replaced by hope as we move forward. We set ambitious targets to eliminate the gaps in educational achievement and housing and to make significant strides in health care and clean water. Mr. Chairman, these targets are fully achievable with the right innovation, investment, and partnership.

A new forum of federal, provincial, and territorial ministers, and aboriginal leaders would ensure progress and keep us on track. The accord specified this forum would meet annually and that it would be mandated to take corrective action. This forum, Mr. Chairman, should be meeting now. The days of empty promises were over, to be replaced by a focus on the results achieved and the successes won. What all of us believed is that we had to establish an accountability framework, and that the setting of goals, the reporting of data, and the court of public opinion would ensure that each government and each organization would challenge its respective officials and institutional partners to make progress. In that way, real results would benchmark the track that we were on, to share the best practices based on what each jurisdiction was doing better than another, to bring progress everywhere, and to ensure that no one was left behind.

Parliament and parliamentarians now have the opportunity to act. All the parties to the Kelowna accord—the aboriginal leadership; provincial and territorial governments, of all political stripes; and all opposition parties in the House—support the Kelowna accord. They support its goals and its principles.

Mr. Chairman, the Government of Canada gave its word in Kelowna. So let me just say that first ministers, aboriginal leaders, and Canadians across the country are watching us. I would encourage all members of this committee to support the speedy passage of Bill C-292.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.