Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development – Living Standards—Government Progress

Hon. Jim Munson: Madam leader, today is National Aboriginal Day. It is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and many First Nations, Inuit and Metis people are reflecting on the many challenges, past and present. I know I have been on to this for a great deal of time. You have answered me, but I do not think satisfactorily. I cannot stay silent on this issue.

This week, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released more reports highlighting some sobering statistics. Aboriginal people in this country — and it bears repeating on National Aboriginal Day — “have lower median after-tax income; are more likely to collect Employment Insurance and social assistance; are more likely to experience emotional, physical and sexual abuse; are more likely to be victims of violent crimes; and are more likely to be incarcerated and less likely to be granted parole.”

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ report focused on indigenous children in this country and found that “indigenous children in this country are over two and a half times more likely to live in poverty than non-indigenous children.” These statistics are alarming. The report states that: “Indigenous children trail the rest of Canada’s children on practically every measure of well- being: family income, educational attainment, crowding and homelessness, poor water quality, infant mortality, health and suicide.”

Madam Leader, on this special day, I would like to ask this: What are your thoughts about these staggering statistics and the crisis that continues to grip Aboriginal communities across the country?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, obviously the government and all of us are well aware of the challenges that have been facing First Nations communities for many years. We also know that education is key to ensuring First Nations can take advantage of opportunities that Canada has to offer. That is why we signed an education agreement to benefit thousands of First Nations people recently in Ontario. Then in Saskatchewan, Minister Valcourt announced the details of the actions we are taking to equip First Nations youth with personalized job skills training and career coaching for real jobs that are in demand.

Obviously, in order to lift people out of this current abysmal situation, it is important to create a climate where they can actually have the education and skills to work. We will also provide these youth with all of the job supports they need. Of course, this news was welcomed by Aboriginal leaders and, most important, by Aboriginal youth, who want to secure a job and achieve success.

I wish to point out, Senator Munson, that this budget before us, Budget 2013, includes investments to continue addressing claims; makes significant investments in infrastructure; expands the First Nations land management regime; supports the family violence prevention program; and designates new resources for scholarships and bursaries to First Nations and Inuit students.

Obviously, the situation and the reports of various organizations are very disturbing. Having said that, this government and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development have taken all of these issues very seriously; we have the record to prove it. There is a lot to do, but I believe that, working with our First Nations leaders across the country and with the government, real positive change can be effected. Again, this goes back to proper education and making sure that Aboriginal Canadians have the same opportunities as other Canadians.