THUNDER BAY – The lead question in the House of Commons on Wednesday was on the conditions in Attawapiskat. There were two points made in the exchanges. First Prime Minister Harper repeated the concerns that the government is concerned that money spent in Attawapiskat has not produced the results the government feels should have been produced. Second was the statement by Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan that Attawapiskat is being put under third party management to control all federal funds in the community.
That move will take financial control out of the hands of the Chief and Council of Attawapiskat. The announcement led to frustration and anger expressed across the floor of the House of Commons in both directions.
The New Democrats are asking the Prime Minister to go to Attawapiskat to see for himself the conditions. The Prime Minister is standing on the financial management issue as a major concern. The Liberals were after the Conservative leader over the cancellation of the Kelowna Accord when they first came to power.
What continues to appear to be missed here is that there is a crisis ongoing right now. The bickering, finger pointing and political posturing is slowing down the process of helping in the community.
Perhaps what is needed is for the Prime Minister, Aboriginal leaders, like Shawn Atleo the Assembly of First Nations Chief, the leaders of the NDP, and the Liberal Party, former Prime Minister Paul Martin and Jean Chretien all to visit Attawapiskat together. Now is the time for all the politicians to come together, along with all Canadians to see that situations like this, in Attawapiskat are not part of what we want in our Canada.
It isn’t a matter of Conservative, New Democrat, or Liberal values, it is a matter of Canadian values.
The situation in Attawapiskat, and other First Nations communities in difficulties are not going to be solved simply with money. Part of the goal must be fixing what has become a problem that never seems to end.
The questions start at about the 17 minute point of this video.
Mrs. Nycole Turmel (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I was in Attawapiskat yesterday, and I want to tell the Prime Minister about the situation in that community. It is terrible, unimaginable, worse than anything we could imagine. People are living in shacks, tents and trailers. There is no running water, no heating. The little heat they do have could turn their shelters into fire traps. They are sleeping on mouldy mattresses and their children are living outdoors. What will the Prime Minister do? Will he show some leadership and go to visit these people?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday, the government has invested more than $90 million in this community and these results are unacceptable. That is why we are taking immediate action to help these people who are in need of immediate assistance. The government will also take action to improve the long-term management in the community. The minister will make an announcement about that later.
Mrs. Nycole Turmel (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I agree with the Prime Minister that we cannot just throw money at Attawapiskat and think that all its problems will be solved. It is true that this requires a short-, medium- and long-term plan. It takes political will, which we have not seen in the past 10 years. What is the Prime Minister waiting for? Where is his leadership?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is the government that is taking action and the opposition that is voting against investments in this community. I will say it again: this government has invested more than $90 million. The results are unacceptable, and we will take other steps to obtain better results.
Mrs. Nycole Turmel (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has to take responsibility. He has to take charge. It is his duty to help the people of Attawapiskat, an entire Canadian community living in third world conditions in the Arctic cold. It is minus 22°C today. That is what we see right now.
The Prime Minister should go there and see for himself. He should sleep in a shack in a sleeping bag. He would see that the sleeping bags provided by the Red Cross are not the solution. We need better. Winter is coming. Where is the action? Where is the leadership?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, this government has invested more than $90 million in this community since coming to office. Obviously the results are not satisfactory. That is why the government has people on the ground taking additional emergency action. It is also why we will be announcing additional steps to deal with management problems in this community.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP): Mr. Speaker, a state of emergency was declared in Attawapiskat a month ago. The situation is very serious. The Red Cross disaster relief team is on the ground now. But we want to know where the federal government’s plan is. The government must work with the community to find a long-term solution.
Will the government declare a state of emergency and assist the people in distress in Attawapiskat?
Hon. John Duncan (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we are continuing to work with the province and the community to implement the emergency management plan to ensure the residents have access to warm, dry and safe shelter.
On the ground assessment has determined that urgent health and safety issues demand immediate action. Therefore, we have informed Chief Spence that we are placing the first nation in third party management. I have also requested a comprehensive audit to identify how money has been spent and what oversight measures have been taken over the past five years.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP): Mr. Speaker, Attawapiskat is ground zero of a national catastrophe, and after a month of inaction when the Red Cross has had to step in, when emergency measures have had to step in, the Conservatives’ solution is to blame the community. If they wanted to know what was happening in the community, they could have called their co-manager who is on the ground right now and with whom I spoke yesterday.
When the Red River floods, people show up. When Slave Lake burned, politicians showed up. Why are the people of Attawapiskat treated so differently? Why is it that when it is a first nation community in distress, the government’s response is contempt?
Hon. John Duncan (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our priority is ensuring that people in immediate need get adequate shelter as quickly as possible. We are also looking at ways to ensure this situation does not happen again.
We agree that we cannot have band-aid solutions. There are larger structural issues that need to be addressed. We will provide short and longer-term ways to address these concerns.
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the government that should be placed under third party management is right across the way. It is right over there. That is what should be under third party management.
It is a classic case. There are dozens of Attawapiskats right across the country. It is not the only community that is facing these conditions and these difficulties. In her last report, the Auditor General of Canada said that the aboriginal people of our country were living in intolerable conditions.
It is the government that has to take responsibility for what has happened and not simply continue to blame the victims. The government is all hat and no cattle when it comes to—
The Speaker: The right hon. Prime Minister.
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as I have said repeatedly, this government has made large scale investments into this community, unlike the party opposite when it was in government. This government is determined and is prepared to take the steps necessary to ensure results with those funds.
By the way, that is why the people of Canada placed the Liberal Party under third party management.
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we can see how seriously the Prime Minister takes this problem. He is still doing the same thing he did yesterday: investments in health and education are included in the $90 million he is still talking about today. The Auditor General clearly said that the federal government is responsible for the problems with living conditions in Attawapiskat and in all the other communities struggling with the same problems. It must take responsibility.
When will the government take responsibility and resolve these problems?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is unbelievable to hear the Liberal Party criticize this government for investing in education, health and housing in this community. Those are our responsibilities. Education is the most important thing for the future of people in that community, and we will continue to make such investments.
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, one of the government’s first decisions was to cancel a $5 billion agreement that was negotiated for over a year between the provinces and the federal government, known as the Kelowna accord. It was booked in the financial details of the company—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
The Speaker: Order, please. The hon. member for Toronto-Centre has the floor.
Hon. Bob Rae: Mr. Speaker, so much for decorum. We know where decorum normally lies in the House. Those guys are prepared to heckle, intimidate, clap and stop others from talking. That is the way they manage.
That is why if there is a trusteeship to be established, it should be a trusteeship on the government. It is the one that failed to take responsibility. It is the one that is failing to take charge. That is where the problem lies.
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party’s idea of acting when it was in government, after 13 years, was putting out a press release without a plan. That is what we got from the Liberal Party. This government has put $90 million into this community. On behalf of all Canadians and the ordinary members of that first nation, this government is prepared to do what the others were not prepared to do, and that is to ensure there is good management in these communities.