THUNDER BAY – The lead questions from both the Official Opposition NDP and the third party, the Liberals were on the situation in Attawapiskat. The Conservatives remain steadfast in their assertion that the issue is about money and financial accountability, while the NDP and Liberals are saying it is a humanitarian crisis.
Here is the transcript from Hansard:
Mrs. Nycole Turmel (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister’s response to the crisis in Attawapiskat is shocking. What the people in that community need is heating, housing, homes and running water. But what does the Prime Minister do? He sends accountants and auditors.
Does the Prime Minister realize that the message he is sending by placing the community under third-party management is that, if people need help, they had better keep quiet about it or else they will be punished. That is his response.
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, on the contrary, the government actively responded to the community’s needs right away, and not just now. Over the past five years, the government has invested over $90 million in this community. However, clearly, a significant part of our responsibility involves ensuring that the people in these communities are receiving the full benefit of this funding.
Mrs. Nycole Turmel (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to see that the Prime Minister realizes that the community has needs, but he believes they are related to accounting and not to the current human crisis in the community.
People are living in tents, shacks and trailers. Young people have been without a school for 10 years.
On October 28, the council declared a state of emergency. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development admitted that he found out about that last Thursday. That is very interesting. It is also not surprising that he did not do anything.
How does the Prime Minister respond to that?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, once again, the department responded right away to the urgent needs. However, the community has many needs. More services are needed. The government has already invested a lot of money. There is a need for better management of public funds, and the government is going to take responsibility for ensuring that those needs are met.
Mrs. Nycole Turmel (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): Mr. Speaker, federal officials travelled to Attawapiskat at least 10 times this year. No red flags were raised. Why? We need an answer.
Does the Prime Minister want to talk about numbers? Outside of first nations, social spending in Canada is about $18,000 per year per person. According to his own numbers, federal spending in Attawapiskat per person per year is about half of this amount. How is that possible? Why is he blaming the community?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, unlike the NDP, which has voted against investments in this community and elsewhere, this government has made tens of millions of dollars of investments in this community, infrastructure investments of over $50,000 for every man, woman and child. It is obvious there continue to be needs.
The government is working to fulfill those needs, but they are twofold. There is a need, obviously, for more services and infrastructure. There is also clearly a need for better management. The government will ensure both of those things are dealt with.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP): Mr. Speaker, all across northern Canada are these isolated little Bantu-style homelands where people live on top of each other in mouldy shacks and where dying in slow motion is a way of life. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs was not aware of any of this. He told the committee yesterday that he first became aware of Attawapiskat’s cry for help on Thursday.
So now that he has deposed the elected council and blamed the community for years of chronic underfunding, where is his long-term plan to get this community out of this disgraceful level of poverty?
Hon. John Duncan (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council invoked a declaration of emergency on October 28.
On November 7 we got our first funding proposal from Attawapiskat First Nation.
On November 8 we approved $500,000 immediately to be used for some housing renovations. We responded quickly.
On Thursday, November 24, we got an emergency declaration from Attawapiskat and on Monday, November 28, my officials were in the community. That is why we appointed a third party manager.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP): Mr. Speaker, if he were a leader, he would be there.
I will tell him what the situation is on the ground. Beyond the tents, the unheated cabins, and the mouldy condemned homes, there are still 90 people living in a trailer that has no sprinkler water suppression and very few washrooms. Now that he has personally taken command of this community, what plan does he have to get those people into long-term housing? Does he have a plan or is this a desire to punish an impoverished little community for making him look bad?
Hon. John Duncan (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our priority is to address the urgent health and safety needs of the people of Attawapiskat. We informed the chief that the community will be placed in third party management to ensure that community needs are addressed.
We are working with the community and with the province of Ontario, through Emergency Management Ontario, to quickly implement the community’s existing emergency management plan to ensure that residents have access to warm, dry and safe shelter.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul’s, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, yesterday in committee I asked the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs when he first knew of the state of emergency in Attawapiskat. After a painful 20 second pause he answered, “Last week, about Thursday”. The first question on this issue in the House was a month ago. The minister’s answer was truly unbelievable.
When did the Prime Minister first know of this crisis and what is he doing about this incompetent minister?
Hon. John Duncan (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I just pointed out that on October 28, the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council invoked a state of emergency for three communities.
Nine or ten days later we received a request from Attawapiskat and we responded.
On November 24, last Thursday, we received an emergency measure from Attawapiskat.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul’s, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the minister really does not know what he is talking about. This is not an isolated incident. First nations communities across this country are in crisis. There are hundreds of communities without clean running water and safe housing.
The buck stops with the Prime Minister. When will he stop blaming others for this crisis and fix this Canadian tragedy?
Hon. John Duncan (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we understand that there are many challenges in first nations communities. We have spent in an unprecedented fashion on improving the lives of first nations across the country. We have spent more than any other government on basic infrastructure and housing. We have involved ourselves in improving child welfare and the education file, and we will continue to do those things.