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A series of questions posed to Kenora riding candidates in the lead-up to the 2015 federal election
First Nations: From one end of the Kenora riding to another, Northwestern Ontario’s First Nations residents face disproportionately higher challenges in health, education, poverty and access to services than non-native constituents. If elected, what approach will you and your party take towards bridging that gap?
Answers presented in reverse alphabetical order by candidate’s surname
Greg Rickford: Conservative Party
Our Conservative Party has delivered record results for First Nations by targeting our investments based on the priorities put forward by the communities. Over the course of my professional career, I have had the opportunity to work with and for First Nations communities across Northwestern Ontario as a nurse, lawyer, Member of Parliament, and cabinet minister, in the process forging solid partnerships and friendships with many First Nations communities and their members.
I have focused my efforts on working with First Nations to improve their quality of life through funding for education, training for adults, law enforcement capacity, water and wastewater treatment training and infrastructure, and alternative energy solutions.
I know that a good education is key to positioning First Nation students to be full participants in a strong local economy. We have taken steps to improve on-reserve learning environments and, in turn, to improve educational outcomes. In the seven years since I was elected MP, I have worked with partners to build seven new schools in seven communities, as well as investing in repairs and improvements in several other schools.
This has translated into more capacity for skills development and training in high-demand sectors of the local economy. Our investment in the Seven Generations Education Institute helped establish a foundational post-secondary education program based in Kenora that is providing First Nations students with the skills they need for jobs in the region, primarily in the service industry and the mining sector.
Having spent eight years living and working in isolated and remote First Nations communities, I am particularly proud of our support for post-secondary opportunities directly on-reserve. This includes launching an advanced training program in Pikangikum that is addressing preparedness issues, providing professional training and getting First Nations people jobs in the forest sector.
Our Conservative plan is helping First Nations families make ends meet by introducing significant tax breaks to make important priorities like child care more affordable. By increasing the Universal Child Care Benefit, we are putting more money in the pockets of every single Canadian family with children. In contrast, the Liberals and NDP have promised to take more money from families with their reckless tax hikes.
More work remains to be done to address the challenges and opportunities facing First Nations communities. If re-elected, I will continue working to tackle these challenges through an open and transparent dialogue and engagement of the opportunities that exist to be partners with First Nations.
Bob Nault: Liberal Party of Canada
With 43 First Nation communities making up about 35% of the population of the Kenora riding, First Nations people are an important part of our region that face unique challenges on a day-to-day basis.
Over the Harper decade, First Nations people in our region have fallen further and further behind. Under the Conservative government, First Nations communities have seen little to no investment in local infrastructure projects, a chronic underfunding of their education systems, and a decline in quality access to health care services.
This is simply unacceptable.
Throughout my career I have been and remain committed to improving the lives of First Nations people in our region. I am proud that the Liberal Party platform is further evidence of our commitment to this cause. We have the most robust and detailed plan for real change for First Nations people and all Northerners.
Our plan to double infrastructure spending to $125 billion over the next decade will help to address much needed infrastructure projects that will help First Nation communities in our region. With this funding we can build roads and grids to our Northern communities to improve quality of life. We can repair, upgrade or build new water and wastewater facilities that are badly lacking in remote First Nation communities. We can work with First Nation communities on their local priorities such as affordable housing, or new nursing stations.
A Liberal government will ensure education and economic opportunity for First Nations, based on recognition and respect for Aboriginal and Treaty rights. Over the next four years, we will be investing $2.6 billion in core annual funding for kindergarten through Grade 12 education for First Nations students. We will also invest $500 million over the next three years for First Nations education infrastructure. That is a total of $3.1 billion into First Nations education over the next four years to help close the chronic funding gap.
A Liberal government is also committed to: lifting the 2% cap on funding for First Nations programs; providing funding to support the ability of Indigenous communities to promote, preserve, and enhance Indigenous languages and cultures and; immediately launching a national public inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Given that Indigenous people are one of the fastest growing segments of our population, First Nations families, in particular, will benefit from our major commitment to help all Canadian families called the Canada Child Benefit. Canadian families with a household income of $30,000 or less would receive up to $6,400 annually in tax-free, monthly benefits to help them raise their families. To find out how much your family would receive, visit www.liberal.ca/fairness.
Ember McKillop: Green Party of Canada
The Green Party, by far, takes the strongest stance when it comes to Aboriginal Policy. Immediately upon election, the Green Party would move to enact the tenets of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and recommit to the Kelowna Accord, including the funding deemed necessary to implement them. The accord, essentially brushed aside by the Conservative government, was established to “close the gap” in the standard of living between native and non-native Canadians. These gaps include that of health, mental health, housing, education, and economic opportunity.
The 2% funding cap on First Nations education will be removed, and $424 million pumped into the system to eliminate the program back log that puts aboriginal children at a disadvantage. Schools in the federal education system will be able to service the special education needs of their students’ more effectively, resource their classrooms, and retain staff better by being able to offer them a salary or wage comparable to their provincial counterparts.
The issues facing First Nations are the direct and indirect result of the Canadian government’s policies of assimilation that South Africa referred to as a model for apartheid. In consultation with First Nations, the Green Party aims to rewrite, if not all out abolish, the Indian Act and implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “These recommendations give us the means to work with aboriginal communities to begin to overcome the historical and ongoing injustices of brutal colonialism and cultural genocide. We can, and must, all take action to redress the legacy of residential schools.” (Elizabeth May, June, 2015).
Eliminating poverty and improving our health care system are key pillars of the Greens Party platform that will benefit all Canadians, but will certainly help to greatly improve the lives of Aboriginal Canadians both on and off reserve. The Guaranteed Livable Income program, available to all Canadians regardless of employability, age, background, or level of education, will ensure that all Canadians are able to put food on the table, retain adequate housing, clothe their children, and live without the fear of having funds rescinded. The focus of the Green Party plan on health care is on improving system efficiencies by creating a nation-wide patient database, increasing preventative health programs, and making sure access to health care and medications is universal.
Howard Hampton: New Democratic Party
Northwestern Ontario has huge mineral potential at a time when other resource rich areas of the world are risky or uncertain -e.g… unrest in Central Africa and widespread corruption in Russia. To develop our mineral resources properly requires working in respectful partnership with First Nations. First Nations near the mineral rich “Ring of Fire” want to see the project proceed but want a clear commitment that roads and electricity transmission lines to the project will also connect to their communities. First Nations near the “Ring of Fire” want their members to be trained and employed. First Nations in the region expect to be closely involved in the environmental assessment and permitting processes. First Nation want their rights and interests to be accommodated. These are all reasonable and rational positions to agree to, prior to the development of a $60 Billion project that can generate thousands of good jobs across our region.
While many mining companies have worked and are working in partnership with First Nations to create new projects, new jobs and new economic activity that benefit all of us-the Harper Conservatives have refused to come to the discussion table -and as a result have held up good projects that should go forward.
The Harper government’s inaction on the issues facing indigenous communities has earned Canada condemnation from the UN.
An NDP government will create a cabinet-level committee chaired by Tom Mulcair, as Prime Minister, to ensure that all government decisions respect treaty rights, inherent rights, and Canada’s international obligations.?
We will begin the work of closing the education funding gap to ensure every First Nation child gets the educational opportunities afforded to every other child in Canada. 74% of First Nations schools are in need of major repairs. This is unacceptable and must be reversed.
Canada’s NDP will work with First Nations to address water crisis on reserve with the goal of eliminating boil water advisories. With the drinking water systems of 39% of First Nations posing a “high risk” to health and safety, we will work towards the goal of having clean water in all Ontario First Nations. Bridging these gaps for First Nation residents will improve the lives of all Northerners.