On November 24-25, 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin is in Kelowna (British Columbia) for a First Ministers' Meeting with Premiers, Territorial Leaders and Leaders of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
In 2004-05, the Government of Canada spent about $1.1 billion on First Nations elementary/secondary education for approximately 120,000 students. These costs include:
Kelowna, B.C. — The federal government committed more than a billion dollars to native health issues Friday despite disagreement over who will provide the services and to which aboriginal groups.
The cash is part of a 10-year plan negotiated with the 13 provinces and territories and five national aboriginal organizations that pledges about $5.1-billion over the next five years to alleviate native poverty.
"I believe we have made an unprecedented step forward," said Prime Minister Paul Martin at a news conference that closed the two-day summit with premiers and native leaders.
"Aboriginal Canadians have no desire for more rhetoric. They have needs and those needs demand attention. It's as simple as that."
The final communiqué promises to:
— Close the educational gap so that by 2016, the high school graduation rate for aboriginal students is the same as other Canadians.
— Change housing policy to improve everything from access to emergency shelters to the ability of natives to own their own homes, while also providing better maintenance to existing housing stock.
— Spend $400-million to provide better water and regulate water quality on reserves.
— Reduce infant mortality rates, youth suicide, childhood obesity and diabetes by 20 per cent in the next five years and 50 per cent in 10 years.
— Double the number of health professionals by 2016.
— Improve training and skills development as part of a wider promise to give Aboriginal Peoples more economic opportunities.
— Establish a First Nations Multilateral Forum to continue regular discussions between Ottawa, the provinces and native groups on aboriginal issues.
But health service provision proved the sticking point, with the blueprint that was agreed to described in the final communiqué as "a work in progress."
While there was broad agreement on how to tackle the housing and education shortfalls, the provision of health services to reserve natives, Inuit scattered across the north, Métis and off-reserve First Nations in Canada's cities is proving a jurisdictional quagmire.
Officials held talks at this lake-side resort in the Okanagan Valley until early Friday morning without achieving a consensus.
Only British Columbia — which signed a separate, stand-alone deal with Ottawa and three provincial native groups here Friday — was confident enough to put in writing where the federal dollars will flow.
With Martin's minority government set to fall Monday, the $5.1-billion commitment is not guaranteed.
Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the high-profile summit cannot be ignored no matter which party wins the federal election.
"The country is watching us here," said Mr. Fontaine. "The commitments that are made are significant and it's going to be very, very difficult for any government to retreat from those commitments here."
But Mr. Fontaine also acknowledged some provinces remain skittish about elements of the program, particularly health provisions which both provincial premiers and native leaders fear could lead to Ottawa down-loading its historic responsibilities.
"It's important that in the next few months we resolve the issue of who's responsible for what matters," said Mr. Fontaine. "We believe we can achieve that."
The provinces manage health care services but the federal government is responsible for the health and welfare of Canada's native population — more than half of which lives off-reserve.
George Smitherman, Ontario's minister of health, said the health dollars will have to be negotiated on a province-by-province basis.
"No one should underestimate how challenging that negotiation is going to be," he said.
But Mr. Martin did manage to dodge at least one potential public relations disaster here by keeping all the participants at the table.
Beverly Jacobs, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, had been planning to walk away from the summit table on Friday morning to protest the lack of attention to violence against women in aboriginal negotiations.
But she said a promise from Mr. Martin had changed her mind.
"We had requested that there be a specific aboriginal women's summit, and the prime minister did agree to that (Thursday)," said Ms. Jacobs.
"So we'll be putting the pressure on to make sure that happens."
Ms. Jacobs said the association's ultimate goal is a national inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
She also left the meeting wondering what will be achieved on health care.
"I didn't see the final health blueprint document," said Ms. Jacobs.
"They keep saying it's a work in progress. How can we agree to a communiqué that there's really no final conclusions to anything. It's just sort of up in the air. That's my worry."
Address by Prime Minister Paul Martin at the First Ministers Meeting - November 24, 2005, Kelowna, British Columbia
Let me begin by thanking the elders, Chief Robert Louie and the Westbank First Nation for welcoming us to Kelowna.
I would also like to thank the other elders who are present, including Elder Elmer Courchene of Sagkeeng First Nation. Two years ago, Elder Courchene offered me and the federal cabinet a blessing when we took the oath of office. I’m glad to see him again.
I would like to thank the leadership of The Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council; the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Native Women’s Association of Canada for their commitment to working with each other and with us, as partners.
I want to acknowledge Minister Andy Scott, under whose leadership we’ve come so far. I want to thank Premier Ralph Klein, chair of the Council of the Federation, and each of the Premiers for demonstrating a willingness to look at how we’ve been doing things in the past and to help change them for the better.
In particular I would like to thank our host Premier Gordon Campbell who has worked tirelessly with all of us to ensure that we could come together as we do today, in a spirit of partnership and co-operation.
A year and a half ago, retracing steps from my youth, I travelled across Canada north of the 60th parallel, visiting communities in each of the three territories. Each stop was distinct – from Pond Inlet, to Tuktoyaktuk, to Watson Lake – every community was unique. But what became familiar to me was the welcome– the smiling faces of children in each community.
As we walked the streets of many of these communities a parade of children would join us, and in their eyes you could see the curiosity and the hopefulness that only the young bring to each day – indeed, as far as I could tell, they wanted to ask me everything and show me everything in existence.
Needless to say these were deeply encouraging encounters. But when I would sit down with their elders, they would describe a different world from the one I had seen. They would describe the life of a typical young adult in their community and the challenges that the children I had met would encounter as they grew older.
They would describe the high incidence of violence and abuse in the home; of disease and addiction, teen pregnancy and suicide. They would describe the difficulty of keeping their children in school, or how hard it was to send their children away for the rest of their education.
I share this only to illustrate what we all know to be true not only in the remote communities of the north, but on too many reserves and in too many cities –
that there is an unacceptable gap between the hopeful promise of youth and the experience of Aboriginal adulthood. A gap made even more unacceptable by the fact that aboriginal youth represent the largest segment of Canadian youth and the fastest growing. We face a moral imperative: In a country as wealthy as ours, a country that is the envy of the world, good health care and good education should be taken for granted; they are the tools leading to equality of opportunities – the foundation on which our society is built.
We are here today because the descendents of the people who first occupied this land must have an equal opportunity to work for and to enjoy the benefits of our collective prosperity. Today, the majority do not – because of gaps in education and skills, in health care and housing and because of limited opportunities for employment. Put simply, these gaps – between Aboriginal Canadians and other Canadians, and between Aboriginal men and women – are not acceptable in the 21st century. They never were acceptable. The gaps must be closed.
Over the next two days we will outline a clear plan to achieve our goal. To do that, all of us will have to work together. Our plan will have to recognize that conditions in the far north are different from those on reserve, that conditions on reserve are different from those in our cities. Our plan will have to recognize the very different issues facing First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation – and that the needs of Aboriginal women must not be forgotten.
The challenges we face require goals that are concrete, and achieving them requires that we measure our progress along the way. Coming into this meeting we have established a consensus with Aboriginal leadership that we should set a series of 10-year goals. But I would also suggest that we set interim targets as well, for five years from now, to ensure that we remain focussed and accountable. The challenges are urgent, and we can’t afford to let this opportunity slip away.
We must think in the long term but we must act now. Let me be clear about one other thing: If our methods aren’t producing results, we’ll have to change them.
What we seek to do will cost money. But money without an effective partnership, without innovative solutions, without clear targets and full accountability and transparency – will do nothing. We will not pursue that course.
All of us around this table must assume our share of the responsibility for the challenge we face. Quite simply we must, and will, do better. So let us agree today that we will break from the past and take a new approach, one that produces the results we seek with the accountability Canadians expect
Our first challenge is to close the gap in education. Giving young people the chance to realize their potential will be the foundation for everything else we do.
It means building schools, and upgrading the education of teachers. It means ensuring students graduate, but it also means that education doesn’t end at grade 12. It means opening up young eyes to post-secondary education in all its facets. It means skills training for better jobs. In all these cases it means helping to provide the tools to get there.
For the first time in Canada’s history, we are committing to developing a network of First Nations school systems, administered under First Nations jurisdiction, in co-operation with the provinces, which deliver education to Canadians. In public schools, in urban centers as well as the north, we will help ensure that First Nations, Inuit and Métis culture -- as the case may be -- is a vital presence in the curriculum, and we will work with the Provinces and Territories to develop Centers of Excellence for Inuit and Métis learning.
We’ll encourage young Aboriginal women and men to go to college and university with First Nation, Inuit and Métis bursaries. And we will work with our partners in the public and the private sectors to develop the apprenticeship programs needed to help Aboriginal Canadians compete for high-paying jobs.
Our goal is to close the high-school graduation gap completely within 10 years -- and to close the post-secondary gap by half, for both young men and women. In five years we will close both gaps by 20%. That means 22,000 more students will graduate from high school, and close to 15,000 more students will graduate from colleges or universities, or become trained as apprentices – with an additional 3,500 people taking part in literacy and other essential skills programs.
The second challenge is in health care. The gaps that persist between Aboriginal health and the health of most Canadians are unconscionable.
The incidence of infant mortality is almost 20% higher for First Nations than in the rest of Canada. Suicide can be anywhere from three to 11 times more common – particularly among Inuit – and teen pregnancies are nine times the national average.
It is evident these heart-breaking facts speak not just to health care. They speak to the psychic and emotional turmoil in communities that we must find ways, urgently, to address.
We started this effort just over a year ago, when Aboriginal leaders participated in the First Ministers Meeting on Health Care. There we recognized the need for a new health framework and we began work on an unprecedented document: the Aboriginal Health Blueprint, a comprehensive plan for the delivery of reliable health care in every Province and Territory – on reserve and off.
Aboriginal health is a national priority, but care must be local. It begins with health care professionals. We will aim to double the number of Aboriginal health professionals in ten years – from 150 physicians and 1,200 nurses today – and we will focus on core measures of health that we can monitor and improve upon in each community.
Based on available data, we have set goals with the co-operation of the Aboriginal leadership to reduce the gaps in key areas such as infant mortality, youth suicide, childhood obesity and diabetes – by 20% in five years, and 50% in 10. We acknowledge that more work is required to collect further data in these areas and have agreed to work with all of our partners to do this. That being said, this can only be a start. No-one will be satisfied until these gaps are closed completely.
These steps will take funding, and I fully recognize that the money we committed to Aboriginal health care last year has not flowed nearly quickly enough. In the future, it will.
The third challenge is to ensure the fundamentals of good housing and clean water.
Housing is about more than having a roof over your head – it’s about dignity; pride of place; a stake in the community and an investment in the future.
Over the years we have built and renovated tens of thousands of homes, and yet many thousands of Aboriginal people continue to suffer without adequate housing. We have to recognize at least two components of the current challenge – that in many communities housing is not available to those who need it most; and at the same time these communities often don’t have the capacity to build the units themselves.
We can reduce the housing gap significantly with a comprehensive effort: we will develop housing authorities and institutes, and expand the skills of First Nations, Inuit and Métis to manage their land, infrastructure and financing. We will encourage a culture of home ownership in Aboriginal communities and build a labour force to keep the construction jobs in the community.
I believe we can realistically close the housing gap on reserve by 40% within five years and by 80% in 10. Off reserve, we will seek to partner with the Provinces and Territories to reduce the gap by half in five years by providing access to housing for some 17,000 households. In the far north, we will close the housing gap by 35% within five years with more than 1,200 new units – and we’re committed to getting started immediately, in time for the coming construction season. Overall, it’s estimated our housing effort will generate more than 150,000 person years of employment – equivalent to some 15,000 jobs over the next 10 years.
We will take the same approach to clean drinking water. Bringing services and infrastructure to rural and remote communities is challenging, but it cannot become a barrier. We will act to regulate water quality on reserves. We will continue to build new facilities. And we’ll enhance the training of Aboriginal people to operate them.
Education, health, housing and water – these are the fundamentals. By promoting economic opportunity we will help communities truly flourish – with well-paying, reliable jobs and economies that work.
We recognize the obstacles facing rural and remote communities. To help overcome them, we will invest not only in education, but in skills training so that communities can serve their own needs – while opening doors outside of them.
We are committed to connecting our rural and remote communities to the world, and we will bring broadband Internet access to 250 more communities in the next five years. This is an initiative with far-reaching benefits – for the Internet is an unparalleled tool for long-distance learning and access to health care online.
Taking these steps will help us prepare for the next decade’s untold potential for economic expansion in Canada. The number of major projects listed or under development in the North is staggering, from diamond mines to oil and gas to the infrastructure needed to support them. The number of high-paying jobs and employment opportunities will be impressive, and Aboriginal Canadians must be a significant beneficiary. This can only be done if their training begins right away.
Even more to the point to enhance economic opportunity, Aboriginal Canadians need the power to chart their own future. We’ve already taken steps down this road with recent legislation that provides First Nations with the tools to raise capital for public works, to manage their own lands and resources, and to benefit from the jobs that come with all of this.
Considering all of these measures, I’m confident that in five years we can narrow the gap in median employment income by half.
What we have learned is that if we hope to achieve real change we can no longer work in isolation. All of the goals I have laid out, and the additional ones to be discussed over the next two days—all of these initiatives require a new partnership among us and a new relationship with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation – one based on mutual respect, responsibility and accountability.
We recognize the Treaty and Aboriginal Rights protected in our Constitution. This is the foundation for our relationship. With the goals we’re laying out we’re building on that foundation. Today we reaffirm our commitment to renewing our approach to implementing self-government and treaties, and to the resolution of Aboriginal rights to land and resources.
But Aboriginal leadership also has responsibilities to their people and to their partners and that includes everyone gathered at this table. The targets we set today cannot be lost in a communiqué. They must be tracked and measured constantly – and urgently. Just as the Federal Government has set targets for what we will achieve with our investments, so too must everyone involved in this process be accountable – throughout program design and service delivery.
That means Federal, provincial and territorial governments, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities as well. We need a commitment to openness, transparency and good governance – and that’s why I’m pleased by the proposal from the Assembly of First Nations to create offices for a First Nations Auditor General and an Ombudsman.
Canadians expect the most from us, and we will be judged based on what we deliver. So indeed I want to congratulate all of you for your leadership and for your commitment to building the capacity of Aboriginal organizations and communities to strengthen governance and accountability. We can’t move forward without it.
Canadians expect us to find solutions. That is why, together with Aboriginal leaders, we’re setting benchmarks, why we’re committing to measure our progress and to report on results. I applaud the commitment of every Province and Territory to do the same.
Not far from here, in Kamloops, nearly 100 years ago, the Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Couteau (or Thompson) Tribes delivered a letter to Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. In that letter they described the trust and the spirit of mutual respect that had shaped their first encounters with the people of Europe. That letter was a call from the heads of three nations to another, for a relationship to be set aright; for First Nations to be recognized in a young Canada as partners in its future.
Over the course of our history we have heard this call from all First Nations; from the Inuit and the Métis Nation. Yet for too long we have been only negotiators, sitting across the table from one another.
Today we sit down on the same side of the table, as partners. We have taken our rightful places. Now we must begin the hard work together.