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the Honourable Chuck Strahl, PC, MP Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians
Halifax, Nova Scotia
November 1, 2007
Check against delivery
Thank you for inviting me to join you this evening. I welcome this opportunity to share the stage with one of the country’s most impressive young Aboriginal leaders and to meet with members of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples from across the country.
I made it a priority to be here tonight - to get to know you and your issues better. It is my intention to build on the successful partnership that was formed between Chief Brazeau and my predecessor, Minister Prentice. I am committed to strengthening the relationship between your organization and our Government.
And there is ample evidence of this strengthened relationship:
I look forward to a similar growth in activity at the regional level as you engage the Provinces to improve local living conditions and create new opportunities. I know that many of you here tonight have been involved for years in building sectoral agreements with provincial ministries and that the Congress is currently putting in place tools to facilitate this dialogue. I can assure you that my officials at the Office of the Federal Interlocutor will support your efforts to produce concrete results.
Prime Minister Harper has been unequivocal in his support. We will build on this now strong foundation - our Government will deliver on its commitments to your members. We must and will find new and better ways of doing business with Aboriginal people in Canada. We are indeed determined to improve the living conditions and educational and economic opportunities of all Aboriginal people.
We have already made promising progress, for instance:
We are equally committed to cultivating productive partnerships and sustaining a strong dialogue on issues that matter to your members.
One of the most important topics the Congress has brought to our Government’s attention is the need to reintroduce legislation to ensure First Nations individuals have access to the same human rights protections as all other Canadians.
You called for action - and we are delivering, as the recent Speech from the Throne makes clear. We will introduce legislation to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prevents people living or working on reserves from making complaints of discrimination based on actions or decisions arising from the Indian Act. Ensuring Canada’s human rights laws protect First Nations individuals is an essential step to empower Aboriginal people, especially women. It is part of our Government’s plan to partner with organizations like the Congress to effect the changes that will transform the lives of Aboriginal people from dependence to self-reliance.
Aboriginal people will also benefit from our new Northern Strategy, announced in the Throne Speech. In addition to strengthening Canada’s sovereignty and protecting the environment, the Strategy is designed to promote economic and social development, and improve and devolve governance so Northerners have greater control over their destinies.
A long-standing issue of interest to Métis and Non-Status Indians is the clarification of their legal status under the Constitution of Canada. The case of Daniels v. The Queen, which your organization has brought before the Federal Court Trial Division, seeks to resolve the question of whether Métis and Non-Status Indians fall within section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867. Canada has been contributing to the legal costs of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples for this case through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada’s Test Case Funding program and I am pleased to announce that test case funding will continue to be provided for the trial of this proceeding.
Improving governance, internal structures and accountability are areas where the Congress has made further progress over the past year. I am particularly impressed that you are considering universal suffrage within the Congress to elect your National Chief. This will foster the credibility of your organization as it will be better able to represent its membership. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is about to set new standards of what can be accomplished through strong leadership and a genuine desire to better respond to the needs of the people you serve.
I hope other Aboriginal organizations will follow your lead. Because our Government believes Aboriginal people should have access to basic, public information such as the rules regarding the election of their leadership, governance frameworks and accountability obligations - - a level of access to information which is comparable to those enjoyed by other Canadians under the rule of law. Aboriginal people should be assured of the same legal rights and privileges available to other Canadians. They should accept no less.
This is especially true in the case of the voting rights. I know that Chief Brazeau has been meeting with groups across Canada, to engage and raise awareness in areas such as management of personal information, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and governance issues. I applaud this initiative and look forward to meeting with Chief Brazeau to discuss the results of this project. On behalf of our Government, I can attest that we are committed to providing all the support necessary to ensure First Nation communities have the necessary tools to develop and consequently carry out transparent, fair, impartial and accountable practices in their communities.
The theme of my talk here tonight is that I am confident the Congress, its affiliates and my Department can work more effectively together to make a concrete difference in Aboriginal people everyday’s life - children, women and elders alike.
The cornerstone of our new relationship is our commitment to address the issues outlined in the letter to the Congress from the Prime Minister - thus it is my pleasure to announce that - at the request of Chief Brazeau - I have agreed to strike a new Working Group, made up of participants from the Congress, the Office of the Federal Interlocutor and my own Ministerial Office. While the terms of reference are still being worked out, I am very excited about this development, as the Working Group will be a valuable new vehicle to advance our ongoing dialogue initiated by the Prime Minister and provide the impetus to forge a better future.
I sincerely hope that this new Working Group, made up of representatives of my office and the Office of the Federal Interlocutor, and leaders of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, will come up with new ideas on how to improve the conditions of Aboriginal people living off-reserve
I have high hopes and great expectations for this important new partnership. I am very encouraged by the progressive discussions I have had to date with the Congress leadership and look forward to working with all members of the Congress. I will be very interested to learn the outcome of your deliberations at this conference and discovering how we can work together to build an even stronger partnership in the days ahead.
I wish everyone involved in this annual general meeting every success as you proceed with your discussions and return to your respective homes and communities at week’s end. Thank you.