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The Honourable Chuck Strahl, PC, QC
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-status Indians
Announcing Details on Investments in On-reserve Housing
Pan Pacific Hotel Vancouver, British Columbia
February 18, 2009
Check against delivery
Good morning and thank you Premier. Regional Chief Shawn Atleo. Thank you all for coming out today.
It’s great to be in my home province this morning, and back in the traditional territory of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh [SLAY-WA-TOOTH] First Nations. My office and I have been busy this week meeting with partners who are keen on improving the lives of Aboriginal peoples. Yesterday, for instance, I had a productive session with the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, a group of responsible, progressive-minded people whose contribution is both valuable and appreciated. Many of you know the great leadership of Chief Clarence Louie of Osoyoos, who heads up that board.
I am very pleased to be up here with Premier Campbell and Chief Atleo. Together, Canada and British Columbia are working closely with First Nations in the province on everything from modern treaties to progressive agreements on education jurisdiction and housing.
It gives me great pleasure to report that our Conservative government will continue to do its part to improve First Nations housing here in British Columbia. We will provide approximately $50 million to alleviate the chronic shortage of adequate on-reserve housing. This strong investment stems from Canada’s Economic Action Plan, where we have committed $400 million to on-reserve housing across Canada.
To appreciate the significance of this investment, it’s important to consider the larger context. There are three points I’d like to emphasize. The first has to do with the current state of Aboriginal housing.
The hard truth is that too many residents of First Nation communities live in substandard housing. The causes are complex and varied - many communities can’t access enough capital to build and renovate homes, while others lack the capacity to manage housing stock effectively.
My second point is that this federal government, under the leadership of Stephen Harper, recognizes that it has specific responsibilities in Aboriginal issues and is determined to fulfill them. This isn’t an issue that popped up when we came to office. It is an issue that has been ignored for far too long. Our government has adopted a comprehensive plan based on targeted investments and strategic partnerships with willing partners, including First Nations organizations, provinces and private-sector groups.
A similar plan has produced tangible results in a number of key areas: First Nations education, drinking water and child-and-family services, to name but a few. In each case, the Government of Canada has worked alongside its partners to help improve the lives of Aboriginal Canadians.
To improve educational outcomes among students in on-reserve schools here in British Columbia, for instance, we partnered with the First Nations Educational Steering Committee. This partnership led to legislation that effectively grants greater control over on-reserve schools to First Nations in the province.
Another key piece of legislation — The Specific Claims Tribunal Act — grew out of a partnership with the Assembly of First Nations. The creation of a tribunal will accelerate the settlement of outstanding claims. There’s no doubt that momentum continues to build to settle outstanding claims; for instance, I announced just a few days ago that more than 30 claims have been settled in B.C. alone - over the past 14 months.
Our Conservative government has also invested significant amounts to effectively address specific issues. I’d like to point out that just 2 weeks ago the Government of Canada announced approximately $10 million to the VanASEP Training Society and $2 million to the Prince Rupert ASEP Society. These two projects will provide training and skills development opportunities for over 1,000 Aboriginal people in British Columbia through the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership program.
Canada’s Economic Action Plan aims to create more and better opportunities for Aboriginal Canadians by investing an additional $100 million for Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership projects…and our Action Plan also includes $500 million for urgent First Nations infrastructure projects such as the construction of new schools and health clinics, and improvements in water-treatment facilities.
Today’s housing investment represents the latest in a series of actions designed to increase access to adequate housing on-reserve, from construction to renovation projects, and it will also stimulate economic activity in First Nation communities... something at the very heart of our Action Plan.
It’s nice to throw out big numbers… but examples of success back them up. Nanoose First Nation, for instance — a community on Vancouver Island — accessed a special pool of funds established by INAC and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to build 30 new homes. The First Nation and builder worked in partnership to create affordable, comfortable houses that feature added protection against mould, a common problem in the region.
The Nanoose project demonstrates the considerable value of partnership, the third point I’d like to make today. Further progress absolutely requires all parties to seek out and secure effective partnerships.
This is precisely why we, the federal government, the province of BC and the First Nations Leadership Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding on housing just last year. The tripartite agreement focuses on results; it calls for performance indicators, regular progress reports and strategies to improve housing stock both on and off reserve. Each party recognizes its responsibilities and commits to carrying them out.
Effective partnership is also at the heart of the First Nations Market Housing Fund. The Fund represents a new and exciting approach; one that improves access to capital in a way that respects the principle of communal ownership of reserve lands. This innovative approach has already attracted partners from the private sector, including VanCity, based right here in Vancouver. This program could deliver 25,000 housing units over the next decade.
By focusing on these points – analyzing root causes, and implementing a targeted strategy in collaboration with responsible partners – I’m confident we can achieve our goal: to give residents of First Nation communities access to the same housing opportunities available to other Canadians. But we must all work together. We all have a role to play.
Our Conservative government will continue to follow this approach on the full range of issues that face Aboriginal peoples on a daily basis. This approach continues to achieve significant results: safe drinking water, settled specific claims, additional training and employment opportunities. We want all families to be able to build a good life and share in Canada’s prosperity. First nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians must be active in the Canadian economy. Today’s announcement will help secure that goal.
Thank you. Merci. Huy ch q'u (High ch-ka)