Mr. Speaker, it has been over four years since the Prime Minister stood in this House and promised healing and reconciliation for aboriginal people of Canada as part of the apology. Since that time, the government has moved in exactly the opposite direction.
Astonishingly, the Conservatives started by killing the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and then slashed the funding for First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations delivering health and healing from coast to coast to coast in this country.
Just this month, funding cuts targeting Aboriginal political organizations and tribal councils appear to cut core funding by 10%, or much more for some organizations, by also capping funding at $500,000. These cuts will also eliminate the political advisory roles of tribal councils, further silencing first nation voices.
How can the Conservatives continue to download responsibility on our First Nations governments with no new resources, and then cut their already limited capacity at the same time?
This approach not only flies in the face of the government’s commitment to reconciliation and co-operation, but it is also setting first nations up to fail. It will be the aboriginal people across this country already denied access to basic services who will pay the price for this cynical approach.
The funding for health care programs and services provided by organizations such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada has been cut or eliminated completely.
These cuts are occurring in numerous program areas, including the aboriginal diabetes initiative, the aboriginal health human resources initiative, the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy, the aboriginal health transition fund, the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder program, the maternal and child health program and the blood-borne diseases and sexually transmitted infections HIV-AIDS program.
We are also aware of the fact that a high percentage of the cuts to staff at Health Canada will be made in the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.
Cuts to aboriginal health promotion and disease prevention programs are misguided and inappropriate, and will actually increase health costs over the long term while perpetuating gaps in health outcomes for first nation and Inuit peoples.
These cuts will significantly erode the ability of Health Canada, specifically the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, to fulfill its mandate to address the gaps in health outcomes between first nations and Inuit and the non-aboriginal population.
With regard to the key health indicators, first nations and Inuit have lower incomes and are highly vulnerable to communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, and to chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They also have a significantly lower life expectancy.
I urge the government to act now and reverse these short-sighted cuts.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to discuss our government’s strong record of working to improve health outcomes for first nations and Inuit. Our government’s priority is to protect front-line health services for first nations and Inuit communities. Our government has taken action to improve the health and quality of life of first nations across Canada. We have invested over $30 million a year in aboriginal health research and over $2.2 billion in the first nation and Inuit health program.
On National Aboriginal Day in June, the Minister of Health was proud to announce, jointly with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, a new long-term aboriginal health project that will help aboriginal communities find meaningful health solutions that will lead to healthier communities.
This year’s budget provides $330.8 million over two years to build and renovate on-reserve water infrastructure and to support the development of long-term strategy to improve water quality in first nation communities. We are also committed to working with aboriginal communities and organizations, provinces and territories to improve the mental health and well-being of aboriginal people in Canada.
This builds on our government’s commitment to improve access to important mental health services for former students of Indian residential schools and their families. Since 2007, we have provided more than $165 million through the Indian residential schools resolution health support program. This is making a difference in aboriginal communities and complements some of the work previously done by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
We are making significant investments to support mental health services for first nations and Inuit, including counselling, addiction and suicide prevention, crisis response services and treatment. We are also working closely with our partners, such as the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which recently released Canada’s first-ever national mental health strategy. This strategy helps highlight the mental health of first nations, Inuit and Métis as a top priority.
In closing, our government has made significant investments toward improving the health status of aboriginal people in Canada. Improving health outcomes for first nations and Inuit remains a key priority for our government, and we will continue to work toward this goal with the provinces, territories and aboriginal leadership.
Mr. Speaker, what is so distressing is that I do believe that the minister and the government understand that disease prevention and health promotion are indeed front-line services. The Conservatives’ continuing narrative is that they have not cut front-line services when the preventable injuries, suicide and substance abuse are so much higher than the national average. The health promotion disease prevention programs and services funded by FNIHB through contribution agreements like those that we have listed have been essential in both measuring and reducing these health gaps.
It is appalling that now the TB rate in the Inuit population is 284 times the rate of the Canadian-born non-aboriginal population and that an epidemic of prescription drug addiction is confronting the northern communities.
The government has to get with the program. It has indeed cut front-line services, and the cuts have to be reversed.
Mr. Speaker, I want to repeat that our government’s priority is to protect front-line health services for first nations and Inuit communities. Our government takes the health and well-being of first nations and Inuit very seriously.
Important front-line health programs and services for first nations such as community-based health promotion and diabetes and youth suicide programming have been protected. We will provide $330.8 million through our economic action plan this year to build and renovate water infrastructure on reserve and to support the development of a long-term strategy to improve water quality in first nations communities.
We are continuing to work with aboriginal communities, organizations, provinces and territories to improve the mental health and well-being of aboriginal peoples in Canada. We are investing in Health Canada’s Indian residential schools resolution health support program. Emotional and cultural support services are accessible to eligible former Indian residential school students and their families. In short, our record clearly shows that we are committed to working with all partners to improve the lives of aboriginal people. We will continue to do so.