It is important to put this debate and this motion in context, that these cuts are actually based in the ideology, the belief of Conservatives that government does not have any role to play in terms of facilitating equal opportunity for Canadians or in their quality of life. Their rigid ideology is focused on smaller governments, fewer social programs and leaving Canadians to fend for themselves.
In management talk, it is always that if it is measured, it gets noted, if it is noted, it gets done. If we do not measure, it will not be noticed. There will be less demand for government to do something, and therefore it is content to do nothing.
We recently saw the Conservatives’ indignant response to social inequality when the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food highlighted serious food insecurity issues in Canada, and particularly in Aboriginal communities.
The Minister of Health stated that there was no problem, in spite of a Canadian Medical Association Journal article from the McGill scientists showing 70% of Inuit preschool children are food insecure.
The Conservatives do not like these kinds of numbers. We have seen this strategy play out time and time again. First, they emphatically deny there is a problem, then savagely attack the credibility of those raising the issue, but that makes the approach more difficult. Evidence makes knee-jerk denials less credible. Even the Minister of Health had to admit that maybe there was a problem, faced with a huge backlash from her community in the north and from First Nations Inuit and Métis Canadians across this country.
The Conservative government has no respect for evidence. The Conservatives want to rule by ideology, blind to the facts, blind to the reality of every day Canadians. This is neither competent nor responsible government.
To facilitate this approach, the Conservative government has muzzled the scientists, as my colleague has just stated, bullied non-governmental organizations and slashed programs focused on gathering and analyzing evidence-based data.
Both government and non-governmental sources have noted the lack of data quality regarding First Nations, which inhibits a full understanding of the social and economic conditions of First Nations people throughout Canada.
The First Nations Statistical Institute was established to fill this gap, to increase the quality and accessibility of First Nations statistics to improve planning, decision-making and investment for all First Nations as well as federal, provincial and territorial governments.
One of its key roles was to work to build the expertise and capacity within First Nations and their governments in the area of statistics and data. With the cancelling of this initiative, it is puzzling why the Conservative government is not reinvesting the money into another initiative to deal with this critical First Nations capacity gap. The reason is simple: the last thing the government wants is accurate data on the challenges faced by First Nations in Canada.
Aboriginal Canadians are working to build sustainable prosperity in their communities, but they can no longer count on the federal government as a partner. Despite lagging First Nations educational outcomes, the Conservatives have failed to address the growing $2,000 to $3,000 per student annual funding gap between students on reserve and those in provincial schools.
With First Nations suicide rates five times the national average, and Inuit suicide rates 11 times higher, the Conservatives are cutting the Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy.
Even though Aboriginal Canadians are much more likely to suffer from diabetes, have significantly higher infant mortality rates and significantly lower life expectancies, the Conservatives are cutting Aboriginal health programs and national Aboriginal health organizations as well.
The Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative, the Aboriginal Health Resources initiative, and the Aboriginal Health Transition Fund have all been cut by the government.
The National Aboriginal Health Organization, NAHO, which was created as a response to the royal commission, will have to roll up its programs by the end of this month. Everywhere we have been in Canada we are hearing horror stories from the medical community as to what that means, the data that this organization has created, the knowledge translation, the toolboxes. It houses the Journal of Aboriginal Health. Everyone is asking who will do this essential work.
I note with some regret that the NDP motion is obviously narrow and is not able to deal with these cuts, but they underscore why generating accurate socio-economic and health statistics is so important.
Despite overcrowding rates on reserves six times those off reserve and more than 40% of on reserve homes in need of major repairs, the Conservatives have no plan to deal with the crisis in first nations housing.
Despite supporting a motion on the right to clean, safe running water, we see no new funding to upgrade the huge number of First Nations waste and waste water systems which the government’s own national assessment determined it to be either high or medium risk.
The Conservative Government is turning its back on First Nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians, the Canadian values of compassion and fairness, and the tradition of evidence-based policy.
The Conservative government will argue that First Nations Statistical Institute work will be completed by other organizations such as Stats Canada or the First Nations Information Governance Centre. But neither Stats Canada nor the governance centre will address capacity development for First Nations’ governments in the area of data collection. Further, the government is not reinvesting the money saved from cutting the statistical institute and these other programs.
The Conservatives have killed the mandatory long form census. They have cut what First Nations have called the count in accountability. It therefore eliminates the ability to measure whether we are making progress, whether we are closing the gaps in health outcomes and educational attainment.
In killing the mandatory long form census, participation has dropped from 94% in 2006 to an abysmal 69% for the Conservatives new national household survey. It means the data is no longer comparable. The worst part is that statisticians and policy-makers cannot identify which segments of the population were not counted by the NHS, which means that they are unable to measure the data’s bias or rely on its accuracy.
Studies have shown that eliminating the mandatory long form census will negatively effect rural communities, ethnic groups, women, the poor and Aboriginal Canadians. By eliminating the mandatory long form census the Conservative government has essentially said it wants to marginalize these Canadians. It does not want to measure, it does not want it to be noticed, it does not want to do anything. The Conservatives will no longer help the poor, the disabled, ethnic or Aboriginal communities because Canadians will not know they exist.
Rather than working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Canadians to develop solutions for the unacceptable socio-economic gaps between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, the Conservatives’ answer is to simply shut their eyes to these appalling problems. Again, if it is measured it gets noticed, if it is noticed it gets done. The Conservatives have chosen to stop measuring so it will not be noticed and therefore there will be no demand for the government to do anything.
It is a sad day for Canada and it really is a contempt of knowledge in this country. As Andrew Coyne said last year, “what was once a war on the elites is now a war on knowledge.” The Conservatives should be ashamed.