By Hon. Bob Rae
There are hundreds of communities where our fellow Canadians live in substandard housing, without running water or indoor plumbing. We have the technology and the money to deal with this disgrace, but we don’t yet have the deep political will to make change happen.
Twenty years ago as Premier of Ontario I signed a “Statement of Political Relationship” with First Nations leadership, and followed it up with unprecedented investment in infrastructure in isolated northern communities. We even shamed the federal government in to joining us in a partnership to provide running water and indoor plumbing in communities that had before been without modern sanitation and an assured supply of clean water.
It can be done, and the reserves in northern Manitoba have started a “running water for all” campaign that led to my motion in the House of Commons that was passed last year. The Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said investments would be made.
They’re only happening slowly, and at this pace it won’t happen for another decade or more. Together with Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard and Grand Chief David Harper we visited the St. Theresa Point First Nation and saw, as was the case in Attawapiskat this winter, conditions that just shouldn’t exist in Canada. A 30-year-old young man with cerebral palsy has to walk 30 yards on crutches to go to an outhouse. A woman recovering from hip surgery has to do the same. It’s shameful and it shouldn’t be happening but it is. Canada can and must do better.
We also need to find better and faster ways to fund the infrastructure on reserves, including housing. The interminable bureaucratic waiting lists condemn another generation to conditions that can only be described as degrading.
It is not the time for despair. It is a time for constructive, well focused, anger and a determination to change the way we deal with this challenge. We can turn our heads away no more. When Stephen Harper walked away from Kelowna he cost Aboriginal people a great deal, but with the right on the ground campaigns we can keep trying to force change.