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Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples entitled: Housing on First Nation Reserves: Challenges and Successes, tabled in the Senate on February 17, 2015

 

Hon. Scott Tannas: Honourable senators, I just want to say a few words on this interim report which our committee has been working very hard on for 16 months.

The communities that we've seen and the testimony we have heard have truly been eye-opening for many members of our committee, and nobody more so than me. There is clearly a stark contrast between First Nation communities that are well off, innovative and thriving, and communities that have absolutely horrible living conditions. In our tour of communities, we saw, frankly, a few grand mansions. We saw a number of lovely typical middle-class subdivisions, and we saw far too many shacks and sheds that made you want to cry.

We make it clear in the interim report that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to housing on reserves for the communities who are trying to cope with housing issues. I'm not standing here to talk about one solution that I think is the solution, but I did want to offer an observation. It's in the report, and I just wanted to bring a little bit of a highlight to it as you read it and consider it.

It's clear from the evidence that there is a very strong correlation between the economic situation and the employment situation in a First Nation community and their housing. First Nations with high employment rates and some of their own-source revenue coming from economic development issues or resource sharing and so on have very high-quality housing, the kind of housing that we're accustomed to off reserve in the rest of Canada. By contrast, the reserves with low employment rates, with little or no own-source revenue have the poorest housing.

In some cases, First Nation communities have very poor housing. They're remote, and there are very limited employment opportunities or economic development opportunities, and we absolutely have to respond to the need there. But there are also some communities that have very low employment rates, high unemployment rates, where the economic development opportunities have not yet been fully taken advantage of. Part of what we need to focus on is providing opportunities for economic development which leads to employment, which leads to better housing.

Probably one of Canada's most luminous First Nation leaders is Chief Clarence Louie at the Osoyoos First Nation in British Columbia. He said it best when he said there is no better social program than a job. That is the essence of his leadership and his actions. He is very quick to say that employment and economic development are the absolute foundation of that community's success and his, frankly, singular focus as a leader. We need to learn from that, and part of the recommendations we bring forward need to recognize this idea of economic development and employment.

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One thing that I also want to mention that ties to that is home ownership. The want, the need and the facilitation of home ownership goes hand in hand with employment and economic development. There is no question. I wanted to point that out.

I want to say also how honoured I am to be a participant in this study, and I look forward to working together with my Senate colleagues to provide this house and, hopefully, the government of the day and of the future with some strong, thoughtful recommendations to improve what is clearly an urgent and important situation.

Hon. Wilfred P. Moore: Honourable senators, I have the pleasure of serving on the Aboriginal Peoples Committee with Senator Tannas, and so much of what he said here today is at the core of what we found and of what we have to do.

We were on some reserves where people didn't have the $200 a month to pay rent, so they were evicted and others moved into their houses. There were condemned buildings and, as Senator Tannas said, sheds on these reserves that people moved into as their homes. If you see that, you count your own blessings every day. Some of these homes had mould literally three or four feet up the wall.

We've gone in there and the department has funded the construction of homes without adherence to national building codes. So right off the bat these people are starting behind the eight ball. It wouldn't have taken much to have had proper materials and design. With many of these homes in the North, you open the door and you're right in the living space; there is no porch or break from the weather.

Here's a sad one: We were on one reserve in northern Ontario. The department insisted they spend $200,000 on street signs. I mean, they had water trouble, sewage trouble and housing trouble, and they had to spend $200,000 on street signs. It's those types of things that drive you crazy when you're out there trying to do the right thing for the greater good.

There are some wonderful examples, though, of terrific management, foresight and drive. Senator Tannas mentioned the tribe in Osoyoos that were wonderful. Membertou, in my province of Nova Scotia, has it together. In Kelowna and Kamloops, these people have good vision and management, and they are sticking to the plan. They don't squander their funds; they are looking for deals and they are getting deals from people off reserve, whether it's wineries or other businesses. People in Membertou are looking at some deals out West.

They are great entrepreneurs. All they need is a chance. The dignity of a job and taking home that paycheque every week would do a lot to turn this around. There are some wonderful opportunities with resource lands, but these bands have to get together with a unified voice and work with the development companies that could help them so they can retain some ownership revenues and own-source revenues, and start to do some of the stuff that Senator Tannas talked about.

It's a real wake-up call to be on some of these First Nation reserves and to see what they're living with. You can readily see what has to be done, and there is a lot to be done. But this interim report was quite an eye-opener for me and I would urge honourable colleagues to look at it.