Idea people must leave reserves 'sheer nonsense,' Paul Martin says
Former prime minister Paul Martin says Aboriginal Canadians' communities need the same quality of health care and schooling as other Canadians, and should not be told to leave home in order to be successful.
Speaking to Robert Fife, host of CTV's Question Period, Martin took issue with the suggestion that First Nation residents need to leave their reserves, recently put forward by his predecessor, former prime minister Jean Chrétien.
"Just think of what we're saying," Martin said. "We're not going to give you decent health care, we're not going to give you decent schooling, and then we're going to say, 'But you've got to go compete with people, leave your village and go compete with people in the rest of the world who are getting decent health care and decent school.' That's sheer nonsense," Martin said.
"What we're saying is, we're not going to equip you but then we don't understand why you're not doing well. We're not going to equip you with a decent education and then we're going to wonder why is it you have a sense of hopelessness."
Chrétien told reporters last month, during a visit to Parliament Hill, that it's not always possible for people to live on reserve. He said there is limited economic opportunity in many of the communities.
"People have to move sometimes," said Chretien, who was the minister of indian affairs and northern development from 1968 to 1974. "It's desirable to stay if they want to stay, but it's not always possible."
In the same scrum, Chrétien told reporters that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited him to see his old office, noting he occupied it for 10 years but hadn't seen it in the 12 years and four months since Martin took over following a pitched internal battle among federal Liberals.
Canadians refocused attention on the remote northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat last month after a rash of attempted suicides. Local officials declared a state of emergency and the province pledged $2 million for 24-hour mental health services. Attawapiskat made headlines in 2012 when then-chief Theresa Spence waged a hunger protest in Ottawa to draw attention to Aboriginal issues. Her protest coincided with the Idle No More movement and brought Indigenous frustration with the federal government to the forefront.
Martin says the Trudeau government's $8.4 billion pledge for First Nations education, water and social services will make "a substantial dent in the generational problems."
With files from Karolyn Coorsh