The Attawapiskat First Nation may be thousands of miles away from our region of Okanagan-Coquihalla, however living conditions in that community are a concern that many local citizens have directly raised with me. It is an issue that many citizens have expressed some strong views about and I have also had many requests to include this topic in my weekly MP report.This is undeniably a very important topic and one that I know many Canadians take very seriously. No Canadian takes pleasure in witnessing poor living conditions and rampant poverty within our great nation and likewise Canadian taxpayers desire accountability and to know that our tax dollars are being well spent. It is clear that in Attawapiskat we are failing to get the results that Canadians taxpayers expect from Government. In terms of your tax dollars, over $90 million, the equivalent of $ 54,000 for each man, women and child living within the Attawapiskat first nation has been transferred to the band leadership. I have taken the time to read the financial statements from the Attawapiskat First Nation. While there is undeniably a shortage of acceptable housing in the community, there is no shortage of governance. A former chief, an acting chief and a deputy chief lead a band council that had a total of 19 councillors receiving some form of payment during the last fiscal year. On the school and education board there were a further 12 board member positions receiving payment. Collectively these expenses are part of a $3.2 million administration budget for an on reserve population of roughly 2000 residents. We must also be mindful of the fact that this situation has developed while the Attawapiskat First Nation has been under co-management for the past decade with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
While it is important to identify challenges, we must also expand our focus beyond the failures and recognize the need to find workable solutions beyond the status quo. It is clear that there are no easy answers to this challenge. Yet we do have many successes stories within our First Nations communities and perhaps it is time we also focus more on what is working, as opposed to solely what is not. We are fortunate in the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla that many of our First Nations have had greater success in creating jobs and prosperity. That is not to say that there are not still challenges remaining, but collectively leaders such as Chief Clarence Louie from the Osoyoos Indian Band and Chief Robert Louie from the Westbank First Nation have been extremely successful in creating jobs and increasing outside revenue for their respective bands. I am also pleased to report that a recent meeting with Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger has me very impressed with the exciting vision that Chief Kruger has for the PIB.
As Members of Parliament we also need to be part of the solution. The Penticton Indian Band has some very exciting projects that will create jobs and much needed revenue for the band. However as was pointed out by Chief Kruger, an abundance of land is of little benefit without infrastructure and services. Rather than focus resources after the fact, it is time to be more proactive and seek opportunities that are shovel ready. It is also important to recognize that one size fits all solutions as Ottawa is often accustomed to delivering need to be more flexible. In the months ahead I am looking forward to working with the PIB and Chief Kruger in an effort to create some positive economic opportunities on the band lands west of Penticton.
It should also be noted that in the Merritt area there is a new silver mine soon to get underway and that mine is anticipating roughly thirty percent of the workforce to be from local nearby First Nation communities. In total the mine will inject between $ 12 - $ 15 million annually into the local Merritt economy. As this is the final week the House of Commons is in session for the year I will have an opportunity to visit Merritt early next week. If you would like to schedule an appointment please do not hesitate to contact my office toll free at 1-800-665-8711
In my relatively brief time as a Member of Parliament I have observed that when there is a lack of information that void is filled very quickly with misinformation. Case in point is Bill C-10, otherwise known as the omnibus crime bill. Some would have you believe that the intent of this bill is solely about incarcerating anyone and everyone convicted of committing a crime, regardless of the severity, and essentially throwing away the key. I believe it is important to talk about the types of serious crime that are actually being targeted in Bill C-10.
Child Pornography. If you choose to manufacture or distribute pornographic material involving children you can expect a minimum six month jail sentence instead of the current 90 day maximum. Engage in sexual assault against a child and you will go to jail and no longer be eligible for house arrest. "Date Rape" drugs will now be recognized for the real danger they can present to innocent victims. These types of crimes are not restricted to larger urban areas, families and innocent victims have been subject to these types of serious crimes here in our riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla. I have met with victims and attended events that focus on victimization and the cruel impacts of sexual assault. Those who have had suffered these types of traumas are understandably looking for changes and greater protection to the public from sexual predators.
Bill C-10 also addresses other subjects that many citizens have requested action on. For example Bill C-10 will ensure that those who commit manslaughter or aggravated assault will no longer be able to return to the community under house arrest. I can pass on from a recent experience in one Okanagan residential neighborhood that when a killing has occurred and the alleged assailant is allowed to return to the community in question this situation creates fear and anxiety for all involved.
Everyday law abiding citizens should not be afraid for their own safety or the safety of a loved one nor fear being able to go for a walk or visit friends and neighbors.
Two of the most common areas of misunderstanding about Bill C-10 pertain to increased enforcement penalties for drug offences, including marijuana, and a belief by some that that there are no rehabilitation aspects to Bill C-10. With respect to increased penalties for drug trafficking, it should be noted that these increased penalties only apply under specific circumstances. Drug tracking that involves organized crime, threats of violence and the use of a weapon all fall into this category. Likewise trafficking drugs in or near a school or other area where children are present will also bring about increased penalties. As for rehabilitation, Bill C-10 allows a court to suspend a sentence while an offender undergoes a court approved drug treatment program as permitted under provincial jurisdiction. These programs encourage offenders to deal with the addiction that often motivates criminal behaviour. If the offender successfully completes the treatment program, the court may impose a suspended or reduced sentence.
I recognize that there are some who believe that criminals and sexual predators are better off in our communities and not in jail where they cannot reoffend. Some citizens believe that criminal's rights should come before those of victims. In a free and democratic country as great as Canada it is expected that citizens will have different views on many important subjects. To be clear Bill C-10 ensures that the rights of victims will be put ahead of the rights of criminals when dealing with serious crimes. This is a commitment and priority that my Government takes seriously and one that many citizens have requested action on.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan- Coquihalla and can be contacted at email@example.com
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.