House Call with Carol Hughes

MP for Algoma/Manitoulin

First Nations children still aren’t a priority

In 2007, parliament unanimously supported a child-first NDP private members motion that called on the federal government to pay medical bills first, and then determine what jurisdiction is responsible later. It was called Jordan’s Principle and was based on the bureaucratic battle that surrounded the late, Jordan River Anderson from Norway House First Nation in Manitoba. Jordan was born with complex medical needs, but bureaucratic in-fighting kept him from ever going home even though doctors said he could. He spent needless years in the hospital while the provincial and federal government fought over who should pay for his home care. When he passed away at the age of four, Jordan had never spent a day in his family home.

The only good that came out of this tragedy was the negative publicity it brought to the standard of health and social services Canada provides First Nations youth and what seemed like the political will to change this. Sadly, political will requires a financial commitment and this is where Canada has failed these children time and time again. We saw this with the battles fought between the previous government and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society which culminated in a landmark ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal last year.

The current government was elected after promising a lot to First Nations and especially the youth in those communities. They fully supported Jordan’s Principle when they were in opposition and just last summer they earmarked a substantial amount of money that could address these shortfalls. When they announced the spending, to the tune of to $382 million over three years it seemed there was hope to implement Jordan’s Principle and reduce inequities in the system.

All that sounded very good, but documents introduced into a court last week painted a more somber picture and show that the government is still being tight-fisted with First Nations youth. So far this year only $11.4 million of $127 million has been spent. Need is not dissipating at a rapid pace in many communities, so why isn’t the money rolling out?

Among the departmental reasoning for this is the notion that the money is only spent on kids when a claim has been made. In other words, it is not being spent proactively. We saw the need for proactive work just last month when a suicide pact ripped through Wapekeka First Nation. The terrible truth is that officials in that community applied for help with suicide prevention last summer and were turned down.

When I was first elected in 2008, parliament was still seized with details of Jordan’s Principle. Despite the all-party support it received, the government still required a healthy push to start addressing the profoundly unfair level of health care and social services being offered to First Nations youth. It is astonishing that all these years later, the government still needs to be called out for not meeting its commitment. We must stop applauding announcements and only give praise when a government gets results and right now that just isn’t happening.