Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and it has to do with fire safety. As you probably know, two more very young children, toddlers, were killed in a fire in northern Saskatchewan this month. Last year, five children died in fires in Saskatchewan. This year alone the total is four.
What will the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs do to mitigate, to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in Saskatchewan dying due to fires?
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Thank you, Senator Dyck, for your question. As always, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims' family and community.
It is my understanding that the tragedy you mentioned is being investigated by the provincial fire protection authorities.
While that is happening, we should be pleased to see that the First Nation and the community of Loon Lake are moving forward in a spirit of cooperation. We remain committed to continuing to support the First Nation so that it can guarantee its members effective fire protection.
Senator Dyck, since 2006, our government has invested nearly $185 million in fire protection services on reserves. We also provide additional funding to help First Nations buy fire trucks, build fire stations and acquire fire protection equipment. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, this funding helped to purchase 32 fire trucks and fire protection equipment, as well as to build 15 fire stations.
Our government has made a commitment in this regard and it plans to be involved on an ongoing basis. Once again, as I said, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.
Senator Dyck: Thank you for that answer. I'm sure everyone here is just horrified at what's happened, and we're all grieving the loss of such young children.
However, as I said, last year a number of children also died — five children. In the Pelican Narrows First Nation, which is part of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, children died last year in January. Since that time, fire safety has not improved, and the chief said the federal government has not increased any funding for fire safety on the reserve.
A year after these children died, the reserve still has not seen any increase in their funding, so the federal government hasn't really stepped up to the plate to do anything to mitigate the circumstances. Why has that happened? Why hasn't the funding been increased? We know there is a problem. Why hasn't somebody come forward and done something to increase the funding so that these children don't die?
Senator Carignan: Senator, as I say every time a person loses his or her life in a fire, these are difficult situations. I saw on the news recently how three-year-old twins died in a fire. Such occurrences are always tragic. I think every community wants to do whatever it can to reduce the risk of fire and, more importantly, the number of lives lost. That is why our government invested nearly $185 million in fire protection services on reserves, not to mention the additional funding to help First Nations buy fire-fighting equipment.
I can assure you that we will continue to support the reserves in purchasing this safety equipment.
Senator Dyck: Thank you for that answer. It's quite clear that there's not enough funding going to First Nations for fire safety, for housing, for repairs, et cetera. If you look at our report from the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, it says quite clearly that there's an increased risk of 10 times. The death rate from fires is 10 times higher on reserves than it is in the rest of the country.
A number of witnesses drew a link between overcrowding, the state of housing on reserves and the large numbers of fire deaths in the communities. We also noted that 37 per cent of houses on reserves need major repairs and that the situation is such that families are living in condemned houses and are being overcrowded. This all contributes to living in a tinderbox, a house that will burn down quickly because it doesn't even have a proper roof; it just has a big blue tarp on top.
More funding has to go. Why has your government not provided more funding?
Senator Carignan: Senator, to prevent fires, we provide money for the purchase of equipment and for firefighting services. Education and awareness also play a critical role in fire safety. We will continue to work with First Nations communities and organizations on this.
You know that we are also working with the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada on prevention. We will continue this work with Aboriginal communities and their representatives to help prevent the risk of fire.
In another life, I was the chair of the public safety committee for Quebec municipalities, where the issue of fire safety was raised by communities, cities and towns because there were concerns about the response time and the provision of equipment. It is impossible to reduce the risk to zero, but I think that as a community, as a government, we have to take the necessary steps, as we are doing, to provide proper fire protection services, particularly in the case of the reserves that you mention.
Senator Dyck: Thank you. The funding situation is so bad that one of the communities we visited, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in northern Ontario, said their population has increased by three times and yet they have had no increase in funding over that period of time. Even though there's supposed to be a 2 per cent escalator, they have had no increase at all. If they had at least the 2 per cent — although it should be greater than 2 per cent — their funding today would be almost 40 per cent higher than it is currently. That's the level they should at least be at, yet they're not there. Why not? Why hasn't the government provided sufficient funding to First Nations like the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in remote northern Ontario?
Senator Carignan: Senator, I think we have to help all communities and continue to support the services as we are doing by providing substantial envelopes. As I said, since 2006, $185 million has been paid out. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, just in terms of equipment purchases, we are talking about 32 trucks, 15 fire stations and a variety of fire protection equipment, because it isn't just trucks. There are other types of equipment that can be used to fight fires and rescue people. That is what we will continue to do, senator.