Advancing Métis Issues by Working Together

MNO position raised in House of Commons

Another example of the effectiveness of the MNO’s efforts to advance Métis issues was recently demonstrated in the House of Commons.

At the 2010 Annual General Meeting, MNO citizens passed a motion calling on the federal government to reverse its plans to eliminate the mandatory long-form census. Community Councils and Métis citizens were encouraged to contact their Members of Parliament requesting that these Métis concerns be conveyed to the Honourable Tony Clement, the Minister of Industry and the Harper Government in Ottawa.

In response, Marlene Davidson, the President of the Atikokan Métis Council wrote to her Member of Parliament, John Rafferty, who represents Thunder Bay-Rainy River.  As a direct result, Mr. Rafferty raised the census issue in the House of Commons and in his remarks quoted extensively from Marlene’s letter, which forcefully outlined the MNO position on the census.

On behalf of the MNO, I want to thank Marlene, the Atikokan Community Council and all other MNO Community Councils and Métis citizens who have raised this issue with their local Member of Parliament.  This is just another example on how we can effectively raise and advance the Métis Nation’s agenda by working – together.

Mr. Rafferty’s comments from Hansard follows below.

Gary Lipinski, President
Métis Nation of Ontario


House of Commons Debates - Hansard
Third Session – Tuesday, September 28, 2010 – 40th Parliament

Mr. John Rafferty (Thunder Bay— Rainy River, NDP):

Madam Speaker, the census is used for a variety of reasons, as Canadians and members in the House know. At a very minimum, a census provides a measure of the size of the population in this country and compares it to what it used to be. One can extrapolate as to what it might be. That is the very minimum a census needs to provide in terms of information.

The long form census goes further and of course helps the House and governments right across the country decide on such things as riding boundaries and the reapportioning of seats, for example, in the provinces and territories. Those sorts of things are another function of the census.

I will speak about 2006. The mandatory, or what used to be mandatory, long form census asked for basic demographic information such as age, sex, and marital status. In fact, 2006 was the first census that had questions about same sex marriage, for example, and those sorts of relationships. There were questions about the occupational and educational background of the respondent. Other questions asked about the individual's place of birth and his or her relationship to the head of the household, questions that most people did not have any problem answering and which are very important.

This kind of information is used to develop evidence-based public policy, to make science-based decisions, as my colleague from Thunder Bay—Superior North so eloquently put it in a question to the minister in the House earlier. It responds to the needs of Canada's various communities, and we have varied communities. It deals with such things as housing, education, and services for vulnerable or marginalized groups, which include women, the disabled, and visible and linguistic minority groups.

Data gathered through the mandatory census is a crucial reference, not only for governments at all levels but for community groups, civil society organizations, and faith-based social justice groups.

We know that the individuals who are least likely to fill out a survey, even a mandatory one, already tend to be those in groups that rely most on federal, provincial, and municipal social programs. They include recent immigrants, aboriginal populations, and so on. Scrapping this portion of the census will likely result in under-counting these vulnerable groups. It will also have the effect of reducing the quantity and quality of information on these vulnerable groups, groups that are often very difficult to serve.

I cannot say it any better than what was said in a letter I received this past week from Marlene Davidson, who is the president of the Atikokan Métis Council. I would like to read a few portions of her letter into the record:

As a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario, I would like to ask for your support to help convince the Government of Canada to abandon its plans to eliminate the mandatory long-form census.

The loss of the credibility of the data that is derived from the long form sampling would be devastating to the Métis people, and set us back to a time when governments ignored the Métis people in this country. As you know, the Métis population is a vital and important part of the communities throughout Ontario. The government's decision to eliminate the mandatory long form will result in the loss of valuable data about the Métis in your riding and Métis in ridings from Ontario westward.

There are several important reasons why this data is so important to the Métis people.

Firstly, it is the only way that government that actually attempts to capture information and learn about the Métis as a distinct Aboriginal group in Canada. The Métis are often referred to as "the forgotten Aboriginal people" because for generations in this country all levels of government denied our very existence and rights.

In previous Census, there was no place for individuals to identify as Métis. Government officials and politicians conveniently used this reality to support their flawed positions that rights-bearing Métis communities did not exist in Ontario as well as throughout the rest of the Métis Nation.

Since the advent of s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and the recognition and affirmation of Métis rights, along with the Métis Nations's ongoing work with Statistics Canada, we have slowly been reversing the trend of longstanding wilful blindness to the Métis reality in Canada. Increasingly, we have been able to gather more accurate data on Métis populations, including important demographic indicators such as mobility, median age, and locations. We believe this makes Canada stronger because it assists Métis in being recognized and understood, instead of being ignored because governments cannot see a community with a recognized land base. This data has allowed the Métis Nation to educate government officials that we are another Aboriginal people that lives, uses and occupies areas with other Canadians and First Nations.

Secondly, without the vital information collected through the long-form, federal, provincial, and Métis governments are at a considerable disadvantage in terms of tracking the rapidly evolving Metis population. With this data we are better able to provide appropriate and efficient services to our citizenry in such areas as health, job programs, education and training and population-specific social services. In addition, the data enables us to construct detailed and judicious long-term strategic plans for the betterment of Métis communities and Canada as a whole. This type of data can only be obtained through a credible and reliable sampling of the population of Canada (i.e., a 1 in 5 sample), which the current long form model is based on. A voluntary census form is not a sufficient replacement for the mandatory form because it will not allow for accurate demographic profiles to be produced on Métis and the communities they live in throughout Ontario westward. This decision is essentially ensuring that Aboriginals, such as Métis, the most marginalized people in society, will continue to be underrepresented.

If we have learned anything from our history in this country, ignoring the challenges Aboriginal populations face is not the answer. Wilful blindness is not a solution. It has not worked for governments in the past, when it has come to dealing with Aboriginal peoples and it will not work in the future. All that will result is giving comfort to those that want to ignore Aboriginal peoples and allow current cultural, social and economic disadvantages to grow without credible data to make sound policy decisions I do not believe that this is an acceptable result for a responsible government.

She goes on to say,

I strongly urge you to contact the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, and urge him to reconsider this flawed and short-sighted decision. I believe we all have a role to find solutions to make Canada better, however, the federal government must continue to fulfill its role in collecting the data that will allow these solutions to be found based on sound data and policy.

Again, that is from Marlene Davidson, who is the president of the Atikokan Métis Council.

I suggest an immediate reversal of the government's changes to the mandatory long-form census. The long-form census is a vital tool for good policy-making, and the decision to amend it was shortsighted and was carried out without consultation. Therefore, the government should immediately reverse the changes to the long-form census. I have a whole list of people who would validate that particular position, which I will not read at this time.

An interesting argument was made earlier by one of the speakers, and it w as about the cost factor. That seems to be the thing that pops up most often. Mr. David Cameron, the U.K. Prime Minister, got rid of theirs. He cited the price tag. Well, the price tag is different here. In fact, what is being proposed is going to cost considerably more, and I think Canadians should be concerned about that, particularly at this time, when the deficit continues to grow every day. Marlene Davidson, a host of others I have talked to, and I would like to ask the minister to reverse his decision and to reverse it now.

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