Former prime minister Paul Martin says the Conservative government must heed his Kelowna Accord bill so that aboriginal Canadians can access the same quality of health care, education and housing as other Canadians.


Former prime minister Paul Martin says the Conservative government must heed his Kelowna Accord bill. In Ottawa, April 8, 2008. ((CBC))

Opposition parties have shown their support for the bill, allowing it to pass in the House of Commons in March 2007 even though the ruling Conservatives, who don't have a majority, voted against it.

The bill, which the former Liberal leader introduced as a private member's bill, now appears poised to be passed in the Liberal-dominated Senate, the next step to becoming law. Senators have voted in favour of the bill twice and are now studying it before a third and final vote.

But even if Martin's bill becomes law, it's not clear whether the Conservatives will implement it. Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl told CBC News on Tuesday that he'll wait and see if the bill passes before anouncing a decision. His government has so far ignored the bill's demands for spending more than $5 billion over five years on aboriginal services.

Martin, an MP for the Montreal riding of LaSalle-Émard, said the Conservatives' disregard of the bill is "amazing."

"For a government to stand up and say, 'We're not going to do that,' I mean, it's just so contrary to every value I think as Canadians we have," Martin told CBC News on Tuesday before testifying to senators about the importance of the bill.

"How can you say to a young aboriginal kid that he's not entitled to the same kind of primary or secondary school education as a non-aboriginal living elsewhere in Canada?" he added. "That's just not fair."

The bill took root in November 2005 when Martin and his Liberal government were still in power. Martin held a two-day summit with premiers and aboriginal leaders in Kelowna, B.C., and emerged with a pledge to spend $1.8 billion on aboriginal schools, $1.6 billion on housing and clean water and $1.3 on health services, among other commitments.

But the pledge fell apart two months later when Martin's government lost the federal election to the Conservatives. Martin, determined not to let the agreement fall apart, introduced a private member's bill in June 2006 that called for the government to implement the Kelowna Accord.

Martin said the bill is crucial. Using education as an example, he said schools on reserves, which are funded by federal, not provincial, governments, have under-equipped labs, poorly paid teachers and high dropout rates.

He said the money the Conservatives have pledged to aboriginal affairs doesn't go far enough.

But the Conservatives have maintained that the Kelowna Accord was never officially signed and never offered a plan for where the $5 billion was to come from.

In the 2008 federal budget, more than $500 million over two years was set aside for aboriginal health, water, family services and education.