The mandate of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (the Committee) includes all areas covered by the federal department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, whose legal name remains the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND). The Committee can study any aspect of the Department’s management and operation, as well as legislation, programs or policy areas administered by the Department. Traditionally, the Department has taken responsibility primarily for on-reserve registered First Nations people, Inuit and northern or territorial affairs. In turn, the Committee has primarily considered legislation and issues related to these populations and subjects.
The Committee may also look into other government programs and services developed for on-reserve First Nations people. It can examine issues, policies and programs related to off-reserve registered and non-registered First Nations people, Métis, and Inuit. As of 2004, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has been assigned the additional role of Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians.
Prior to the late 1960s, “Indian affairs” matters were occasionally referred to a select committee, special committee or special joint committee for consideration. For example, in 1874 a select committee inquired into the condition of the Six Nations of the Grand River. In 1927,
1946–1948 and 1959–1961, special joint committees of the House of Commons and the Senate were appointed to study British Columbia land claims and Indian Act reform. It was not until 1965 that the matter of Indian affairs was specifically referred to a House standing committee, the Committee on Indian Affairs, Human Rights, Citizenship and Immigration. From 1966–1968, this Committee met infrequently.
Prior to the 1960s, northern matters were not addressed by parliamentary committees on a consistent basis. Northern issues not related to Indigenous peoples were seen for the most part as resource questions within the mandate of the largely inactive Standing Committee on Mines, Forests and Waters. In 1964, the House of Commons established a Standing Committee on Northern Affairs and National Resources to match the mandate of the then Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources. It, too, appears not to have met very often.
It was the establishment of the new Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in 1966 that led to the creation, in 1968, of the first Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
The new Committee was active from the start. From 1968–1972, it received numerous Orders of Reference dealing with budgetary estimates and legislation. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Committee’s activities showed a willingness to take a broad view of its mandate to review the Department’s budget and Annual Reports, in order to study matters of special interest.
In 1989, during the 34th Parliament (1988–1993), the Committee’s mandate was split. The new Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs retained responsibility for Aboriginal matters, while the Northern Development mandate was moved to the then Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, Regional and Northern Development. However, for the 35th Parliament (1993–1997), this situation was reversed, and the committee was re-established as the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
On 12 April 2016, during the 42nd Parliament, the Committee adopted a motion to change its name from the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. The name change reflects the preferred usage of Indigenous communities across the country and corresponds to the name change of the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, including a newly-named Minister of Indigenous Affairs.
In the execution of its functions, each committee is normally assisted by a committee clerk, an analyst and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. All of these individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs his or her duties and responsibilities under the direction of the committee and its Chair. As an expert in the rules of the House of Commons, the clerk may be requested to give advice to the Chair and members of the committee should a question of procedure arise. The clerk is the coordinator, organizer and liaison officer for the committee and as such will be in frequent contact with members’ staff. He or she is also responsible to invite witnesses and to deal with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for, in particular, the organization of committee meetings and the publishing of documents on the committees’ website. The committee assistant works with the clerk to meet the needs of committees.
The Library of Parliament’s analysts provide authoritative, substantive, and timely research, analysis and information to all members of the Committee. They are part of the Committee’s institutional memory and are a unique resource for parliamentarians. Supported by research librarians, the analyst works individually or in multidisciplinary teams.
Analysts can prepare: briefing notes on the subjects being examined; detailed study plans; lists of proposed witnesses; analyses of an issue with a list of suggested questions; background papers; draft reports; news releases; and/or formal correspondence. Analysts with legal training can assist the Committee regarding any substantive issues that may arise during the consideration of bills.
OTHER RESOURCES AVAILABLE AS REQUIRED
Within the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) are available to assist Members who are not in Cabinet in the preparation of private Members’ bills or of amendments to Government bills or others.
At various stages of the legislative process, Members may propose amendments to bills. Amendments may first be proposed at the Committee Stage, during a committee’s clause-by-clause review of a bill. Amendments may also be proposed at the Report Stage, once a bill returns to the House.
Once bill is sent to Committee, the clerk of the Committee provides the name of the Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) responsible for the drafting of the amendments for a particular bill to the Members.
The legislative clerk serves all members of the Committee as a specialist of the process by which a bill becomes law. They are available to give, upon request from Members and their staff, advice on the admissibility of amendments when bills are referred to Committee. The legislative clerk organizes the amendments into packages for committee stage, reviews all the committee amendments for procedural admissibility and prepares draft rulings for the Chair. During clause-by-clause consideration of bills in committee, a legislative clerk is in attendance to assist the committee concerning any procedural issues that may arise. The legislative clerk can also provide Members with advice regarding the procedural admissibility of Report Stage amendments. When a bill is sent to committee, the clerk of the committee provides to the Members the name of the legislative clerk assigned to the bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO)
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) has a mandate to support Parliament and parliamentarians in holding the government to account for the good stewardship of public resources. The Federal Accountability Act of 2006 mandates the PBO to provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons regarding the state of the nation’s finances, the government estimates and trends in the national economy.
The enabling legislation also provides the PBO with a mandate to provide analytical support to any committee during its consideration of the estimates, as well as provide advice to any Member of Parliament regarding the financial cost of proposals.
The Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs presents numerous reports to the House of Commons each year relating to legislation and other studies. The section below highlights selected reports from the 41st Parliament that have been carried out, including legislation reviewed by the Committee, in the last five years.
Bill C-9 was referred to Committee on 29 October 2013. The Committee held three meetings and adopted the bill without amendment on 21 November 2013. Bill C-9 received Royal Assent on 11 April 2014.
The First Nations Elections Act establishes a legislative process apart from the Indian Act system for the election of First Nations chiefs and councils. Among the key changes provided by the bill is the extension of the terms of office for chiefs and councils and the possibility for common election days among several First Nations. First Nations may choose to opt in to the new elections regime under the legislation, or they may be brought under the new elections regime by ministerial order in some circumstances. First Nations may also opt out of the legislation by adopting a community election code under certain conditions.
Report 3, Bill C-15: the Northwest Territories Devolution Act.
Bill C-15 was referred to Committee on 5 December 2013. The Committee considered the bill over five meetings, and travelled to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories to hold formal hearings. Bill C-15 received Royal Assent on 25 March 2014.
The Northwest Territories Devolution Act gives effect to the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement, which transfers decision-making and administrative control over lands and resources from the Government of Canada to the Government of the Northwest Territories, and enacts the Northwest Territories Act and makes consequential amendments to other Acts. The Northwest Territories Devolution Act also amends the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act by consolidating the land and water boards, introducing time limits for environmental assessments, increasing monetary penalties, and allowing for cost-recovery for certain elements of environmental assessments.
Report 4, Study of Reserve Land Management and Sustainable Economic Development on First Nations Reserve Lands.
In November 2011, the Committee agreed to undertake a study of land and environmental management on reserves, with an emphasis on identifying the types of modern land management tools that First Nations need to sustainably develop their lands to their highest and best use.
The Committee’s report, adopted in March 2014, made five recommendations to the Department that, taken together, are intended to provide First Nations with the contemporary tools and capacity to effectively manage their reserve land base and more readily take advantage of economic development opportunities. Ultimately, the Committee concluded, First Nations who are able to transition away from the Indian Act and take on greater responsibility for land transactions will be in a better position to realize the economic value stored in their lands.
B. 41st Parliament, 1st Session
Report 7, Bill S–8: An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands.
Bill S-8 was referred to the Committee on 8 May 2013. The Committee studied the bill over the course of four meetings from and reported the bill back to the House of Commons with amendments. The bill, as amended, received Royal Assent on 19 June 2013.
The legislation provides for the development of federal regulations governing the provision of drinking water, water quality standards and the disposal of waste water in First Nations communities. Importantly, the legislation also establishes that federal regulations developed in this regard may incorporate by reference provincial regulations governing drinking water and waste water in First Nations communities.
Report 6, Bill C-428: Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act.
Bill C-428 was introduced in the House of Commons as a private member’s bill on 4 June 2012 by Rob Clarke, then Member of Parliament for Desnethé Missinippi Churchill River. The bill was referred to the Committee on 5 December 2012. The Committee studied the bill from 5 March to 2 May 2013 and was reported back to the House of Commons, with amendments on 3 May 2013. The bill, as amended, received Royal Assent on 16 December 2014.
The legislation contemplates the eventual replacement of the Indian Act with new legislation, to be developed in collaboration with interested First Nations, and requires the then Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to report to the House of Commons annually on progress achieved in fulfilment of this objective. In addition to this broad objective, the legislation repeals specific references to the education provisions of the Indian Act used to establish residential schools. In addition, under the proposed legislation, copies of by-laws would no longer be required to be sent to the Minister prior to coming into force. However, First Nations band councils would be required to make their by-laws publicly available. The legislation also repeals certain Indian Act provisions generally considered outdated, such as restricting departmental employees and others from trading with First Nation individuals as well as the prohibition on the sale and barter of produce by First Nations individuals to non-band members.
Report 4, Bill C-27: An Act to Enhance the Financial Accountability and Transparency of First Nations.
Bill C-27 was referred to the Committee on 21 June 2012. The Committee considered witness testimony from 15 October to 5 November 2012. Following clause-by-clause consideration, the bill was reported back to the House, with amendments, on 7 November 2012. The bill received Royal Assent on 27 March 2013.
The legislation, which applies to over 600 First Nations communities defined as “Indian bands” under the Indian Act, provides a legislative basis for the preparation and public disclosure of First Nations’ audited consolidated financial statements and of remuneration, including salaries and expenses, that a First Nation or any entity that it controls pays to its elected officials. The legislation also requires the publication of this information on a website maintained by or for the First Nation, and on the website of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Additional provisions of the legislation allow for the application of court remedies and administrative measures to enforce compliance with its requirements.