PACC Committee Report
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The Government of Canada's Response to the 20th Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts: "Chapter 6 of the April 2003 Report of the Auditor General of Canada Federal Government Support to the First Nations Housing on Reserves"
The Government of Canada is pleased to have this opportunity to respond to the 20th Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts concerning Chapter 6 of the April 2003 Report of the Auditor General of Canada on federal government support to First Nations on housing on reserves, which was tabled on October 1, 2003. The Government has considered carefully the Report of the Standing Committee and has taken note of the 10 recommendations contained therein. The Standing Committee’s Report demonstrates the commitment of Members of Parliament and the role that Parliament can play in addressing the on-reserve housing needs of First Nations in Canada. The Government values the work of the Standing Committee and the contribution that the Report provides to our collective effort to improve the quality of life of First Nations.
The Government shares the concerns of the Committee regarding on-reserve housing conditions and has undertaken a significant number of initiatives that are aimed at helping communities improve their housing conditions and contribute to long-term housing solutions. The Government is encouraged that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has expressed an interest in exploring potential solutions to the current on-reserve housing shortage, including the establishment of housing markets, and is committed to working with the AFN, other First Nation organizations and First Nation communities, to help formulate innovative means for developing sustainable First Nation housing and develop capacities to attain long-term solutions.
It is the view of the Government that improvements in on-reserve housing conditions have been made, especially since the introduction of the 1996 Housing Policy which allowed for greater flexibility for communities in terms of housing decisions that would meet their particular requirements. Under the 1996 Housing Policy, it is important to note that on-reserve housing is a shared responsibility. The federal on-reserve housing assistance was never intended to cover the full cost of on-reserve housing needs. As was noted in the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, First Nation communities are obligated to marshal all available resources to improve and maintain their housing stock. In particular, communities must take a more active role in ensuring that occupants contribute to the cost of their housing, and accept responsibility for the maintenance of their homes.
The Government acknowledges that new household formations over the next few years will mean that overcrowding is going to remain a serious problem. It is for this reason that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), in close consultation with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the AFN as well as other First Nation organizations and communities, will continue to examine innovative ways to accelerate improvements in on-reserve housing.
The Government is committed to providing the Standing Committee with detailed action plans from both INAC and CMHC that will clearly detail the concrete steps that will be taken to address the recommendations including appropriate time lines. In this regard, consultations with First Nations and their political organizations is not only a required element of the proposed response, they are indispensable to achieving results. Unfortunately, the time line presented by the Standing Committee does not permit adequate time for such consultation to occur before tabling. As such, action plan implementation timetables will include appropriate flexibility to ensure the outcomes of these consultations can be considered.
RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATIONS
The 20th Report of the Standing Committee made 10 recommendations under the broad themes of program performance, roles and responsibilities, reporting to Parliament, and property rights and access to financing.
The following comments provide detailed responses to each recommendation or themes of recommendations.
That Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), in consultation with First Nations, develop systems, procedures and practices to strengthen their inspection and certification systems on reserves to ensure that federally subsidized units built on reserves do effectively comply with the National Building Code.
That INAC and CMHC, in consultation with First Nations, prepare action plans to address the weaknesses in their inspection and certification systems and table these documents, with their implementation timetables, to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), no later than March 31, 2004.
Response to Recommendations 1 and 2
The Government recognizes that the issue of unit compliance with the National Building Code (NBC) is a problem on reserves given that current inspection and certification systems are not fully developed.
The Government will support the creation of First Nation housing management systems which will ensure that housing units are built to NBC. INAC will work with First Nations to ensure future comprehensive community housing plans contain policies that are consistent with building codes, practices and procedures.
The Government will also continue to support the development of a national First Nation housing inspection industry. This can best be achieved by continuing to work with the First Nations National Building Officers Association (FNNBOA) to help that Association develop systems to assume responsibility for the on-reserve housing inspection industry. Steps will also be taken to continue support for training and business development for First Nation house inspectors and builders.
However, it must be recognized that the primary responsibility for ensuring compliance with the NBC rests with First Nation communities themselves. It is for this reason that the Government will fund the development of a model by-law that will allow communities to require the issuance of building permits prior to the commencement of any on-reserve construction. This will provide communities with the necessary means to enforce compliance with the NBC.
That INAC and CMHC, in consultation with First Nations, develop and implement measures designed to better define, collect, use and share reliable information to manage on-reserve housing assistance.
That INAC and CMHC prepare Action Plans to co-ordinate their efforts to strengthen systems, procedures and practices involved in data collection, data quality control, retrieval and reporting of results. That these Action Plans be tabled, with their implementation timetables, to the PAC, no later than March 31, 2004.
Response to Recommendations 3 and 4
The Government agrees with these recommendations and acknowledges that the issue of implementing a coordinated approach, in consultation with First Nations, to the collection and use of data must be addressed to ensure the quality of the data that is collected.
INAC and CMHC are in the process of documenting their respective roles and responsibilities and, as part of that exercise, will review information and data requirements of the respective organizations and develop mechanisms to address those needs.
The Government acknowledges that some of its information systems are lacking, and that such systems are required to aid in ongoing decision-making and reporting on results achieved. Specifically, the current receipt of housing condition reports from First Nation communities have proven to be less than reliable. It is for this reason that INAC will be implementing new information collection practices based on community wellness indicators consistent with information that is presently collected by Statistics Canada. This will allow better comparison with Canadian norms.
CMHC will continue to collect data on the specialized programs it delivers and the portfolio it manages in accordance with the terms and conditions of those programs.
INAC and CMHC will continue to explore options in efforts to find a co-ordinated approach to the collection and use of quality data and assess opportunities to streamline financial reporting.
That INAC and CMHC, in consultation with First Nations, prepare Action Plans designed to strengthen systems, procedures and practices in order to ensure that community housing plans are used as intended. That these Action Plans be tabled, with their implementation timetables, to the PAC, no later than March 31, 2004.
Response to Recommendation 5
The Government agrees with this recommendation and acknowledges that community housing plans under the 1996 Housing Policy could be used more effectively. Accordingly, INAC will ensure that annual updates of these plans are provided by communities in compliance with the terms and conditions of the applicable funding agreements. It should be noted, however, that community housing plans under the 1996 Housing Policy were never intended as a basis for making decisions with respect to the allocation of federal funding. Rather, these plans were intended as a planning tool for First Nation communities themselves, to allow them to forecast their housing needs, to strategize on the use of available resources and establish community priorities, including maintenance plans for their housing units.
Over the past few years there has been a strong recognition both from communities and the federal government that community planning is intrinsic to the success of many current programs and policies and to community development overall. Many First Nations conclude that it is only through a more holistic and integrated model of community development that the necessary socio-economic changes will take place in their communities.
It should be noted that capacity building efforts are taking place with regards to community planning. Essentially, training is made available to the communities to help develop the ability and expertise to implement effective housing plans. INAC continues to offer the training course "Developing Effective Community Strategies for First Nations Housing" to First Nations.
For its part, CMHC will develop an action plan that is based upon supporting INAC’s and First Nations’ community housing plan processes through the provision of housing expertise, guidance and the full range of CMHC products and services for consideration in plan development.
That INAC and CMHC, in consultation with First Nations, reach an agreement as to their respective roles, responsibilities and obligations regarding on-reserve housing. That the department and the agency prepare a joint document that outlines each organization's role and responsibilities and that the document be tabled to the PAC, no later than March 31, 2004.
Response to Recommendation 6
A renewed National Aboriginal Housing Liaison Committee is being formed. The renewed Committee provides a forum for better communications among INAC, CMHC and the AFN, and provides a mechanism for resolving any particular items of concern. The draft terms of reference, which will be shared with the AFN, and their input incorporated as appropriate, will lay out the Committee’s responsibilities.
In addition, INAC and CMHC are documenting their respective roles and responsibilities, and will be consulting with the AFN and other First Nation organizations in this regard. As part of this process, a brochure will be developed and distributed to First Nation communities explaining the roles and responsibilities of INAC, CMHC and the First Nation communities.
That INAC and CMHC, in consultation with First Nations, develop Action Plans and initiatives aimed at streamlining and simplifying federal on-reserve housing programs and funding mechanisms. That these Action Plans be tabled, with their implementation timetables, to the PAC, no later than March 31, 2004.
Response to Recommendation 7
The Government agrees with this recommendation. As indicated, the Government is dedicated to developing reporting mechanisms that will clearly illustrate the difference being made by federal assistance, identify the respective contributions of INAC and CMHC, set out an objective for the housing program, set out appropriate strategies for achieving that objective, and report on costs, program performance and results. It is for this reason that INAC and CMHC are currently examining ways to better co-ordinate their housing efforts and establish a process to streamline program delivery and minimize, where practical, the complexity of their current programs. Appropriate consultations will be undertaken with First Nations.
That INAC review and renew the authority structure of its 1996 housing policy and seek approval of its terms and conditions from Treasury Board. That the department prepare a summary report on the progress of this initiative and present a copy to the PAC, no later than March 31, 2004.
Response to Recommendation 8
The Government agrees with this recommendation. As part of renewing its authorities, INAC will prepare the necessary submission to the Treasury Board for approval.
INAC will provide the appropriate guidance and training for regional officials to ensure that the policy is properly understood and applied consistently.
That INAC and CMHC develop Action Plans and initiatives aimed at improving the information content of their accountability documents. That these Action Plans be tabled, with their implementation timetables, to the PAC no later than March 31, 2004.
Response to Recommendation 9
The Government agrees with this recommendation. The Indian and Inuit Affairs program within INAC strives to foster a more promising future for all First Nation people by supporting good governance and accountability from First Nation governments to their citizens as the basis for social and economic development.
INAC and CMHC are committed to reviewing collective reporting requirements and to agreeing on processes to better meet those requirements.
That INAC and CMHC each prepare a document describing the special measures that the organization intends to introduce in order to develop and promote alternative housing tenure and financing options for on-reserve housing. That the document include the following information: annual budgetary allocation for each of these measures, their specific objectives, their expected performance benchmarks (outputs and outcomes) and the time frame within which the objectives are to be achieved. That each organization incorporate the document in its annual Performance Report and begin presenting the information for fiscal year 2003-2004.
Response to Recommendation 10
The Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendation, and is actively pursuing various innovative initiatives in several regions of the country. These initiatives are all aimed at encouraging communities to become more active in identifying solutions to their own housing problems, particularly through greater leverage in terms of both financing and purchasing. These innovative initiatives are often based on creative land tenure systems, such as leasehold interests under the Indian Act designation process, or on the use of co-ops, sometimes covering several communities. Other initiatives will also examine financing models that could allow additional or alternate loan types from lending institutions.
INAC and CMHC are committed to identifying alternative housing tenure/financing models and best practices, and will continue to share information on these issues with each other and with First Nation communities.