Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It is a pleasure to be back before the committee, and I appreciate the work you've done since we last met. It's nice to see this committee working through its agenda.
I welcome this opportunity to discuss the Main Estimates of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
There are a couple of things I want to do in my time before you this afternoon. I want to discuss the main estimates, of course, but I also want to expand on some of our recent progress on issues of real importance to aboriginal people, and emphasize for committee members how vital it is that we continue to pursue our collaborative and results-based approach.
These main estimates reflect this government's determination to make tangible progress on aboriginal and northern issues through genuine collaboration and resolute action. We're working to address the fundamental obstacles that stand in the way of greater prosperity for aboriginal peoples and northerners. Our approach involves working with willing partners to design and implement fundamental solutions that reflect real results--for example, solutions for particular challenges such as unsafe drinking water and ineffective specific claims resolution processes.
This collaborative approach has already produced several important breakthroughs. Significant progress has been made in overcoming the challenges presented by the provision of safe drinking water to first nations communities, the improvement of child and family services, and improvement in the supply of housing, to name only a few.
These and other results demonstrate the advantages of working in good faith with willing partners to formulate distinct plans, establish clear priorities, and dedicate adequate resources. The main estimates now before this committee are part of this government's practical approach to planning. They propose the strategic investments needed to support further progress.
Although the total amount in this year's main estimates is smaller than that of last year, year-over-year changes must be interpreted in the context of the entire budget cycle. As the first step in the fiscal cycle, the main estimates do not include resources to be acquired through the supplementary estimates. In fact, supplementary estimates A, tabled in the House yesterday, result in an increase of approximately $483 million in my department's budget for 2008-09.
This set of main estimates does increase the funding allotted to Indian and Inuit programs and services such as education, housing, community infrastructure, and social support. This increase also includes funding for the family violence prevention program, the new first nations infrastructure fund, and a transfer from Industry Canada for Aboriginal Business Canada.
The north is also part of my mandate, so I want to touch briefly on progress made here as well. As you know, I am also responsible for leading the advancement of the government's integrated northern strategy. This strategy supports the government's vision of a new north by focusing on four integrated priorities: sovereignty, economic and social development, governance, and environmental protection, and since 2006 we've moved forward across government in all four areas.
In fact, to cite just a few examples, we've announced plans for a world-class Arctic research station. We're pursuing devolution in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. We are advancing the northern regulatory improvement initiative. We're also acting on Budget 2008 commitments that build on these priorities with key measures to protect and secure Canada's sovereignty and create more economic opportunities for northerners. Many of my cabinet colleagues are moving forward with their own northern initiatives, and that's good to see as well.
But there is more to the story than just numbers and spending.
I firmly believe that money alone—no matter how large the amount—will not enable us to achieve our larger goals.
Similarly, no single player acting alone can effect the changes needed. To make meaningful, sustainable improvements in the lives of aboriginal people requires broad collaboration, careful planning, and effective action. All three feature prominently in this government's strategy on aboriginal issues.
We formed productive partnerships to make headway on issues that matter to aboriginal people. We have worked with first nations leaders from across the country on water, education, child and family services, and settling claims. To cite a recent example, a few weeks ago I signed an MOU with the Province of New Brunswick and New Brunswick first nations to improve the quality of education for first nation learners in that province. I'm very excited about that proposal as well.
Let me talk a bit more about what we have been able to accomplish with our partners. As I think I mentioned the last time I was before committee, we've made considerable progress since 2006 in improving drinking water systems in first nations communities. Budget 2008 committed $330 million over two years to the first nations water and waste water action plan, which I announced last month. This is the next step in ensuring that first nations have the clean, safe water they deserve.
We have also committed $300 million to the first nations market housing fund, which is now open for business. This innovative program will provide first nations people living on reserve with more housing options so that people can build home equity while at the same time respecting the tradition of communal ownership of reserve and settlement land. Initiated in partnership with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the program aims to make home ownership a realistic option for first nation families who live on reserves. Over the next ten years the fund is expected to add some 25,000 new housing units for first nations communities. It was a pleasure to introduce the board members and make that announcement just a week or so ago.
This government has also launched a collaborative plan to overhaul the processes used to resolve specific claims. I know you are very familiar with that. We believe that the negotiated settlements of specific claims produce a wealth of benefits for all Canadians, not just aboriginal people.
The creation of a specific claims tribunal, proposed in Bill , is the centrepiece of a larger plan to overhaul specific claims processes. The plan, designed in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations, commits Canada to resolving specific claims in a fair, timely, and open manner. l'm convinced that improvements to specific claims processes will benefit all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. I appreciate the committee's work on Bill C-30, and I'm looking forward to its swift passage through the Senate. I know that discussions with senators have already started to take place.
l'm also delighted that Bill , the legislation to safeguard the matrimonial real property rights of first nations women and children living on reserve, has begun second reading in the House. I hope this committee will soon have the opportunity to consider this important piece of legislation.
We also remain committed to legislation to ensure that first nations on reserve are finally fully protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act. I look forward to that bill coming back here as well.
Bill is also before the House. This legislation proposes to enact the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. I hope that it, too, will be here before committee for its consideration before long. That landmark agreement is the result of another remarkable collaboration between first nations, Canada, and British Columbia, and negotiations that stretched over 100 consultative sessions with regional governments, community groups, and other interested parties. It was a real collaborative effort to put forward an excellent agreement, which I hope will go quickly through the parliamentary process.
Under the terms of the final agreement, the Tsawwassen First Nation acquires not only land and a financial component, but also a seat on the metro Vancouver regional board. This arrangement means that the first nation, municipality, and board will work together to create and execute plans that serve the interests of all residents. I trust that members of this committee will appreciate the significance of this collaboration once they begin their review of Bill .
I would like to take a quick moment to provide an update on the implementation of the historic Indian residential schools settlement agreement. The Government of Canada has received over 91,000 applications for the common experience payment, and it has processed more than 81,000, totalling $1.23 billion. At the same time, the important work of the independent assessment process has begun, and that's well under way as well.
As you are aware, on April 28 I had the great pleasure of announcing the appointment of Justice Harry LaForme as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The work of Justice LaForme and the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be instrumental in building a renewed relationship with aboriginal communities. It was a pleasure this week to announce the final two commissioners, Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley, who will complete that commission so they can begin their work on June 1.
The next step in the process of healing and reconciliation is an apology to former students of Indian residential schools. Preparations are progressing on that, on what I'm convinced will be a very fine moment, a very respectful, meaningful apology that will be great for our government, our country, and for aboriginal people across Canada.
I will depart from my text here for just a minute to express my appreciation to Peter Harrison, who has spearheaded the Indian residential schools settlement and the work that has been done to date in making sure we came to what I think is a very good moment. He's going to be moving on to other things. I think Queen's University may be in the mix. I'm not sure. This may be his last committee appearance.
I'm not just saying this so you'll have mercy on him. I'm actually saying this because I think the entire country owes a big debt of gratitude to Mr. Harrison. He has done his work in a way that's garnered the respect of successive ministers, but more importantly, or just as importantly, of the entire aboriginal community. I just want to say, if I can here, that I respect all these people here with me today, but I say a special thank you to Mr. Harrison for the fine work he's done, and I hope you'll ask him the right kinds of questions to reflect that as we move forward.
Voices: Hear, hear!
Hon. Chuck Strahl: Mr. Chairman, I think even this quick review of progress shows, pretty conclusively I hope, that the government is not particularly interested in theoretical solutions. We're interested in working with willing partners to make a difference, not at some indeterminate point of time in the future but as quickly as possible and starting with right now.
The investments outlined in the Main Estimates will enable Canada to follow through on its commitments to Aboriginal peoples and Northerners. This government will continue to accurately measure the performance of its programs and remain fully accountable to Canadians.
Our investments outlined in the main estimates will enable us to follow through on our commitments, and we're going to continually evaluate and measure our performance so that we can report not only to you, but obviously to Parliament generally, and remain accountable to all Canadians.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'm happy to take your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Minister, thank you for being here today.
Before I begin my comments and questions, I too want to wish Mr. Harrison well. We know you've had a challenging job, and we certainly wish you well in the next career you move on to.
Minister, I've got a whole whack of questions here to ask, but I have to make a comment first, and I don't mean to be disrespectful.
I listened and I read carefully as you spoke. You gave us a lot of words and you gave us basically a history of what we all know. All of us around this table are pretty steeped and immersed in this file. What I'm profoundly disappointed in is that you haven't addressed the very real challenges we're grappling with.
As you know, the Auditor General's report has been out. As you know, we're dealing with issues of housing and of education. We have heard about shortfalls of money; you have said many times that money is not the answer. Clearly, from the Auditor General's report there seems to be a significant shortage of it, at least in the child welfare system. We know from your previous appearances here that moneys have been moved from capital projects to cover operating projects.
The words are nice. It was a nice summary of what has or hasn't been done, or of the perceptions of what has or hasn't been done. But to my mind--and I say this with respect, because I know this is a complicated file--we are not dealing with the real issues of the day.
As I say, I've got a whack of questions here, but I'm going to start with the Auditor General's report because it is so fresh and tangible and has such a profound impact.
First I would like to know what the department's response is to the funding of child welfare services. Are you willing to take steps to revise the current funding formula? If so, what are they?
We heard that you're funded at a 6% take-up. We know the pilot project in Alberta is funded at 6%, although the take-up is much higher. So are you looking at a new formula? If not, why not? When will a new formula be in place? Could you speak to that?
Is the department working in collaboration with first nations and the provinces on this? What I would like is a comprehensive answer. I can give you all the detailed questions, but I would like a comprehensive answer on how your department is planning to address what many of us view as a very serious issue.
I will just add one comment; I said it last week. We saw that plans are being rolled out in 2010 or 2012, and I've said this in other forums before: a year in the life of a child is very long time. To me it's an urgent issue.
Well, I agree. Especially for child and family services, it's important to all of us, and extremely important to first nations, as the Auditor General has pointed out.
We accept the analysis of the Auditor General. It is important to note that spending for child and family services has basically more than doubled: it's gone from $193 million in 1996-97 to about $481 million last year, over that period of time. Much of it was under the Liberals, but certainly there's been lots of money spent on it. The problem is that the results aren't what they should be.
You asked about what we will be doing differently. We do now have the authority to enter into agreements to move to a prevention-based model for child and family services, something that wasn't in place before. What we inherited when we came into office was a system based on a 20-year-old model. That needed to be changed; it needs to move to a prevention-based model, as has been noted by the Auditor General.
We have the first one in Alberta. There is some concern that it might cost more money, and it might cost more money in the early years, but the whole idea of a prevention-based system is to spend the money and make the investments so that you don't have so many kids who have to be taken from homes.
There is more money in this budget to allow us to extend that model, and it's not way off; it's this year. We are hoping to have agreements with a couple more provinces again this year to extend that model, or something similar. We don't want to be too prescriptive, but we do want to move to a prevention-based model for child and family services. That's where we'll be going.
In my own defence, if you will, or the government's defence, some of the other things I've mentioned, such as specific claims, safe water programs, and so on, are not theoretical; those are important, big projects that will mean hundreds of millions and billions of dollars to first nations. So they're important too.
We will leave some time for the minister.
Minister, you have been in government now for a few months, even one or two years. I am extremely disappointed. I would like you to explain three things to me.
To begin with, the community infrastructure programs are being reduced from $1,265,276 000 to $1,031,544 000. This is serious business. It amounts to $230 million being cut. I want to know what will go by the wayside. I need all the details: where are the cuts going to be made?
The social development budget is going up from $1,400,481 000 to $1,451,851,000. That is a marginal increase of $51-million. Where will this extra money be spent?
Moreover, the budget for education is being increased $1,667,197,000 to $1,719,351,000, a slight increase of merely $53 million.
As you will recall, Minister—in case you do not remember, I am reminding you—I asked you questions on March 5th about whether there would be investments in the education of young people.
Why are there no computers in the schools? In schools on a reserve just one kilometre from a school for white children, there is no library and there are no computers. Why has no one paid any attention to that? I would like a detailed answer.
You told me, and I quote you with respect:
||It may well be—and it's my hope—that as we move ahead, whether it's with Quebec [...] those arrangements will become mutual [...] or something else to put children first.
I do not see that in the budget, Minister. I do not see that you are going to be putting children in Aboriginal communities first. I do not want you to tell me about situations off reserve. The current problems are really on reserve, in Aboriginal communities.
I do not see anything in 2008-09 that will improve the situation in Aboriginal communities. I have looked long and hard and studied every word, but there is nothing there.
The real insult, Minister, is that spending increases today are still capped at 2% per year, whereas Aboriginal communities need an increase of 13% per year. Why is that cap still in place?
Minister, you can have all of my remaining time, but I can assure you that it will be hard to convince me, especially since you are asking us to pass Bill . I have to admit that this is a problem for me.
Thank you, Mr. Lemay. Do you have your ear piece? Are you ready to go?
I will try to answer in English, I think, to try to talk a little quicker.
On community infrastructure, to compare apples to apples it's important to understand what happened in 2007-08; that with the expiration of the old water infrastructure plans and the introduction of the new ones, the amount we're going to be spending on water this coming year has to be added to the infrastructure spending allocated there, in order to talk about the same thing.
It was included in the overall infrastructure numbers last year—I believe I'm right on that—and this year it was separated out as a stand-alone plan, the safe drinking water plan. That money has to be added to it, and when you add that money, there's actually an increase in infrastructure spending overall from last year.
On education, I'm going to stand by my words, really, from the last time. Since we last met, we've signed a memorandum of understanding with New Brunswick. Just as another example, we have the one in B.C., which is quite specific. It talks about everything you mentioned in your remarks: it talks about standards, curriculum development, services for children, culturally sensitive material, expectations from both provincial, federal, and first nations governments.
It put it in legislation. It's a very specific program in B.C., which was signed off just this last fall—November, I think it was—and which will be proceeding. I'm very excited about that prospect.
In New Brunswick, it's a different deal, but again a tripartite agreement. In that agreement, the provincial government chose a different route with first nations. We were all there a little while ago to sign an agreement that the provincial government is going to augment. We're going to do a bunch of work on assessment and a bunch of other things to help make the system work better. In return, the New Brunswick government's going to fund it to the tune of 50% of the money we're investing, putting it back into first nations specific programming.
It's a great MOU, and we're really looking forward to it. My hat's off to the New Brunswick government for taking that approach.
I believe the best way forward is with willing partners. It's really the theme of my speech, that in working with the provincial governments, really the only way to do it is to meet provincial standards, with provincial expectations, with willing partners both in first nations and with the federal government. We're showing our commitment to do that.
I think it is the way forward. That old schoolhouse model, where we might have a school on a reserve in isolation that doesn't have the support networks every other public school around it might take for granted—the sharing of library services, sharing the mobility of teachers, ability for curriculum development, or at least for bringing that curriculum development to a reasonable expense.... All of those things are possible when you work together. It's an extremely expensive, and I think a less productive model, to have a schoolhouse model wherein, in isolation, everybody tries to recreate the wheel.
I think the model, if I can be so blunt, must be federal-provincial agreements with first nations to move forward. It is, as Bob Nault said a while ago in the national papers, not just about money. I didn't make up the phrase; he was talking about the Kelowna accord, and he just was convinced it wouldn't work. You could pour a bunch of money into it, for example, in child and family services. We doubled the amount of money in child and family services. The results are just no good, because the model's wrong.
You have to go to a prevention model, and that means we have to work with the provinces, because the provinces have all the tools in child and family services to do prevention work. They've been doing it for ten years already. It's time we got on that boat and worked with them in a willing partner way.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for coming.
I have three question areas. I will ask the three questions and then get out of the way.
One question is about the north. I noticed in your speech you did talk about the economy. On page 34 in the report on plans and priorities the amount of money that is actually allocated on the northern economy is allocated this year but then is reduced substantially in the two years after that.
On housing in the north, on pages 8, 15, and 30 to 34, program activities around the north are all mentioned and housing isn't mentioned anywhere there, so I wonder what the department's plan is for Inuit housing.
On audit requirements, which of course is mentioned throughout this document, I would like to know what the department is doing in response to the previous Auditor General's report that said that first nations are required to produce 168 reports per year. I would like to know what's being done in terms of reducing the paper burden on first nations and making it more effective so the department gets what it needs. As well, I would like to know what the department is doing in terms of providing more substantial information around both the committee and the public being able to track actual department expenditures in various program activities like family violence, post-secondary education, and so on.
My third question has to do with elementary or K-to-12 education and has to do with the band operating funding formula. My understanding is that the educational authority has simply been renewed at the same level, despite the department's own information that the average annual rate of growth was 4.7% from 1996 up to 2005. I point to the fact that, for example, in New Brunswick the province is paying $8,700 per student per year, and if all first nations students in New Brunswick were turned over to the province, the department would pay $8,700 per student per year. This is according to an e-mail exchange with Gail Metallic.
Hon. Chuck Strahl: That was New Brunswick?
Ms. Jean Crowder: That was in New Brunswick. I know you mentioned an MOU, but the BOFF formula has been extended at the same rate.
If you could deal with those three questions, perhaps you could start with the north and then go to the audit.
I'm not sure. I'll have to look up the answer to the last one. In a general sense, of course, we've been busy on the treaty land entitlements on the prairies. We promised 150,000 acres a year in Manitoba. We met our numbers last year, and we're going to meet them this year. So we are on course to add 150,000 acres a year, as promised, but we'll have to get the actual numbers for your riding. We'll do that.
On the accountability of first nations, you're always trying to find the balance—this was raised by Ms. Crowder—between how many reports you fill out and whether they are actually doing any good, as the first thing, and then secondly, whether you can audit them, whether you can get to the bottom of them. It's one thing to say.... For example, someone says “There was $10,000 for painting a school, and I show an expense of $10,000”, but how do you know for sure whether somebody actually painted the school? There was an invoice in and out; an audit allows you to chase things to ground and say what was actually done. There might be paperwork, but when you audit it, of course, an auditor can express an opinion as to what actually went on.
I must say that in my own experience in my riding—I have 42 first nations in my riding—it's the same sort of thing. I've had people in my office from first nations communities saying, “I expect to see an audit, just as I do from the City of Chilliwack. I want to see an audited statement that I can go through line by line, and I expect to get it, as a member of the community.”
By extending the audit provision I mentioned earlier to transfer agreements with first nations, we're hoping for more transparency in the system, so that first nations members at large, or chiefs in council, as far as that goes, can say—I think it cuts both ways—“Here are the books; they're open; you can all have a look at them.” It cuts both ways then: the chief in council can say, “See, this is exactly what we did”, and members can say, “I want to know exactly what you did”, and they can back it up with the documents.
We all know that transparency protects all parties, because it allows people to say, “I was falsely accused of doing something with the money.” You see that. I'm sure you've seen cases as well where someone accuses a chief he didn't like of doing something nefarious, and the truth was that it was all good.
You have to get those numbers out in front of people. It's important for first nations leadership to be accountable to their own citizenry, and this will allow that to happen in a way that—we're not picking on anyone—is across the board.
We'll get those other numbers on your riding. You sprang that one on me. I'll get that, though, shortly.
I have a comment and then a question. I don't want to deal with the accountability at this point, but I do have a comment.
Given the minister's comments that transparency protects all parties, and given the confusion around main estimates--supplementary As, Bs, Cs, and all of that stuff--we can't even track what the department is spending. I would say that the transparency process needs to work both ways, because we often can't tell from specific programs where money is being spent and how it's being moved around. We often can't compare year over year either, because the reporting process continues to change.
The question I'd like addressed is around education, and there are two pieces. I didn't get a response on the extension of the band operating funding formula remaining the same, despite what we know is a growth in educational costs and despite the fact that band schools don't have the capacity to operate with libraries, special education, speech therapy, computers, and so on.
Then with regard to the B.C. education agreement, I see Ms. Cram has joined us, and I know that Ms. Cram will probably be able to answer this question. There is confusion over funding for the First Nations Education Council and the FNFA. It has been unclear where the funding is going to come from for those two bodies. They were an essential part of getting that agreement to that point.
The other piece around the B.C. agreement is that it keeps being touted as a great agreement, but we know it takes two to three years to actually get things on stream with that. There are 13 nations willing to sign on, but because the process is so lengthy, we're not clear that the funding is going to be in place. I notice that there's $600,000 in grants to participating first nations in the main estimates, but I wonder if you could address both the BOFF--the band-operated funding formula--and the B.C. first nations.
This race against the clock is always somewhat of a challenge.
I have several questions, but I'm going to start with a number of disparate ones.
Mr. Wernick, is it possible for you to give us a global picture, and probably a more specific picture, of how moneys have been reallocated? I'm particularly interested to know where moneys have been reallocated from education projects to water projects and from other capital projects to operating dollars. We've talked a lot about the movement of moneys. So that's one question.
Second, the Auditor General, in her report, has indicated that the government, through the department, has provided a plan in response to her report. Would it be possible for you to table that plan with the committee? I would be interested in seeing that.
My third question is not connected. We have been dealing with Bill , which is currently in the House. We know that there will be an effort to bring back Bill C-21. Are there additional funds in the budget for the implementation of these bills, or will we be looking again at reassignments of dollars?
My fourth question, which we're not really going to have time to do justice to, is about the whole issue of housing. Clearly, the government has announced twice a $300 million fund for first nations market housing. I wonder if you could tell us why the department has made this a priority. Is there an expectation that this approach will address the existing housing backlog? Will it replace existing housing programs, and what's the implication?
Again, when we talk about Bill , inevitably the issue of housing comes up.