Thank you for this opportunity to present the results of our audit of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, chapter 3 of the Auditor General's October 2007 report. As you mentioned, I am accompanied by Mr. Frank Barrett, the principal responsible for this audit.
The Inuvialuit Final Agreement is one of Canada's first comprehensive land claim agreements. When it was signed in 1984, it was the first such agreement signed north of the 60th parallel, and only the third comprehensive land claim agreement finalized in Canada. As with all comprehensive land claim agreements, it is protected by the Constitution.
Land claim agreements are not designed to end relations between governments and aboriginal groups; they are designed to change those relationships. Modern comprehensive land claim agreements are complex. They address, among other things, the roles, responsibilities, and obligations of each party. Some of these obligations entail specific, one-time activities, while others involve changing processes, such as environmental reviews and federal contracting practices.
The principal objectives of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement are: to preserve Inuvialuit cultural identity and values within a changing northern society; to enable the Inuvialuit to be equal and meaningful participants in the northern and national economy and society; and to protect and preserve Arctic wildlife, the environment, and biological productivity.
The Final Inuvialuit Agreement includes more than 80 provisions that obligate the federal government to undertake certain actions or activities. More than three quarters of these obligations are ongoing, such as regular participation on boards and committees. We audited federal activities related to 29 of Canada's obligations that we deemed important for fulfilling the agreement.
We also examined how Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the lead federal organization, planned for, carried out and monitored the implementation of Canada's obligations under the agreement. Finally, we assessed whether, or how, the department monitored and reported on the extent to which the agreement's principles were realized.
We found that, although the Final Inuvialuit Agreement is constitutionally protected, the federal government has not met some of its significant obligations. This is often because it has not established the necessary processes and procedures or identified who was responsible for taking various actions. For example, it has not yet established a process to remove restrictions on use, called encumbrances, from 13 parcels of Inuvialuit land. Removing them would transfer control and use of the land to the Inuvialuit.
We also found that federal organizations have not respected some of their contracting obligations under the agreement. For more than a decade, government contracting policies did not reflect specific agreement obligations to inform the Inuvialuit of federal contracts related to the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. In addition, departments still do not monitor their contracting practices within the region; they cannot provide assurances that current contracting obligations under the agreement are being met.
Some of the obligations are being met. Canada has paid almost $170 million and transferred approximately 91,000 square kilometres to the Inuvialuit in accordance with the agreement. Moreover, federal organizations have collaborated with joint management boards and committees established under the agreement. They have also provided advice to environmental screening and review bodies when requested to do so.
Mr. Chair, we found that 23 years after the agreement came into effect, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada still has not developed a strategy for implementing it. The department never formally identified federal obligations under the agreement or determined which federal departments were responsible for which obligations. It has not developed a plan to ensure that federal obligations are met. The department does not have a strategic approach to identify and implement Canada's obligations, nor does it monitor how Canada fulfills them.
We also found that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada--the federal lead--has taken no action to ensure that progress towards achieving the principles of the agreement is monitored. As a result, the department does not have a comprehensive picture of progress made in meeting the three fundamental goals of the agreement. During the audit, officials stated that they do not view this as the department's responsibility.
In 2003 we made similar observations about the department's approach to agreements with the Gwich'in and the Inuit. It is disappointing that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has continued to focus only on specific obligations and has not worked in partnership with the Inuvialuit toward the goals of the agreement.
We made six recommendations in our audit of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, including the need for INAC to develop a strategic approach to implementing Canada's obligations under the agreement, and, in cooperation with the Inuvialuit and territorial governments, develop performance indicators and measure progress in meeting the principles of the agreement.
The department has agreed with all of our recommendations. When it responded to these recommendations, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development made various commitments with specific timeframes. Our previous work on aboriginal issues shows that sustained management attention is necessary to ensure that government departments meet their obligations.
Mr. Chair, the committee may wish to invite the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to table its action plan and explain what changes have been put in place to ensure that it lives up to its commitments. For example, it would be important for the department to clarify its role and responsibility with respect to monitoring the achievement of land claims and communicating to staff the importance of meeting federal obligations.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer the committee's questions.
Thank you, Mr. Campbell. It's good to see you again.
I'm going to try to be as specific as I can about the Inuvialuit land claims agreement, but I'll be partly putting it together with the other agreements, commenting first on my personal experience with the Nunavut land claims agreement, which I'm a beneficiary of. If people do not feel that land claims agreements are going to be implemented properly, it's very discouraging for other people across Canada to want to enter into a land claims agreement, just from a personal perspective.
In your recommendations you are asking for a strategic approach to implementing obligations. Could you be a little more specific in noting what type of strategic approach you would recommend that would not only deal with this agreement but in general set an example for the other land claims agreements that we know are saying the same thing, that they don't see an implementation policy that would see all the parties fulfill their obligations.
In our view, a strategic approach to implementing a land claims agreement such as this would include, among other things, at least having an inventory of what those obligations are, having a list of what those obligations are in relation to the federal government, and also identifying who among government is responsible for each of those particular obligations. I think also there need to be timeframes in place, and a willingness to measure progress, not only progress against the specific obligations within the land claims agreement, but also a commitment to measuring progress towards the overall goals, because, as we mentioned, in previous audits of land claims there was a certain degree of commitment towards some of the specifics but without much attention being paid to whether or not the overall fundamental goals of the agreement were actually being met. So I think a strategic plan would include many, if not all, of those components.
Good afternoon to both of you.
Certainly the implementation of land claims is an ongoing challenge. In Labrador, we just signed a land claim in 2005. I think they're working through some of it, but they're already starting to find the implementation process quite cumbersome and slow. That certainly has an impact upon one's progress.
What I found stunning about the report more than anything else were a few sentences saying that the standard of living of the Inuvialuit or the beneficiaries of the claim has actually lessened, that they have fallen behind other northerners--and God forbid if we make comparisons to the rest of Canada.
It's my understanding that land claims are intended to ameliorate the conditions of a specific people and enhance their conditions through a number of obligatory arrangements that are constitutionally protected. I certainly believe in land claims. I think they're fundamentally good things for the country and for aboriginal people. But how can this happen? How can a land claim that was signed over 20 years ago with such hope and promise, the first one north of 60...? How do you qualify that statement? Can you put some more meat around it for me? How do you measure the quality of life and whether they have fallen behind? I find it remarkable that after 23 years, with an agreement that was supposed to hold so much promise, people are actually falling further behind.
Yes, the economic measures review is mandated in the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. So it's not a might-do or a could-do; it's a must-do. Not only that, but it's a must-do every five years.
So when we undertook the audit, we honestly looked at that kind of obligation and initially presumed we would find that had been acted upon and they'd be working on the next one. The department participated in the first economic measures review. It is their finding that the economic objectives have not been adequately met and that the gap is widening.
What is really discouraging is not so much that they haven't moved on to doing it every five years, but that they haven't acted on the findings of that first economic review. As I said, it's mandated in the report in the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, but the government hasn't taken action on it.
I have read the report. It says that negotiations began in 1974, that they continued, and that there was finally a signed understanding, an agreement, in 1984. Now, 23 years later, we hear that there are deficiencies. I do not want to get involved in petty politics and I do not want to blame one government or the other; we must stop the same thing from happening again.
Today, Bill was tabled. It deal with land claims and so on, and we will be studying it in a few weeks, a month perhaps. We will be studying it. I read your report, and I wonder how we committee members can make sure that a similar thing never happens again. What are your recommendations? I have read them, I like the Auditor General a lot, but I find that she is not pointed enough. I would like you to tell us what to do so that we do not go back to square one. At the moment, there are several land agreements. We are not just negotiating a number of them; some have been signed and we are in the process of evaluating whether others are working.
What do we do to make sure that everyone does what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it? Can we make sure? Should people appear before the committee more frequently? Should the Auditor General get involved more frequently? I would like to hear what you have to say. I do not want to be blaming the Conservatives or the Liberals, that is not the point. This is the implementation of the treaty we are talking about. What is it that did not work?
Thank you. There's a lot in that question, and I'll try to put the points together in some kind of order.
It's important to appreciate that a lot of energy goes into negotiating to get to the point where the agreements are signed, not only on the part of the government, but from the aboriginal organizations and groups involved. Very often only a small number of people are willing and able to take the lead in those issues. It's very draining and takes a long time and a lot of effort.
Some of that effort must be sustained in the implementation. It appears to us, in the work we have done, that the energy dissipates on the part of the government after the agreement is signed. There's the big signature and the big event, and then people go off to chase after other priorities. Often people further down in the department are responsible for the day-to-day implementation of those agreements. “Sustained management attention” is a phrase we use frequently now in relation to how the government addresses some of those issues.
On top of that, when they sign a land claim agreement there really should be a plan and timelines. As you know, what gets measured gets noticed, and what's noticed gets managed. So having a plan and some meaningful reporting to all the parties is hugely important. But sustaining that effort is probably the biggest thing on the part of government.
I don't know enough, Mr. Chairman, about the northern Quebec agreement to know whether the member's talking about the recent signature, the recent amendments that were signed to it. Certainly that's an agreement that was initially signed in the 1970s. When parliamentary committees ask the Auditor General to look into subjects, I know that she always pays attention to what members of Parliament have to say, particularly when it comes from a committee.
There are a number of agreements across the north. There are four of them. The member mentioned the one in Labrador. There's a Nunavut land claim, the northern Quebec agreement, and the Inuvialuit one. We chose to audit the Inuvialuit one for a number of reasons, but that's not to say there aren't good reasons also to do the other ones.
The one in northern Quebec would probably require us to coordinate or collaborate with the Auditor General of Quebec, I would think, on that type of agreement. But certainly if a request were made to the Auditor General, I'm sure she would consider it.
I'd like to thank you both for this important audit. Clearly, it indicates a lot of areas where the federal government needs to continue to work to make this agreement work for the people in that region.
It reminds me, as a parliamentarian, that not only do we have to endeavour to sign these important land claims agreements, but of course implementation is by far the most important part. It reminds me of the days of being an entrepreneur. The idea is the easiest part, but implementation of the idea is always the challenge.
I'd like to ask a few specific questions. First, when was the audit actually done? What period of time did the audit occur over?
If I have some time, I'll share it with my colleague Ms. Karetak-Lindell.
These agreements are really tough for aboriginal people to sign as well because of the finality that comes with them, the sense that you give up undefined rights for some defined rights and privileges, forever and ever, and this is the way it's going to be.
There has been a lot of litigation around implementation and what the agreement meant or didn't mean. With the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, there's been litigation on top of litigation with the Cree people. There have been some disputes as well under this particular agreement that you've highlighted.
Do you assess how much of an impact or what type of impact these disputes are having on the lack of progress that's being made? When you get bogged down in what this or that clause means or the usefulness of a particular part of the agreement, are there a lot of disputes between the Inuvialuit, or the IRC, and the various levels of government; and was there any assessment done on maybe what type of impact? It drains resources—human, financial, and otherwise.
Secondly, is there any possibility of opening up these types of agreements? I'm not sure if there is not. The one thing I'm sort of edging towards is the whole impact of climate change and the type of stress and the challenges that many of these northern communities are going to face as a result of climate change, which wasn't contemplated, I don't believe, back 23 years ago to the same extent.
So I have two questions: What impact are the disputes having; and is there any room for opening up these types of agreements to account for circumstances that weren't seen a quarter of a century ago?
I think the first part of the question, in terms of the impact on the Inuvialuit, would be better answered by representatives of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. But I think it's fair to say that from what we've observed, the ongoing disagreements and pushing and trying to get things implemented causes frustration. As the member correctly points out, it seems to be draining in people. They seem to be having the same discussions and arguments every few months or every year.
As most members will be aware, we're talking about a very small number of people in the Inuvialuit region, so there isn't a massive staff to be able to deal with those things. So I think it has a big impact on the Inuvialuit and their ability to get on and do other things. It takes their time.
That said, I think that question would be much better answered and more completely answered by representatives of the Inuvialuit.
As to the second part of the question, about whether or not they could be opened up, I'm not a lawyer, I'll confess. The fact that they're constitutionally protected probably suggests that's a big hill to climb, but it would also suggest to me that the expectation was that they would be implemented, and fully implemented. When you create an agreement of that nature, the expectation is that you'll implement it fully and completely.
On the question of climate change, the member says 23 years ago it wasn't contemplated. A lot more recently than that, people were having difficulty getting their minds around just what the impacts would be. I think the north has to deal with many of those issues, and whether they would be through different vehicles as opposed to this agreement would be for others to decide.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.
I want to clarify. My NDP colleague commented that this is the third audit of land claims agreements. I simply want to verify that this is the first audit of this particular one. I wanted to correct and identify that.
At this committee, one of the primary focuses that I think we've discussed at various times, although we haven't done a complete study, is the whole issue of economic development opportunity for aboriginal people. Certainly it keeps floating to the top as one of the key factors in advancing the cause of all aboriginal peoples in Canada.
I want to turn to page 18 of your report, where you refer specifically, in paragraph 3.49, that there was a framework developed by INAC in 1994 to evaluate economic progress, but it hasn't been used at all. Then in your next paragraph you refer to the fact that 17 months later there still was no reply or action by INAC, and then in paragraph 3.51 that INAC still has not followed through on any of these commitments, that no one is monitoring the progress toward economic objectives.
That's bad enough on its own, in isolation, but then I turn to the notes given to us by the Library of Parliament researchers, and they point out that the $169 million that is payable over 14 years includes a $10 million economic development fund. So the question that obviously pops into my mind is what's happened with that $10 million? Is it still sitting on the table for use when these plans finally get put into place, or has it disappeared?
That concerns me as a taxpayer, obviously. I think it's something that should concern all of us.
Obviously, as we look at this long term of inactivity or inaction on the part of all stripes of government, there's enough blame to go around. We could talk about blame and all of that, but as regrettable as the mistakes of the past are, I think the key thing we can all agree on here is that we need to move forward, not only in terms of this agreement but other agreements that are being signed.
If we were to ask INAC to focus on one key objective in terms of getting to work and implementing this--you've given us six overall--what would the main focus be? Secondly, does INAC actually have adequate resources to implement that focus, if we were to identify it?
Mr. Chair, they knew we were here, and I would never want to understate the effect of having an audit in the building.
Perhaps I could just take a second and point out to members something that I think is quite important and would be worthy of further exploration with the Department of Indian Affairs, and that is, in paragraph 3.83 on page 27, during the course of our audit, certainly departmental officials.... This is relating to the obligations of the agreement. The officials were certainly telling us that they were reluctant to monitor and report progress towards achieving the principles for several reasons, and the main one being that they didn't think that was their responsibility. When you go to the recommendations—we got to the end of the audit and we made the recommendation that they should do just that—they've agreed with that recommendation. So perhaps we've had an effect.
I really think there would be value in having, perhaps, both the Inuvialuit folks and certainly the department here, particularly the department, to get an action plan and dates, and not to put too fine a point on it, to hold their feet to the fire.
Gentlemen, without wishing to assign blame to any political party whatsoever, you are telling us that you audited an agreement that has been in place for 23 years. In paragraph 7 of the document you tabled today, we can read, and I quote:
|| For more than a decade, government contracting policies did not reflect specific agreement obligations to inform the Inuvialuit of federal contracts related to the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.
Who are the losers, the Inuvialuit or the government? After 23 years, you have listed all the mistakes that beset these agreements. You also mention that, in 2003, you mentioned similar concerns in an agreement with the Gwich'in and the Inuit. You state that it is disappointing to note that the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs still focuses its effort on only some obligations.
I would like to remind you that the federal government is involved with Nunavik. The Naskapis of Kawawachikamach, who are from Nunavik, send reports to the government each year both on their finances and their activities. Bill C-44 was amended by Bill C-21. I have to insist on this question. Given that several departments are able to act and get involved at the same time, would it be possible to send these agreements to the office of the Auditor General of Canada in order to correct deficiencies if required? That would perhaps help with the implementation of these agreements.
Perhaps I could address the question, Mr. Chair, in this way. In paragraph 3.5 we note that there are today 21 comprehensive land claims agreements, and that the department is organized with approximately 25 staff—approximately one person per agreement—on the implementation side.
Earlier we were speaking to the negotiation side. There, you have interdepartmental committees; you have a whole apparatus to negotiate and implement agreements.
Perhaps there is something to be said there.
If we could put a bit of positive spin on it, I would note that on the wildlife side, in environmental screening committees and some of those areas, what you saw was departmental officials who very much had goals that were aligned with those of the Inuvialuit. They were interested in protecting the environment, in protecting the wildlife, and in seeing development done in a responsible way. What you saw was committees that were working very effectively.
There might be some fruit, Mr. Chair, in looking at the shared objectives and goals.
I feel that we haven't found any solution here yet. I'm a little bit concerned that INAC seems to be operating in a vacuum from instructions. This is the third report on these implementation processes.
We've seen also major conferences on implementation. We have one group in the courts right now over implementation. This suggests to me that it may be necessary for the committee to bring forward people from the department who are responsible for this process to lay out their goals and objectives and their methods for achieving some of the things that have to be done.
I just wanted to touch a bit on the first goal you had listed here: preserve Inuvialuit culture, identity, and values within a changing northern society. I know that the agreement here pre-dated a lot of the self-government work, so the self-government arrangements and the self-government work has come into the agreement. You don't report at all on the efforts towards achieving self-government, that being one of the major goals of the agreement.
Yes, Mr. Chairman, I'll try.
Within the agreement, you have the three broad objectives: cultural values, economic issues, and environmental-related issues. When you look at the specific obligations and activities within the details of the agreement, most relate to economic issues and the environment.
I honestly believe that the Inuvialuit would be better placed to speak to this, but certainly, the way it was explained to us was that if the economic, wildlife, and environmental issues advanced the way they were foreseen in the agreement, that in itself would impact upon cultural values and the maintenance of those. Again, I'd be hesitant to speak on behalf of the Inuvialuit on that kind of issue.
There is a disconnect or an absence of a number of specific obligations within the agreement that relate to culture.
I recognize that in certain regions of the country it's much more difficult to get some things done than in other areas of the country.
There is economic activity going on. Again, I would refer you to the Inuvialuit to speak to that. But I don't think the expectation is that the government would deliver an economy. I think the expectation in the agreement is that there would be an economic review every five years, and there would be recommendations that would come out of that review, and, where possible, the parties would work together to try to implement those recommendations.
Where that would have led, if the review had been acted on, I don't know. It might have led to a better economy, but who knows? One wouldn't know until they at least do the things they were supposed to do under the agreement.
I don't think anyone would suggest that implementing all of those recommendations would lead to any kind of guarantee, but I think people would have expected the recommendations to be acted on.
Thank you, again, for coming here today. A lot has been covered already.
I want to read you something that Ms. Fraser said at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in June 2006. They were doing a review of comprehensive land claims at that time. I think there's some applicability. She said:
||You have to be looking at the overall objectives, not simply limiting yourself to that action.
||At the time, there was actually a disagreement with the department. They said in their response that they were not tasked with the objective, but rather that their responsibility was to meet the activities that had been specified. After that, the minister changed the position of the department. But I think it's still not clear to us if it's fully accepted that the department should be trying to attain the overall objective and that it doesn't just have a responsibility to do the actions that are listed.
Then I went to your report, and under number 392, at the conclusion--and I'm going to ask questions after--you said:
||...we concluded that although the Inuvialuit Final Agreement has existed for 23 years, INAC has yet to demonstrate the leadership and the commitment necessary to meet federal obligations and achieve the objectives of the agreement.
What did the minister change when she said, “After that, the minister changed the position of the department”? What changes are you aware of?
And in your experience you do a lot of management audits, organizational audits. What's required to show leadership in a department? Is it the interests of the bureaucrats who are there? Is it the attitude, the will of the bureaucrats? Is it the political will of the minister of the day? How do we reconcile all this?
Those are excellent questions. I'll try to make sure I remember all the points you made.
In relation to the comment that Madam Fraser made in the quote you mentioned, the change was on the department's website in terms of what they're about and what they do. I can't remember the specific part of the website, but they did make a change in how they expressed themselves about what they do. We were encouraged by that at the time.
I would point out to members that there was a change then, and there was a change in the course of this audit. As I mentioned earlier, during the course of the audit departmental officials were saying, “We don't see that as our responsibility, and that's not something we really want to do”. When we got to the end of the audit, they agreed to the recommendations.
Without being overly subtle, I would encourage the committee to perhaps avail themselves of senior management and ask them for some kind of assurance, and even ask them to provide you with a status report every few months. I've seen this with some committees. If you don't like the status report, then maybe that's an opportunity to bring them back.
In terms of what is required to make it a priority in a department, these are constitutionally protected agreements, so it shouldn't be at the whim of who's particularly interested in it. We've signed the agreements. They're constitutionally protected. They should be implemented. At the risk of being a bit blunt, I would communicate it as a priority. Put it in people's performance assessments, their personal appraisals, and measure them against it.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll try to be very brief in my question.
There are certainly a lot of negative vibes to our meeting today, and I think all of us agree it's regrettable that we have this kind of a report that indicates such a high level of inactivity on an agreement that not only has potentially a lot of economic costs in terms of the millions of dollars, but also has the economic costs to the aboriginal people who could have benefited. I want to acknowledge that, and I hope we've learned a lot from this negativity.
I want to try, if we can, to look for something positive here. Maybe there's not much to find, but I will ask you, as you did your audit, were there certain parts of this that you could say yes, they had it right, it was great? Then, the second part of that would be, how could we replicate that success as we try to implement that in other areas where there's been dismal failure?
It's more of a comment as we're winding up.
We take the Auditor General reports very seriously. They're the impetus for getting something going. I was saying to Anita that you can't keep expecting young aboriginal people to have hope for the future. Let's say someone who was 25 years old when this was being signed felt that his life and his family's lives were going to improve, but now he's almost 50 and still waiting. It sets a very dim picture for all of us, and does not give much encouragement for others to even seek to conclude land claims agreements.
I think it is incumbent upon all of us as members of Parliament, and everyone who is involved in the implementation of these land claims agreements, no matter which ones they are, to fulfill them. All parties are responsible. As you say, these are constitutionally protected agreements. If the Constitution can't protect Canadians, what else will?
This is a very serious report that we're hearing, and it's not just about this agreement; it is unfortunately setting a trend for all the other agreements. These are the same complaints we're hearing about the Nunavut agreement, which was signed after 1986 when we hoped that things were changing for the better.