Good morning, everybody, and welcome to our meeting.
In particular, welcome, Mr. Minister.
There are a couple of really quick housekeeping items before we start.
Last week some of you asked me if in the wintertime we couldn't hold our meetings a little further south. We have managed that. I hope you're enjoying 131 Queen Street.
It is an interesting debate, though. Would you rather drink coffee out of a plastic can up in the West Block or would you rather have Starbucks three blocks away? I'm going to go with Starbucks and three blocks away.
Anyway, good morning. On the questioning rounds for the committee members, we're going to get a presentation from the minister, and then I can appreciate that many of you are going to want to have an opportunity to ask the minister questions. We will do our normal cycle, which is seven minutes, but I would like to keep it to seven minutes. So what I'll do is when there's a minute left, I'll just say “one minute”, and we don't need to stop the conversation, but that gives both the questioner and whoever is answering the question a warning that we're into the last minute. That way, hopefully, we can get as many turns as possible.
There is one other quick reminder. For those of you who have amendments to Bill , please get them to the clerk as soon as possible so that we can have those prepared for Tuesday's meeting.
At this point, I would like to call for vote 1a under Indian Affairs and Northern Development. To begin this process, I'd like to ask our special guest today, Minister Chuck Strahl, to make a presentation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I must say, you folks are a pretty punctual bunch.
I am pleased to be here, obviously, to have this opportunity to appear before the committee to discuss not only the supplementary estimates but the government's larger view and the challenges facing aboriginal people and the initiatives we are undertaking to address those challenges.
Although this is my first appearance as minister before this committee, I have been a member of various committees for many years. I am very conscious of the important role that committees play in the parliamentary process and I appreciate the work that you are doing.
My remarks today reference the supplementary estimates of the department. My predecessor, the Hon. Jim Prentice, appeared before you several months ago to discuss the main estimates for the current fiscal year. We're now in the next phase of the budgetary cycle.
As you may recall, this government's inaugural budget in 2006 adopted a new strategy to address aboriginal issues, targeted investments to resolve quality of life issues. This commitment was reaffirmed in Budget 2007.
This government's larger aboriginal agenda was articulated by the Prime Minister in an address in Halifax earlier this month. I was pleased to be in attendance. It focused on five areas: economic development; education; empowering first nations and protecting the vulnerable; land claims; and reconciliation governance and self-government.
To effect a real change in these areas, our approach is to build a record of results through concrete, tangible actions undertaken with willing and able partners.
The supplementary estimates helped us to achieve these results. In total, these estimates commit, through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, $209 million in additional investments that aim to improve the lives of aboriginal people and northerners. Another $25 million is committed through Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada.
Mr. Chairman, since my appointment as minister, I have crossed the country, meeting with provincial and territorial ministers, aboriginal leaders, and private sector stakeholders, and I have visited northern communities and first nations reserves.
I am proud to note that, with our partners, this government is making real progress—and that aboriginal people and northerners are beginning to reap the benefits.
Let me address the reconciliation first. One of my first actions as minister was to meet with the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations and a group of former residential school students in Winnipeg.
I realize that addressing the legacy of Indian residential schools is personally wrenching for many of these folks, and it is extremely complex, but it is the right thing to do, and we will do it right.
Let me be perfectly clear on the point that contrary to a recent and incorrect media report, the full $1.9 billion in support of the common experience payment for the settlement agreement is available for former Indian residential school students. The $1.9 billion in funding is managed through a trust account, minus the advance payments of $82.6 million that have already been made to 10,326 former students, which this government provided in advance of the implementation of the agreement to former students who were 65 or older on May 30, 2005.
This government is also moving to fulfill its lawful obligation to first nations through a significant retooling of the specific claims resolution process. On Tuesday, I had the honour of introducing in the House. This progressive legislation will establish an independent tribunal to make binding decisions on specific claims that have been rejected for negotiation, or when negotiations have failed. It is the critical element in the implementation of the broader specific claims action plan announced by on June 12.
This government recognizes the importance to first nations of the timely resolution of both comprehensive and specific claims. For instance, the single biggest amount in the supplementary estimates involves nearly $31 million to support implementation of the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement. , the bill to enact the agreement, is now before the Senate.
In addition to this legislation, we are working in partnership with Inuit and Quebec leaders in other areas of interest. In August I met with Inuit and provincial, federal, and local government leaders at a conference in Kujuuaq, with a view to opening new horizons in the development of Nunavik. We agreed to set up a tripartite working group to ensure that the spirit of working in partnership established at that meeting continues to guide the future development of Nunavik.
I am also pleased to highlight that we are making great strides in the treaty land entitlement settlements. When I met with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in August, I was pleased to note that more than twice the amount of land in that province was converted last year than converted since the TLE agreements were signed in the 1990s. The addition of these lands will help foster stronger first nations economies and bring economic benefits to surrounding areas as well.
The funding provided by these supplementary estimates will assist my department in delivering on another of our priorities: protecting the vulnerable. Earlier this year, a tripartite agreement was signed in Alberta allowing for the use of a prevention-based service model to deliver child and family services to Alberta first nations. The supplementary estimates allow $15.3 million toward the delivery of these services.
Let me also note that just under $9 million will go toward enhanced spending for shelters for victims of family violence and prevention-related community-based programs.
Economic development is another cornerstone of our prosperity initiatives, so we are working to create a more coherent and practical approach to increasing aboriginal participation in the economy. The National Aboriginal Economic Development Board will be assisting us with implementing this approach. In April our government named new members, and a new chairman, Chief Clarence Louie. They will provide invaluable advice in such areas as investment strategies, business creation, and access to business capital.
Since my appointment as minister, I have had the opportunity to speak with the board, and I met recently with Chief Louie in Vancouver to discuss these and other important issues.
Of course, the north is an extremely important part of my mandate as well. I have made a number of trips north of 60 in the past months, talking to territorial and Inuit leaders about their plans and aspirations. Every time I visit, I am impressed by the immense potential of this region and its people.
Our government is working to achieve real progress in the north in four priority areas: strengthening arctic sovereignty, promoting social and economic development, protecting our environmental heritage, and improving and developing northern governance. The actions we take in support of these priorities will benefit not only northerners, but all Canadians. We are establishing a Canadian Forces training centre in Resolute Bay, and a deep-water docking and refueling facility in Nanisivik provides some of the infrastructure needed to exercise sovereignty.
We have also taken other significant action. For example, further investments in the International Polar Year are included in these supplementary estimates; we will get the job done on seabed mapping; and a world-class arctic research station will yield the knowledge we need to make sound decisions on environmental, social, and economic policies.
The final point I would like to raise concerns the food mail program, in support of which the supplementary estimates call for an investment of $20 million. I discussed food mail with northern officials when I was in Kuujjuaq. I want to emphasize that although there are cost and delivery issues concerning this program—and we are working to address those and make the program more cost-effective—the food mail program should play a vital role in ensuring that people living in northern communities have access to healthy, nutritious food.
Mr. Chairman, I have outlined what I believe were some impressive accomplishments, but this government does not plan to stop here. Our parliamentary agenda is also a full one. For instance, I am looking forward to working with this committee on Bill , currently before you, and on the Specific Claims Tribunal Act, which I have also mentioned.
Also, the B.C. legislature recently passed legislation to implement the Tsawwassen agreement. I will be introducing federal legislation in the near future to bring this agreement into full force and effect.
The investments outlined in the supplementary estimates and the initiatives I have talked about this morning demonstrate this government's determination to address the whole range of aboriginal and northern issues.
Assisted by the addition of $209 million to my department's total budget from the supplementary estimates, we will help strengthen aboriginal and northern communities in this country, and work with our partners towards a rich and rewarding future for all Canadians.
I will do my best to answer any questions committee members may have. I am pleased to have officials with me to help if necessary.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and welcome, Minister. I'm pleased to see you here today.
I have two lines of questioning that I'm going to ask you about. I'll put the questions out and hope we can get the answers, because we all have many questions.
I can't help noting, though—I'm beginning with a comment—that today is the second anniversary of the Kelowna Accord. One can't help but wonder where we might have been with aboriginal communities had that commitment been honoured.
We have found that the supplementary estimates are disappointing. As we read them, the total authorities for the department increased very slightly. From last year to this year the departmental authority has increased by 0.25%, which to us is effectively a cut. It fails both to take into consideration that the population is growing by 3% and inflation. In light of the large budget surplus, we find it quite disappointing to be dealing with supplementary estimates that appear to represent a cut in funding.
The two areas I'd like to focus on are two that you mentioned in your remarks. There is the residential schools survivor cheques, which you and I and all of us know is a very controversial subject, and I want to focus on the food mail program, about which we have some considerable concerns.
You made a commitment on September 19 to the 80,000 survivors who were eligible to apply for compensation that the payments would be made within 35 days. We have all heard the stories, we've all seen the press reports, and we've heard that many survivors have not received their compensation. I appreciate your remarks that the money is there, that it is committed, and that it will be honoured. What I want to know is when this money will be out to them. The 35 days is long past. How do you account for the failure in getting those moneys out? What additional resources do you need? Do you know how many of those eligible for the payments—not the elders, on the prepayment—have indeed received them, and how many more are to go?
We're also hearing much about the discrepancies between people who are coming forward with their experience and government records. I want to know what you're doing to address that.
Gong on to the food mail program—and I'm sorry I'm going quickly, but we have lots that we want to raise—a year ago your predecessor said the department would review the food mail program, I think he said “from stem to gudgeon”, and that it would be completed by March 31. A year later, we know that the Canadian International Trade Tribunal ruled last February that the contract has been unfairly awarded, and yet the department has yet to demonstrate any progress.
When will your department get around to delivering a food mail program that really and truly meets the needs of northern residents and creates a level playing field for all airlines, which is a concern? What prevents the government from using the services of Public Works and Government Services to fairly find a new cargo service provider? And why does your government continue to use Canada Post, when it awarded a contract that does not meet the standards of your new government?
Over the past year, the program costs, as you have indicated, have increased 17.5%. How much of the program's cost increase over the past decade is attributable to Nav Canada fees and rising fuel costs, and what other costs have contributed to this increase? We're concerned—we talk about nutrition, we talk about healthy children—and this food program is doing nothing or very little to assist children and families in the north.
I'll stop there. I have many more questions, but I'll stop there.
Thank you very much. That was a good list of questions. I'm not going to get to all of them, but obviously we'll get you answers for those after the meetings, or you can ask officials if we don't have time to get to all of them.
On the Kelowna Accord, I would just say in passing that we don't know where we'd be, but I've heard from many people across the country what they expect from the government, and what was not clear in the Kelowna Accord was the to-do list. It was a set of promises made without any detail. They weren't sure what it was going to look like. The approach we've taken is to address practical concerns in a practical way, and we have some success stories to show for that. It's a different approach, but it is a businesslike approach that is going to work. It is working to date.
The cuts in funding aren't really cuts in funding. This is the trouble when you're dealing with estimates in isolation. You always have your main estimates. They never look quite right because you always get your supplementary estimates, but you don't get your supplementary Bs until later. It's never the whole picture in any one set of supplementaries.
Certainly we're spending a record amount of money on aboriginal people. The forecast for 2007-08 totals about $10.2 billion from all sources. Portions come from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, but significant amounts of money, understandably and properly, are spent through Health Canada, through HRSDC, which goes to development training, for example, through CMHC for housing initiatives, and so on. Not all the funding comes through our department, for one thing. Second, the supplementary estimates don't show the entire picture.
In total, the overall forecast spending is at $10.2 billion, which is at record levels. I'm pleased about that. Obviously, it's not just the amount of money on most of these things; it's also how it's--
Obviously education is one of the keys for first nations, as it is for any modern nation. Education is a key component of what we can do to help first nations help themselves. We are spending more money on education this year than ever before.
On the other hand, it's not always just about money; it's also about the management of that money and how it's spent and how it's managed. For example, in British Columbia we have signed a tripartite agreement with first nations and the province, talking about the things you've talked about--everything from a culturally sensitive curriculum development, about mobility of the students within both the first nations and the public school system, teacher professional development, and so on. We've allocated more money in the supplementary estimates to back up the legislation that we enacted last year to make this effective.
Also, we've allocated in the budget around $31 million for the Nunavik agreement. That's an example of how we can help an aboriginal community that's ready to take control and move ahead with it. We can help as soon as we get that done, passed, and through. That money is available through the supplementaries to make sure they have it in their hands.
We have signed a couple of other agreements in principle with several provinces on, I hope, a similar tripartite type of agreement. In the end, I'm thinking especially for K-to-12 education that the tripartite solution is the right solution. It reflects the modern reality of the mobility of these students who go back and forth from on-reserve, off-reserve, the reality of first nations' desire to control the education, and our desire to help both fund it and work with the province to make sure we have common standards for these children as they work through the system. It is important to us, and I think the tripartite arrangements are the best way to move forward on it.
Thank you, Minister, for coming before the committee. I have a couple of comments on your opening remarks.
First of all, I was quite heartened to see that you were talking about protecting vulnerable populations, so I'm ever hopeful that the government will see fit to make it a priority to address Jordan's principle, once it's passed in the House, and commit to putting first nations children first.
About residential schools, I have just a quick comment. Part of the challenge with the estimates, of course, is that the formatting changes year over year, and it's very difficult to follow the money. That's why sometimes there are misleading stories that come out around estimates.
I, too, want to speak to education, but I'm going to deal with the bricks and mortar part of it. It may just be, again, how you follow the money, but in the analysis the researchers did for us, they said the community infrastructure planned money--and it's on page 2 of the document they prepared for us--the forecast spending for 2006-07, was $1.3 billion, and in 2007-08 it was $1.2 billion.
When we talked about the building of schools in a cost-drivers project that we did on access to information, they talked about the fact that capital and facility maintenance expenditures have actually declined, and that at this stage the per capita expenditure on capital has declined from $1,660 to $1,225, or a 35% decrease in dollars. They are saying that money is moved around in capital expenditures because of these funding shortfalls, making schools a priority.
Interestingly, there was an estimated five-year incremental capital requirement as part of this document, and the overall shortfall over five years was $1.6 billion. In this document--this is a department document, by the way--just in the numbers I was able to add up from here, there was a $202 million shortfall on building schools. Interestingly enough, British Columbia had one of those shortfalls, with a $20 million shortfall for school construction.
Of course, I think we've all heard heartbreaking stories from reserves. Attawapiskat is a good example, where the school has been contaminated. I have Manto Sipi Cree Nation and Mosakahiken Cree Nation, which are just some of a number of places where schools just aren't being dealt with in a timely way.
I guess my question to you is that with the community infrastructure dollars going down, I didn't see anything in the supplementary estimates to reflect the need for new school construction. So I wonder how you plan on addressing how many schools need to be built or expanded or renovated to meet the government's own stated goals about K to 12 being a priority in education.
I would love to address the residential schools issue again in a minute, but I think I'd better use my time on your question, although I think the residential school thing needs to be addressed a little further.
On specific claims, I was very pleased to table that. I was also very pleased that the national chief, Phil Fontaine, and several grand chiefs were able to be there for that. They considered this a historic occasion. They were there for the tabling, even though nothing was said in the House. Their sense was that this was a historic turning of the page, the second one of the year, I would say. It was a privilege to be there with Mr. Fontaine for the residential schools one earlier this year in Winnipeg. This one he claimed was almost equally significant, for a couple of reasons.
If a specific first nations claim has been languishing--for example, if they've been trying for three years and haven't got anywhere or if the Government of Canada has rejected their claim--instead of Canada being the judge, the arbitrator, the people with the money bags and everything else, this tribunal will be set up. It will be at arm's length and it will be funded. There will be $2.5 billion in this fund over the next 10 years for specific claims settlement.
First nations can go there. They can know that a set of superior court judges will hear their case and render a decision that's binding on the government and on first nations and get these things settled. This is something for which first nations have been asking for 60 years. Mr. Fontaine was very eloquent about this at the press conference that followed. In addition, we--he and I--signed a political agreement that commits the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations to deal with issues outside the specific claims tribunal legislation. These include things like some of the larger claims, what we do with the backlog of claims, making sure we troubleshoot it in case something comes along. But most importantly, I think, is that we actually drafted the legislation working hand in hand with the Assembly of First Nations.
What this means is that over the summer a task force was set up, and the task force, or part of it, met in every region of the country with the Assembly of First Nations. They drafted the bill clause by clause. We worked together on what was needed and what was wanted. We addressed their concerns, and we were able to come up with a piece of legislation that not only addresses a 60-year-old grievance, if you will, but does it in a way that first nations feel they were not only consulted on but were partners in the creation of this legislation.
It is historic, and it will, I'm hoping, put many of these long-standing specific claims behind us--settle many of them quickly--and allow us to move onto other issues, quality of life issues and other things, such as economic development, that first nations and the government want to move to when specific claims are in our rear-view mirror instead of staring us in the face.
, I'd like to commend you and your government for following through on the former Liberal government's residential school compensation package. Indeed, it has had an enormous impact not just for the survivors and their families in our communities but also for our country. You're right, many things have been said, and our national chief has cautioned Canadians not to speculate about how survivors might be spending their money or how the government might be moving forward. As you said, I think it's very important that we move forward toward a true process of truth and reconciliation.
I'd also like to go back to the Kelowna Accord. I think there were details, and I think that is very disappointing as well for this country. I'd like to add that, because there were 18 months of round tables and all aboriginal communities and leaders were involved with our first ministers' meeting.
Going back to education, the increase in spending in education has not kept up with population growth nor with inflation. You said it's partly about bricks and mortar, but it has to do with other aspects of education.
I'd like to ask a question. Almost 60 first nations schools are locally controlled in Manitoba, and these first nations schools receive far less funding from INAC for their education system than INAC will spend delivering service in the provincial school system. Could you give us some information about why that is so? Why is it that when they are following the provincial curriculum, when they are investing in their students and youth, ensuring that after the whole process of residential schools, where families were torn apart and an attempt was made to eradicate first nations culture...that part of their objective is to ensure that the children in their communities are receiving culturally appropriate education, meeting provincial standards.... Why is it that their systems are so grossly underfunded compared to provincial school systems?
I think what you've hit on is that economic development--and this is a truism in any community--is less likely to take place when there's uncertainty. Businesses abhor uncertainty. It doesn't matter whether its first nations aboriginal business or someone else. They need to know the rules. They need to know how to go forward, and they need to know the rules of engagement, so to speak.
One of the advantages of land claims agreements generally is that they do bring some of that certainty to it. That's why we made some real efforts. As recently as last week we announced, for example, some interim land withdrawals up in the Northwest Territories to help move along the Akaitcho agreement. They were concerned about land set aside. We put it with interim land withdrawals. That allows businesses, the Akaitcho, the Deh Cho, and many others to start making plans, knowing where that land is going to be set aside.
On the Nunavik land claims agreement, I realize there's all-party support for this, and it's gone through the House and is into the Senate. Unfortunately, there she sits. The Government of Quebec is on the phone to me regularly about this, asking where this is. Everybody wants to sign off on it. We're eager to sign off on it as a government. The president up there is also keen to sign off on it. We want to move ahead on this.
This is another one of those agreements that was identified when I was in Kuujjuaq as one of the key elements in being able to grab control of their own destiny and move ahead on economic development, education, health--a series of important steps that will make quality-of-life issues and economic development better for them.
My understanding is that there's one senator speaking against the bill. There's one person, as far as I know, in either the House or the Senate, who's holding this bill up. Everyone else, of the 400 or so people who are involved in this at the parliamentarian level, is in favour of it.
I would just urge that senator to consider what is being held up here, consider that it's.... You know, you can't use the expression that “everyone else in the parade is out of step except me”. It just doesn't work. We need to move ahead, and the people in Nunavik deserve for this to go ahead.
It must seem like forever to these people, I admit, because many of them have been fighting this fight all their lives. So it's a lifetime for them.
In reality, until September 19, when the results of the vote amongst all the residential school students came in, we weren't able to start anything. That was a result of the court system that had been set up; there needed to be approval by the students, who then voted. The courts had said that unless a certain percentage of them approved the deal, it couldn't go ahead. So until September 19, nothing happened. There were no applications, or only a few, in the system, and so on.
After September 19, we announced that the numbers had been approved or that the court had approved the vote. Then we moved. We had forms ready to go, and we had an arrangement with Service Canada so that first nations could apply at any Service Canada outlet, which would help them fill out the forms, and so on. The forms were ready and people got them in their hands, but it didn't start till September 19 or 20. Then the applications started to come in following that. Until then there was really nothing there, or no applications to work on.
After that, we've been flooded with far more applications than we thought: 77,000 applications have come in already. The numbers exceeded everyone's expectation.
That being said, we've been working overtime, doing everything we can, and so far we have—
Well, there's no doubt in my mind, especially in the K to 12 system, that the tripartite agreement is the way to go.
The strength of first nations control over the education system is that it is culturally sensitive and it addresses local concerns and needs. In the best-case scenario, it can at least involve parents and communities in local school development and so on.
In many ways the weakness of the current system is that it almost follows the old schoolhouse model, the Little House on the Prairie model. If you think back to that era, it had a school teacher, or a couple of school teachers. That was the old schoolhouse model, and it was in isolation.
We are well into the 21st century now. We're now faced with what the best type of education for the modern world is. It's not isolation; it's more integration.
If we can find a way that these students who frequently.... We all know this. I have 45 bands in my riding, so I've seen this firsthand. They'll spend five or six years at the reserve school, then they move to town. People are mobile, so they move to town. They might spend three or four or five years in town going to a public school. Then they get a job somewhere else and the family moves back to the reserve and they might finish their schooling in three or four years.
The importance of having common standards, and even some common curriculum, with the public system is clear. When a child comes through the system they can say, “When I came out of grade five in that school and went to grade six in another school, there was some continuity. There were always little differences, but we made it work.” You make it work, and the kids have confidence when they know they can make that transference.
More importantly, I think, with respect to mobility of teachers is that you don't end up with two silos of teachers, where first nations teachers aren't part of modern training and updates or whatever
I'll try a couple of those, but I may have to get back to you on a couple of them.
I'd ask you to indulge me, Mr. Chair, on one answer, because I think it anticipates several questions, and that is on the question of the capital budget.
We have a pot of money for capital. We don't actually run any capital in the sense of owning things like military bases or what not, but we fund first nations to create capital and to do renovations and so on. That one pot has to cover water, waste water, housing, education, and all the community infrastructure needs.
We try to plan and budget it. I don't think we do as great a job as we could, but we keep a whole bunch of waiting lists and priority lists. There are ranking systems that are needs-based to try to put the most urgent at the top of the list and so on.
When things happen, community planning is involved in terms of agreeing on the design of a school, the size, and so on. The ability to get contractors to do the work is increasingly a problem in western Canada. You know how hard it is to get tradespeople in British Columbia, and so on.
We constantly juggle and reorder those lists so that whatever money Parliament gives us, we try to squeeze as much out of it every year as we can. Things will slide back and forth across fiscal years and up and down the provincial lists. I think we should be doing more moving across the country so that we can maximize that.
If there's a fire in a community and the school burns down and kids are going to have nowhere to go, we have to create portables and temporary facilities to make sure the kids are not the innocent bystanders in that kind of problem.
I'm sorry the minister is not still here. I'm finding it a little difficult to listen to the minister telling us we shouldn't make negative comments so that we don't hurt the people who are involved. I sat in my early days as a member of Parliament while he voted against every land claims agreement piece of legislation that came before us, namely the Nisga'a treaty and the Nunavut land claims implementation legislation, so it's a little difficult for me to take those kinds of comments coming from that particular minister. I want to put these on record, because we have to put them in perspective. Your history always comes back to put you in your place, I think.
I look at the supplementary estimates and notice that there are a lot of transfers. I know the minister said they're spending more money in the Indian Affairs department than any previous government. I'm not going to get into nickel-and-diming this stuff, but what I'm interested in is how much of the supposed increase in actual spending on services is related to transferring of different services from other departments to Indian Affairs.
I made comments before about Aboriginal Business Canada transferring from Industry Canada and about other services managed by different departments moving to Indian Affairs. I remember my comments to the previous minister, that in a way we're almost ghettoizing services in Indian Affairs.
I wonder how much of that money is actually for transferring over to INAC and how much of it is for the salaries of the people who went with the transfer, and not so much as an end result of services going to the people this department serves. That's a little worrisome for me. And how much of that money is really for the International Polar Year, above and beyond the money we use for service delivery, whether for education or land claims or whatever?
I'm worried that the actual dollars they're saying have increased the spending for the Department of Indian Affairs are really money spent on the International Polar Year, or money taken from Industry Canada for Aboriginal Business Canada, and not so much money for the delivery of services, which I think is what we all want to see.
If you've been at this committee for a while, you will have seen the food mail program in supplementary estimates every year. One of the quirks of the program is that its base funding is about half of what it needs, and we have simply had to add money by going to Treasury Board and then getting it approved by Parliament to keep up with the cost.
There are lots of questions on this, and it would be helpful, Mr. Chairman, to come back on food mail and give a more technical briefing on the program. I would be very happy to do that.
There are issues about the cost of fuel, the cost of the food, and the stocks that are going, and also the volume. It is literally how many kilograms have been moved through the program.
Its costs are in an upward trend. I think about five or six years ago we were doing about 11 million kilograms, and we are now up to about 16 million. There are some really tough policy questions about the points of entry, the role of Canada Post, who should be the carrier, what goods you should be subsidizing.
The pilot projects that were referred to suggest a much higher focus on specific kinds of food stocks. What about people who want to order food over the Internet from southern suppliers? Should they be in? Should they be out? There is not a lot of consensus on this in the north, so we are caught between consulting and driving forward.
We accept the responsibility we have to put some proposals in front of the minister that he can take to his colleagues. We are late on the commitment Minister Prentice made, but we hope to have the program renovated. The minister told you there is a role for such a program, and we're trying to make it cost- effective.
Thank you for the question. Thank you, Deputy.
Mr. Chair, a number of things have happened since I last appeared before this committee on May 29, 2007, and in particular the settlement agreement is now in place. The minister mentioned it came into effect on September 19. This is court ordered and court monitored, which is obviously a very critical part of what is taking place. I'd like to begin, Mr. Chair, given the importance of this and given the fact that it's the largest settlement of a class action suit ever in Canada, to offer to the committee that should you wish technical briefings, because this is enormously complicated from a legal point of view and so on, we would be willing to do that.
In terms of preparations, we spent a lot of time putting together the records--and Madam Neville has raised questions of records--building a computer system from scratch that would do that, and putting in place people to do the research. In terms of numbers, yes, nearly 80,000 people have applied, some of them yesterday, the day before, last week, and so on.
We have now processed just over 30,000 with Indian residential schools. This is for an amount, including the advance payment of nearly $600 million, which has flowed to individuals. But, Mr. Chair, I'd like to put this in the broader context, because the settlement agreement includes a number of very significant items, including the common experience payment.
If I had together the common experience payment, the advance payment, what we've paid on the litigation, what I've approved for settlements under alternative dispute, legal fees, and the aboriginal healing foundation, we have flowed $1.079 billion in relation to this settlement.