Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. And I'm glad to see that none of your committee members yelled “Debate” when you mentioned how the chair looked. I thought it was obviously a sign of respect for the chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I welcome this opportunity to bring committee members up to date on activities within my portfolio.
With me today are Michael Wernick, Deputy Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and Nicole Jauvin, President of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
The main estimates before this committee reflect the resources we are asking Parliament to appropriate, to fulfill the many responsibilities of my mandate as minister. You mentioned that the other supplementaries are also included in this discussion. I'd be very pleased to answer questions on these estimates following my opening remarks.
However, I would like to first talk about the key issues on which I want to focus in the next 12 months. Many of these you will recognize as they are a continuation of our long-term agenda to make tangible improvements to the quality of life for aboriginal and northern peoples and communities. As the Speech from the Throne and budget 2010 reinforced, our government remains committed to building a stronger, healthier relationship with aboriginal people and to realizing the vast potential of Canada's north. We're focusing our efforts on achieving a real and measurable difference in the lives of aboriginal people and northerners.
And we are making steady progress.
A special acceleration of these efforts came from Canada's economic action plan. Our government earmarked $1.9 billion over two years for investment in aboriginal skills and training, in housing and infrastructure, and in support of the northern strategy. I've been pleased to table quarterly progress reports on these investments, most recently in March of this year. All these reports are available on my department's website.
As members of this committee will know, my mandate is a broad one. Today I would like to divide my remarks into two parts. Let me discuss aboriginal issues first. Our activities in the past are a good indication of where we intend to concentrate our efforts in the future.
We are pursuing a busy legislative agenda. For instance, I strongly encourage all parties to support Bill . Without this important legislation, the key section of the Indian Act dealing with entitlement to registration will cease to have legal effect in British Columbia. This could have serious consequences. Approximately 3,000 people per year will be denied their basic right to register for Indian status and to access associated benefits if we don't pass that bill—as well as the many other thousands of people across the country who could access it as well.
Bill , proposed legislation to resolve the longstanding issue of on-reserve matrimonial real property, is being considered in the Senate, and I will be speaking fairly soon in the Senate committee as well.
Bill , introduced on May 12, proposes to facilitate the development of major commercial real estate on reserve land. I thank many committee members for speaking to me about that, and I appreciate your support for that bill.
Bill , also introduced on May 12, would ensure clarity, consistency, and legal certainty with respect to land use, planning, and environmental processes in Nunavut.
Just yesterday we introduced Bill , the safe drinking water for first nations act, which would enable the Government of Canada to continue making tangible progress on its commitment to improving water conditions on reserve.
I would like to thank the committee members for their work and encourage their cooperation and support in moving these important legislative initiatives forward.
We are also working hand in hand with aboriginal communities and the provinces and territories to reform and strengthen child and family services and education. Building on that, budget 2010 commits $53 million over two years to ensure further progress toward a prevention-based approach to child and family services for first nation children and parents.
It's obvious these investments are very necessary. The aboriginal population in Canada is young. It's growing. For example, the population of first nations on reserve has a higher proportion of youth under 24 than the population of Canada as a whole. Certainly, Inuit population growth is even higher.
An increasingly young population creates a growing demand for education, social development, and community infrastructure, and these vital investments play an important role in building strong communities and enabling aboriginal people to reach their full potential.
That's why budget 2010 provides $30 million over two years to support an implementation-ready tripartite K to 12 education agreement. I am pleased to report further progress to develop tripartite partnerships in education. In February, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the Assembly of Treaty Chiefs of Alberta, the Government of Alberta, and the Government of Canada, ensuring that first nations students receive comparable instruction and obtain comparable results whether the classroom is located on or off reserve.
Aboriginal leadership, including National Chief Shawn Atleo, has identified economic development as a key driver toward greater independence and self-reliance. This government agrees. Investments in economic development enable aboriginal people and northerners to achieve a better quality of life through economic participation built on strong foundations of governance, human capital, and infrastructure. After all, the best social policy is to create a strong economy.
In addition to expenditures for basic services, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada promotes economic development in aboriginal communities and business opportunities, both on and off reserve. My department also negotiates and oversees the implementation of comprehensive and specific claim settlements, including the implementation of practical forms of self-government.
Let me turn now to my northern mandate.
Our government is moving forward with the implementation of the northern strategy. We are making significant progress in creating a world-class high Arctic research station. Twenty partners across Canada's Arctic have seen their science and research facilities improved thanks to our Arctic research infrastructure fund.
Furthermore, we are actively reforming the northern regulatory regime to ensure that the resources in the region and their potential can be developed, while securing a better process to protect the environment. On May 3 I announced our government's action plan to improve the north's regulatory regimes, which builds on progress we have seen to date and takes important strides to make regulatory frameworks strong, effective, efficient, and predictable. We are working to give northerners a greater say over their own future and taking steps to pave the way to successful devolution.
Budget 2010 laid out our vision and investments under year two of Canada's economic action plan. Strategic investments valued at more than $100 million over two years will improve the business climate and address key health care challenges in the north.
Of course, one of the perpetual challenges of life in the north is access to healthy food. To help northerners meet this challenge, just last week I announced a new northern food retail subsidy program I call “Nutrition North”. This new program will make healthy food more accessible and affordable to people in isolated northern communities. Northerners helped us to design that. A lot of consultation went into this, and northerners will help oversee its implementation through an advisory board.
The main estimates for the first time include $61 million in funding for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, or CanNor. CanNor was created in August 2009 and is the first-ever regional development agency for the north and the only federal agency headquartered in the north. Its specific mandate is to coordinate and deliver federal economic development activities tailored to the unique needs of northern Canada and is an important achievement of our northern strategy.
Mr. Chairman, with respect to our main estimates, the $7.3 billion that is allocated to programs and services at INAC reflects a net increase of about $367 million. That's a 5.3% increase over last year. With the addition of the supplementary estimates (A) for my department, tabled in the House on May 25, INAC's budget for 2010-11 will reach approximately $7.5 billion.
Mr. Chair, these expenditures reflect our government's commitment to address the essential needs of Métis, Inuit, first nations peoples and northerners.
The main estimates will advance these goals by taking timely, targeted action in areas such as housing, education, self-governance, and land claims. Working collaboratively with aboriginal people and northerners, these investments will make a difference and help secure a prosperous future.
I'm honoured that has entrusted me with this important mandate, and I look forward to maintaining a very constructive relationship with your members as we continue to advance what I think is a very ambitious agenda both in Parliament and here in committee.
Thank you very much.
It's the Mississaugas of New Credit, which was outside the specific claims process because of the size of that settlement.
There aren't actually very many of these. They're big and they're significant, and because of that they're very complex. So far, I think we've been able to handle them. Each one has been so different and the requests on the first nations side have been so unique that I'm not sure how we're going to do it in a formula. The specific claims process is quite formulaic. It allows us to put in place the process and procedures to deal with it, because the claims are of a certain nature and of a certain size, and we have a process.
With the other ones, when someone talks about $1 billion, then the research required, the capacity of the first nation to handle it, whether they want to take out loans to do it, or how it's going to be done... Each one has proven to be quite unique.
That being said, as I said, we did the Mississaugas of New Credit. It's bigger than $150 million, so it's showing that these can be done. The James Bay project settlement that we negotiated was over $1 billion. So it can be done, but they're treated as one-offs and they go into cabinet as one-offs. I go in, make a presentation, and say “Here's what I think we'll get a settlement for.”
They're so complex and big that I'm not sure how we could standardize them. I'm not sure how we can improve the process.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for coming here today.
I'm somewhat relieved. Seven minutes goes by so quickly, so I'm glad that my colleague mentioned Canada's economic action plan pre-emptively, because I can focus on an issue that I think is important to a number of committee members' ridings and is very important to mine. It's the Nutrition North Canada program.
I want to acknowledge the hard work of your office and this newly established advisory board in the serious revamping of a program that always had the best intentions but had some serious structural defects perhaps from the outset that prevented it from accomplishing its goals. In a couple of communities in my riding that I worked in before becoming elected, we worked around the program; we simply looked for other options with air carriers and Winnipeg Harvest and the likes to get subsidized foods to particularly vulnerable groups in the maternal and child health program that we established in one example. There have been tremendous challenges, and I appreciate that.
There were a number of problems identified at the time that this program appears to be trying to address, Minister. I was wondering if you could comment on a couple of them. There are six or seven, and I know that time just doesn't provide for it, so I want to focus on the issue of the integrity of the program in terms of eligibility versus non-eligibility. For example, there were some lists of foods or products that were on it. This program, built by northerners and to be overseen by northerners, is going to hopefully work through that.
The second one was the performance of the program in terms of not being measured sufficiently. It's always interesting that in one isolated community, potatoes might cost $13, and in another $18, and one community may be no farther north or south than the other. All that was explained was that it was more expensive to buy the potatoes, but the reason wasn't really identiied. There were program inequities, and you had this flat subsidized rate of 80 cents per kilogram, but that didn't deal with the fact that there are communities where products are much more expensive. Even in my own riding it's much more expensive for a product in, for example, Fort Severn than it is in Pikangikum or something like that.
Finally, Minister, to the extent that my time provides for it, could you comment on the importance of bringing the private sector into this as a stakeholder? They had already been somewhat involved, but I think the perception on the ground in the communities was that they weren't providing a subsidy; however, under this program we appear to be making very stategic partnerships with them that bring benefits that people can actually see. I understand that the program has a mechanism for showing that to the individual.
I'll stop there. Perhaps you can spend the back half of my time. I have a timer, and there are three and a half more minutes. I started it before he would have, so if you could go ahead, Minister, that would be great.
I can't say that this one is.
A lot of work went into the design of this program. There were a lot of meetings, a lot of consultation, and I think what we've come up with is a good balance.
To answer, I'll just go directly to some of your questions.
The idea that underpins it all is that the object is to deliver more nutritious foods at the best possible price and make the most nutritious foods the most affordable. The changes we've made in the program are designed to do that—for example, the eligibility list. If somebody says “My favourite fatty, salty food is no longer on there”, we say that's not surprising, because Health Canada helped us develop the list that said the most nutritious foods need to be subsidized the most—your milk, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. That is the stuff that's expensive to move, but the more of it you can get into people's hands, the better it is for their diet.
The second thing is that we put an emphasis also on country foods. One of the problems before, because of the design of the program, was that country foods were eligible, but they had to come from an entry point. So people said “If I can get my caribou down to Churchill then I could fly it back out to my community.” But that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. So there's an emphasis on country foods because country foods have obvious health benefits for people who are on that diet. It's a low-fat food, it's healthier, it's available locally, and it provides some employment opportunities locally as well.
On the eligibility list, first of all, we worked with Health Canada. We also took out things that were non-perishable. We will be taking out non-perishable and non-food items and asking people to move those in ways other than the most expensive way, which is by air freight. So the horror stories that we heard of people flying up spare tires on the food mail program, displacing milk and eggs, won't be possible in this program, and we don't apologize for that. We have to focus on the food. And things that can be brought up there on the sea lift or on the winter roads, if that's possible—for example, things like disposable diapers—should be transported in the cheapest way possible. Use the sea lift, use the winter roads, but don't fly them in, because flying them in is the most expensive thing you can do.
That's how the eligibility list was put together.
Another issue is that the performance of the program is a common complaint—for example, people ask how the program is working and how they know it's working. You hear the stories.
INAC will be working with each eligible community to make arrangements to make sure. As you say, they're all remote, but remote has matters of degree. Somebody who is really remote needs a different rate from someone who might be fly-in but relatively close by. It makes a huge difference in the cost. So those have to be calculated and those arrangements have to be made with the retailers in order to make sure it happens.
It's also important that we have an advisory board. One of the things we heard is that these decisions that are made need to be adjusted as we go forward. The people on the program who are seeing it on the ground, if you will, or in the stores, don't have a way of influencing what's happening, whether it's the eligibility list or how it's delivered or a bunch of things. So one of the things to not only help us deliver the program, I think, more fairly but also to assure people that this needs to be guided by people who actually use it in the north, is to put the advisory board together to give us advice on everything from eligibility lists to how the food is handled when it arrives and whether they think it's being passed on.
And then there's a whole audit provision of an official audit position relationship that will have to be established, which every retailer has to agree to—
A couple of throne speeches ago, we promised that we were going to look at reforming the food mail system. Following that, of course, we had our own internal analysis, because those things are done in an ongoing way, but I wanted some outside advice as well. So I hired an outside special representative to spearhead that for me and to make sure that he could travel to communities that were on the food mail program and talk to everybody, from the air carriers to the points of entry folks to you name it, and then come back with what his observations were and make recommendations.
In addition, there were some 70 different meetings with stakeholders in communities; 70 separate meetings were held. I sat in on several of them. I met some folks here in Ottawa and others in the field. I think everybody is honestly trying to find the best way forward to make the system work better.
There were some pretty common themes to the complaints. The lack of accountability has already been raised: How do we know that the savings or the subsidy is being passed on? Why is it sometimes used for products that are not food, let alone nutritious food? Also, a complaint was “You're just not listening to us; there's no way we can get information to you if there's a complaint or a problem, because it's run out of Ottawa, or run by Canada Post, and there's no way we can have the influence that recipients of the program deserve to have.”
I think we've addressed many of those things and tried to shorten the supply line here. We have the private sector, I think, fully engaged. I think we have free enterprise principles applying to this—that is, what's the best way to get the most food, and the most nutritious food, to the most people at the best price?
The guidance on it comes from the advisory board. We've asked Elizabeth Copeland to chair that board, and we're going to get a representative group that will not, by the way, represent any vested interests. We're not looking for people from organizations or from corporations or something. We want people who use the program, who represent all of the regions that are involved. From that, it will assure people that the consultation we've had to date, which was in good faith and I think pretty extensive, doesn't end when the program gets announced.
It's important that people feel that as we go forward, if they see a glitch in the program, if they see a problem moving forward, they can get hold of that advisory board and get it fixed before it gets entrenched. That was one of the problems previously.
For example, as you know, the is from the north, and when she travels in the communities in Nunavut she often takes her cellphone camera and just takes pictures while she's in the stores.
She gets a picture of the $200 turkey and asks how can a turkey cost $200? Then as soon as it's brought to people's attention, they say that was just a mistake, it should never have cost that; it's still expensive, but it's only half that much, so don't worry about it. And what she says, and what I've heard quite often from others, is yes, but it happens too often. The $200 turkey is one thing, the $60 pineapple is another one. And when it's brought to people's attention, often they'll say that was just a mistake, sorry about that; it actually shouldn't be that much.
The problem is we need to have a stronger audit provision. I don't suggest that the advisory board has to go to every single community all the time, but what they need to be able to do is call on a robust audit system to say show me the money; show me how it's being translated into cheaper, more nutritious food being more readily available in those communities.
They may have to travel some, I don't know, but it seems to me a lot of their work is going to be following the audit provisions that will be established between INAC and the retailers to say let me review this; I want to see what's being done; I want to be able to follow it.
They're going to come from all over the place, so they're going to have first-hand information, but a lot of their work is going to be ensuring that complaints are dealt with, that audits are properly followed up, and that they can see the results on the bottom line.
So they don't actually have to do the audit. The audits will be part of the agreements with the retailers, but they'll be able to review it and they'll be able to make recommendations based on that. As well, the relationships with the retailers will also demand things like signage in the store that says this area here is the most heavily supported by the Nutrition North program. It's fruit, vegetables, eggs; these are the healthiest foods.
As well, Health Canada will be part of a program to actually teach healthier cooking, healthier eating, about things that are better for you and why and how to use them, because a lot of these products are relatively new to northerners. So they will give advice on how to eat nutritiously and have nutritious everything, from snacks to main meals.
They don't need help on how to integrate country food into their diet, but as part of this Nutrition North program, Health Canada has provisions in there to actually help promote healthier eating and healthier preparation of foods to make sure people get the full benefits.
Thank you. If we don't have time to get through them all, we can get you those details.
With regard to water and waste water, there are a couple of things I could say on that. The first is that from 2006 to 2012, the period from the time we took office to the end of this budgetary document, the Government of Canada will have invested about $2.3 billion in first nations water and waste water infrastructure. This is a major priority for first nations, and it's a major priority for us. It's still a major priority, although I must say that in the last three years it has come in behind some of the other things that are obviously of top priority. I think that people have seen our genuine effort on this front.
We've announced our water and waste water action plan, and the $330 million--the amount you mentioned--is the one-year portion of it. That's supporting construction of infrastructure across the country. It also deals with training of water plant operators. As you know, often the case is that you might have a pretty good plant, but if you don't have a good operator, it's not so good, right? We have seen sad examples of what happens in that situation across the country, so there's more money invested in training of personnel through the circuit rider program, for example, to make sure that they get certified and stay certified so that they can run those plants.
I mentioned the legislation that's coming forward. I think establishing a legislative framework is going to be very important moving forward. One of the reasons the Atlantic Policy Congress is interested in being the pilot group for this is that when I've talked to them, they've said they see the need for a legislative framework. Right now we have policy in place and we all do our best, but when you put legislation in place, you bump it up to a level of everybody then knowing what it is they have to do, who is responsible, what the standards are, what the regulations are, and who has to deliver them. It's a much more robust way of handling water and waste water for first nations.
They don't have that. I don't think most Canadians realize that there is no legislation. They're dependent on the goodwill of the government, if you will. I think that if we can get legislation and all agree on how this is going to move forward, it will be a big step forward for all of us. Every other Canadian lives under legislated and regulated water standards; we have policy, but not legislation. I think we need to move ahead on that.
In this action plan there are also resources for monitoring the water. We work with Health Canada to make sure it's probably monitored. We also take part in public health activities, whether it's public education or other public health initiatives, to make sure that people know how to use and protect their water systems and the intakes of them, especially on reserves.
It's quite an action plan, quite a detailed plan, and it goes through all of those parts.
We've been pursuing a strategy since 2006 that basically has three parts to it. One is the actual facility. As the minister said, a lot of money has gone into building treatment plants and waste water facilities. You need the actual facilities, and there was a lot of catching up to do in first nations communities.
The second part relates to the issues around capacity to run, operate, train, inspect, and do all those kinds of things. A fair bit of money has gone into those.
The third--the missing piece, which was tabled in Bill --is to have clear rules of the game. It's to have standards so that the engineers know what to build to, the inspectors know what to inspect to, and people can be trained to operate the systems. There needs to be a pretty clear sense of the rules. What's acceptable for water and waste water on a reserve would be very similar to what's acceptable down the road. The three-part strategy is now complete, we hope, with the introduction of standards.
We've used a methodology and we've already tabled four reports, I believe, on the parliamentary website. We track what we call “high-risk systems”, meaning a combination of the conditions and the capacity. That number has come down steadily. We were at about 193; we're down to about 49, and we have an action plan for every one of them. I could give you the milestones on specific communities if you gave me a little bit of time to pursue them.
Sometimes it's not going to be easy. There are tough engineering issues. There's a source-water issue. You've got uranium contamination in one place, and it's going to be very difficult to deal with it. We actually have one community in which there's a disagreement between two neighbouring first nations about where to locate stuff, and we're trying to work our way through that and so on.
We expect to bring that number steadily down. We identified 21 communities at the very outset as being really high priority; we're down to 3, and we're hoping that we'll make a breakthrough on those. Work is under way on all of those, and we'd be happy to give you specifics on particular communities.
The number that gets thrown around in the media a lot is boil-water advisories. That's not actually a useful indicator, because you can have a temporary event. The city of Vancouver had a boil-water advisory. If something gets flushed into the system or you get spring runoff, it certainly indicates a temporary problem, but it's not something you can design a long-term program around. We use a risk methodology with Health Canada that I think is widely understood by the people who run and operate the plants.
Thank you very much for the question; I really appreciate it.
First, if I may introduce Michel Robillard, who's VP at CanNor and who is living in Iqaluit as the first senior management person in the agency. Michel has first-hand experience of living in the north. I think he's attended the committee before.
You asked with respect to the Arctic research station, which is a file that is in the hands of the department of my colleague here, Michael, so he may want to add, but first I'll talk, if you don't mind. It's the same thing with the Pangnirtung harbour facility, which comes under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I understand there are plans to complete phase one of that file in the next year or so. Again, that's a file that comes under Fisheries and Oceans.
What I could talk to you about in terms of progress on our part is the opening of the northern project management office, which was announced by the minister on May 3. That office will provide advice to major proponents of resource projects in the north in navigating through the process and will coordinate the role of all federal agencies that have a role in the process.
Our aim is to use this office as a great way to support economic development in the north by providing us, first of all, a bit of intelligence before the fact as to what projects are likely to come through, and by giving proponents a bit of assurance in terms of timeliness and predictability and transparency with respect to the federal regulatory process.
The interesting part is a link that we can make with the economic development side of our shop, where we can support some of these projects within the communities that are close to some of these projects and try to work on opportunities for them with respect to these major projects.
I hope that provides some answers to your questions, Mr. Duncan.