I'll call the meeting back to order.
As I said, this is the 28th meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
As per the vote of the committee, we have asked the minister to join us for supplementary estimates.
Minister, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us. We always appreciate that you make time for our committee. We'll turn it over to you for your opening statement and then we will have some questions for you.
We know that we'll have to adjourn a little earlier today, colleagues, because of the votes. The bells will start ringing some time early.
But I understand, Minister, that we have you for approximately one hour, and then we'll have your officials after. Thank you so much. We'll turn it over to you.
I'm accompanied by my deputy minister, Colleen Swords, and Paul Thoppil, who's the chief financial officer. All the good stuff is because of me, and when it goes bad it's because of them.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Bernard Valcourt: Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, I am pleased to be here today to speak to you about Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's supplementary estimates (B) for fiscal year 2014-15.
As members of the committee know, my department accesses the funds required to continue delivering on the government's commitment to improve the quality of life for aboriginal people and northerners. Since 2006, our government has been working with our aboriginal partners to remove barriers that are preventing aboriginal people and northerners from developing stronger, healthier and more self-sufficient communities. And while we've made significant progress, we also know there is more work to be done.
The energy sector is but one industry with development opportunities that we could leverage to assist growth for aboriginal communities. In his report, Mr. Eyford, Special Federal Representative on West Coast Energy Infrastructure, highlighted the success that the strategic partnerships initiative has had to help prepare aboriginal communities for economic opportunities.
In response to the recommendations of the Eyford report, our government has expanded the strategic partnerships initiative in order to help aboriginal communities maximize their economic participation in west coast energy developments.
Through Budget 2014, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada received new funding of $61 million over 5 years for the strategic partnerships initiative.
As a result the supplementary estimates (B) reflect that $10.5 million will be used to support aboriginal engagement in energy projects as well as economic and business development for the year 2014-15.
Mr. Chair and members, the health and safety of first nation communities being a priority of our government, we have allocated in these supplementary estimates $40.6 million for operation return home for Manitoba interlake flood remediation and settlement. These funds will be used to continue repairing, rebuilding and re-establishing the communities of St. Martin, Dauphin River, Little Saskatchewan, and Pinaymootang First Nation, all of which were affected by severe flooding in 2011.
Together with first nations and the Province of Manitoba, the Government of Canada is working towards a recovery that will see all flood evacuees returned to safe, secure homes or permanent long-term accommodation in strong resilient communities.
In the pursuit of reconciliation, another means of improving the quality of life in aboriginal communities is through the negotiation and conclusion of comprehensive land claims and self-government agreements. I mean, such agreements are key to achieving reconciliation and renewing relationships with aboriginal people in Canada while also unlocking opportunities for economic development benefiting all Canadians. That's why $2.1 million is being allocated through the supplementary estimates to support the implementation of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Governance Agreement and the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Financial Arrangements Agreement.
These agreements will modernize Canada's relationship with the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and provide the community with the tools and the authority to build a more self-sufficient and prosperous future. It will also harmonize the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation laws on their reserve lands with existing federal and provincial laws within the Canadian constitutional framework.
I want to underline that the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation is the first self-governing first nation in the Prairies.
We also continue to promote reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians through continued implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
To that end, $11.9 million has been allocated for continued implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to ensure that Canada continues to meet its obligations under the agreement. This funding was re-profiled from 2013-14, primarily for continuing the resolution of claims under the agreement's independent assessment process.
As well, $9.9 million has been allocated for the provision of Canada's remaining relevant documents held at Library and Archives Canada to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ensure that Canada meet its obligations under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
As you are no doubt aware, in January 2014, the operating period of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was extended to June 30, 2015, to allow the commission sufficient time to complete its mandate, including writing its final report and receiving those documents held at Library and Archives Canada.
In speaking to these supplementary estimates, I would also like to address one of many ways we are working to unlock the north's potential, that is, through cutting-edge science and technology research.
Supplementary estimates (B) earmark $38.2 million for the construction of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, or CHARS, and the implementation of the associated science and technology program. The Canadian High Arctic Research Station is part of the government's integrated northern strategy and will strengthen Canada's leadership in Arctic science, research and innovation.
In order to establish the governance for CHARS, on October 23, we introduced the Canadian High Arctic Research Station Act. This proposed legislation will merge CHARS with the Canadian Polar Commission to create one larger, stronger centre for scientific research in Canada's North—strengthening Canada's position as a world leader in cutting-edge research in the Arctic.
Other key initiatives in the supplementary estimates include, under our northern agenda, $4.9 million “to meet Canada’s implementation obligations for Comprehensive Land Claims Agreements in Yukon...and Quebec”, and $3.4 million “to meet the Government of Canada's obligations under the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement”, which you all know came into effect on April 1.
These funds will allow the department to complete work associated with the implementation of the devolution agreement, including the settlement of accounts pertaining to devolved responsibilities, deferrals, undertakings, amendments to environmental measures agreements, and developing a final report that includes lessons learned.
Mr. Chairman, our government believes that all Canadians, regardless of where they live—north or south, east or west, or on or off reserve—should be able to fully participate in our strong Canadian economy.
I will be happy to answer any questions that members of the committee may have pertaining to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's supplementary estimates (B), 2014-15.
I want to begin by thanking the minister for coming, but I also want to acknowledge the new deputy minister, Ms. Swords. Of course, she has been before the committee in the past in another capacity.
Welcome to your new portfolio.
Mr. Minister, I want to start with what in my view seems to be missing from the supplementary estimates (B). My understanding is that under the specific claims legislation, the mandate for review was to have commenced. I don't see any funds allocated for the beginning of that review.
The second thing I don't see in the supplementary estimates (B) is anything related to my understanding, according to a letter by Mr. Justice Slade, that the administrative services were going to be centralized. I would have thought that in the supplementary (B)s there would have been some indication of cost savings as a result of centralizing those administrative services. I understand that they're already under way.
For the new funding made available to the strategic partnerships initiative, we are working with Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, and Western Economic Diversification to coordinate support for activities that will advance aboriginal economic participation in west coast energy projects.
Federal investments through the initiative will address the key priorities that were identified by Mr. Eyford in his report, namely, the need for early and ongoing engagement between communities, government, and industry; support for employment and business development; and environmental protection to mitigate concerns regarding the effects of development, as well as fish habitat restoration to encourage sustainable development where development crosses watercourses.
Through economic action plan 2014, the last budget, my department received, as I've said, this $61 million. As an example of what we're doing, an initial-year investment of $300,000 will enable the MPMO's west office to work with first nations to deliver up to eight targeted workshops that will promote an understanding of the oil and gas sector, facilitate information sharing, and build community awareness.
An additional $680,000 has been approved to support the New Relationship Trust, to work with LNG proponents and the Province of B.C. to ensure that first nations have access to skills training that will lead to employment opportunities for aboriginal Canadians. Funding through this initiative, the SPI, also allows us to support aboriginal business and entrepreneurship that is directly related to energy development.
For example, we're providing a little over $113,000 to the Prince George aboriginal business development association to train aboriginal entrepreneurs to establish and develop businesses in order for first nations to actively participate in procurement opportunities related to west coast energy. There are many other activities that I could list, but I guess you get the gist of what we're doing there.
I'm glad you raised the point because this is not just about the west coast. While much of the recent focus has been on building relationships with aboriginal groups to support energy development on the west coast, Canada is committed to advancing aboriginal participation in the broader Canadian resource economy. Whether it is mining development in Ontario or the territories, or energy development in eastern Canada or B.C., aboriginal Canadians face many of the same barriers that limit their full participation wherever we are in the country. These impediments include limited human and financial capacity, and lack of access to expertise and planning.
While the federal government has a number of economic, business, and skills development programs outside of the strategic partnerships initiative, but this one program enables. That is what I call the genius of the program. It is bringing together several departments that work in a coordinated fashion to support specific projects that lead to training, business involvement, and entrepreneurship development. This specific project is a whole-of-government approach to pursue this.
I had the privilege years ago of being in charge of the native economic development program under Bill McKnight. This was introduced by a very good minister here, your father by the way, Mr. Strahl, who introduced this in 2010.
SPI has supported up to 400 aboriginal communities and organizations in pursuing economic opportunities, developed over a hundred new partnerships, and leveraged nearly $100 million in additional funding from other sources. This program is working and will be helpful to first nations all across Canada.
Thank you very much, Minister, for coming to committee. I think we're very disturbed that some of your colleagues have chosen not to come to committee for estimates. We're very grateful that you're here today, because that's really important to how this is supposed to work in terms of Parliament and government.
One of the things you didn't mention in your speech is the allocation of $44.8 million to “support the construction and maintenance of community infrastructure”. As you know, infrastructure is something that's hugely important from coast to coast to coast, but as I think you're aware, people are very concerned about what has looked like a shell game in terms of what is voted for and what it actually is spent on.
As you know, during the tribunal on the first nations caring society, the document “Cost Drivers and Pressures” was presented, and in this document, it showed that $505 million in infrastructure dollars had been reallocated to social and education programs, and then you end up with a shortfall in the social and education programs.
But what was said in your own internal documents is that this would be “putting pressure on an already strained infrastructure program”. So I guess I'm asking, Minister, how do you explain the repeated announcements of new temporary funding for things like first nations water and waste water action plans, while you are simultaneously pulling A-base funding out of infrastructure to plug other holes?
Although you're here today defending the estimates, I think there's a concern that coming here ends up misleading Canadians about what the money actually gets spent on. Here, we're supposed to be approving money for the purposes you've laid out in the supplementary estimates, and I guess I would also like to know this. How does this committee have any confidence that the money will actually be spent on what is voted on?
As I indicated when we made the announcement, this is historic. In the Prairies, not only is it the first one, but it provides the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation with the tools and authority to build a more self-sufficient and prosperous future, bringing the community out of most of the provisions of the Indian Act.
The short experience we have in this country in regard to self-government agreements is positive. They give first nations greater control over their affairs, including in areas such as economic development, land management, and health. They also contribute to conditions that lead to healthier, more self-sufficient, and prosperous first nation communities, which are empowered and accountable to deliver programs and services to residents on reserve and to address their identified priorities.
The results are demonstrable all across the country. Where you have self-government agreements, there are much better results for education, employment, and skills development. It is positive.
In this case, the financial arrangements agreement between the nation and Canada sets out broadly how the money that the federal government transfers to the nation shall be allocated in accordance with the agreement. The nation must ensure that programs and services in relation to areas such as health, economic development, and minor capital are operating. However, the allocation of its funds among those programs is determined by them. That's what's right with this. As the chief said when we made the announcement—he put it simply—“we’ll be able to do the things that other people and governments take for granted.” Now they can do it themselves.
The financial arrangements agreement also includes an increase to governance funding to support the new responsibilities that they have assumed. Annual transfers for governance go toward carrying out government functions, such as conducting elections, the establishment and operation of boards or other entities, or the development of government policies. It's a tiny government but it is a government. That's what they do.
Thank you for being here.
At this point I'm going to start my questioning with the flooding in Manitoba.
In 2011 we saw that there were 18 first nation communities that were evacuated. We see that there are about 1,300 people who have returned home, but there's still a disproportionate number that have not returned, which is 1,974. A lot of these people, to my understanding, are still living in hotel rooms. Maybe you could clarify that for me.
The federal government is currently negotiating settlement packages with affected first nations. We're aware of that. That would include flood mitigation measures, replacement lands from the province, and compensation for damages.
How much is it going to cost to rebuild the Manitoba communities? Has the department put a figure to that yet?
I want to continue on with respect to this, because in 2013 the federal government announced changes to its on-reserve emergency management policies, which included single-window funding for emergency costs and stable funding for response and recovery activities.
The reason I bring this up is that certainly it's not just the Manitoba flood. If you look at Kapuskasing, which is in my riding, and some of the other communities.... I'm going to go with Kapuskasing at this point, because there are a lot of evacuees from Kashechewan, I believe, who are currently in Kapuskasing. I know that there has been an enormous amount of work done on that, but it's an ongoing process.
I'm just wondering if you could tell me at this point how much you've actually spent on that particular evacuation; when those people can expect to be returned home; what the plan is to deal with the ongoing flooding issues, both in Kashechewan and in Attawapiskat; and how the department is handling or will handle it. Because a bigger problem is that there is such an overflow that it's creating a lot of stress on a lot of the services in Kapuskasing.
For example, our office has had to deal a lot with birth certificates and different things like that. There seems to be.... There's the income tax, but there's even the food bank. They did a food drive and it's already depleted.
It's quite problematic for the communities themselves, so I'm wondering if you can help me out with this.
Well, you're absolutely right that it's not only Manitoba that has emergencies on first nation reserves. There are problems with flooding. There are problems with fires in various parts of the country. I know that in 2013 or 2014 we had about 62 emergencies that we were managing across the country, of one magnitude or another. Usually what happens is that we get a lot of support from the province and the first nations themselves in managing the evacuations.
I don't have the answer for you on Kashechewan specifically, but I'm sure we can get that for you pretty quickly.
What we've done is that we were successful in getting some additional funding last year. It was announced in budget 2014. We have about $40 million over five years for mitigation. Mitigation relates largely to things like diking.
I've been in Kashechewan. We had to build up the sides of the river because of flooding there. That was done, but it needs constant repair, so there are additional costs there. I know that we've spent money in Eel River Bar on some flood remediation and on diking that goes on.
We also spend money every year on evacuations. How much is required for evacuation depends on the year. We've been allocating about $19.1 million to help us negotiate agreements with the provinces to work on prevention and be ready for a fast response.
We're doing what we can. It varies from year to year how much is required for emergencies. In a year when there's an extremely expensive number of emergencies, we have the facility of going back to the Treasury Board and asking for additional emergency funds just to manage evacuations. But on the mitigation itself, it's $40 million that was announced in the last year.
Devolution took effect on April 1, 2014. It is significant. Yukon devolution was a few years before, and now we have Northwest Territories devolution. Of course, the next step will be, when can we have devolution for Nunavut?
It's taken place. It's pretty significant. It's very important in terms of the political and economic development for people in the territory. It's certainly proven to be the case in the Yukon that when a government is close to its people and can make decisions, it leads to a lot more successful results, particularly with respect to evolution.
What we transferred in terms of devolution on April 1 was largely management and authority over lands and resources. There are a lot of provincial-like responsibilities relating to water and land licensing that used to be managed down here in our department, and that's now done up in the Northwest Territories.
As a result of that, there will be certain authorities that the Government of the Northwest Territories will have with respect to collecting resource revenues, and it will have greater authority over the decisions on how to make use of that. That allows it to get the best net fiscal benefit out of resource development and look to investments for the future. It's additional resources, and it will have an impact on the transfer payment that's made by the federal government, so NWT will have an additional amount to what it's getting in the transfer payments.
Some people like to say that it is about nation building and about continuing our nation building.
There is a lot of work that was done together with aboriginal groups in the territories. There are a number of aboriginal parties there that have agreed with the government on how to manage resource revenue sharing. It was agreed that 25% of resource revenue sharing will be given to aboriginal groups, and that was in the context of devolution.
They're hoping, and we all hope, that the ultimate impact of devolution will be something in the order of about $20 million in spinoff benefits and that there will be an opportunity for even more development in the future.
We've retained responsibility in the federal government for certain environmental remediation. Federal contaminated sites that were identified before devolution will remain the responsibility of the federal government, and there will still be some. Ones that become known and apparent after devolution will be the responsibility of the Government of the Northwest Territories.
Those are a few of the impacts. In some respects it sounds as though we've transferred licensing over water and land, but in fact it was significant and was certainly celebrated in the Northwest Territories.
Well, you're absolutely right, it did take a lot of work. There are still a few pieces that are being conducted in order to finalize, and hence the amount that appears in the supplementary estimates.
Basically, what we're still working on is that we have to finalize some of the books. There are a few legal records and things that have to be managed in the transfer. We're working on advertising still in northern media to make sure that people know they don't go to the federal government anymore but to the Northwest Territories government. We're also working on an implementation report that will identify some lessons learned for the next time we do devolution.
Since devolution came into effect, three additional Northwest Territories aboriginal groups have signed off to become party to the devolution agreement. That's significant and important for the long-term success of devolution. That's Salt River First Nation, the Fort Liard and the Acho Dene Koe, and the Deninu K’ue First Nation. Now we have eight aboriginal groups who are party to the devolution agreement, and as I said, three joined on after devolution.
We're finalizing our commitment to funding the devolution agreement. Finance Canada is working on its continuing funding and transfers to the Northwest Territories. The amount of $3.4 million is in these supplementaries. As I said, it's really about finishing up some of the main work that was done in the previous year.
About $1.5 million in that $3.4 million is for federal operations that are required. About $1.8 million of it is actual transfers to the Northwest Territories. There are a few settling of accounts that need to be done, deferrals, and so on. When you have an operation of this magnitude, there remain a few things to tie the bow on.
We also have a little bit of money going to our friends in Public Works and Government Services Canada. A cumulative impact monitoring program is being transferred to the Government of the Northwest Territories in the course of this, and that's had an impact on the money that we will be transferring to Public Works.
In a nutshell, that's what it is. It really has been a success story. It did take an awful lot of work on the part of many people in the Northwest Territories government and many people in the federal government and a lot of political will in order to accomplish it in very tight timeframes.
I appreciate your concern. I'll certainly be looking into it to understand exactly what this is referring to.
My understanding is that in the past, this item of consultation and accommodation related to funding that we were giving to aboriginal representative organizations for their core funding. In fact, we give $20 million a year to aboriginal representative organizations for their core funding. There are 46 of them across the country.
Clearly that funding is not all coming out of this line item anymore. I think this line item is being used to identify more work that we're doing on what we call ATRIS, which is a treaty registry and information system. We have a small group that operates as a consultation and accommodation unit to give advice and help train other government departments.
What gets misleading is that it sounds as though that's the entire amount of money we spend on consultation and accommodation, and that isn't correct. The department and many departments that have regulatory responsibilities are spending a lot of time on consultation and accommodation. This particular item gets more at what is going out to organizations for that.
What it misses, though, is the strategic partnerships initiative. With regard to the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario, we've given a significant amount of money to the first nations in the Matawa group so they could build up their capacity to consult. That appears under the strategic partnerships initiative fund instead of under consultation and accommodation.
The title of the program doesn't capture everything that consultation and accommodation constitutes.
I know we will have a chance to debate Bill , if and when it's referred to this committee, but more than $98,000 was provided to Yukon first nations for consultation, specifically on the four items of concern they have raised. They requested $149,000 but were only reimbursed for about $99,000 because of the production of receipts. We'll have that discussion, perhaps, when that is referred.
I want to ask about the line requesting additional funding for Mi'kmaq education in Nova Scotia. That is an education system for first nations that is held in very high regard, having a higher graduation rate than, I believe, the Nova Scotian rate, so they're obviously doing something right there.
Can you talk a little about that system and explain what the additional resources are going to be used for.
Yes, the Mi'kmaq Education Act and the Mi'kmaq agreement are very successful and are our model for first nations education for the country. It's what we call a sectoral self-government agreement. It's a self-governing agreement for the Mi'kmaq that relates to education and has contributed significantly to closing an education gap between the Mi'kmaq communities and the children there and the provincial school system. At the same time it's provided culturally relevant programming, including Mi'kmaq language and culture. It came into effect in 1997. There were nine of 13 first nations then and now the agreement covers 12 of the 13 first nations in Nova Scotia. I think that in itself shows you a bit of the success; the fact that more first nations have chosen to join.
The annual report put out by the Mi'kmaq education authority reports a high school graduation rate of 87.7% in 2012-13, which is really significant and a clear indication of success. Their attendance rate is 86.3%, which is also very good, and they end up with about 100 post-secondary graduates every year. All the indicators are of a very successful program.
There have been two new schools in the past three years through capital funding provided under the agreement. They have a really good relationship with the province. That's another lesson we've learned through this, that a close relationship with the provincial education system is often very useful to achieve good success.
The funding in the supplementary estimates relates to the fact that the 12th first nation joined and that was the Glooscap First Nation, so this allows the funding they have to be moved out of the First Nations Education Authority, which we had before, into a self-government agreement.
It's not really new funding; it's a transfer from one to another.
I want to go to the infrastructure piece. Again, when we're looking at—I had seen it in the document here—community infrastructure, the supplementary estimates request an allocation of $44.8 million to support the construction and maintenance of community infrastructure, such as water treatment facilities, school boards, roads, and other capital projects
I'm wondering and you could maybe correct me if I'm wrong with respect to the amount of dollars being invested, but could you tell me how much was actually cut from the previous budgets compared to what is being allocated now, given the cutbacks that every department has had? How is this impacting on infrastructure dollars being transferred over for education or social purposes into the first nations?
I'm trying to get some sense as to whether we will be able to meet our infrastructure needs, given that the cuts seem to be happening. Is the department or the government actually taking some of that money from infrastructure and putting it into education for the shortfalls?