Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, June 13, 2016, the committee is resuming its study on poverty reduction strategies.
Today we're heading into the component “Neighbourhoods: A study of planning, infrastructure building as a poverty reduction strategy, accessible and affordable transit, community support networks, and other new or innovative approaches”.
Today we are pleased to welcome Jeff Moore, assistant deputy minister, policy and communications, Infrastructure Canada; and from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Stephen Van Dine, assistant deputy minister, northern affairs.
We are hoping to speak with you for about an hour or an hour and a half, or by whichever time we're done with questions. At that time we'll break for a few moments to go in camera for some committee business.
Without further ado, I hand it over to Jeff Moore for 10 minutes.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, and thank you for inviting me to speak before you today.
I am pleased to note that the committee is conducting a study of “planning, infrastructure building as a poverty reduction strategy, accessible and affordable transit, community support networks, and other new and innovative approaches”.
I believe the Department of Infrastructure Canada has a role to play in addressing some of the challenges your committee will study.
I'd like to begin by outlining the Government of Canada's plans and how the department will be involved in supporting them.
I will then speak to how I believe Infrastructure Canada will help in the committee's study.
As you may know, the Government of Canada set out an ambitious infrastructure investment plan in budget 2016. The budget announced $11.9 billion over five years in funding for the first phase of the government's investments, which included funding under three streams: $3.4 billion over three years for public transit; $5 billion over five years for green infrastructure; and $3.4 billion over five years for social infrastructure.
As part of the government's phase one commitments, budget 2016 proposed initial social investments totalling $3.4 billion over five years. These investments are targeted to help expand affordable housing, support early learning and child care, renew cultural and recreational infrastructure, and improve community health care facilities on reserve.
The department has been working in partnership with our colleagues at Families, Children, and Social Development as well as Indigenous and Northern Affairs to make investments in affordable housing and indigenous communities.
Under phase one Infrastructure Canada is responsible for the public transit infrastructure fund, PTIF, and the clean water and wastewater fund, CWWF. Investments under PTIF are being used to help strengthen communities, in part by aiding the purchase of accessible buses.
Prince Edward Island, for example, used some of its PTIF allocation to upgrade their para-transit vans in several cities, which helps increase the independence of residents in those cities.
Infrastructure Canada has a solid track record of investing in infrastructure that meets accessibility codes. In our project agreements we require proponents to confirm that their public infrastructure meets the appropriate access requirements for persons with disabilities, including those set at the federal, provincial, and territorial levels. This requirement remains in place under our new programs.
The government's long-term infrastructure plan was further expanded and updated in the recent fall economic statement, which laid out the fiscal framework for the government's long-term infrastructure plan.
This fall economic statement strengthens the government's commitment to long-term growth for the middle class. It proposes an additional investment of $81 billion over 11 years, starting in 2017-18.
This means $25.3 billion for public transit infrastructure, $21.9 billion for green infrastructure, $21.9 billion for social infrastructure, $10.1 billion for transportation that supports trade, and $2 billion for Canada's rural and northern communities.
The fall economic statement also introduced two new initiatives, the Canada infrastructure bank and the smart city challenge. The Canada infrastructure bank will be responsible for investing at least $35 billion from the federal government in large infrastructure projects that contribute to economic growth through loans, loan guarantees, and equity investments.
Part of this amount—$15 billion—will be sourced from the announced funding for public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transportation, and rural and northern communities.
The smart city challenge is modelled on similar competitions around the world and aims to accelerate the planning and adoption of innovative urban infrastructure. It will be an opportunity for cities to innovate, take risks, and think outside the box to address mobility, environmental, and social challenges. The smart city challenge is set to launch this year.
Further evidence of the Government of Canada's support for innovative change in its cities is two new funds that announced last week in partnership with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The municipal asset management program is a five-year program that aims to encourage best practices in the field of asset management, helping municipalities to make informed infrastructure investment decisions.
A key focus of the program will be to raise awareness about the importance of asset management practices as a tool to increase value for money and improve the long-term performance of municipal infrastructure such as roads, recreational facilities, and water and wastewater systems.
The second fund announced was the municipalities for climate innovation program. This is also a five-year program, and it aims to accelerate action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning toward low-carbon communities. Both of these programs are being delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, with funding from the Government of Canada. We will continue to work closely with the FCM to monitor, assess, and report on the results and outcomes of the programs as they are under way.
The committee has before it a study that will help to shape the future of Canadian urban planning and poverty reduction.
I wish you success in your study and I look forward to studying the committee's findings.
Thank you again for inviting me to speak today.
I wish to thank the committee for inviting me here today to share with you news of the important work that we are doing through the nutrition north Canada program.
It is a pleasure to be here today. I am also pleased to be here with Jeff Moore to talk about the issues currently facing the committee. I'm going to take a slightly different perspective on what you've heard so far and turn it to nutrition and access to nutritious and perishable foods.
As we know, a nutritious diet is essential to good physical and mental health, and access to affordable, nutritious food remains a challenge for many families in isolated northern communities. There has been some research recently conducted on this, and we've been able to determine that for communities without year-round access to surface transportation, the cost of living and doing business is approximately ten times higher than in the rest of Canada. These costs, coupled with low incomes, make it more difficult for many northerners to afford a nutritious diet from store-bought foods. At Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, we are working to ensure that northern families living in isolated communities have improved access to affordable nutritious food.
The Government of Canada has subsidized food and other essential items in northern communities since the 1960s.
The program began as the northern air stage program, and then it moved to Canada Post and then eventually to Indian and Northern Affairs in 1991.
Escalating and unpredictable program costs, lack of transparency and accountability, and the need to support healthy food choices brought about a desire for us to change and update the program. Nutrition north Canada has also introduced for the first time a nutrition education component delivered by Health Canada, given that there are a number of factors that influence healthy eating beyond food cost. Further, in order to give northerners a direct voice in the program, the external nutrition north Canada advisory board was established as part of the program's governance structure. The advisory board, composed mainly of northerners, provides ongoing advice to the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada on the direction and activities of the program.
Nutrition North Canada was announced on May 21, 2010, and launched on April 1, 2011. The objective of the program is to help make perishable, nutritious food more accessible and more affordable than it otherwise would be to residents of eligible isolated northern communities without year round surface (road, rail or marine) access.
Nutrition north replaced the food mail program's transportation subsidy with a retail-based food subsidy to support the provision of nutritious foods to residents of isolated northern communities. While the former program focused on contracts with transportation providers, with nutrition north Canada, retailers and suppliers can choose the most effective options for their goods and take advantage of evolving transportation systems in the north, including alternative modes of shipping such as airships and sealifts.
As the Nutrition north subsidy is applied to the cost of stocking and/or shipping perishable foods in the north, retailers and suppliers can ship the most perishable nutritious foods by air while using more cost-effective options, like winter roads and sealifts, to transport non-perishables and non-food items.
The subsidy therefore enables eligible retailers and suppliers to lower the cost of healthy foods like meat, fish, eggs, milk and bread, as well as fruit and vegetables. In recognizing the importance of country foods to the northern diet, the subsidy is also applied to country foods processed in commercial plants that are government regulated and/or approved for export.
The impact of this program is enhanced by nutrition education initiatives in eligible communities. These initiatives are led by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, and aim to increase knowledge of healthy eating, skills development in choosing and preparing healthy store-bought foods and country foods, and strengthen retail-community partnerships.
The nutrition north Canada program continues to work to enhance program transparency and accountability to Canadians. In keeping with its response to the recommendations outlined in the Auditor General's fall report in 2014, the program has completed a full review of its community eligibility criteria and a full assessment of the eligibility of all isolated northern communities. This work resulted in an addition of 37 communities. As of October 1, 2016, a total of 121 isolated communities across the north now have access to the full benefits of the program.
Budget 2016 provided an additional $64.5 million to the NNC program over five years, beginning in 2016-17, and $13.8 million per year ongoing, starting in 2021, to support this expansion. But we know we need to do more than just add communities to the program. We're hearing from northerners that the cost of food is still too high. We are also learning from internal audits and evaluations, as well as from the Auditor General's report, that we need to consider all options for program sustainability. In response we are working to enhance the program's ability to meet the needs of northerners and to be more transparent, accountable, and culturally appropriate.
As a result, between May and December 2016, NNC conducted an engagement process with northerners, indigenous organizations, and other key stakeholders to gather ideas on how to improve the program while keeping it on a sustainable path. Engagement activities included over 20 community meetings across the country, key stakeholder interviews, as well as the conduct of a survey and written submissions. Through the findings of the engagement process, we will be working with northerners to update the nutrition north Canada program so that they, along with their families, can have improved access to affordable and healthy food.
To conclude, the high cost of living and food security is a complex and multi-faceted issue that requires a broad spectrum of responses, and we at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada are committed to doing our part in collaboration with our partners both within and outside the federal government to strengthen the nutritional choices of northerners living in isolated communities, and by extension, to improve their long-term health outcomes so that they may participate fully in the livelihood of their communities.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you for your question.
If I turn to my previous comments, there's an investment of $732 million to meet as much as possible the housing needs on reserve, in Inuit and northern communities.
Also, just to add on affordable housing, under the social component under budget 2016, we have a total of $1.48 billion that we are investing for affordable housing. That includes money for the affordable housing initiative, including affordable housing for seniors, and for energy retrofitting for social housing, shelters for victims of violence, and also investments for homelessness. Those are key investments that have been made to ensure there is access to a variety of programs for different segments of the population to take advantage of, whether you're a senior, whether you're low income, or whatever your situation may be.
Thank you to our witnesses today. These are very interesting topics.
On September 2, was in Saint John to announce the tackling poverty together initiative, but he also made a joint announcement with Premier Brian Gallant on affordable housing.
Very quickly, it was an additional $56.4 million: $6.5 million to support construction, repair, and adaptation of affordable housing; $3.8 million to support the construction and renovation of shelters and transitional housing, and to deal with family violence, as you said in your presentation; $13.5 million to help address the increasing demand for repairs to social housing as units age—we all know about that—and $32.8 million as part of the commitment to double funding levels under the IAH.
That was a wonderful announcement, and obviously at the end it said that the Government of New Brunswick is responsible for choosing the programs they design and deliver and that it also has the flexibility to invest in a wide range of affordable housing programs in order to meet local needs. That was a great news announcement, and I was proud to be part of it.
However, one of the concerns I have—and I'm learning as I go in this—is with the execution and delivery. As a federal government, we're responsible for coming up with a national poverty reduction strategy. I'm stating the obvious, but alignment with the provinces is key.
Mr. Moore, how do you recommend that we deliver a national poverty reduction strategy if we're not aligned with the provinces? How do we actually execute that? Can you give me some thoughts on that? Obviously, every province is going to have a different situation across the country. Some governments want to go one way, and other governments want to go another way provincially. How do we execute that overall national poverty reduction strategy?
Thank you for the question.
I think working with provinces and territories is critical. There are different needs, opportunities, and challenges depending on what province you're working with. Housing issues in Nunavut could be quite different from housing issues in Toronto, for example, though there's always a common denominator at some point in time.
I would say to try to acknowledge the fact that there are these differences. It's important that we do have mechanisms to engage at the provincial and territorial level. The question becomes how we integrate that and coordinate that at the national level, because there will be agreements on housing, through CMHC, with provinces and territories. Infrastructure Canada will have agreements with provinces and territories when it comes to elements of public transit and so on.
Our minister has said time and time again that it's important to coordinate, consult, and work with his colleagues, and to ensure that there's a national coordinated mechanism to actually tell a story with respect to what we're doing. That's not just with poverty, though poverty is very important, but overall in terms of what we're doing with infrastructure. These are huge numbers that we're dealing with. There are different mechanisms to get the money out.
role is really to be the integrator. He is the one who brings the story together. He works with his colleagues. We get the information back on how we're achieving some of these outcomes, what mechanisms are being used, how the money is being spent, and whether we are successful in the investments we're making. It's very important to be able to tell that story from a national basis. Those are key priorities for the minister moving forward in trying to tell that national story.
My next questions will be about infrastructure.
Mr. Moore, you must have taken great interest in the parliamentary budget officer's report that was made public on February 2, dealing with phase 1 of the new infrastructure plan. We have learned that the budgets were allocated to 31 departments and government agencies.
However, neither of them published the list of funded projects. They did not even show the new infrastructure plan in their departmental performance report.
Phase 1 has to do with public transit and social infrastructure. Those are investments that may help Canadians come out of poverty, which is what interests us in our committee's study.
Could you provide us with an exact list of the infrastructure projects funded in phase 1?
You gave Prince Edward Island as an example, which is interesting but incomplete.
Can you also elaborate on the anticipated project results?
That takes me in the same direction as my colleague, Mr. Ruimy.
The parliamentary budget officer's report indicates that almost all the funding earmarked for phase 1 was spent on large urban centres.
I think the reality is the same in most ridings in Canada. In mine at least, the largest municipality has 56,000 residents and the second largest has about 10,000. Twenty-two have less than 3,000 people.
In your presentation, when you talked about the Canada Infrastructure Bank, you said that large infrastructure projects would benefit from that investment, but that this would also be the case for rural and northern communities. I have trouble seeing how that will be possible. Why is the funding for small communities so low when we know that they are the ones that need it the most and have the fewest resources?
Your co-operation with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is interesting, but, in my riding, the only municipality that is a member keeps wondering every year whether it will still have the means to pay the fee. The municipalities that are represented feel excluded from the process.
I won't comment on whether a province's decision or territory's decision is bad or not. It's not for me to decide.
As I said, we have a few mechanisms to address smaller communities. The other one is Canada's gas tax fund, which every community gets a component thereof. We have the small communities fund, which is for communities under 10,000 population. We're going to have the northern and rural program, which is going to come on stream under phase two of our infrastructure plan.
There are a number of ways in which communities can benefit from infrastructure funding. They're not precluded from applying for other programs, like the new building Canada fund, as well as some of our phase one programming. In fact, if I had the information with me today, I know there are some small communities that have taken advantage of the public transit fund, as well as the wastewater fund. There are also all the investments we've made for indigenous communities.
I think there are a lot of points of entry, for all communities, with respect to infrastructure funding. Can we do more? Absolutely, we can always do more. The infrastructure deficit in this country is huge. However, I think the work we're doing with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is also very important, in terms of building the capacity of small communities to be able to access the types of programs we have, whether it's through asset management or other means.
Thank you for the question.
It really depends on the situation.
In Nunavut, the Food Safety Working Group was started by the communities, the Government of Nunavut, NTI, and the other groups. That is the group that invited us to take part in the meetings to decide on specific options and strategies to address matters of food safety. So we actually operate on a case-by-case basis.
As for the more formal process, many federal, provincial and territorial agencies take part in annual meetings organized by the ministers responsible for health and housing. There are meetings each year. It depends on the situation.
I hope I grasped your question correctly.
Thank you both very much for being here today and sharing. I do want to loop back on one thing, a conversation following one of the questions by my colleague Mr. Zimmer, just to make sure we do get some of that information back. There are a couple of really big discrepancies between some of the things you brought to the table today, which were great, but the information we have is a little different.
I'm going to share one piece. In the briefing that we have from a report done this past year by the Laval University, named the “Cost of Living in Nunavik, Research Report”, it talks about a basket of groceries costing 48% more than what it would cost in Quebec City. The term you used, both in response to questioning by Mr. Dhillon and also in your speaking notes, was that the cost of living was 10 times higher. I know that's a combination of things, and obviously Kuujjuaq might be significantly cheaper than some of the other communities, considering it's a transportation hub, but that's a big difference in the cost we're seeing.
Would you share some of the research on that on some of the more remote communities, because I would imagine it's different from community to community, so we can get a clear picture of what those costs are. Obviously, we're going to be heading up there shortly.