Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
It's an honour to appear before you today to discuss our work at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.
I am joined here today by Bob Watts, our vice-president of indigenous relations at the NWMO. My colleague, Véronique Dault, director of government and external relations, is also here today to assist with any questions you may have.
I understand that this committee is currently studying community capacity-building and the retention of talent. The NWMO has a great story to share.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization has a significant history of community capacity building and talent retention.
Bob will share the bulk of our work, but first I want to provide you with a bit of background about the NWMO.
We were established in 2002 by Canada's nuclear electricity producers as a requirement of the federal Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. Our mandate is to work collaboratively with Canadians to design and implement Canada's plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel. We are a non-profit funded by the owners of Canada's used nuclear fuel, which are Ontario Power Generation, New Brunswick Power Corporation, Hydro Québec and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.
The NWMO spent its early years talking to Canadians, including first nation, Métis and Inuit peoples, while designing an approach and plan to ensure the safe, long-term storage of Canada's used nuclear fuel.
The approach that emerged through this dialogue—known as “adaptive phase management” or “Canada's plan”—calls for the safe containment and isolation of used nuclear fuel in a deep geologic repository located in an informed and willing host community. It was an approach that the government of Canada selected in 2007 and the one that we at the NWMO are actively implementing today. The plan aligns with the values and priorities Canadians identified as important and also with international consensus.
Scientists around the world agree that a deep geologic repository is the best approach for protecting people and the environment from used nuclear fuel over the long term.
To ensure that we stay abreast of the latest knowledge, we work with similar organizations around the world to share best practices and science.
During those early dialogues, Canadians told us that we continue to benefit from nuclear energy. We need to manage the waste in a way that does not burden future generations. We've also committed that the project will only proceed with the involvement of municipal and indigenous communities in the area and surrounding communities working in partnership to implement it. In order to do so, we had to work to build capacity in potential host communities. Canada's plan is a 100-plus year, $24 billion infrastructure project. It will have economic and social benefits for generations, but ensuring local communities are well informed and prepared to take on a project of this magnitude takes time and resources.
That's why the NWMO has spent years working with communities, including municipalities and first nation and Métis communities. The voluntary site selection process that was launched in 2010 saw 22 communities express interest in learning more about the project and exploring their potential to host it.
Through increasingly intensive study and engagement, we have gradually narrowed our focus. Today we are active in five of these areas as we work towards selecting the preferred site. Each of these communities has neighbouring indigenous communities with whom we are working as well. We plan to select the single preferred site by 2023.
I'm also pleased that we have indigenous representation in our senior management, on our board of directors and our advisory council. Over 7% of our workforce identify as first nation or Métis.
At this time, I will ask Bob Watts to provide more information about the many programs that we have.
Since the very beginning, the NWMO has sought to walk with indigenous people on this journey. Our leadership has long recognized the need to listen to indigenous elders. An elders advisory council was founded almost immediately after the organization was formed. As we evolved, so has this important body evolved. Since Canada's plan will affect generations to come, we've added young people to this group, which is now called the council of elders and youth. Their advice and principles of honouring the land and serving as stewards inform activities across our organization.
Eighty-five percent of our staff have received cultural awareness training. This is a requirement for both our staff and contractors before they begin any fieldwork with our communities.
NWMO has also stated its commitment to integrating indigenous knowledge into our work. One small example are elders and other knowledge keepers who walk the land with our subject matter specialists in western science, and together they share their knowledge and learn from each other. We recently held a two-day workshop that brought together indigenous knowledge keepers and western scientists. During the workshop, participants shared information and perspectives on how indigenous knowledge and western science can be interwoven into research applications pertaining to our safety system.
Last year, we made a formal commitment to reconciliation which was formalized through traditional ceremony. Right now, we're in the midst of finalizing a reconciliation policy that will deepen our commitment to reconciliation. This policy sets out how the NWMO will contribute to reconciliation in all of its work. Some initiatives will include training, employment and procurement for indigenous peoples. This is one small way that we are ensuring that our actions back up the words in our reconciliation statement.
The NWMO works with indigenous communities as well as regional and national indigenous-led organizations. In this work, we recognize the fact that resources are required to engage in our process. We've committed that no community should be out of pocket for learning about and engaging with Canada's plan. We're actively working with communities to determine how we can each build capacity to participate in the project if it is located in their area. We are making investments in training and education to equip community members, including youth, to benefit from the project. At the same time, these investments support building transferable skills that could be applied to other projects or workplaces as well.
I should note that in conversation with the chair prior to the meeting, we were talking about language. We've translated the bulk of our work into nine indigenous languages. Since we've narrowed the focus of our activities, we have narrowed the amount of translation being done, but we've made a big commitment to ensuring that our information is translated so that everybody in the community has access to that knowledge.
Some of our support directly facilitates participation in our process, but some is less tangible. For example, we are committed to increasing access to indigenous knowledge, western science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM education, in potential host areas. Many of these initiatives are funded through our early investment in skills and education program. This will build capacity for generations to come in those communities and help fill the jobs that a repository could provide.
Direct activities include covering the cost of meetings, travel, financial reporting and other expenses associated with engagement and learning. We also support part-time and full-time jobs in communities that we work with to coordinate and manage their participation. Last year, we hosted 45 engagement activities with indigenous youth. Currently, the NWMO funds 18 positions within indigenous communities, comprised of 15 community liaison officer positions, one youth position, one technical officer and one administrative support person.
To support discussions about the potential for partnership and further create a strong foundation for future decision-making, the NWMO has implemented a program of near-term investments. These investments are intended to support community capacity-building to participate in discussions about potential partnerships, and if selected as a single preferred location, ultimately hosting the project in the future.
Funding is in the form of investments provided to municipalities and first nation and Métis communities in the vicinity of the area where assessment activities are planned and that are helping to lead these activities. Since 2008, we have invested approximately $29 million in indigenous communities and organizations. Of that, close to $6 million was invested in Métis communities and organizations, $14 million to first nation communities and $9 million to first nation national, provincial and regional organizations.
In conclusion, above all, we know there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we approach all of our capacity-building from a place of transparency, respect and partnership. Canada's plan is called adaptive for a reason; so too is our approach to community engagement and capacity-building. The NWMO actively reviews and refines our programs as we continue to learn and work with communities and as discussions about potential partnerships advance.
I look forward to hearing from members of today's panel and later to answering any questions the committee members may have about our experience.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you for the introduction. Thank you to everyone here, and I acknowledge the land that we're on. I'm just going to head right into it.
I want to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs for the time to speak to you on the talent and retention and recruitment of first nations employees in various fields of delivery of essential services on reserve, including first nations education and graduation rates for elementary to secondary schools.
It is my understanding that this will include a section on community capacity-building initiatives. Therefore, I would like to begin my presentation with the definition of capacity-building. Capacity-building is the process by which individuals and organizations obtain, improve and retain the skills and knowledge, tools and equipment and other resources needed to do their jobs competently or to a greater capacity, larger scale, larger audience, or larger impact.
Capacity-building and capacity development are often used interchangeably. The term “community capacity-building” emerged in the lexicon of international development during the 1990s, and the term is included in the programs of most international organizations that work in development, such as the World Bank, the UN and various other non-governmental organizations.
Today, community capacity-building often refers to strengthening the skills, competencies and abilities of people and communities so that they can achieve their goals and potentially overcome the causes of their exclusion and suffering. Now, when we look at the words, “potentially overcome the causes of their exclusion and suffering”, we need to look through the lens of how we have been trying to build capacity to help our citizens and communities achieve their goal—the goal of inclusion, and overcoming the effects of colonial policies and legislation.
That lens, that approach, has been through the delivery of unilaterally-developed government programs that do not take into account the history, the geography and the existing capacity in the community. We are already doing a disservice to the first nations. We make the assumption that there is no capacity, so the government must build it for them. I have told many colleagues, time and time again, “Please don't come and build my capacity. Come and enhance it.” The inference is that if you need to build my capacity, I don't have any. It's very insulting.
Capacity enhancement means a person increasing their own ability to achieve their own objectives effectively and efficiently. We need to start looking at how we enhance existing capacity, because it's there. The population is there, the desire to learn is there, the desire to change one's life is there. It's in our blood memory. We want to move forward and have a hand in how we plan the future.
When we talk about the provisions of the essential services on reserve, we are talking about our health care, our education, child and family services, social assistance, housing, policing, etc. Yet, the lack of legal framework governing essential services on reserve leaves first nations vulnerable to arbitrary and sudden changes in policies.
The one piece of legislation governing the lives of first nations citizens both on and off reserve, the Indian Act, remains silent about social assistance, child welfare, child care, health, education, policing and emergency services, and other key services for individuals and their well-being in communities. Non-first nation people receive these services from the provinces and territories. Provincial legislation sets out in great detail the level of service citizens may expect, ensuring the level of accountability and program design and delivery.
First nations have been going without properly funded essential services for decades, and when Canada saw the impact of these hardships on our first nations citizens, it immediately began to negotiate cost-sharing agreements with the provinces and territories without consultation with their treaty partners. Monies for child and family infrastructure, emergency management services, etc. all flow to the provinces, and there are no plans developed with first nations to enhance capacity at the community level.
Moreover, there are no accountability measures in place to ensure that those dollars go to communities. For example, as a temporary measure, Ottawa decided to provide social assistance on reserve at rates and standards comparable to those provided in the provinces on nothing more than a mere policy manual. These comparable rates were not and are not reflected in the cost of living in remote and isolated communities.
Fast-forward 70 years, and we are still working with income assistance policy manuals that actually work against communities and not for them. This approach becomes the norm for all essential services on reserve, and this approach is highly problematic.
Regulation by policy manual allows unelected bureaucrats to determine the policy and dictate what the most vulnerable citizens are entitled to from the federal government. Every day federal government officials are making decisions regarding the eligibility of first nations for crucial public services. Every day Canada is creating programs that first nations must compete for by proposal submission. Not every first nation has proposal-writing experts at hand, so far too often, they are unable to access these resources and unable to attract and retain the people they need to provide the services. In many cases, the federal officials have considerable discretion in decision-making, relying only on intergovernmental policies or program guidelines that were not created by first nations. We never have the conversation about whether borrowing social policy designed by provincial lawmakers for different citizens in different circumstances adequately accommodates conditions of first nations living on reserve and respects their rights to self-government.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Women's Council have gone on record to state that the application of provincial child welfare laws is inappropriate and is contributing to the record numbers of first nations children taken into permanent care. How is the federal government monitoring how government staff implement policies that allow for the enhancement of capacity in our first nations communities?
Over the last two decades, at least five auditor general reports have suggested that government staff do not know and are not tracking whether essential services on reserve are actually comparable to provincial or territorial programs. This observation is corroborated by several human rights complaints lodged by first nations in the last five years, alleging programs on reserve, including the areas of child welfare, education and policing, are significantly if not consciously underfunded and not comparable to provincial or territorial services.
We in first nations country are aware that the application of policy varies from region to region. We talk of the variations in section 95 housing policies, income assistance, health and education, etc. This federal government just announced a $4.7 billion budget to address indigenous issues, without any legislative framework. The failure to adhere to the rule of law affects policy outcomes. First nations people in Canada remain at the bottom of almost every socio-economic statistic and well-being indicator.
As the Office of the Auditor General of Canada found in its 2018 spring reports, Indigenous Services Canada has had an abysmal failure in collecting or making use of socio-economic data necessary for setting realistic benchmarks, establishing funding formulas or setting priorities for closing the gap in funding to first nations. The analysis being done is currently so askew that the department was reporting an increase in high school graduation rates on reserve when in fact that number has been declining steadily for a decade. Our populations are booming, and oh, we have 10 graduates this year but there were 30 people born in that same year. Thirty people should have graduated, but we can only fund 10 people.
The Auditor General has linked the lack of a legislative framework and appropriate funding mechanisms for programs on reserve to this problem, noting that these gaps severely limit the delivery of public services to first nations communities and hinder improvement in living conditions on reserve. The UN special rapporteur on indigenous people has called this a human rights issue of crisis proportions.
First nations citizens in this country ought to be entitled to some basic measure of accountability from the federal government when it comes to key programs that affect some of the most vulnerable and marginalized citizens of this country, but that is a problem as well, because everything is a program.
Programs have end dates. Programs do not have to be renewed. The possibility of the closure of a program is ever present, like first nations policing, which is not deemed an essential service in Canada. It is threatened with closure every time the agreement with the federal government hits its expiry date. It is very hard to attract and retain qualified and interested staff when everyone knows there's a possibility they will not have a job come March 31.
In the absence of safeguards, checks and balances of a legislated and regulatory process, our first nations citizens are susceptible and vulnerable to administrative decisions made by federal employees and government officials. They lose quality staffing, they lose quality programming created by the community, and they lose momentum when they make changes.
We come up with new programs and announce new dollars, but until the funding is secure, stable and addresses inflation and population size and is embedded into the legislative framework, it will be hard to retain staffing and enhance capacity at the community level to create long-lasting changes in the socio-economic status of our communities.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee on this very important matter. I look forward to further discussions. If you require any additional information, please contact my staff. We will provide some written comments for you.
I very much apologize for this, Arlen. I enjoyed meeting you when we were in Manitoba, and you have been here before. Unfortunately, because of the timing of an upcoming bill, there's a motion that I wanted to move. I deeply apologize that I will be taking my time to do that.
As everyone knows, I have a motion that I put forward the other day. We are going to be distributing that motion right now. It is similar to what was passed the other day, except it takes into consideration some of the concerns that other members had about the motion.
In point number four, I will be changing “the committee hear from witnesses for four meetings, and that these meetings be extended” from 8:30 to 1:30. It said “at the discretion of the chair”, but I think it's important that we put in there for emphasis that it will be from 8:30 to 1:30, which would mean a total of 20 hours of witness testimony for Bill when it comes to committee.
To address some of the concerns the clerk expressed the other day, we've added to number 6—which read, that “the committee proceed with clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill no later than Tuesday, May 28, 2019—the words “subject to the Bill being referred to the committee”. This will try to ensure once again that we're not trying to leapfrog the process and that the bill needs to be referred to committee before it can go through clause-by-clause.
Recognizing there could be further concerns around points six and seven, we could either add to them “subject to the bill being referred to the committee” or make them 5 a) and 5 b), depending upon what the legislative clerk feels is the best way to address that.
With that, I will look forward to any other questions that people might have about this.