Welcome, everyone. This is the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. We're meeting today on unceded Algonquin territory, for which we are very grateful.
Welcome to all of those who are here to observe as guests today.
We are meeting pursuant to Standing Order 81(5), supplementary estimates (B), 2016-2017, votes 1b, 5b, and 10b under Indian Affairs and Northern Development, referred to the committee on Thursday, November 3, 2016.
We will be hearing today from the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, who has with her officials from the department, from INAC. We have Paula Isaak, assistant deputy minister, education and social development programs; Diane Lafleur, associate deputy minister; and Paul Thoppil, chief financial officer. Welcome all.
I am happy to turn the floor over to you for 10 minutes. At which time, we'll move into questions. We do have this panel for the full two hours, and we will go as long as we feel is needed today in that time frame.
With that, Minister Bennett, I am happy to give the floor to you.
You have to put up with the fact.... I chaired the subcommittee on persons with disabilities for five years. People with disabilities really cared about that committee, and it never got televised. I think there is a lot of work we need to do to make Parliament more open, if we can. Thank you.
It's a pleasure to be back here acknowledging that we're gathered on unceded Algonquin territory, and as you've said, Mr. Chair, to be joined here by the associate deputy minister—Diane, you were here once before—the chief financial officer, Paul Thoppil, and the ADM, education and social development and partnerships, Paula Isaak.
I wanted to begin by welcoming the new critic, , in his role as
NDP spokesperson for intergovernmental indigenous affairs.
I also want to thank the committee for the pre-work you're doing on , and I think I'm back next week doing that, but also for your ongoing work on suicide.
I just wanted to say that we're going to try to organize a screening of Survivors Rowe. The link with child abuse, anger, shame, drugs, alcohol, and violent suicide is very linear. I hope that we can make sure that your report is as robust as it can be on those difficult things.
I am here today to discuss the supplementary estimates (B) for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
As I said, the last time I appeared, I hope you understand that we understand that the current estimates process is archaic and unclear, and that we're looking forward to the needed reforms coming from the for this broken system.
We have provided a deck of slides to the committee that outlines the initiatives found in the supplementary estimates. We hope that this makes a little bit clearer the request being made of Parliament. We want to begin by reiterating that the government is committed to lifting the 2% cap.
As I have said before, the 2% cap has been lifted.
The budget took into account the need for growth and cost drivers well in excess of 2%. As you know, the budget 2016 investments mean that within four years, total funding for indigenous programs will be 22% above the level of funding that would have been provided under the previous cap of 2%.
Our government is also committed to jointly designing a new fiscal relationship that will move to a needs-based approach and give first nation communities sufficient, predictable, and sustained funding to ensure their overall well-being.
Last summer, I signed a memorandum of understanding with the Assembly of First Nations to move forward with that process.
Last week, I was able to meet with the new fiscal relations committee at the AFN, for the second time, to keep going on what that new relationship would look like, and I promised Madam McLeod that it will include transparency and accountability, as they are very keen to deal with that in the new fiscal relationship.
We've also engaged the Métis nation in our process to establish permanent funding for the Métis National Council and its governing members.
As you can see, supplementary estimates (B) reflect a net increase of $644.3 million in appropriations from my department. That brings the total appropriations for INAC for 2016-17 to $9.4 billion.
The majority of the spending in supplementary estimates (B) represents the budget 2016 items. In the case of the items appearing in these estimates, INAC was able to internally cash-manage to ensure that we are already delivering on commitments in many important areas.
First Nations children deserve the best start in life. This begins with properly funded education.
This year, our government has already put funding in place for 130 school-related infrastructure projects, and budget 2016 is also providing $275 million over five years to support language and culture initiatives for youth.
The $245.8 million of funding sought by these supplementary estimates will fund additional investments in first nations elementary and secondary education. The money will both address immediate needs and pressures and aid long-term transformation. We anticipate that nearly 110,000 students will directly benefit from these investments. But there's no question and I want to stress that we know this is just a start.
As we mentioned, we're working to renew the relationship with first nations and are actively engaging with them to reform first nations primary and secondary education.
We'll talk a bit more about the money that was dedicated to initiate those reforms later on.
I would now like to turn to a priority issue, which is the prevention of family violence.
We have launched a truly national, independent inquiry in to the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
As we've said, we are also not waiting for the results of the commission. We have taken immediate action this year on the root causes, with investments in women's shelters, housing, education, and child welfare.
The supplementary estimates (B) are requesting $4.8 million in funding to better support, through the family violence program, the existing network of 41 shelters for victims of family violence. This represents the first year of budget 2016 funding, which is $33.6 million over five years and $8.3 million ongoing. We are also investing $10.4 million over the next three years to support the renovation of existing shelters and the construction of five new shelters in first nations communities.
As you know, the other urgent area of need is child welfare.
We recognize that first nations require funds to expand prevention programming and provide additional front-line capacity. The goal is fewer children in care and fewer children who enter the system.
I look forward to discussing the issues with you further during your questions, as well as the areas in which the dollars seem not to have rolled out and will roll forward into next year, in both education reform and in the claims process.
I would now like to turn the committee's attention to another significant step in Canada's journey of reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
In May this year, the government reached an agreement to settle the Newfoundland day scholars class action lawsuit. This settlement includes direct compensation to survivors, as well as healing and commemoration activities. To support this, these estimates request $53 million in funding for that particular settlement.
Another significant part of my department's mandate concerns the north, and specifically for our purposes here, funding for northern and Inuit housing investments in Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, and the lnuvialuit settlement regions.
I have been in way too many homes, as you have as well, both on reserve and in Inuit and northern communities, where the conditions are truly upsetting and totally unacceptable. These estimates include $25.5 million to address immediate long-standing needs in these three Inuit regions. Over the two years, budget 2016 is providing $177.7 million in northern housing investments. Reducing overcrowding and repairing homes will directly contribute to improved health and life outcomes in northern communities.
The supplementary estimates (B) contains many other important investments as well, including $58 million in funding to continue fulfilling Canada's obligation under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, and $72 million in funding for the specific claims settlements and Specific Claims Tribunal awards.
Ultimately, this funding will contribute to a more prosperous Canada, and will contribute to closing social and economic gaps for first nations, Inuit, Métis, and northerners.
I very much look forward to taking your questions today.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As I think Grand Chief Ed John said just last week, the system has to change. It's broken. We have more kids in care than at the height of the residential schools. As we learned from the B.C. child advocate, children are being abused in the situation. Children become abusers and then they get moved from family to family. This is a broken system.
We want to develop a system where communities get money such that they can actually identify the families at risk and are able to put in interventions before the child comes into the system. We want the agencies to do a better job, but we also are hearing, time and time again, that the kinds of planning models that Cindy Blackstock has developed in Touchstones of Hope really work in terms of getting all communities together to make decisions—i.e., what are we going to do about this problem of too many children being apprehended and being sent out of the community, where they do badly?
So many people have said to us...including Ed John, who said it would be a mistake to read his report simply as a demand to get more money and control of child welfare for first nations. This has to be a real and significant change. Unfortunately, we're also hearing stories of certain provinces that are clawing back the money that's been given. We actually need to reform a system that is accountable for the results.
When you listen to the kids in care, it just breaks your heart. These are kids who've been separated from their siblings, just like with residential schools. These are kids who have been put in very religious homes, where they're told that their indigenous ways are not right. Some kids have obviously been put at huge risk when coming out as gay or lesbian, or having suicidal ideation, where the response is that you can't kill yourself because you'll go to hell.
This is awful. That's why we're trying, and why I point to Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, who is out and talking to communities, talking to provinces and territories. We have a system right now where we pay, as the federal government, for the provinces and territories to deliver the system, and kids aren't doing well. I want to be accountable for the results.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the minister and her staff for meeting with us again today.
I want to thank you for the attention you have been paying to the Northwest Territories. We have had a lot of good discussions, and I'm anticipating we're going to make some good headway on a number of fronts.
One of our biggest challenges in the Northwest Territories is the high cost of living. Getting food and fuel into the communities is something that's becoming increasingly challenging as the effects of climate change are starting to really become issues within our communities.
The solution, of course, is to build roads to our communities, or adequate airports with runways that are long enough to support planes coming in with full loads. Right now we have support coming into a lot of our communities that are only accessible by airplanes coming in with half loads, half the number of passengers, so it's increasing our costs.
I know there has been a lot of work done by the minister and her department. There has been a commitment of $27.9 million to expand the program. It's all good news, and there's lots of consultation that's been going on in the north. Is there discussion going on with other departments to talk about roads, proper runway lengths, and things of that nature?
Also, could the minister speak a bit about what she's hearing? I've heard from many people that we need to include traditional foods and the ability to hunt, and to cover some of the costs. It's becoming more difficult, because of the price of fuel to go out on the land for the things that we need.
I think the minister is aware that we have six large aboriginal governments in the Northwest Territories, and all are striving to become self-governing. I really appreciate that we have 10 sets of negotiations and discussions going on, and for the first time in many years, all moving forward. I'm quite happy with that.
We are also concerned that we need to ensure that our voices from the north are heard, and there's really no national organization that represents some of our aboriginal people in the Northwest Territories and that has to change. I think in the spirit of our new nation-to-nation relationship, we have to figure out who represents who, and it's probably going to be a really challenging task, but as we move forward with the UN declaration, with the Daniels case, we need to make sure that everybody is heard.
In the Northwest Territories, we have a number of records that we're probably not very proud of. The Northwest Territories has the highest homicide rate in all of Canada on a per capita basis. We're second only to Nunavut on the suicide crisis numbers, and all these things have to be addressed. We need to make sure our people are heard. A lot of them don't feel that they are represented. They don't belong to some of the national organizations, so we have to do some work on that front.
I'm really happy to see that there's some investment in unemployment and family violence prevention programs. I'm really keen on seeing investment in our friendship centres, family centres, and some of the aboriginal programs that exist, such as the sports circle and head start. I think those will go a long way, but we also need to ensure that our communities are able to have safe facilities.
A lot of our communities still don't have RCMP and we don't have these types of facilities, so I want to ask if these programs will be available to us in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut and other areas that are off reserve.
Thank you, Minister and other witnesses, for being here.
As a part-Ojibwa woman who represents many first nations, Métis, and Dene people and communities in my northeastern Alberta riding, it's a privilege for me to be able to participate in this committee whenever I can.
I wrote my thesis many years ago on residential schools, harm and responsibility in the system, the generational impacts on identity wellness, and the socio-economic impacts we see today, so it really is a privilege for me to be able to participate in these conversations whenever I can.
I have some questions on nutrition north. I think we all recognize that there are ongoing challenges, obstacles, and improvements that need to be made. I think all of us here just want to ensure in good faith that the best possible approaches are taken to deal with this particular challenge in the north. I understand your department is in ongoing consultations with communities in the north this year on the program. I just invite you, if you would, to tell us a little bit about those consultations, what's going on, and key learnings that you've undertaken so far.
I'll also just ask you about this issue of traditional hunts and ensuring that local and fresh food is available. Some communities have suggested there should be a subsidy to traditional hunting, and that might also include subsidies for equipment and fuel, so I just wonder if you could give us any insight on what actions the department could take to ensure that traditional foods and meats might be available to residents at an affordable cost.
Just to back up a tiny bit, nutrition north actually, unfortunately, only went into the communities that already qualified for the food mail program, but there were many other communities, 37, that were sufficiently isolated that should be included. Our first step was to include those 37 other communities that certainly qualify as remote with expensive food. That was the first thing we did.
Then we said that the system doesn't seem to be working, and, as you know, the big campaign in Nunavut, feeding our families.... People seemed to sense that, although certain food prices came down, somehow at the end of the week when they pushed their shopping cart out, the bill seemed to be higher, and that they used to be able to feed their families, but now they can't. Whether those are things like laundry detergent or diapers, things that you absolutely need, we want to make sure that people can afford healthy food, so that's the negotiation that's going on.
To be perfectly honest, people want to have the tough conversation in these consultations that are going on. Is this a food security program or is it a fairness for remote people program? I know I'm not allowed to say this, but is it for the lawyers in the north to get cheaper pineapples? I'm not sure that was the intent of the program, so we have to have that tough conversation about, “If we pay out this much money, would you be putting it into food security or would you be spreading it more thinly?”
There are a few places where they're worried about herd population and fishing, and where they're not so sure about supplementing the harvesters, but almost everywhere I've been, people want us to explore the kinds of harvesters programs that were there in NTI and other places and what the best design would be to really get harvesters back able to feed their families, their communities, and the elders.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to, for the record, state that I'm glad the transparency act is gone. I've seen it as a tool to suppress aboriginal people. It was not doing us any good; it was tripping us up.
Most of the communities were not able to meet the obligations that were required under it. Any aboriginal governments that had companies were forced to disclose. It made them lose the competitive edge. Most of these aboriginal communities, band councils, are in small places where everybody knows everybody else. If one company discloses its financial state, it loses its competitive edge. That, at the same time as slashing the budgets in our band councils, almost brought everything to a standstill. Some band councils were cut almost 40%. It was down to who stays, the chief or the band manager? They couldn't operate like that. We couldn't continue like that. It brought us to a level of despair that we're trying to deal with now.
I think we need a lot more investment. I made that clear on a number of fronts, but even issues like housing pretty much came to a standstill in the last 10 years. We are facing a housing crisis in the north, and we've heard through our suicide study in the community visits that housing is probably a main contributor to.... If we solved the housing issue in our communities, we would probably solve up to 50% of the social issues.
I'm happy to see that, in the north, you're providing funding directly to some of the aboriginal governments. We have to move past discussions or negotiations and trying to resolve disputes, and get the aboriginal governments to move into a mode of governing.
While we now have money for the Inuvialuit in the Northwest Territories to start doing housing—they're opening a housing program—are we going to start looking at other aboriginal governments? I'm talking specifically in the Northwest Territories because that's who I represent. Are we going to start looking at allowing them to start delivering programs for their own people?
I'm going to go to the Indian residential school agreement and then I hope to get back to education, so I hope to get a few things in.
If you look at the supplementary estimates (B), regarding the funding support for the independent assessment process and compensation to former students who suffered sexual, serious physical, or serious psychological abuse, some of the money was to go towards supporting professional counselling and emotional support.
I was really concerned with a story—and I think it's just absolutely appalling—about one of the counsellors who was paid to support residential school survivors who overbilled the government by about $360,000 by charging 28.5 hours for a 24-hour period. It's so appalling. It's unspeakable.
I know, and I think all of us here, experience some pretty good scrutiny when we put our expenses in, in terms of financial services and what they pay and what they don't pay.
What steps are being taken to ensure this doesn't happen again and that the services are going to the people who are so desperately in need. Again, I think we can all agree, I can't see an invoice going through and actually being paid with that kind of extraordinarily obvious misappropriation.
I want to say something about the transparency act, because I think it also needs to be said that it was a further exercise in paternalism. I understand the level of accountability that our colleagues on the other side were trying to achieve through the act, but I think we forget sometimes that it took us 600-plus years to get to the level of governance that we have achieved as a society, yet we spent a couple of hundred years tearing down the governance that indigenous peoples had when we arrived and then spent 200 years destroying their leadership in order to try to bring that about.
If we truly want indigenous communities to become accountable, it is only going to happen once we have community-driven self-determination supported by long-term stable funding that eventually, hopefully, is derived by indigenous communities themselves. Only when we can break the state of paternalism, and not until we can achieve a local reality in which indigenous people are setting their priorities, will the residents of those communities hold their own leadership accountable.
I really think this is at the crux of what we're trying to achieve as a government, that we need to download that accountability. That way, you're not going to have indigenous communities, every time something happens, point to Ottawa and say, “Fix it.” They need to point to their own leadership, and I think that's what most want to do. They just need to have the opportunity.
I guess I would like the minister to come back to talk about what you're trying to achieve through the estimates, or how you're trying to bring this about. You touched on this earlier in your discussions and I'd like to give you the opportunity to expand upon that, because I know that's what your long-term direction is.
I want to make a comment on the discussions that have been happening around the . When I visit with communities, I see gaps in housing, road and water infrastructure, and education. They very much want to have access to the spending and salaries in their communities, to which all other Canadians are entitled and can access easily.
I want to read a quote from a resident of Onion Lake. I know that you're very familiar with what is going on in Onion Lake and the advocacy from Charmaine Stick. I represent half of Onion Lake, which crosses the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta.
A local resident was quoted in our local paper saying:
||We feel it’s important that our people need to know as far as accountability and transparency, in that area. When there was an announcement made this year stating the fact that the nation won the first part of the lawsuit against the government (against the First Nations Financial Transparency Act), we still feel it’s important that the people, the grassroots people, need to be aware of the financial transparency as far as us with the nation.
I find it totally distressing that we acknowledge gaps in capacity, that we recognize the vulnerability and the socio-economic challenges, and lack of access to education as individuals among first nations communities, which are disproportionate to other populations across Canada. Then our answer to them, about getting very basic information about spending and meeting priorities in their communities, is that they should call the cops, call the minister's office, or launch a lawsuit.
I think that's crazy.
It is very upsetting, as a person who represents first nations people in communities across the riding who face all of the gaps and all of the challenges that we all acknowledge are there.
Moving on to the issue of jobs, I know that members are probably familiar now with the case of the Vegreville immigration case processing centre. It will be closed with no cost study and no consultation, no economic impact assessment. It's being removed from the small town of Vegreville.
I just want to put on your radar, Minister, that there are a number of first nations people who work in that office, and they will not be able to commute in order to maintain their jobs in Edmonton. That's just so you're aware of that.
On the issue of jobs in the federal public service, I understand that the CBC reported on November 21 that the government has plans to hire 278 people in this department in this fiscal year. Is that accurate?