She came from Finance, so she is a very important part of our team, knowing how this stuff works. We also have the chief financial officer here, Paul Thoppil. I am very happy to have them by my side.
To begin with, we want to thank you for the ongoing great work, and particularly the study on default prevention and management policy.
In my opinion, this policy could be a lot more effective and must be modernized.
It's really important that we get this piece of work done, and hopefully you'll be able to give us some solutions in a system that even Chuck Strahl said needed to be changed, when he was minister.
As you know, we are reviewing the previous government's policy in partnership with first nations to ensure that we are facilitating capacity and promoting self-governance and decolonization. The goal is to build capacity and not spend money that should go to the people in the communities on other things. We are very much looking forward to the committee's findings and recommendations. I assure you that your important work will inform future reforms.
As you know, I am here to discuss the department's 2017-18 main estimates. I am pleased that we have the opportunity to have that discussion with the benefit of the important context of the additional investments proposed through budget 2017. As always, we have to look at these two documents together to provide a much more accurate picture of my department's proposed spending for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
I would like you to look at the briefing note distributed to all committee members.
I regret that this is not yet translated, which is unacceptable, but we will give it to you for future reference regarding the targeted investments and the way that, hopefully, we are honouring our commitment from last year that we are indeed a department that knows how to get money out the door. The allocations are there, particularly on infrastructure. We're pretty proud of the performance to date.
The 2017-18 main estimates, if approved by Parliament, will provide the department with approximately $10.1 billion in appropriations. This is a net increase of approximately $2.6 billion, or 34%, over last year's main estimates. The net increase primarily reflects the historic investments announced in budget 2016 to improve the socio-economic conditions of indigenous people and northerners, as well as the funding required to settle specific claims in 2017-18.
It is also important to note, as we have discussed at previous estimate meetings, that main estimates do not include the further investments outlined in budget 2017. We will come back to you with the supplementary estimates in order for us to access the money that was in budget 2017. Through the last two budgets, the government has committed $11.8 billion over six years to improve the lives of indigenous people in Canada.
We are also striving to make sure that the funding allocated is distributed to the people for whom it is intended.
Of the historic investments made in budget 2016, 100% of the money allocated in fiscal year 2016-17 to my department for infrastructure, capacity-building, and employment strategies has been spent. These investments are making a significant and tangible difference in the lives of indigenous people in Canada. Some key examples of progress include the lifting the 19 long-term drinking water advisories and the 201 water and wastewater projects that are already under way. This means that nearly 200,000 first nations people in our country will soon have access to clean water, something most Canadians take for granted. All Canadians are embarrassed that it does not happen at the present time on first nations.
More than 3,200 homes are being built or renovated in first nations communities, which will begin to address the chronic shortage of homes and shocking disrepair of a significant proportion of the current housing stock. One hundred and twenty-five school projects are moving forward in more than 100 first nations communities, which will serve more than 135,000 people. Repairs and renovations to more than 200 child care centres will be completed by the end of this year, ensuring that they will provide the safe and healthy environment that every parent expects for their child. Forty-one community health centres are also under construction or undergoing major repairs and refits. Since broadening the government's approach to Jordan's principle, we have approved more than 3,300 additional requests for supports and services for first nations' children.
There is a lot left to do, but I am proud of the excellent work and the results achieved so far.
Budget 2017 will invest an additional $3.4 billion in indigenous priorities over the next five years. It builds on budget 2016's historic investments of $8.4 billion in government-wide spending on indigenous programs and will result in a combined increase in funding for indigenous programs of 27% by 2021-22. National Chief Perry Bellegarde was clear when he said, “Budget 2017 makes important and positive investments to help close the socio-economic gap for First Nations”.
We are working in partnership with first nations, Inuit, and the Métis to ensure that these investments lead to meaningful positive change for indigenous peoples in Canada. These investments are being made in the priority areas of indigenous communities, including health care, education, housing, and other critical infrastructure. These new budget 2017 investments will build, repair, and improve infrastructure on reserves and in northern and Inuit communities; provide support for post-secondary education, skills development, and training for indigenous people; deliver better health outcomes for first nations and Inuit; support Métis organizations in building their capacity; and preserve and promote indigenous languages.
While the 2% cap has been lifted through the historic investments in budgets 2016 and 2017, new long-term fiscal arrangements must be designed in full partnership with first nations. We have signed an MOU with the AFN establishing joint technical working groups on sufficiency, predictability, and mutual accountability, and the work is already under way. Through this joint process, we will establish a new fiscal relationship with first nations, which will provide predictable, sustained funding to support their communities' priorities. We are also working on the funding arrangements with the self-governing first nations.
In a poll released last year, 79% of non-indigenous youth believe they will see meaningful reconciliation in their lifetime. Canada's young people want to see meaningful reconciliation.
They are pushing us in that direction and the government will do everything it can for us to reach our objectives.
A fundamental part of achieving that meaningful reconciliation is making the necessary investments to close the socio-economic gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada. The investments outlined in the 2017-18 main estimates, along with those in budget 2017, represent significant progress toward closing those gaps.
Meegwetch,mahsi' cho, nakurmiik. I look forward to answering any questions you have.
Thank you so much, Minister, for being here today. I think we all celebrate the historic investments that are being made for indigenous communities. It is going to make such a significant improvement in so many lives, for indigenous people across this country.
My first question is regarding a local issue of my own indigenous community, the Mohawks in the Bay of Quinte. They are one of the largest reserves in the country. Some of the concerns they have revolve around recognizing the needs of larger reserves and those in the southern part of the country, because their needs are also great.
They feel that sometimes, because they are in the south and are located close to urban areas, wealthier areas, there is a perception that they are also wealthy and therefore can take care of themselves to a great extent.
In my community, last summer 40% of their wells went dry. Most of the reserve has GUDI wells and, therefore, is subject to boil water advisories. Last summer in particular, they were waiting upwards of a week, and more sometimes, for tankers to bring water to their tanks because of the overwhelming need that they have.
We recognize the massive need that exists in the north, and the message has gotten through very clearly. Can the minister ensure that the southern ridings will also receive the kind of attention they need for their own water and infrastructure needs?
I think that's a really important question because the perception of people in various communities is reality. We need to make sure that people understand that in the water situation in Tyendinaga, for instance, or for the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, we are moving on all water systems across the country.
It's not only that. We inherited a huge deficit in the water and wastewater systems, but as we have committed to lift all boil water advisories, it means that we're not only working on the communities with boil water advisories, but are also working on all of the communities that have medium- or high-risk systems that could tip into boil water advisories. It means that we're trying to get all systems across this country down to a low risk. That is happening for the Mohawk at the Bay of Quinte, where we have lifted all the boil water advisories for which our department has direct responsibility. There are private systems that we are concerned about, and we will work with the community on those, but it is a matter of going forward.
The flip side of that, Mike, is that sometimes it is the larger and sometimes southern communities, the communities with more capacity, that are much better able to do the project or proposal-driven funding, and get the money for those. Even on housing, we found that we had to do it in three tranches so that we could build up the capacity of the most needy communities, because otherwise the money went to the proposals sent in by the communities that have the most capacity to fill those proposals out.
It's a bit of both, because I think that in the north they would ask, “How come these communities that have better capacity are gobbling up all the funds?” I think we're trying to show that we're trying to be very fair about this. It's needs-based in a way, but we really do have a direct responsibility to the larger urban communities or closer southern communities—the less remote, absolutely.
Thank you very much, Minister. I know that the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte will be happy to hear that you've said their concerns are being heard.
I'd like to move to third party management. I know that you're probably going to get a number of questions on it, but initially I would like to say that in our study of third party management, the one thing that seems to resonate most is that all the carrots are with the third party managers, and all the sticks are with the indigenous communities that are being impacted by it.
By that, I mean that it's very difficult for these communities to dig themselves out of the hole that exists and, in a lot of cases, not through their own fault. It's just that they have rapidly growing communities and the funding hasn't kept up with that. Third party managers come in and are rewarded handsomely to be there, and that further penalizes those communities that are stuck in this hole.
I'll just say that I know there isn't much time left for you, and I'm sure other people will ask the same question, but I'd like to hear about what you feel are some of the potential solutions to help resolve these third party management issues.
Thank you, Minister, for joining us today.
I have a bit of a framing of my question, but in the end, it's actually a pretty simple question.
A year ago you went to the UN and indicated that we were going to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This year, of course, you said at the UN that you were removing the objections of Canada to the paragraphs around free, prior, and informed consent. I thought that was included the year before, but having said that, I note that it was official this year.
According to The Globe and Mail, you said that “'free, prior and informed consent' merely means there is a commitment to developing policies in conjunction with Indigenous people on matters that will affect them”. Also, stated the Globe, you said, “'This is about making decisions together' from the inception”, and that it's not about “'putting some fully baked project in front of people and getting them to vote yes or no.'”
Of course, National Chief Perry Bellegarde continues to say that the UN declaration gives communities the right to say yes and the right to say no.
I'm going to target that. We know that there are complicated issues such as pipelines, but there are also very simple issues, and we have a simple issue in the riding I represent. It's a KGHM mine called “Ajax”, and it's important for the industry, communities, and first nations to know what this is going to mean. The first nations in the area, the SSN, undertook an extensive environmental process, and they have definitively stated that they do not give free, prior, and informed consent to this project. They've been very definitive. They went through an extensive process, as it's a mine.
The federal government now needs to make a decision about that mine. In regard to the fact that the SSN has said definitively that they will not give free, prior, and informed consent, does that mean definitively that the federal government will say no to this project?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the minister and her staff for the presentation, and for giving us some time to ask questions.
As the minister knows, we have been very busy in the north, and some very good things have been happening in working forward with the aboriginal governments on land claims and self-government discussions. We probably have an historic high number of discussions going on, and I'm very excited about that. There have been some new approaches the minister has brought forward, and I have to thank her for doing so.
There are still some concerns. We're getting some really good recommendations and advice from people like Mary Simon, who has provided her report. I haven't been able to digest all of it, but at first glance there are some good recommendations. She flagged some issues that have been concerning me and other people in the north for some time. There are some areas that are very blurry and continue to be blurry.
For example, the discussions at the different tables that were set up for the Kelowna accord talks do not include, for the most part, the Northwest Territories, and do not include the Métis. Our Métis don't belong to any national organizations. Most of the first nations also state that nobody speaks for the Métis at the national table. They need to find a way to get them to the table, and I think we need to work that through.
An issue I have raised several times, which Mary Simon flags also, is the blurry way funding is allocated to the north for aboriginal people and northern communities. We don't have reserves. We have public communities, but they're all made up of mostly aboriginal people, except for the larger centres. Even the larger centres have large aboriginal populations.
We have a hard time tracking what is coming forward and what's available for us to qualify for. Over the last couple of budgets we got better. We distinguished between on reserve and off reserve. However, it has also created additional concerns, because now other departments are pointing to money that is going to the indigenous affairs department and saying that the responsibility is there now. However, if we look at the money they've allocated historically, most of it in the north doesn't come from indigenous affairs. Housing, for example, does not come from indigenous affairs, and it's one of our biggest challenges. The last budget provided $36 million over 11 years, which is a little over $3 million a year. In the north, this is probably six houses, and maybe good for only repairs, yet it's one of the biggest issues that has been flagged as a cause for what's happening in our communities on the social front.
I wanted to ask the minister if she would commit to talking to her colleagues and doing an internal review in her department on the funding formulas in the government that apply to the north? Mary Simon has also pointed out that maybe the Arctic needs to be a little better defined; the three territories and some of the aboriginal governments that are out there should be budgeted a little differently. Maybe you could talk about how we could try to provide better clarity on funding for aboriginal people.
The mandate of indigenous affairs is mostly restricted to reserves, and we don't really have reserves. We have two reserves, and we have problems with funding there too.
Thank you so much. I must say that the northern members of Parliament in the indigenous caucus have done an amazing job in explaining to both the and the this reality of not having reserves in the north. Certainly the parliamentary secretary is clear that north of 60 doesn't work anymore, because she lives at 58 I think.
It's a matter of our making sure that we're clear about a northern Arctic policy framework, and that's the serious work that begins now. How do we close those gaps that you're articulating in terms of a whole-of-government approach to the north with the territories and the provinces that have these concerns, and work towards the future together?
As you know, in the territories, where there are self-governing land claims, groups like the Inuvialuit in the Northwest Territories receive their own allocation for funding and for housing. We're excited that now the Northwest Territories and the Inuvialuit have signed a memorandum of understanding.
Again, it's a matter—not even within territories—of how you deal with what the land claims organizations and the territory are able to plan and the priorities they are able to set together for the good of all the people.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here today. It is much appreciated. I know you have a busy schedule, and it's early in the morning.
Minister, you and your government have often referred to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous people. I know that right on the party platform web page one of the buttons refers to “a new nation-to-nation” relationship.
However, I put in an Order Paper question to your department, and they couldn't say what this nation-to-nation relationship was because, in their words, “Indigenous and Northern Affairs...does not define who is a nation.”
How are you supposed to have a renewed nation-to-nation relationship if you don't know who they are?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. Bennett, the committee is always pleased to welcome you. Thanks also to the members of your team. I know a lot of work goes into preparing for your appearance.
In recent months, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of times with the chiefs and teams of the Micmac communities in the region, the Gesgapegiag and Listuguj communities. I am especially proud of our government and of you. Something was set into motion after our government was elected. We have clearly grown closer, the MPs and the MPs of neighbouring communities. Major discussions began 17 or 18 months ago. It is very positive and everyone truly appreciates the renewed energy brought to the table by our prime minister, you and our government.
Major investments have been made. These include for instance a Micmac language immersion program partially funded by your department and by Canadian Heritage. This is generating growing interest in the community in reconnecting with their language.
Investments have been made, specifically to improve a cultural centre and for training programs. For example, I attended one hour of training on how to build a traditional canoe. I really enjoyed it. It is made from roots and birch bark; it was great. The young people are really excited and really enjoy this training program.
Not everything is rosy, of course. As you know, our committee is completing its report on the suicide crisis. This is especially tragic. We have heard powerful testimony. We want to help overcome this challenge. The issues involve not only health, but also infrastructure, access to housing and drinking water. The needs are so great.
I was struck by something. A few of the witnesses we met were hesitant to take part in the committee's work. They said they had submitted numerous reports, had met with us multiple times and that, unfortunately, they had not seen any concrete changes.
I have two questions. First, what could you say to those witnesses who are hesitant to meet with us, who are afraid of certain concrete measures or afraid that other measures might not be taken?
Moreover, in the main estimates that were tabled, there is clearly a substantial increase in votes. How can we work to resolve the major problems on our reserves? I know this is the 50,000 dollar question, but I would like to hear your opinion. How can we address the important issues that are affecting aboriginal communities right across Canada?
Thank you very much. I appreciate your commitment and your visiting the communities, trying to find solutions and being engaged with the communities to identify their priorities. The great success of the Micmac language is an example for the whole country.
I am very concerned about the suicide crisis. This is a fundamental problem, as our report card shows.
That's the report card of how we're doing, and it's terrible.
But it's really important, here at this committee, that we are looking at my role as the minister, in some ways, of the social determinants of health, as opposed to health care. We have to get at the young people,
to give them hope, their own identity and self-esteem, and to make them resilient.
I am also really concerned that these root causes—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to refer to the report produced by Mary Simon. I think it's a pretty good report, with important recommendations with respect to housing in particular. In her concluding remarks she talks about the noteworthy signposts that have happened from the Constitution Act of 1982, Canada's endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the commitment of your government to implement the that commissions calls to action. She says in her remarks that “these advances must become both roots and branches in a new Arctic Policy Framework”. I would suggest that these advances must also become the roots and branches of any future policy development of your government, any future legislation of your government, because the rights enshrined in the UN declaration, as you know, are considered to be the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of indigenous peoples in this country.
If you are true to your commitment to adopt and implement the UN declaration, I think we need to be clear about it. I asked you this question about a year and a half ago. Maybe you weren't prepared to answer it, so I'll take this opportunity to ask it again a year and a half later. We need to do away with that confusion of not responding clearly to questions about the UN declaration's call for free, prior and informed consent.
I have proposed a legislative framework. It's Bill , which I introduced in April last year. It would provide that legislative framework as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as your leader proposed during the last election and recommitted to after being elected. Will your government, yes or no, support Bill C-262?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to ask the minister a question on something that came up during my visit to some of the communities in the north regarding the Beaufort Sea moratorium and the study we're going to conduct in that area.
The budget indicated that there was $18 million for the study, and we were quite excited about that. However, looking at it a little more closely, half of the money would go to Nunavut, leaving us with a little over $9 million. We understand that part of that will also be used for administration, so we're getting a little bit nervous that there's not going to be enough money there. The department is saying that they'll be using about half a million dollars of that money a year for administration.
The last study cost over $22 million. For this one we're going to try to do it with $6 million or less. We know the work is important. The last study found a number of new species, and showed a lot of information that we need, but we know there's more that has to be done. Stock assessments are not cheap. There's a lot of work that needs to be done with traditional knowledge.
We won't be able to accomplish all of these things if we're going to stick to the formula and the work plan envisioned now. I wanted the minister to maybe take a look at it, or commit to taking a look at it, and give me some comfort—or give the north some comfort—that we will do a proper study in this area.
As you know, as part of the moratorium we have committed to the five-year science-based review of the decision and a one-year consultation with the territories, and indigenous and northern communities and industries on the details of that review.
We will do whatever it takes to get the proper science to make a proper decision. As you know, industry has not felt there was an economic case to do those explorations, at the same time as knowing about this bill in response, and is thinking that the difficulty and risk involved in these kinds of explorations and projects is too great for them to go forward.
Again, we want to explore all the science around spill response and the kinds of things we could do. Also, as you know, incorporating indigenous knowledge and respecting will very much be a part of that. So again, as you know, it's only the offshore that is covered by this moratorium. The land-based programs are separate from that.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to go back to my last question because the answer wasn't clear. In some ways, at least for me, it was disturbing.
One of the problems we encountered when we enshrined section 35 of the Constitution Act in 1982 was that the concept of aboriginal rights was so large and broad that, most of the time, we ended up in court because we couldn't agree on what was contained in section 35. At least with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it's pretty clear what those rights are. Those rights are fundamental human rights. I don't understand why anybody wouldn't accept them or why anyone would have to engage and consult.
My fundamental human rights are not up for debate. They exist. The UN Declaration confirms that the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration are inherent—they exist because we exist as indigenous peoples. It shouldn't be a problem for any government, especially if the government committed and promised and accepted all of the calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
If you read it carefully, under the heading, “Reconciliation” in that report, where it calls for action, there are two calls for action—43 and 44. Number 43 calls on the Government of Canada, the provinces, the territories, and the municipalities to fully adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation in this country. It's pretty clear and you've accepted that. Why is it such a problem to say yes to a bill proposing to do exactly that? Bill proposes to implement calls to action 43 and 44.
As the may well know, and likely knows, the Chiefs of Ontario are having their special assembly here in Ottawa this week. I'll be meeting with several chiefs and the regional chief later on this afternoon.
Part of our role as members of Parliament is oftentimes to listen to complaints from individuals, whether in our constituency or because of who we are and the work we do here. Like a lot of my colleagues on this committee, I hear a lot of complaints from first nation communities and indigenous communities right across this country, including in my own riding. Of course, after the last 10 years of our friends' government on the other side, we heard a lot of complaints when we came into government. I'm noticing a lot fewer complaints now, especially with the historic investments in first nation and indigenous communities, but I'm still hearing complaints.
Can the update us a little bit on what she has done in terms of streamlining processes within the department and fixing problems that she's heard from first nations communities? I know she engages right across this country and speaks to a lot of first nation leaders—and not only the leaders, but also community members and community groups.
Can you update this committee on what you've done to streamline that and on what changes you've seen?
We'll get this translated and give it to you, because it's good news. As we explained with the water and waste water, it's now up, and all of these are on the NRCan geomatics site so people can track the projects, whether it's the $275 million for the 201 water and wastewater projects, 965 housing projects, 125 education projects, 167 culture and recreation projects, or 88 energy sustainability and connectivity projects. On fundamental community infrastructure there are 135 projects.
It's really important that we let people know what's happening, and one of the things that's been really important to me is understanding the importance of comprehensive community planning. If the community comes together and decides what it needs and when.... That includes not just the chief and council but the principal, the police chief, the nurse, the youth counsel, and the elders counsel. Bring those people together to plot out what they need. That gives us the ability to work with them over time, whether on the youth centre, the arena, or the road.
We know that if you do comprehensive community planning, it also helps child welfare, as with Cindy Blackstock's touchstones of hope process, or whether it's missing and murdered aboriginal women, you can actually see the way forward. Then the chief and council are able to report back to their communities on the priorities they set and the order in which they want them, and they can get that done.
We have 160 of those comprehensive community plans in now, and 75 more being funded, but we think this is going to be the way. With the long-term funding we have, we're able to know that we'll get this water thing done. But on the housing deficit and all of these things, we are also listening to communities about what they need.
For me to be in Kashechewan and see that there were 52 duplexes, five-bedroom duplexes, most of them, that were put there.... The community wanted housing. They didn't want their community to still be in Kapuskasing. They know they are going to move to higher ground, and so they chose projects that would be taken down into four pieces and moved to the higher ground. When you get out and see what happens and you listen to a community about what they want, you can then see the kind of progress that we know we need to make. Incenting those comprehensive community plans has been really important to all aspects of closing these gaps.
So is your coming here to this committee to talk about estimates.
That concludes our question period. I want to thank all of the staff for participating, and especially Minister Bennett for coming.
We need to do the votes before we suspend.
We're going to start our vote on the main estimates of 2017-18.
Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the committee will now dispose of the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2018, minus the interim estimates the House agreed to on March 21, 2017.
Do I have unanimous consent to deal with all of the votes in one motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
||DEPARTMENT OF INDIAN AFFAIRS AND NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT
||Vote 1—Operating expenditures..........$892,342,724
||Vote 5—Capital expenditures..........$44,496,010
||Vote 10—Grants and contributions..........$8,966,692,676
||Vote L15— Loans to native claimants..........$25,903,000
||Vote L20—Loans to First Nations in British Columbia..........$1
(Votes 1, 5, 10, L15, and L20 agreed to on division)
||CANADIAN HIGH ARCTIC RESEARCH STATION
||Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$20,963,206
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall I report the main estimates votes for 2018, less the amounts granted in interim supply, to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you.
Now we need to suspend, and we will move in camera to deal with some committee business.
[Proceedings continue in camera]