It's good to be back to this committee, in a slightly different role, but it is important that we always acknowledge that we're here on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
We're here to present the department's supplementary estimates (C) for the 2015-16 fiscal year and to discuss my mandate letter.
I am joined by Hélène Laurendeau, the associate deputy minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, soon to become the deputy, for which I think we all congratulate her. It's very exciting. We also have the senior assistant deputy minister of policy and strategic direction, Francie Ducros. Many have seen her at this committee a number of times. We also have our chief financial officer, Paul Thoppil, who will take all the tough questions.
It's exciting. Andy, congratulations as the new chair, and congratulations to David as the vice-chair and to all of the new committee members. I'm particularly thrilled that Georgina and Romeo are here this afternoon. That makes this visit even more important to me. Thank you for bringing your knowledge to this meeting.
I look at the work of the other members. We have Don from Thunder Bay; Gary with Rouge River Park; Mike with Tyendinaga; Michael with the whole of Northwest Territories; and Matt, who, of course, has this huge responsibility of representing Fredericton, which was the riding of Andy Scott, whose big shoes I fill, and who is a mentor and my best friend here on the Hill. I thank you, Matt, for being here today.
The work of this committee is so important. You have an amazing job and a great responsibility to Parliament, to all Canadians, and to indigenous people and northerners. We know that parliamentary committees are the engine that drives democracy. I know first-hand that all of the activities and open debates that you'll undertake will help move the policy yardsticks further, but also, by shining a light on the work of this committee, we bring all Canadians with us as we embark on this huge job of reconciliation.
Your efforts go a long way toward advancing discourse on issues to the heart of our government, but they are issues that I think are shared concerns across all party lines. We understand that your job is to hold government to account. That's what Parliament does, and I welcome that.
As I was coming in, I was thinking about my five years as the chair of the subcommittee on persons with disabilities. We were able to do hard-hitting reports, unanimous reports, that actually moved the agenda on a lot of things that sometimes don't get the attention of cabinet or that you aren't able to move quite as quickly on if there aren't parliamentary committees shining lights on things.
I thank you all for being here and for your commitment to indigenous and northern issues. I want to thank you for the invitation to discuss my mandate letter, which is exciting because it's transparent and open. We are also happy to discuss the paragraph that's in the mandate letter of all ministers about renewing the relationship.
We think your scrutiny of these estimates is important, but it's also important as we look forward to the budget on March 22 and the main estimates. I look forward to coming back shortly after that, if we can, so we can help explain the choices that have been made. With budgets and main estimates, there are always choices.
As you know, the financial cycle of the estimates helps us to better understand the complex narrative of progress on important issues. It helps me provide a more complete and detailed performance story that links the efforts of the past with those of this government.
When the budget is tabled on March 22, because of the electoral cycle it will be a little out of sync with the estimates, and there were no supplementary estimates (B) because of the fall. We won't be able this afternoon to get into the details on the spending priorities. We have to wait with bated breath until March 22, but it's certainly not too soon to talk about our current efforts, my mandate, and some of the highlights of the estimates.
The has given me a significant mandate. He has stated quite clearly that no relationship is more important to him than the one with indigenous peoples. And the priority he places on that relationship is evident, not just in my own mandate letter, but in the mandate letters of all cabinet ministers.
As you know, one of the government's top priorities is to support and advance the work of real reconciliation with a vision that is positive, ambitious, and hopeful. There's an Ojibway word that many of you have heard me use, Giniigaaniimenaaning. It's the word for looking forward, with a deeper meaning of looking ahead to future generations. It's the title of the Métis artist Christi Belcourt's beautiful stained glass window in the Centre Block here on Parliament Hill. The artwork commemorates the legacy of Indian residential school survivors and their families. The window sits above the members' entrance to the lobby of the House of Commons. It's a reminder to all of us who enter this House, and again when we leave each weekend to go back to our ridings, to never forget and to work together for a brighter future.
Advancing real reconciliation in part means exactly that: collaborating in respect and co-operation to close the gap in quality of life between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. I happen to believe this is entirely possible. It's the work of every one of us as parliamentarians and Canadians.
Reconciliation means a new relationship between all sectors of Canadian society and indigenous people, not just with the government. In fact, I believe this renewal is necessary for a Canada that makes us proud.
Upholding the principles of recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership is a sacred responsibility, and it means an end to top-down approaches and a commitment to listen.
That paragraph that has recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership is in every mandate letter of every minister. It means that each of us must have those words really on the tip of our tongues: recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. It's only if we live those words that we will be able to realize the true work of reconciliation.
Mr. Chair, that's why I spent the first few months of my mandate listening and learning. I made it my early goal to absorb and take in as much as I can from indigenous communities across the country and from northerners. As I have learned through my work on other indigenous issues, the phrase “nothing about us without us” must guide what we do as a government and as parliamentarians.
I learned a long time ago that what I once thought was feminist leadership is actually indigenous leadership. It is about asking, not telling. It is about inclusive decision-making. It is about the talking stick that goes around so that everybody's views are heard, and then you come to a decision together in terms of what's the best for the most people or the best for the people who need it most.
This is a journey for all of us to change what leadership looks like and feels like. It's not top-down, father-knows-best leadership. It is about listening to communities and experts and those with lived experience, listening to concerns and advice to understand how we can best help to close the gaps on long-standing issues such as housing, employment, child welfare, education, and infrastructure.
Together with my cabinet colleagues, we've launched important discussions with all partners, including in northern communities. One of our top immediate priorities has been the launch of the consultation on the design of the national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and we thank you all for the all-party support for getting on with that work.
Since December I and my colleagues, the and the , have met with nearly 2,000 people from every corner of this country. These 17 meetings were held specifically for families and loved ones of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and for the many indigenous women who have actually survived the violence. That was a group of people we hadn't expected, and we had to rejig the consultations to make sure those voices were heard and valued.
We're currently reviewing more than 4,100 online submissions and several written submissions. We have heard often raw and always heartfelt voices about the need to address the causes of indigenous women's and girls' vulnerability to violence: child abuse, poverty, lack of education and job opportunities, lack of affordable housing and shelters, the intergenerational effects of residential schools, and the many issues related to police and child welfare practices. In many ways, this experience has been a prime example of the major challenges we face in improving conditions and outcomes for indigenous people in general.
The enormity of these challenges has been clear to me throughout my time on this file, but I do believe that right now we are on the right path. We've begun consultations on addressing food insecurity in the north, meeting already in northern communities such as Norman Wells. We followed up on our commitment to regular meetings with the leadership of the new governments and indigenous leaders.
Already, I have met with the National Chief, regional chiefs and first nations, Inuit and Métis groups from across the country. I'm proud of the progress we've made in only a few short months together. But we have a long way to go.
One of the things that we've learned already is that what we had in the platform about a nation-to-nation basis is not the way the Inuit people would prefer to describe their relationship. They would prefer to describe that relationship as Inuit to crown. Again, we continue to shape what we need to do together in a way that reflects the needs of the people that we need to work in total partnership with.
Mr. Chair, the task ahead on other aspects of my mandate is both exhilarating and daunting, but I believe there's great momentum to push forward. We've committed, as you know, to implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and for that I thank my colleague for all the work he's done on it. We have acquired the parliamentary guides for each of you that Wilton Littlechild and the other commissioners have completed with the help of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and we have those bound copies there. There was just a bit of a glitch in presenting them at committee today, but they are available.
We will work with the respective ministers to enhance the role of indigenous groups in the environmental assessment. We have already demonstrated progress to help us deliver on that promise. As you know, in January my colleagues, Ministers and , announced the first step toward enhanced collaboration and consultation with indigenous populations with respect to environmental assessment processes in order to best respect their rights and interests.
Mr. Chair, we will promote economic development, create jobs, and improve infrastructure, safety, and child care for indigenous people. We will also work collaboratively to establish a new fiscal relationship and to make significant new investments in first nations education.
As you can tell from the estimates process, it's very prescriptive. I think we're hoping the new fiscal relationship will allow a greater flexibility in terms of communities being able to set priorities and achieve the results they want for their communities. We expect to have more details on these commitments soon.
In all aspects of my mandate I've been clear that I welcome an honest and open discussion, as well as the advice and support of this committee as you are here today to do your important work on scrutinizing the supplementary estimates (C) that were tabled on February 19. I know you have the important work of voting on those at the end of this committee. I and my colleagues here at the table will try to get you whatever details you need in order to be able to vote properly at the end of the day. We also will get any additional information you need, Mr. Chair, in any format you would like in terms of a letter or something circulated to the committee.
I'd like to provide a few highlights before taking your questions.
The supplementary estimates (C) for 2015-16 provide the financial resources to take action on a number of key initiatives. The largest item in these is $64.5 million for out-of-court settlements, most notably for a settlement related to alleged errors in the creation of a reserve and the setting up of reserve lands in the early 1800s. We have a lot of work ahead of us in settling wrongs that are over 100 years old in so many situations.
The second-largest item is the $46.2 million required to reimburse first nations and emergency management service providers for on-reserve response and recovery activities. As you know, things from floods to fires are rightfully reimbursed by our government when there are these emergency situations.
The third item, which is $40.7 million, allows the department to continue the implementation of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. We are well through that process, but there are still settlements to deliver. The department will continue to process and resolve the independent assessment process claims in a timely manner through the negotiated settlement process.
The fourth item, $40 million, was approved through budget 2015 and will allow the department to continue supporting the education partnerships program as well as early literacy activities delivered through the first nations student success program.
The fifth item I'll highlight is the $18.4 million that will support other implementation matters for the settlement agreement between the Inuit of Nunavut, the Government of Canada, and the Government of Nunavut. Mr. Chair, these funds are used to provide increases to the Government of Nunavut implementation funding, to increase Inuit employment in the Government of Nunavut, and to provide a Nunavut labour force analysis, which a lot of people feel is a very important next step in terms of achieving devolution.
The department will also receive renewed funding of $16 million to continue its work on a proactive reconciliation and management of Métis aboriginal rights and management of Métis and non-status Indian litigation.
Before I close, I will highlight a number of transfers with other government departments. Overall these transfers net to about $1.3 million, and the most notable transfers are for the remediation of federal contaminated sites. They amount to $1 million. I think of contaminated sites in terms of my very first briefing. The extent of this is shocking in terms of a couple of big projects around mines and what happens when mines default. Then we, as the Government of Canada, have the responsibility to clean up those sites.
Also, there's a transfer you can see there for providing “mental health support during the consultations on the design of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls”. That's $1.7 million. We were truly blessed to have the expertise of the Health Canada support workers who had already done the work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was amazing to be able to just step into that resource that already existed.
Mr. Chair, the government is committed to delivering federal programming that will play an important role in building strong communities while improving the quality of life for indigenous people and northerners.
Also, in the spirit of Giniigaaniimenaaning, moving forward, all ministers of the crown share the 's commitment to advancing real reconciliation. I value your opinions, advice, and assistance as we implement an ambitious agenda in this regard. You can consider yourselves all deputized, and we hope you will go boldly forth and prosper amongst your colleagues in all parties, in your ridings, and with all Canadians.
I want to pursue further discussions on how we can work together on these issues, which concern us all.
My colleagues will join me now in answering your questions about these estimates and about my mandate.
As I said, on questions for which we don't have the responses readily available, we will get back either to you as the committee to circulate them to all members, or to the member directly, whichever you would prefer.
On behalf of my whole team here and the team back there—all these amazing people who support me—thank you very much for the invitation today to be with you.
As they say, I'll be back.