I will start, Madam Chair, as the returning regular here.
I'm pleased to be back here today, on the traditional Algonquin territory, to present the department's supplementary estimates (B) for the 2017-18 fiscal year. As you know, this is my first appearance before your committee, as the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, so I'm also looking forward to discussing my mandate letter with all of you. I'm also very pleased to be joined by my colleague, the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services, whom you will be hearing from shortly.
I am joined by Hélène Laurendeau, the deputy minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs; Joe Wild, the senior assistant deputy minister for treaties and aboriginal government; and chief financial officer Paul Thoppil.
In supplementary estimates (B), we are requesting a total of $445 million.
Supplementary estimates (B) represent a net increase of $445.1 million. It comprises mainly the $200 million payment for the Crees of Eeyou Istchee settlement payment; $91.8 million for comprehensive land claims, treaty-related and self-government agreements; $52.2 million for specific claims settlements; $23.7 million for urban programming for indigenous peoples; and $21.6 million for Métis rights and Métis relationships with the federal department. This brings the total investments for the department to approximately $11.3 billion for 2017-18 to address the needs of indigenous peoples and northerners.
I would be very happy to provide a more detailed breakdown of these expenditures during the question and answers, but in my opening remarks I would like to just highlight a couple of things.
Last summer we signed the historic agreement on Cree nation governance, a true nation-to-nation effort based on partnership and respect for the traditional way of life of the Crees. This agreement is an important step forward in expanding the existing governance regime of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. As I noted, these supplementary estimates include $200 million to make the final settlement to the Crees of Eeyou Istchee in accordance with the new relationship agreement. The payment is conditional on corresponding legislation being passed. We are currently working with the Cree nation on the draft legislation. We anticipate having legislation ready in the winter. We are requesting the money through supplementary estimates (B) so that we can move expeditiously when that legislation is passed.
I also want to thank the committee for looking at both specific and comprehensive claims policies through your ongoing study. I look forward to reviewing your recommendations, as the government is absolutely committed to significant reform in both areas. These supplementary estimates include a re-profiling of $52.2 million from 2016-17 to 2017-18 for specific claims settlements. As we have discussed at this committee before, this is part of the government's usual practice of maintaining an ongoing source of funds by rolling it over, year over year, so that the money is available as soon as a claim is resolved.
I want to make it clear that this is not a matter of lapsing money. It's a matter of prudent policy. It was always the intention of the government to maintain a claims envelope over a number of years to fund this process. Having the money earmarked for this specific purpose underscores the government's commitment to resolving these claims in a fair and respectful manner.
Our government has also heard the concerns that first nations have with the specific claims process. We share those concerns and are working in partnership to identify fair and practical measures to improve the process. We are currently engaged in ongoing discussions with first nations and first nation organizations to identify and implement measures to improve the specific claims process. A joint technical working group with the AFN has been working on specific claims process reform.
This work, and your recommendations, will inform our efforts to reform and improve how we resolve specific claims.
We are committed to increasing the number of modern treaties and new self-government agreements in a manner that reflects a recognition of rights approach for individual first nation communities. I look forward to receiving this committee's recommendations on how we can improve these processes as well. We are already engaging in discussions with indigenous groups through the recognition of indigenous rights and self-determination discussions. These are more flexible discussions about finding areas of jurisdiction that indigenous communities or groups can draw down to move them closer to self-determination.
These initiatives are at the core of my new mandate. We know that strong governance and self-determination are the greatest contributing factors to the social and economic health of a community.
That brings me to the second topic of today's meeting, which is my new mandate.
A little more than 20 years ago, RCAP recommended that Canada dramatically improve the delivery of services to indigenous people while accelerating a move to self-government and self-determination. We agree with RCAP that rights recognition must be an imperative. We know that relationships built on colonial structures have contributed to the unacceptable socio-economic gap. That is why the announced the dissolution of INAC and the creation of two new departments.
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs will advance reconciliation objectives and will lead on northern programming and Arctic policy. We must continue to address the day-to-day realities in indigenous communities directly, but we must also build a path to systemic change. The creation of two new departments is about dissolving a patriarchal, colonial structure that was designed to support the Indian Act.
This will allow us to focus our efforts on building strong, respectful, collaborative relationships between the crown and indigenous peoples. It's about understanding that we have to work together in a new way. We now get to rebuild two new departments in a way where form follows function.
A key part of my mandate is to lead a consultation process to determine how to achieve this goal.
In building this new system, we want to hear from indigenous people, people whose communities and nations existed in this land since time immemorial. We are listening to what indigenous groups have to say about their own vision of reconciliation.
Jane's department, which you will hear from in a moment, is focused on closing the gaps in the socio-economic outcomes, but we have to go beyond the federal government delivering services to indigenous people.
We must work to ensure that those services can be delivered and controlled by indigenous communities themselves.
We are working to achieve the goal of services being delivered and controlled by indigenous communities and indigenous-led institutions. My job is to help build indigenous governments and indigenous institutions that will deliver those programs that were once delivered by INAC.
Self-determination—the right to make choices about your community, your government, and your future—is a fundamental right. We know that if we truly want to move forward in partnership and reconciliation we need to look differently at the way we build crown-indigenous relationships. Part of my job is to make sure there is a whole-of-government approach—a sustainable approach—to these relationships to ensure all government departments are doing their part on the path to reconciliation and achieving the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
I look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thanks to all of you for welcoming me here today with my honourable colleague, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. I very much look forward to discussing the supplementary estimates (B), as well as my mandate, with the members of this committee.
I also want to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
I want to thank this committee for your excellent work on a number of issues, including, of course, your important work on the study of the suicide crisis in indigenous communities. I want to thank you also for your work on the matter of third party management systems. Most recently, I know that you are doing a study on wildfires and fire safety on reserve, and I very much look forward to hearing the results of that study.
I look forward to building a positive working relationship with the committee as we work together to chart a path forward and advance reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
I'm privileged to be here today as Canada's first Minister of Indigenous Services. As Minister Bennett has already explained to you, the former Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs has been replaced by two distinct departments that are part of our transformative work in relationships with indigenous peoples.
Transforming how we structure ourselves, how we're sharing information, and how we're working with our partners and clients is helping to advance the nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-crown, and government-to-government relationships. The creation of this new Department of Indigenous Services is an important step in forging that renewed relationship with indigenous peoples that is based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. You'll have heard those words before, to the point that they may sound to you like buzzwords. Each of them carries deep meaning, and they are very intentional, such that we repeat them on a number of occasions.
I have been given a mandate to overhaul the way that programs and services for indigenous peoples are designed, developed, and delivered, and to do that in partnership with indigenous peoples.
With indigenous partners, we will ensure that our significant investments will produce real and improved results. Together we must close the unacceptable socio-economic gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada.
Madam Chair, we made a commitment to Canadians to pursue reconciliation with a renewed sense of collaboration, so I will be engaging and working productively with indigenous leaders and communities to identify and realize the systemic reforms that we all acknowledge are long overdue.
Much more than a name change, establishing a department whose sole purpose is to improve the quality and delivery of services in partnership with indigenous peoples underscores a desire to implement transformative change.
As the has said, “No relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one with indigenous peoples.”
The entire reason for this change is to enable first nations, Inuit, and Métis people to build the capacity to make their own decisions and deliver their own programs and services to fully implement their right to self-determination. That includes everything from family services and community infrastructure to health and education programs.
Once that is achieved, it is our hope and plan that there will no longer be a need for a Department of Indigenous Services. That won't be accomplished overnight, of course. In the meantime, the department has an ongoing responsibility to ensure the high-quality programs and services that indigenous peoples need, including improved access to services for indigenous children through programs such as Jordan's principle.
I want to take a few moments to elaborate on that. As this committee knows, the principle is named after Jordan River Anderson who died at Norway House Hospital in 2005 at the age of five after a dispute between federal and provincial governments as to who was responsible to pay for his care. In 2007, some of you were in the House of Commons, and others know that the House of Commons passed a motion declaring that jurisdictional disputes should never interfere with first nations children getting care. That motion was passed in 2007, but it was not implemented. Up until 2015, there were zero cases in which children received care based on this principle. Last year, we broadened the definition of Jordan's principle. We reiterated our plan to fully implement it, and we set aside enough funds to do so.
To date, we have approved more than 24,000 cases under that principle. These are children who were previously denied care and are now receiving mental health supports, respite care, medical equipment, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and more. Jordan's principle is being implemented to ensure that no child who requires care will go without it. No one should be left behind, no matter who they are or where they live.
In that spirit, I am very pleased this morning as well to announce that, along with the parties to the cases before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, an agreement has been reached to amend two aspects of CHRT's orders. The amendments address the CHRT's May 2017 ruling that the Government of Canada was seeking to clarify in a judicial review application to the Federal Court. As a result, Canada is withdrawing the federal application.
Madam Chair, I want to be very clear that how and by whom programs and services for indigenous peoples are developed and delivered must and will change. We know we must do more and do better. There is still criticism that we are not doing enough and not doing it fast enough. Let me respond in this way. Turning around the effects of generations of historic injustice and systemic discrimination against Canada's indigenous peoples could never be done fast enough.
In my mandate letter, I was directed to “leverage the ingenuity and understanding of Indigenous Peoples as well as experts from the private sector, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments and international experts on service delivery.” Working closely with indigenous peoples and these other important partners, my departmental officials and I will promote innovative approaches to all programs and services that increase equality of opportunity for indigenous peoples.
We intend to move forward on several key fronts. I'd be happy to elaborate on any of them. Let me itemize a few. We are taking an approach to transform the way health care is delivered in first nation communities. We are working with first nations to develop and enable their own solutions to address critical issues that are directly impacting their communities. We're developing and implementing an improved response, along with our partners, to child welfare to make sure the best interests of the child always come first. This requires a holistic approach focused on prevention, family preservation, family well-being and reunification, and community wellness. We will be discussing this with our partners at an emergency meeting on indigenous child and family services in the new year.
Improving essential infrastructure for indigenous communities, including housing, is another of our priorities.
We're also supporting the implementation of a distinct indigenous framework as part of a national early learning and child care framework that takes into consideration the unique needs of first nations, Inuit, and Métis children.
We're undertaking a review of all current federal programs that support indigenous students pursuing a post-secondary education to ensure the programs meet the needs of individual students and lead to high graduation rates.
We're leveraging investments in indigenous youth and sport, and promoting culturally relevant sport to strengthen indigenous identity and cultural pride.
We are promoting economic development opportunities in indigenous communities that improve the standard of living and quality of life of local residents.
Through supplementary estimates (B) this year, we have funded the new urban programming for indigenous peoples initiative, which has been designed to assist first nations, Inuit, and Métis living in or transitioning to urban centres. I would be happy to discuss the programming in detail.
In every instance, we will adopt a rigorous results-and-delivery approach that translates into real and meaningful changes in the lives of indigenous peoples. We have an obligation to seize this opportunity for bold change.
Madam Chair, rest assured we will engage and cooperate with indigenous peoples to determine the best way forward before we take action in these priority areas.
As we implement this ambitious agenda together, I have little doubt that together we can make great progress resulting in a measurable difference in the lives of indigenous peoples. I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much. Meegwetch. Nakurmiik.
Thank you for the question. Once again, I want to thank the committee for your work on this. I'm sure it was a heart-wrenching experience for you to hear the testimonies that were part of that. Thank you for your report and recommendations. I hope you've had the opportunity to review the government response to the committee's report, because I think that frames how we really do see our responsibility as it relates to the mental health crises that are faced by indigenous peoples.
The way we framed that was really in three main broad categories. The first is that you have to get those urgent immediate responses to communities, particularly when there are times of crisis. To that end, there have been tremendous investments and a lot of work has gone into making sure, for example, that we've quadrupled the number of mental wellness teams that are available for first nations across the country, to be able to get to communities quickly. We've made major investments through Jordan's principle. We are using a first nations-led approach called “Choose Life”, a program that many first nations communities in northern Ontario are using.
This is allowing that crisis response and enables access to mental health workers, but you need to go down to that next layer, which is the social determinants of health, because we will not address the suicide crisis until we make sure that kids can get a decent education, live in a decent house, and have clean water and all of the things that give kids hope for the future and make them believe that life is worth living. That's a huge part or essentially all of what my department is doing: enabling what it means to be healthy, both mentally and physically.
Even deeper than that is the work of Minister Bennett's department. That's the third foundational layer. People lose hope when they have no control over their lives. First nations, Inuit, and Métis people in this country have not had those rights recognized and implemented fully. When people are enabled to determine the course of their lives, to have control over their lives, that's actually what is the grounding of addressing these terrible mental health crises.
Again, I could elaborate but hopefully that answers your question.
Thank you. I have a comment, a request, and then a question.
First, I would like to make a comment in response to my colleague Kevin Waugh. I would suggest that a patrilineal approach is for a secret table in Ottawa with chiefs and government. Something that gives first nations the tools around transparency is the exact opposite of patriarchal. It is actually giving community members important information. I do want to just make that comment.
The next is actually a request. I think both of the ministers, more than perhaps many people, understand how challenging things are and can be in the north. They know there has been $5.6 million spent on an outside rink that the heritage minister indicated was going to go somewhere in Ottawa-Vanier. Already we spend $1.2 million of taxpayers' money on the canal per year, so I would just request, to the best of your abilities, that you advocate for this rink to go to a community in the north, and I'll be happy to come and cut the ribbon with you when they put it up there. I think it really is something that doesn't sit well with many taxpayers, and they might have some degree of comfort knowing that it went to a community in need.
I'm actually going back to the issue of the United Nations declaration. I know the minister said that National Chief Bellegarde said it doesn't mean veto. He has also said three times that it means the right to say “yes” and the right to say “no”. I've mentioned this a number of times. We've talked about the complication when things go across jurisdictional boundaries. We talk about the free, prior, and informed consent. We look at what you've committed in Bill , where you're going to try to come up with something but you have a lot of commitments that criss-cross each other, as we talked about in the debates yesterday about Bill S-3. We've talked about it in terms of pipelines.
To give any degree of comfort in terms of what you're doing and where you're going, have you considered a Supreme Court of Canada reference in terms of what that will mean in these complicated situations, so that before you move forward in a way that has not had appropriate interpretations, we have the right to an appropriate interpretation?
In terms of public engagement, there are a number of different opportunities, some of which originate from the government, some of which originate from the first nations, and some of which can originate from the public itself. In terms of the public, I think everyone's encouraged to get educated on indigenous issues in the country, and a starting point, in a lot of ways, the gateway to that, is reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report. I would encourage all Canadians to make sure that they take a look at it so that they understand the things that are being raised in that report and that they take the time to review the recommendations that are in that report.
Another thing is, if a member of the public wants to figure out what role they can play and how they can engage with a first nation community, they should look at the friendship centres that exist. That's a good resource to go in and to have dialogue. If they're going to approach a first nation, do so with some humility and respect, and basically look to the first nation to give them back guidance in terms of how they would want that interaction to work with them rather than going in with their own mind made up about what they think it is that they ought to do in terms of the interaction with the first nation.
Specifically in the process, whenever we do an agreement that involves anything around indigenous title and land, there is always a consultation process that occurs as part of that. We as a government have an obligation to consult. We have to make sure that neighbouring first nations understand what's going on, particularly to ensure whether or not there's any impact on their own rights in a particular area. Also, there are usually public sessions that are held to ensure that general members of the public have an opportunity to understand what the arrangements are and what impact those arrangements are going to have.
Then in particular, if we talk about the Algonquins of Ontario, they've taken unprecedented steps, in some ways, trying to engage their community with the larger, non-indigenous community within their territory. They've done a lot of work in community outreach. They've done a lot of work to try to reassure hunters, fishers, and those who also use crown land that may be impacted by the settlement that they are going to do things in a way that will be responsible and that will still allow non-indigenous people access to resources, parks, and so on.
There are a lot of different ways this comes about and on different fronts.