I now call to order meeting 145 of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are doing a study and getting an update on the delivery of infrastructure to indigenous communities.
We have some new members joining us today. Welcome to all of you.
On our witness panel, from Indigenous Services Canada, we have Claudia Ferland, director general of the regional infrastructure delivery branch, regional operations sector; Chad Westmacott, senior director of the strategic water management team directorate; and Nelson Barbosa, director of the capacity, infrastructure and accountability division.
Welcome and thank you very much for coming and giving us some information this morning.
I'll turn it over to Ms. Ferland.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable members of the committee, for the invitation to discuss the status of infrastructure projects for indigenous communities, including projects financed through the Gas Tax Fund, and the one-time top up announced in budget 2019.
Before we begin, I'd like to acknowledge that we're meeting today on traditional Algonquin territory.
I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce my colleagues from Indigenous Services Canada. I'm joined by Nelson Barbosa, who's in charge of strategic health infrastructure, and Chad Westmacott, who's in charge of water and housing infrastructure.
Since 2014, the Government of Canada has committed to making unprecedented investments in support of indigenous community infrastructure. Approximately $8 billion in committed and proposed funding through Indigenous Services Canada will support indigenous community infrastructure until 2026-27.
Investing in infrastructure is about investing in people and communities. Infrastructure investments help ensure that people have quality housing, safe drinking water, better schools and health centres, as well as spaces and facilities that bring people together as a community.
Since 2016, approximately $3.43 billion has been invested by Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to support 3,979 infrastructure projects on reserves. A total of 2,425 infrastructure projects have been completed. These include 1,267 new homes built and another 2,720 homes renovated to help improve first nation access to safe and secure spaces to live. These constructions and renovations are in addition to the number of homes built and renovated through investments made by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Moreover, 15 new schools have been built and 33 existing schools have been renovated, providing children with better access to local education. Renovation or modernization work is also in progress at many schools.
Clean, safe water is now available in more communities. Between November 2015 and May 9, 2019, 85 long-term drinking water advisories were lifted. We're also on track to meet our commitment to lift all remaining long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves by March 2021.
Of the 207 health-related infrastructure projects, 178 have been completed. These projects are essential to providing effective, sustainable and culturally appropriate health programs and services to first nations communities.
Of the 1,380 other essential infrastructure projects, 942 have been completed. These projects include cultural and recreational facilities on reserves; energy, sustainability and connectivity infrastructure; roads and bridges, structural mitigation measures to reduce the impact of natural disasters and improve fire protection; and solid waste management.
Almost all first nation communities across Canada have received targeted funds from lndigenous Services Canada or Crown-lndigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada for at least one infrastructure project since April 2016, including capacity development projects.
ln terms of the gas tax fund, since 2005 it has provided communities, including first nation communities across Canada, with a permanent, predictable and indexed source of long-term infrastructure funding. Under the gas tax fund, managed by Infrastructure Canada, over $2.2 billion is provided to provinces, territories and municipal associations, which flow this funding to municipalities to support local infrastructure priorities. Budget 2019 included a commitment from the Government of Canada for a one-time $2.2-billion top-up to the federal gas tax fund.
Since 2007, the first nation portion of the gas tax fund is managed by lndigenous Services Canada through the first nation infrastructure fund, which allows for one delivery mechanism and promotes greater financial impact to address first nation infrastructure needs. Providing lndigenous Services Canada with direct access to the gas tax funds under statutory authority was determined to be a simpler, more transparent and accountable way to flow and track the funds. The portion of the gas tax fund dedicated to first nation infrastructure is based on first nation on-reserve population data. The funding is allocated to first nation communities on reserve for priority infrastructure projects such as access to connectivity-related projects, roads and bridges, green energy and other essential infrastructure.
Projects are identified for potential funding using the first nations infrastructure investment plans, .which are submitted annually by first nations and are screened for eligibility and prioritized according to a national priority ranking framework.
Between fiscal years 2014-15 and 2018-19, Indigenous Services Canada allocated $138.8 million of the gas tax fund toward approximately 255 on-reserve infrastructure improvement projects in first nation communities.
In addition, through a one-time top-up from budget 2019, an additional $29.4 million in fiscal year 2018-19 was allocated by Indigenous Services Canada in support of seven infrastructure projects in British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and the Atlantic region. Through its agreement with provinces and territories, Infrastructure Canada also provides annual gas tax funding to other indigenous communities, such as those designated under the respective provincial and territorial agreements. These communities will also benefit from the top-up announced in 2019.
In terms of transparency and results, a robust reporting process has been implemented allowing both Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to provide regular updates on the overall portfolio of infrastructure projects in first nation communities. This includes an infrastructure investment interactive map, which has been available on the Indigenous Services Canada website since June 2018 and is updated quarterly.
It is also important to know that in recognition of the nation-to-nation relationship, first nation communities are ultimately responsible for delivering infrastructure projects in their communities.
These investments are helping to meet infrastructure needs of first nation communities and will lay the foundation of a long-term investment strategy with first nation community infrastructure to build healthy, safe and prosperous communities.
Thank you for inviting us to speak with you today.
We would be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you for your questions.
With regard to the prioritization framework, we work, really, to keep the projects on the list. We really want to work with first nations. It is their priorities, their ranking as well. It comes aggregated so that we are able to provide some of the funding.
With regard to the riding that you represent, more recently there's going to be a significant project with Kingsclear First Nation as well. In that project specifically, we've been talking, through the region headquarters, with the first nation. We want to make projects that are relevant.
To your second point on capacity development, actually, of all the roughly 4,000 projects that have been delivered over the past few years, almost 1,000 are in capacity or training development. The idea right now is that we want to not only build the infrastructure but build it with first nations, develop capacity in the first nation so that they're able to maintain their infrastructure, and also maybe get jobs out of it.
I don't know if that answers your question.
Thank you for your question.
With regard to the broadband, we loop it into our other essential community infrastructure, realizing that broadband is part of infrastructure now and moving forward. As of March 31, 2019, close to $760 million of targeted funds had been invested to support almost 1,300 infrastructure projects related to other communities.
We've been working with the CRTC to ensure that we build towards the 50 megabytes download and 10 upload to fix the broadband Internet services. We're working collaboratively with ISED and the CRTC to move forward, to move on the envelope. We're connected into the national connectivity strategy, which is being brought forward as part of budget 2019, to make sure that communities across the country have access to rural broadband, which I understand has been announced as $1.7 billion over 30 years for access across the country.
We have done some work with some first nation communities to access connectivity as well, such as in Manitoba.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm going to concentrate a bit on what Mr. Doherty was alluding to and where Karen was going, which is sustainability.
Looking through the lens of economic, social and environmental responsibility and attaching investments to those areas, I think was already alluded to with respect to health and safety, but in terms of being very strategic, there's also working with versus handing out.
Are you actually working with our indigenous communities to establish a strategic plan that would attach itself to recognizing, first of all, their capital, the life cycle of their capital, and then ultimate replacement of their capital? With that said, there's putting proper asset management plans in place, including the financing of those asset management plans, that would fiscally impact on their operational as well as their capital investments. It's operational in terms of financing the debt that would occur over time and then, of course, for capital the obvious is the investments that will be made according to that strategic plan.
Are you actually working with them to establish this so their investments become more sustainable, and with that, the returns on those investments lend themselves ultimately to the strategic plan that they—not we—establish?
My last question is with respect to the funding itself. Is that funding actually sustainable through future funding envelopes that then enable them to accrue over time and satisfy the ultimate objectives that are identified within the strategic plan?
Thank you very much for the question.
There are just a few points to raise on this one.
First of all, we do work very closely with first nation communities in terms of their plans. As was previously mentioned, the first nations infrastructure investment plan that is developed on an annual basis lays out the five-year needs in every single first nation community. Our regional offices work very closely with every single first nation community to have a sense of what's in there, what's going forward, and then the funding that can be allocated to that based on the national priority ranking framework and the priorities of the first nation community.
Moving forward though as well, we do take a look at what is the longer term in moving into more asset management types of frameworks.
We recognize that asset management is still a work in progress in first nation communities and in non-indigenous communities across the country.
There is a program, a $15 million over five years program, that we support and that is being used to increase the capacity of first nation communities to do asset management and asset management planning. That funding goes out until 2022-23. It is a process that comes in. There's a call for proposals out right now. When that comes in, it will be chosen this summer. This is the second year of their program. It can cover off a number of different things, including awareness planning and actually implementing the asset management plan in there. That allows us to get a sense of working with the first nation community and giving the tools to the first nation community and expertise to the first nation community for them to do their longer-term asset management as well.
I'm going back to the conversation we had. Our colleagues, Mr. Sikand and Mr. Badawey, summed it up very accurately.
I'm going to give you an example. Perhaps you're familiar with Semiahmoo First Nation. They have a population of 98. They have no natural resource development. They have no source of development because of where they're situated. Regarding our colleague Mr. Sikand's comment, is it equitable that the funding be based on a population of 98, or should it be based on the economic opportunity that this infrastructure could potentially bring to the community?
To that point, as Mr. Badawey mentioned—this is where I was going, and he said it far more eloquently than I did; unfortunately, that will be a good video clip for him—ultimately, when you are providing funding for assets or infrastructure, at some point there's a cost to that first nation to manage that facility or infrastructure, whether that capacity is there or not to manage the project along the way.
That infrastructure could all of a sudden be seen not as an asset, but as something that will fall into disrepair. Again, going back to whether it is equitable, population versus opportunity.... I don't think I got the department's exact program that could provide the resources to ensure that whatever investment is being done on the first nations, there is sufficient support to help build the capacity to manage that asset as you move forward.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to go to the sustainable funding subject that Mr. Doherty and a few others were embarking on.
Obviously, territories and reserves are very limited in where their revenue can come from. Taxation, water and waste-water rates that a municipality would otherwise accrue over time, they don't have that ability to accrue because they don't tax, or there's no water and waste-water rates, I'm assuming. Therefore, being limited, are there opportunities to ensure that the investments that we make as government actually give them returns, especially economic returns? I think this was where Mr. Doherty was going with respect to accountability and sustainability. New assessment, mining rights, pipelines, and so on and so forth.... Are these investments going to lend themselves to those projects so that they eventually become more economically and socially self-sustainable, as well as with regard to lifestyle?
He punted it back to you, Claudia.
With regard to first nations south of 60, which is the only portion that I can speak to, there are actually 58 communities that rely on diesel fuel to generate the majority of their electricity. Of these 58 communities, 40 receive direct funding from Indigenous Services Canada to finance the construction operations of their diesel generating, and 13 have agreements with the provincial utility boards.
Of the 40 communities, two have recently undertaken projects to eliminate dependence on diesel—Wuikinuxv and Pikangikum. In addition to Pikangikum, the Wataynikaneyap project will enable the grid connection of 15 other diesel-dependent first nations communities. These projects should be completed over the next few years.
With regard to the 16 remaining communities from there, we're working on a solution that takes into consideration their location, their geographic need, and the power needs are worked on those.
With regard to carbon pricing, we're working collectively with first nations and through a joint council with first nations on the transition to lower-carbon options, and with other experts from different departments in government, such as, Natural Resources, Environment Canada, and the Clean Growth Hub in order to see what the options are for first nations on reserve that are diesel-dependent.