I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 12 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. I would like to start by acknowledging that I am joining you today from the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabe and Chonnonton nations.
Pursuant to the order of reference of April 20, 2020, the committee is meeting for the purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters related to the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
During this meeting, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire committee. To facilitate the work of our interpreters and ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few of the rules.
Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either floor, English or French. To resolve the sound issues raised in recent virtual committee meetings and ensure clear audio transmission, we ask those who wish to speak during meetings to set your interpretation language as follows: If speaking in English, please ensure you are on the English channel, and if speaking in French, please ensure you are on the French channel. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you will also need to switch the interpretation channel so it aligns with the language you are speaking. You may also want to allow for a short pause when switching languages.
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This is a reminder that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair. Should members need to request the floor outside of their designated time for questions, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order. If a member wishes to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the “raise hand” function. This will signal to the chair your interest in speaking. To do so, you should click on “participants” at the bottom of your screen to the left of the globe, and when the list pops up, you will see next to your name that you can click on “raise hand”.
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Before we get started, can everyone click on their screen, in the top right-hand corner, and ensure they are on gallery view? With this view, you should be able to see all the participants in a grid view. It will ensure that all video participants can see one another.
During this meeting, we follow the same rules that usually apply to opening statements and the rounds for questioning of witnesses during our regular meetings. Each witness will have up to five minutes for an opening statement, followed by the usual rounds of questions from members. I'll be a little tough on the timing to ensure we can go as far through our cycle of questioners as possible.
For both the witnesses about to speak, I'll hold you as close to five minutes as I can, and similarly for questioners, there will be six-, five- and 2.5-minute rounds.
Welcome to the witnesses on our first panel. From the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, we have Tabatha Bull, who is president and chief executive officer. From the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, we have Shannin Metatawabin, the chief executive officer, and from the Northern Air Transport Association, we have Sébastien Michel, member of the board of directors.
Ms. Bull, please start now. You have five minutes for your presentation.
[Witness spoke in Ojibwa and provided the following text:
Aanii, Tabatha Bull n'indignikaaz, Nipissing n'indoonjibaa, Migizi dodem.
[Witness provided the following translation:]
Hello. My name is Tabatha Bull. I am from Nipissing First Nation, and I belong to the Eagle Clan.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and all distinguished members of the committee.
Speaking to you from my home office, I acknowledge the land as the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.
My name is Tabatha Bull, and I am the president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, or CCAB. I'm honoured to speak here on behalf of our association regarding the government’s response to COVID-19.
More than any other time in history, indigenous issues need to be top of mind for the Government of Canada and the Canadian public. Since 1984, CCAB has been committed to the full participation of indigenous peoples in the Canadian economy. Our work is backed by data-driven research, recognized by the OECD as the gold standard on indigenous business data in Canada.
The coronavirus has quickly changed our business and personal lives, but we are all in this together and we must work collaboratively to repair the economic damage and recommit ourselves to reconciliation and a prosperous indigenous economy for the benefit of all Canadians. CCAB is working in collaboration with the federal government to make sure indigenous businesses across the country have the resources and information they need to make it through the economic downturn from COVID-19.
Understanding the unprecedented efforts that government has made in providing supports and programs at a faster pace than ever before, many of the programs that were launched initially excluded indigenous business. While the government has been responsive to our advocacy to close the gaps, the associated delay creates an increased negative impact that is unique to indigenous business. In order to level the playing field, the whole of government must put indigenous businesses at the forefront to ensure they are able to access government programs as they are rolled out, to ensure immediate inclusion.
In collaboration with leading national indigenous organizations, CCAB recently launched the COVID-19 indigenous business survey as part of a COVID-19 response task force. The survey aimed to understand the unique impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on indigenous-owned businesses in Canada, to identify the current barriers and gaps with government programming, and to gauge the capacity of indigenous businesses to supply PPE to the federal government.
More than 90% of the 843 indigenous business respondents have experienced a very or somewhat negative impact on their business operations. Almost 30% of indigenous business respondents have reportedly shut down their offices and facilities, while almost 20% have closed their business entirely due to COVID-19. Forty-four per cent of indigenous businesses have indicated that without support they are likely to fail in three to six months, in addition to the 12% that have already or will close their business within a month.
The loss of indigenous businesses on this scale has a direct adverse impact on the indigenous economy, and in turn indigenous communities. This is precisely why any delay must be avoided.
I would like to share with you some examples of gaps in the programming the Government of Canada announced to support businesses through this pandemic.
First, the initial eligibility of CEBA allowed for only taxable income to be counted toward payroll eligibility. We appreciate that this eligibility criteria was changed quickly upon the issue being raised; however, this delayed the ability for many on-reserve indigenous businesses to access the program.
Second, Bill initially left many large indigenous-owned businesses ineligible for the wage subsidy. CCAB and many of our members identified this potential gap in advance of Bill C-14. We appreciate this was addressed on May 15; however, this meant that some indigenous-owned businesses were delayed by three weeks in applying for the wage subsidy.
Another gap still exists in that the BCAP cannot be utilized for the payment of dividends. This presents a barrier to many indigenous economic development corporations that support vital social programming for their affiliated nations through the payment of dividends to them as shareholders. The point again is that indigenous business must be the government’s first thought, not an afterthought, when devising programs to aid all Canadian businesses.
Turning to the topic of government procurement, there are indigenous businesses that can readily provide supplies or equipment to meet Canada’s medical needs or that have the capability to rapidly scale up or pivot production to provide PPE. The CCAB and other organizations have provided lists of such indigenous businesses to numerous federal departments through the course of the pandemic. However, not one of them has secured a procurement contract to date.
Last year was CCAB’s second year of our Supply Change aboriginal procurement initiative, a driving force behind the groundbreaking federal government mandate to set an indigenous procurement target of at least 5%. The federal government and national indigenous organizations can and should continue working together to connect indigenous suppliers to procurement officers. Efforts to increase procurement opportunities for indigenous businesses, now and in the future, will prove mutually beneficial for business and government, and help indigenous businesses stay afloat during the pandemic and expected recovery period.
It's imperative that all federal departments put indigenous business considerations first. Vast opportunities exist to support the indigenous economic recovery, not only through procurement but in future programs such as shovel-ready projects. We cannot allow COVID-19 to set us backwards on our collective path to close the gap.
CCAB is committed to continuing to work in collaboration with the government, our members and partners to help rebuild and strengthen the path towards a healthy and prosperous Canada.
Thank you all for your time. Meegwetch.
My name is Shannin Metatawabin. I am the chief executive officer of the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association. I'm also a member of the Fort Albany First Nation of the Mushkegowuk nation.
Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on the indigenous businesses in Canada.
Before I start, I want to acknowledge that this call is being hosted on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
The National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, commonly referred to as NACCA, represents 59 capital corporations from coast to coast to coast. Our network of aboriginal financial institutions provides developmental lending to first nations, Inuit and Métis businesses. NACCA is also a program-delivery partner of Indigenous Services Canada. Our organization administers the delivery of the aboriginal business financing program on behalf of the Government of Canada.
Aboriginal financial institutions are an incredible success story. For over three decades our members have been on the front lines, working with our indigenous businesses to ensure that they thrive and contribute to the growth of Canada's economy.
Like mainstream businesses, indigenous SMEs have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The 's announcement on April 18 of stimulus support was welcome news: $306.8 million is being allocated to negatively impacted businesses. NACCA will deliver programming for emergency loans in partnership with the network of aboriginal financial institutions. I am pleased to inform you that I just signed a contribution agreement with Indigenous Services Canada on Tuesday, a full two months later than the mainstream programs, and funds will go out to our network members in the next two weeks.
For the past 30 years, aboriginal financial institutions have worked in a program partnership with the Government of Canada. With the help of modest federal subsidies, they have provided over 47,000 loans, totalling $2.7 billion, to first nation-, Inuit- and Métis-owned businesses. Each year, financial institutions make over $120 million in loans to 500 indigenous-owned start-ups and 750 existing businesses.
Indigenous businesses are key drivers of employment, wealth creation and better socio-economic outcomes for indigenous communities and people. Across the nation, at any time, businesses that have active loans with our aboriginal financial institutions employ over 13,000 people.
COVID-19 has hurt many of our businesses, something that our network expected. In mid-March, just as the potential impacts were coming into focus, over 95% of our members indicated that their existing clients would be negatively impacted. Shortly thereafter, various provinces and territories declared states of emergency, resulting in closures of many businesses.
The impact on indigenous communities has been even greater. All sectors have been touched by the response to COVID-19. In late April 2020, the indigenous business COVID-19 response task force, of which NACCA is a member, launched a survey. Of the over 900 indigenous businesses that responded, 92% stated that the pandemic's economic impact has been either very or somewhat negative on their operations.
The most significant impacts have been in tourism, accommodation, food services, hospitality, transportation services and retail trade, all sectors with heavy concentrations of indigenous businesses. We are also noticing various regional impacts, such as in the fisheries in the Atlantic provinces, and in oil and gas in Alberta. As one of the members put it, “No sector will be immune from this event.” This has been the case.
With the concerns of our members in mind, we have some key recommendations for your committee.
Number one, improve the current emergency response program. Indigenous businesses have been waiting and hoping for support throughout this crisis. Recently, we can confirm that the support is coming. The same $40,000 that was announced for the mainstream will be provided to our indigenous businesses, which includes a $30,000 loan and a $10,000 non-repayable contribution.
For indigenous businesses, the program could be drastically improved if the non-repayable enabler were increased. After all, COVID-19 is only the latest in a whole series of barriers that indigenous businesses have to overcome. Impediments thrown up by the Indian Act, remoteness, land tenure and poor socio-economic conditions on reserves are factors that non-indigenous business owners do not have to contend with. A larger non-repayable allowance would acknowledge those additional barriers.
Beyond this, the COVID-19 response task force survey found that 40% of indigenous businesses will be unable to take on new debt. They will generally need to make twice the effort in order to repay a loan, compared to an average Canadian business. As well, 46% of indigenous businesses in the same survey indicated needing more than $40,000 to survive longer than four to six months. These findings reinforce the need for additional non-repayable capital and support for larger and community businesses, which was absent.
Number two goes back to business strategy—
Dear Mr. Chairman and finance committee members, thank you for inviting the Northern Air Transport Association to this important committee.
NATA was formed over 40 years ago to support the economic development of northern Canada with safe and sustainable air transportation.
My name is Sébastien Michel. I am the director of flight operations and operations manager at Air Inuit, as well as a member of the NATA board of directors.
Air Inuit is a private entity owned by the Makivik Corporation, employing close to 800 people. We operate a various fleet of 30 aircraft over four types to provide essential services to the 14 communities of Nunavik and one in Nunavut. Furthermore, our network extends throughout the rest of Canada.
In Nunavik and elsewhere, air travel is the means of transportation to and from isolated communities. Air Inuit is a lifeline. It is our mission to support the growing needs and enhance the lives of the people of Nunavik through a number of social, educational and cultural programs. Through scholarships and affirmative actions, we promote access to professional skills. We are especially proud of our Sparrow program. A notable graduate of the program became the first female Inuk captain. A commemorative stamp was put out in her honour in 2017.
I would like to begin this information session by recognizing the efforts of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. We are grateful for the Government of Canada's initial funding to support the airline industry.
Today, I will emphasize the importance of further support for northern air operators. Essential services, as well as profitable operations, are required in order to ensure the public health and economic sustainability of the communities we serve. Notably, all NATA members have developed relationships with indigenous groups.
The impact of COVID-19 on the airline industry is well documented. Due to travel restrictions and new quarantine rules, some carriers have been forced to cease flying entirely, but they still carry the burden of overhead expenses. Many other operators have largely seasonal operations and have either carried loss or made investments over the winter months in anticipation of the upcoming summer. Those operators are now potentially unable to resume their operations or face a dramatically reduced demand that is insufficient for recovery. Others are continuing their essential service operations at significant financial losses.
Given the drop in activity, many companies have reduced their flight operations, but they still need to keep air crews and maintenance staff. It is impossible to cover all the overhead incurred with the operating margins of reduced operations.
Despite that, our members still have a strong sense of their social responsibility. However, that is not sustainable. For instance, if Air Inuit slowed down its services, or even suspended its operations, the entire population of Nunavik would be isolated. As private businesses, we are not responsible for funding, with significant losses, the airline services essential to the safety and survival of all Canadians living in isolated northern communities.
Northern Canada accounts for over 40% of Canada’s land mass. The majority of the communities do not have the infrastructure and resources that are taken for granted in southern Canadian cities. Many northern communities have no road access, and with there being only a handful of paved runways, northern air carriers provide a unique and essential component to Canada’s travel network. Northern operators are often the only means of providing access to medical supplies and resources, food and other essential supplies. The demand for these services alone is not viable.
In many cases, the extra work from profitable operations help to sustain regular and essential services. These different operations both support and rely upon each other. Removing one will lead to the collapse of the whole. In order to ensure adequate service, northern operators are compelled to operate flights that a profit-oriented air carrier would cancel. However, our cost reduction measures, in the context of the services we offer, are very limited, and they put significant pressure on the financial capacity of our members.
NATA encourages the various governments to begin the careful restart of the economic initiatives, programs and social activities that are vital to the sustainability and self-sufficiency of Canada’s northern communities. NATA’s air operators are lifelines for the Canadians who call the north their home and who help to secure Canada’s sovereignty across this largely inaccessible region.
In that spirit, we are asking that the government provide the northern airline industry with quick and ongoing assistance, so that the airline industry can overcome the unprecedented difficulties it is facing.
We are at five minutes. Thank you very much.
Once again, to all of our witnesses, if there are issues that you haven't covered and don't come up through the questioning period, please provide a written submission to the clerks and that will be circulated among us. We don't want to lose any information that you feel you want to share.
With that, we will go to our round of questioners. In the six-minute round will be Mr. Vidal, Ms. Damoff, Ms. Bérubé and Ms. Gazan.
Gary Vidal, go ahead, please, for six minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank our witnesses for their willingness to come and participate in our committee this morning. Obviously, we appreciate your knowledge and experience and the things you hear on the ground that you can share with us. It means we can end up with a quality report that helps us structure the reaction to COVID-19.
In the first two presentations this morning, I heard a fair amount about the fact that indigenous businesses were excluded from a number of the original programs that were announced by the government. In fact, even since those adjustments were made, there have been large and long delays.
I personally was involved pretty substantially in advocating for the inclusion of indigenous limited partnerships in the CEWS program. I had the opportunity to advocate for that with the and also with the . Ultimately, the work that many of you did, and hopefully some of the work that we did, resulted in some success through that advocacy.
I will start with Ms. Bull.
Can you expand a little bit on the impact and frustration that the original exclusion from CEBA, CEWS or some of these things caused to indigenous businesses? There was that original exclusion, and now there's a long delay, so there has been a long period of uncertainty and frustration that I am hearing about from businesses in indigenous communities. Could you maybe just expand on the impacts that you're hearing about from your people on the ground in your communities?
We definitely had similar conversations, lengthy conversations. Thank you also for your advocacy.
I don't believe that any of those exclusions were intentional. When things are raised that have excluded indigenous business, based on a lot of items that are in the Indian Act, or because they are on reserve or because of tax and no-tax issues, it's not that we think that is intentional. However, we are really advocating that it is something that needs to be considered initially.
The indigenous economic development corporations are corporations that staff 800 or more employees. Most of them, or a large majority of them, are indigenous employees. They support their communities through vital support programming. Some of those economic development corporations had to lay off half of their staff while waiting for the original regulations around CEWS to come out. Then, with the additional delay, they were forced or very concerned about having to lay off more staff.
I was probably getting messages from our members, and some of those members daily, asking if the regulations were out yet on the wage subsidies so that they could apply. If you consider that our survey reports that 12% of businesses will not be able to last a month, three weeks of delay has a significant impact on those businesses.
Thank you, Chair. I think I have six minutes.
The Chair: You do.
Ms. Pam Damoff: Thank you to all our witnesses.
I'd like to start by acknowledging that I'm joining the meeting today from the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. I want to thank all the witnesses for your testimony, especially for the research that you have been doing and are able to provide to our committee.
Tabatha, I'm going to start with you, because you've provided us with some great statistics. I met with you in February, and I know that you have robust research and have for many years. One of the things we talked about was procurement. I know that the 's mandate letter calls for 5% procurement, and if I remember correctly, you said that indigenous businesses could actually provide 23% to 25% of the requirements of the federal government. When I hear you say that you've provided lists to the government related to COVID and none have been given contracts, it's very concerning, and I do give you a commitment to follow up on that.
How many businesses have you actually provided to the federal government in the hopes of them getting a contract related to COVID?
Originally when COVID started and we all started working from home, our initial action was to look through our certified aboriginal businesses and look to who could provide PPE immediately. That's about 20 of our members. Then we went to our members and asked who would be able to pivot to manufacture PPE or face shields. We had quite a few members who were interested in doing that. Not unlike other independent businesses, they were concerned about putting in any type of investment without having a contract. That was probably another 20 to 25 just of our members.
As the task force and all of our organizations, NACCA included, we have gone out to all of our members and asked if they could provide PPE. It was about 12% of the respondents from the survey. If you think about it, the number of respondents to the survey was just shy of 900, and that's a significant number just for people who responded, but if you think about the close to 60,000 indigenous businesses across Canada, 12% of that is a significant number.
We have been providing those lists to various departments and also working with some individual members to try to connect them. It's definitely been a frustrating process.
Good morning, Ms. Bérubé.
Measures are being implemented by the Nunavik Regional Emergency Preparedness Advisory Committee, NREPAC, which operates in Nunavik. Right now, I am being told that Nunavik is closed to all air transportation. Authorization is required to travel to Nunavik. Air Inuit obtains that authorization from public safety.
Measures are implemented for travellers. Those include distancing inside aircraft. Aircraft capacity is at about 30% for travellers. All operations have been brought back to Air Inuit's technical centre. We have a room for passengers that can hold 150 individuals. Questionnaires are filled out on site and people don't need to go to the Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport terminal, for example.
The situation is the same in the north. Distancing is the most important measure used to limit the spread. We have implemented measures even within our crews. For example, the same crews always work together. Changes to crews are no longer being made. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the same crews have been staying together and working together over the course of an entire month. That is one way to limit the spread. So far, I think we have managed not to contaminate Nunavik. To date, I don't think there have been any deaths caused by COVID-19 in Nunavik, although there have been 14 cases, all of whom have recovered.
Greetings from the unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq here in Nova Scotia. Millbrook First Nation is right nearby. It's really good to hear all of you. Thank you so much for your presentations.
This morning the announced another $650 million to support first nations, Inuit and Métis communities, which I was very excited to hear. In particular, he was talking about health care, income support and new shelters for women, which is another issue that I am very passionate about, especially as the vice-chair of the women's caucus.
He mentioned that $285 million of this new funding would go to public health, and it includes procurement, which, Ms. Bull, you mentioned. Here in Truro, for instance, we have an old factory, the Stanfield's factory. It's a family-owned factory. It's over 100 years old, and it has been making underwear for that long. Stanfield's underwear is pretty famous.
Anyway, it had to close down because of the pandemic. Then it made an offer to government that it could make plastic hospital gowns and that it could work with the plastic factory here, which is also having trouble because of COVID. Now the two factories are working together to make disposable hospital gowns for PPE.
What kinds of businesses do you suggest, Ms. Bull? What kinds of things are there available that we can take forward, and that you can bring forward, and that, as Ms. Damoff mentioned, we would be happy to bring forward to government? It would be great to get first nations indigenous people helping with this very important project.
We have quite a few businesses that have done the same, that have been able to pivot to start to make hand sanitizer, for example. We have also seen some great partnerships with Shared Value Solutions, a business that works with quite a few communities. It has worked with a number of distillers as well, and other corporate partners, to provide hand sanitizer to a number of northern first nations in Ontario.
I have been working with Marion Crowe at First Nations Health Managers Association to provide our lists to them as well because I know that they really would like to look at indigenous suppliers able to support on-reserve health centres.
We do see businesses in all areas of PPE. Originally, the Buyandsell call came out for IT support. There are indigenous businesses in every sector across Canada, so we could really be moving forward in all of those.
I think there is a real opportunity, through the supply council and through supply for corporations, to partner with smaller indigenous businesses because it is a bit difficult for an indigenous business or some of the smaller businesses to provide 10,000 masks a week. However, I think that there is a real opportunity for funding in order to create those partnerships with large businesses including indigenous businesses in their supply chains, or some type of partnership where we could really ramp up the capability of the smaller businesses.
Absolutely. I totally agree with you. It is the smaller businesses and the community-run businesses that really are the backbone of all of our little communities. I live here in rural Nova Scotia, and they are very important.
It's unfortunate about the taxation issue in the beginning when funding was rolled out, but I believe we were running by the seat of our pants in a way. We were trying to come up with new ideas on the fly to try to help everybody who was falling through the cracks. Every time we heard about someone else who didn't quite fit the mandate, we then rolled it out for them. It has been an emergency situation, as you well know.
I think that we are really trying now to take into consideration everybody across Canada. Not everybody is going to fit every single mandate, but we're trying our very best to help as many people as possible.
Thank you so much for your work. If you do want to reach out to either Ms. Damoff or myself, we would be happy to help you take forward ideas to the government about procurement or anything else.
As always, a shout-out to the IT team and the interpreters. I know it's hard sometimes to make that sure we're all staying on track.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here and sharing your valuable knowledge.
I'm going to ask that the responses be kept to about a minute just because I have that time limit.
My first question concerns an area that I've had to focus on the most during COVID, namely air services to Nunavut. The airlines that serve us are our highways and ambulances, and so much more.
Mr. Michel, can you talk about why, unlike air carriers in the south, it is impossible for our air carriers to reduce their schedule when they're transporting things like fresh food and sometimes even COVID-19 tests?
Just to clarify, for the Northern Air Transport Association, is Mr. Priestley on today, or is he not available?
Mr. Sébastien Michel: He's not on today.
Mr. Bob Zimmer: Okay. Then I will ask you my questions.
I have before me a letter that was written to me by Mr. Priestley. It's about the requests that were made by your association. I'll just read them out. I wanted to ask you to respond because this letter was written some time ago in reference to COVID and the struggle that your industry was going to have. He says:
The following needs to be initiated immediately:
There should also be a suspension of employer payroll deductions including CPP, EI, and WCB for 90 days and the government should speed up the administration of EI benefits....
All Federal excise and carbon taxes on Jet fuel should be temporarily suspended.
The Federal Government should subsidize a loan repayment holiday and a subsidy for air operators for the next 90 days so that interest payments on outstanding loans can continue to be made.
Mr. Michel, I would ask you to respond to each one of those three, if those changes indeed came. Again, the request was made some time ago. I just wanted to know your response.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I am joining you here today from the sacred territory of many indigenous nations, including the Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Anishinabe and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
I thank all the witnesses for being here with us today and providing the insight and perspectives you bring from your communities, industries and business organizations.
My first question is for Ms. Tabatha Bull.
My dad was manager of aboriginal tourism and trade development for the Aboriginal Business Canada organization in 1997. I called him this morning and we chatted a bit about the nature of his work almost 25 years ago. Then I read your article on thefutureeconomy.ca and reflected on how indigenous businesses have changed and modernized over the intervening 25-year period. I chatted with my dad about the types of things he used to work on and the grants that he was approving back then. I was 15 at the time and didn't take such a keen interest, and I think he was excited to reminisce a bit.
How can the government be a better partner in ensuring that indigenous businesses are connected, have access to the best technologies and can participate in the global market that Internet connectivity provides when everybody is connected?
I really appreciate that.
What I wanted to cover is that we have to recognize that indigenous people face unbelievable barriers. If we're talking about a back-to-business strategy when we flatten the curve and the economic downturn plateaus—we're talking about a rebound—we don't want to take longer than the Canadian economy to rebound. We want to get ahead of this, so this recovery planning that we're talking about now is very important.
I covered a little bit about how that the AFI network has suffered a 70% decrease in federal funding, and in any sort of developmental lending you need to stimulate that growth. It hasn't been happening in the indigenous community. We've been doing the best we can with what we have but we can do a lot better.
I think the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, more than 20 years ago, recommended an annual 5% increase in developmental lending. That has not happened. The government announced a $100-million growth fund. We can't lose sight of the momentum from developing a tool to attract private sector capital so that we can add additional capital to our community.
The last one is a 5% target for indigenous procurement. It's so important. That's going to bring more than a billion dollars in opportunity to the community just at the federal level, never mind provincial, municipal and corporate Canada. There's so much opportunity there to be a part of prosperity.
On the 5% procurement, we were very pleased to see that. As Pam mentioned, we did a research study, together with the federal government, looking at the potential of indigenous businesses in Canada to meet the federal procurement. It showed that indigenous businesses can currently meet 24% of the federal procurement on a yearly basis, so 5% is definitely a floor.
As we said, we really need to make sure there are metrics across government and across ministries to ensure that they are purchasing from indigenous business, and there needs to be some evaluation held against that. We do see this as very successful in corporate Canada. More than 80 large corporations in Canada have made a commitment to buy from indigenous business, and they've been successful in doing so. I think one of the key things is a metric.
We're also working with our other national organizations and through the National Indigenous Economic Development Board, together with NACCA and CANDO, to work together to see how we can support the government to ensure that the businesses are certified, so that there is a real test to the ownership of those businesses as indigenous businesses, and then to ensure that we're able to have a list held by an independent indigenous organization, similar to what happens in Australia with Supply Nation.
That, with respect to the Committee’s study of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee invite the Wet’suwet’en elected Chiefs, specifically, Chief Rosemarie Skin, Skin Tyee Nation, Chief Dan George, Burns Lake Band (Ts’il Kaz Koh) First Nation, Chief Maureen Luggi, Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Chief Patricia Prince, Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band, Hereditary Chief Herb Naziel, Hereditary Chief, Gary Naziel, Hereditary Chief Theresa Tait-Day, and others as required to provide testimony on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their ability to enter into open and transparent negotiations regarding land rights and title with the federal government.
Perhaps I could just quickly speak to it. I think I still have the ability to do so.
To my friends on the committee, I think we have seen the elected chiefs in this discussion try to get the attention of not only the minister, but also the province and Canadians in general. The elected chiefs are asking for a voice, and they certainly have a grievance, something to say, given the fact that they feel they were not consulted on this MOU that was negotiated with the hereditary chiefs. As we all know, this MOU is the starting point, but because any decision made by this path going forward has a direct effect on them, we've already seen one chief of Burns Lake First Nation wondering if they are still a band given the fact they have been totally phased out of this process.
We had on the eve of the signing at least four elected chiefs saying that they still, to that point, had not been consulted. COVID-19 has severely disrupted the ability of the elected chiefs to speak to their members, to the people within their bands, about this deal.
This is an opportunity for us as committee members to bring the voice of the elected representatives to this committee and to the public in general to talk about how the process has failed or where we can make improvements, and maybe let's hear from these people.
Chair, that's the motion. I leave it up to you.
I'll make a couple of quick points in the context of it's being insincere to me to claim that this isn't a COVID-related matter. When I asked Ms. Bennett on May 21 in the COVID virtual committee why she proceeded to sign the MOU after a number of factors that I listed, the final part of her response was that “with the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak it was impossible to do that in person.”
On May 22, Mr. van Koeverden, my colleague, in response to Ms. Qaqqaq's motion, said:
While our side disagrees somewhat with the framing, we strongly agree with the premise, and the importance of transparency for indigenous communities, and indeed for all Canadians.
With those two things framing my response, I think it's important that we desire to be open and transparent as we consider these things. If we're not willing to do so, what are we trying to cover up?