I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 18 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
I'd 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 available via the House of Commons website. During the meeting the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire committee.
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During the meeting we'll follow the same rules that usually apply to the opening statements and the rounds of questioning. Witnesses have up to 10 minutes for an opening statement, which is what we will be offering Ms. Bennett.
If everyone is in order and in place, I'd like to welcome our first witness for this hour, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Minister Bennett, welcome, and I am giving you 10 minutes for your opening presentation.
I'm joining you today from my home in Toronto, on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. I want to acknowledge that you're also on traditional territories.
I'm pleased to be here today to speak about the ongoing work to develop a national action plan in response to the issues identified in the final report and the calls for justice from the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
I think it's important that we recognize that when we all come to terms with the horrifying images and stories over the past several weeks and the undeniable evidence of systemic racism in Canada, it is essential that all Canadians speak out against the racism inherent in colonization.
We need to call out misogyny and discrimination. In fact, it reflects the stories that we've heard for decades from the families and survivors of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse peoples.
We will not be able to stop this national tragedy until we have dealt effectively with the systemic racism and sexism in our institutions from coast to coast to coast. Every day our hearts are with the families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people and survivors. I promise we will not let them down.
I can assure members that our government is working on an urgent basis with our partners on further concrete actions to end the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people, including the development of a national action plan.
We are grateful for all the work of all of the provincial, territorial and indigenous partners toward a national action plan, despite the challenges of COVID-19. Our shared work continues to seek justice and healing for the families and survivors. We are working to create the space where indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people can take back their rightful place of dignity and leadership.
Since our government was elected in 2015, we have put in place concrete actions to address the national tragedy. The family information liaison units established in 2016 after the pre-inquiry were installed in victims services in every province and territory and have been very well received by families to help them navigate government agencies and to access all the available information they are seeking about their missing or murdered loved ones in the system, and to access healing supports.
Justice Canada is now providing funding to extend these supports to 2023. In 2017 we responded to the inquiry’s interim report with nearly $50 million of investments, increasing health supports and victim services for families and survivors, supporting the RCMP national investigative standards and practices unit and funding organizations with expertise in law enforcement and policing to review police policies and practices.
During the pre-inquiry, the stories of the families and survivors in their poignant testimony demanded changes to the damaging child and family services system, the need to value, preserve and protect indigenous languages and culture, the need toughen criminal law in cases of domestic assault and to eliminate gender discrimination under the Indian Act. We have legislated those changes.
Our historic investments in education, housing, policing and shelters are making a difference. We know more is needed and we are committed to continuing to make the necessary investments and to drive the needed institutional changes that will deal with the systemic and institutional failures that have led to this ongoing tragedy.
Our government, indigenous leaders, survivors, families and the provincial and territorial governments are working hard to develop the national action plan that will set a clear road map to ensure that indigenous women and girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people are safe wherever they live.
This work began long before COVID-19 and remains a priority. In recent months, fighting COVID-19 has demanded the attention of all of our partners and has presented unique challenges to engagement for everyone. Since the election, we have been providing support to national and regional indigenous organizations representing women, LGBTQ and two-spirit people to ensure that first nations, Inuit and Métis voices are priorities at the centre of our work.
As I told the committee on Tuesday, for a national action plan to be truly accountable, we need to determine the indicators and reporting timelines to ensure an effective and accountable action plan. Governments must report, measure, adapt, measure and adapt. The families and survivors must be part of the work to make sure that this national action plan is truly effective.
The supplementary estimates (A), which passed this week, will provide the first $6 million of the $30 million over the next five years. We have committed to ensuring that families and survivors will be involved in assessing the results obtained by the national action plan and guiding the changes necessary to truly protect the lives of indigenous women and girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people.
I really look forward to your questions and your advice as we go forward together.
Thank you. Meegwetch.
I'd like to thank the minister for coming today and also for some work on some very significant local files. I appreciate your time on them.
Minister, of course we're here about MMIW this morning.
The Native Women's Association of Canada, NWAC, said it was appalled by your decision to delay the national action plan indefinitely. According to NWAC's president, Lorraine Whitman, the government is using the pandemic as an excuse. Others have used words like confused and disappointed.
How do you respond to this reaction to your decision?
We are now in the process of having to build the plan from the bottom up. It means that each of the provinces and territories is working on their own chapter.
We had a very positive call with Yukon last month because they were almost ready to release their four-point plan.
Yesterday we heard from Manitoba and, again, I think when the provincial or territorial government works with the women's coalitions as well as the first nations or Inuit or Métis partners, you can see what happens in those concrete actions to stop this tragedy, but we also see the healing.
We are moving forward. One of the things I talked about on Tuesday was, of course, choosing the indicators that will be measured, and how often they will be measured, and how we move over the next five years to make sure this national action plan is working. We will need consensus as to the appropriate indicators, how often they will be measured, how often the families and survivors think the plan needs to be adapted to make it more effective.
That is really important work. As you know, some statistics are easy to find at Statistics Canada. We're going to have to be more intentional about finding others, and we have learned through COVID-19 that unless we have the data in real time, we are operating in the dark. We want to be accountable and show results.
Minister, on Wednesday of this week, I attended a healing walk in my riding where we were marching to bring awareness and to highlight our need to take action against racism.
Along the way of about a kilometre walk, we stopped and paid respects in all of the places in that area where we've lost Mi'kmaw people without getting any answers as to why. It was very humbling to see this.
During that time, I was approached by Annie Bernard-Daisley, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association. She shared with me the frustration that she felt in that we haven't acted fast enough on the recommendations of the missing and murdered indigenous women's inquiry's recommendations. I shared with her that I would be willing to come and talk to them and give them an update.
Minister, can you share with me what steps we are taking to address the recommendations and our time frames? Also, can you share with the committee some of the key things you've been hearing during your engagements?
Thank you for this, Jaime.
I think the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association has been really at the front of so many real concrete actions. Certainly, in your province, we are speaking with Minister Kelly Regan, and we are developing together with the Native Women's Association a Nova Scotian plan that is going to be really important.
As I said in my remarks, right from the beginning we weren't going to wait for the final report to begin the work on the legislation that would protect women, girls, and two-spirit and gender-diverse people with the investments in shelters, housing, health care, and healing supports, and the commemoration money that has been able to distribute. It is about our working together now on developing that national action plan that will be accountable. We do know that it is urgent and that the families and survivors have been waiting a long time for there to be a commission. Now we are impatient about putting in the concrete actions to stop the tragedy. We believe that we, as a federal government, have begun in a good way to deal with the response to the interim report and now the kinds of priorities that the families and survivors have been saying to us for a very long time.
As you know, Jaime, throughout the pre-inquiry what we heard from families was that “it's a justice system, just not for us”, and I think that is really what they feel—that it's not a safe place even to report a missing person. As I've said, some of the families chose not to correct a missing persons report that said the person was Caucasian because they thought the quality of the search or the investigation would be less important if indeed she was viewed to be an indigenous woman, whereas we know what happened in the Downtown Eastside. Somehow, when somebody went missing, it was viewed as inevitable and filled with judgment.
We have a lot to do, because it's not just the policing or the investigation. It's what happens in terms of the charges that are laid, the plea bargaining and the sentencing. Indigenous people do not feel that it is fair, and thus we see all the unacceptable incarceration rates, where often the victim is blamed. That's the way they feel they've been treated.
I think we're working with our partners in the provinces and territories. We had a very positive call yesterday with National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Regional Chiefs Teegee and Picard on moving forward. Minister , Minister , Minister and I were on a call about a commitment to first nations policing and moving forward on the tripartite agreement that could be almost ready to go in British Columbia in terms of how you change policing to be more community based, and with community members, as we've heard about with the excellent approach in Yukon, with the peace officers there who are reducing the calls to the RCMP by 30%.
I think that having the right to and the statutory funding for first nations policing.... It will be interesting to see whether the Mi'kmaq Nation is also interested in that, following up on the excellent progress that you have had on education and whether we could move that to first nations policing in Nova Scotia as well.
I want to say that I'm still in Gaspésie, on the traditional territory of the Mi'kmaq people.
Thank you, Minister, for your opening remarks. I completely agree with you. It's refreshing to hear a minister openly acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in Canada. We'll have the opportunity to discuss the issue at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security starting next week. I'm very enthusiastic about this perspective.
The national action plan regarding missing indigenous women was supposed to be tabled this month, but this won't happen. Is there a new time frame that you could provide today?
I'd like to thank the minister for attending today.
On Tuesday you stated, “This has been an emotional time. We have all been upset by the images on our screens and the undeniable evidence of systemic racism in Canada. It is the basis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls”.
You acknowledge this crisis, yet your government reneged on its promise to have a national action plan in June in spite of the increases in violence against indigenous women that has occurred during COVID-19.
Do you believe that inaction is an appropriate response? You had at least eight months prior to COVID. Chief Commissioner Buller notes that use of that excuse is an embarrassment to the government. Women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people continue to go missing and die. When will a national action plan be released?
Minister Bennett, with all due respect, that is not an acceptable response. Families, advocates and even the commissioners have voiced their concerns about the lack of transparency. In a letter, the commissioners themselves called it “one year of inaction” with “the lack of transparency”.
When I tried to get answers from you about when you would release a national action plan, you simply told me to go and look at a website.
Last month, Hilda Anderson-Pyrz of the Manitoba MMIWG2S coalition said, “It's really concerning for me as a family member and as an advocate that we've heard nothing.” This is what we've been hearing from family members across the country.
You promised again today not to let them down. It's too late. Your frantic scrambling that we have witnessed over the last weeks clearly demonstrated you have wasted at least eight months since the release of the report, despite your promise to have a national action plan within one year following the report's tabling.
Can you grace this committee with information on at least the stage at which the national action plan is at?
Again, Minister, those are not my words. Those are the words of commissioners, family members and victims of violence.
I have one last question, because I have a limited amount of time. A year ago when the MMIWG2S report was released, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stated that “it's very important that Canada will make an action plan. A national action plan...”.
It has been over a year now since the report was released, and the international community can see that nothing has been done with respect to the ongoing human rights violations against indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals.
Did your government expect to secure a UN Security Council seat when you clearly turned a blind eye to the human rights violations at home and abroad, in violation of your domestic and international human rights obligations, including your failure to release a national action plan?
That's a great question.
In Yukon the Women's Circle, plus the first nations, plus Chief Doris Bill, who has a wise practice on peace officers, together with Minister Dendys and the Government of the Yukon were almost ready before COVID-19 to release a plan on their four points.
We are working with all of the provinces and territories.
In your province, Jamie, Minister Dunlop is working with an advisory committee, but in Ontario, the family liaison units and Kim Murray have really become a wise practice as we build on strengths and make sure that the national action plan reflects the wise and promising practices in all of the provinces and territories.
Absolutely, and I think even about the comments I had in a conversation yesterday on first nations policing.
This is all about self-determination and being able to get out of the colonial systems that have not been safe for indigenous peoples in our country. Over half of the Indian Act bands in Canada are now at a table being able to talk about asserting their jurisdiction, whether it's on child and family services, whether it's on fish, or whether it's on education or health care. We are actually, I think, really building towards that kind of momentum in nation building.
We have funding for nation building and a lot of excellent work that really will speak to a new relationship, which will really be based on the recognition of rights and the right to self-determination, as well as on respect and co-operation, and something that feels like a partnership to our partners.
Minister, thanks for being here.
I want to talk a bit about the national action plan. I realize that you've spoken to a lot of people in various communities, especially the indigenous community, as to what goes into the national action plan. I want to find out what you were hearing, especially from the indigenous community, as to what is needed in developing a national plan that is not only effective but also accountable.
In responding, could you talk about both, but especially about the issue of accountability? How can you make such a plan accountable and ensure that, in fact, we're delivering on the plan and that it's actually having results?
Hello there. Thank you, Minister Bennett, for coming back to our committee today.
I want to welcome everybody from the beautiful Mi'kmaq unceded territory here in Cobequid or Wagobagitk, as it used to be called, in Cumberland—Colchester.
We were talking the other day about systemic racism. I have been listening to various programs, the CBC and various other things recently, and reading a lot, of course. What a lot of people are saying about systemic racism is that we need to keep hiring first nations and black members of the community and have more diversity in jobs, in businesses and also in levels of government.
One of the things I remember from when I was in the provincial government here in Nova Scotia is having arguments with the deputy minister of a particular department because the all-white staff just couldn't understand that our Mi'kmaq community centre and museum did not own their artifacts because they felt the ancestors owned them.
To try to explain that to somebody who just didn't get it and who didn't get the culture, I finally had to say, “Look, you're Scottish from Cape Breton, right? Imagine if you weren't allowed to sing in Gaelic and you weren't allowed to do Highland dancing or you would be thrown in jail. Imagine you weren't allowed to speak your own language.”
These are the problems that have been building up. People just don't understand the culture. Again, as we mentioned the other day, it's a lack of respect, too.
What can we do, Minister, to try to change that as quickly as possible? I think this will help deal with the problem of why first nations women and girls are treated like they are not even second-class citizens. They're just not respected or treated with value, and their lives don't seem to be as valued as others'. What do you suggest we can do as a society and a government?
With it being National Indigenous History Month and what we've been trying to do with indigenous reads and all of the books here, it's hard. I wish I could change it. I think prescribing all the books in the world and the lovely, amazing films by indigenous filmmakers is a start, but it is about a relationship. It is about respect. It is about having indigenous people, women and girls in leadership and making sure they are able to influence the institutions.
From Indigenous Works and Kelly Lendsay's work in Saskatchewan, it's not about changing the indigenous person to be able to fit into an institution. It's about changing the institution so that indigenous people feel safe. Also, it's about how they can influence the institution.
The indigenous world view is really the future of Canada. Thinking seven generations out, using the medicine wheel instead of the medical model, using indigenous pedagogy, respecting elders, putting children first and listening to wise women are all things that were here and were good until the settlers arrived and decided they were superior. That's what we've got to change.
I believe you shouldn't have to be an MD or an MP in order to have new friends. We've got to make it safer for indigenous people to want to work in government. For a lot of them, it's going to the dark side. We need to really be intentional about those kinds of changes in policing, hospitals, universities and all of the institutions where they've had that experience as well.
We're going to get under way.
Thank you, Mr. van Koeverden, for allowing us some extra time.
We have Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement; the Honourable Marc Miller; Associate Deputy Minister Sony Perron; Valerie Gideon, senior assistant deputy minister; Philippe Thompson, chief of finances; Dr. Tom Wong, chief medical officer; and from Public Works, Michael Vandergrift and Arianne Reza.
Mr. Vidal, I'm going to ask you to start. You have six minutes.
I appreciate all the challenges in getting through these things, so I'll get right to my questions for Mr. Miller this morning.
Throughout the pandemic, Mr. Miller, in my role as shadow minister, I have had many opportunities to connect with indigenous people across the country—businesses, individuals and organizations.
One of the organizations that I've had the privilege of working with, getting to know and advocating for is the Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan. I am an MP who represents northern Saskatchewan. There are 10 friendship centres in Saskatchewan, and five of them are in my riding. Recently, they released a Saskatchewan economic framework called “Honouring Her Spark”. During their engagement as they prepared this report.... Many suggestions in the report respond to the calls for action found in the MMIWG report that we were discussing earlier.
What specific actions is the government taking to help support entrepreneurship among indigenous women, and what effect do you believe this might have on this very important issue that we were talking about in the last hour? I realize that your department is also involved in this—thus, the question.
As you rightly note, Gary....
First, thank you for the advocacy work. I've noted it in prior sessions, but I think it's worth repeating. Your team has been linking up with our department and advocating in very complex situations, particularly what's been going on in La Loche and the response at all levels of government to support...the spread of COVID in northern Saskatchewan.
At the heart of this.... The MMIWG calls to action are not for a federal response only, nor is Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs responsible. It is entirely a whole-of-government, civil society, provincial and territorial response.
Part of the calls to action demand from Indigenous Services Canada, when we look in terms of how the civil service reacts to those calls to action within what Indigenous Services Canada does.... What you're getting at the very heart of that, and what the report highlighted as well, is socio-economic conditions, inequalities that unduly and disproportionately negatively affect women and create the conditions that you've highlighted and that we've heard in testimony.
One of those calls to action included what we have rolled out over the last week, the response in capital funding for shelters that support indigenous women who are fleeing violence. Indeed, during COVID, we've seen a significant increase in domestic violence and a corresponding need for those supports with regard to the friendship centres and the various service organizations that do an incredible job with very little resources. Our government moved quite quickly with $50 million, which was wholly inadequate, and then $75 million, which is in the process of being rolled out specifically to organizations that serve indigenous peoples, among those women and children who are fleeing violence.
Again, it's within the responsibility of Indigenous Services Canada as well as other levels of government, at the federal level and across the spectrum of government services and civil society services in Canada. It's one aspect of it, but it is a very important part to the MMIWG response. It can't simply be a piecemeal approach. It needs to be complete and comprehensive. Supports for women in those situations are key, and Indigenous Services Canada has to do its part.
I want to get to one more question for you here, as we're obviously working with limited time.
This past week, Dion and I had the privilege of travelling to La Ronge, where we got to engage many important stakeholders on the impact of COVID-19 in that area. While we were there, we were able to observe the fact that they were having a groundbreaking ceremony, or a celebration of the funding that was promised in the election, for this wellness, healing and recovery centre that's been funded on that side. I want to thank you for the commitment to follow through on that.
I also had the opportunity this week to speak to Chief Ronald Mitsuing. You would be very aware of the advocacy he's done through the whole Makwa Sahgaiehcan situation that you came upon, I think, on your first day as the minister and how that all played out.
We've talked a lot about northwestern Saskatchewan with La Loche and with Clearwater River Dene Nation. I'm curious whether the government would be supportive of considering a centre on the west side like it's funding on the east side over in La Ronge. There are obviously great needs for Chief Ronald Mitsuing and many of his colleagues on the west side as well. Is that something you've ever talked about or considered, a similar type of facility on the northwest side of Saskatchewan to help that side of the province as well?
Yes. It's an excellent point that you raise, because in my discussions with Chief Mitsuing, as you noted, at the very beginning of my mandate, he was facing a crisis within his community, and it is not unique, but communities have unique needs, particularly in mental health. The solutions lie within communities.
I think one of the criticisms we heard from the chief was the challenge with having solutions that are sort of flown in, or even when it comes to tribal councils and the supports that they have, which are very good, the increased needs are financial and also homegrown. The ability to do that can only be done within infrastructure solutions that are always undercapitalized.
I think that's something we've got to take away and keep working on. We have, indeed, done great work in ensuring that the capital is there for services, buildings and infrastructure that can house that increasing pressure, in particular on mental health—
Yes, and thank you again for your interaction with our department and ensuring that the needs in your riding are met and heard.
We've been working from the get-go at an accelerated rate. Obviously getting ahead of this curve has been the reason indigenous communities have had such optimistic outcomes, because they've been able to predict and communicate, open that line of communication and make sure that procurement is being done in a timely fashion and distributed.
In the case of Mathias Colomb, there were some movable structures that we were looking at essentially as part of a central procurement to deal with surge capacity to have moveable structures that are in great demand for communities that need isolation capacity or more testing capacity, so the company in question proactively released a press release that frankly mis-characterized what was being sent into the community, and the community, rightly so, reacted. Our department apologized for the miscommunication, but it was an issue of communication in coordination with their pandemic plan.
Essentially what Mathias Colomb wanted, which we have funded to the tune of about $400,000, was repurposing of one of their community centres as part of their pandemic plan and not the movable structures that we were proactively sourcing with a view to distributing them into a variety of communities that have those challenges that have been highlighted to the committee. I think essentially that's the crux of it.
You know, the frustration that a number of communities feel existed prior to the pandemic, because we're dealing with socio-economic determinants that make that vulnerability more acute. We're asked to do things in Indigenous Services Canada that we don't have to do in non-indigenous communities, because those conditions don't exist, so that frustration is very real. Ensuring that we communicate and essentially deal the cards that we're dealt and proactively source units for isolation and medical purposes actively, knowing that there has not been an outbreak, is very important.
I think always that the line of communication, making sure local needs are addressed, is important [Technical difficulty—Editor]
I want to thank the witnesses for joining us. I also want to thank the minister for making the effort to respond in French. I'm very grateful to her for this.
I want to address the motion that we're debating today.
Mr. Miller, you didn't get the opportunity to read your opening remarks, but I read them. You admit that your government made a mistake when it failed to share information about the procurement process with community leaders. Mr. Powlowski just discussed this issue.
I want to give you the chance to briefly explain how the process works and why the information wasn't shared with community leaders.
Ms. Michaud, I want to start by saying that I'm pleased to be speaking in French, especially since I'm currently in Montreal.
To some extent, what happened was the result of the nature of the beast, if I may say so. We had to deal with a very unpredictable and historic pandemic. We had to take action and be proactive in order to source very expensive products and structures. We needed to develop a plan to deal with the epidemic. The plan wasn't supposed to concern just one province, but the entire country.
Indigenous Services Canada assesses all potential outbreaks and vulnerabilities, such as the remoteness or overcrowding of a community. The important thing was to be proactive.
There's considerable demand for movable structures designed to address overcrowding in some communities, for example.
In the case of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, there was an agreement to send movable structures to the community. However, the community didn't want them. Instead, according to its pandemic plan, the community wanted to resupply and restructure its community centre. We did this with a $400,000 investment. There was a misunderstanding regarding the press release because the company issued the release hastily. The misunderstanding concerned when things would be done and the nature of what would be developed for the community.
Our department apologized to the community. We're continuing to proactively communicate with its members to ensure that the community can meet all its resupply needs.
When we act urgently, we may make mistakes. We must learn from them.
Thank you for the question.
I'm pleased to be here today.
Today I would like to that say I'm speaking to you from the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples from Oakville, Ontario.
With regard to your question, the council was established to provide advice on the federal government's work. The initiative seeks to ensure access to personal protective equipment and medical supplies in the context of the pandemic. Council members don't have a role in government procurement.
We've held only two meetings. During these meetings, we discussed a number of things.
One was the supply hub, which is a list of resources for purchasers and sellers on the Government of Canada's website.
The council doesn't have a role in contracts or discussions regarding contracts.
The things that we discussed today are on our website.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'm pleased we're having this meeting today as a result of the work of my colleague, MP Qaqqaq.
It is a very important meeting, and we need to get answers. Pukatawagan deserves answers.
Pukatawagan, or Mathias Colomb, is a remote first nation here in northern Manitoba. It has done everything in its power to keep its community safe, like many other first nations. In the midst of all of this, through the CBC news, Pukatawagan found out that a company n Newfoundland was making specialized tents for them that they never asked for. Imagine that.
Then they went on to find out, and we all went on to find out, that the chair of the board of the company that made these tents is a former Liberal cabinet minister on the government supply council for COVID-19, so the plot thickens.
The reality is that the excuse that ISC, Indigenous Services Canada, was trying to be proactive doesn't stand up to the test. Pukatawagan deserves answers. How is it that these tents were destined for this first nation when nobody asked for them?
Minister Miller, who in your department made this request on behalf of Pukatawagan? Why was it Pukatawagan and no other first nation, including other remote first nations here in Manitoba or elsewhere?
I believe my office has sent you the answer from our department.
We need to understand how surge capacity resourcing works, and as part of that we need to profile and model vulnerable communities. As you have highlighted and as the community has highlighted to our team, it is part of a number of vulnerable communities across Canada that have those vulnerabilities for unacceptable reasons.
As part of that, we need to establish procurement models and resources on a Canada-wide level. Mathias Colomb was named as part of a greater model in trying to understand what the needs would be, not only for the first wave but for a second or third wave. As you've heard in prior testimony but as I'm glad to reiterate, the press release from the company that was selected to provide these units was a little hasty and mischaracterized what these very important units are for, and as a result, the community was surprised.
That is not right, and I'll concede that. They had this pandemic—
If I can stop you there, you're not answering the questions, Mr. Miller.
Your letter in response to our letter did not provide any answers. You referenced first nations and leaders. You referenced.... There were generalities.
The reality is that here in our constituency, there are 21 remote first nations. Pukatawagan is one of them. Why was it Pukatawagan and no other community? Pukatawagan and all communities in our region deserve exact answers. Who made these requests from your department? I'm not interested in explanations about what surge capacity is. I understand. The reality is that Pukatawagan was singled out and, frankly, was used.
Could you please answer me this? Your government, after all of this scandal came out, finally confirmed and agreed to spending $449,460 to upgrade the youth centre in Pukatawagan as a way of having the community prepared for COVID-19. However, your government preferred to spend almost double that amount, $766,140.34, on these tents that nobody asked for, from a company that is chaired by a former Liberal cabinet minister.
How is it acceptable that your government benefited a Liberal and only then committed a mere half of the money to a community that's desperate to have the proper infrastructure in place? Does it take a scandal to get even half of the money that your government is committing to live up to the urgent needs of first nations?
I submit to you, Ms. Ashton, that this is not how procurement works. We were working with the community already to respond to their pandemic plan. Indeed, were you to ask them, they would say that they are—and I do not purport to speak for them—quite happy with the result right now, but that was something that was well in the works to the best of my understanding.
Again, the surge capacity nature of the procurement was such that these tents—which are very expensive movable structures with a medical purpose that can be used in many ways—are in very high demand in the communities that need them, which we respond proactively to.
Obviously we have to predict for second and third waves, and that's why that procurement occurs on a national scale. We're glad to work with communities that require any of these. The communities that have used them are quite happy. Obviously they're not happy with the conditions that create the need, but it's something that we need to continue moving forward with, and we will.
This issue affects not only health care, but also a number of other areas. When we look at the Constitution, the areas of jurisdiction and the method of providing social services—and crucial medical assistance—we sometimes see an overlap, but also occasionally shortcomings.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, despite efforts to leave no one behind, we sometimes saw a gap in access, particularly to personal protective equipment and nursing care. This is the responsibility of the federal crown, but also the provincial crown. It's a challenge, I'll give you that.
Take the example of a situation outside Quebec. In La Loche, Saskatchewan, the department proactively responded to the pandemic. A large proportion, or 90%, of the community members are indigenous people. However, the village isn't a reserve. Of course, the community had to coordinate efforts with the province and the surrounding Dene communities.
Rather than conflict, I prefer to speak about co-operation. We must co-operate, despite the philosophical discrepancies and differences that exist in the relationships with the provinces and territories. This is about the health of people living in Canada.
I partly agree with you. However, the lesson that I'm learning from this situation is that we need to better coordinate our efforts to provide the proper health care services that everyone should receive.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you again to Minister Miller and our procurement minister.
I want to first of all thank Minister Miller for some of the issues he's been involved with in helping northern B.C. I want to recognize your efforts there, Minister, and thank you for being a good person to contact and follow up.
I want to ask a question about PPE to the procurement minister. We've heard from many communities, especially our indigenous communities—and I have an example of one just north of my hometown—that they were left scrambling, once they had a few COVID cases, for things like masks, hand sanitizer and the like.
Members of the community had also understood that there was an emergency stockpile that they were to have access to, but it simply wasn't available when they needed it.
Do you acknowledge that there were shortages of PPE during the pandemic?
From the get-go, the challenge of getting personal protective equipment into communities—we had our own stockpile—had to do with logistics and in ensuring we had that link within communities and understood the needs and what the nursing stations needed.
The department has been pretty proactive and has been moving from a slower response time to a much quicker one. Clearly, communities have specific needs, and it takes work.
Have we experienced shortages? I would have to speak to my team about that, but generally, the response rate has been pretty quick. Where there have been misunderstandings, it has always been in the haste of trying to get things out and figuring it out afterward. I wouldn't qualify any challenges we've had as specifically related to indigenous communities, other than remoteness, but clearly this is something we're conscious of.
Sorry, Minister Miller, for interrupting, but I have just a limited amount of time.
I understand that is an answer from your perspective in Ottawa, and maybe the ministry has said to you that this was all available and that it was accessible, etc., but the reality on the ground was that it wasn't.
My question, as a follow-up, is a difficult one if it's currently understood that everything was going fine or has functioned fine with COVID: What is being done to correct those lag times in getting supplies?
As an example, a reserve in my community was needing supplies. Simply, they were scrambling and going to Walmart. I was even helping with some of the supplies and getting some of them at Walmart and different grocery stores to try to address the problem.
If that's the reality on the ground, what is being done so that doesn't happen again?
I think it goes back to what Minister Anand said about the NESS, the national emergency strategic stockpile. “Strategic” would mean that all these stockpiles of PPE are located in areas where they're accessible within a few hours, I would guess. If it isn't that way now, what is being done so that is the way it will be in the future?
Thank you. Matna
I'll start by saying that we are starting this late because we were still waiting on the ministers to come on, knowing full well we've been doing this for a number of weeks. We know how a sound check works. This is why we get online a half an hour before. These are very important questions to be answered. Exactly as has been said, we are looking at what needs to change and where we need to make improvements, where the Liberal government needs to make improvements.
I don't think it's fully appreciated what impression indigenous communities get when a Liberal insider is given a contract, yet so many of our basic requests go unanswered. Nunavut has only seven ventilators. We have valid testing in only two of the 25 communities. We don't have enough clean water. Tuberculosis is still rampant, and there are so many other things.
If SARS, H1N1 and COVID-19 aren't the right time to act on long-term investments for people, then when is the right time?
Minister Miller, I'll start there.
MP Qaqqaq, I will be very short with that. I will simply say that I agree with your statement. I think we need to take a really sober look at the needs, going forward, as to what the new normal is in massive infrastructure investments when we look at overcrowding.
Sure, I could tell you about the investments that the government has made since 2015, but you probably don't want to hear that, because that isn't the situation in communities that have overpopulation, which makes them more susceptible to tuberculosis. Those rates are unacceptable anywhere in the world, let alone in one of the best countries in the world. I think you're absolutely right in your observation.
I would simply say, in response to the point about a Liberal insider, that I have no knowledge of this person and I don't believe this person had any influence in any form of decision-making at all. I would just simply leave it at that, because I think your first point was exceedingly important.
Mr. Chair, if I may speak to that point of order, I completely appreciate Ms. Qaqqaq's point and Ms. Ashton's.
The issue is that Mr. Miller was on the call at 12 o'clock, but there were technical issues that prevented him from coming on. That is a system problem and not a problem of the minister being delayed. He was here on time, for the record. It was the connection that took that long.
In spite of that, I believe, from the government side, we've given up our time to ensure that in the normal course of an hour, the time that the NDP would have had was satisfied, as well as the time for the Bloc. I do think we've acted in fairness, and I do believe that we've fulfilled the requirements of the motion.
We have now paid off the costs of operating our COVID-19 response. Thank you very much to all.
We'll be in touch off-line via email with regard to issues coming forward, but at this time I want to once again thank all of our committee members for their work today. I thought it was really well done. I also thank our staff, our clerk, our analysts and all the people who support us.
The technical side is a very difficult thing, but we still need to at least train ourselves as to the proper and most efficient way of doing this. My technical apex was the steam locomotive, but I'm doing it, so everyone else should be able to manage the technical issues. Hopefully that will be cleaned up for the next time.
That ends our meeting for today. This meeting is now adjourned.