As the chair of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, I call this meeting to order. I'd like to welcome all to meeting number seven.
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 made available via the House of Commons website. During this meeting, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire committee.
In order to facilitate the work of our interpreters and ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow. 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 floor, English or French.
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During this meeting, we will follow the same rules that usually apply to opening statements and rounds of questioning of witnesses during our regular meetings. Each witness will have up to 10 minutes for an opening statement, followed by the usual rounds of questions from members.
Now I'd like to welcome our witnesses. From the Assembly of First Nations, we have National Chief Perry Bellegarde; from the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Natan Obed, the president; and from the Métis National Council, David Chartrand, vice-president and national spokesperson.
Chief Bellegarde, we are now ready to hear your opening statement for up to 10 minutes. Welcome.
Thank you to all the committee members and, as well, to all the people listening and managing to be safe by doing this call through Zoom. It's an amazing thing.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis for all of Canada as it is for the whole world. I wanted to acknowledge the work of all parties to co-operate and respond in a timely and effective way to deal with this issue. It's an extremely challenging time for everyone. The situation on the ground changes daily, and we're all still learning about how the spread of this disease is best contained.
This makes the context for policy development and funding decisions difficult at best, so we should all acknowledge that these are, indeed, challenging times. We also need to acknowledge the unique challenges facing first nations peoples, challenges that both create needs and all too often impair the ability of first nations governments to ensure the safety of their people. This pandemic presents the opportunity to build back better in all sectors, but we must be cautious that we don't move too fast, too quickly, and we also don't reopen economies too prematurely.
As of May 7, there were 164 confirmed cases on first nations reserves and another 17 in the territories. While the virus has been slower to reach first nations, the number of cases is rising daily. For reasons that I will get into in a minute, there is a reasonable concern that COVID-19 will have a disproportionately negative effect on first nations, as did the H1N1 virus in 2009.
I fear there are already far more cases among our people than we currently know. Unfortunately, largely due to gaps in coordination and information sharing with the federal government and the provinces and territories, first nations do not have access to reliable sources of information that track infections among first nations. This is just one way that COVID-19 affects first nations differently. Canada must take clear action in response to these distinct needs.
To inform this committee's study of the government's response from a first nations' perspective, the pandemic must be understood in the context of the socio-economic gap between first nations citizens and other Canadians. It's a gap I always talk about in terms of quality of life.
A recent analysis by Indigenous Services Canada, using 2016 census data and the United Nations human development index as a measure, reveals that Canada sits 12th in the world in terms of quality of life, but when you apply the same indices to our people, we measure 78th. It's 12 versus 78, and that's the gap that needs to be addressed.
The intensified risk is created by significantly higher rates of already compromised health among first nations and the unfortunate fact that so many first nations do not have adequate access to health care in their communities, or even close to their communities. These factors must be addressed on an emergency basis during this crisis but more fundamentally during the recovery period.
To understand first nations' vulnerability to this virus, we need to look at not just government delivery and funding of health care but also other services that impact community health. For example, due to overcrowded housing at seven times the rate of the rest of Canada, this virus will spread more quickly. The lack of clean water in so many first nations means that basic precautions like handwashing are more difficult to follow. There are 96 remote or fly-in first nations across Canada, so a shortage of reliable transportation means that people will have additional problems accessing care.
There are serious food security issues in many first nations, especially in the north, and the upcoming fire and flood seasons exacerbate an already difficult situation in these communities.
We also need to acknowledge the specific challenges faced by first nations governments in exercising their jurisdiction to respond to this crisis and plan for a recovery. For example, there's poverty among our people. We are the poorest people in the country when compared to other Canadians. Our businesses do not have the same access to financing or supports, and our governments don't have the same human and financial resources to respond fully.
The jurisdictions of first nations governments are not recognized or supported adequately, leading to a lack of coordination and gaps in the delivery of services. This is a good example to show more clearly why there's a need to make policing an essential service. Right now it's not an essential service in Canada, and that's something that should be recommended and implemented as soon as possible.
Canada's response must take all these unique factors into account. The fundamental principles of an effective government response to this crisis are the following: First nations must be included in all discussions relating to COVID-19; jurisdictional conflict, confusion and resistance to first nations' exercising our inherent jurisdictions must not stand in the way of ensuring that first nations citizens are protected; and first nations must be supported in exercising their authority and jurisdiction in meeting the health needs of their communities and in planning for recovery.
Last Friday, detailed for this committee the $740 million that Canada has made available for first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to respond to this crisis. We appreciate that these funds are scalable and based on need, but we need to see this funding greatly expanded, as the needs are many. Remember the 12 versus 78 gap.
Even with the indigenous fund, it provides welcome help to 6,000 of our businesses. There are actually 40,000 first nations businesses across Canada, so the funding commitments will leave many without help. This committee should also be aware that many of our businesses and citizens may not be able to access broader programs set up in response to this crisis due to unique circumstances that apply on reserve. Canada assures us that some of these details are still being worked out, but they're being considered without serious input from first nations and are being announced without any prior notification.
We have three requests, Mr. Chair.
First, first nations must have a seat at the table in designing any response that impacts us. Canada must engage first nations directly to properly address the circumstances that we face and to respect first nations jurisdiction. That includes a seat at any table addressing the current health crisis. Even in the future, when you start looking at reopening the economy, we must be at those tables.
This must also be the case with provincial governments. There are several situations where provincial governments' unilateral decisions have a direct negative impact on first nations. In northern Saskatchewan, for example, in La Loche, there are over a hundred-and-some cases, and they are expanding quickly. Certain officials there prevented citizens from travelling to grocery stores to get food. We all know that's not proper or right.
In northern Ontario, some municipalities are saying there's too much need through COVID-19, that communities are not going to be able to accept first nations people when they come out of the north for evacuations like in Saskatchewan. Thunder Bay has said that. Where do these people go? There have to be options.
Several provinces are refusing to respect lawful decisions by first nations governments' restricting traffic flow and gatherings, among other safety measures. There's a lack of respect when first nations say, “This is our jurisdiction, and we're saying you can't come in or out”. There are problems with people enforcing those laws as well.
A big historical issue is that provinces have regarded first nations as a federal responsibility, and provinces prioritize the needs of the citizens they represent. However, no first nations person, wherever they reside, should go without the supports needed to get through this crisis. These are unacceptable situations that put lives at risk, and they result from a refusal by provinces to respect first nations jurisdiction.
My second recommendation is that Canada must bring the premiers together with first nations leadership on an emergency basis to resolve these jurisdictional issues. Just as Jordan's principle made it clear that no first nations child should go without services, provide the services up front and work out who's responsible later on. It's the same principle going forward.
My third and final recommendation for this committee and for the ongoing study is that Canada's commitment to first nations self-determination must be matched by immediate and sustainable long-term support for first nations governance capacity. We cannot adequately protect citizens when funding for first nations governance is one-quarter of what other governments spend.
With those three recommendations, we can lay the foundation to avoid the challenges that future crises might bring, and support economic and social recovery from the current crisis. Just as the recession of 2009 disproportionately affected first nations' earnings, the socio-economic gap between first nations and other Canadians means that first nations will suffer more due to this pandemic.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be presenting here today to the committee, and it's good to see so many familiar faces.
As I've been introduced, I am Natan Obed, the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. I'm here to talk about the status of COVID-19 across Inuit Nunangat and for Inuit generally. Right now, our status sits in stark contrast to most of the rest of the country, which can be largely attributed to the public health responses that were implemented immediately and, of course, the remoteness of our 51 communities. To date, there have been only 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19 detected within Inuit Nunangat, and that is across four jurisdictions and 51 communities. Of those 17 cases, all individuals have now recovered.
We've been successful so far in protecting our communities from COVID-19, despite substantial long-term gaps between Inuit and other Canadians on key health measures, which have created unique and considerable vulnerability to both infection with SARS-CoV-2 and to the development of severe COVID-19 cases. The success to date is a testament to the efficacy of the governance structures that are in place across Inuit Nunangat and also the relationships that we now have with the federal government, with the provinces and territories and also within the self-determination of Inuit leadership, from Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region. It shows what can be achieved when Inuit self-determination and strong partnerships with governments work together for a common concern and a common goal.
Prior to COVID-19, we have generally experienced greater adverse socio-economic conditions compared with non-indigenous Canadians. This is seen in statistics such as our average life expectancy, which is about 10.5 years less than that of all other Canadians. Also, our families live in more crowded homes and are less food secure. Our overcrowding rate is at about 52% as of 2020.
Our access to health care is also highly constrained. Most of our health systems are conducted in our communities through health centres that are staffed by nurses, and our regions are basically referral structures to southern care for major illnesses within hospital. We also suffer tuberculosis at a rate of 300 times the non-indigenous Canadian rate. Our respiratory illnesses, above and beyond tuberculosis, are similar in many ways to COVID-19 and continue to plague our communities, despite our ongoing efforts to see not only tuberculosis but RSV and other respiratory illnesses eradicated in our communities.
The current physical distancing measures, travel restrictions and reduced services have seriously impacted Inuit incomes, communities and businesses. The current air transportation circumstances are unsustainable. The annual resupply, including the sealift shipments during the four-to-five-month ice-free season, is definitely going to be impacted. Even though we have assurances from all parties involved, as of today, that the season is going ahead, we know it is not going to be a normal season. We rely very heavily on ports like Montreal, and also on Churchill, Manitoba, to provide staging areas so that we can have all the non-perishable items in our communities resupplied in any given year. The ability of individuals and businesses to place orders has already been impacted, and warehouses in the south, which would typically start to fill up by now, are sitting nearly empty. This will have a direct impact on businesses and households in this and future years.
I want to touch on three key priority areas. The first is in relation to increased public health measures to prevent the circulation of COVID-19 in our communities, specifically in relation to testing and adequate water and sewage. Improving access to testing and reducing delays in test results remain key concerns across our regions, specifically when it comes to reopening our economy and having trust in our transportation networks, and also in our response within our small, isolated communities.
The Cepheid GeneXpert testing platform is a U.S.-based testing platform. We have used it historically to test for TB in a much quicker way than sending sputum samples south, but it is now being used to test for COVID-19. There are a few of these machines in our communities, but we need more access to the testing cartridges and wider access to the test machines themselves if there continue to be setbacks with the Spartan Bioscience cube. We are very thankful that the Government of Canada has put Inuit, northern and rural communities at the front of the queue, when it comes to these point-of-care tests.
Also, in relation to adequate water and sewer services, one of the big public health measures is washing hands frequently, but in some of our communities there is a lack of access to water and sewer services in real time. Infrastructure investments and a commitment to ongoing funding is therefore needed to support water and sewers in the longer term.
The second priority is maintaining capacity for the COVID-19 response. We're transitioning now into extended public health measures and travel restrictions. We also know that to have effective and sustainable Inuit-centred social protection initiatives, we need to ensure that individuals and families don't fall through the cracks. This means that additional investments to support community-led initiatives for reducing residential crowding and increasing access to and support for shelters and transitional housing, as outlined in our Inuit Nunangat housing strategy, are very important. Also, expanding access to mental health and addictions services, as outlined in our national Inuit suicide prevention strategy is very important at this time as well.
We need to continue toward strong health systems. This includes strengthening health human resourcing, laboratory services, infection control and virtual care in response to COVID-19. Proactive measures should be taken by the federal government to identify and minimize impacts on Inuit from predicted shortages in essential medical supplies, personal protective equipment, and drugs and vaccines, including those required for TB and other preventable communicable diseases.
All of our interventions must be evidence-based, globally informed and Inuit-specific. We also want timely access to Inuit-specific data. This will be critical for informing the responses by both the public government and our Inuit organizations, and for understanding the impact of the COVID-19 disease and the pandemic on Inuit living both within and outside Inuit Nunangat.
As of May 6, detailed case information was only available for 53% of reported COVID-19 cases in Canada. Data sharing across jurisdictions has long been a challenge for Inuit, and if we value evidence-based decision-making, now is the time to have more specific data that we can use for our population. The federal government should require provincial and territorial compliance with detailed case reporting on COVID-19, including identifying whether an individual with COVID-19 is first nations, Inuit or Métis.
Our final priority is financial assistance for immediate economic needs. This is a major consideration. We need an Inuit Nunangat approach across the federal government to funding programs aimed at providing immediate and near-term COVID-19-related financial assistance. This means that a lens that has sometimes been applied in the past for a northern fund or an Atlantic Canada fund or a Quebec fund should not be used with us. Our regions get caught up in the messiness of the federal administration's different administrative structures. We are a homogeneous population and require a very specific response.
We have developed a strategic options paper that we have presented to the committee today. In it there are some key points, such as direct Inuit-specific support for businesses; a commitment by the federal government to support major Inuit development projects; an Inuit Nunangat supplement for Inuit eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit; and a supplement to support post-secondary students and other educational supports. There are a number of other things, especially in relation to the airline industry and the immediate concern that we have about the sustainability of these essential services. I encourage you to read that.
A final consideration is that any successful response to COVID-19 in relation to Inuit must be evidence-based, globally informed and Inuit-specific, as I said. Our reality is very different from the rest of Canada and our best path through this pandemic is to ensure the Government of Canada's response to COVID-19 in Inuit communities is specifically developed with Inuit and for Inuit, based on the best available knowledge and the inclusivity of all Inuit communities and regions, whether they're in territories or provinces.
Let me compliment you on pronouncing ITK because I can't say it to my old friend Natan. There are so many different times that I've tried.
I want to start off quickly, before I do my presentation, with this. I'm a leader who likes to speak right off the cuff. I don't really read speeches, but I have no choice. This is a standing committee so I have to make a presentation. I want you to visualize this when you're dealing with the Métis. What you hear from Perry and Natan are the challenges that they face, and what systems and structures they have in place.
Last week you had three ministers here, plus you had FNIHB, first nations and Inuit health branch, and they said to you point blank, the Métis are under federal jurisdiction. When it comes to a province, “Sorry, you're under federal jurisdiction”—that's what happens to us.
I really want you to picture this. We have 400,000 Métis in western Canada. In Manitoba alone, I have 80 villages and all the rest are in urban centres, where my people live half and half, 50% each way. We don't have one clinic. We don't have one nursing station. We have zero—nothing. Imagine from that perspective what I'm challenged with and what we, the Métis Nation, are challenged with, with the pandemic, yet we pay billions of dollars in taxes every year both nationally and provincially. We pay over $400 million or $500 million in Manitoba. Just think about it for a second and picture our situation.
Let me start off again, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much for allowing me to speak here today. I'm speaking to you from the homeland of the Métis Nation of Manitoba. Of course, the study on what response we will be doing to COVID is going to be a continuing challenge for all of us. In our discussion on March 13, the assured me there would be distinct funding for the Métis Nation. That's fundamental. It's very important. It has to be there or we will be left in the dust and blackened out of the process.
On March 25, the federal government provided $30 million for the Métis Nation COVID-19 emergency response plan. The $30 million is enabling the Métis National Council's governing members or provincial affiliates to provide immediate supports to Métis Nation citizens, families and seniors. They have developed and are rolling out action plans, providing immediate supports such as food, income, supplies and rent supplements. Thousands of our elders across our homeland in western Canada have been contacted and are being assured of and have been provided with assistance while staying in their homes. In fact, in Manitoba, we did over 3,000 hampers already.
I greatly appreciate Canada's rapid response to help our citizens and families in times of crisis. At the same time, the health emergency has exposed the particular vulnerability and disadvantages of the 400,000 strong Métis Nation population. It has highlighted the distressing fact that neither level of government has taken responsibility to address the deep-seated health conditions of the Métis people in Canada. At the federal level, we are excluded from resources from the first nations and Inuit health branch, and this continues during this pandemic, even after, if you remember, in 2015, the Daniels decision came down, where it made it very clear that the federal government has fiduciary responsibility for the Métis. Still, to this day, even during this pandemic, the first nations health branch is saying, “No, you're not under our jurisdiction.”
and appeared before you last Friday and informed this committee on how much PPE was distributed to indigenous communities, the strategy, of course, and the health supplies. What they obviously did not tell you is that none of this was distributed to the Métis community. In fact, in Manitoba, we've been forced to purchase our own directly from China. We have shipments coming in as we speak, but it's a very risky venture when you're putting hundreds of thousands of dollars outside your country and hoping it's going to come back with your product. We have no choice as neither level of government has provided access to those important pandemic supplies.
I want to thank this committee for recognizing the Métis community in northern Saskatchewan, La Loche. I heard Perry Bellegarde reference La Loche. That's a Métis community with a large Métis population. They say it's Dene, but there's a large Métis population there. The neighbouring band is Clearwater River Dene Nation band. In fact, the Métis national president's son is the chief of that reserve.
Perry raised this, and it's not in my speech, but it's interesting that he raised it. When you look at La Loche, you see that the first case came on April 15 or 17. If you look at the band, you see they have 12. The Métis community has 117 cases, because there was no plan. That's just how fast it is that the one with a plan can maybe stop it, and in the one without a plan, it takes off.
This pandemic is reaching hundreds of people and affecting those in the communities of Buffalo Narrows, Île-à-la-Crosse and Beauval this spring. Those are all Métis villages I reference. In speaking to one of the leaders in the affected community, it is clear that there was no set plan by the province or the federal government—because both were arguing over who was responsible—to address the crisis that occurred in the Métis community because of jurisdictional debate.
At the provincial level, despite our staggering chronic illnesses, the province tells us to deal with the federal government to deal with our unique health conditions and needs. Our pandemic plans have been limited to providing income and food supports. In British Columbia, for example, this has included supports for families with children in school to access online educational supports.
In Manitoba, we've created our own isolation units to ensure that anyone who needs a safe place to stay during the pandemic can stay in these isolation units. Why have we done that? We have overcrowding, just like Inuit and just like with the first nations. We have 10 people in a two-bedroom, so how do you isolate with 10 people in two bedrooms? We bought tiny homes, isolation units, and we created our own off the communities.
Our pandemic plan has been limited by a lack of access to Métis health care services. Despite all health research that shows how important it is to have culturally competent and safe health care, Métis have been shut out of the provincial and federal health care systems. As I mentioned, in Manitoba we created over a hundred isolation units but have been unable to secure any health care workers. We have had no partnership with a health care provider, and we actually had to search for and find a health care provider virtually from Ontario. It shows, even in this pandemic, how vulnerable we are in the health care field.
We had proposed a new approach to the Métis health care in budget 2019 and again this year for budget 2020, an approach that would see federal investments to Métis health care that would assist the Métis nation in transforming the provincial health care system to allow us to establish Métis health care hubs in each province in western Canada. Our health care proposal would also enable us to meet the non-insured health care needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
It is our hope that this budget proposal will be supported, and we believe that the proposed new federal legislation, indigenous health care legislation, will correct this inequity. In the meantime, we must be vigilant in ensuring that the resources to cope with the COVID crisis are available to Métis governments as the situation evolves. They are all the more important, given our lack of access to health care resources.
I want to touch on Canada's support for small business, because you referenced it last week with the three ministers. This is of particular importance to our people. We have the highest rate of self-employment of all indigenous peoples. We are grateful for the investments made by the Government of Canada to support small and mid-size businesses. Our Métis Nation capital corporations, which make loans to our entrepreneurs, have paused the loan payments at this time to support those clients during this period of business interruption. They are working with their clients to keep them afloat. We're telling our businesses that they don't have to pay their loans right now. We'll keep them afloat for six months, they don't pay, and then we'll come back.
Their clients will need additional bridge loans to make it through the shutdown. The Government of Canada is proposing to support our Métis capital corporations to meet the needs of their clients, but it is proposing to base the amount of support on the overall value of each capital corporation's loan, not the volume of loans that are out there. The reason I say that to you is so you'll capture it. It's a little complicated, and I have to get briefed over and over.
The way they're approaching this matter is that they're going by volume. If you had a million-dollar loan, then you can have a higher ratio given to you, but your only cap is at $40,000. On the smaller loans, we have hundreds and hundreds of them that exist out there, so we're saying go by volume of loans to keep the small businesses alive, not by gross volume, because this way you're only supporting a few businesses. We're debating that with Canada right now.
This does not work for us in Manitoba, as our capital corporations have hundreds of small loans supporting smaller Métis businesses. Our entrepreneurs are very anxious, which may force them to make decisions like selling equipment and abandoning leases, which they would not otherwise do if they knew there was backstop financing available to get them through this rough period. Most also have difficulty accessing credit from conventional lenders, which is why we established the Métis capital corporations decades ago.
The proposal by the Government of Canada to base its support for our capital corporation in Manitoba does not reflect the needs of our small Métis businesses in Manitoba, and we urge the committee to support our request to change the supports to reflect the number of entrepreneurs who require support, and not use a gross mechanism.
I realize that the ministers, the members of this committee, and indeed all of us who represent Canadians at this time are facing unprecedented demands, pressures and anxieties, and I'm sure you're hearing it loud and clear from all three leaders.
I urge this committee to support our request for greater inclusion in the health care system going forward and for support for our Métis small business sector. This pandemic has shown us what systemic discrimination can do and shows the weakness in our health care system.
We look forward to working with you to transform the health care system and hope this is reflected in new indigenous health legislation in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to speak here today.
If I can, Mr. Chair, I'll add on to Jaime's question.
I was quite surprised by Gary's question because I think it's a wrong approach to the question. First of all, I wanted to commend him personally because he's the only one that raised the Métis issue, the Métis Nation. After the fact of what is happening in La Loche and all the Métis villages, he's the only one that raised the Métis. Everybody used the word “indigenous”. For all the people on this committee, please do not use that word because you confuse it all. The testing he's talking about, there is no testing in Métis villages. It's only happening now, after the fact. There was no plan, no strategy to do any testing in our villages, and there's no systemic plan in any fashion. We're having a big fight right now in Manitoba because the province is doing first nations data collection. They say they're doing Métis collection, but there's no dialogue with the Métis government whatsoever. When people use the word “indigenous”, they confuse it to look like all of us are getting it. We're not.
To your question, Jaime, we have a very robust communications strategy in Manitoba. We have our own radio show. We have 50,000 listeners on there. We have our own website. We have over 100,000 people coming to our website. We have 25,000 emails that are going out steady to our citizens, advising them potentially every second day of what's going on in government. Our robust communications strategy is very strong. We have about 125,000 Métis in Manitoba.
On the context of where things are moving forward, I think the challenge we face is that Canada has these programs coming out, and they are good. Trust me, they are very good. One of the things I'll commend the on—and I'll hold him to task if necessary—is that the Métis Nation.... You heard Natan say the same thing: distinctions-based, distinctions-based, distinctions-based. That's the only way you can measure success and failures. You have to know who you're talking to and who you're dealing with.
I think those programs that are being announced by Canada are a great opportunity for all of us to tap into. We need to figure out how we get it out as quickly as we can. That's our challenge.
I don't see Perry on the screen, so I'll jump ahead of him.
There you go, Perry. I have to get ahead of you, man.
Anyway, I thank Leah for that question, and let me answer this way: It truly is an important prospect, and I think that is what is shown, again, when I talk about the lack of proper planning.
When you look at the northern part of Saskatchewan, I was speaking to Leonard, who is the local leader of the Métis nation there. He himself is actually already putting $300,000 of investment into that area to support the things you talked about: the food and supplies and keeping people in their houses, trying to prevent them from walking out of their houses and going to events and potentially passing it even further. Therefore, there are a lot of attempts being made, and already a team.... You heard Perry say that the mayors are meeting, along with the local leaders. The mayor also happens to be the local president of the Métis in La Loche.
When you look at it from the concept there, the strategy we all need to take now, the province and the federal government as well, is to set aside jurisdictions for a second and focus on a war, because this is a war. We need to bring in your team and bring it in quickly, because we start to see Beauval, where there used to be one case and now there are eight. It's slowly drifting into these other Métis villages and the first nation reserves farther in the north. When it moves there, it's going to be very hard to contain and hold back.
We need to act now, no holds barred. Do not hold anything back. Whatever it costs, whatever we have to do, let's stop it before it spreads, because it will cost you 20 times that amount in the future or it will cause a lot of deaths before action is taken.
The strategy we need right now is for somebody to move in with a very full, comprehensive plan, not a band-aid approach, not just saying, “Okay, let's just look at it this way or that way.” We need to take a full pandemic approach and get in there now and do everything within our power. Pull it back. Stop it. If you have to put in legislation, or if decisions are holding people back....
We know there are alcohol problems and drug problems in the community; that, we all know. We have to figure out how we capture that group of people and help them and isolate them.
That's what has to be done. We have to look at it within that concept.
First of all, I want to say thank you so much, wela'lin
, to all of the gentlemen who have presented. We're talking about really important stuff today. It's very interesting.
It's wonderful to see Nunavut COVID-free and to see your community there celebrating on television for that incredible milestone. It's wonderful and so uplifting. It would be nice if we could all learn from what you've done.
Here in Nova Scotia we have a number of cases. So far we're doing pretty well in Millbrook First Nation, which is in my community, but I'm always concerned because during the last epidemic we had, which was H1N1, I was actually in government at the time here in Nova Scotia. We were telling folks that pregnant women and first nations people needed to be inoculated first because it was easy for them to get that particular virus. I was shocked at the racism that this brought up, when people were complaining that our first nations people were able to get in line and be inoculated first. I'm aware of racism, of course, but that really blew me away and I was so disgusted.
As Chief Bellegarde mentioned, there are so many things we need to look at on a larger scale, and COVID-19 just brings out certain things and puts a spotlight on certain things that are already happening.
One thing I'm interested in asking you about is the personal protective equipment. On May 1, the told the committee that $59.8 million had been used so far to purchase personal protective equipment and to support emergency preparedness for the communities, and noted that the funding is in addition to the $80 million for health emergency preparedness announced in budget 2019. However, prior to the pandemic, did the department consult indigenous communities and organizations about the types and quantities of protective equipment and essential supplies that might be needed in the department's stockpile?
Also, I'm just curious as to how long, on average, it takes for remote and isolated communities to receive the orders that they need of personal protective equipment from the department.
I'm not sure which one of you would like to respond.
Thank you very much, Bob, for that.
Let me say this. From our perspective, testing is clearly—you're absolutely right—one of the keys to solving this or helping to at least curb it in some form or fashion. There's definitely not enough testing taking place across the country. When you look at it from the Métis side—I use MMF, and I've been the president there for 22 years. You look at Manitoba, for example. There are over 125,000 of us here and there is no testing, I'm sorry to say, Bob, in our communities. There's no plan, there's no.... I don't know why. Are they waiting for it to take off and then try to rush in after the fact? That's so damaging. That's after the fact. Prevention is the key.
On the economy side, we definitely have our own economic strategy. We are going to be hiring hundreds of people across the province shortly. Every strategy will have a COVID built-in concept established, whether it's in housing construction or summer student jobs for our youth. We're going to hire thousands of people, without question. Even the students alone, we usually hire about 500 to 600 throughout the summer. We're still planning to do that.
We're going to build hundreds of houses in the province, so we definitely know we need to have a COVID plan. We're doing a bunch of housing repairs worth $1.5 million. About 100 houses, private homes, will be applying for that. You'll get about two or three workers per every house. You start adding that up and you're talking about 300 workers there.
We're having a plan and we're.... The missing link is the co-operative attachment of how we do it. How do we do it as indigenous governments, and how do we do it with provincial and federal governments? How do we work together on it? If they're not working with us, let me tell you, I'm going ahead anyway because my people need jobs and they need security, but they need to be safe. We are building our own strategy in our own government and moving forward. We're making the message strong and clear.
That's a very important question. What's so beautiful about the indigenous culture, in particular my culture—I'll speak, of course, of the Métis nation—is that the elders always come first. That's the number one priority of our systems.
In fact, when COVID was being discussed throughout the media in December, we started talking within our own nation about what we were going to be doing if this ever came to North America. We started reacting very quickly. We were on the phones regularly, steadily, catching the attention of every elder. In Manitoba alone, we contacted over 1,500 elders. They knew the state of their finances, their health.
We also own a pharmacy here in Manitoba, so we made sure that all their prescriptions were intact and in place. We made sure that hampers were delivered to them. We did not want them to leave their houses. We knew they'd be the first and most susceptible to probably losing their lives if they became infected. Our action was very quick in Manitoba with how we took on this case.
It's the same way amongst others in the Métis nation. In our culture, it's fundamental.
As the previous speaker said, there are some key conditions that we face. Canada, for example, takes the position right now, “You're not our jurisdiction”, even though we won a Supreme Court case in 2015. We will hold them accountable for that. Trust me.
On the second phase, we just finished building our first elder campus. We have 10 units built: brand new homes. Let me tell you what I'm proud of as a Métis government. We are going to charge the cheapest rent for everything, intact—cheaper than the Government of Manitoba—for our senior citizens to move in there. They're all quality built to meet the needs of the aging population. I'll give you an example: The plug-ins are higher. If they have a wheelchair, they can go to the stove. Their washrooms are all designed for a wheelchair to move around in there. Their bedrooms are accessible. Everything about the house is designed for them as they age.
We're building seniors homes right across the province.
As I said, I do commend you, Gary. You're the first one to raise the Métis name and the whole issue of the media in northern Saskatchewan. It was always indigenous, indigenous, indigenous, and the concept that there was a crisis happening in the Métis community was getting lost.
When you look at the young population—and I was speaking to Leonard, for example, an elected official for the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan out there who lives in the community, and, as I said, the mayor is actually the president of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan. When you look at it overall, there has to be a dual strategy, and that is a challenge. Young people feel they're invincible. We're trying to educate our people. Even, for example, in Manitoba, we have an education campaign aimed at our young people. We're trying to say to them, “if you don't think it's going bother you, and you're not going to die or it's not going to affect you, then ask yourself how you are going to carry yourself if it's your grandpa who dies or your grandma who dies because you thought you were invincible?” So we're trying to educate our people that it's not just about one person; it's about our community, about our family.
We're putting out a strong campaign in Manitoba, and I know Leonard and others are trying to do the same in La Loche. It's a challenging issue, but I think it's an achievable issue. I think we can definitely solve it. It goes to the concept we were talking about earlier: set aside jurisdictions; set aside differences. Right now let's focus on people and figure out how we get inside there and begin to work as a team. As Gary said, they're already talking as a team. How do we bring all the tools necessary to convince these young people that even though they're invincible in their minds, they can cause so much harm to their own personal self? And I use “personal” because if you say it's personal, then it might carry some weight of responsibility in that. If you say “somebody else” they might not care, but if it's their grandpa and grandma, they are going to care.
We're pushing that very hard right now because we think that's the only way we can really educate the people. It has to be a campaign. It has to be a dual and mutual campaign, with everybody working together. Set aside everybody's jurisdiction, whether you're a mayor or whether you're a chief or whether you're a local Métis leader. Set aside those issues right now. Whether you're provincial or federal government, come on, get off your heinies about who is responsible. Let's get together. Let's stop this thing before it takes off.