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View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Before getting into my remarks, I would like to, first of all, thank members of the committee for their work over the last month studying Bill C-92 and the proposed amendments. The amendments accepted last week from all sides strengthened this bill. As many of you know, I was glad to see that it passed third reading last night unanimously. Thank you very much. Your hard work on this was really appreciated.
A vital component of our government's renewed relationship with indigenous peoples is our commitment to take action and dismantle the colonial structures of the past. Since the Prime Minister's announcement on August 28, 2017, my officials and Minister Bennett's officials have been working hard to establish the necessary structures and processes to make this transformation a reality.
In 2019-20, we look forward to dissolving Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and in its place creating Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada as one department and Indigenous Services Canada as another. This change will better enable the government to continue its work on a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. It better positions the government to build that relationship while closing the socio-economic gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people and improving the quality of life for first nations, Inuit and Métis people. It finally responds to a very clear recommendation by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
Our focus at Indigenous Services Canada is working with partners to improve access to high-quality services for indigenous people. Our vision is to support and empower indigenous peoples to independently deliver services and address socio-economic conditions in their communities as they move forward on the path to self-determination.
As Minister of Indigenous Services, I am continuing the important work of improving the quality of services delivered to first nations, Inuit and Métis. This includes ensuring a consistent, high-quality and distinctions-based approach to the delivery of these services. A rigorous results and delivery approach is being adopted, focused on improving outcomes for indigenous people. Over time it is our goal that indigenous peoples will directly deliver programs and services to their peoples. We are working with partners to do this. I am working my way out of a job.
I would like to turn your attention to the reason that I am here today. I am now pleased to present to you my department's main estimates for 2019-20, which would total $12.3 billion if approved by Parliament. The 2019-20 main estimates reflect a net increase of about $2.9 billion, or 32%, compared to last year's main estimates. The net increase in budgetary spending primarily reflects the continuation of our investments in budgets 2016, 2017 and 2018 and in our most recent budget: all in all, investments totalling $21.3 billion to support stronger indigenous communities and to improve socio-economic outcomes.
Here are a few examples of where this year's increase will help.
There is $404.1 million in renewed funding for Jordan's principle: supporting children who need orthodontics, medical transportation, respite, land-based culture camps, medical supplies and equipment, educational assistance, mentorship, wheelchair ramps, vehicles, nutritional supplements.
There is an increase of $481.5 million for the first nations water and waste-water enhanced program, improving monitoring and testing of on-reserve community drinking water, and building on investments that have not only led to the lifting of 85 long-term drinking water advisories since 2015, but that also keep us on track to lift all LTDWAs by March 2021.
There will be an increase of $357.9 million related to non-insured health benefits for first nations people and Inuit.
There will be an increase of $324.8 million for infrastructure projects in indigenous communities.
There is an increase of $317 million for the first nations child and family services program, ensuring the actual costs of first nations child and family services agencies are covered fully, but also supporting initiatives to keep children and families together.
There is an increase of $300.2 million for first nations elementary and secondary education, supporting a renewed approach for K-to-12 education on reserve as co-developed by us and the Assembly of First Nations.
There is an increase of $113.6 million to build healthier first nations and Inuit communities, including our work to eliminate tuberculosis in Inuit Nunangat by 2030.
And there is an increase of $101.1 million to advance the new fiscal relationship with first nations under the Indian Act.
These investments continue to build on the work we have already done to foster a renewed relationship based on respect, co-operation and partnership. Together with indigenous partners, we are working hard to improve the quality of life for first nations, Inuit and Métis people. Through budget 2019, we are making investments in first nations and Inuit health, social development, education and infrastructure.
In addition to Jordan's principle and ensuring first nations children now receive the services they need when they need them, our investments in the child first initiative ensure that Inuit children have access to the essential government-funded health, social and educational products, services and supports that they need when they need them.
Budget 2019 proposes an investment of $220 million over five years to the Inuit-specific child first initiative, which will address the immediate needs of Inuit children. This investment would also support the ongoing work among the Government of Canada, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Inuit regions, and provinces and territories to develop a long-term Inuit-specific approach to better address the unique health, social and education needs of Inuit children.
There are also new investments to address urgent health and wellness needs to reduce suicide rates in Inuit communities. In order to deal with the ongoing suicide crisis in the Inuit communities, $5 million has been set aside to support the national Inuit suicide prevention strategy.
The government is also making unprecedented new investments in indigenous post-secondary education, including 2019's proposal for $327.5 million over five years to renew and expand funding for the post-secondary student support program while the government engages with first nations on the development of integrated regional education strategies.
There is $125.5 million over 10 years, and $21.8 million ongoing to support an Inuit-led post-secondary strategy, and $362 million over 10 years, and $40 million ongoing to support a Métis Nation strategy.
Starting this fiscal year, a new transfer to first nations communities, entitled “Grant to support the new fiscal relationship for First Nations under the lndian Act”, more commonly known as the 10-year grant, has been implemented.
More than 250 first nations expressed interest in the 10-year grant; 103 first nations were determined to be eligible based on criteria that we co-developed with first nations partners. They have received an offer, and I am happy to say that 83 first nations have now signed 10-year grant agreements.
The new grant, representing $1.5 billion, is funded through the existing programs of Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, which are primarily related to education, social development, infrastructure, and first nations and Inuit health programs.
To ensure that the 10-year grants grow with the needs of first nations, budget 2019 proposes that starting April 1, 2020, funding for core programs and services provided through the 10-year grants will be escalated to address key cost drivers, including inflation and population growth. The 10-year grant provides communities with the flexibility and predictability needed to support effective and independent long-term planning. This initiative is a key part for establishing a new fiscal relationship that moves towards sufficient, predictable and sustained funding for first nations communities.
Last, I think it's imperative for me to highlight the work of everyone involved in making progress on our commitment to end long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserve by March, 2021. Since 2015, a total of 85 long-term drinking water advisories have been lifted, and 126 short-term drinking water advisories were lifted before becoming long term. We are well on our way to meeting our commitment. This will be aided through the 2019-20 main estimates by an additional $66.7 million proposed by budget 2019, which has been dedicated to keeping us on track. I am extremely proud of this, as all Canadians should have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water.
We have made, and are continuing to make, important changes in the government's relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis people. While there is still a lot of work to do, our government's historic investments are making a difference in closing the gaps that exist, and improving the quality of life for indigenous peoples.
I'd now be happy to answer any questions that the committee may have.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Thank you, Madame Chair and colleagues, for the invitation to appear before the committee today to speak to these important and necessary changes to child and family services for first nations, Inuit and Métis people.
Allow me to start by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
Today my team and I are joined together and will be glad to answer questions shortly.
Protecting and promoting the well-being of indigenous children and families should be the foremost priority of the federal government and governments across Canada. However, that has not always been the case.
Every day in Canada, indigenous children are separated from their families, communities, languages and cultures. Too many indigenous children end up in care away from their communities. These already vulnerable children are forcibly taken from their homes without their parents' consent and all too often are deprived of their culture and identity, as well as the community supports that ensure their long-term well-being.
I think we can all agree that the current system does not work for indigenous children and families and that we cannot perpetuate the status quo in a child and family services system that has been rightly called a humanitarian crisis. Something is seriously wrong when indigenous children represent only 7.7% of all children under age 15 and yet make up 52% of children in care in this country.
Paternalistic policies keep these children isolated from the people they love. Too many young lives have been severely damaged and, in some cases, tragically lost.
This is precisely why Bill C-92 takes an entirely different approach. We have before us a bill that represents a set of national priorities that the government and indigenous groups worked on together, principles that put the child first; that enshrine the importance of culture, community, family and the well-being of that child; and that uphold the dignity of the family and of the child in any dealings with the child and family services system.
Our vision is of a system where indigenous peoples are in charge of their own child and family services, something we recognize should have been the case a long time ago.
Bill C-92 will finally put into law what indigenous peoples across the country have been asking of governments for decades: that their inherent jurisdiction be recognized and affirmed.
Should Bill C-92 be adopted, indigenous communities could exercise partial or full jurisdiction over child and family services. Because a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, it would be up to indigenous peoples to tailor the system to match the needs of their communities, and we are committed to working with individual communities to make sure those services are tailored to meet their needs.
The bill flows from an intensive period of engagement with first nations, Inuit and Métis leaders, communities and individuals, as well as the provinces and territories.
Since the emergency meeting convened by my predecessor in January 2018, there have been extensive meetings and consultations across the country in an effort to get this right. Even in the weeks preceding the introduction of this bill, we were incorporating the suggestions of indigenous groups and provincial and territorial partners.
For me, the truest sense of our efforts came from a statement by Senator Murray Sinclair that our approach “should serve as a model for implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Call-to-Actions in a meaningful and direct way.”
That doesn't mean the conversation starts there or stops there. There are no closed doors to our indigenous partners or the provinces and the territories. This bill and the children it aims to protect are only served if we collaborate and ensure their best interests.
Also, I am not suggesting that we've achieved perfection with this legislation. I am the first to admit there is still room for improvement, and I welcome this committee's input.
Bill C-92 is built on what indigenous peoples and child development experts have told us is required to protect children—to get them off to a good start in life. Under this act, indigenous child and family services will put the child first, consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's calls to action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This legislation sets out principles to ensure indigenous children and their families will be treated with dignity, and that their rights will be preserved. For instance, children could not be taken into care based on socio-economic conditions alone, as is often the case now. Instead of responding solely to crises, Bill C-92 prioritizes prevention. lt promotes things like prenatal care and support for parents. Both front-line workers and academics have told us that preventative care is the best predictor of child success and positive development. If circumstances dictate that interventions are needed, an indigenous child would only be apprehended when it is in the child's best interests, and priority would be given to placement with the child's own family or community, and with or near the child's siblings.
Under Bill C-92, when an indigenous group or community wishes to exercise their jurisdiction over child and family services and have their law prevail over federal, provincial and territorial laws, the Minister of lndigenous Services Canada and the government of each province and territory in which they are located will enter into three-way discussions around a coordination agreement. If an agreement is reached within 12 months following the request, the laws of the indigenous group or community would have force of law as federal law, and prevail over federal, provincial and territorial child and family services law. If no agreement is reached within 12 months, but reasonable efforts are made to do so, the indigenous law will also have force of law as federal law. ln practical terms this means that, should a government not act in good faith during the negotiation of a coordination agreement after 12 months of negotiations, indigenous child and family services law would have precedence over provincial law.
To promote a smooth transition and implementation of Bill C-92, Canada will explore the creation of distinctions-based transition governance structures. The co-developed governance structures would identify tools and processes to increase the capacity of communities as they assume responsibility over child and family services. We also know that funding needs to be part of the equation for this act to have maximum impact. We cannot presume that the funding models that have supported the current, broken system will be what indigenous groups want while exercising their jurisdiction. Those models and levels should be discussed and designed through the Bill C-92 coordination agreement process.
We pledge to work with partners to identify long-term needs and funding gaps. We are committed to strengthening the bill as it makes its way through Parliament. lt is essential that we work collaboratively and effectively to get this done. The necessity for this legislation goes well beyond partisan considerations—something I think we all understand and agree on. What matters is that at long last we are taking substantive action to overhaul the system, moving away from paternalistic policy failures of the past.
Bill C-92 is a concrete demonstration of our collective determination to forge a renewed relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples, one built on respect and the recognition and affirmation of rights. This proposed legislation is designed for a better future for indigenous children, for their families, and for the communities the bill promises to support and protect.
Ultimately, that is a better future for all of us, and for that, I hope I can count on your support.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
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