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View Bernard Valcourt Profile
Mr. Chair, first of all, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to appear before the committee of the whole to discuss the main estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for the fiscal year 2015-16.
Since 2006, our government has been honouring its commitment to foster the emergence of first nations and northern communities that are strong, healthy and self-sufficient. I am pleased to announce that our approach is producing results. By working with our aboriginal and northern partners across our great country, making carefully targeted investments, introducing legislation that enables first nations to overcome the constraints of the Indian Act, settling claims and signing self-government agreements, we are building on the progress we have made over the past nine years to stimulate the full participation of aboriginal peoples in the economy.
We know that increased aboriginal participation in the economy is the key to improving the well-being and quality of life of aboriginal people in Canada. We also know that aboriginal people are the fastest-growing population in Canada, and we simply cannot ignore this immense human resource potential. What is more, I firmly believe that a good job is better than any social program, which is why we are so determined to promote job creation.
That is why the purpose of every measure, every decision and every dollar that our government invests to assist aboriginal people and northerners is to help us reach our ultimate goal of creating jobs and economic opportunities for aboriginal and northern communities. We are getting results. Just this morning, I sent out the first report on the strategic partnership initiative, which the government first announced in 2010 and in which it invested another $61 million as part of economic action plan 2014. Since 2010, this initiative has made it possible to help over 400 aboriginal communities and organizations across the country create economic development opportunities. It has resulted in over 100 partnerships and nearly $100 million in additional funding from other sources.
We are also helping first nations to create tremendous economic opportunities in their communities through the First Nations Land Management Act, which enables first nations to manage their own land rather than be limited by the constraints of the Indian Act. The first nations that are participating in this regime have experienced significant economic growth. In fact, a recent KPMG survey on the advantages of this regime for participating first nations showed that investments in reserves were estimated at $270 million and that thousands of jobs had been created on reserves. That is why, in economic action plan 2015, we allocated an additional $30.3 million over five years to encourage other first nations to join this initiative.
In the north, our vision is embodied in our government's northern strategy and our actions are bringing this vision to life. It is a fact that no one can dispute that no other government in the history of this country has ever done more for northern Canada and northerners.
We are working toward an effective, predictable northern regulatory regime that will attract new investors and foster new economic opportunities for the north. Through the Northwest Territories' devolution and now in Nunavut, we are working with northerners toward greater control of their own land and resources. We are on track to ensure that the Canadian High Arctic Research Station located in Cambridge Bay is operational by July 2017, creating a world-class hub for science and technology in Canada's north.
As everyone can see, in nine years, we have made notable progress, and these are only a few examples.
The means through which this progress, both north and south of 60, can be sustained year over year is, among other things, the funding allocated to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada through the main estimates. However, my department is not the only way our government is contributing to progress for aboriginal people and northerners. There is also a host of other departments, including the private sector, the provinces and territorial governments. We are but a link in the chain.
The 2015-16 main estimates for my department forecast budgetary and non-budgetary expenditures of approximately $8.3 billion. That is a net increase of $178 million, or 2.2%, above last year's main estimates. This funding will support initiatives that improve social well-being and provide opportunities for economic prosperity in aboriginal and northern communities, vital initiatives such as safe drinking water, access to services and support for claims negotiations.
Healthy, sustainable communities require robust infrastructure and reliable water and waste water systems. That is why we provided $323.4 million over two years in last year's economic plan to implement the first nations water and waste water action plan. In the 2015-16 main estimates, $137.3 million has been allocated for the action plan so it can continue to fund these vital investments in water infrastructure projects in first nations communities.
Since 2006, we have spent roughly $3 billion to help communities manage their water and waste water infrastructure, and related public health activities. The recent passage of the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act enabled us to work with first nations to develop federal regulations that would help protect the health and safety of residents on first nations land through much-needed enforceable standards.
The main estimates also show a net increase of $68.7 million to support the negotiation, settlement and implementation of comprehensive claims and self-government agreements across Canada. That is in line with our government's belief that in addition to resolving outstanding specific and special claims, negotiating and implementing comprehensive claims and self-government agreements contribute to stronger, healthier, more self-sufficient communities.
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