Evidence of meeting #54 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aboriginal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB

Could you perhaps explain a little further how the opt-out process works? I know it's integral to the agreement finally being ratified. Could you highlight some of those details for us to get a better understanding as to the timing of when it's going to finally be ratified?

Also, could you give me some further understanding as to when the healing foundation and truth and reconciliation process will formally begin?

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary Centre-North, AB

Let me deal first with the common experience payments and the opt-out clause.

Really what the residential school agreement does is close the most complicated class action lawsuits in Canadian history, class action lawsuits that had in excess, as I recall, of 30,000 individual plaintiffs who had sued the Government of Canada in a variety of forms. So this is not simply an agreement that gives effect to social objectives, but it's actually an agreement that achieves the resolution of the most complicated and difficult lawsuits that the country has experienced.

The effect of the agreement will be that all of the claims of both the people who attended residential schools and their descendants will be extinguished as part of the court-approved settlement. As a result, it's necessary to ensure that those people who are entitled to benefit under the agreement have a chance to opt out, have a chance to make a conscious choice that they don't want to be part of this settlement, and that they don't want to extinguish their claim or the claim of their children. They therefore have the legal ability under the court process to make a decision to walk away from the settlement and opt out. If enough people opt out, then the agreement collapses, or rephrased, the agreement becomes voidable at the option of the Government of Canada. That threshold is 5,000 individuals.

We're making progress at this point. There's actually a very small number of individuals who have opted out at this point, which I think speaks well of the agreement. We don't anticipate that we will be near that opt-out threshold, but that call really can't be made until September of this year. So once we're through the opt-out period, then the agreement can be properly applied to everyone who is a recipient, a beneficiary, under the agreement. We expect to make progress there.

The implementation will be in September of this year. That's when we move into the implementation phase. Peter Harrison is a very experienced individual with the Government of Canada, with a lifetime of experience. He heads up the department for Indian residential school settlement and is responsible for the full administration of this and is doing an excellent job at it.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Colin Mayes

Thank you.

Madam Karetak-Lindell, we're beginning the five-minute round now.

Thank you.

Noon

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Minister, for being here, and also to everyone who's here to listen today.

I have a lot to cover in our second round with only five minutes. I'm just going to take your comment about the residential schools having gone so well as actually a compliment to the previous government, which I think pretty well settled it, and all you need to do is carry it through.

Because everyone else has asked questions on other areas, I'm going to focus more on economic development. As I look through some of the planned spending, I see a lot of decreases in the areas that have something to do with economic development: the clarity of title to lands and resources, economic development for aboriginal people, and economic development, northern land and resources, even community infrastructure. Those I see as all key parts of fostering good economic development in our communities, and I see a very big drop. I know you've transferred Aboriginal Business Canada from Industry Canada, which I don't necessarily agree with either, because the expertise was in Industry Canada, and I thought we were moving to a phase where economic development was economic development, not that just because it's aboriginal people it has to be under Indian Affairs.

So could you explain why there is such a drop in that? Aboriginal Business Canada is only $49.1 million on the next page; it doesn't account for all the different reductions in that.

Could you also talk little bit about your relationship with organizations that represent aboriginal people in Canada? We're hearing a lot through our Bill C-44 witnesses that they're not getting an opportunity to really work with you on priority issues. I see a drop in cooperative relationships too, that the funding has gone down in that, so I don't know if that explains part of it. I have a group called the Land Claim Agreement Coalition who have come together--all the different land claims organizations have come together, and it's a rare thing for them to be able to come together and work together--and they haven't been able to get cooperation on the government side to really implement land claims organizations.

I know I don't have that much time. I'll leave the rest with you.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary Centre-North, AB

Well, thank you, colleague. You've raised a number of issues.

I've given a lengthy speech about the Indian residential school settlement, and I won't recap all of that. I would observe that victory has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Certainly all of the political parties represented at this table had something to say about the residential school matter. I would simply close by noting that it was this government and me, working together with Mr. Fontaine, who negotiated the issues that needed to be resolved to put the agreement in place. It bears our signature, and all of that happened in the opening three months of this government.

Moving forward, in terms of economic development, I don't think you and I agree on this point. The reason the economic development authorities were consolidated into INAC related to almost the universal comments that I received from first nation leaders. Almost without exception, first nation leaders I talked to in the early part of my tenure as minister said they were deeply unhappy with how the aboriginal economic development portfolio was not receiving the attention that it needed to receive and that it had received when it formed part of INAC.

I think we all know that economic development is the key to the future for first nations in particular, and Inuit people as well. The sense was that if those authorities formed part of the authorities of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, we would have more direct levers to have a say and to assist in economic development. In many cases, the economic development initiatives are also on a parallel track with land claim settlements and payments, so it made sense to consolidate them. The consolidation, I would emphasize, was not my idea; it originated with first nations leadership, who asked me to do it.

In terms of what we need to do on a go-forward basis, the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board has been renewed and renovated. In the days ahead I will announce the new appointments to the board. There were many vacancies on the board when we became the government. I've had a singular test, which is that people who sit on this board need to be first nation and Inuit leaders who command respect, who are deeply involved in economic development.

Most of the people who've agreed to come on this board control hundreds of millions of dollars of assets—if not billions of dollars of assets—themselves, through their first nations or Inuit people, I would emphasize. So they are a remarkable group of Canadians. People will really take notice of who they are. They will be there to assist us in moving forward with budgetary issues and economic development issues—

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Colin Mayes

We've actually run out of time, so I'm going to move on to Mr. Albrecht, please.

May 29th, 2007 / 12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Minister, for being here today.

I noted throughout your comments, and obviously prior to these comments today, a theme of focusing on economic development. Certainly when I've spoken to constituents in my riding and also to first nations people in the last year, that has been one of their primary comments, that this is where we'll get the largest value for any new initiatives.

You commented about the unification of Aboriginal Business Canada and the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, and you go on to talk about, on page 9, the workplace partnerships between government, businesses, and trade unions to increase the level of employment of the aboriginal workforce. I'm just wondering, what kind of uptake or adoption are you getting from this idea? I think that if we can include private partnerships in this, it will certainly leverage, as you point out, the amount of government investment and will also create ownership. Is there an early adoption of this principle as you move across Canada? You've given us some examples here, but maybe some others are waiting in the wings that you could share with us, if that's not divulging private information.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary Centre-North, AB

No. Just to complete my last answer, which really transitions into this one, I can tell you that we also have a new full-time economic development ADM for the first time in the department. For the first time, we also have other new and enhanced staffing to really get on with economic development with first nations.

You were speaking about partnerships; there is an enormous appetite for them within the private sector. The examples I've illustrated are some of the first and earliest ones we've engaged in. These programs really do work. They are reasonably modest in terms of the financial investment on the part of the Government of Canada, but they allow significant progress in terms of the employment of first nations citizens through sitting down and working in partnership with a provincial government or a local municipality--as in the case of Edmonton, for example--or the private sector in clearing away the impediments to getting first nations citizens into job opportunities. They are very proactive. The whole AWPI process, as it's called, is something that bears real fruit. There are tangible results. There are immediate results. We're seeing that in all of the places where agreements are signed.

It also focuses individual Canadians in the private sector on their responsibility and their role to go out and recruit first nations citizens. I was struck by one of the first signing ceremonies I took part in. It was with the nursing association of Nova Scotia. I asked them how many nurses in their profession were first nations people. The number was pretty close to nil. It was quite surprising. That is an organization that has taken it upon itself to go out and really recruit young aboriginal men and women to bring them into that profession. We see the same thing up north in the area of the oil sands in Alberta, in northern Saskatchewan, and certainly in the Northwest Territories.

This is really where the future lies. It is an excellent program.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

I agree that it is where the future lies, and if the broader Canadian public were made aware of it, they would be totally supportive of it.

Do I have any time left, Mr. Chair?

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Colin Mayes

You have one minute.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Could we have a quick note about the $300 million, and the leverage through making this available through CMHC? If you could just flesh that out in the next 45 seconds, it would be helpful.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary Centre-North, AB

In terms of structural changes, which previous governments have not been prepared to do and our government is, this is extremely important. It has gone from being an idea ten years ago to being the way of the future. I'm not naive enough to think it will satisfy all the housing needs in all the first nations across the country, but it will meet part of the demand that exists.

The government has put forward $300 million; the banks will lever off that with an additional $1.5 billion or thereabouts. All of those dollars are available to first nations that want to construct private on-reserve housing. It is already starting. We are already starting to see the interest in this; applications are coming in. It will be rolled out and implemented in the spring of 2008, but it already works.

I would emphasize that this idea came from first nations. It comes from places like Lac La Ronge in Saskatchewan, Chief Darcy Bear's community in Saskatchewan, and other places where first nation private housing has been tried and is working.

In closing, Mr. Chairman, on this point I will simply say that I have felt for some time that nothing is more important than the right of a first nations citizen, if they choose to own their own house and to build up their own equity, to draw on that equity for the education of their children or for their retirement, in the same way as all Canadians do.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Colin Mayes

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

Mr. Lévesque is next.

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Minister, I would like to begin by acknowledging your support with regard to the Quebec Pavillon des Premières Nations. Unfortunately, you have not been quite as impressive in other areas. I do not know whether you recall the commitment made in 1977 by the department and the then prime minister to consult first nations before introducing any changes. On page 1 of your report, you refer to Bill C-44 and, on page 7, you mention the repeal of section 67.

This is what I want to discuss first. Everybody agrees that first nations ought to be subject to the same laws that govern other Canadians. However, when we impose obligations upon first nations, we must also give them the means to meet these obligations. For some time now, people have been voicing their concerns about primary education. The study on post-secondary education revealed a problem: young people are not finishing primary school because the primary school system is inadequate. There is not enough money to build schools and there is a shortage of teachers.

Even today, first nations people have to fight for schools and struggle to find qualified teachers. How can we possibly ask first nations leaders to take on the same responsibilities as their non-first nations counterparts?

Let us now turn our attention to Bill C-51, which deals with the Nunavik land claims. You tabled this bill in the House quite some time ago. The committee unanimously supported fast-tracking the bill, we were in favour of fast-tracking the bill because it represented a commitment by your government to the Inuit. It was a laudable commitment. Everybody supported it.

Given that this bill falls under the purview of your department, could you please explain why it has not even got to second reading in the House?

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. With your indulgence, I shall answer in English.

The Inuit-Makivik legislation, Bill C-51, is at the House. The issue is whether there's going to be a clause-by-clause review by this committee, and if so, when it is going to happen—or whether it is, frankly, necessary.

There is a second bill, which relates to the province of Quebec, that has been working its way through the Senate: Bill S-6, which relates to the bijuralization, if you will. It's an extremely important bill. It's inexplicable why it has not happened to this point, but all of the modern self-government legislation that has been put in place over the last number of years was not put in place for Quebec first nations at the same time. We wish to rectify that.

I anticipate that both of those bills will be before the House in the way that you anticipate, hopefully very quickly, so that we can deal with them and move forward. That's something that you and I and Monsieur Lemay and others will continue to work together on. I wish to see those two bills enacted as law as quickly as possible. I think we can achieve that.

With respect to Bill C-44, I must say this is a piece of legislation that gives to first nations citizens the protection of Canada's Human Rights Act. I don't think the parliamentary committee should study it endlessly. The operative clause of the bill is only nine words long. It says: “Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is repealed.”That would lift a barrier that prevents a first nation woman, for example, who's not satisfied with the quality of education her child is receiving from filing a complaint, a grievance, either against the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, whoever it happens to be, or against her own council, if she feels that's where the issue isn't being dealt with.

This is one of the elements of modern governance that clearly has to be available to first nations citizens as we move forward to self-government. I think it's wrong that first nations citizens in Canada do not have the right to file human rights grievances the way other Canadians do. I think it will advantage women and children significantly, and I ask for the committee's cooperation.

The committee has been studying this subject now for 16 weeks, and I think it's time the committee moved this bill back to the House of Commons. If at that time the opposition parties do not support the concept of Canada's first nation citizens having human rights protection, you'll be afforded an opportunity to stand up and cast a vote. But let's get this issue back to the House of Commons and move forward. This committee has much other important work to do.