Evidence of meeting #53 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was first.

A recording is available from Parliament.

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Michael Wernick  Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Michael Nadler  Director General, Policy and Planning, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Bruce Stanton

Good morning, members, and thank you for joining us here on this rather snowy morning.

Our orders of the day today, pursuant to Standing Order 81(5), are supplementary estimates (C), 2010-11. This is on votes 1c, 5c, 10c, and 15c under Indian Affairs and Northern Development, referred to the committee on Tuesday, February 8.

As is customary, we welcome Minister John Duncan, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. It's great that you could join us, Minister.

You know the drill, of course, having been a dutiful member of our committee yourself in the past. So go ahead with your opening statement and we'll take it from there.

Welcome.

8:55 a.m.

Vancouver Island North
B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Thank you very much, Chair.

I apologize for being a tad late. There were some countermanding instructions as to where I was supposed to be this morning, but I'm happy to be here.

Thank you for inviting me to discuss the 2010-11 supplemental estimates (C) of the department. These complement the recently tabled main estimates in the report on plans and priorities. I'd be pleased to speak to any of them.

This committee plays a valuable role in ensuring Canadians' tax dollars are used wisely and achieve the intended results. I welcome your review of my department's expenditures, which demonstrate that we are doing exactly that.

Through these estimates the department accesses the funds required to continue delivering on our government's commitment to improve the quality of life for first nations, Inuit, Métis, and northerners. Our progress has been noteworthy. My department is achieving concrete results in areas such as the construction of new schools and housing, women's rights, land claims and self-government, economic development, and safe drinking water.

I've witnessed this program first-hand. I've had the privilege of travelling across the country from coast to coast to coast meeting extraordinary Canadians. I've seen how our government's investments are making a meaningful difference in the lives of aboriginal people.

Take the example of the new Frenchman's Head elementary school in Ontario's Lac Seul First Nation, which I officially opened last November. Education is a priority for this government. Equipping children with a quality education is the best possible way to make sure they have the means to succeed. That school, by the way, took 14 months to build, from the time we made the announcement to the time they opened the school. It shows what can be done if the local first nation has a project that is shovel-ready.

Our government is committed to ensuring first nation children achieve the same educational outcomes as other Canadians. That's why we are collaborating with the Assembly of First Nations to establish a national panel that will lead a broad engagement process. The panel is mandated to advise on the development of options, including legislation, to improve elementary and secondary education outcomes for first nation children who live on reserve. We are working to ensure that students always come first.

I've also had the opportunity to initial several groundbreaking agreements that are empowering aboriginal communities.

Just last month I signed an agreement with Teslin Tlingit Council that recognizes its jurisdiction to administer, enforce, and adjudicate its own laws. This agreement represents a significant step in the implementation of first nation self-government in Yukon and nationally.

A few weeks earlier, in January, I travelled to Yellowknife to co-sign the Northwest Territories devolution agreement-in-principle, a historic development for the territory.

I was happy to participate in ceremonies marking major milestones reached in the Fort William First Nation boundary claim, as well as the Toronto Purchase and Brant Tract specific claims agreements with the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, both in Ontario.

I've also taken part in moving ceremonies that acknowledged past wrongs and set them right. I was honoured to be in Inukjuak to deliver, on behalf of the government, the high Arctic relocation apology. I visited Resolute and Grise Fiord as well, where I participated in the unveiling of monuments commemorating the lives and hardships of those who were relocated.

Another of our accomplishments is Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act. It ensures that eligible grandchildren of women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men are entitled to Indian status in accordance with the Indian Act.

Mr. Chairman, I am especially excited about some of the promising economic development activity taking place across the country.

In January my department was proud to co-host the second Métis economic development symposium in Vancouver. This was a follow-up to the very successful first symposium in December 2009. Along with Métis nation leaders and the aboriginal affairs ministers from the five westernmost provinces and industry leaders, we explored successful approaches to economic development. We also discussed practical ways to strengthen entrepreneurship among Métis women, because our government is committed to ensuring that Métis fully share in economic development opportunities across Canada.

I also took part in the alternative energy for B.C. first nations gathering in Vancouver last month. First nations in B.C. are involved in wind, solar, biomass, and hydro projects throughout the province.

We are making headway on important social priorities as well. Access to safe drinking water is a significant challenge for some first nation communities and one we are working hard with our partners to address. Our government has allocated approximately $2.5 billion for water and waste-water infrastructure in first nations since 2006.

We are determined that first nations will have access to the same quality of drinking water as other Canadian communities. I made that clear when I spoke to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples just two days ago about Bill S-11, an act respecting the safety of drinking water on first nation lands. This act will allow for the development of federal regulations for drinking water and waste water in first nation communities.

I'm pleased to announce today the reappointments of two treaty commissioners: the Honourable Bill McKnight as treaty commissioner for Saskatchewan, and James Brook Wilson as commissioner of the treaty relations commission of Manitoba. In addition to their appointments, the mandates of the Saskatchewan and Manitoba treaty relations commissions will be extended for another three-year term.

Tomorrow I will be in Saskatchewan to announce a new memorandum of understanding to promote active measures strategies focused on first nation labour market participation. Our government is joining forces with Saskatchewan first nations, tribal councils, the Government of Saskatchewan, provincial employers, and training institutions. Together, we're pledging to increase first nation participation in Saskatchewan's workforce and enhance employment outcomes for first nations.

Meeting the needs of northerners also remains a high priority. As committee members are aware, the cost of living north of 60 is very high, particularly in isolated communities. This includes the cost of food. We want to make sure that northerners, like other Canadians, have access to good-quality, nutritious food.

Yesterday I was in Iqaluit. We announced that the Nutrition North Canada program would re-list the items that had been de-listed as of last October until October 2012 to allow for two more sealift seasons. This will ease the transition for the retailers and make sure that there's a smooth transition through the supply chain, which was turning out to be a bit of an issue. That's a very significant development, but the program itself is still going kick in on April 1, just three weeks from now.

This new program will provide higher subsidies in eligible communities for nutritious perishable foods such as fruits, vegetables, bread, meats, milk, and eggs, along with reduced subsidies for less healthy items.

We saw the problems with this program, we said we were listening, and we made changes.

During my travels to the north I've had the opportunity to make a number of important announcements that support the development of a prosperous northern economy. The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, also known as CanNor, is a key player in delivering on this priority, and we continue to take action across a variety of sectors to support a strong, diversified north that benefits northerners and Canadians.

A key sector in building a sustainable and dynamic northern economy is tourism. Attracting more visitors to the north will help create and build significant long-term business opportunities and create local jobs.

Since February 20 we've invested something over $5.5 million in tourism-related projects across the north to promote the region throughout Canada and around the world as a dynamic tourism destination. Those have been very well-received programs, and their statistics on tourism are very good, actually.

Northerners have many exciting developments to look forward to in the coming years. One important initiative for the north is the Nanisivik naval facility. This deepwater docking and refueling facility for Arctic offshore patrol ships and other Government of Canada vessels will be a valuable economic and security addition to the region. To date, a contract has been awarded for the facility design, and a site assessment is in progress. The construction of the on-site administration building to support military exercises is expected to be completed this year.

The Canadian high Arctic research station in Cambridge Bay is another big project that will be taking shape in the north in years to come. The station will advance Canada's knowledge in areas including economic development, sovereignty, the environment, and healthy communities for the benefit of northerners and all Canadians. A feasibility study is currently under way to establish the functions of the facility and outline the preliminary project costs and building schedule.

Mr. Chair, we need the committee's approval of these supplementary estimates to maintain this momentum. The department's spending levels for the 2010-11 year, which is drawing to a close, will be $8.3 billion. This will include $51 million in these supplementary estimates.

In addition to the items I've already noted, these supplementary funds will be used to address health and safety concerns in first nations communities through the emergency management assistance program; advance outstanding land claim and treaty issues in Yukon; enhance the northern regulatory system and implement the cumulative impact monitoring program in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut; and renew the Naskapi capital funding agreement and the Naskapi operations and maintenance funding transfer payment agreement. These initiatives, along with those from Budget 2010 and Canada's economic action plan, are essential.

I look forward to discussing these issues with you and I welcome your questions.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Bruce Stanton

Thank you, minister.

We'll now begin the first round.

Mr. Russell, you have seven minutes.

March 10th, 2011 / 9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, Minister. It's good to have you and your officials with us again.

I want to ask a couple of very specific questions. Responses shouldn't take long, I don't believe.

I had the honour of meeting with the Sayisi Dene this past week. It was my first experience meeting with their leadership, their elders. They certainly took me through their tragic relocation story of the 1950s.

I understand there was an impromptu meeting beteeen some of your officials and them this past week. They indicated that you had agreed to meet with them and to discuss Dr. Bartram's report, which was presented to the department in 2009 and was reviewed by your predecessor, Mr. Strahl, in 2010. I want to confirm whether that meeting is going to go ahead, sir.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

There was an occupation at my office, a most inappropriate occupation at my office yesterday when I was travelling, and my chief of staff met with the people who were there. I have agreed to a meeting sometime in the future.

I'm well aware of Dr. Jeremiah Bartram's ministerial representative report. We are in the process of reviewing that report.

I have also met with Minister Robinson from the Province of Manitoba. As you know, they're a significant participant in all things to do with the Sayisi Dene, and they have transferred or are in the process of transferring significant land to the Sayisi Dene.

I will be meeting with them. I don't think we have pinned a date down at this point.

There was no request, by the way, before two days ago, so this was all very much a hurried affair. They came to Ottawa and demanded a meeting, as opposed to calling ahead and asking for one. So I think, not to re-till that ground but just to answer your question, that there will be a meeting planned, and, yes, we've been reviewing the circumstances. I am aware that this whole relocation was a subject in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Thank you for that, Minister. I'm sure they will appreciate the opportunity to meet with you.

On a separate issue, the Sliammon negotiations, there was a handshake deal—I guess they had reached a deal on a final agreement—in June 2010. It's my understanding that the community itself, with support from the Municipality of Powell River—I had an opportunity to meet with the mayor and also with the leadership, Chief Williams, yesterday with my leader, Michael Ignatieff.... They and the province have signed off on this.

They have indicated that similar agreements, such as the Maa-nulth and the Tsawwassen agreements, basically advanced in about eight weeks, and now we're into the ninth month. Can you give us a quick sense of why there is delay in the negotiations and where they might stand in terms of looking to the federal government's moving forward with it?

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

There has been a delay. I have been engaged in conversation on this with the first nations summit, the province, and the B.C. Treaty Commission. We are reviewing our circumstance. I expect that we're just a matter of weeks away from being able to make progress on this.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

I thank you for that. Of course, these negotiations are tough. They have been going on since 1994, and people want to get to a resolution, as I'm sure the government does as well.

Moving to the east coast of Labrador, can you update us, Minister, on two particular claims in my riding? There's the Innu Nation claim. I know there are significant issues regarding some overlap with the Innu of Quebec, but there's an environmental assessment happening now over a major hydroelectric project, the Lower Churchill project. No doubt claims negotiations with the Labrador Innu and the Quebec Innu are going to significantly impact upon this. I'd like to know what stage these are at.

As well, the Nunatukavut have a claim, formerly the Labrador Métis Nation. They've had a claim in since 1990, resubmitted in 1996. Additional information has been provided, I think, up until last year. The department had undertaken to speedily review this additional information and arrive at a decision around acceptance or non-acceptance for negotiation.

Can you update me on both of those particular files, as they're very relevant and very important.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

I heard three files. Was it just two?

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Primarily it's the Innu of Labrador situation and the Nunatukavut. On the Nunatukavut, do we have a timeframe for when we're going to have a response from the department?

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

I had conversations with Premier Williams when he was still premier and with the Innu leadership. That was a significant three-way meeting. As government we've had further discussions with Premier Dunderdale. We are reviewing the request from the Innu Nation and from the province. I'm not in a position to be able to say any more than that.

Obviously this project at Muskrat Falls on the Lower Churchill is very important and very significant, and we do understand the economic significance of it.

Just briefly on the overlap issue, we have named a special representative, Fred Caron, who I understand has been making some progress on that file. I'm probably not very well versed on the Labrador claim.

9:15 a.m.

Michael Wernick Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

The Labrador Métis group, now styled as Nunatukavut, is in the courts in Newfoundland trying to resolve whether the environmental assessment should go ahead first. So I think we're going to have to let that play out before we can negotiate the claim, which overlaps considerably with the Innu claim.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Bruce Stanton

Thank you, Mr. Russell.

Now I invite Mr. Lemay to take the floor for seven minutes.

9:15 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Minister, I know your time is limited, and mine is as well. I've just had a real shock. I'll tell you why. A nice document was tabled. That was the 2011-12 Estimates. When you look at that nice document and go to page 73 of the French version—unfortunately, I don't have the page number in English—with all due deference to your parliamentary secretary, who will no longer be able to use Canada's Economic Action Plan, it states the following:

A reduction of $289.3 million reflecting the sunset of funding to support investments in first nations infrastructure for school construction, water and wastewater projects, and on-reserve housing (Canada's Economic Action Plan).

To offset this phenomenal reduction, you're announcing the creation of a national expert panel to study the education engagement process. That panel will be meeting to examine the studies that have already been done and their findings. Do you want me to tell you the conclusion they'll reach? That panel, which will cost us a fortune, will recommend the creation of aboriginal school boards. That's what's coming, and that's what the first nations want. We don't need a national expert panel, minister.

I'm shocked. We're talking about $289 million! I have a specific question. How many schools in Quebec will be built or renovated next year, despite the announced $289 million cut? Before investing in first nations wastewater treatment, are you waiting for Bill S-11 to reach the end of its life in the Senate and to come back here, which has little chance of happening before the summer adjournment? Otherwise, how much will be invested in wastewater treatment in Quebec in 2011-2012?

That's my first question. Wait till you hear the next one!

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

The simple answer on the water and wastewater spending for next year is that it is $280 million, but that's across the country.