Evidence of meeting #39 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was estimates.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

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

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Colleagues, we'll call this meeting to order. This is meeting 39 of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Today we have the minister here. Pursuant to Standing Order 81(5), we're currently studying supplementary estimates (A), 2012-13.

Today we've asked the minister to come before our committee to answer some questions with regard to supplementary estimates (A).

We thank you, Minister, for being here. You've made special arrangements to accommodate our desire to speak with you in regard to supplementary estimates (A). I understand you have a meeting at 5:30, so we will undertake to ensure we get as many questions in as possible before that time.

We'll turn it over to you, Minister.

We should welcome, though, Mr. Wernick and Madam Swords. Thank you very much for accompanying the minister today. I'm certain we'll be hearing from you as well.

We'll start. And thank you, Minister, for being here.

4:30 p.m.

Vancouver Island North
B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Thank you very much, Chair. I can tell you had a carpentry background by the way you pounded that gavel when you started.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's supplementary estimates (A) for fiscal year 2012-13. The supplementary estimates (A) include a number of additional investments that demonstrate our government's concrete efforts to improve the quality of life and economic prosperity of aboriginal peoples and northerners. They include more than $159 million in initiatives, on top of the $7.8 billion approved in the main estimates, bringing the total investment to approximately $8 billion. There may be additional supplementary estimates in the fall that change this total.

More than 90%—$150 million—of these supplementary estimates will go to fund the settlement of specific claims. As members of this committee appreciate, negotiated settlements resolve outstanding legal obligations of the Government of Canada and enable first nations to access the resources they need to realize their full potential.

The action plan launched in 2007 on specific claims has had a dramatic impact on the number of settled claims. Since 2007, 77 claims have been settled, totalling $1.2 billion. There are currently more claims in active negotiation than ever before.

In March I had the pleasure of announcing the final settlement of an outstanding specific claim made by Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba. On December 16 of last year, our government, the Government of Ontario, and Fort William First Nation announced the final settlement of a 160-year-old land claim that will strengthen the economy and create jobs in northwestern Ontario.

In July of 2011, the Government of Canada and the Roseau River First Nation announced the final settlement of a long-standing land claim in southern Manitoba. The negotiated settlement provides the first nation with $80 million to resolve the claim. Other negotiated settlements will soon follow.

The second item in the supplementary estimates now before you relates to self-government agreements with a number of Yukon first nations: Ta'an Kwach'an Council, Kluane First Nation, Kwanlin Dun First Nation, and Selkirk First Nation. A total of $3.4 million is needed to support the implementation of these agreements. The full implementation of these self-government agreements will have a positive impact on the lives of all Yukon residents.

These estimates also include $1.6 million to support the implementation of the historic Sechelt Indian Band self-government agreement, concluded more than 25 years ago in British Columbia.

Another item listed in supplementary estimates (A) is $2.6 million for the first nations and Inuit youth employment strategy, under youth initiatives. This program provides work placement opportunities for first nations youth living on reserve, enabling them to gain valuable skills training in the field of information and communications technology as well as the work experience they need to find employment or continue their education. The funds listed in these estimates will be allocated to seven first nations regional management organizations that provide training and technical support to first nations schools.

The supplementary estimates now before this committee also include $2 million in 2012-13 to design and build phase one of an $8 million first nations child and family services information management system. In recent years, this government has concluded tripartite agreements to improve the delivery of on-reserve child and family services in six provinces. Thanks to these agreements, nearly 70% of all first nations children and families residing on reserves across Canada can now access enhanced services that focus on prevention and early intervention.

When all three phases of the information management system are completed in 2014, we will be in a better position to measure the impacts of our investments to support the well-being and safety of first nations children and families and report to all Canadians on the results achieved.

The next item I'd like to discuss relates to the major projects management office initiative. These supplementary estimates include $1.4 million to support this department's role in the review of large resource projects and to implement the responsible resource development initiative that was announced recently. Major resource development projects can provide valuable opportunities for aboriginal people, enhanced opportunities for well-paying jobs near their communities, and the opportunity to negotiate direct benefit agreements with industry. The major projects management office embedded at Natural Resources Canada coordinates the review of proposed projects through a whole-of-government approach.

The additional funding included in the estimates for my department will ensure that more than 70 projects currently managed by the major projects management office are reviewed in a timely and thorough manner and that meaningful aboriginal consultation obligations are respected and well integrated into the new environmental and regulatory processes.

Mr. Chair, this government believes that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, north or south, on or off reserve, should be able to fully participate in our strong Canadian economy. As the committee conducts its review, I encourage members to consider each item of these estimates in the context of the government's larger strategy. I'm confident these investments will lead to further progress for aboriginal people, northerners, and all Canadians.

With that, I'll do my best to answer any questions that members of the committee may have pertaining to supplementary estimates (A), 2012-13.

Thank you, Chair.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Mr. Minister, for keeping your opening statement concise. It will assist in allowing members to ask more questions.

Colleagues, just remember that the minister has been asked to come here prepared to answer questions with regard to supplementary (A) estimates, and because we only have one hour, I would ask that members keep on the subject of supplementary (A)s. That will ensure that questions with regard to them will be able to be answered.

I will now turn to Mr. Genest-Jourdain for seven minutes.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Good afternoon, Mr. Minister.

At the gathering between the Crown and first nations which was held earlier this year, your government stated that it was a priority to close the funding gap in the area of education for first nations. I obviously had not been invited to that meeting, since security escorted me to the exit. In any case, the main estimates do not provide for any additional funding, and the money announced in the 2012 budget is not enough to reach parity in the area of education between aboriginal children and other Canadian kids.

Could you, once and for all, give us a deadline by which this funding gap will be closed, so that parity can finally be reached between first nations and Canadians?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Thank you for the question. You made reference to the crown-first nations gathering. Of course, shortly after the crown-first nations gathering in January, we signed an agreement with the First Nations Education Steering Committee in British Columbia. That agreement provides an extra $30 million over the next two years. It provides for level 2 and level 3 services for essentially all of the first nations-operated schools in the province of British Columbia.

In the budget we have included $100 million for literacy. That money can also be used in other jurisdictions to lead us to a place where we can ensure equity when there is a transfer of students from the first nations-operated schools to the provincial system, and the reverse.

We recently signed agreements in other regions. Of course, we have the example in Nova Scotia that's been going for quite some time, and that's with the Mi'kmaq.

We're on our way. We know that if we just throw money at the education system without, in tandem, effecting the changes required, we won't get the outcomes we're seeking. All the reports that have been done—the K to 12 education panel, the Senate report—would indicate the same thing. So we think we're in good company. We're making progress, and we have new money in the budget to make major progress on education.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

I just want to again remind colleagues that we're sticking to supplementary estimates (A). If you refer to the supplementary estimate you are questioning, that might be helpful in assisting in the conversation.

I know there is more that people want to talk about, but I also know that there are many questions other colleagues have with regard to these estimates specifically, and this is really the only opportunity we'll have to ask questions in regard to these estimates.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Minister, I will stay with the issue of chronic underfunding of services for first nations. We also learned recently that first nations in New Brunswick obtained an injunction to prevent your department from reducing grants and contributions to band councils for social assistance payments. In light of that injunction, which will prevent you from taking away up to $300 in social assistance for single mothers, and regarding the report from the UN's special rapporteur—

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Excuse me, I have a point of order here from Mr. Rickford.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

I appreciate the member's question. The minister is here today to speak to supplementary estimates (A), and there are precise points within those estimates we should be focused on.

I want to remind the members across the floor that this is a good-faith exercise, from a motion put forward by a member from the other side, specifically with respect to supplementary estimates (A). We should confine our discussion to those points.

Thank you.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

On that point of order, Ms. Hughes.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

I just want to indicate that this is certainly about what is in the estimates, but it's also about what is not in the estimates. The minister did speak about different things relating to the estimates, and I think we have an opportunity here to elaborate on some of what he has spoken about.

Sometimes there are interventions at the beginning as we lead into the estimates.

I just wanted to make that point.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

I didn't hear the whole question. We'll have to listen to the full question before we can make a ruling as to whether it pertains to it.

We can only speak to what is in the estimates, not to what's outside the estimates, Ms. Hughes.

Just to make sure we're all on the same page, maybe you'll refer to the estimates specifically or the line item you are specifically asking about, Mr. Genest-Jourdain.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Chair, I was just told about the friendly nature of this meeting. It seems that the minister is on top of his files, and he should be able to answer any question put to him.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Mr. Genest-Jourdain, I agree that the minister, I'm certain, could answer questions on a whole host of different things, but the committee has instructed me to ask the minister to come here to discuss supplementary estimates (A), so we as a committee will move forward in that course of action.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Let me try again. In light of the injunction which will prevent you from taking away up to $300 in social assistance to single mothers, and regarding the report of the UN's special rapporteur on food security, which concluded that hunger is a real problem among Inuit First Nations and the Métis, what are your immediate plans to reduce poverty on reserves?