Evidence of meeting #15 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was projects.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Louis Beauséjour  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
  • Janet DiFrancesco  Director General, Electronic Commerce Branch, Spectrum, Information Technologies and Telecommunications Sector, Department of Industry
  • Allan Clarke  Director General, Policy and Coordination Branch, Lands and Economic Development Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Sheilagh Murphy  Director General, Social Policy and Programs Branch, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • James Sutherland  Acting Director General, Aboriginal Affairs Directorate, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
  • Shane Williamson  Director General, Program Coordination Branch, Science and Innovation Sector, Department of Industry
  • John Atherton  Director General, Active Employment Measures, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

We'll bring the meeting to order.

We're starting our study on the skills development in rural and remote communities during a time of fiscal restraint.

We have three presenters today: our first presentation is by the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, the second is by the Department of Industry, and the third is by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

After all three have presented, we'll open it up to a seven-minute round of questions. We'll probably break for five or ten minutes somewhere midway before that, and then adjourn at 5:30.

With that, I'll turn it over to Louis Beauséjour.

3:35 p.m.

Louis Beauséjour Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and distinguished members of this committee.

My name is Louis Beauséjour and I am the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. I am joined today by my colleagues, John Atherton and James Sutherland, as well as Janet DiFrancesco, Adam Scott and Shane Williamson from Industry Canada, and Allan Clarke and Sheilagh Murphy from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

On behalf of the department, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak with you today on our skills development activities in support of remote and rural communities.

HRSDC aims to build a stronger and more competitive Canada, to support Canadians in making choices that help them live productive and rewarding lives, and to improve Canadians' quality of life by assisting them with making important transitions. We are responsible for the design and delivery of a large suite of national programs that provide direct benefits to Canadians, such as the National Child Benefit, Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, and Canada Student Loans and Grants.

In particular, Budget 2011 announced that the federal government will forgive a portion of the federal component of Canada Student Loans for new family physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses who practise in under-served rural and remote communities.

However, I will confine my remaining remarks to our programs that support skills development and labour market efficiency.

Working with and investing in small and rural communities is an important part of our work. One of the biggest challenges facing government is how to improve economic development in remote communities and to ensure that local residents are able to take advantage of development opportunities when they arise. HRSDC recognizes the importance of ensuring businesses are able to invest in rural and remote communities, and skills development and training are important aspects of fostering such development. We do this by investing in people and focusing on improving the labour market conditions in these communities and across Canada by providing flexibility in program design and delivery options, by working in partnership with interested parties, and by addressing systemic labour market issues.

I will now address each of these in more detail.

First is flexibility. Flexibility is a main theme across our department's programming. While most of our programs are national in scope, they have enough flexibility to be tailored to meet the regional and sectoral needs in different areas. This is evident, for instance, in our national service delivery network through Service Canada, which allows the department to connect with communities and specifically tailor service delivery and program information to client needs.

In Nunavut, for example, where many people have until recently been unaware of many HRSDC programs, Service Canada program officers now travel to rural and remote areas to increase awareness of our social and labour market programs. As a result of this outreach, which is carried out in partnership with community elders, the uptake of programs such as Canada Summer Jobs has increased significantly, from three applications when the program first started, to about 50 applications this year. This outreach has been so successful that Service Canada has been invited to present their approach at the annual Nunavik mayors' conference.

In addition, the Government of Canada has created a labour market architecture that allows provinces and territories to adapt their skills programming to their own jurisdictional priorities. Each year the Government of Canada provides funding, through labour market development and labour market agreements, directly to provinces and territories so they can design, deliver, and manage training and employment supports to Canadian workers best suited to the needs of people in the communities within their own jurisdiction. Provinces and territories are well placed to work with the range of labour market partners to define labour market challenges and develop tailored solutions that are rooted in local realities. By investing over $2.5 billion annually, each year over 600,000 workers across the country receive both training and employment supports.

The department also offers specialized programs that help to ensure vulnerable groups get the support they need to successfully participate in the workforce. For example, the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers provides employment supports to unemployed older workers living in smaller, vulnerable communities affected by high unemployment, downsizing or closures of major industries.

The program primarily targets remote communities highly dependent on traditional industries where alternative employment is limited, relocation difficult and training resources are less easily accessible than in larger centres.

Projects, which are cost-shared with provinces and territories, are usually coordinated by a community-based sponsoring organization, which is able to design them to meet the learning circumstances of participants and link to local employment opportunities.

By working with our provincial and territorial partners, we are ensuring that targeted, responsive programming is being delivered to help people in communities—including rural and remote communities—get the assistance and supports they need to build skills and to ensure sustainability.

We also have a suite of programs that support the development of skills and employment opportunities for Aboriginal people. To guarantee a degree of flexibility, we have taken a similar approach as with our P/T labour market agreements, by devolving responsibility for designing and delivering skills and training programs to our Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy (ASETS) agreement holders. This allows them to meet the needs of their particular client groups.

The second approach is through partnerships. Our programs support aboriginal communities in putting in place the conditions needed for them to take advantage of partnership opportunities with the private sector--for instance, in large resource development projects.

While our colleagues from AANDC are more involved in supporting economic development directly, we support the development of the types of skills needed for such projects. For example, the HRSDC skills and partnership fund recently invested $3.2 million in the Mine Training Society's “More Than a Silver Lining” project in the Northwest Territories. The project will assist 225 aboriginal people from five area communities to access training opportunities and work experience in the mining sector, in addition to helping 70 of them secure employment in the mine.

Through this project, we were able to leverage an additional $1 million from private sector partners and the territorial government. Such partnerships are being replicated elsewhere to support skills development to allow other aboriginal communities to benefit from the opportunities offered by other large-scale economic projects in their areas--for example, in oil and gas projects in B.C., Alberta, and the territories, mining in the territories, and hydroelectric and mining development through Quebec's Plan Nord.

As you may know, the Government of Canada introduced a northern strategy in 2007. HRSDC supports the people dimension of the northern strategy by working in partnership with territorial governments and aboriginal people to improve skills and employment outcomes in the north. For example, through labour market agreements and labour market development agreements, the territories annually receive over $11 million for skills and employment training programs. The territories then work with communities and organizations across the region to determine the best place and the best way to deliver programs.

The final approach is addressing systemic labour market issues. As I mentioned before, ensuring that communities have the skills base to attract investment is vital. The Government of Canada helps to identify systemic solutions to support Canadians and communities across Canada in developing their skills needs. For instance, the Government of Canada recognizes that Canadians wishing to enter and be certified in a trade, many of which come from rural or remote areas, face barriers.

The government has taken steps to support apprentices during their training by providing apprenticeship incentive and completion grants, as well as tax incentives for employers and tool deduction for tradespersons.

In addition, the government supports systematic changes to the way skills development is delivered that would also be beneficial for remote and rural areas. For example, the Skills and Partnership Fund is investing $2.4 million in the Aboriginal Apprenticeship Initiative at Saskatchewan's Gabriel Dumont Institute for Training and Employment. An additional $8 million over three years has been contributed by the Institute, the provincial government, the Saskatchewan Apprenticeship Trade Certification Commission, and private sector apprenticeship employers.

The Institute will train educational counsellors who will coordinate apprenticeships between Aboriginal workers and employers, develop a long-term strategy for apprenticeship programming in the province. These project activities will be delivered province wide via service delivery sites in a number of smaller communities.

Similarly, HRSDC's Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) is providing project funding to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council to revise and customize the Mining Essentials program to address the needs of Aboriginal participants by providing essential skills and work readiness skills development, taught using culturally relevant examples.

Through this project, key stakeholders—in this case rural Aboriginal communities, mining companies and educators—are partnering to develop a tailored approach that addresses labour market demands and employment targets and aligns literacy, essential skills and work readiness training with industry requirements.

We also work directly to support the human resource needs of particular industries, be it the forestry, the mining, or the agricultural sector.

l'd like to take the opportunity to highlight work with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, which in 2010 led to the creation of a listing of on-farm occupations and associated skill levels that reflect the requirements of the agricultural industries.

We are currently supporting a project that builds on this work by developing a series of career pathways for on-farm occupations, along with their associated credentials and competency profiles. This information will be available as an online interactive resource and will assist employers and potential and existing employees with career progression, including making informed choices on the types of skills and knowledge to acquire.

We are also supporting approaches that seek to overcome one of the key challenges facing these communities: their geographic isolation. My colleagues from Industry Canada have worked diligently on increasing the broadband capacity of rural and remote communities, and we are focusing on helping communities by providing timely information and developing flexible, effective, and cost-efficient tools.

An excellent example is a project funded by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills, though which Simon Fraser University is developing a literacy and essential-skills training program for aboriginal adults living in rural or difficult-to-reach areas. It will be offered through a mix of online interactive e-learning modules and face-to-face tutoring and mentoring. Through the online platform, participants in this project are able to develop the literacy and essential skills required for post-secondary training, which will increase their opportunity to access employment and contribute to their communities.

Another way our department is making use of technology to improve access to the labour market is through the provision of high-quality, up-to-date labour market information. Our Working in Canada website provides occupation- and location-specific labour market information for job seekers, workers, and businesses. It includes occupational and career information such as educational requirements, main duties, wage rates and salaries, current employment trends, and outlooks. It is a key resource for workers and business-owners to match skills with need. This online platform is particularly useful for Canadians in remote communities, where access to such information may previously have been difficult to obtain.

Finally, the government continues to support the efficient functioning of the Canadian labour market so that businesses can find the human resources they require and Canadians can work wherever opportunities exist. By supporting professional associations and by working with provinces and territories to develop nationally agreed-upon competencies, the federal government works to enhance national labour mobility.

Let me conclude, by thanking you again for the opportunity to contribute to your study. As you know, the difficulties facing remote and rural communities are wide-ranging and no order of government or single entity can solve these alone.

We are conscious of the needs of our partners and of the opportunities presented by working closely with them. We work with provinces and territories, Aboriginal communities, educational institutions, and other stakeholders and businesses to address the problems of today.

As I have shown, our programs aim to provide supports tailored to the needs of participants, businesses and the efficient functioning of the labour market and provide the flexibility and mechanisms to deliver supports that are suitable for both urban and rural Canada.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that extensive presentation. It covers a wide range of methods.

The next presentation will be the Department of Industry. Ms. DiFrancesco, go ahead.

3:50 p.m.

Janet DiFrancesco Director General, Electronic Commerce Branch, Spectrum, Information Technologies and Telecommunications Sector, Department of Industry

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I am pleased to be here today with my colleagues Adam Scott, director of business and regulatory affairs with the telecommunications policy branch, and Shane Williamson, executive director of the knowledge infrastructure program in the science and innovation sector at Industry Canada.

As director general of the electronic commerce branch at Industry Canada, I am responsible for a program called Broadband Canada: Connecting Rural Canadians.

In 2009, 95% of Canadian households had access to basic broadband, defined as a minimum speed of 1.5 megabits per second. But in rural and remote areas, only 85% of households had such access. For the individuals, families, and businesses that do not have access to broadband Internet service, important economic and social benefits such as telehealth, business opportunities, and distance-learning are not fully realized.

As part of Budget 2009, Canada's Economic Action Plan, Industry Canada was mandated to develop the Broadband Canada: Connecting Rural Canadians program, a three-year initiative to extend broadband Internet service to as many unserved and underserved households as possible in rural and remote areas.

The objectives of the program are to increase the number of Canadian households in rural and remote areas with access to broadband service at a minimum download speed of 1.5 megabits per second at a reasonable cost, and provide essential infrastructure that allows them to participate fully in the digital economy.

The program provides a one-time, non-repayable contribution to support the expansion of broadband connectivity where it may otherwise not be economically feasible for the private sector to deploy on its own. The program provides federal funding, up to 50% of eligible costs, to eligible recipients that include the private sector or consortiums of companies, not-for-profit organizations, and provincial/territorial entities that build and operate broadband infrastructure through a competitive application process. Projects serving First Nations communities can receive additional funding from other federal sources, for up to 100% federal funding.

The program was designed to be technology-neutral and accepted a variety of technological solutions. Provinces and territories where plans to connect 100% of households were already under way were not eligible.

In the summer of 2009, prior to the launch of the program's call for applications, an extensive mapping exercise was conducted to determine where broadband coverage existed. This process called on feedback from provincial governments, regional broadband associations, Internet service providers, and private citizens, as well as Industry Canada's own abilities to research and identify areas where service was available. Through this exercise, 64 geographic service areas covering all of Canada were identified as eligible for funding.

In response to the competitive application process in the fall of 2009, 570 applications were received from 144 companies, requesting $974 million in total funding. All 570 applications were assessed against the program's criteria, which included coverage, cost, technological solution, sustainability, and project management.

The selection of projects for funding was based on three guiding principles: the ability to maximize federal investment by connecting the greatest number of households at the lowest cost; the ability to provide robust service of at least 1.5 megabits per second even when multiple users are online and during peak periods; and the need to minimize duplication wherever possible. Where projects overlapped in a particular area, the lowest cost-per-household project was selected.

In the spring of 2010, 98 projects were conditionally approved pending completion of the department's due diligence requirements. After the selection process to verify that projects met all program requirements, 85 projects from 41 recipients, representing approximately $118 million in federal funding, were ultimately approved, and contribution agreements were signed. These projects will provide broadband access to over 214,000 households.

Currently, there are 14 projects that are complete and over 45,000 households now have access to broadband. The remaining projects are in various stages of completion.

When all projects are completed in summer 2012, and together with provincial, territorial, municipal and private sector initiatives, it is estimated that less than 2% of Canadian households will remain unserved or underserved. If advanced mobile networks are included, less than 1% households will remain unserved or underserved.

The delivery of broadband service to rural and remote communities encourages economic development, spurs innovation and improves the quality of life in hundreds of communities across Canada. For example, Internet speeds of 1.5 megabits per second allow a user to stream and watch movies, download music and participate in online gaming. It allows users to place telephone calls over the Internet using voice over Internet protocol technology. From a business perspective, it allows video conferencing (using applications such as Skype) and the ability to run multiple applications at the same time.

Currently there are 14 projects that are complete and over 47,000 households now have access to broadband. The remaining projects are in various stages of completion.

We have seen first-hand how access to broadband has impacted individuals and businesses who were disconnected from the digital world. Most recently, we conducted site visits in remote regions of British Columbia. An owner of a resort talked about how high-speed Internet has significantly improved his business, reducing vacancy rates during low season, bringing both tourists and commercial clients to his resort. Evidence of this was the helicopter parked on the front lawn. A mining exploration company was staying at the resort for an extended period of time, due primarily to the availability of broadband Internet at the resort. The company was able to transmit valuable information gained in the field back to its headquarters.

In another project, the Ktunaxa Nation Council, which owns FlexiNET, has undertaken a project to expand and enhance broadband services. As a result of the project funded by Broadband Canada, they are now able to offer improved access to allow tasks such as land management to national language training, online banking, the creation of websites for local businesses, online courses, and the use of video-conferencing technologies to provide health services and telephoning by a voice-over-Internet protocol.

Of particular importance to the community is preserving the Ktunaxa language. Given the limited existence of native speakers of this language, the Ktunaxa Nation has been recording their language using various digital means. The FlexiNET network allows the Ktunaxa Nation Council to provide various online trading products to its community, thus ensuring that the language is preserved for future generations.

I would also like to say a few words about the knowledge infrastructure program, as it may be of interest to the committee. The knowledge infrastructure program was a temporary program established through Canada's economic action plan to fund infrastructure projects at Canadian universities and colleges. The objective of this program was to provide an immediate economic stimulus in local communities over the short term, while increasing the research and training capacity of post-secondary institutions over the long term. In total, 52 projects with approved funding of $95.5 million were located in communities of 10,000 residents or fewer. Through these projects, KIP funding has helped enhance the capacity of post-secondary institutions to provide training in rural and remote areas in Canada.

In conclusion, Mr. Chair, we understand the impact that access to broadband can have on individuals, businesses and communities across the country.

And we are very pleased that the Broadband Canada program has been able to contribute to closing the gap for unserved and underserved Canadians.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today, and together with my colleagues we'd be pleased to respond to your questions.

Thank you.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that presentation.

I noted the percentages you quoted for those who have access to broadband--rural and remote compared to urban. It's rather interesting. We'll hear more, I understand, from Mr. Clarke, so if he would like to present, go ahead.

4 p.m.

Allan Clarke Director General, Policy and Coordination Branch, Lands and Economic Development Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the invitation to address this committee. We're pleased to provide some information that may assist you and your committee in the study of skills development in remote communities.

Unfortunately, my notes are in English only. Having said that, I would be happy—and hopefully able—to answer questions in Canada's both official languages.

My name is Allan Clarke and I'm the director general of policy and coordination in the lands and economic development sector of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. I'm here today with Sheilagh Murphy, who's the director general of the social policy and programs branch.

Today I'd like to offer an overview of the work we are doing to help promote the participation of aboriginal Canadians in the economy, with a particular emphasis on first nations remote communities. There are a number of conditions that suggest that aboriginal Canadians have an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to Canada's economy. The aboriginal population is the fastest-growing and youngest segment of the Canadian population, and with more than 400,000 aboriginal youth projected to enter the labour market by 2020, the aboriginal population is poised to meet Canada's future labour market needs.

Increased labour force participation by aboriginal Canadians will be integral to supporting Canada's long-term economic growth and prosperity. In fact a recent study by TD Economics estimated that by 2016 the combined income of aboriginal households, business, and government sectors could reach $32 billion. This amount compares to the present income estimate of $24 billion this year.

An already sizeable aboriginal land base is growing significantly with the settlement of both comprehensive and specific claims. First nations now control or own over 15 million hectares of land. Inuit own or control over 45 million hectares of land. This growing economic base, if activated, will make an important contribution to both national and regional economies.

The non-aboriginal private sector is also increasingly recognizing the tremendous economic potential of aboriginal Canadians. Many of the largest resource development projects under way in this country feature partnerships with aboriginal groups. Aboriginal leadership is increasingly business-oriented and sees economic development as a means to greater reliance and independence.

Despite these emerging trends and new factors, the economic outcomes of aboriginal Canadians continue to lag behind those of non-aboriginal Canadians. Today, 66% of aboriginal Canadians hold a degree, certificate, or diploma, whereas 85% of non-aboriginal Canadians hold a degree, certificate, or diploma.

Aboriginal Canadians on average have higher unemployment rates and lower individual incomes. As a result, more than twice as many aboriginal Canadians as non-aboriginal Canadians live in poverty.

Outcomes also vary according to identity group, gender, and location. Aboriginal women have higher unemployment rates and lower incomes than do their male counterparts. On-reserve income assistance dependency is 36%, compared to 5% nationally for the rest of Canada. Remote communities face particular challenges to market access, high costs of doing business, and deficiencies in infrastructure.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce report, which inspired in part your committee's study looking at these issues, identified 22 recommendations for the federal government, organized around six main areas: examining new partnership opportunities with the private sector, ensuring training and skills development are flexible and responsive to market needs, reducing regulatory red tape, rethinking approaches to infrastructure procurement, supporting value-added process manufacturing, and providing small business and entrepreneurs with the tools needed to establish and grow businesses.

The tenor of these recommendations is well aligned with the federal approach to supporting aboriginal economic development across Canada. In 2009 a new federal framework for aboriginal economic development was released. It reflects the real, significant, and growing opportunities for aboriginal people to take an unprecedented step forward to becoming full participants in the economy as entrepreneurs, employees, and employers.

The framework of the whole-of-government approach to economic development has five strategic priorities: strengthening aboriginal entrepreneurship; developing aboriginal human capital; enhancing the value of aboriginal assets; forging new and effective partnerships; and focusing the role of the federal government.

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs has worked closely with HRSDC as well as with other federal and non-federal partners in the private sector to ensure that investments are targeted to support economic development, education and skills development, and growth. Aboriginal Affairs and HRSDC are modernizing our respective programming as a first step to supporting the full, effective, and whole-of-government implementation of the framework.

Recognizing that the federal government does not hold all the levers to economic development, we have focused on forging new and effective partnerships with the private sector and communities to identify emerging opportunities and to develop strategies to unlock these opportunities to support economic development. This has included recent federal investments and the development of new partnerships and opportunities such as the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario; the creation of the First Nations Power Authority of Saskatchewan; sustainable energy initiatives for remote diesel-reliant communities in British Columbia and northern Ontario; and the diversification of the first nations fisheries in Atlantic Canada.

As part of the continuing and expanding implementation of the framework, we have also launched something called the strategic partnerships initiative. The strategic partnerships initiative is a federal horizontal initiative designed to increase economic development opportunities for aboriginal Canadians in sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, mining, and energy through partnerships between federal and non-federal partners, ultimately with the goal of supporting greater participation of aboriginal people in the economy.

Through the strategic partnerships initiative and other framework activities, we are working on the development of more comprehensive and pragmatic labour market information and strategies in key resource sectors, and ensuring that new projects are undertaken with a view to ensuring that training activities are closely linked with the needs of communities and employers, as well as to alternative training platforms such as on-the-job training and mentoring.

The federal government has undertaken to work with communities and other partners to set the stage for success. For example, the strategic partnerships initiative has already been a catalyst for partnerships between the Matawa Tribal Council and a number of federal and Ontario provincial government departments and the private sector to support first nation participation in the Ring of Fire by helping first nations build or obtain the organizational and technical capacity to negotiate economic benefits from mineral development on their traditional territories, or to prepare for business, employment, and investment opportunities.

As part of the reforming first nation education initiative, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is investing in establishing the foundation for long-term improvements in education. The Government of Canada, in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations, created a national panel on first nation elementary and secondary school education to lead an engagement process on the development of options, including legislation, to improve elementary and secondary education outcomes for first nation children who live on reserve. This panel recently held its last public engagement session and we are looking forward to its recommendations. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs is focusing on providing quality education where investments support initiatives that improve student outcomes.

We've also taken a number of steps to improve the regulatory environment on reserve, including steps to support first nations to undertake land, environment, and natural resource management activities as key services of a strong local government.

In recent years we have taken steps to make it easier for first nations to develop energy projects. Two years ago, for example, Parliament amended the Indian Oil and Gas Act. These amendments allow for an oil and natural gas management regime on reserve that is more transparent, efficient, and attractive to outside investors. To develop these amendments, the government followed a process similar to the one taken by this committee, listening carefully to the views of those involved. The Indian Resource Council, for instance, played a key role.

In addition to the Indian Oil and Gas Act, two important and complementary pieces of optional legislation are the First Nations Lands Management Act and the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act. Under these acts, a first nation can assume control of land, natural resources, and environmental management, including petroleum resources along with related resource revenues.

Another legislative tool that first nations can choose to use is the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act. Mining regulations have been developed under this act that enable oil sands mining on Alberta reserves, which would otherwise not be possible. This act is also being used now to develop the regulations for the Haisla First Nation in B.C. to operate a liquefied natural gas plant.

Ali these legislative initiatives have been designed to provide flexibility to meet the unique needs of first nation communities.

The final point I'd like to address is consultation and accommodation. The crown has a legal duty to consult--and where appropriate, accommodate--when decisions to approve projects may adversely affect aboriginal and treaty rights. We have taken a number of steps to ensure this duty is fulfilled. A consolidated federal approach to consultation and accommodation is in place, for example, and over 1,800 federal officials have been trained to follow this approach.

We remain committed to ensuring that programming is flexible and responsive to the unique needs and circumstances of aboriginal Canadians, and that communities have the appropriate tools and supports to plan, prepare, and participate in opportunities, as well as the social and community infrastructure to engage and sustain economic growth.

The Government of Canada continues to take decisive steps to modernize its relationship and strengthen partnerships with aboriginal Canadians, and we continue to invest in self-reliance by focusing on opportunities and removing obstacles to aboriginal Canadians' full participation in the economy.

Thank you.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much to each of the presenters for a very informative presentation. We want you to know that we really do appreciate that you've put it together in a fairly short period of time, as you are the first presenters to this committee. We want you to know that we appreciate that very much.

We'll open it up to questions now. Ms. Crowder will start for the first seven minutes.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Great, thank you.

My thanks to the witnesses for appearing. I thought it was interesting that all of your presentations had a heavy focus on aboriginal—first nations, Métis, and Inuit.

In the document entitled “The Business Case for Investing in Canada's Remote Communities”, the first recommendation was to review the funding formula for education in first nations communities to ensure parity with the provincial financing model. There have been a number of studies done that include first nations, Métis, and Inuit access to education. One was the 2007 study “No Higher Priority: Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education in Canada”, which came out when Mr. Mayes chaired the aboriginal affairs committee. In the 2010 report “Building the Pipeline: Increasing the Participation of Women in Non-Traditional Occupations”, there's a part that specifically refers to aboriginal women in trades. And then there was an extensive and thorough report called “Northerners' Perspectives for Prosperity”, December 2010, where the aboriginal affairs committee travelled to rural and remote northern communities and produced 35 recommendations on improving economic prosperity in the north.

In addition, the Auditor General has made recommendations on the inadequacy of education for first nations, which the chamber of commerce referenced. We have two pieces at issue. One is the 2% funding cap that's been in place since 1995, and the other addresses the inadequacy of the per capita funding that first nations on reserve schools receive. The average is $2,000, but in many communities, and especially in remote northern communities, the problem is much greater because provincial governments fund off-reserve schools in rural and remote communities at a much higher level.

I think there are two questions. First, what efforts have HRSDC or the Department of Aboriginal Affairs made to close the funding gap in K-to-12 education? There's no point in talking about post-secondary, technical, or trades if we don't actually have children completing grade 12. Second, what efforts have been made to address that 2% cap when we know that aboriginal populations have grown, on average, about 11.1%, according to the Auditor General?

I'm not sure if it's HRSDC or the Department of Aboriginal Affairs who would like to answer those two questions.

4:10 p.m.

Sheilagh Murphy Director General, Social Policy and Programs Branch, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Thank you.

On the question of closing the funding gap for K-to-12, one of the things that our department has discovered is the issue of fair and equitable funding for first nations schools. This is one of the improvements we need to make, along with moving towards comparability in education. Comparability in education is not necessarily about additional funding; it's about making other changes as well.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Ms. Murphy, could I interrupt for one moment?

I'm sure you've been to some of these remote schools. Some of the information that came out about the education initiative that's under way has indicated that in some of these schools they don't have access to libraries, computers, or gymnasiums. So I would agree with you about the comparability. These schools aren't even remotely comparable when you look at the lack of facilities that they have.

If you'd like, continue.

4:15 p.m.

Director General, Social Policy and Programs Branch, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Sheilagh Murphy

We are looking at comparability in funding as well as in programming efforts. We want children on reserve to be able to move back and forth between provincial schools and on-reserve schools so that they get the same education they would get off reserve.

We are looking--

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Could I get you to clarify a point that you just made about moving back and forth between provincial schools? In some of these communities there are no provincial schools in the area, so it would mean they would have to leave their communities. What I've heard from some of the elders and parents in these remote communities is that this feels like residential school all over again. They have to ship their children away to get an education. Is that what I'm understanding you to say?

4:15 p.m.

Director General, Social Policy and Programs Branch, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Sheilagh Murphy

Those cases can arise. What I am pointing to is that children may go to school on reserve and then move or be relocated or attend off reserve. We want them to have the same level of education so that as they move to a provincial school they can be integrated into the same grade level as they would be on reserve—so comparability in terms of being able to transition to off-reserve schools. In some communities, yes, there are no high schools, so they would move off reserve to attend high school. We want them to be able to integrate into high schools located close to their reserve or far away, depending on their location, so they can attain the same level of education and qualify for the same level of education. The comparability of educational outcomes is what we are trying to achieve.

In terms of the funding, we have commissioned a report to look at expenditures across the country by provinces to see if we can do a comparative analysis to help identify the level of resourcing needed to provide a comparable quality education of first nations students. It is part of a mandatory departmental K–12 evaluation to identify where there are needs and what the funding issues are.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

When do you anticipate that study being available?

4:15 p.m.

Director General, Social Policy and Programs Branch, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Sheilagh Murphy

I'm not sure of the exact date, but my understanding is that it is ready to become available in the next couple of months.