Thank you very much.
I would introduce Colleen Swords as well, who is our associate deputy minister over at INAC. It may be her first appearance here, so I know that you'll ask her some very pointed questions later, but she is ready. She is fully ready and has been a great addition to our team over at INAC. As well, Peter Traversy is here to answer a lot of the detailed financial questions I know you'll have. The whole team is assembled nearby. We hope to answer all your questions today, and for those we can't answer of course we'll get you answers, as we've done in the past, if necessary in written form or in other appearances.
Mr. Lemay mentioned that I should practice speaking French today. Since there are no cameras here today, this is a good opportunity for me to do so. So perhaps at the end of my remarks, I can answer in French.
I do thank everyone. It's good to be back here, especially to discuss the 2009-10 supplementary estimates (C) of the Department of Indian and Affairs, which were tabled in the House of Commons on March 3. I appreciate the important role that you play here in this committee in reviewing the expenditures of the Government of Canada and of this department especially.
As was outlined clearly in the recent Speech from the Throne, our Conservative government will continue to build a stronger, healthier relationship with aboriginal people. The supplementary estimates list many initiatives that are key to this relationship and will drive progress on important issues of concern to aboriginal people and indeed to all Canadians.
As outlined in the documents now before members of the committee, these initiatives total over $224 million and effectively increase the department's budget for the current fiscal year to almost $8 billion. I know that members of this committee are familiar with many other elements of the government's agenda: legislation to protect the rights of vulnerable citizens and accelerate the resolution of specific claims, for instance, tripartite arrangements on first nations education, and on-reserve child and family services, to name just a few.
The Speech from the Throne and budget 2010 highlight a number of areas where our government will focus its efforts to achieve a real and significant difference in the lives of aboriginal people. We will work hand in hand with aboriginal communities and with provinces and territories to reform and strengthen education and to support student success and provide greater hope and opportunity.
Over the last two years, the Government of Canada has expanded its partnership with the provinces, the first nations, and Inuit through several different agreements. You'll be familiar with some of these.
In April 2008 there was an MOU between New Brunswick first nations, the Province of New Brunswick, and the Government of Canada. In April 2009 the Inuit Education Accord was signed between the Inuit of Canada, as represented by ITK, and their partner organizations and governments. In October 2009 a letter of understanding for education was announced between the Government of Canada, the Province of Manitoba, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, MKO, and the Southern Chiefs Organization, another great development.
Just last month, another MOU was signed, this time between the Assembly of Treaty Chiefs of Alberta, the Government of Alberta, and the Government of Canada. On that great occasion, I was there to sign that MOU. As the aboriginal leaders in the room said, they felt it was a very historic moment. I was delighted to sign on behalf of Canada.
We will also introduce new legislative measures to further safe drinking water and effective waste water treatment on reserve. The progress the government has achieved in this area, in collaboration with first nations across the country, is unprecedented.
In 2006, when we took office, there were 193 high-risk first nation water systems. Today, that number has been significantly reduced to 44. In addition, 21 communities were identified as priorities, which meant that the community had both a high-risk system and a drinking water advisory. Today, only 4 communities remain on that list. There is more work to be done on this and that is partly why we need this new legislative framework.
As you know, last week we introduced Bill C-3, the legislation that corrects serious gender inequality issues that currently exist under the Indian Act. I appreciate the support we're hearing about this important legislation. It really is a gender equity issue and I do think we need to get at this quickly. I appreciate many of the comments I've heard from people around the table who are saying that we need to get at this quickly.
Our Conservative government will proudly be reintroducing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of real property assets in the event of death--this is on reserve--and to further protect the rights of aboriginal people. Again, this is particularly important to women living on reserve.
We'll take action to address the disturbing number of unsolved cases of murdered and missing aboriginal women. I am delighted to see that in the budget.
Also, we will take steps to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a manner fully consistent with Canada's Constitution and laws.
We also will continue the work that was started in Canada's economic action plan to ensure that the north's economic and social potential is fully and sustainably developed. Specifically on that, we will be working with our northern partners to promote and build investments in the north through the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
We'll continue our work on opening the northern project management office, which will provide a single point of contact for clients undertaking natural resources projects in the three territories. We'll build on the successes of programs such as SINED to ensure economic diversification and encourage northerners' participation in the economy.
I'm delighted again to see allocations for the next stages of building a world-class high-Arctic research station. That will be important for everything from climate issues to the scientific underpinnings for much of what needs to be done in understanding and working in the north for years to come.
We will reform the northern regulatory regime to ensure that the region's resource potential can be developed where commercially viable, while ensuring a better process for protecting our environment.
I think I had a question today on the successor program to the food mail program to help alleviate the costs of shipping healthy foods by air to isolated northern communities. We need to have a successor program. The program we have has done a valiant job, but it needs to be renovated and brought into the 21st century. We need to bring a program renovation forward on that, and we did get allocations in the budget to make that possible.
We want to proceed to give northerners a greater say over their own future and take further steps toward territorial devolution. There are important talks that are ongoing. We will continue to vigorously defend Canada's Arctic sovereignty, map our northern resources, and fulfill our obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, for example, and other national and international efforts. We want to make sure that people not only in Canada but around the world know that Canada's north is Canada's, and we intend to use it and protect it, as Canadians would expect us to, from coast to coast to coast.
Finally, we'll continue to work with other Arctic nations to settle boundary disputes that are well managed. These are kind of long standing, but they're also well managed in the sense that we have a good working relationship with other countries in those boundary areas.
I want to speak to a few of the items on the supplementary estimates themselves. On the Indian residential schools settlement agreement, $120.5 million is for the settlement allotment, and $18.9 million is to ensure that Canada meets its obligations under the agreement.
We all know the significance of the Indian residential schools settlement agreement. It was a huge milestone in the history of Canada's relationship with aboriginal people, and we're providing the resources to implement that agreement. Following on the supplementary estimates, budget 2010 has provided a further $199 million over two years to support implementation of the settlement agreement and help former students, their families, and aboriginal communities embark on the path of healing and reconciliation by ensuring timely payments and health supports that are necessary.
The items I've described today, along with the other investments included in supplementary estimates (C), will help address a wide range of challenges and issues facing northerners and aboriginal peoples. These investments support our government's efforts to work toward collaborative, sustainable solutions that benefit all Canadians.
I know that this committee has recognized that there are a number of obstacles that prevent many aboriginal people and northerners from fully sharing in and contributing to Canada's prosperity. Supplementary estimates (C) will help remove some of those obstacles. Some are monetary, some are legislative, and some are policy.
My guess is that our discussions probably won't stick entirely to the supplementary estimates themselves, but will deal with the panoply of issues that I know this committee has been seized with. So I look forward to the questions specifically on the supplementary estimates, and on other issues as people would like to raise them.