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Evidence of meeting #54 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs 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

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

First, I don't agree with the premise of your question.

In terms of the expenditures the Government of Canada makes, we can isolate the 2% cap issue that relates to some of the expenditures. I'm happy to talk about that.

At the end of the day, the reality is that the Government of Canada expends $10.2 billion on programs and services that are largely directed to 448,000 on-reserve citizens in this country. It is a very significant amount of money. First and foremost, we need to ensure those dollars are well targeted and well expended and that we are getting results. We're working on that.

In addition, in terms of the 2% cost driver analysis you're talking about, I made the point earlier that it does not reflect all of the other expenditures that have been built into the last two budgets of this Conservative government, which provide for increases in expenditures in targeted areas where we wish to see results, and that includes women, children, and education.

The $10.2 billion therefore reflects other expenditures that are not capped in any way and have been put forward as single approval payments to deal with many of these issues.

The other assumption that underlies your concern relates to the percentage of the cost of governmental services in first nations that should be borne by the Government of Canada. Is it 100 cents on the dollar? Do you advocate a situation where 100 cents on every dollar expended by a first nations government comes from the Government of Canada?

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I think it would make sense to sit down with first nations and develop a plan to address this on a nation-to-nation basis. The Government of Canada took on a responsibility over 150 years ago that it can't now abandon because, in their view, it's become far too expensive.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

I'm not suggesting that it be abandoned, by any means. This government is expending $10.2 billion. That's $1.1 billion more than the previous Liberal government expended on aboriginal programs and services. It's a very large amount of funding.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

But that also includes the hundreds of Department of Justice lawyers who the government pays to actually fight court claims. Are you saying that the $10.2 billion doesn't include the Department of Justice?

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

I don't believe it includes the Department of Justice. It includes expenditures on the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, but that's like 4% in terms of administration costs. Most of this money, the lion's share of this money, is paid out as grants and contributions by the Government of Canada to first nations, which are then responsible for the expenditures.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

That's $5 billion to $6 billion, but that's not the other $4 billion.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Colin Mayes

Thank you.

We're moving on to Mr. Blaney, please.

May 29th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Firstly, allow me to welcome both the minister, who is here for a third time with his highly experienced team, and the Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Mr. Ghislain Picard. I see that the Chief of the Témiscamingue First Nation is also here, as well as community representatives and people who work in education in Quebec, such as Mr. Whiteduck. I would like to extend a warm welcome to them and point out that they are always welcome at any of our committee meetings.

As you know, Minister, since you were also there, Quebec representatives recently met at the first nations socio-economic forum. Education was amongst the subjects on the agenda and a commitment was made with regard to the aboriginal pavilion and an agreement was signed with the majority of Quebec first nations.

Housing was also discussed at the forum. In your presentation this morning, you mentioned what I believe to be a crucial program—the first nations market housing fund. You spoke about developing approximately 25,000 new housing units over the next 10 years. Three hundred million dollars have been earmarked for the fund for 2007. At the first nations socio-economic forum, it was agreed that an innovative approach to housing was required in order to reduce the gap between supply and demand.

I would like you to begin by telling us how your housing initiative will reduce this gap, particularly in Quebec.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Thank you.

The figure of 25,000 housing units is an assessment of the shortfall. Not everyone agrees on what that figure is. There are many who think it's significantly higher. But the 25,000 is the department's assessment of the shortfall of houses amongst first nation citizens.

The issue becomes how to address that shortfall. Should every single one of those houses be a social house, provided by the Government of Canada? Or are there first nations citizens who are interested in owning their own property? We know that across Canada--I hope in Quebec--there are first nations that wish to come forward and have private housing, on reserve, owned by the first nations citizens themselves.

In the context of Quebec, Bill S-6 becomes extremely important, because it is Bill S-6 that provides the clearest and fastest method for first nations to be able to access that opportunity. Again, it's very surprising that this wasn't done previously, but essentially first nations in Quebec have not had the same opportunities as other first nations have had in Canada. Other first nations have essentially been able to move out from under the Indian Act in cases where they are ready, willing, and able, and that hasn't been possible in the same way in Quebec because of the absence of legislation. So Bill S-6 remedies that, and it's one of the reasons I'd like to see that bill through the House, from the Senate into the House, approved immediately, because there are first nations in Quebec that wish to move forward on private housing.

The other thing I would emphasize, because there has been some scare-mongering on this, is that the concept of private on-reserve housing does not equate to a breaking up of Indian reserves and disposition of land. The way in which this has been structured, it allows first nation communities to continue to hold their land base collectively, but through things such as certificates of possession or essentially the equivalent of a long-term lease, it allows individual citizens to own their own property. There is no risk that it will lead to a balkanization, a dismemberment of reserves. That's not the point.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Thank you, Minister.

The discussion primarily centred on housing in the communities.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Colin Mayes

You have half a minute.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

I would have liked to have touched upon the urban aboriginal strategy, but given the little time available, you would be hard-pushed to give us a detailed explanation of it. Nonetheless, I believe that it is a laudable initiative in light of the number of aboriginal people expected to move to urban areas.

I will come back to it if I get another opportunity to ask questions. Thank you.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

The urban aboriginal strategy was announced, Mr. Chairman, in Edmonton about three weeks ago. It's been a very successful approach. It was originally developed as a concept many years ago. It was not actually funded, as I recall, until 2003. This government has moved forward. We've refocused it, re-targeted the expenditure of funds, and have extended the application from, as I recall, eight major urban cities to twelve. I think it's a good program; I think it's yielding exceptional results. It achieves a high amount of leverage, because in individual cities, people take the funds that are received and they approach private sources, first nation sources, municipal sources, provincial sources, and they achieve a leverage, as I recall, in Calgary and Edmonton, in particular, of 2:1 or 4:1. So it's yielding specific results, especially for first nation women and children who have left reserves and who are moving to the cities.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Colin Mayes

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

Committee members, we have finished two rounds. I'm going to continue on the third round, a five-minute round, until ten minutes to the hour, and then I'll be calling for the question on the votes.

Mr. Russell.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, Minister, and to all of those gathered here this morning.

I would just say, by way of observation, that much of the success is going to depend on relationships and how those relationships are fostered. It's going to depend on effective consultation and dealing in a respectful and honourable way with first nations, Inuit, and Métis people across Canada. I would only observe that from a high, in terms of the relationship between government and aboriginal peoples across Canada, in November 2005 with the Kelowna accord, I can't remember--I was involved for about 13 years--a lower time or a more tense time in terms of the relationship with the federal government and aboriginal peoples since Oka, about 15 years ago.

When it comes to relationships, let's go directly to claims, which are one of those basic building blocks and are supposed to, I guess, solidify aboriginal peoples' relationships with the Crown for some time to come. Why does the priorities and planning document indicate that when it comes to claims settlement, we're going to go from $523 million in 2007-08 to $152 million in 2008-09, and then $143 million in 2009-10? If we're talking about settling land claims and moving on with them in an aggressive way, and hopefully in a respectful way, why decline the expenditures under that line item?

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

I'm pleased to answer that, but let me first respond to your initial assertion. You and I have known each other for many years in a respectful way. I don't agree with your assessment, and I think if you talked to the leadership of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations; the Union of Ontario Indians; the Treaty 6, Treaty 7, and Treaty 8 councils in Alberta; the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs; and the B.C. First Nations Leadership Council, all of these organizations will tell you that in their view this is one of the best governments they have ever worked with on the ground, getting things done.

As I say, you and I have known each other, and if you have different information, please feel free to pass it on. We'll be discussing it in a respectful way, but I can tell you, because I've met with all of these organizations in the last two weeks, that's precisely what they're saying.

Let me come to land claims, which was your question. There is no intent to reduce the importance of land claims. What you've seized upon is reflection in the budget documents that show the number of claims that are in the system. The reduction from $523 million this year to $152 million next year to $143 million the year after simply reflects specific claims that have been settled, but the communities haven't yet ratified the settlement, so the dollars in a sense are held in suspense until such time as there is ratification of the agreement. The $523 million simply represents a balloon amount that relates to, as I recall, about 25 settlements that we've negotiated and that cannot yet be paid out because there hasn't been a community ratification or a final settlement. Frankly, if those settlements aren't ratified this year, those dollars will then carry forward and they will add to the $152 million next year. So in a sense, it's a running total of where we are on specific claims settlements.

The other part of it is that those numbers reflect multi-year settlement payments. For example, regarding a claim you're well aware of, the Labrador Inuit land claim, it was resolved three years ago and there were budgeted payments over three years. Those payments begin to subside after this year, so the dollars obviously reduce, and there are other comprehensive claims like that.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

On the $152 million in 2008-09, what does that figure reflect? Is there any anticipation of further settlements of specific or comprehensive claims that would adjust that figure, and would that be the same for 2009-10?

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

It would reflect essentially a base amount that projects the number of claims that will come to fruition in that year. As you know, it's taken a long time, sometimes too long, to negotiate specific claims. The $152 million reflects where we think we will be two years out in terms of the number of claims that will end, but it does not restrict the department in its ability to settle specific claims. The number is simply a projection going forward, based on what we know today.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Colin Mayes

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

Mr. Bruinooge, please.

We're out of time.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Unfortunately, Mr. Russell, five minutes does go rather fast. I'd make a comment on Newfoundland time, but I won't.

Minister, we have maintained a civil tone today, so I'm not going to stray away from that. I would like to point out that Mr. Russell did make a comment about the early 1990s yet again today, but forgetting conveniently a period of time when his party was in government and could have reformed some of the systems that bring land claims to a settlement. We did see a massive growth in the land claims that were put before the Government of Canada over that period of time, and I know this is something that's very important to you. But I didn't want to talk about that. I just had to make reference to it in light of the comments I heard.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Later.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Minister, something that I find very interesting, and I know you do as well, is the area of the demographics that face Canada. We see the reality of mainstream society not continuing to grow the Canadian population at large, with birth rates very low, comparable to the European crisis. We've heard statistics from our government recently indicating that by the year 2020, nearly all our population growth is going to come from immigration.

In light of our demographic issues and, of course, our quickly growing economy--some could argue that it's one of the best in the world, it's definitely tops in the G8--we have a large need for employable individuals. I guess my line of questioning would be more about the area of aboriginal population growth, which is actually going against the trend and is doing very well.

You've taken an interest in bringing economic opportunity to first nations people. I had the opportunity to be involved with the signing of an agreement with Siemens Canada to begin developing human resource models for first nations people.

How do you see our government being able to further grow in this area, as it is such an important issue facing our country in the next few years?

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Well, I think it's an extraordinary opportunity we face as a country, because the world demands and is prepared to acquire Canadian products. And Canadian resource products in particular are in hot demand. Many of the projects we're talking about, which are principal economic drivers in Canada, are located in situations where first nations communities are proximate to those developments. In some cases they are actually resource owners. So I think the future is very bright indeed, if we focus on that opportunity and direct our efforts.

If you look at the projections for employment requirements in northern Alberta, up the Mackenzie Valley, in the Northwest Territories, in Nunavut, in northern Saskatchewan, and in other places, and look at some of the hydro projects in Quebec and Labrador--the potential of all these things--there are extraordinary employment opportunities for first nations kids, for young people. Our challenge is to get those young people through high school, first and foremost, so they're in a position to make a choice to go on to university or post-secondary or to be in the job market.

I think we all know that if one doesn't finish high school in today's day and age, it's very difficult to have meaningful participation in the workforce.

We're working together closely with industry. There are some very willing partners, such as the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Alberta, and industry leaders, who want to sit down to talk about employment opportunities and how we structure government programming to ensure that young first nations citizens are recruited and take part in the workforce.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that we're making real progress in this country. I think one of the members might have mentioned that in the diamond mines, 30% of the workers are first nations citizens. At Voisey's Bay, between 40% and 50% of citizens are aboriginal people. Near the Fort McKay First Nation there is a major development of an oil sands project. So these things are starting to happen in a very positive way, and it spells much for the future of the country.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Colin Mayes

Thank you.

Mr. Lemay, you can ask just a concise question. We're just about out of time.

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Thank you.

Minister, I will respond to what your parliamentary secretary said in a few moments. Firstly, however, allow me to say that you will soon be receiving an invitation to attend the official ground-breaking ceremony for the Pavillon des Premières Nations in Val-d'Or. I hope that you will do us the honour of attending. Furthermore, the Pikogan reserve, near Amos, will very soon—over the course of the new few days or weeks, I hope—be extended under Treaty 9. I hope that you will also do us the honour of attending this event. You will be receiving an invite.

Even although all of this is very important, I would now like to get down to the nitty-gritty. I have a question for you on an issue that has not yet been raised. I imagine that this will be the last question of the day.

What is happening with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? What is Canada's position? Is it likely to change? Has funding been earmarked for implementing the declaration?