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.