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Evidence of meeting #53 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was program.

A recording is available from Parliament.

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Wernick  Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Michael Nadler  Director General, Policy and Planning, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

9:50 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

Yes, plus the cost of the measures the ministers announced yesterday, which would be approximately.... We're not absolutely sure, because we always need to know how many kilos, but that could be another $8 million, $9 million, $10 million next year.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you, Mr. Bagnell.

Let's go to Mr. Dreeshen for five minutes.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the department officials for being here today.

As you know, the committee recently tabled a comprehensive report on economic development in Canada's north. We had the opportunity to travel there, and saw first-hand the barriers and the opportunities northerners were faced with. We spent a lot of time on this study.

When you have a committee report that's entitled “Northerners' Perspectives for Prosperity”, you can imagine that many aspects of our study and recommendations seem to tie in with the department's activities that are already being undertaken in the Arctic.

My question is with regard to research. Can you explain what the specific areas are where the government is investing in research in the Arctic?

9:50 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

We are aware, as we have the committee's report, and of course we'll respond to it in due course as a government response to the committee.

In the area of science there are two main pillars. One would be the International Polar Year activity, which was a serious injection of resources around IPY, and the moving forward on improving facilities. Under Canada's economic action plan about 20 facilities across the north got money for renovations, upgrades, and so on. The list of those is on the website. All those projects were completed on time as part of that. The third pillar would be the high Arctic research station in Cambridge Bay that the minister alluded to, which we look forward to in the next few years.

The science priorities are very much around environmental monitoring and management, what is going on up there as the climate changes: ecosystems are changing, wildlife is changing. A lot of it's related to the science that will allow regulators and governments to make decisions about economic development projects: where is it safe to drill, what are the consequences of mining, and so on?

The other big priority is human science issues, health issues in the north, which Health Canada is particularly interested in.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Thank you.

My second question--perhaps it even ties into some of that--has to do with education. Your department announced last December that a panel of experts would be appointed to report to the minister on education issues that were facing first nations. I wonder if you can update our committee on what the department has done since announcing this panel.

9:50 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I don't want to scoop the minister; he'll be making a more fulsome announcement in the coming days. But we've been working with the Assembly of First Nations to make this as collaborative a project as possible. I think its core focus will be on education legislation. One of the biggest problems in first nation education across the country is there's no statutory framework--there's no law similar to a provincial education act. So I think that is the core they will work on. Some of the ideas have been around for a while, and they may be able to crystallize those as advice to the minister and the national chief very quickly.

I guess what we don't know is whether the panel will go into other issues around the delivery of education, services, funding, and all that sort of stuff. The deeper they go, the longer they'll take. The panel is free to give the government its best advice, as it sees fit.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

So when we speak to culturally appropriate education, we could look at different types of delivery models as well. These are part of the things that are also being discussed, I assume.

9:55 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

Yes. I think this is similar to other areas. It's very hard to come out with a national framework that is going to work equally well in the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, northern Quebec, or southern Ontario. Education is so important to communities' sense of themselves, and they want a lot of control over it. So my prediction is that we will end up with enabling legislation, framework legislation that clarifies some accountabilities and roles and responsibilities, but with a great deal of local delivery, just as it is for non-aboriginal Canadians.

The local school boards, parents' councils, and the communities are really going to be the key, but we have to give them the tools and the accountability--the kind of structure that will make them more successful and more investment-grade going forward.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

You have 30 seconds left, Mr. Dreeshen.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

On the backlog of registrations as Indian, can you give us an update as to what is happening in dealing with that?

9:55 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

Yes.

We have a fairly steady business at the registry, as long as there's an Indian Act and people have status defined by the Indian Act. People are born, die, marry, adopt, and so on, so there's a lot of business at the Indian registry. We'll also have new business because of the people enfranchised under Bill C-3. It was identified about a year and a half ago that a backlog was building up. Things were coming in faster than we could get them out. I'm very pleased to say that with some hard work and process engineering, that backlog has been eliminated.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Dreeshen.

We'll now go to Mr. Lévesque.

Mr. Lévesque, you have five minutes.

9:55 a.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Wernick, I'm sure you have highly developed accounting skills. You've proven that over the years.

The Nutrition North program will go into effect on April 1. I know you can't answer me on behalf of the Department of Health, but I would like to know what savings the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs will achieve by transferring the Food Mail program's transportation costs to the Nutrition North program.

Furthermore, the demand for housing in the north is enormous. Already last year, there was demand for 1,000 additional housing units, and they were absolutely necessary.

We made a recommendation to the minister, but I don't know whether he will accept it. In view of the obligations that will be imposed on retailers in the north under the Food North program, we suggest that the department build and maintain warehouses in order to avoid unduly transferring costs to consumers.

I would like to know whether you have set aside any reserves for that purpose.

9:55 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

Thank you, Mr. Lévesque.

I believe your question can be divided into three points. First, there will be no saving to the department. I believe the new program will cost more than the old one. The largest amount that we've spent for the old program is $66 million or $68 million. We'll spend more than that next year. In the subsidies, importance will be attached more to the goods targeted by the program. However, there will not be any savings as such.

There will be a table of subsidy rates for each community. The subsidy rate for community X will be different from that for community Y. The difference is that we now have a much more competitive model. The retailers will be able to choose their source of supply. Canada Post will no longer have a monopoly. All efforts will go into looking for the most effective ways to get the best supply of goods. I believe there will be enormous efficiency gains. Of course, there will be an adjustment process for retailers and the communities. That's why the minister has decided to extend the transition period.

Let's consider a third aspect to this same program. Our department does not intend to create a major subsidy program for storage and all that. However, I believe we'll be cooperating with the economic development agencies. If a cost-benefit analysis is good, an investment in those kinds of infrastructures in the context of a more competitive market will be a good project. I believe there will be investments by the economic development agencies. We're going to provide consulting services to the people who now have to deal with a much more open and competitive market. We'll be hiring experts to work directly with the communities.

10 a.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Let's discuss the economic issue, Mr. Wernick. Considering the fact that the carriers will have to negotiate with a single retailer at a time, that they will be taking the retailer's size into account, that they won't know the volume of goods that has to be transported every day and that they also won't know the days when they will have to transport them, do you actually believe that the retailers' capacity will be greater than that of the Canada Post Corporation so that they can negotiate lower transportation prices?

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Give a brief answer.

10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

As is the case for the open and unsubsidized markets, there are now electronic systems with which we can measure the daily demand for goods very accurately. There will be a model. We have a lot of information on the models used at the time of the old program, on what people eat, on what they order and on what they buy. These data will vary a little in future.

I believe we've given the power to the retailers and consumers—personal options are always important. They'll find the most effective ways to get the best offers. I believe the carriers will meet that need.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you, Mr. Lévesque.

Mr. Weston, you're up, for five minutes.

10 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you, Mr. Lévesque.

We've just heard our minister's remarks. Among other things, he said that our government would be investing in tourism in the north.

Mr. Wernick, can you tell us a little more about what our government is doing to support tourism in the north?

10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

Thank you for that question. I will turn it over to Mr. Nadler, because these programs of direct business support and economic development are now delivered by the Northern Economic Development Agency.

March 10th, 2011 / 10 a.m.

Michael Nadler Director General, Policy and Planning, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

If that's possible, I'll answer in English.

Tourism is a very important sector for all three territories in the north. Since CanNor's creation in 2009 the agency has invested $11 million in tourism-related projects in all three territories. As the minister mentioned, since February around $5.5 million in projects have been invested. Tourism is an emerging sector in Nunavut, in the Northwest Territories, but a well-established sector in Yukon. We've seen some very recent projects announced in Yukon, and as a consequence that sector is very important to the Yukon economy.

10 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Are there any other projects?

10 a.m.

Director General, Policy and Planning, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Michael Nadler

There are a number. We're going to launch a national project to promote tourism in the north. So that will be a national campaign. We're also going to promote tourism in the north in countries such as France and other European countries.

We're supporting projects that will bring tourism from southern Canada into the north, into all three territories. This is a pan-territorial project, but also reaching into other markets around the world. That includes countries in Europe and also countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

I believe that's quite consistent with the emphasis our Prime Minister is putting on the issue of sovereignty in the north.

May I ask a question about the Mackenzie gas project?

What actions have been taken now that responsibilities for the project have been transferred to the Department of Indian Affairs?

10:05 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

Minister Duncan has been given responsibility for the project and for the associated things, like the impact fund. The project is at a point where it's basically come out of the regulatory process. The joint review panel is done; the NEB process is done. There are a number of licensing and permitting issues we'll have to work through, and my department will be handling those.

The other issues have to do with the economics of the program of the project, and that's really up to the private sector proponents. They will have to make a market decision as to whether to construct or proceed, I think, about two years from now. In terms of the impact fund, it's really just sitting there. If there's no pipeline, there will be no impact fund dispersement. We're quite optimistic the project will proceed, but it really is going to be a private sector decision.