Evidence of meeting #63 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was communities.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Wernick  Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

9:55 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

We probably can provide that breakdown. At this level of aggregation that Treasury Board provides, it's rolled up at a pretty high level. We do have a staff complement, as you know, that does supervise the projects.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Do I have seven minutes?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

It's a five-minute turn. Thank you, Mr. Bevington, your time is up.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Thank you.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

We'll turn now to Mr. Rathgeber for five minutes.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the departmental officials for being here.

I was hoping you could square a circle for me. In the minister's opening comments he indicated a budget reduction of $240.1 million over three years, $160.6 million of which is going to be achieved through streamlining and efficiencies.

He also indicated in his opening comments that the 2013-14 main estimates of $8 billion represents a net increase of $178 million, or 2.3%, over last year.

My question is, how realistic is it that there is going to be a budgetary reduction on 2014-15, and where are those efficiencies hoped to be achieved?

9:55 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

Thank you for the question.

Last year's budget injected about $700 million over three years into the department, and the minister set out some of those new investments. It also took our reductions under the deficit reduction action plan. The breakdown of where those reductions are going to flow by area and year is posted on our website. It was posted in response to the Parliamentary Budget Officer at the same time as other departments. It has been there since October 28, and it's there for people to look at.

To try to answer your question, in the process we took a 10% reduction on the operating budget of the department, a 10% reduction on our staff complement, a 15% reduction on our executive complement. We tried to reduce internally first. There are some impacts on outside funding, which were announced on September 4 by Minister Duncan. We had no reductions, essentially, in province-like program areas or in northern programs.

That's all on the website. If there are further questions, next time we're back, I'd be happy to take those.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Thank you.

What was the First Nations Statistical Institute, and why was it deemed expendable?

March 7th, 2013 / 10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

It was a small stand-alone organization created by the previous government at the time of the first nations statistical act. It pre-dates my time as deputy. At the time the First Nations Land Management Act was created, so was the statistical act and the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act. This was a suite of initiatives designed to create stand-alone first nations institutions.

There was basically no take-up for FNSI by first nations. Nobody was going to it and nobody was using it, so when we had a reduction target to meet, it was one of the things the minister decided to reduce.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

That's a $5-million line item, and I'm assuming, then, from your previous answer that there was no push back when it was announced it was being discontinued.

10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

FNSI was not happy about it, but there was essentially no push back from first nations communities.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Thank you, sir.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you.

We'll turn now to Ms. Hughes.

10 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Thank you very much. I appreciate the department being here.

Our path forward must include a commitment to action with respect to treaty implementation, land claims, proper consultation, and proper resources. In order for first nations to have the ability to improve their economic outcomes, we have to look at long-term planning. We have to make sure the money being invested is going to be enough for them as well to be able to move that forward.

My questions will revolve around treaty rights and treaty implementation and land claims. To begin with, I'm wondering if you could tell me how many outstanding large claims there are currently, so large claims that are a bit greater than $150 million.

10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

You're referring, then, to specific claims, I think, as opposed to comprehensive claims. Comprehensive claims are where there's no treaty resolved, as in the Yukon and parts of Northwest Territories and Quebec.

Specific claims are allegations of violations of past obligations. At last count—and I will correct this if I'm wrong—there are four or five that are estimated to be above the $150-million threshold.

10 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

The 2013-14 main estimates identify a spending decrease of $347 million, from $716 million to $369 million, under the heading of “Co-operative Relationships”.

Could you explain why there is such a decrease? Could you also advise what programs fall under the heading of “Co-operative Relationships”? What do those programs do?

10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I can answer the first one fairly quickly.

One of the large claims above $150 million was the Coldwater claim in Ontario. It was resolved and paid out last year. That's why you see a bigger number last year than this year. Simply put, the money is not needed this year. The decline is simply that Coldwater was paid out with last year's resources.

What you'll see, and I know there's a bit of frustration for the committee, is settlements tend to come in large clumps. It goes up; it goes down. It depends on what year the settlement is reached. We continue to have aspirations to have more settlements this year. That was a big lump payment that went out last year.

On cooperative relationships, I don't have the specific program areas at my fingertips. It's a grab bag of programs that have to do with negotiations and implementation of agreements and also, I think, some of the governance and the capacity-building programs, of which we have many.

I can certainly provide a list.

10 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Yes, send us some information after.

Will the decrease in spending affect the capacity of the ministry to resolve land claims in a timely manner?

10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

No, we certainly don't expect so. Last year on September 4, Minister Duncan announced on behalf of the government its intention, in response to frustrations expressed by first nations, to try to speed up and move the negotiation process to a more results-based approach. We're in very active discussions with first nations around the country on how we can unclog and unkink negotiations. We have limited staff resources and negotiation resources. To be very candid, we're trying to focus those on the tables that have some prospect of moving in the next year or two and take them away from tables that are not really moving because of impasses or other issues. Sometimes there are overlap issues between first nations, and sometimes there are local issues that make it difficult for the first nation to get a mandate. Over the next few years, we're going to try to really move where the opportunity to move presents itself.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

We've heard over and over again that treaty implementation and land claims are some of the biggest barriers to first nations economic development. I can refer to one with respect to the Thessalon First Nation. The government may indicate that it's at an impasse, but these are willing partners and they want to be at the table. The problem, from what we can gather, is that the negotiators don't have the mandate to really negotiate. They don't want to displace themselves, and I'm assuming it's because of funding cuts to the ministry's office.

In the estimates, it indicates a reduction of $341.1 million in expenditures under negotiation settlement and implementation of specific and comprehensive claims. Can you provide an update on the progress of resolving outstanding land claims? How many outstanding claims are there? How many have been resolved this past year? I know you answered part of that a while ago, but how many have been resolved this past year? What impact is felt by this reduction in spending? What, under this heading, will be cut as a result of the decrease in departmental funds? What do you recommend to improve the capacity of the ministry to settle land claims in a timely manner in light of these funding cuts?

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Ms. Hughes, you'll have to get that in writing, because, as I was indicating to you—

10:05 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I'll be very quick. We are always at the table with a mandate. It's not always a mandate the other side of the table likes, but we are never in a situation where we don't have a mandate, clear policies, and clear parameters. I'd be happy to look into the specific table that you referred to.

I think you're referring, at the end of your question, to specific claims. There's an inventory on the website. It's updated quarterly. Our inventory right now is about 345 claims, with about 200 of them in active negotiation. We are working through the smaller claims at a very rapid clip, and that data is on the website.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you.

Mr. Rickford.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to you folks for being here today.

I want to focus on education. Standing back from this, reflecting on the water and sewer, the waste water treatment plant process, I think we came to, as the minister mentioned in his speech, a three-pillar approach. First, we'd be looking at the capacity, reporting, monitoring, and maintenance; second, at an ongoing commitment to infrastructure; and third, at a piece of legislation that would create some standards for—

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Mr. Rickford, I apologize, but there are indications that there are votes in the House at this time. I think there has been agreement to suspend the meeting, at least the questions, at this time, and move immediately to the votes on supplementary estimates (C). If that's the case, we'll now do that.

I do apologize to our officials.