Evidence of meeting #26 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was million.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Wernick  Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Patrick Borbey  President, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

It's much better, but it's not absolutely required. In fact the Auditor General in 2011—I'm very familiar with the report—when she recommended a legislative base, she didn't say a legislative base that included funding. There is no reason whatsoever at this point in time, given the acknowledged gap in funding for education, that additional money could not be put in education while the details and the disagreements around a legislative framework could continue to be worked on.

4:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I could, as accounting officer, give you no assurances that that extra money would generate any results.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Ms. Crowder.

We'll turn to Mr. Strahl.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you, Mr. Borbey, for your presentation on CanNor. I want to focus my questions on CanNor.

Mr. Boughen mentioned the Canadian high Arctic research station, which I understand will be inaugurated in time for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. I'm wondering if you can confirm that it's on track to meet the 2017 deadline. Maybe you could inform the committee on the level of local involvement in the project by northerners, specifically the residents of Cambridge Bay in Nunavut.

4:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Patrick Borbey

Mr. Chairman, I certainly have some history associated with the Canadian high Arctic research station and take pride in my previous role, but it is no longer under my responsibility—

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

That's a shame.

4:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Patrick Borbey

—so I will turn to my colleague, Mr. Wernick.

4:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

Thank you for the question.

This is very late-breaking news. The contract for construction was just awarded a week ago, so I can't guarantee that it's absolutely going to open on the day it says, but the project has been managed very carefully. With three construction seasons constructing in the high Arctic, it is going to take a lot of attention to make sure it opens on time, on budget, on scope, but we're quite confident.

You can go to our website and do a virtual tour of the design and see what it would look like and where it would happen. The design process took a little bit longer precisely because there was a lot of community involvement. There's provision in the building for community space and community use. It's not going to be a building up on a hill disconnected from the community, but in fact it will be integrated as much as possible into the community. There's a provision for general purpose space and for an ongoing relationship with the local community.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you.

I'll try again on a CanNor question; maybe I'll get it right this time.

We spoke with the minister about the benefits of devolution, and how that will benefit northerners in the Northwest Territories. I know that CanNor's northern projects management office works with industry, and the report on plans and priorities indicates that it will put an emphasis on ensuring northerners will benefit from resource development.

Can you comment on what CanNor is doing to ensure that northerners will reap the benefits of responsible resource development?

4:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Patrick Borbey

Yes, thank you for the question.

Certainly with the arrival of devolution in the Northwest Territories, CanNor has also continued to step up its activities. Before devolution, we signed an MOU with the government in recognition of the need for some coordination during the transition. The federal government continues to have a regulatory role in the north. It's a much different role after devolution, but we continue to have authorities under DFO, Environment Canada, Transport Canada, and other departments. Therefore, the coordination of the federal family continues to be a priority, and that's part of our mandate at the NPMO within CanNor.

The territorial government also recognized that there is some benefit to coordinating actions between territorial and federal governments so that we arrive at decisions in a timely way for projects that are moving through the regulatory process. It was a very busy year in the NWT for regulatory matters. Just before devolution, a number of major projects went through the EA process, and continue to move forward, and we hope...in this case, mostly mines, but we hope they'll become operating mines over the next couple of years, under now the lead of the GNWT.

I talked about the number of projects. There's tremendous potential there. We know that mining in NWT, for example, contributed half of the GDP of the territory in some years, so it's a very important industry. In Nunavut, one single mine is responsible for about 15% of the GDP of the territory. We have a number of other mines that we're also helping to get established, including the recent approval of Baffinland's Mary River project through the environmental assessment process. Right now as we speak resources and employees are being sent out to that site in order to bring that closer to reality as an operating mine. I believe about $750 million will be invested in the next number of months. Some 210 jobs have been created following the regulatory approval of that project.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you.

I have just a minute here.

CanNor is approaching its fifth anniversary from its inception. Obviously this was a key part of our government's northern strategy. I see $31 million allocated to CanNor in the estimates. Could you quickly give us some highlights of some of the major accomplishments of CanNor after you went through the initial process of getting set up, what you have been able to accomplish in the north?

4:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Patrick Borbey

We've been able to deliver the government's programs under the economic action plan. For example, when CanNor was created in 2009, we also deployed significant resources under those programs to be able to help northerners work through the recession. At the same time as we were creating the agency we were deploying projects to help northerners.

We've invested in all areas of the economy. I was looking at some of our stats. I talked about 910 projects over less than five years: $21 million in projects that have supported resource development; $5 million that has supported transportation infrastructure development; another $3.5 million that has supported energy efficiency or energy improvement projects; about $1 million in projects related to improving IT and connectivity, broadband access in the north; $4 million in helping the Nunavut fisheries sector, an emerging sector of the economy; $13.5 million to support northern tourism, including pan-northern tourism campaigns that you've probably seen on television or at the cinemas over the last couple of years; $2 million in projects that are related to supporting our small but very healthy francophone communities in the three territories; and about $20 million in various skill development and learning projects. On top of that there is also arts and crafts and supporting small business and helping to create a number of new aboriginal-led businesses over those years. It's been a very busy four and a half years or so, and we're looking forward to continuing.

We're quite proud of what I described a little bit earlier with the NPMO. This is a new concept that didn't exist before; this is a function that was not in place. Michael and I lived through the experience of the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline project, and we swore that we would find a better way to ensure that the regulatory system produced positive results for people, for the environment, and for the economy in the north. I think that's probably the thing I'd be most proud of at this point in terms of our achievements.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you so much.

We'll turn to Ms. Sgro.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Borbey, I'm quite interested in the Ring of Fire. Where does that fit on your...? Since we're talking about job creation, that certainly would create a lot. I'd be interested in a short comment on that.

4:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Patrick Borbey

It's just south of the border for my activities. My agency only has a mandate to work in the three territories. However, I think we have tools, approaches, and instruments that we are more than happy to share with others who are looking at resource development on this kind of scale, and the development of positive relationships with aboriginal groups.

We are always sharing. A Public Policy Forum report recently highlighted some of our best practices. That report was looking at a broader definition of northern resource development to include the northern parts of the provinces and areas such as the Ring of Fire.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Wernick, I'm a bit perplexed by your answer to Ms. Crowder on the issue of being able to guarantee results when you invest in education.

Do you think that other departments look for a guaranteed result when they're investing in education in other than first nations communities?

4:55 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I think that the diagnostic on first nations education that is laid out in the Auditor General's report, in the Senate committee's report, in the report of the national panel on education is very clear. You know the results we're getting on reserve in K-to-12 education. Just pumping up the funding and hoping for the best is not an approach I would recommend to you.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

May I suggest that we at least start on a level playing field, so they have an opportunity to have funding equal to all the other children in Canada.

I'll leave that there. I think it's totally inadequate to look for the guarantee, but anyway, let me ask you another question.

Can you provide the committee with a breakdown of the spending on first nations water and waste water by year? How much of that spending in each year was from your A-based funding, and how much of it was from additional temporary funding that was provided in the various budgets over those years?

You might be a smart man, but I don't suspect you have all those numbers on the top of your head.

4:55 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

As the minister said, if you combine the base budget in the program with what we got in budgets that were tabled since 2006, the total comes to about $3 billion. I'd be happy to provide charts and tables that provide the breakdown. Roughly half came from the A-based and half came from the budgets.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Somehow the numbers don't seem to add up.

In the main estimates you allocate approximately $8 million in contributions to first nations for the purpose of consultation and policy development. That represents a decrease from $29 million previously to $11.4 million.

Given the department's stated commitment to consulting and engaging on policy decisions and legislation, and your legal and moral obligation to do so, how can you justify this planned decrease when it comes to funding for consultations?

May 29th, 2014 / 4:55 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I can provide further information on the specific from/to on that number. I can assure you the department has always met and will always meet its duty to consult. There has been extensive and extremely expensive consultation on every piece of legislation this committee's had before it. More than $9 million of taxpayers' money was spent on consultations before the matrimonial property bill. There was extensive consultation before the water bill. I would be happy to provide all the details of all the taxpayers' dollars that went into consultation.

The challenge, which I think you're starting to see, is that there are 44 aboriginal political organizations, 79 tribal councils, and 630 chiefs. You cannot consult everybody equally. Governments have to make a judgment about how much consultation is adequate before they take action.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Have you looked at the assessment of what the impact's going to be on your ability to deliver on the consultations with these kinds of cutbacks?

4:55 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I think there are ample opportunities for those representative organizations to become far more efficient. In the past, a lot of that was done 1970s style by getting on airplanes, going to hotels, and having long conferences, with lots of consultants and lots of lawyers. With new technology, with video conferencing, with Skyping, and with other things, I think it's possible to extract a great deal more engagement for less money.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Given the freeze on your operating budget, do you anticipate other staff reductions in the department?

4:55 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

It's very difficult to tell. The department has shrunk considerably. As you'll be aware, we peaked at about 5,200 employees. We're now at about 4,500. About 480 positions were eliminated in the deficit reduction action plan. Another 100-and-some left through Northwest Territories devolution and are now employees of the territorial government. We did affect some people because of the changes in the urban aboriginal strategy, since we are not going to deliver the program. The National Association of Friendship Centres is going to be on the front lines, so we require fewer staff. It is inevitable that about 500 jobs will disappear when we've finished with the residential schools agreement. We will be well south of 4,000 employees before very long.