Evidence of meeting #6 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 video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

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

11:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

No, it was renewed with the same level of funding.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Is the current allocation sufficient to meet the needs of a growing urban aboriginal population, given that there's no increase?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Every morning when I get to the Hill I look for the tree where the money grows, and I haven't found it yet. To the question on whether it is sufficient, I guess I will answer by saying that within the current fiscal framework in which we must operate, we are doing as much as the taxpayers can afford.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

I would just ask to table the answer to the third question, which was, what specific projects are being supported by the funding allocation in these supplementary estimates? Thank you.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

I think it's been noted.

Thank you.

We'll turn now to Mr. Strahl for the next round of questioning.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair and Minister.

I want to salute, certainly, our translation team who are battling through some difficulties today. They do a great job helping us to do ours. I appreciate that.

One of the things that I've had the pleasure of doing since being appointed parliamentary secretary is meeting some of the folks involved with first nations youth right across the country. I'm thinking specifically of Roberta Jamieson, the president and CEO of Indspire, who is a remarkable woman, a remarkable first nations leader who's doing great work with Indspire. I was pleased to host a dinner with her for this year's Indspire award recipients and was very impressed, especially with the youth winners. The next generation of first nations leadership that is coming up is certainly impressive and they're already inspiring their communities.

I want to ask about Indspire in these estimates. I see in the estimates that our government has invested $5 million to go to Indspire to pull funds for these bursaries and scholarships. How many bursaries and scholarships will Indspire be able to provide with these additional funds from the government?

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Let me start by saying that, of course, we are committed to helping aboriginal students to access post-secondary education and acquire the skills they need to fully participate in the labour market and in society. Over and above the program that our government provides to first nations and Inuit students, they can also benefit from other funding sources that target aboriginal students. Indspire is an example of an organization providing bursaries.

We are proud to support Indspire, which has a proven record of success, providing scholarships to over 2,200 aboriginal students annually, and raising significant support from a range of corporate donors to help support the students' success.

This $5 million will be matched by Indspire itself. Indspire awarded $5.2 million in 2012-13 to support 2,050 bursary and scholarship recipients, for an average of about $2,500 a year. With the government's pledge of $10 million over those two years, Indspire has publicly committed to raise another $10 million, which will result in about 8,000 students with scholarships and bursaries over two years. That's quite a successful undertaking, I think.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

I've heard you speak and others speak about the importance of a quality education, a quality post-secondary education, but as well the building block to that post-secondary education, which is a K-to-12 education.

What is your office doing? What is the department doing to ensure there is adequate dialogue and consultation with the government, with first nations and key stakeholders on something like a first nations education act?

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

This is an important question because as many people know we currently are in consultation mode with first nations, stakeholders, provinces, interested Canadians, about the challenge that first nations students on reserve face in terms of the education system, which is non-existent right now. The genesis of the current legislative proposal goes back to 2008 in the throne speech of the day. Since that time, in partnership with the first nations, we have had studies, we have consulted, and consultations were officially launched by Minister Duncan in December of last year. We have informed the latest legislative proposal with what we heard from stakeholders, first nations, and this process is ongoing.

What is important to point out is that no decision has been made on the introduction of any bill in regard to this. We will continue consulting with first nations and hopefully come up with the proposal that will find the support required by the challenge that we all face together.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Minister.

We'll turn to Ms. Jones now for the next round of questions.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, Minister, and your officials.

My question is related to the $2 million that will be reallocated from the contributions to grants through supplementary estimates. It's related to the on-reserve income assistance program and assisted living. In the main estimates, you identified a reduction of $40.4 million to the income assistance program. It's my understanding that a significant portion of the expected savings were linked to your department's policy shift from reasonable comparability to compliance with provincial rates and standards.

As we all know, this month the Federal Court struck down your policy to tie rates to provincial levels in Atlantic Canada. It found you owed more procedural fairness regarding your lack of consultation with first nations in Atlantic Canada. In fact, a judge said there was never any meaningful consultation about the merits of a strict application of provincial rates and eligibility criteria.

I can only assume from this case in Atlantic Canada that there has been a significant lack of consultation throughout the country. My question today would be, given the Federal Court ruling, will you be pausing the implementation of this policy shift in Atlantic Canada? And will you indeed be pausing the entire policy shift for the country?

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

First of all, this is a court decision that was recently rendered, which we are still reviewing. So it would be improper for me to comment on that decision. Let's say that Atlantic Canada is the only part of the country where these allegations have been made. The policy, which is an old policy, an old Treasury Board guideline, is being implemented in the rest of Canada without problem, As regards the Atlantic region, once we have reviewed the decision we will be able to make a decision as to how to proceed from here.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

Okay.

The Federal Court judge also noted that it was particularly disturbing that there was no hard data on the number of recipients who would actually lose their entitlement to social assistance, further to a strict application of provincial eligibility criteria. I want to ask this. Has the department undertaken an evaluation of the impacts of the decision to move to a strict mirroring of provincial rates or eligibility criteria for first nations recipients?

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

As I just indicated, we are reviewing the decision, so no decision has been made.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

I understand the review of the decision. Just prior to the court, would there have been any evaluation of what the impact would be once you made the shift within the department. I guess I'm just looking to see if there was any evaluation process done prior to the court.

11:35 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

The policy shift is simply to consistently pay provincial rates according to provincial criteria, as to who's eligible and not eligible, something we've been asked to do in education, child and family services, and many, many other areas. We were actually paying more generously in some Atlantic communities than the province would pay similar people in similar circumstances.

The caseloads in communities are maintained by the first nations and they vary from week to week and month to month. We would have some sense of the potential impact if we were overpaying, but it would vary from month to month, depending on the caseloads. The caseloads are quite high in some communities and quite low in others.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

I guess what I found a little bit strange about it is that the court didn't have access to the information, or it would certainly seem that way based on the ruling. The kind of information that I'm looking for, I would image, is available within the department. I would be happy if you could provide me with it at a later date.

11:35 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

To help, Mr. Chair, we have a profile of every single first nations community on our website that is continually updated, and it includes the social assistance caseload numbers.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

Okay, I'll certainly have a look at it, but the number that I would be looking for is the number of recipients in total who would be affected and how many of those could potentially lose entitlement benefits if this policy were implemented.

11:35 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

You can't really answer that question until you've gone in and done the compliance work, which we are being prevented from doing by the court decision, so it's a bit of a circular question.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

Okay.

In terms of the evaluation, let me ask you this. Are there any documents related to the evaluation of the program and what the impacts might be that you could actually table with our committee?

November 28th, 2013 / 11:35 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I will certainly provide anything that we have.

We have over 80 audits and evaluations posted on our website and we have been looking at income assistance in the past. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure what the most recent reports are, but we'll certainly make them available to the committee.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

Okay.

Do I still have time?

On one of the questions that you were looking at with regard to the resolving of land claims, I know you did say that you had been making some progress in terms of the assessment process. Can you give me an idea of the number of claims that would be near completion of negotiations right now, that we could possibly see some settlement on?

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

I cannot predict what negotiations can lead to in terms of results. What is important to know is that there are sufficient funds allocated to meet any obligations that will arise out of those settlements. As I indicated, we have many claims that are being negotiated, as we speak, that have doubled since the introduction of Justice At Last, but I am afraid I cannot predict the exact number or round numbers of settlements.