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

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

We'll call this meeting to order. This is meeting number six of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Today we have the opportunity to review the supplementary estimates (B) for 2013-14. These votes are specifically lb, 5b, 10b, 30b, and 35b under Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Colleagues, today we have the privilege of the minister. He has joined us for the first hour.

Minister Valcourt, thank you for being here.

We have with him officials from the department. We have the Deputy Minister, Michael Wernick. Thank you so much for being here. We also have the chief financial officer, Susan MacGowan. Thank you so much for being here.

Minister, we'll turn it over to you for your opening statement, and then we'll certainly have some questions for you.

Thanks again for being here, and please begin with your opening statement.

11:05 a.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt ConservativeMinister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Chair, thank you very much for your warm welcome. I am pleased to be here today to speak to you about the supplementary estimates (B) for fiscal year 2013-14.

Since 2006, our government has been working with our aboriginal partners to remove barriers that are preventing aboriginal people and northerners from developing stronger, healthier and more self-sufficient communities. And while we've made significant progress, we also know there is more work to be done.

For example, our government recognizes that aboriginal women are disproportionately represented as victims of violent crime. This is simply unacceptable. This is why we continue to take concrete action to address the issue of violence against aboriginal women and why we have invested over $240 million in the family violence prevention program since 2006.

In economic action plan 2013, our government committed $24 million over two years for the family violence prevention program, of which $11.7 million is included in this year's supplementary estimates, allowing the total annual funding to remain at over $30 million for this year and for 2014-15.

This program enhances the safety and security of some of Canada's most vulnerable—First Nations women and children living on reserve. Since 2006, this program has also supported a total of 41 shelters across the country that have provided shelter services for over 16,500 children and 18,000 women living on reserve as well as offered over—

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

I apologize. We've lost translation. I'm wondering if we could just interject for a moment to see if our technical experts can correct that. Let's try it again.

We'll turn it over to you now, Minister. I think it has now been corrected. Thank you so much. I do apologize.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Since 2006, this program also supported a total of 41 shelters across the country that have provided shelter services for over 16,500 children and 18,000 women living on reserve as well as offered over 1,800 family violence prevention and awareness activities in aboriginal communities across Canada.

I also want to take this opportunity, Mr. Chair, to state how pleased I am that we were able to finally pass the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, which will provide first nations women and children with legal protections and rights on reserve in the event of a marital breakdown or death, protections they have been without for nearly three decades.

These supplementary estimates also contribute to our efforts to reduce barriers to aboriginal people's full participation in the Canadian economy through investments in education, skills training, and the urban aboriginal strategy.

We know that aboriginal youth represent the fastest-growing segment of the population in Canada, and yet, unfortunately, they have one of the lowest graduation rates. That is exactly why our government is currently consulting on a draft legislative proposal for first nations education that would put in place a system that is accountable to students and ensure that first nations students have access, like all Canadians, to good quality education. Our government firmly believes that all first nations students across Canada deserve access to a school system that meets, if not exceeds, provincial and territorial standards, a school system where first nations culture and language takes its rightful place and respects treaty rights.

Attesting to the priority we place on education, in economic action plan 2013 our government invested $10 million, over two years, for Indspire to provide post-secondary scholarships and bursaries to first nations and Inuit students, $5 million of which is included in this year's supplementary estimates.

I strongly believe in Canada's youth, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, and I believe it is important to equip them with the necessary tools they need to take our country's future in their hands and carry it successfully into the future.

Through economic action plan 2013, our government is also investing over $240 million to reform the income assistance program and connect first nations youth between the ages of 18 and 24 with skills training and jobs. These investments will help to provide personalized supports for first nations youth in receipt of income assistance for skills training that will help them find and keep a job. The funds included in this year's supplementary estimates, just over $20 million, will be used to initiate the first year of this program.

Finally, the supplementary estimates also include $12.7 million for the urban aboriginal strategy, which is intended to reduce barriers and create economic opportunities for urban aboriginals to get the training and skills they need to participate fully in the economy.

The majority of these supplementary estimates, however, will go toward the settlement of specific claims: $450 million of these funds will be provided to supplement the specific claims settlement fund for 2013-14. The remaining $22 million will be used for the implementation of the specific claims action plan.

As members of this committee know, in 2007 our government took unprecedented action to deal with the backlog of specific claims and reach a negotiated settlement that resolved the outstanding legal obligations of the government, provided a fair deal to taxpayers, and created economic opportunities for first nations communities and surrounding areas. I'm proud to report, Mr. Chair, that 100% of specific claims submitted since 2008 have been responded to within the three-year timeframe set out by the Justice At Last initiative. Furthermore, since 2007 the government has cleared a backlog of 541 claims at the assessment stage, doubling the number of claims in negotiation across the country. That's quite an achievement.

Finally, our government also believes that northerners are best placed to make the important decisions about how to run their economies and how to maximize the use of their resources. That is why I was pleased to be in Yellowknife this past June to sign a historic devolution agreement that will provide the Northwest Territories with greater decision-making power over a range of new responsibilities, which will lead to job growth and long-term prosperity across the territory.

The supplementary estimates support the implementation of the Northwest Territories Devolution Agreement by providing over $20 million that will allow our government to satisfy obligations in the Northwest Territories Devolution Agreement to make payments to the Government of the Northwest Territories and Northwest Territories aboriginal groups to offset their one-time costs associated with devolution. This is a critical time for the Northwest Territories and a historic juncture in their political development, and we continue to work toward a target effective date of April 1, 2014, as requested by the Premier of the Government of the Northwest Territories and agreed to by the Prime Minister.

This includes fostering economic development by improving northern regulatory systems, while protecting our environmental heritage and putting more control in the hands of northerners.

Mr. Chair, this government believes that all Canadians, regardless of where they live—north or south, on and off reserve—should be able to fully participate in our strong Canadian economy.

I'm happy to answer any questions that members of the committee may have pertaining to supplementary estimates (B) 2013-14.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Minister. We appreciate your taking the time to come and give us some information about supplementary estimates (B).

We also want to thank your staff, through you, Minister, for the briefing they provided to our analysts and, by extension, to our committee through the briefing notes that have been circulated to committee members. Those briefings are helpful. I know we, as a committee, want to thank you for providing them.

We'll begin the rounds of questioning with Mr. Genest-Jourdain for the first seven minutes.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Good morning, Mr. Minister.

I have four series of questions to ask you. I will try to be brief, but should we run out of time for your answers, I would like a written response. I'll also submit my questions to you in writing.

In the main estimates, the Specific Claims Tribunal registry provides $1 million, but in the supplementary estimates (B) that we are looking at, $2.2 million to support continued activities of the tribunal registry will be transferred to AANDC, while your department is requesting more money for specific claims to resolve outstanding claims. What measures have you taken to provide adequate long-term funding to enable the registry to do its job in the future?

Along the same lines, budget 2013 promised $54 million over two years to ensure that specific claims are processed quickly. Is that reflected in the supplementary estimates?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

I'll ask the deputy minister, Mr. Wernick, to answer that question in detail.

11:15 a.m.

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

This is the first example of a program or an activity that was renewed in the budget. In this case, the funding is in the supplementary estimates, (A), (B) or (C). The claims initiative, which the minister described, was to last five years, beginning in 2007. This initiative was to be renewed in the spring budget, including the tribunal's activities.

We can self-fund the activities while waiting for votes to be allocated by Parliament, but the tribunal doesn't have the same resources. So, we granted the resources to the tribunal, and the money comes back to the tribunal in this budget. The tribunal will be adequately funded for the next five years.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Thank you.

When the Specific Claims Tribunal Act was adopted in 2008, your government dedicated $250 million per year to pay for claims settlement. How much has been used since 2008 to settle the claims? What amount has not been spent in the fiscal years the funding was allocated?

Along the same lines, what is the status of the fund? Why do you need to request more funding to settle the claims? Was $250 million not enough to resolve the outstanding claims? Does the department know how many claims will be resolved between now and when funding ends in five years?

I'll continue asking questions and will submit them to you in writing. You'll have time to answer afterwards.

11:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

The answer is simple: it's a matter of cash flow. We estimated the number of claims we hoped to negotiate, but since it's a negotiation process, I can't guarantee to you or the minister which fiscal year they will fall into. The Department of Finance enables us to do what we call reprofiling, which means carrying funds forward from one fiscal year to another. That's exactly what's been done in this budget.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

What is the status of the five-year review of the specific claims process? What questions have been raised? Will a report be tabled in Parliament soon?

11:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

Parliament will begin this review next year, in 2014. The subcommittee will carry out a study on the effectiveness of the tribunal.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Lastly, the supplementary estimates (B) allocate approximately $60.9 million to four out-of-court settlements. Could you tell us exactly which out-of-court settlements these funds are earmarked for? How will the funds be allocated?

11:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I can provide more details in writing. At the moment, I can say that there are four specific cases.

The first case is a settlement between lawyers concerning the Sawridge First Nation and involves funds generated by oil activities. The second case concerns the Alexander First Nation, near Edmonton, Alberta, and involves the same kind of thing. The third case involves two First Nations in northern Ontario. It has to do with damages caused by a past hydro project. The fourth case concerns 15 individuals in schools in northern Quebec.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

How much time do I have left?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

You have two minutes.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

I will give my time to my colleague.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Ms. Hughes.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Thank you very much.

Minister, budget 2012 committed $27 million over three years to renew the urban aboriginal strategy.

I'm not going to go into all of those details, but I'm wondering, including in the supplementary estimates, what was the total allocation of the UAS in fiscal year 2012-13, and what is the total allocation for this fiscal year?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

UAS? What is that?

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Urban aboriginal strategy.

November 28th, 2013 / 11:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

It's $14 million.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

By the time you find your answers...if you don't get a chance to respond right away, you could maybe write to the committee.

Can you also let us know if the current allocation is sufficient to meet the needs of a growing urban aboriginal population? And what specific projects are being supported by the funding allocation in these supplementary estimates?

11:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

It's another activity that was renewed in the estimates. I don't have the exact figures, but I think it was close to $14 million a year. We'll fund about 120 projects this year. I can provide you with a list of projects that have been funded.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Was there a reduction or an increase?