Thank you very much.
It's a pleasure to spend this next hour with you.
As I said to the natural resources committee, which I have had the pleasure of appearing in front of twice, I truly believe that this is the heart of our democracy and the heart of Parliament. This is an opportunity for members to exchange views respectfully, for ministers to be accountable to colleagues, and for us to take seriously, as I know we all do, the very important issues that face us, whether in government or in opposition. I welcome this next 58 minutes or so.
I want you to know that I appreciate and acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquins.
I also want to talk about my mandate letter from the Prime Minister, and the priorities we have established to ensure that indigenous peoples are true beneficiaries of local resource development: economically, socially, and culturally.
I will also note, and not just in passing, that these mandate letters are public. There are 35 million Canadians who can read them and can hold us accountable. In fact, there are billions of people around the world, if they're interested, who can know what is expected of ministers. The Prime Minister has made public his expectations of us, and his expectations of our responsibility to Canadians.
As the Prime Minister himself has said, there is no relationship more important to our government than the one with indigenous peoples. His directions have been clear to every cabinet minister:
It is time for Canada to have a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
This is fundamental and central to our vision for developing Canada's natural resources for the low-carbon, clean growth economy ahead. If we want to attract the investment and build the infrastructure to move our resources to market, then we need to get our environmental house in order and have Canadians behind us. There's no better place to start than with first nations, Métis nation, and Inuit peoples. That is not just because there is a constitutional duty to consult, which there is, but because it affords an opportunity to include, to make real the promise of a new relationship based on trust and mutual respect as economic partners and as environmental stewards.
The importance and the urgency of these efforts has rarely been more apparent than with the tragic suicide crisis in Attawapiskat and in indigenous communities across the country. Speaking with colleagues over the last number of days, we have been reminded that these tragedies are not local or isolated to one part of our country. They exist throughout the north. They exist in remote communities. We should always be mindful of the fact that what we're witnessing in one part of the country is occurring throughout the country. Therefore, our concentration, our effort, and our focus has to be a national one.
Our government recognizes that any solutions in the short and long term must involve greater resources. That's why, through budget 2016, we have committed to historic investments totalling $8.4 billion for first nations priorities, to improve living conditions and social and economic outcomes. Money alone, as all members know, is not the answer; it's part of an answer.
People in these communities must also have hope. Sustainable resource development can be part of that hope. It can strengthen local indigenous economies, preserve the integrity of their land, and create well-paying jobs, simply by incorporating centuries of indigenous culture and wisdom to ensure that economic prosperity and environmental performance go hand in hand.
To recount very personal experiences that I have had over the last number of months as minister throughout Canada, in conversations with elders, with community leaders, there is a generational responsibility, both retrospectively and prospectively, to make sure that we respect the relationship between the human, the land, the water, and the air. Those generations that came before us expect us to be stewards in our time. In our time, we have an obligation to make sure that we leave our planet and our environment in shape for the generations to come.
We can strengthen local indigenous economies and preserve the integrity of their land, all at the same time. Where do we start? One of the things I've been doing as minister is calling round tables, and members will be interested to know that if you put a group of industry leaders, aboriginal community leaders, and environmental activists at the same time, and you would think they would have no common ground, you find that after two or three hours of intense conversation and listening, common objectives become much clearer. In some cases there had never been these kinds of conversations before. When we realize that economic growth and environmental stewardship along with respect for indigenous background, culture, and practices is actually a shared national objective, you begin to see the contours of how we can make sense of the complexity and the layers of decision-making that are going to be in front of us.
As Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde has said so well, “Before you build anything, build positive, respectful relationships”, and we are heeding that advice as follows: Implementing an interim strategy to guide decision-making for major resource projects, a strategy that emphasizes the importance of not only meaningful engagement with indigenous peoples but also concrete actions to deepen those consultations; making sure decisions are based on science and evidence and that the evidence includes traditional indigenous knowledge; and modernizing the National Energy Board so its composition reflects regional views and has deep expertise in indigenous traditional knowledge.
Our first budget supports these efforts by including $16.5 million to implement some of these new measures.
We have a chance to change the language on resource development and to strive for consensus. We will never achieve unanimity. We don't achieve unanimity even on simple matters of public policy, and we understand that the complexities of our federation and the issues that are involved in resource development will never lead to everybody saying the same thing about the same issue at the same time. But we can develop a consensus and we can develop a process that carries the confidence of the Canadian people.
Proponents of major resource projects are coming to understand this. They are starting to take the necessary time and effort to work with local indigenous communities to build trust with indigenous leaders and communities. The mining sector, as many of you know, has long been a role model for this. By our estimates there are 380 active agreements between mining companies and indigenous communities across the country. These agreements have helped to forge strong partnerships and provide significant local benefits in key areas such as training, employment, business development, procurement, and environmental protection.
What is the result? More than 10,000 indigenous people are working in mining and mineral processing across the country. Most of them are employed in upstream jobs, but there are many others finding business opportunities in the service and supply industries as well as in environmental technology. We need to expand those efforts, as the forest sector has done over the years, and how every resource industry could with goodwill, the right kinds of engagements, and growing experience.
Indigenous communities have waited a long time for this. I've heard it repeatedly. Yes, indigenous peoples consider the land integral to their identity. They have a sense of responsibility, but they will also tell you, often in the same breath, that they want opportunity for their children. They want economic possibilities for communities that have had very few. We need to take these two imperatives and merge them together to find new ways to develop our resources responsibly, to get them to market sustainably, all while creating good, clean jobs for indigenous communities.
It has been a very long time since we last had a better chance for consensus. That's my message to you. It's the message to us. If we take the power of industry, show respect for the land and water, acknowledge the essential role of indigenous peoples, we can be an example not only to ourselves, but to the world.