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Evidence of meeting #12 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was money.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Hélène Laurendeau  Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

We'll come to order.

I thank everyone for being here today. Before we dive into the agenda, I want to start, as always, by acknowledging that we're meeting today on the unceded hereditary land of the Algonquin people.

Also, I want to invite the committee to send our best wishes to David Yurdiga. He's been home in Fort McMurray since Tuesday dealing with the very difficult situation there. Of course, all of our best wishes are with him.

There are two issues on the agenda today. I propose that we deal with them together. The first is the main estimates, and the second is the report on plans and priorities. To speak with us about those issues are the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett; Hélène Laurendeau, the deputy minister of INAC; and Paul Thoppil, the CFO.

Thanks to all of you for coming today.

Again, committee members, I want to go over my proposed model for the meeting today. I'd like to invite the minister and her colleagues to have 15 minutes to present what they need to get through. They advise me that they probably only need about 12 minutes, so we'll probably finish that a bit early.

I've created a list with the clerk of one speaking order that should take about 51 minutes. By the time we do all that and get through the voting, we should finish around five or so. Now, I'm proposing that only as long as every committee member is okay with only going through one order of questions. I had some assent from some members earlier, before we sat, but does that seem reasonable?

Cathy.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

I didn't think it was one order. I thought it was to continue to roll the questions, to go back to the top, not to go back to the start. One hour was the intention, but certainly, if we have the minister—and of course she has been very gracious with her time—I would certainly hate to waste any minutes if she has them to spare.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Okay. Why don't we do this? We have the votes to get through toward the end of the meeting, so let's check what the time is after we get through the first round of questions. We'll fit a few more in if there's time, while still leaving time for the votes.

Without further ado, Minister Bennett, you have the floor. Thank you.

May 5th, 2016 / 3:30 p.m.

Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Before we begin, we also want to offer our condolences and support to the residents of Fort McMurray and the surrounding areas as they're dealing with this absolutely devastating tragedy. I was able to speak to three chiefs last evening. It's quite amazing to hear from Fort McKay how they're actually receiving people from other areas. This is something that I think this committee will also be very engaged in.

I too note the absence of the member for Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, Mr. Yurdiga. I think we all believe he's in the right place, back helping the people in his community with this heartbreaking disaster. It is what members of Parliament do. I hope you'll convey to him that if there's anything our department can do to help or anything he hears on the ground, we would very much like that direct contact if that's possible.

It's a pleasure to be back here at your committee, acknowledging the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

I am here today with our new deputy Minister, Hélène Laurendeau, and our chief financial officer, Paul Thoppil.

They promise to take all the tough questions.

I think you know that I am somebody who believes that the role of committees is hugely important, and we want to make sure that you know we believe in the role you play. This is a fundamental role in the parliamentary process, and the really important role is holding government to account. That is the role of all parliamentarians from all parties, and we take your job very seriously.

I want to work with you to ensure that you have all the necessary information for this essential work.

We want you to know that if there's anything we weren't able to answer today, we will get back to you. I think we've been doing that reasonably well. I need to know if there's any information you need that I don't have. We'll get it for you.

I also think this is an opportunity for all of us to recognize the people who are watching carefully at home and who care about the work of this committee. It's an opportunity for all of us to use this as an example of how government works and how parliamentary committees hold governments to account. I think that as we see this collision today of plans and priorities, main estimates, and budget 2016, it is going to be quite an interesting exercise of how we do that when it all comes together.

I think you know that because we're doing main estimates together with budget 2016, there's some confusion as to what main estimates really mean. I want to explain that the estimates, as I think most of you know, are the total of all funding that's already been approved by Treasury Board. That's a separate check and balance that the President of the Treasury Board puts in place. These are never an estimate of the total spending for the year; it's just what has already been approved.

As Treasury Board approves new funding or renews existing programs, we come back to Parliament, and I to this committee, through the supplementary estimates process. Sometimes there is an understanding that it's something we hadn't thought of yet, but it is actually just things that haven't yet had the detail necessary to get Treasury Board approval.

As we know, there's also a disconnect in the sequence between main estimates, reports on plans and priorities, and the budget. I think we all know that this system is archaic and unclear. That's why the President of the Treasury Board has committed to modernize the estimates process to ensure that Parliament has timely and accurate information.

As you've all read, our main estimates total about $7.5 billion in spending and reflect a net decrease of about $726.3 million. This may alarm some, but I'm here to reassure you that the vast majority of these decreases relate to the targeted initiatives that either have had funding reprofiled to future years or have had funding replaced by new funding in budget 2016.

I am happy that we have this opportunity to discuss the main estimates and the report on plans and priorities in the context of budget 2016.

As you know, in budget 2016 we're committed to ensuring equality of opportunity for indigenous peoples so that first nations, Inuit and Métis youth, wherever they live in Canada, have hope. You have heard many times that budget 2016 makes historic investments in indigenous peoples, totalling $8.4 billion over five years. We've been very pleased that AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde has said:

This budget invests in important priorities for First Nations and all Canadians. Investments in housing, clean water, education, and child welfare will bring long-needed relief for those living in third world conditions, and build a stronger economy for everyone.

We know that this budget is only a start. Beyond new investments in 2016, we're working in full partnership with first nations to establish a new fiscal relationship, one that gives their communities sufficient, predictable, and sustained funding. This is to be a new relationship. It means that people of first nations have the opportunity to plan as other communities have the ability to plan, as the chair knows all so well.

Although I don't have enough time to describe all the investments set out in budget 2016 that relate to aboriginal peoples, I would like to mention a few key initiatives.

Education has always been top of mind for everybody in terms of the way out. We know that closing the gaps in first nations education outcomes is critical, and we know that we must be held accountable for the results. Numerous reports, including from the Auditor General, have confirmed that chronic underfunding of first nations education systems has held first nations students back.

Budget 2016 contains transformational funding totalling $2.6 billion over five years in K-to-12 education. We are focused on investments in programs that will improve the literacy and numeracy rates, build and improve schools and classrooms, and better support the integration of language and culture into first nations education, which we know is the way to success.

I want to say very clearly that we respect the first nation's jurisdiction over education and that we will not act unilaterally in this area.

We will work nation to nation as a partner to ensure the goals set by first nations are achieved and to support first nations-led.

The government has also made a commitment to promote reconciliation with the Métis nation through the recognition of rights, partnership, and a renewed relationship, from one nation to another.

As Métis National Council President Chartier recently said, the Trudeau government has already recognized the Métis Nation and is prepared to deal with them on a “nation-to-nation” basis.

As a first step, in recognition of the entrepreneurial spirit of Métis in Canada, budget 2016 proposes $25 million over five years to support economic development for the Métis nation.

We all know that we have to increase the proactive support for indigenous children and their families, keep more children out of foster care, and support them to grow up with a secure personal cultural identity.

Child and family services on reserve must be overhauled, and we are committed to working with Dr. Cindy Blackstock, the Assembly of First Nations, and provinces and territories to fix it. As a start, we will provide nearly $635 million over five years, in addition to funding the first nations child and family services program. This will allow us to respond to indigenous calls to expand the previous pilots of the enhanced prevention-focused approach to first nations child and family services on reserve to all provinces and territories.

We will also work in partnership with provinces, territories, indigenous communities, and the Ministry of Health to ensure Jordan’s principle is expanded and applied in a way that always puts the health and well-being of children first.

Every family—every child—deserves access to clean water. Budget 2016 provides $2.24 billion to first nations communities to improve on-reserve water infrastructure and waste management. This funding will support our commitment to put an end to long-term boil water advisories on reserve within five years.

Housing is also a basic need and all Canadians should have safe housing.

To address urgent housing needs on reserve, budget 2016 provides $554.3 million over two years, beginning this year.

The need for affordable housing is also particularly high in the north and in Inuit communities. We heard clearly from the indigenous members of Parliament that focusing on housing only on reserve was not going to serve their needs and that there needed to be a separate allocation for the north and in Inuit communities.

As pointed out by Natan Obed, the president of ITK:

The $170 million earmarked in the budget for building affordable housing in Inuit Nunangat is welcome given the severity of crowding in our four regions, and I look forward to working with the government to find ways to achieve the much larger investment that is necessary.

Food insecurity is another particularly pressing problem in northern communities.

We are committed to working with northerners to update and expand the nutrition north program to ensure northerners can feed their families and better access country foods. As a first step, budget 2016 provides $64.5 million over five years, and $13.8 million per year ongoing, to expand the nutrition north Canada program to support all northern isolated communities.

The government believes that the historic $8.4 billion in investments in indigenous communities through budget 2016—on their priorities—will improve living conditions and social and economic outcomes.

I also want to make the point many other investments in this budget beyond this $8.4 billion will have a profound positive impact on the lives of indigenous peoples in Canada. From the new fairer tax-free Canada child benefit to increasing the northern residents deduction and enhancing Canada student grants, these and other measures will benefit all Canadians, including indigenous peoples in Canada.

Last June, Gwich'in elder Ray Jones said this in the Gitxsan language on the morning of the final ceremony for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

Shed Dim Amma gauu dingus Mel.

This is what it means:

The canoe must be uprighted.

I believe that budget 2016 is an important first step to uprighting the canoe and to true reconciliation.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you very much, Minister. Did you also have remarks about the report on plans and priorities? Did you want to do those separately after we dispense with this?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

I think we felt that it's moot, based on budget 2016. I think that's what the President of the Treasury Board is trying to sort out.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Very good. In that case, we'll move right into our first round of seven-minute questions. As always, I'll hold up a yellow card when there's one minute left, and a red card when I'm asking you to finish up, and then we'll move on to the next questioner.

The first question comes from Mike Bossio, please.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you so much, Minister, for being here today. I will echo Cathy's words. It's great you're availing so much of your schedule to come to our committee. We greatly appreciate it.

I've spoken to you about this before, but on the whole funding issue around first nations, you mentioned that the $8.4 billion over five years was going to offset the shortfall, going from I think $8.6 billion to $7.5 billion.

Of that $8.4 billion, do you have a time frame as to how that's going to be allocated over each of the five years? How much of that last $726 million or whatever it was is going to be given back through that large sum?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

If you go to the main estimates, I think you'll see that a number of things, such as the specific and comprehensive claims, Indian residential schools, federal contaminated sites, and water and waste water have brackets around them. Those look like they're less. If you then compare that with what's in budget 2016, you can see those are augmented because of that anticipated funding.

There are some things that go down because they are winding down. With the Indian residential school settlement, as more and more people have been paid, we need less and less of a secretariat to do that work, so that one is definitely on its way down.

On the specific and comprehensive claims, that is always an estimate that gets booked based on how many claims you think you're going to settle. If they're not settled, they get moved into the following year and reprofiled. The department has not lost the money; we just didn't spend it this year.

On contaminated sites and water and waste water, what's in budget 2016 more than makes up for what looks like a decrease in the main estimates.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you so much, Minister.

I want to get to the brunt, then, of my questioning around funding. As everyone knows, I've put forward a motion—or I will be—to look specifically at funding, because I really do see it as one of the key short-term things that we can try to deal with to lead towards more self-determination and self-government.

Under the grant process today, as you know, it really is a very short and narrow window of funding that is very specifically geared to a particular area. To me, once again, it's that whole paternalistic notion that we know how best to spend their money rather than indigenous communities setting their own priorities.

My own personal view is that if we can change the grant structure so that it's operational and moves more towards self-determination, then it also gives that responsibility of establishing priorities, which then leads to accountability, which then leads to a true nation-to-nation relationship. As long as they are beholden to us for the purse strings, how do you have a nation-to-nation relationship?

I point out to you today that we had a group in our environment committee, the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, which has established the Thaidene Nëné Park up in the Northwest Territories. One of the key factors in them being very close to reaching this agreement was the trust fund that was set up that gave them very long-term and secure funding. They had the trust, and based on that trust, we're able to build on the relationship. It once again reconfirmed my whole view of that.

I want you now to just speak to that. Is the department looking in the same direction? We've have to really start looking at the whole funding mechanism to lead toward self-determination and self-government.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

Well, I couldn't agree more. The commitment to sufficient, predictable, sustained funding is there, but it means changing the fiscal relationship.

In some ways, what you're describing is even worse, in that some of the communities received notice on March 1 that they had to have the money spent by March 31, and it's only an annual grant. Nobody can plan like that. We couldn't plan our families that way. As you say, it's having sufficient predictable funding to move it more into a transfer, which is the objective of moving to a self-governing body, where they can actually know what's coming in the long term. It also allows them access to capital to be able to borrow. If people know there's money coming in a regular way, it's not this red light-green light, will the money be there next year or no?

Yes, absolutely, sitting down and working is how we can change from this very linear approach of just grants and contributions into a more mature nation-to-nation relationship. I think that is the goal of everyone.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

I see that in some respects the department has been trying to move in this direction. I guess my concern is how we accelerate it. How do we accelerate that? Once again, everybody is always concerned that if we do that, will they know how to manage it?

We've been setting up our own system of governance since the 1400s. We've had plenty of time to be able to figure these things out. We need to give them the opportunity to figure these things out for themselves. Guess what? They're going to make mistakes in doing that. If we truly want to back off from this paternalistic notion that we know what's best, the only way we can do that is by giving them that responsibility and allowing them to set their own priorities.

Do you see a way forward to accelerate this process?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Mike, you've taken us to seven minutes there.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

I'm sorry.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

I think that if you look at the First Nations Fiscal Management Act and the kinds of tools that were put in place that then set up various institutions that allow that, I think almost 200 first nations are now certified in that way. There's a way of incenting building capacity so that people don't have to play red light-green light with our department anymore. They can actually count on this. I think that is what the exciting future is as to how we go forward building that capacity.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Speaking of red lights, Minister—

3:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

As the Minister of Justice says, we want more and more communities to be ready, willing, and able to get out from under the Indian Act.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you.

Cathy, please.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Again, thank you to the minister. I do want to acknowledge that when I first came to Parliament, I came from a background of local government and health care. A budget was set, and that's what you dealt with for the year. You perhaps had a contingency fund. So this whole very circuitous way of planning and spending money was a little bit of a mind-boggler when I first arrived. I appreciate that we need to make things a little bit more fine-tuned.

Certainly the Prime Minister and you have indicated that the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is of critical importance. The Prime Minister committed to all 94. I have a few questions in that area.

First, just this week, on Tuesday, we heard from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and they said they had no idea about their budget and what they were getting. I think they were a number 74 commitment. They were up and going, and then all of a sudden they were completely in the lurch in terms of the commitment to that organization.

Could you perhaps relieve them, and relieve us, that this one is progressing?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

No, I agree; we were pleased to be able to give the centre a little bit of money at the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for them to continue their work, but I think it's very important that we sit down and again work with them on their work plan and on the kind of work that we know needs to be done.

On other recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I think in the little deck we gave you we analyzed who does what. There are certain ones that have been picked up by the provinces and territories, like the curricula for education; the universities have picked up theirs.

Our job is to drive that effort across all government departments in all jurisdictions, including municipalities and the private sector, but for us to feel that we are really helping get this done even though we don't have to pay for all of them.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, Minister.

You will know that in the House I have looked for the production of papers. I have noticed that you say that you want us to have the information you need to do the crucial work. I think consistently, understanding the 94 recommendations, I see that 45 are designated toward federal government purely, but I don't get a sense of any sort of depth or framework or costing or analysis.

Hopefully you would be willing to table with this committee any work that has been done by you and your department.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

Yes. I mean, the work is early in terms of the.... I think, Cathy, the work of reconciliation is bigger than just the 94 recommendations. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission came out of a class action suit. As Charlie knows well, there were people left out of that. So we're going to have to develop a plan for the reconciliation framework that includes all Canadians, and not just those who were in that class action.

As we work with cabinet colleagues to develop the full reconciliation framework, that will be an exciting opportunity for us to develop work plans—what, by when, and how—on each of these, to cost it out, and to figure out how we get done this unfinished work of Confederation.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Certainly when you commit to 94 recommendations, I would think that some substantial work has been done already in terms of the implications and the costs. Is that not accurate?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

Yes, I'm happy to share with you what's been done to date. I'm saying that in terms of our organizing this across the whole of government, it's important that we are working with all of our cabinet colleagues, but also with the provinces, territories, and municipalities. That's why, when I meet in June with the aboriginal affairs working group of my counterparts in the provinces and territories, these are the kinds of things that we'll be working on every day.

There are some things that we know about, like the inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls—that money has been booked—and all of the work we're doing on the things that are there: education, health, child welfare, language, and culture. A lot of those things are in this budget, but we know that's a first step. Full reconciliation won't be accomplished with this $8.4 billion, but we will begin our way down the path.