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

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Okay. Thank you.

Minister Bennett, I was pleased to see a strong endorsement for financial transparency and accountability in the report on plans and priorities. The report states:

Transparent and accountable institutions and organizations strengthen the fabric of Indigenous governments across Canada, assist Indigenous communities and their governments in attracting investment, and support Indigenous participation in the Canadian economy.

If this is the case, why did you instruct your department to stop enforcing the First Nations Financial Transparency Act? It seems counterproductive.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

Thanks for the question.

All first nations have to submit audited statements to our department. The practice is that they all share those statements with their members in their communities. If any member has trouble getting that information, they can approach our office.

The problem with the way the previous bill was written is that it included band-operated businesses, and that led to the potential for predatory practices from competitors in terms of actually knowing how much you're paying your engineer and all of those things.

In the Kelowna Accord, there was a first nations auditor general. I think everybody wants to work on better approaches to transparency and accountability and, through the First Nations Financial Management Board and other institutions, I think we're moving well on ensuring the transparency and accountability.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you.

I'm also a little bit alarmed by the target of 75% compliance for first nations communities. Our government had aimed for 100% compliance, and we had a compliance rate of over 90%.

Could you comment on why there's been a lowering of the target when the actual compliance was higher than your target?

4:20 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Hélène Laurendeau

The target was the same. The achievement was above the target last year, you're quite right, and we expect that the achievement will be same this year, or roughly the same. The target was set in such a way that it got exceeded.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Okay.

I have 14 first nations in my riding, and I've made it my task to visit all of them. I meet with several of the band leaders, but I also generally drive around the reserves and talk to anybody who happens to be there who's interested in talking with me. One thing I ask about is our transparency act and if that was effective. I tell them—to give your example—that anybody who's interested in these things is able to get them. They say, well, that's interesting, but on the ground it's a completely different story. If you ask for the information, the band council holds a great deal of power over your life, and things will happen in your own life just for asking the wrong questions.

I'm just wondering if you're aware of this situation or not.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

I have heard the odd anecdote that reflects that practice, but I think coast to coast to coast, where I've been, first nations have posted their statements on a website that's password-protected, just for their members. I think there are always outliers in these sorts of situations, but these are democratically elected chiefs and councils. If people don't like their practices, they can vote them out.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you both very much for that.

The next question is from Don Rusnak, please, for five minutes.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Thank you for coming, Minister.

Mr. Anandasangaree and I recently had a tour of a couple of first nations in my riding. While we were there, we heard of problems with the drinking water systems in their community. Some of the problems have been related to the equipment that was provided. I don't know how old the equipment is, but a lot of it was outdated when it arrived. I know that Lac La Croix had to get part of the equipment from the Czech Republic, and it was old equipment they were buying just to keep their system running.

Is the department doing anything in terms of procurement of water systems, to make sure they're the best systems and not substandard systems that are being delivered to first nations?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

Absolutely, Don. We are really interested in listening to some of the engineers and experts. I met with a technical advisory committee in Alberta two weeks ago. I think the technical advisory committee for Ontario is meeting soon...from Chiefs of Ontario.

Everybody knows we have to get away from this vendor-driven approach. There have been many well-known stories of people being sold something that just isn't going to work for them. It either doesn't work and it's antiquated, or it's way more than they need and requires a level three operator who will be immediately poached by the local town, and then they have no one to run the plant for them.

We think having technical expertise shared amongst first nations is the way forward, almost in a public utilities technical advisory approach. Again, that gets away from our department doing red light-green light on these. This has to be a way in which we can move forward to make sure that people get exactly the piece of equipment that will work, and we train up their people such that it's sustainable and the water quality is what people need.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

In your statement to the committee, you mentioned that budget 2016 provides $2.24 billion to first nations to improve on-reserve water infrastructure and waste management. Is that amount over five years or is it immediate?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

It's over five years, yes.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

It is over the five years? With that total amount, is it broken up? Is it sheerly for infrastructure or is that amount also expected to be used for training operators and training people in the community to run these systems?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

Yes. Again, that's the package. The piece of equipment won't work on its own.

I think there are other training centres that people access in different ways. There's an excellent program in Dryden and there are others where young people decide that being a water operator is a good thing to want to do. I think it's exciting to see that people will find these technical jobs that really help their communities.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Getting back to the $2.24 billion and the program where they're training.... I'll get the name wrong—

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

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

The circuit riders.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Yes, training them. There's a young man right out of high school who went straight into running his community's water treatment system. It's an excellent program. I've heard about and seen other programs across the country where municipalities actually partner up with the first nation to help train the first nation operators. Partnerships like those are amazing. I'd like to see that continue.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

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

Go through a plant with one of those young people who has just been hired and you'll see their pride. Whether they're talking about E. coli or emergency management, these are proud citizens who are helping their people. It's great.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

We're out of time, Don.

We're going to move right along to the next questions from Todd Doherty, please.

May 5th, 2016 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Thanks, Minister, for being here today. You've been very generous with your time.

I'm going to apologize right from the start. I am fairly frustrated, and I'm getting a little tired of some of the rhetoric, I guess, that we're hearing. That was a great question from our honourable colleague from the Northwest Territories regarding Métis. I think it's very important that we do everything in our power. I'm not quite sure that.... I've said this before about all the hope in the world and all the passion in the world: without a plan, I think we're still going to fail.

Regarding Métis, I know it's different from province to province and territory. Are there land rights that have been included from the Canadian government? Have you budgeted for health care for our Métis as well in terms of the status now that we're recognizing?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

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

It's a great question, and I think the Supreme Court decision is a new chapter for Canada.

I practised in a non-status town for a couple of weeks once and realized that people who had been veterans had to choose to give up their status in order to get veterans benefits, because those were more generous for their family than benefits, so—

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Minister, I have a number of questions and I know—

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

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

But the issue is, we have to go to the table and see how these people who now have rights want to exercise their rights.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Okay. So it hasn't been budgeted as of yet?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

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

Well, there's no certainty that that will be required.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Okay.

My next question is in regard to the friendship centres. It's frustrating. Friendship centres are not just token centres within our communities. They deliver fundamental plans, whether they are for safety, counselling, or programs to help keep youth off the streets. In my riding—you know it very well—we have the highway of tears, a 724-kilometre stretch where over 30 women have gone missing or have been murdered. Friendship centres, whether they're in Prince George, Williams Lake, Kamloops, or across this country, deliver core programs.

I am just floored with the comments that were coming out that there is some concern, that there are some worries that the programs aren't there.... You held a session in Montreal on this. I just don't understand how this fits with your agenda of renewed relations with indigenous people.