Evidence of meeting #121 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 north.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Wayne Walsh  Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Nathalie Lechasseur  Director General, Program Integrations, Infrastructure Canada
Marco Presutti  Director General, Electricity Resources Branch, Department of Natural Resources
Daniel Lebel  Director General, Geological Survey of Canada, Department of Natural Resources
Sean Keenan  Director General, Economic Analysis and Results, Infrastructure Canada
Don Rusnak  Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Lib.
Craig Hutton  Director General, Strategic Policy, Department of Transport
Gregory Lick  Director General, Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Dilhari Fernando  Director General, Policy, Planning and Partnerships Directorate, Meteorological Service of Canada, Department of the Environment
Chris Derksen  Research Scientist, Climate Processes Section, Climate Research Division, Department of the Environment
Marie-Claude Petit  Director General, Transportation Infrastructure Programs, Department of Transport

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Welcome, everybody, to the beginning of a new study on northern infrastructure...and huge needs in Canada. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are conducting a study on northern infrastructure projects and strategies. We're going to try to prepare a comprehensive report in what seems like a very short amount of time.

We're very interested in new technologies, new approaches to providing what we all consider to be basic rights, like the Internet, to all Canadians. We look forward to hearing what you, as experts, have to tell us in terms of new and innovative approaches.

Before we start, we always recognize that we're on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people here in Ontario. This is an important step for all Canadians every time we meet, every time we have an event, a celebration. Let's remember our history at a time when we are finally moving through truth and reconciliation, an important movement for every Canadian.

The way this works is that we'll have 10 minutes for a presentation from each presenter. After the presentations, we'll have rounds of questions from the MPs.

Not to hold us up any further, I understand that we have what is officially the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Has it been split? Are you actually Northern Development now?

3:30 p.m.

Wayne Walsh Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

We are currently still the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

My sheet is still in the dark ages, because we haven't actually passed the bill. Your changes are exceeding our ability to actually have the right....

Welcome, Wayne. You're going to be talking on behalf of Crown-Indigenous Relations. Is that correct?

3:30 p.m.

Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Wayne Walsh

It's Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs....

3:30 p.m.

Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Wayne Walsh

That's correct.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Welcome.

Please start.

3:30 p.m.

Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Wayne Walsh

First of all, I'd like to thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee today.

My comments today will focus on what we're learning about the priorities of Arctic residents, as we continue to work toward a new Arctic and northern policy framework.

On December 21, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would be developing a new Arctic policy framework, together with Northerners, territorial and provincial governments, the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

The development of the new framework and the co-development process drew from the work of Mary Simon, the minister's special representative on participation, and from advice for a new approach to leadership in the Canadian Arctic. Closing infrastructure gaps in the Arctic was a key theme of the report.

Since 2016, we've been holding consultations and working with residents and leaders in the North and with other stakeholders to support the development of the framework.

We're working directly with the territorial and provincial governments involved, with representatives of Nunavut, lnuvialuit, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut, and with other partners to draft a vision and common goals that will guide the federal government's activities to 2030. More than 30 departments and agencies have participated in the process.

The balance of my comments today will focus on what we heard and learned through this process. To support engagement, a discussion guide was co-developed with partners who identified six themes as a starting point for conversations on the future of the Canadian Arctic and northern policy, including comprehensive Arctic infrastructure. The discussion guide, and our conversations at round tables and other engagements, started with an acknowledgement of the gaps and challenges. These acknowledgements were, and remain, important for our co-development partners who live with these challenges daily.

The harsh environment, changing weather patterns, short construction and shipping seasons, lack of building resources and a small tax base create significant challenges and risks to building and maintaining infrastructure in the Canadian Arctic. We acknowledge that Canada's Arctic has a significant infrastructure deficit, one that is posing significant challenges to socio-economic growth, emergency management, resource development and the fundamental safety and quality of life of Arctic residents.

Climate change is also accelerating threats to existing infrastructure. Thawing permafrost is directly impacting the integrity of building foundations, roads, runways, pipelines and coastal infrastructure.

However, we agree that investments and improvement in infrastructure are linked to improved outcomes across many other sectors. For example, improving connectivity would help bridge the digital divide and provide new and enhanced opportunities for Arctic residents to access telehealth, e-health, and e-learning services and increase their potential to be engaged in the digital economy and support economic development.

Most importantly, we asked people what the key priorities for their region were. Throughout the engagement, we heard that infrastructure concerns were a common theme, including the need for transformative investments in Arctic and northern infrastructure, rather than the remedial approach that only perpetuates a state of crisis.

Almost everyone who spoke about infrastructure mentioned reliable broadband Internet access as a priority, enabling business, research, education and access to health services. Other infrastructure needs included navigation aids, better port facilities, better airport facilities, reliable rail networks and roads to access mineral resources and communities.

Northern communities and organizations emphasized their desire for partnership and opportunities to play a constructive role in infrastructure. Territorial governments, through their participation in the co-development process, and in strategic documents such as “Pan-Territorial Vision for Sustainable Development”, have pointed to large-scale infrastructure investments as foundational to creating economic opportunity and prosperity for northerners.

Through the ongoing co-development and co-drafting process, partners have a shared ambition for infrastructure to 2030 and beyond, and for a strengthened Arctic infrastructure that meets local, regional and national needs. Proposed infrastructure objectives are wide-ranging and include transportation, energy, connectivity, housing, community infrastructure, mapping, navigation and waste management.

Significantly, work is focused not only on the “what” of infrastructure priorities in the north and in the Arctic, but also on the “how”. Co-development partners are seeking policy commitments to explore new approaches to infrastructure development, including funding models, leveraging partnerships for financing and operations, and combining infrastructure projects to achieve multiple outcomes—for example, corridors and community infrastructure for food production.

They are also focused on innovations to increase the sustainability and resiliency of infrastructure, in relation to climate change and also given past experiences with shortages of material and expertise to support maintenance on a long-term basis.

The local element is key in the area of infrastructure, as in other themes. Northerners are seeking a framework with people at its core.

In closing, our discussions with partners started from immediate challenges and gaps, but quickly moved to the need for long-term approaches to meeting those challenges and addressing those gaps together. Nowhere is this need for a long-term, partnership-based approach more evident than in discussions on infrastructure.

I look forward to your questions and ongoing discussions on this. I want to thank you. Merci and mahsi.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you so much.

Now we have Infrastructure Canada, and Nathalie is presenting.

Please go ahead. You have up to 10 minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Nathalie Lechasseur Director General, Program Integrations, Infrastructure Canada

Good afternoon.

Thank you for inviting us to participate in this discussion today.

My name is Nathalie Lechasseur, and I’m the Director General of the Program Integrations Directorate of the Program Operations Branch of Infrastructure Canada. I’m joined by Sean Keenan, who is the Director General of the Economic Aanalysis and Results Directorate of the Policy and Results Branch.

Our department, Infrastructure Canada, is responsible for delivering the investing in Canada infrastructure plan worth over $180 billion, in coordination with other federal partner departments.

The plan was designed to support five key infrastructure priorities. These priorities are public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, and rural and northern communities' infrastructure. Our provincial, territorial, municipal and Indigenous partners identified these priorities as key to the health, success and sustainability of their communities.

Infrastructure Canada has signed bilateral agreements with all the provinces and territories. These agreements will provide $33 billion through various funding streams.

I'll focus my remarks today on the investments that Infrastructure Canada is making to benefit rural and northern communities.

We know that Canada's rural and northern communities have unique needs that require a more targeted approach. Issues such as road access, Internet connectivity and reducing a community's dependence on diesel can make a real difference in peoples' lives and contribute to Canada's overall success.

That's why the investing in Canada plan includes $2 billion in dedicated funding through the rural and northern communities' infrastructure funding stream to address the communities' unique priorities. Our approach is designed to take into consideration the priorities of rural, remote and Indigenous communities while helping to grow local economies, build strong and inclusive communities, and safeguard the environment and health of Canadians.

This stream will provide smaller communities with funding for infrastructure projects such as local roads, broadband, air and marine infrastructure, and food security. It will also provide funding for the improved health and education facilities that support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action.

In addition, the new $400 million Arctic Energy Fund will support renewable energy and improve existing energy systems in the territories, including in Indigenous communities.

Under the rural and northern communities infrastructure stream, we've increased the federal share of project funding to 60% for communities with populations of fewer than 5,000. In communities in the territories, the federal share can be up to 75%.

For Indigenous community projects, the federal cost share can also be up to 75%. Indigenous project recipients can combine federal funding up to 100% from a number of sources. As a result, projects led by Indigenous organizations can advance local priorities with this access to federal funding.

Rural and northern communities can access funding programs administered by other federal departments, in addition to the other funding streams under the investing in Canada plan. These communities also benefit from existing programs and funding managed by Infrastructure Canada, such as the federal Gas Tax Fund and the New Building Canada Fund.

We're working with the provinces and territories to support the projects that will contribute to the health, sustainability and success of Canada's rural and northern communities.

I want to thank the committee for inviting us and for giving us the opportunity to participate in today's discussions. Mr. Keenan and I will be happy to answer your questions.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you very much.

We are going to the third presentation. This one is from the Department of Natural Resources.

Please go ahead.

3:40 p.m.

Marco Presutti Director General, Electricity Resources Branch, Department of Natural Resources

Good afternoon, everyone.

My name is Marco Presutti, and I'm the Director General of the Electricity Resources Branch. I'm pleased to be here to share my perspective.

My branch is responsible for the electricity-related policy issues. We're also responsible for a number of federal programs that support the development of new energy infrastructure across Canada, including in the north.

One of our current areas of focus, on which we're working to support the government right now, is helping rural and remote communities reduce their dependency on diesel fuel and helping them to move toward newer and cleaner sources of electricity generation. To put the challenge into perspective, there are about 200 communities in Canada that are not connected to the North American electricity grid and are entirely dependent on diesel fuel for electricity. Most are located far from large population centres, of course. It can come at great expense to try to build transmission infrastructure to get electricity to these communities.

We're focused on these communities for a number of reasons. It's expensive to transport diesel fuel to them and to service them. It poses a number of risks to human health and the environment. We're talking about spills, greenhouse gases and air pollution from combustion. Also, the government has made a strong commitment to support indigenous communities. Two-thirds of the target communities here are indigenous. We know that energy projects can have a wider array of socio-economic benefits. Ownership of these assets can be a key part of self-determination.

Through budget 2017, the government launched a new program that's led by our department. It's called the clean energy for rural and remote communities program. It has about $220 million over six years to fund energy infrastructure projects that reduce diesel dependency in communities across Canada. It supports a number of federal priorities, including clean growth, climate change and indigenous reconciliation. We're not the only funding source. One of my colleagues has already talked about the others. The Arctic energy fund and the northern REACHE program are other important ones.

In terms of the program and where we're at, it's early days. We launched the program in the new year. Since then, we've received and reviewed about 130 project proposals. We've shortlisted 43 of them and we're considering them for funding. We're now conducting the due diligence to make sure we've picked the best projects across the country.

What I can tell you is that we've seen strong demand for the program. The program is oversubscribed. We have more proposals than we're able to fund. We're also very happy that 93% of the projects we're reviewing are targeting indigenous communities, and many of them are led by the communities themselves.

We're also happy about the types of new and innovative technologies that are being proposed. We're looking at demonstrations and deployments of small-scale hydro, biomass, wind and solar.

We have a continuous intake process for applications. The initial projects that we're funding are not the only projects. We're still looking at other projects. We have a small amount of funding, about 5% of the envelope, for community capacity. That's to ensure that communities that are less advanced, less prepared to present projects, have some funding to put their proposals together and work with us.

I'll keep it short. I'll conclude by saying again that we're very encouraged by the first wave of project proposals we've received. We're doing our homework to make sure they're solid. We know this is a long-term endeavour. The program is not going to eliminate diesel use in Canada—that's a much bigger challenge—but it's going to make an important contribution, a down payment, if you will.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Great. Very good.

I understand that the departments have agreed to shorten their presentations. I just found out that it was supposed to be around five minutes, to give MPs the opportunity to ask more questions. I think we all appreciate your consideration.

Thank you very much.

3:45 p.m.

Daniel Lebel Director General, Geological Survey of Canada, Department of Natural Resources

Madam Chair, if I may?

For NRCan, we have another statement to continue.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Uh-oh, that sounds as if it might disturb my whole routine here.

3:45 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Please, go ahead.

3:45 p.m.

Director General, Geological Survey of Canada, Department of Natural Resources

Daniel Lebel

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I represent the lands and minerals sector of Natural Resources Canada.

We play an important role in the development of natural resources in the North, in particular with regard to the policies related to the mining sector and the technical surveys associated with the lands sector.

Natural Resources Canada is working collaboratively with provincial and territorial governments to develop the Canadian minerals and metals plan, a national mining plan with a singular goal of establishing Canada as the leading mining nation not just today, but for years to come.

The mining sector provides high-paying jobs, training and opportunities to enhance the quality of life for Northerners and to build more resilient communities.

Mining requires investments in roads, ports, rail, energy transmission, airports, and telecommunications, especially in northern, isolated, and remote communities. Our northern stakeholders have told us that they need government support for basic infrastructure so that more mining projects with potential can be considered and developed. NRCan is playing a leadership role in the development of the Arctic and northern policy framework. As the framework aims to close the socio-economic gaps that currently exist in the north, resource development, especially mining, will be the central driver for this change.

We see NRCan geoscience as being fundamental knowledge infrastructure required to achieve the framework vision by directly supporting the exploration sector in the north. We also believe that the acquisition of new geospatial data and capacity-building for northerners to be able to use that data and derived knowledge will be a determining factor for sound decision-making about land and infrastructure development in the north.

NRCan science also plays a key role in linking resilience to climate change adaptation practices—for instance, as it pertains to coastal erosion mitigation, disaster mitigation, and permafrost. Climate change is recognized as a key driver of change in the north, both in terms of the impact it has on existing infrastructure and in terms of how it leads to increased access in the north, thereby necessitating new infrastructure. If you wish, I could speak to many examples where NRCan science has supported the establishment of sound infrastructure in the north and reduced risks and costs for the future.

In addition, public geoscience is critical to unlocking benefits from the discovery and extraction of new mineral deposits, extending the life of existing mines. We also have several examples where investments in geomapping made through NRCan programs have led to such benefits.

I am keeping it short, Chair. This is all I have to say.

I thank the committee for inviting us to speak.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you very much.

We have a series of questions that we'll start. The first MP to begin the questioning is MP Will Amos.

October 15th, 2018 / 3:50 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I want to thank the public servants for their presentations. I agree that the subject of our study is very broad.

I want to address two aspects. I first want to look at the digital and cellular aspect, then at the diesel aspect referred to by Mr. Presutti.

Maybe I'll start with the diesel aspect. I'm very pleased that our government has seen it fit to invest so significantly in clean energy transmission for northern and remote communities. It's really important, and these communities have been calling for this for some time. I'd like to know what investments were made prior to 2015 to shift communities away from diesel and toward clean energy. I just don't know if this is the first time it's been done.

Second, I wonder how far south communities need to be in order to benefit from this program. For example, would a community like Rapid Lake, in the northern end of the Pontiac, be a potential beneficiary of this kind of transition, were it to seek funding to shift away? In that same context, there may be communities that seek to shift to hydroelectricity rather than wind or solar, so they need to be hooked up to the grid.

If that's the situation, what kind of support is available to such communities? Typically, they are not used to paying hydro rates. They're used to having diesel paid for by the federal government. I wonder how that transition happens, when the energy needs of a community cease to be provided for by the federal government and are suddenly provided for by a provincial energy company.

3:50 p.m.

Director General, Electricity Resources Branch, Department of Natural Resources

Marco Presutti

To tackle the first part of your question in terms of programming prior to 2015, I can speak with fair certainty that within NRCan there wasn't any specific programming targeted at this particular objective. We've had programs in the past and continue to have programs that support the development of renewable energy, but not specifically targeted to rural or remote communities. I think it's the first of its kind within NRCan. I can't speak on behalf of my other colleagues; I think there may have been other programs within other departments that did target this particular focus.

In terms of your question about other communities and how far south they have to be to qualify for our particular program, the criteria are really simple. It's for communities that are not connected to the grid. It doesn't matter how far north or south the community is located. If they're disconnected from that grid, they're one of those 200-plus communities and they're eligible to be part of the program. The program's objective isn't to connect communities to the grid. It's specifically targeted at renewable energy and projects that are started to help communities become self-sufficient.

Within NRCan, we have been doing some work in terms of grid connections. Over the course of the last two years, we've had a program for regional dialogues on electricity co-operation. We've worked in eastern Canada and in western Canada with provinces and territories and with utilities to try to get a sense of where the most promising transmission lines and grid connections could exist. We've done some modelling work, and we've identified some promising projects. Of course, these types of investments are transformational. They're investments in the billions of dollars—I'm talking about a program here that's $220 million—so projects for establishing larger grid connections are usually generational. They take decades to put in place and are fairly expensive.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you for that.

I'd like to give the opportunity to any of your federal colleagues to respond if there is any additional information about previous projects that had, as their objective, shifting rural and remote communities off diesel. Or is this new?

I'll take the silence to mean that there hasn't been anything in the past, then. Thank you.

You mentioned that this is a down payment, but the matter of getting northern and remote communities off diesel is a significant investment. What scale of investment are we talking about here? You mentioned there were 200 communities. Can you give us a number, even if it's rough?

3:55 p.m.

Director General, Electricity Resources Branch, Department of Natural Resources

Marco Presutti

I don't have a number to offer. I could tell you that it would be in the billions, if not tens of billions of dollars, to try to get every single community off diesel. I think the bigger challenge is not so much cost, but the fact that there isn't the technical ability to do it right now with current technology. What we're trying to do is fund renewable energy projects in remote communities. Renewable energy is a variable source of energy. It depends on the wind blowing and the sun shining, so without the types of new technologies like storage capacity, it's still in its infancy. It is technically difficult and challenging to get every community off diesel. It's a longer-term objective.

What I can say is that there are a number of communities and we've surfaced some very promising projects that will start to reduce that diesel dependency. Of the 200 communities, we think our program will be able to fund projects in about 60 to 70 communities.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You have only about 15 seconds.