Evidence of meeting #140 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 funding.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Seamus O'Regan  Minister of Indigenous Services
Yves Robillard  Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.
Jean-François Tremblay  Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services Canada
Paul Thoppil  Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Department of Indigenous Services Canada
Alex Lakroni  Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Diane Lafleur  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

9:30 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I'm going to get into that, but if I could just use a minute of my time here to allow Paul or the deputy, perhaps, to finish the answer to the honourable member's question on what she termed the “slush fund”.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Please. Yes, I'd be happy to take my time for that.

9:30 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Jean-François Tremblay

I want to mention the new process with the new main estimates. Any dollar used in this department that is associated with programs uses the same terms and conditions that we use for all the money. We don't have a special fund where we use different norms and different standards to spend the money. The money on housing is under “housing”. We've got Treasury Board authority under this, and that's how we use this money.

When you hear about the full budget of the department, it does include all the budget of the department at the end. That's what I'm accounting for as an accounting officer. As Paul mentioned, this is the new approach to make sure that money is available up front at the beginning of the year—money in the budget—because in the past, as you know, departments had to wait for this to go through different processes. In many cases, this would delay implementation of programs related to infrastructure, for example.

9:30 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

To the larger question of capacity-building, not only is it the right thing to do in empowering communities, frankly it's financially the smarter thing to do, rather than coming somewhere, building something, and then leaving without the ability of local leadership to be able to work with it and maintain it. It checks off all the boxes.

It does require some upfront costs; that you take the time and the money. It does take a little longer to make sure you build up the capacity locally. The long-term benefit is tremendous, as you said you witnessed. The more we do this, the more we'll see savings down the road from our end.

The idea that came to me in the very early days of my job here is that I'm a minister who is working himself out of a job. The more we can devolve services at the local level, the better. The more we can build up that capacity on the ground to deliver services directly to indigenous members in their communities, by indigenous people in their communities, the better. It's better for us; it's better for them.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

I'd like to give you an opportunity, Paul, to finish the answer on the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. These things take time if you want to do them properly. I know the First Nations Financial Transparency Act came into place in 2013, seven years after the previous government came to power. Is that reasonable?

9:35 a.m.

Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Paul Thoppil

I think codevelopment and getting consensus from first nations community members across this country take time. What I have heard from first nations chiefs and community members across this country is that they all want transparency and accountability. How we get there by way of a policy formulation that works is what chiefs and community members are working together on as we speak, and we will get there.

In the meantime, there is positive momentum happening, in part through working with the First Nations Financial Management Board, that is implementing, together with first nations communities, financial administration laws that will include governance, internal controls, independent finance and audit committees. They will provide the rigour for community members to ensure that they are getting access to the financial information they deserve.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We now move on to MP Arnold Viersen.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to the minister for being here today.

I'm going to go back to the vote 40 matter. In budget 2018, just over $71 million was assigned for the new fiscal relationship, but only $6 million was allocated. What happened to the $65 million?

9:35 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I'm going to ask Paul to take it.

9:35 a.m.

Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Paul Thoppil

There is $64 million in the estimates here in front of you, and that $64 million is broken down in a number of components. About $15 million is what the minister referred to as being a result of the contribution of this committee's work on default prevention, in its recommendations to provide funding to first nations that had to pay for professional advisory services under third party management out of their band support funding. About $15 million out of that $60 million will go to first nations communities, to give them back...so that they can govern appropriately.

There is about another $40 million that the minister referred to for providing the requisite capacity supports to first nations for improving their financial capacity, as in Rapid Lake for improving their IT and IM systems so that they can actually evolve and increase their financial autonomy.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

It seemed, however, to have been rejected by Treasury Board first and then reallocated to your department from the other department. Is that correct?

9:35 a.m.

Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Paul Thoppil

There are two new fiscal relationship initiatives under way. One is with Crown-Indigenous Relations for engagement with self-governing first nations; then there was another initiative for first nations under the Indian Act, led by the minister. Both items were inadvertently put in as one and then segregated out.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

That's, I guess, the interesting piece. The last time we came around, we voted on this and it just seemed to be taken back and shuffled without a vote on it.

Is that correct?

9:35 a.m.

Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Paul Thoppil

No, I believe a decision was made by the Treasury Board Secretariat and Department of Finance as to where they should class things in the parliamentary documents.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Okay.

Now, the $65 million you just talked about that has been allocated was allocated in budget 2018. Why is it that where it's going to go is coming out now? It seems that it hasn't been spent; only $6 million was used up in the last fiscal year.

What's going on with that?

9:35 a.m.

Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Paul Thoppil

The fact that an item is in supplementary estimates doesn't necessarily mean that the money is not spent. We have the flexibility, depending on the circumstances and needs, to “cash manage”, post Treasury Board approval, where circumstances desire. Cheques are being issued as we speak, particularly to those first nations under third party management, to reimburse them for the costs of that third party management.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Okay.

Minister, I went over this with the previous minister several times. The fundamental issue with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act is the rule of law. If you're not prepared to enforce the law, then you should change the law.

What is your understanding of the act, and when are you going to be tabling the repeal of that bill?

9:35 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

We may get to that point, to be honest with you. I understand concerns here, but I have a number of other pressing priorities that are taking up my time at the moment.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Your government is suffering from a “rule of law” issue already, and right from the get-go your government said it was not going to enforce the financial transparency law.

9:40 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I would contest that we're having a rule of law issue.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

You said that you were not going to enforce the rule of law when it came to the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. What day will you be...?

9:40 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I would say that we will continue to work with indigenous partners to make sure that we get the results we need, and that we will continue to strive to make sure that we achieve the transparency that they and their members demand.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

What day will you be introducing the bill's repeal?

9:40 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I'm not going to lock myself down to a date.