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

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Do you have a date?

9:40 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I'm not going to lock myself down to a date in front of this committee at the moment.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Do you have the bill drafted?

9:40 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I am not going to comment on that at the moment. It's just not, right now, one of my top priorities.

I think my priorities are very clear, and those are priorities that we have dealt with, in conjunction with our partners, to make sure that we achieve the results that we need—

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

The priority is clear: that you do not want to enforce the law, which is your job.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

The final couple of minutes now go to MP Kent Hehr.

Welcome to our committee.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Kent Hehr Liberal Calgary Centre, AB

Minister, thank you for being here.

I am the member of Parliament for Calgary Centre. We're Treaty No. 7 people. We're the traditional home of the Blackfoot people, the Tsuut'ina people and the Stoney-Nakoda nation, and Métis region 3.

I was struck by your comments that we are moving towards an education system now that recognizes that we should have funding for first nations kids commensurate to what they receive in the city. I think I am a big believer in that equality of opportunity. Whether you're born of a rich family or one that struggles, you get an opportunity to build your life; whether you're born in the city or on a reserve, you get an opportunity to build your life.

There is an organization in Calgary called the Palix Foundation. The research that it is doing looks more towards the time frame from birth to three years of age, and it's recognizing that life chances are largely formed within that time period of an individual's life.

Is your department looking at better ways to support indigenous communities in that critical period of birth to three years of age, to help support families, to ensure that there are day care spaces where they're learning through play—all those activities that track and move children forward through the rest of their lives?

9:40 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I have an answer ready to give you, but out of the corner of my eye I can see the unbridled enthusiasm of my deputy, who seems very anxious to answer this specifically, so I'll throw it to him.

9:40 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Jean-François Tremblay

It's a very good question, and you're right. It doesn't start at the school; it starts before the school. There's a very big preoccupation with how you do that.

There are different things that we're looking at. In terms of early childhood development, we have programs that we're working on with first nations communities on how to address that.

You may notice that, with the new formula for education, we also provide kindergarten at the age of four now, so that's actually another plus.

All the work that we're doing on child and family services is another important one. How do we make sure that it's not about apprehending kids, that it's not only about protection, but prevention, supporting families to make sure that kids have the opportunity to grow in their communities with their families and actually be proud of their culture?

Here is another aspect. If you look at the new formula for education, there is $1,500 per student for first nations languages, which we hope will also help improve their capacity to grow in their language and culture, close to their families.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Kent Hehr Liberal Calgary Centre, AB

I have one more quick question.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Be very quick.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Kent Hehr Liberal Calgary Centre, AB

Again, with regard to the Palix Foundation and the research it's doing on addictions and the like—you mentioned that you're working with programs in that regard—it's tracking how adverse childhood experiences lead to addiction issues. I'd encourage you and your department to look at the work of the Palix Foundation and how you may need to have your agreements tailored to have an understanding of what adverse childhood experiences are.

I believe that the Alberta government is moving forward on a lot of these agreements, but I'll just leave that to you to look into.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

That concludes our opportunity to have you here. We really appreciate having you here as our minister, and your taking time to come out to see us.

The meeting is suspended. We have Minister Carolyn Bennett joining us in a couple of minutes.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Welcome, everyone. We are in the second hour of our indigenous and northern affairs committee, and we're very pleased to have Minister Bennett with us once again.

We're anxious to get started, so I thank you for your co-operation.

We'll get going whenever you are ready, Minister.

9:50 a.m.

Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

Thank you for having me back.

I think we would like to begin by acknowledging that we come together on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people and that we're here to discuss the 2018-19 supplementary estimates (B) as well as the 2019-20 interim estimates for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

Specifically, I will discuss the aspects of the estimates that pertain to my work as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

I am joined by Alex Lakroni, Chief Finance, Results and Delivery Officer.

Also with me are Diane Lafleur, the Associate Deputy Minister, and Joe Wild, the senior ADM for Treaties and Aboriginal Government. I think you will come to know that Joe's work has been very helpful in getting us as far as we are in helping get people out from under the Indian Act.

As you know, our government is taking concrete steps to renew the nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-Crown and government-to-government relationships between Canada and first nations, Inuit and Métis and to accelerate self-determination.

In support of these fundamental goals, our department's 2018-19 supplementary estimates (B) present initiatives totalling $174.9 million, which includes $112.8 million in new funding and $62.1 million in net transfers with other government organizations. This brings the total appropriations for CIRNAC in 2018-19 to $5.1 billion.

Roughly half of that new funding of $57 million reflects our commitment to resolving disputes outside of court whenever possible. As we've discussed here at this committee many times, our government strongly believes that negotiating settlements focused on healing and closure outside the adversarial court process is the most responsible way to resolve past wrongs and paves the way for a more respectful and constructive relationship with indigenous communities going forward.

I think it's important to reinforce that our work to support first nations, Inuit and Métis communities to implement their visions of self-determination is intrinsically linked to unlocking untapped prosperity and closing long-standing socio-economic gaps.

An excellent example of this is the new funding in the estimates of $48.4 million for the Métis Nation Housing Strategy and the Métis National Heritage Centre.

We have been working in partnership with the Métis Nation to identify in advance shared priorities, including affordable housing. Through annual meetings between the Métis Nation, the Prime Minister and key federal ministers, we have codeveloped the Métis national housing strategy.

In July we had the honour of representing Canada in signing the Canada-Métis Nation housing sub-accord with the president of the Métis National Council and the presidents of its governing members.

The housing sub-accord is funded from budget 2018 with $500 million over 10 years and reflects a shared commitment to narrow the housing gap between Métis Nation citizens and non-indigenous Canadians, and does so in a way that respects and supports the Métis Nation's right to self-determination.

Funding also supports the construction of a Métis national heritage centre in historic Upper Fort Garry, Winnipeg, by 2020.

The centre will showcase the history of the Métis nation and the significant contributions of the Métis people to the development of Canada.

Right now, no such Métis heritage facility exists in Canada, and this initiative will support the Métis Nation's management of its own culture, art and history.

Supplementary estimates (B) also include funding for first nations fiscal institutions to hire additional staff and open regional offices in Winnipeg, Halifax and Ottawa. This will allow the fiscal institutions to support more first nations to exercise jurisdiction over financial management and proper taxation and will provide better access to affordable financing for infrastructure projects.

Funding is also included for the renewal of the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq education agreement, which provides for continued first nations self-governance over education programs and services and an inclusive and quality education for first nations students in that province.

I think at this table before, I have mentioned this huge success. It was 20 years ago that the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia decided to take over their education system. At that time, their secondary school graduation rate was 30%. Today, the Mi'kmaq education system in Nova Scotia has a secondary school graduation rate of 90%. That is higher than most of the non-indigenous population in Canada.

The evidence is clear: First Nations-led and First Nations-governed education systems, achieve better results for First Nations students.

For 2019-20, the department's interim estimates are $2.2 billion. This will provide sufficient funding in the beginning of the fiscal year to deliver regular programs and additional requirements specifically for out-of-court settlements, early settlements of specific claims and self-government agreements.

Our government has been working with first nations to resolve historic grievances through the specific claims process and has done so at twice the rate of any previous government in Canada. There are 475 specific claims that have been resolved through negotiated settlement agreements since 1973, with a total compensation value of over $5.6 billion. Sixty-seven of these specific claims agreements have been reached since November 2015, with a total compensation value of over $1.6 billion.

Payments of claims and tribunal awards up to $150 million come from the specific claims settlement fund. Anticipated funding is allocated in advance to ensure prompt payments.

We are forecasting that funding will be required during the first quarter of 2019-20 for settlements, including the Mohawks of Akwesasne's Dundee claim. As I noted earlier, the best way to support the success of indigenous communities is to accelerate self-determination and ensure that communities have the tools they need to implement their vision of what that means.

An exciting new way that we are supporting indigenous people in realizing their vision of self-determination is through the recognition of indigenous rights and self-determination discussion tables. I'm very pleased to say today that now there are over 77 tables, with 380 communities and involving more than 800 000 indigenous people. When there are 634 Indian Act bands in this country, to have 380 communities at tables is I think a huge success and is an example of us accelerating the path to self-determination.

We are also implementing 25 modern treaties, 18 of which include provisions for self-government and/or accompanying self-government agreements, four stand-alone self-government agreements and two sectoral agreements in education.

Stable funding of self-government agreements is fundamental to nation-to-nation, government-to-government and Inuit-to-Crown partnerships. Most of the funding for self-government agreements is paid during the first quarter of the fiscal year. In fact, some agreements flow 100% of the funding in April.

In addition, Canada has the obligation to provide stable funding to implement its obligations under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, including Inuit housing. These agreements require their majority or full annual payment during the first quarter of the fiscal year.

I look forward to discussing the supplementary estimates (B) and the interim estimates with you, and welcome your questions.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

We are going to begin with MP Yves Robillard.

9:55 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Budget 2018 set aside $101.5 million over five years to support the capacity development of indigenous peoples. It was anticipated that the funding would be placed at their disposal to support activities that would pave the way to reconstructing their nations. Clearly, investing in capacity building is fundamental in speeding up self-determination.

Can you tell us what is happening with that promised funding and what kinds of measures it is supporting?

10 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you. It is a great story.

The report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that the nations should begin to rebuild themselves and to develop institutions that are strong enough to allow them to exercise their rights. including in the form of self-government.

Budget 2018 set aside a sum of $101.5 million over five years to help indigenous nations reconstitute, including through capacity development and activities that will help them find their own way to reconstruction. It also set aside a sum of $50 million to lead them towards self-government.

We received 300 proposals for 2018-2019. That is a great success. I place a lot of hope on the good work that indigenous nations are doing to gather and engage their members in the process towards reconstruction and then self-government.

10 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

Thank you for the answer.

Madam Minister, in the 2018-2019 supplementary estimates (B), I see an allocation of almost $57 million to settle a number of indigenous claims. On a number of occasions in the past, you have told us your opinion that negotiation is better than litigation in righting historical wrongs and settling the grievances of the past. You have alluded to the greater flexibility that the approach provides compared to allowing the problems to be solved through a legal process.

Can you explain what you mean by that? Why do you believe so firmly that friendly settlements get better results for all parties involved?

10 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you. That is a good question.

Communities prefer negotiation to paying a lot of money in legal fees to make their cases in court. Another fact is that negotiation means that more attention is paid to language, to healing and the rest, which is not possible to do in court. As things stand, it is preferable to provide money to the communities rather than getting involved in long legal processes.

10 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

Madam Minister, in your remarks, you stated that our government is working with First Nations to resolve historical grievances in their particular claims. You are working at twice the speed of any other previous government in Canada's history.

Can you tell us what you and your department have done differently in order to speed up the claims process?

10 a.m.

Liberal

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

That is another good question.

It is really about our government's attitude in accepting the errors of the past and making things better. The grievances are genuine and it is important for the settlements to be fair. In Alberta, for example, a lot of grievances deal with problems with agriculture. It is important for a lot of people that the grievances are settled.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You have less than a minute.

10:05 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

I will give my turn to whomever is next.

Thank you, Madam Minister.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Okay.

We'll move on to MP Cathy McLeod.