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

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you very much.

I want to make a clarification on travelling with you that I made it to La Ronge on my own and then because I wanted to be at the second announcement—

9:10 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

—I caught a ride with the team to get to Saskatoon from La Ronge. It was one way, not a round trip.

9:10 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

We were happy to provide it to you and to elders who were present.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

That's right. The plane, with due respect to the minister, was full. It was well attended by various people from Saskatchewan. Thank you for making that announcement and for being in my riding and assisting when you can.

I do have some specific questions.

When you spoke about indigenous housing in your budget and you spoke about AFN codeveloping, exactly what does that mean? I would be looking for a strategy and a comprehensive plan to help these communities, these reserves throughout Canada.

9:10 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

We can't just go about investing in housing and renovating homes on reserves without taking a holistic view from the viewpoint of the life cycle of the asset, the home and the kinds of homes that we specifically need in the north and indigenous communities. We are making a lot of progress with the AFN on the codevelopment of this first nations housing and related infrastructure strategy, the idea being that we listen to them. Through them, we listen to particular communities about their specific needs because the old way of doing it and one-size-fits-all didn't work. We all know that. Even if you look at Cat Lake, a number of the houses there were just planted there. We need to dig deeper into the standards that are required. Houses are going mouldy.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Unfortunately—

9:10 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

Temperature is constantly changing. There are are even small things.... When I sat down with the chief when I landed in Thunder Bay, one of the first things he mentioned, which was frankly quite obvious to anybody like me who grew up in the north, is storage. We're bringing all these materials up on the winter road and we're not storing them properly. As a result, things like lumber can go mouldy before we even build the house.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Can I cut you off there?

9:10 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

February 28th, 2019 / 9:10 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you for the explanation.

Again, I go back to what you said on codeveloping. We know from statistics and we know when we visit reserves what's happening in Cat Lake is the normal thing, unfortunately, from my riding to across Canada. Even residents whose homes burned down or residents who are living with the mould.... How quickly is this plan coming together? The urgency for many of these reserves is now.

9:10 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I agree. With Cat Lake, we sat down and we did the deal. It will involve 36 new housing units and 21 new renovations and repairs. We are assessing those units right now with the community to determine what's more cost efficient. It may be better in some cases.... We can do repairs and renovation where the damage is not that extensive, and in other ones we need to demolish the home and provide temporary housing in the 10 portable units we're bringing up there, and will leave there. These are things we have to work out with them.

We are limited, as you well know, by the winter road. Most people in Canada don't appreciate what a winter road is. The community I grew up in had a winter road most of the time. It has a full tough year-round road now—it's no longer seasonal—but you have a very short window in which you can get construction supplies up there. The latest update I had, yesterday, is that we still cannot get heavy equipment up. We're still getting light equipment up. In the next four days, we're expecting very cold weather up there. This is one of those cases where Canadians are praying for cold weather, because that will sustain the road and we will be able to get the portables up there. You can imagine how heavy they are and how hard they are on those roads.

That is essentially the challenge we are facing right now. We are ready, on one end, to get as many materials up there as quickly as we can. We are working with the province and the first nation. I spoke with Minister Rickford of the Ontario government yesterday. We are working with them to make sure we can get those supplies up there as quickly as possible.

Much of it is the circumstances of living in the north. The only way we can overcome them is by working closely with the community. I talk to local leadership there regularly.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Unfortunately, these circumstances have been in existence for decades. This is not new, and the government seems to be acting as if this is a new thing: “My God, how are we going to help?” First nations across Canada have been asking endlessly, every year, almost every day, for the government to have a comprehensive plan.

9:15 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I would simply add that you're absolutely right. That is why we are moving as quickly as we can, but we are also taking the time to listen and get it right. We are consulting extensively. When I'm in front of reporters, it's often, “Why can't you move faster?”, but at the same time, “Why aren't you consulting more extensively?”

It does take time to get it right. I know that's frustrating, but I think what I presented to you, and what you will see, are long-term solutions and long-term budgeting. We are also looking at long-term block grants to communities so that they don't spend so much time on the administration level. Many of these small communities only have so many people to fill out the paperwork and do the calculations. When they are constantly reapplying for the funding they rely upon, that is time and energy wasted, which could be used for better planning and for more forward thinking.

We are saying, “Let us find you a more financially sustainable model, so that you know where your money is coming from and you can spend more time getting it right.”

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

In the meantime, the residents continue to suffer, because the government is trying to figure a plan to assist when the urgency is now. As we know, people are sick from the mouldy houses; people can't afford many things and they're constantly struggling. When we send in the media teams to these reserves, they see the horrific realities on the ground, and the government doesn't seem to take that seriously.

9:15 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

Madame Jolibois, we will have trucks on the road within days.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Questioning now moves to MP Will Amos.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you to our senior civil servants and to the minister.

Minister O'Regan, it was a real treat to go and visit the community of Rapid Lake, the most northerly community in my riding—Algonquin territory—with our parliamentary secretary, Dan Vandal, a member of your staff and one from the civil service, from your department, as well. It was a very successful visit. I appreciate how your department enabled that.

There's a bit of a story behind it. I want it to be on the public record, and then I'd love to hear your comments.

This is a community that has been challenged for a number of years on the housing front, on education infrastructure and on community infrastructure. It's still runs with a diesel generator. The power there is unreliable.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

MP Amos, you're going to be asking a question.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Of course.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

This is a community with needs, significant needs. To be able to go up there and make that announcement with the parliamentary secretary around new housing for teachers—that was fabulous. It was fabulous news that resonated across the riding, well beyond Rapid Lake. We certainly hope there's more to come. That's where the discussion went with Parliamentary Secretary Vandal.

That goes specifically to these supplementary estimates. There's the issue of securing the financing necessary to invest in a new school, to invest in a school that's connected to the hydro grid and not connected to diesel-powered generators. There's the issue of continuing to develop their community infrastructure, including but not limited to housing. All of these are just so important. I use that as an example of one community that reflects the needs across this country.

So thank you to you and your department for the hard work that continues on this file. I was in touch with your office this week about this. I really hope there is continued action. I think all of us on this committee agree that every single kid deserves a chance, and every family needs to have a healthy home with good running water in order to have a chance.

I'd like to hear more about the specific aspects around getting communities off third party management. That's been a big challenge in Rapid Lake. Success has been achieved there, but I'd like you to speak to how the monies that were discussed in your statement will be allocated. How do we shift away over time from the need to have funding so that the management of finances by indigenous communities is done in a sustainable manner?

9:20 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I understand that the parliamentary secretary went there, as you said. It was noted that it was the first time a parliamentary secretary had been to the community, so I think that's terrific. As you said, there were two major infrastructure announcements in the community that were tremendously important—$1.1 million in those projects, and the Algonquins of Barriere Lake band council contributed an additional $300,000 to it. There's the brand new waste-water pumping station, a residence to house Kitiganik primary schoolteachers who come in from outside the community, and the connection to the grid.

There's a tremendous desire amongst the indigenous leadership I've met. This was the case with the Cat Lake leadership. There were a few things, as I said, they wanted added to the agreement we had been working on, once I saw them in person. One of the first things they mentioned was storage facilities to make sure the equipment and the materials we were bringing up were adequately protected from the elements.

There were a couple of other things that I think were very telling. First of all, they wanted somebody to come in, in a full-time position, to help them manage their new homes and to help them maintain them. The other thing they asked for, and I think it's tremendously important, was financial training. They wanted financial training for their chief, for their leadership, for their council members, and for their administration workers. There is a lot happening, and they want to handle these resources respectfully and responsibly. Of course we committed to all of that. There's a tremendous want and desire for that sort of training and to have that sort of responsibility and to deal with the new funding they are receiving, as I said, responsibly and respectfully.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

In the one minute I have left, I'd like to draw the attention of the minister and the parliamentary secretary to the fact that today, during the time when members make statements, I'll be making a statement to recognize 40 years of public service by Jean Guy Whiteduck. He was the chief of Kitigan Zibi, and due to illness he has stepped back. This individual has served in elected and unelected capacities in a leadership role for the Algonquin for a generation and a half. That's a significant contribution.

I just wanted to highlight that, because I think it will be important to the people of this region, as we are sitting on Algonquin territory.