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

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Welcome, everybody.

We're going to get started. We're at the indigenous and northern affairs committee of Parliament. We are on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. We always remind all of us and all Canadians that we're in a process of reconciliation and part of it is understanding Canadians' history in relationships with our first peoples.

Today, we're honoured to have the new minister, Seamus O'Regan. Minister O'Regan, welcome. We have you for 60 minutes. We're anxious to hear from you.

You have 10 minutes to present, and then we'll have a series of questions.

8:45 a.m.

Seamus O'Regan Minister of Indigenous Services

Madam Chair, thank you. I am pleased to be here today as you acknowledge the traditional territory of the Algonquin people and to speak with members of this committee in my new capacity as Minister of Indigenous Services.

Joining me is Jean-François Tremblay, Deputy Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, and Paul Thoppil, who is our Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer.

Fundamental to our work as a government is our relationship with indigenous people. I recognize the important work this committee is doing to further their priorities across Canada. In particular, I want to thank you for your recent report on long-term care on reserve, and I look forward to responding to your findings.

As Minister of Indigenous Services, my job is to advance work that closes socioeconomic gaps and improves the quality of services for indigenous peoples, in partnership with them, and in a way that promotes self-determination.

My predecessor, who is now President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government, identified five interconnected priority areas where our joint work is needed. They are the following: keeping children and families together, quality education, improving health outcomes, reliable infrastructure and economic prosperity. At the centre of each of these priorities are real people: individuals, people, communities.

Much progress has been made in these areas and the work is, of course, ongoing. To that end, Indigenous Services Canada requires immediate funds to continue delivering on our mandate.

That is what the supplementary estimates (B) and the interim estimates are about. Today, I will briefly outline my department's supplementary estimates (B) for 2018-2019 and the interim estimates for 2019-2020 to address the funding requirements of the first quarter of the coming fiscal year. Then, we will be happy to take your questions.

The supplementary estimates (B) for Indigenous Services Canada reflect a net increase of $273.6 million. This brings the total appropriations for 2018-2019 to $11.7 billion.

The largest item requested by these estimates is $99.8 million for the emergency management assistance program. This is a critical appropriation in the supplementary estimates. In the past year alone, Canada has seen its share of floods, wildfires and severe storms, which have had grave impacts on a number of first nations. In fact, they have displaced more than 10,000 on-reserve residents in Canada.

Thanks to budget 2018 funding, we have been able to better respond, and reimburse communities faster for costs incurred due to emergency incidents. Indeed, this fiscal year, over 99% of evacuated people have been able to go back to their communities. We are working hard to get the others home as soon as we can.

Our government has also made historic investments to accelerate reforms to first nations child and family services. Budget 2016 provided $635 million over five years as a first step, and budget 2018 committed a further $1.4 billion in new funding over six years.

It is essential we put the safety and security of indigenous children at the forefront of what we do. There is a pressing need within indigenous communities to raise young people in their culture, in their language and in their communities with their families.

As such, the second item in these estimates is part of these investments to address funding gaps and support efforts to keep children and families together where it is in the best interests of the child. These funds are already at work, Madam Chair.

As you are aware, we put an item on notice this week. I look forward to introducing it in the House shortly. I am limited in what I can say about it until it is formally introduced in the House. What I can say is I look forward to talking with you and listening to each one of you in the very near future.

The next item I wish to bring to the committee's attention is $64.4 million towards advancing a new fiscal relationship with first nations.

This funding will support communities in developing governance and community-led planning pilot projects. It will also ensure that first nations are no longer required to pay for third party management.

A key element of this new fiscal relationship is a 10-year grant starting on April 1, 2019, for eligible first nations to deliver core services. Interest in this grant has been very high. We are working now with eligible first nations to finalize agreements for the April 1 entry into the grant.

The last item I will touch on in the supplementary estimates (B) is the $37.5 million in funding for first nations elementary and secondary education programs.

A new codeveloped funding approach for first nations kindergarten to grade 12 education takes effect April 1, 2019. This formula-based approach supports first nations' control of first nations education, and helps to ensure predictable funding that is more directly comparable to what students at provincial schools receive.

More concretely, this funding would mean real change for first nations kids. For example, thanks to budget 2016 funding for education programming, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is taking Mohawk immersion learning to the next level. It implemented a new math program in Mohawk, which is aligned with the Ontario math curriculum. This means that children can now learn math in Mohawk in their immersion classrooms.

We will start to see more and more successes like this replicated throughout Canada by way of regional education agreements.

I will now turn to the interim estimates and will highlight some of those items.

The department's interim estimates will be approximately $7 billion. This funding would ensure that Indigenous Services Canada is able to carry out its activities in the first three months of the fiscal year, until the full main estimates are approved in June. Among other things, a timely appropriation of these funds would ensure that First Nations are able to take full advantage of the start of the construction season.

We know that healthy and safe homes are integral to creating healthy and safe communities. We also know, however, that indigenous people are more likely to experience poor housing conditions than the general population. According to Statistics Canada's 2016 census, 18.3% of indigenous people live in crowded dwellings.

With that in mind, we are making progress with the Assembly of First Nations on the codevelopment of a first nations housing and related infrastructure strategy. This will contribute to more sustainable and healthy first nations communities. With the AFN, we are also codeveloping a new operations and maintenance policy framework that will provide greater flexibility to first nations to manage their assets on reserve.

It is also why, among other things, the Government of Canada is working in partnership to address the serious housing needs of Cat Lake First Nation through immediate action and long-term planning.

We know that decades of neglect are challenging to reverse, but we will be working in partnership to achieve results for the people of Cat Lake First Nation and for all indigenous people in Canada.

I joined Cat Lake Chief Matthew Keewaykapow last Thursday to sign an initial framework agreement that means a solid plan moving forward. This agreement includes $3.5 million to support 15 new housing units, as well as additional funding for demolition, site preparation and shipping of materials; $2.1 million to repair 21 existing units; $2 million for the delivery and installation of 10 portable housing units; and expediting the seven new units that are currently under way.

Chief Keewaykapow invited me to join the community, and I have gratefully accepted accepted his invitation.

Madam Chair and committee members, I urge you to support the appropriations requested in these estimates. The funding will enable us to continue to address the day-to-day realities in indigenous communities in a holistic way.

Thank you. Meegwetch.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you very much. We see progress on many of the files this committee studied. I think all members recognize that.

We're going to start the questioning round with MP Robillard.

8:55 a.m.

Yves Robillard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Good morning, Mr. Minister. Welcome to our committee.

Education is fundamental. The new approach for funding First Nations education from kindergarten to high school on the reserves will go into effect next April 1.

Can you be specific as to how the investment will help in a better design of primary and secondary education programs for First Nations?

8:55 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

Thank you very much, Mr. Robillard.

Budget 2016 provided $2.6 billion over five years for education on reserve. We have completed 157 projects thus far, and some are ongoing. Providing sufficient predictable funding for education is a cornerstone for strengthening first nations education and improving outcomes, obviously not just now but for the future. It is essential to the future prosperity of indigenous communities. It is also essential for them to build up the capacity that they need in order to handle what I believe will be an extremely bright future for them when it comes to economic prosperity, but also in the governance of their own affairs.

That funding, as I say, has to be predictable. It has to be efficient. We are codeveloping an approach that's taking effect in April 2019 that will put first nations in the driver's seat when it comes to first nations education. It will support full-time kindergarten for ages four to five. It will ensure special education funding is more predictable, which they have raised with me personally. We will continue to work with them in an essential transformation of first nations education.

8:55 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

In recent years, we have witnessed terrible situations where natural disasters have had major impacts on First Nations, who sometimes need to be evacuated and moved away.

Can you make your introductory comments more specific and talk about the increased funds being requested for the emergency management assistance program?

8:55 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I think it might have been my fourth or fifth day as minister that I attended the B.C. gathering of chiefs. That was an incredible eye-opener on the importance of emergency management assistance. Most of the questions that I took from the floor on that day were on exactly this, and for good reason. It involves their safety and their security.

We provide emergency management support to on-reserve indigenous communities through the emergency management assistance program for the four pillars of emergency management: prevention, mitigation, response and recovery. We reimburse first nations partners, provincial and territorial governments and other third party service providers like the Canadian Red Cross for any eligible costs incurred in the delivery of emergency management systems to first nations communities.

Supplementary estimates (B) includes $99.8 million to reimburse first nations and emergency management providers for on-reserve response and for recovery activities in 2018-19.

If you look at what's driven those costs, there's $16.58 million for flooding, $26.92 million for wildfire response, $1.86 million for response costs for other emergencies such as tornadoes, $8.88 million for long-term evacuation costs and $74.91 million for recovery costs for things like critical infrastructure that needs to be replaced as a result of a fire, for instance.

For the past four years, response and recovery costs have exceeded A-base funding of $29.3 million. Options to address this persistent funding shortfall are being explored right now. I expect, to be honest, that it's not going to get any better.

The funds being requested will ensure first nations communities receive funding at a level to address that response and to recover. They support the Government of Canada's commitment to deliver consistent and high-quality programs and services to first nations.

9 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

I believe that Canadians are following our government's progress on long-term drinking water advisories.

Since we cannot imagine that, in Canada, some people still have no access to drinking water, could you tell us about the work that is underway to solve this problem, end the long-term advisories, and make sure that the situation does not happen again?

9 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I'll begin with some good news, which is that we just lifted our latest boil water advisory yesterday, which now brings us up to 80. This is something that we heard very clearly during the election campaign and since. It's something that Canadians can grasp onto for exactly the reasons that you cited, the idea of a community not having access to clean drinking water.

Our government right now, as I said, is on track for our goal to lift all long-term drinking water advisories in public systems on reserve by March 2021. We also know that the work doesn't end with the lifting of long-term advisories. We're providing some sustainable investments to prevent short-term advisories, to expand delivery systems and to build capacity of and retain local water operators, training people on the ground in the community and putting in place systems for regular monitoring and testing.

Decades of neglect are challenging to these reserves, but we are working in partnership to develop plans to meet their specific needs. A lot of work needs to be done, but so far the results are encouraging. As I said, 80 long-term drinking water advisories have been lifted so far, including that one yesterday in North Spirit Lake, Ontario. That one had been place for 17 years.

I visited one facility in Piapot in Saskatchewan. The women who run this particular facility have trained long and hard. They work long, hard hours. My God, are they proud of the work that they're doing and the fact that they're doing that work in community, and they're the ones doing it.

I have to say that the other thing that really struck me, and it was pointed out to me by the leadership, is, how spaced out many of these communities are. I think that, when we see images sometimes in the media, we see some communities that have houses that are in close proximity to one another, but a number of these communities have great distances between the houses, which makes dealing with their water needs more complex than meets the eye.

9 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

That ends the questioning this time for the Liberals.

We move on to the Conservatives, and we begin with MP Kevin Waugh.

February 28th, 2019 / 9 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Thank you, Madam Chair; and welcome, Minister and officials.

Let's start with Piapot. We've heard from department officials, because they had a fire there last year. They have no water treatment. They're on a long-term boil water advisory again.

Also this week in my province, Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation had a fire. They're out of operation now.

We've heard loud and clear with these long-term boil water advisories that there is no education after they are lifted. This is a major concern.

Minister, I know you've only been in here for five weeks, but it's interesting that you're talking about 80 boil water advisories being lifted. The website used to tell us how many were coming back on. I know your government wanted to be transparent, but all of a sudden, we don't see those.

I was on your website yesterday. There was no indication of any long-term boil water advisories coming back to short-term, and I wonder why that is.

9:05 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

I believe, and I can be corrected by my deputy, the reason is that we give it six months.

Is that the time duration?

9:05 a.m.

Jean-François Tremblay Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

I need to check. We committed to be as transparent as possible and we will continue to do that. There's no change in our policy. If there's a mistake on the website....

Sometimes there's a delay, because it depends on when we get the information. That could happen, but it isn't a desire to not provide information that we were providing before. As you have noticed over the last few years, actually, we have increased the access to the information and we try as much as possible to make it live on the website.

9:05 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

Frankly, Mr. Waugh, if it is the case that we give ourselves six months before we get it back on track, that should be spelled out there as well so that it's transparent.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Then how long does a community need to be off the long-term boil water advisory before they're taken off the list?

9:05 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Jean-François Tremblay

In regard to when the long-term advisory stops, the way it works is that as soon as it's done, there are tests of the water, a recommendation is made, and the chief and council and the band council decide if they're getting off and they say the water is proper for consumption. As soon as we have this information, we try to put it on the website.

9:05 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

Seamus O'Regan

Let me speak to the two examples that you brought up. In Piapot, I visited the interim water facility and it's really quite impressive. That is the interim one, and the women I met there were incredibly well trained and quite proud of that training. If they complained of anything, it was overwork. We need to get more people trained up so that they're not working the hours they are, which are pretty extensive.

They showed me the facility, the site that had burned down. We are committed to rebuilding that with them.

We're working with Carry the Kettle as well. I've spoken with them, or I should say, my officials have.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Yes. That happened on Monday night.

9:05 a.m.

Minister of Indigenous Services

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

I have to ask you—because you're a former journalist, as am I—in yesterday's testimony you seemed to be the pawn in all of this. The former attorney general—

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Chair, on a point of order, what's the relevance?

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I was just going to indicate—

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

I was going to ask about—

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Is it related to the estimates?