Evidence of meeting #143 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 indigenous.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Laurie Swami  President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization
Bob Watts  Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization
Chief Arlen Dumas  Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Philippe Méla

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I believe we're going to MP Kevin Waugh.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, guests, for being here today.

I'm just looking at number 92 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action:

ii) Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector....

However, only 7% of your workforce is indigenous. That's a long way off from what I am reading in number 92 of the calls to action. It's kind of embarrassing that you only have 7% indigenous employment.

What are you going to do about it?

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Bob Watts

I'll let you start.

9:25 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

Seven per cent sounds like a low percentage—

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

It is.

9:25 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

—but when you look across the population of indigenous people who are available, it is generally representative of that.

Further than that, what we are looking for is to bring indigenous people into our line of work, which requires that there is a certain amount of investment in capacity-building within the indigenous community. We are looking for people who we will be able to spread throughout our organization. There are two reasons for that. It's not only to offer equity to indigenous people, but also to really enhance our culture and our belief system, consistent with an indigenous perspective. So, there are two aspects of that, from my perspective.

We're working very hard to do that. I think there is competition to find indigenous people who are available to enter into the workforce right now. We try very hard, and I am very pleased that our latest lawyer that we hired is actually Métis. We just welcomed her to the office on Monday. We're very proud of that.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

That's exactly what we're talking about in this report: capacity-building. Where are you going to get your talent? In this country how are we going to make sure that indigenous people, Métis and Inuit have these opportunities?

Give me a full scale of how your company is looking down the road five or 10 years to make sure these people have the opportunities they should have.

9:30 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

I think this is a really important aspect, and it's something that I focus a lot of my effort on, both for indigenous people as well as for gender balance. I think it's about attracting people into the science, technology, engineering and math programs at a university level, but you don't start that by saying, “Here, go to university.” We need to start that in high school and public schools, to make sure that we're providing the educational processes they need to succeed in the business that I'm in, which is highly technical.

We actually have programs in place to do that, not only in municipalities but in all of the communities we are working in, to offer science in the school programs and to offer SHAD programs, where we bring youth from these communities and offer the opportunity to experience some of the science classes at a university level.

Do you want to add to that, Bob?

We have looked at it from the perspective that you have to get the education into high school or earlier, so that people are ready to go into university and college and be available for these jobs.

The second thing I would offer is that we have environmental guides, in one community in particular, who come with us when we do our field work. We've provided training to those particular individuals so that they have both the indigenous knowledge and world view, as well as some of the scientific background that's required to assist us with our environment program.

We really are interested in enhancing that program to make sure they can participate in the jobs we have. So far, that's been very successful. My environmental staff have been holding workshops over the last number of months in the community and really engaging with them to build those skills so they can see the types of jobs and skills required.

This takes time.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Yes. I'll give you an example.

When I was a school board trustee in Saskatoon, Cameco, the world's largest uranium producer, gave us a $100,000 grant to produce indigenous engineers from northern Saskatchewan.

I see that your company's here. Are you getting any help from Ontario Power Generation, New Brunswick Power, Hydro-Québec, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited? Are they stepping up to the plate to make sure that we have opportunities for indigenous people? Are they putting some money on the table to help?

9:30 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

My company is funded solely by those companies, so all of our programs are funded through that. I would say, however, on each one of those companies' behalfs, that they also have indigenous programs. In fact, I was at the Darlington energy complex, which is one of the largest infrastructure projects in Canada right now, and I took a picture of their indigenous relations panel because they actually had a whole pamphlet and a whole series of information about how indigenous people can enter the the workforce and support the Darlington refurbishment project.

I think that's consistent throughout our industry, and, as you would know, Cameco is one of the largest employers of indigenous people. I think that's a true testament to this sector. Certainly something that's pervasive throughout our industry is to make sure there is opportunity for everyone to participate, including indigenous people.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you for your questioning.

I am going to substitute for MP Dan Vandal, unless MP Oliver has questions.

As a former school trustee, I'm obviously very interested in the topic. Given that we know that many indigenous communities perhaps have weak science and mathematics curriculums, especially with something that may be very misunderstood, have you provided curriculum materials to the schools, and at what level?

9:30 a.m.

Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Bob Watts

A couple things we've done to work with schools and youth are sponsoring science fairs and having some of our experts in the communities to share their educational journey with folks so that they can see that there are other opportunities out there, and what that journey looks like.

We've worked with Science North in Ontario. We've had Science North go out into a number of the communities to do workshops in science and math. We've offered summer camps based on STEM-like programs in the communities, to encourage youth to be thinking about that.

In terms of looking a bit more long range, we've started to work with unions to encourage them and to find out what they're doing in the recruitment of indigenous people. A lot of our big project stuff is still a few years away, but we're making some of those early investments now.

With respect to the 7%, I was really proud that we included that on the table, because it shows that we have work to do. We're not shying away from the fact that, even though we're a high-tech infrastructure project, we're out there looking for indigenous people to join us.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Just going on to that point, I know that several communities are very anxious to host the waste facility because it means economic development, opportunities for employment and new hope for those communities. Many of them have over 50% indigenous people, so I would urge you, instead of looking at 8%, to look at over 50% employment.

If we had some people in a community like the Peter Ballantyne Band, what kind of training would they need? Would they need a university education? Does your organization provide scholarships and summer work opportunities? There is a bit of mentorship required to bring people from a fairly disadvantaged position into something that can lead to a wonderful career.

9:35 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

The educational opportunities are varied within our organization. Yes, we would need engineering positions. We need skilled trades, which is probably the bigger part of what we need, and other technician-level training is required, but not necessarily university education. It depends on which stream people would be interested in.

As we've talked about, we have provided funding for people to participate in those types of skilled training. That's something we're very focused on. The difficulty we have right now is that we try to hire from the local communities to the extent we possibly can.

I would say we are mainly focused in Toronto today because we haven't finally selected a site, but we look to hire local people working in the local area to support the work that we do so that we can move forward. It's an important part of our hiring strategy going forward.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

If you have a particular area that has granite pluton—I'm a geologist, so I have a general idea of what you're looking for—it may be in a place like Pinawa that has enormous infrastructure, but, with the political situation at the time, the site selection was not supported by the province. If that changes politically, do you also then have avenues of reconsideration? Tell me very briefly, as we only have a few seconds, how your process goes, because politics changes, as we know

9:35 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

The site selection process started with 22, and we've been working through both the safety thinking around that and the willingness, to where we are today, which is five communities all based in Ontario. The current situation would include consideration of a site located in Ontario, but a primary concern for us at this point is that we're working in areas where the geology would be suitable, we believe. We still have testing to do, but we believe it's suitable. It's really going to be the willing host community. What is important to us is whether the community members, indigenous or municipal, are supportive of this project going forward.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Just to clarify, I'll share a past experience of a translator working with the Dene up north. The translator used the words “killing stone” to describe uranium, and that put a chill on the project for generations thereafter, so understanding science and geology is important and, in that case, it was the translation. I'm so pleased to hear that you're translating information into indigenous languages so that these kinds of mistakes or misunderstandings don't happen.

Questioning now moves to MP Arnold Viersen.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

What kind of collaboration do you have with other industries? I come from northern Alberta and I know that directional drilling is something that we're very good at, drilling through all kinds of different materials. We also have the ability now to locate stuff under the ground within about a foot and a half location. Is that the kind of technology we're looking at using, or how does this work?

9:40 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

First of all, we're a fairly small organization of about 160 people and most of the work execution in the field is through contract support. We do hire other participants in the industry to support us; it's not just the nuclear industry that provides us support.

The second part of your question was around drilling opportunities. We look at the repository itself, which will be about 500 metres below ground. The drilling that we're talking about is going to about one kilometre underground, and it's heavily instrumented as well, so it's slightly different from exploration for a particular mineral.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Do you work with oil-drilling companies at all for this kind of stuff?

9:40 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

Not oil drilling per se, but we look for drilling companies. I think the entire drilling program would be similar to others who are doing this, but through contract support. They may support an oil and gas firm as much they would support our program, because at the end of the day, the early construction work will be similar to a mine.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

I want to just point out that a lot of guys in Alberta are out of work right now and they're always looking for a way to diversify what they do. They have the expertise. They know how to manoeuvre around under the ground. There's a particular shale gas well right near where I live, and they said that if you lined up all the miles of hole in the ground end for end, you could get from where I live to Texas, which is about 3,000 kilometres. They spend a lot of time underground.

Is Ontario the only place in the country that has the particular rock that you're interested in?

9:40 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

No. We looked for volunteer communities to raise their hands. There were 22 communities. There were some in Saskatchewan as well. Over time, we've done the studies and have focused more narrowly now on ones with suitable rock plus a willing host.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Okay.

Bruce Power was considering putting up a plant in my neck of the woods that never came to fruition. Nuclear power, I think, is really only an eastern Canada thing. Am I correct in that?

9:40 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

The current production of nuclear power is primarily in Ontario, but it's also in New Brunswick. Quebec had a facility that has since been shut down.