Evidence of meeting #154 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 vote.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jean-François Tremblay  Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services Canada
Paul Thoppil  Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Valerie Gideon  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

8:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Good morning. Welcome, Minister.

We are the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, the 42nd Parliament. Pursuant to standing order 81(4), main estimates 2019-20, vote 1 under Canadian High Arctic Research Station, votes 1, 5, 10, L15, L20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 under the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and votes 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60 and 65 under the Department of Indigenous Services Canada be referred to the committee on Thursday, April 11, 2019.

Before we start, we always recognize that we are on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. Four hundred years ago when settlers arrived, our indigenous members welcomed Canadians—the foreigners, the settlers—to Canada and have continued to be patient and understanding. Unfortunately, we've seen that their generosity has been met with apartheid, genocide and programs that have really hurt their people.

We have change in the winds, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yesterday we received the report on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. It was an extensive review, with many challenges and changes recommended. We look forward to being part of the positive change, to change our legacy as Canadians and take positive steps on reforming what has been a dark history.

Welcome to the minister and all department staff. We appreciate your being here. I know that the minister has opening remarks and that members have questions.

Go ahead whenever you're ready, Minister.

8:30 a.m.

Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

Thank you, Madam Chair. It's great to be back. As always, thank you for the land acknowledgement as we meet here as a committee on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

I'm joined by Diane Lafleur, associate deputy minister; and Paul Thoppil, chief finances, results and delivery officer.

That's a really nice title, Paul.

I'm here to speak to the main estimates for Crown-Indigenous Relations as well as on behalf of my honourable colleague Minister Leblanc, who is responsible for northern affairs. We hope he will be well and back with us soon.

As you know, in August 2017 the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the creation of two new departments, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, and Indigenous Services Canada. Indigenous and Northern Affairs was a vestige of the colonial era. It was completely unsuited to support and partner with indigenous people based on their unique histories, circumstances and aspirations. The two new departments are designed and organized to better serve the needs of indigenous peoples and structured to better support first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in implementing their visions of self-determination.

The Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, the department for which I'm responsible, has been advancing forward-looking and transformative work to create a new relationship with indigenous peoples as well as support the self-reliance, prosperity and well-being of northerners.

I'm pleased to appear on my department's main estimates, which total $7 billion.

This year's main estimates reflect a net increase of $3.9 billion, or 126%, compared to last year. The increase is primarily attributable to the inclusion of $933.9 million for budget 2019 investments, as well as the following major items: an increase of $2 billion for the childhood claims settlement; an increase of $750 million for the sixties scoop settlement; and an increase of $141 million for infrastructure projects in indigenous communities, including solid waste and Inuit housing.

Budget 2019 investments are reflected in the department's main estimates under separate votes. As their Treasury Board submissions are approved, departments will be able to access funds from these votes for their investments.

These investments build upon the government's historic investments of $16.8 billion through three previous budgets to achieve the shared priorities of indigenous peoples in Canada, now totalling more than $20 billion of new funding.

Across the country, indigenous leadership, non-indigenous Canadians and the government are working in partnership to improve the quality of life for first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Together we are making progress.

Budget 2019 makes significant new investments that support indigenous peoples' plans for self-determination and their work of rebuilding.

These include concrete measures to remove impediments to reaching agreements that affirm indigenous rights and address past grievances.

The budget also includes investments to support the government's continued progress in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.

Budget 2018 ended the practice of funding comprehensive claim negotiations through loans and replaced them with non-repayable contributions. Budget 2019 goes even further by including funding of up to $1.4 billion to forgive all outstanding comprehensive claim negotiation loans and to reimburse indigenous governments that had already repaid these loans. More than 230 indigenous communities will immediately benefit from having these loans off their books or reimbursed. This will allow them to take advantage of opportunities that were out of reach, and to focus on investing in their priorities, such as governance, infrastructure and economic development.

Budget 2019 also replenishes the specific claims settlement fund for another three years, and increases the funding for specific claims research by $8 million per year for five years. These investments will support the resolution of claims more efficiently and effectively, so we can move forward together in a good way.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action provide all Canadians a path forward for Canada's journey of healing and reconciliation.

Our government is working with its partners to accelerate progress on the 94 calls to action and has made significant progress on the calls to action under federal or shared responsibility.

I am very proud of the significant investments made by budget 2019 specifically through our department to support further progress on implementation. Budget 2019 provides $126.5 million in 2020-21 to establish the National Council for Reconciliation and endow it with its initial operating capital, which addresses calls to action 53 to 55.

To address calls to action 72 to 76, the budget invests $33.8 million over three years to develop and maintain the national residential school student death register, and to work with parties to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries.

The budget provides $9.1 million over three years to support the construction of an indigenous legal lodge at the University of Victoria, and $10 million over five years in support of indigenous law initiatives across Canada. Through the justice partnership and innovation program, these investments support the implementation of call to action 50.

The budget supports call to action 66—this is one of my favourites—with $15.2 million over three years for an indigenous youth pilot program, delivered by the Canadian Roots Exchange. Funding will support the establishment of a distinctions-based national network of indigenous youth to help ensure that the Government of Canada's policies and programs are informed by the diverse voices of indigenous youth, and provides support to community events and gatherings for indigenous youth and reconciliation-focused, community-based indigenous youth activities.

The budget also provides $10 million over two years advancing call to action 80 to support communities to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools on the proposed national day for truth and reconciliation.

Our government also understands that success will require taking a truly whole-of-government approach to the TRC's calls to action. I can assure you that every department is taking up the challenge to advance the calls to action in their areas of responsibility. For example, just last week, Minister Hussen introduced the change to the oath of citizenship, which responds to call to action 94.

Our government has been working with northerners and indigenous and territorial partners to build strong, diversified, sustainable and dynamic Arctic and northern communities.

Budget 2019 invests over $700 million in new and focused funding over 10 years to ensure that Arctic and northern communities continue to grow and prosper. Additionally, territorial formula financing transfers will total over $3.9 billion in 2019-20.

Budget 2019 investments, through Northern Affairs, include three important initiatives: cleaning up the largest and highest risk contaminated sites in northern Canada; supporting diversified post-secondary education options in the north; and building connections in Canada's Arctic and northern regions. We are committed to co-developing initiatives for the north with northerners and making the necessary investments to support those co-developed solutions.

I look forward to discussing these priorities in more detail through your questions.

Meegwetch. Thank you. Merci.

8:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you so much.

We're going to open the questioning with MP Will Amos.

June 4th, 2019 / 8:40 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Minister and your hard-working public servants. It's always appreciated when you come here to discuss budget matters, particularly given the amounts that have been invested in our indigenous peoples all across this country. This is a great opportunity to talk more about it.

I want to share my time with Mr. Eyking.

The topic I want to go into more deeply is around the Canadian Roots Exchange. You expressed some enthusiasm for that program. I, myself, was very enthusiastic when I had the opportunity to announce funding, with a constituent of mine by the name of Geoff Green, who is the founder of Students on Ice and who is well known for working with Inuit youth and bringing southern youth closer to Inuit youth, and vice versa. The funding that we announced, which was, I believe, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $660,000, was through the Canada Service Corps, which is another fabulous initiative not falling within your purview that is connecting our northern youth to opportunities around democratic empowerment.

I wonder if you could speak to the indigenous youth programming here with the Canadian Roots Exchange and any other youth programming that you think is really important. In my view, our government's support for indigenous youth is at the core of what we're doing.

8:40 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thanks very much for that.

We have been very impressed with the kind of work the Canadian Roots Exchange has been able to do in both indigenous and non-indigenous projects around reconciliation. I remember during the Toronto meeting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the programming that was there was extraordinary—the history of the historic indigenous sites in Toronto. This is a really important program. I think that no matter what we do—asking people to reread history books, watch movies or read books—it's those relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people, making new friends, that actually helps people go forward in eliminating stereotypes and racism and those things.

I think the work that the executive director, Max FineDay, has been able to do is remarkable, including the kind of speaking that he does, letting people know that the Environics survey has shown that over 80% of non-indigenous youth think they will see reconciliation in their lifetime. I'm not sure the indigenous people are quite so optimistic, but it is that optimism that I think can be the hope that we need there.

In call to action 66, it was very clear that this needed to be a network of youth coast to coast to coast. We appointed three ministerial special representatives, Maatalii, Gabby and André Bear, to look at what existed and what would be recommended, and they gave us a very good report. Now finally number 66 will be realized, with that housed at Canadian Roots Exchange, and I think it will really make a difference.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Minister.

I'll now pass the rest of my time over to Member Eyking.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you, Mr. Amos.

Thank you for having me here. I wish I was on this committee more. I'm the chair of the trade committee.

Minister, welcome, and with all the travels you've done over the years, you've probably visited most of the communities in Canada. You have come to many communities in my riding. I have the largest population in eastern Canada of first nations, and the largest community is Eskasoni. You're very well aware of Eskasoni. You visited there.

There are a couple of big success stories in our community, and one is the education part. We have one of the highest graduation rates, not only in first nations communities but in Nova Scotia, right in Eskasoni.

We see a situation in Eskasoni that we think creates an opportunity, and I'm asking you if you see this across the country. Many of the elderly people in that community would have gone to the residential schools. Housing has always been an issue, and we're getting better at it, but we see an opportunity coming out of that community, where the elderly people should probably be leaving those homes but staying in the community. Many went to the residential schools and do not want to leave the community for various reasons. They'll get flashbacks. The opportunity that they see is having assisted housing or places for them in these communities. I'm wondering if you see that in other communities across the country. They want to stay in these communities but have assisted living or whatever so they go from the family units to just up the road. They're in a unit where the family can see them and work with them, and the community can work there.

It's a general statement, but is it something that our government, a future government, should look at more? I think it would not only really help the family units in the communities, but also the whole truth and reconciliation part.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

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

I think in the way that the previous indigenous services or INAC used to work, we did this and we didn't do that.

By moving to a new approach, which is about the services the communities decide they need, we will move into a better place where these kinds of things, like assisted living for seniors, become a priority for these communities. We're seeing in certain communities that they're living in semi-detached housing or in seniors-looking condos, with a nurse who can visit, those kinds of things.

You have the fabulous new health centre there. I think it's great. And thank you for highlighting Chief Leroy Denny. When the Mi'kmaq got control of their education system, that's the day he decided to be a teacher. They were at a 30% graduation rate and now they're over 90%.

I also want to congratulate you with Sir Paul McCartney yesterday highlighting Eskasoni in terms of that beautiful young woman covering Blackbird in the Mi'kmaq language. These are highlights for all of us.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

It was a very proud moment. Thank you.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Questioning now moves to MP Cathy McLeod.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair. Also, thank you to the minister for coming today.

I think it would be very appropriate as we had the ceremony yesterday for the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls to maybe reflect on a few things that happened out of that ceremony.

I know we had talked certainly about a priority—I believe it was a shared priority—that number one, the families out of the process have some peace and closure. I know some were in attendance yesterday but I'm wondering if your department plans to follow up in any way to ensure that the process actually moves their healing in a positive direction as opposed to not.

What is your plan? Of course, the commission is done as of June 30. We absolutely all need to recognize the tremendous effort it took for those families to share their stories and the difficult journeys they've had.

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

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

In response to the interim report, we invested $21.3 million to continue the healing and support for families, but I think what those families have also needed and asked for is a way to commemorate the loss of their loved ones. The money that has come from Minister Monsef's department on commemoration will be there.

I think a lot of these families are now deciding what that should look like. Some want some sort of memorial, and some want a garden. People are working together on that, and I think you're so right that people now need time for healing. Sometimes events like yesterday's really do bring back difficult memories and times, but we need to make sure it unlocks the healing as they go forward. We are committed to do that.

As well, l think the family liaison units that were set up in all provinces and territories within victim services—a specialized unit for the families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls—have been really important and well received. In the interim report, we said we'd continue that for another year, but we are hearing that people want it to go on further. I just think that, because this is still happening and families are still losing loved ones and need help navigating through a system, we want to make sure that we're there for them.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you.

You and I both sat, of course, on a special committee in the last Parliament where we spent a year reading through many reports and heard from many witnesses.

One of your key priorities was for this commission to identify systemic issues. Can you name any new systemic issues that you felt were identified through this process that you were unaware of through all your time in previous Parliaments and in your current role? Are there any new systemic issues that you believe were identified through the process?

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

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

The interim report was really a compilation of all the previous reports, and so that was what we were able to respond to. I think, regarding the needed changes to child and family services that are reflected in Bill C-92, we need to be aggressive about those changes. We know that there's significant money being invested, unfortunately, in lawyers apprehending children and in agencies and non-indigenous foster families. It has to go to community to prevent that. That's where, I think, there needs to be significant work. I don't think I really understood that certain communities were doing much better because they just refused to abide by provincial laws and kept jurisdiction of their children.

I think the other issue is the ongoing racism and sexism in policing. We are calling on the Senate to pass Rona Ambrose's bill. We have to get that judicial education, and we have to do a much better job on that. I think the racism and sexism throughout all of our institutions is something that the commission has really underlined, how prevalent and sinister it is across our country.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you. It sounds like perhaps it illustrated better...but there was nothing new that was identified.

I guess my next question related to that is that I had really hoped for a lot more articulation around.... You know, four years ago we were calling for an action plan. That was something we talked about, that we needed to move forward with action. I noticed your Prime Minister talked yesterday about action.

It was not as specific around the issues of action as I had hoped it would be. Do you share that particular comment?

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

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

I think that Minister Monsef has done an amazing job with her advisory committee on the broader issue of gender-based violence. I think this commission report calling for a national action plan must be done with partners: first nations, Inuit, Métis. It must also be indigenous-led, indigenous women-led, but it also needs to take regional variations into consideration. It's going to be a really important thing, so we will need to do that immediately.

This is the first national public inquiry, which means that the provinces and territories all signed on to the terms of reference. We will need partners going forward, and we will need their help designing what that process looks like to get to that national action plan.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Questioning now moves to MP Niki Ashton. Welcome to our committee.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

I will defer to my colleague Georgina Jolibois, and I'll catch on to the last part of the question.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Good morning, and thank you.

I'm going to get right to the point because time is an issue. Across my riding, especially now in Timber Bay—you visited the area way back—survivors from the boarding schools and now the day schools are still waiting for justice. You have announced that you're working on a settlement, but I'm concerned that northerners are going to be left out. What can you tell northerners who have already been left out of settlements and denied justice that this process will be better for them, and that they'll finally see justice?

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

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

I think we are very happy with the progress on Île-à-la-Crosse. As you know, the Métis were totally left out in the outrage of the residential school lawsuit, and in the IRSSA.

On the day schools, I think we heard very clearly from northerners that there wasn't enough time for them to sign up within a year, so we've extended that to two and a half years. I think we will now be able to make sure that, in all the regions of the country, people understand what they need to do.

I think the key has been the survivors wanted us to simplify the process so it would be a paper-based process where they could tell their story and then receive what they're entitled to without being cross-examined and without that re-traumatizing.

I think we are now awaiting the court to decide on the fairness hearings as to whether we will be able to proceed with the administrator, that will be Deloitte, as well as making sure that people have the help they need to fill out the forms and be able to get what they rightfully deserve.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Minister, I was very excited to hear in your intro that the reiteration of the goal of your department is to advance forward-looking and transformative work to create a new relationship with indigenous peoples. Where I come from, a pressing issue that is very much related to neglect of indigenous communities, as well as climate change, is the fact that winter roads are melting across our region.

I know, obviously, the winter road budget is under indigenous services, but if we're going to talk about transformative change, if we're going to talk about making a tangible difference in reconciliation, self-reliance and prosperity, other words that you used, the federal government needs to invest in an all-weather road system. It is clear that these communities are living in crisis. In fact, this committee just a few short months ago heard from a former chief from Berens River who talked about how the isolation that so many of his communities experience is connected to suicide, the sense of hopelessness and the lack of opportunities these communities create.

Unfortunately, despite the positive rhetoric, the fact is these communities have no alternative, and as winter roads last less and less, that feeling of hopelessness is only growing.

Your government has done nothing to commit to an all-weather road system in the last few years of your mandate. Do you see investing in an all-weather road system as a priority in making a tangible difference in the lives of indigenous peoples in northern Manitoba and in other parts of the country who are living this same crisis right now?

9 a.m.

Liberal

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

I'm very proud that we were able to get the railroad built, or committed, to Churchill. I think that is going to completely open up things. Obviously, the Shoal Lake road, which opens this week, is important.

But I think you're quite right that, in terms of construction, in terms of all of these things, with climate change and the shortened winter road availability, there need to be permanent solutions. We're pleased that we at least were able to invest in the grid, which provides much more stable access to electricity, but I think we need to work with our partners and work on permanent solutions with the province, with Manitoba Hydro and with all of the partners that can deal with the reality of the isolation and food insecurity.

In the Arctic and northern policy framework, transportation was identified as a priority, so we have been working with our partners on those issues as well. As we are able to release the Arctic and northern policy framework, we will then begin the implementation of that with our partners and will be able to find real solutions.

9 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Thank you for that.

To go back to the inquiry report from yesterday, Minister, a point that was certainly emphasized by so many grassroots advocates and family members was the emphasis on recognizing what's been done to indigenous women as a genocide. I was disappointed not to hear that word used in the earlier discussion as it was a major take-away from yesterday's report. Certainly we view this as critical language in talking about what indigenous women and their families have gone through. I'm wondering if you could share your views on this.

9 a.m.

Liberal

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

As the chief commissioner said, there are 1,200 pages of evidence of the policies that have resulted in this terrible tragedy in which women have died. I think the commission, with all of its deliberations, called this a genocide, and we accept that. That's interesting since we need Canadians to understand that from the Indian Act to residential schools to the sixties scoop to the present day with child and family services, children and young people have been dying.

In the pre-inquiry, we alarmed people by saying that sexism and racism kill, but they do. I think that's why this needs to go forward so there is an understanding that it wasn't just culture and language; people died. That's the reason we need all Canadians to understand these dark chapters in our history, and to understand the vibrant civilization that was here, in which women had influence and power. That was taken away when settlers arrived and they would talk only to the men. It was taken away by the Indian Act, which sent a woman into her husband's community, reversing the tradition. There is more and more evidence that these colonial policies have resulted in this tragedy. That's what we have to do: We have to accept the truth if we are going to change the path.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Questioning now moves to MP Mike Bossio.