Evidence of meeting #55 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 know.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Diane Lafleur  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Yes, absolutely, and I think you consult with all sides. As you know, the Nisga'a are not particularly happy with the tanker ban in that they had an energy corridor that they hoped would be an economic advantage for their community. It's a matter of how do we have a process that people believe in so that they're not upset; they understand that the outcome isn't what they wanted, but they understand there was due diligence in the process and that all the voices were heard? I think that's what we have to continue to do. It will be refined as the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Natural Resources come out with a new robust process where people will really understand—

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

That gets back to the whole nation-to-nation relationship, and you have to define that at some point.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Yes.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

All right. Thank you.

I'll share the rest of my time with Cathy.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair. Hopefully I'll get to ask two questions in my very short time.

Regarding the Qalipu Mi'kmaq, I've received emails and phone calls on this particular issue. Around 68,000 membership applicants were rejected, many of whom had actually already received Indian status.

There have been some very strange stories from people who didn't receive information up to the filing deadline. We've had situations where personal details were entered wrong. In one case of biological twins, one was given status and the other wasn't.

What are you doing to resolve the issue? What criteria were used in assessing applications? Are there appeal opportunities? It sounds as though it is a very difficult and confusing process that needs to be fixed.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Absolutely. As you know, the process before had been agreed upon by the previous government and the previous chief, which resulted in probably 10 times more people applying than had ever been considered before. Therefore, there is no difficulty now as the criteria were applied and certain people were rejected. There is an appeals process going on now. A certain number of people have taken advantage of the appeals process, and a great number haven't nor have they submitted any new information. With the ministerial special representative, Fred Caron, we are doing the due diligence and understanding that status issues are different from what a community can do in terms of membership or whatever. There will be some people who require and will gain status, but there are others who will, perhaps, self identify as Qalipu and want to be associated with that community. However, as you know, a lot of the people who applied had had no attachment to that region for a very long time.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

I appreciate that. It just seems that when you have biological twins getting different answers, we certainly have a process.

Again, I do need to go back to transparency because we obviously haven't had enough time in terms of talking about this issue. Whether you are federal, provincial, or municipal, things aren't public. They are not shared with community members. If I want to know what the mayor of Kelowna or an MLA in Saskatchewan make so that I can compare...if it seems reasonable what the mayor of Kamloops makes, what the funding and opportunities are, I can do that. I can do that because it's not just available to the people of Saskatchewan or the people of Kelowna, but available broadly. The ability to compare is important. I know there has been considerable discussion about own-source revenue, and I appreciate that the federal government does not have responsibilities there.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We're running out of time in this period.

I know it's so difficult when we have such a short time.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

She can have my 30 cents.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

All right. Agreed.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Companies are responsible to shareholders so you can go on and see what Telus or Bell does. To suggest that companies or bands are impeded because of the personal information.... If you go on to transparency, what is put down in terms of own-source revenue does not create any disadvantage for a company. Quite frankly, it's much less than what you would get as a shareholder. Again, Minister, it's 17 months. People are pleading. I think they have every justification to expect a framework and something in place that is comprehensive so that they can make make decisions around their leadership.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

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

There's no question that we're working towards an approach of mutual accountability. That means our department too. We think that we should be accountable. However, I don't think I'm going to change my mind on a competitive environment of people bidding on contracts. If a private company that doesn't have to disclose anything is then bidding on the same contract as a first nation company that has to disclose everything, that is not even.... I don't think I'm going to change my mind on that.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

MP Romeo Saganash.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

How much time do I have?

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You have five minutes.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I want to go back to my last question because the answer wasn't clear. In some ways, at least for me, it was disturbing.

One of the problems we encountered when we enshrined section 35 of the Constitution Act in 1982 was that the concept of aboriginal rights was so large and broad that, most of the time, we ended up in court because we couldn't agree on what was contained in section 35. At least with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it's pretty clear what those rights are. Those rights are fundamental human rights. I don't understand why anybody wouldn't accept them or why anyone would have to engage and consult.

My fundamental human rights are not up for debate. They exist. The UN Declaration confirms that the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration are inherent—they exist because we exist as indigenous peoples. It shouldn't be a problem for any government, especially if the government committed and promised and accepted all of the calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

If you read it carefully, under the heading, “Reconciliation” in that report, where it calls for action, there are two calls for action—43 and 44. Number 43 calls on the Government of Canada, the provinces, the territories, and the municipalities to fully adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation in this country. It's pretty clear and you've accepted that. Why is it such a problem to say yes to a bill proposing to do exactly that? Bill C-262 proposes to implement calls to action 43 and 44.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

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

I think your advocacy on this is absolutely essential to Canadians' understanding what this means to indigenous rights.

I think we need to be moving on the vagueness in section 35 and how we can breathe life into this section of our Constitution, how we can implement the 94 calls to action, including the one that says we will adopt and fully implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. How we do that with provinces and territories is really important. There are some people who think a federal law that wouldn't be implementable in provinces and territories could be competitive with our being able to hold up section 35 as the way we need to go forward as Canada.

I look forward to those conversations and finding the best possible way for people to understand that we're serious about adopting and implementing the UN Declaration across all government departments and with the provinces and territories. It is going to be an interesting conversation with the provinces and territories, the municipalities, and the private sector.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Since the adoption or patriation of the Constitution Act of 1982, we live in this country in what the Supreme Court calls a “constitutional supremacy”. Since 1982 we have have moved from parliamentary supremacy to constitutional supremacy. The Supreme Court has confirmed over the years that even in your own areas of jurisdiction, federal and provincial, those jurisdictions are not absolute because, among other things, aboriginal rights exist. I think Bill C-262 is one of the ways to move forward on reconciliation in this country.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

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

When I chaired the subcommittee on persons with disabilities, there was an ongoing debate whether we needed a Canadians-with-disabilities act, whether because we had the charter we needed to stand up a much stronger part of the Human Rights Commission, or whether we needed a disability commissioner. There are many ways for us to be accountable, for us to walk the talk of things. I'm very interested in working with you and figuring out the best way to do this in Canada.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Before we conclude the question period for our committee, the final round of the seven-minute period goes to MP Rusnak.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I would say they saved the best for last, but....

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

We already went first.

10:15 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

May 4th, 2017 / 10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

As the minister may well know, and likely knows, the Chiefs of Ontario are having their special assembly here in Ottawa this week. I'll be meeting with several chiefs and the regional chief later on this afternoon.

Part of our role as members of Parliament is oftentimes to listen to complaints from individuals, whether in our constituency or because of who we are and the work we do here. Like a lot of my colleagues on this committee, I hear a lot of complaints from first nation communities and indigenous communities right across this country, including in my own riding. Of course, after the last 10 years of our friends' government on the other side, we heard a lot of complaints when we came into government. I'm noticing a lot fewer complaints now, especially with the historic investments in first nation and indigenous communities, but I'm still hearing complaints.

Can the minister update us a little bit on what she has done in terms of streamlining processes within the department and fixing problems that she's heard from first nations communities? I know she engages right across this country and speaks to a lot of first nation leaders—and not only the leaders, but also community members and community groups.

Can you update this committee on what you've done to streamline that and on what changes you've seen?

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

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

One of the things that was clear to me when I first became minister was that too much, really, was done here. We needed to bulk up the work of the regions, who know their communities best and how they make decisions. Unlike other departments, where the regional director general has the ability to approve things up to $100,000 or something, in our department our regional directors general can approve up to $15 million. That means on such things as water systems, housing, and all of those things, they know the projects in the queue and they know they can get them done quickly and can respond to the areas of need.

We are trying to do a much better job of getting real relationships with communities from our regional offices and building that up. We're getting the people here in Gatineau out more, and getting the regional directors general in more, as we begin to develop policies that actually can meet the needs of those communities themselves. It's about putting human faces on the needs, about getting people to see those houses and to watch older people carry big water bottles back and forth from the pumphouse. You have to see it in order to do it, and I think that's been one of the changes.

I'm proud to say that almost 30% of our department is now indigenous. We know that their presence is now a critical mass in moving the culture of our department forward in a good way, and with the kind of respectful relationships that people expect.