Evidence of meeting #87 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 working.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Paul Thoppil  Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Indigenous Services and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Hélène Laurendeau  Deputy Minister, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Joe Wild  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Treaties and Aboriginal Government, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Noon

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to our guests for being here today.

Minister Bennett, my questions will be for you.

Chief Billy Joe Laboucan from Lubicon Lake lost his daughter Bella Laboucan in 2005. He is in constant contact with me about that particular case. I was reading your mandate letter, and one of its bullet points says:

Lead further work to address the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada, and be the lead Minister, in collaboration with the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Status of Women, and the Privy Council Office, supporting the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Would you acknowledge that you bear the responsibility for the success or failure of the murdered and missing indigenous women inquiry?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

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

I certainly believe I have the responsibility to do everything I can to make sure it's successful, and to make sure the families and the survivors feel they've been heard in the way we wrote the terms of reference and the support that we are giving now.

The stories like Bella's are heartbreaking, and we've been saying time and time again that we need to be able to find justice for the families, support and healing for them, as well as preventing and stopping this terrible tragedy.

That means we also can't wait for the commission to get going on the things we know are necessary like education, health, shelters, sexism and racism in policing, but mostly the overhaul of the child welfare system, which was front and centre at all the gatherings.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Would you say that the inquiry has been successful to this point? They had their interim report. Were you pleased with that?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

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

I think we were pleased. It came in on time and it did what we'd asked it to do, which was to look at the 98 previous studies. I think we impressed upon the commissioners that they didn't need to start from scratch, that a lot of work had been done, a lot of families heard from, international reports like CEDAW and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Those observations were very important in asking us to move forward immediately.

There is no question this hasn't been easy, but the feedback that we've had from—

November 30th, 2017 / 12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

We had the commissioners here at our committee. They're highly qualified, highly competent people. They expressed concern with how things had been going.

Recently in the media we've heard of Winnipeg staffers having to work from home because there is no furniture in their offices. One staffer had a BlackBerry with no cord to charge it. There are computers that don't work. Internet that doesn't work, and workers have no detailed plans or schedules. Fired staff have spoken out about a sick internal culture of nepotism and favouritism. There have been delays of over eight months in opening offices, and four months to get staff hired. There are complaints about the PCO consuming great swaths of the funding, no travel expenses have been reimbursed, and 150 families have signed letters asking the PM to do a restart on this.

Does that sound like success? Does it sound to you as if we're going in the right direction?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You have one minute.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

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

On receipt of the interim report, and obviously on the commentary of the commissioners—

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Does it sound to you as if it's successful?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

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

—we immediately struck a working group across government departments to make sure that from PCO to Treasury Board to procurement and IT, we had to redouble our efforts to support this commission. That isn't fair if government is an impediment to their being successful.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Have you given any direct instructions to your department as to how it should support the MMIW inquiry?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

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

INAC had the lead on supporting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This time the Privy Council Office has the lead, but our department is working with this working group across—

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Have you given any specific instructions to your—

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

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

Absolutely, the department knows they are to support it, and I hope to meet with the commissioners soon to find out their feedback to date.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Questioning now moves to MP Amos.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to both of our ministers, and the parliamentary secretaries who support them, for your leadership and your hard work. I know that Canadians are seized with this issue, as my colleague said.

I have three questions. I'll go to each of them fairly quickly.

The first one is for Minister Philpott. I recognize that now the two departments have been broken up and there is a process of reinvention. How does that touch the whole of government, because there are many departments, of course, that provide services and are engaged in important and complex ways with indigenous communities across the country? We're studying fire safety right now, and that issue clearly involves the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. How can you speak to that whole-of-government approach?

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Philpott Liberal Markham—Stouffville, ON

I think that's a fascinating question. I would say to you that I think there's still work to do to determine what, in the final outcome, the Department of Indigenous Services will look like. Minister Bennett is leading the consultations with communities to get their views on this. I think it's really important that every department of our government have a role to play in the work of reconciliation and recognition of rights. It's appropriate that they all understand that this is part of our responsibility to address as a government.

Some departments, as you said, have specific responsibilities. Public Safety is one that is an excellent example of that. Minister Bennett will be asking communities what their feelings are as to whether police services or emergency services should reside with Public Safety or whether they have another view as to how they should relate to Indigenous Services.

Up until then, where services like that do reside with another department, we will work in close collaboration with them. The fire safety study is incredibly important and I hope you will hear in your studies that our department is working very closely with the department of Minister Goodale in terms of responding and improving fire safety and emergency services.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

I would just like to say that my mandate as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs includes being able to be someone who can correct and accelerate the work of other departments on things like the calls to action and in areas where we need to be better at collaborating. The deputy minister actually chairs a committee of deputy ministers on reconciliation, and that is seriously.... Maybe you don't chair it.

12:10 p.m.

Hélène Laurendeau Deputy Minister, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

No, I don't chair it.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

It is a matter of making sure that the deputy is there at that meeting and able to push.

12:10 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Hélène Laurendeau

I don't chair so as to be able to bring all the issues forward, and I have my colleagues chairing to make sure that we actually have a whole-of-government approach.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you.

I would like to shift to the issue around a new process for rights recognition, new forms of negotiations, and opening different types of tables where indigenous communities identify interests and where there are discussions that advance.

Obviously, in the riding of Pontiac, where the entirety of my riding is on the territory of the Algonquin nation, I work hard to try to engage with them. It's not just the indigenous peoples in my riding who care about this process. I'm sure this question applies across the country.

I have many constituents who ask me, “Will, how's it going in engaging with the Algonquin peoples? How can we be involved? How can we articulate our desire that this relationship be strengthened?”

What role is there for non-indigenous peoples in these kinds of conversations? How can they be engaged?

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

That's a great question. I think it might also be an opportunity, Will, for us to let Joe Wild explain the kinds of processes that.... In terms of the waiting queue of people wanting to form tables, 27 people still want it. We have 50 going, and 27 more, ready to come. It's very interesting.

On the issue of reconciliation, whether it's the Federation of Canadian Municipalities or...there is just so much interest in how to get this right in terms of sharing water systems. Can two and two make five? Can the neighbouring indigenous community and the neighbouring municipality work together on these things that are of joint interest? Even in areas such as Mr. Doherty's area in Prince George, the Highway of Tears meant that those two communities had to come together on something hugely disturbing to both, and they worked together incredibly well.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Cathy McLeod

We will now go for the three minute question to MP Angus.

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Minister Philpott, I've been looking at the list of where approvals have happened with Jordan's principle, but I see zero in the far north. Does the first nations Inuit health branch apply Jordan's principle to Inuit children?

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Philpott Liberal Markham—Stouffville, ON

Thank you for the question. In fact, this is a discussion that we have had. It was Jordan's principle, you may recall, when it took place in the House, and initially it was perceived as a motion, if I'm not mistaken, around the matter of first nations children. We obviously have responsibility in the branch to address the health needs of Inuit children, and we are working in close collaboration with Inuit leaders around this. To date, we are not hearing that they have faced tremendous challenges in the same way as we are hearing it from first nations.

My obligation is to make sure that the peoples for whom we have a responsibility to ensure health services are getting the health services they need. Jordan's principle, it's underlying principle that no child should go without care on the basis of jurisdictional dispute, I believe, applies across the board.