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

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Good morning, everyone. Welcome. I want to make a special welcome to Ministers Jane Philpott and Carolyn Bennett. We're always happy to have you here and your staff, of course.

We always recognize that we're on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people, particularly relevant at this time as we're going through reconciliation, and as we're still working on a land claims study, as we heard from the Algonquin.

We are here on the supplementary estimates. I see that, before we get started, indications are that we might have a little bit of business to take care of and that's through MP Anandasangaree.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Colleagues and Madam Chair, I'm asking if we can allocate about 10 to 15 minutes towards the end of the meeting to do some committee business.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

The suggestion is that we save 10 minutes for committee business.

MP McLeod is not so interested. Go ahead, Cathy.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you. We do have two ministers here. Typically, a minister stays.... It was committed that they would stay for the two hours. I know that committee business is important, but I think this is more important. I would suggest that we do this at our next meeting.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Could we do it in the first 15 minutes of the next meeting then, Madam Chair?

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

It seems fine. We have agreement. All right.

We now have two departments. We're anxious to hear from both of you. You have 10 minutes each to present and then we'll go into rounds of questioning. I would ask MPs to be specific as to which minister they would like to address their questions.

I'll give it over to you. I'm not sure who's starting, but go ahead.

11:05 a.m.

Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

I will start, Madam Chair, as the returning regular here.

I'm pleased to be back here today, on the traditional Algonquin territory, to present the department's supplementary estimates (B) for the 2017-18 fiscal year. As you know, this is my first appearance before your committee, as the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, so I'm also looking forward to discussing my mandate letter with all of you. I'm also very pleased to be joined by my colleague, the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services, whom you will be hearing from shortly.

I am joined by Hélène Laurendeau, the deputy minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs; Joe Wild, the senior assistant deputy minister for treaties and aboriginal government; and chief financial officer Paul Thoppil.

In supplementary estimates (B), we are requesting a total of $445 million.

Supplementary estimates (B) represent a net increase of $445.1 million. It comprises mainly the $200 million payment for the Crees of Eeyou Istchee settlement payment; $91.8 million for comprehensive land claims, treaty-related and self-government agreements; $52.2 million for specific claims settlements; $23.7 million for urban programming for indigenous peoples; and $21.6 million for Métis rights and Métis relationships with the federal department. This brings the total investments for the department to approximately $11.3 billion for 2017-18 to address the needs of indigenous peoples and northerners.

I would be very happy to provide a more detailed breakdown of these expenditures during the question and answers, but in my opening remarks I would like to just highlight a couple of things.

Last summer we signed the historic agreement on Cree nation governance, a true nation-to-nation effort based on partnership and respect for the traditional way of life of the Crees. This agreement is an important step forward in expanding the existing governance regime of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. As I noted, these supplementary estimates include $200 million to make the final settlement to the Crees of Eeyou Istchee in accordance with the new relationship agreement. The payment is conditional on corresponding legislation being passed. We are currently working with the Cree nation on the draft legislation. We anticipate having legislation ready in the winter. We are requesting the money through supplementary estimates (B) so that we can move expeditiously when that legislation is passed.

I also want to thank the committee for looking at both specific and comprehensive claims policies through your ongoing study. I look forward to reviewing your recommendations, as the government is absolutely committed to significant reform in both areas. These supplementary estimates include a re-profiling of $52.2 million from 2016-17 to 2017-18 for specific claims settlements. As we have discussed at this committee before, this is part of the government's usual practice of maintaining an ongoing source of funds by rolling it over, year over year, so that the money is available as soon as a claim is resolved.

I want to make it clear that this is not a matter of lapsing money. It's a matter of prudent policy. It was always the intention of the government to maintain a claims envelope over a number of years to fund this process. Having the money earmarked for this specific purpose underscores the government's commitment to resolving these claims in a fair and respectful manner.

Our government has also heard the concerns that first nations have with the specific claims process. We share those concerns and are working in partnership to identify fair and practical measures to improve the process. We are currently engaged in ongoing discussions with first nations and first nation organizations to identify and implement measures to improve the specific claims process. A joint technical working group with the AFN has been working on specific claims process reform.

This work, and your recommendations, will inform our efforts to reform and improve how we resolve specific claims.

We are committed to increasing the number of modern treaties and new self-government agreements in a manner that reflects a recognition of rights approach for individual first nation communities. I look forward to receiving this committee's recommendations on how we can improve these processes as well. We are already engaging in discussions with indigenous groups through the recognition of indigenous rights and self-determination discussions. These are more flexible discussions about finding areas of jurisdiction that indigenous communities or groups can draw down to move them closer to self-determination.

These initiatives are at the core of my new mandate. We know that strong governance and self-determination are the greatest contributing factors to the social and economic health of a community.

That brings me to the second topic of today's meeting, which is my new mandate.

A little more than 20 years ago, RCAP recommended that Canada dramatically improve the delivery of services to indigenous people while accelerating a move to self-government and self-determination. We agree with RCAP that rights recognition must be an imperative. We know that relationships built on colonial structures have contributed to the unacceptable socio-economic gap. That is why the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of INAC and the creation of two new departments.

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs will advance reconciliation objectives and will lead on northern programming and Arctic policy. We must continue to address the day-to-day realities in indigenous communities directly, but we must also build a path to systemic change. The creation of two new departments is about dissolving a patriarchal, colonial structure that was designed to support the Indian Act.

This will allow us to focus our efforts on building strong, respectful, collaborative relationships between the crown and indigenous peoples. It's about understanding that we have to work together in a new way. We now get to rebuild two new departments in a way where form follows function.

A key part of my mandate is to lead a consultation process to determine how to achieve this goal.

In building this new system, we want to hear from indigenous people, people whose communities and nations existed in this land since time immemorial. We are listening to what indigenous groups have to say about their own vision of reconciliation.

Jane's department, which you will hear from in a moment, is focused on closing the gaps in the socio-economic outcomes, but we have to go beyond the federal government delivering services to indigenous people.

We must work to ensure that those services can be delivered and controlled by indigenous communities themselves.

We are working to achieve the goal of services being delivered and controlled by indigenous communities and indigenous-led institutions. My job is to help build indigenous governments and indigenous institutions that will deliver those programs that were once delivered by INAC.

Self-determination—the right to make choices about your community, your government, and your future—is a fundamental right. We know that if we truly want to move forward in partnership and reconciliation we need to look differently at the way we build crown-indigenous relationships. Part of my job is to make sure there is a whole-of-government approach—a sustainable approach—to these relationships to ensure all government departments are doing their part on the path to reconciliation and achieving the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I look forward to answering your questions.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Minister Philpott.

November 30th, 2017 / 11:10 a.m.

Markham—Stouffville Ontario

Liberal

Jane Philpott LiberalMinister of Indigenous Services

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thanks to all of you for welcoming me here today with my honourable colleague, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. I very much look forward to discussing the supplementary estimates (B), as well as my mandate, with the members of this committee.

I also want to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

I want to thank this committee for your excellent work on a number of issues, including, of course, your important work on the study of the suicide crisis in indigenous communities. I want to thank you also for your work on the matter of third party management systems. Most recently, I know that you are doing a study on wildfires and fire safety on reserve, and I very much look forward to hearing the results of that study.

I look forward to building a positive working relationship with the committee as we work together to chart a path forward and advance reconciliation with indigenous peoples.

I'm privileged to be here today as Canada's first Minister of Indigenous Services. As Minister Bennett has already explained to you, the former Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs has been replaced by two distinct departments that are part of our transformative work in relationships with indigenous peoples.

Transforming how we structure ourselves, how we're sharing information, and how we're working with our partners and clients is helping to advance the nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-crown, and government-to-government relationships. The creation of this new Department of Indigenous Services is an important step in forging that renewed relationship with indigenous peoples that is based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. You'll have heard those words before, to the point that they may sound to you like buzzwords. Each of them carries deep meaning, and they are very intentional, such that we repeat them on a number of occasions.

I have been given a mandate to overhaul the way that programs and services for indigenous peoples are designed, developed, and delivered, and to do that in partnership with indigenous peoples.

With indigenous partners, we will ensure that our significant investments will produce real and improved results. Together we must close the unacceptable socio-economic gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada.

Madam Chair, we made a commitment to Canadians to pursue reconciliation with a renewed sense of collaboration, so I will be engaging and working productively with indigenous leaders and communities to identify and realize the systemic reforms that we all acknowledge are long overdue.

Much more than a name change, establishing a department whose sole purpose is to improve the quality and delivery of services in partnership with indigenous peoples underscores a desire to implement transformative change.

As the Prime Minister has said, “No relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one with indigenous peoples.”

The entire reason for this change is to enable first nations, Inuit, and Métis people to build the capacity to make their own decisions and deliver their own programs and services to fully implement their right to self-determination. That includes everything from family services and community infrastructure to health and education programs.

Once that is achieved, it is our hope and plan that there will no longer be a need for a Department of Indigenous Services. That won't be accomplished overnight, of course. In the meantime, the department has an ongoing responsibility to ensure the high-quality programs and services that indigenous peoples need, including improved access to services for indigenous children through programs such as Jordan's principle.

I want to take a few moments to elaborate on that. As this committee knows, the principle is named after Jordan River Anderson who died at Norway House Hospital in 2005 at the age of five after a dispute between federal and provincial governments as to who was responsible to pay for his care. In 2007, some of you were in the House of Commons, and others know that the House of Commons passed a motion declaring that jurisdictional disputes should never interfere with first nations children getting care. That motion was passed in 2007, but it was not implemented. Up until 2015, there were zero cases in which children received care based on this principle. Last year, we broadened the definition of Jordan's principle. We reiterated our plan to fully implement it, and we set aside enough funds to do so.

To date, we have approved more than 24,000 cases under that principle. These are children who were previously denied care and are now receiving mental health supports, respite care, medical equipment, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and more. Jordan's principle is being implemented to ensure that no child who requires care will go without it. No one should be left behind, no matter who they are or where they live.

In that spirit, I am very pleased this morning as well to announce that, along with the parties to the cases before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, an agreement has been reached to amend two aspects of CHRT's orders. The amendments address the CHRT's May 2017 ruling that the Government of Canada was seeking to clarify in a judicial review application to the Federal Court. As a result, Canada is withdrawing the federal application.

Madam Chair, I want to be very clear that how and by whom programs and services for indigenous peoples are developed and delivered must and will change. We know we must do more and do better. There is still criticism that we are not doing enough and not doing it fast enough. Let me respond in this way. Turning around the effects of generations of historic injustice and systemic discrimination against Canada's indigenous peoples could never be done fast enough.

In my mandate letter, I was directed to “leverage the ingenuity and understanding of Indigenous Peoples as well as experts from the private sector, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments and international experts on service delivery.” Working closely with indigenous peoples and these other important partners, my departmental officials and I will promote innovative approaches to all programs and services that increase equality of opportunity for indigenous peoples.

We intend to move forward on several key fronts. I'd be happy to elaborate on any of them. Let me itemize a few. We are taking an approach to transform the way health care is delivered in first nation communities. We are working with first nations to develop and enable their own solutions to address critical issues that are directly impacting their communities. We're developing and implementing an improved response, along with our partners, to child welfare to make sure the best interests of the child always come first. This requires a holistic approach focused on prevention, family preservation, family well-being and reunification, and community wellness. We will be discussing this with our partners at an emergency meeting on indigenous child and family services in the new year.

Improving essential infrastructure for indigenous communities, including housing, is another of our priorities.

We're also supporting the implementation of a distinct indigenous framework as part of a national early learning and child care framework that takes into consideration the unique needs of first nations, Inuit, and Métis children.

We're undertaking a review of all current federal programs that support indigenous students pursuing a post-secondary education to ensure the programs meet the needs of individual students and lead to high graduation rates.

We're leveraging investments in indigenous youth and sport, and promoting culturally relevant sport to strengthen indigenous identity and cultural pride.

We are promoting economic development opportunities in indigenous communities that improve the standard of living and quality of life of local residents.

Through supplementary estimates (B) this year, we have funded the new urban programming for indigenous peoples initiative, which has been designed to assist first nations, Inuit, and Métis living in or transitioning to urban centres. I would be happy to discuss the programming in detail.

In every instance, we will adopt a rigorous results-and-delivery approach that translates into real and meaningful changes in the lives of indigenous peoples. We have an obligation to seize this opportunity for bold change.

Madam Chair, rest assured we will engage and cooperate with indigenous peoples to determine the best way forward before we take action in these priority areas.

As we implement this ambitious agenda together, I have little doubt that together we can make great progress resulting in a measurable difference in the lives of indigenous peoples. I look forward to your questions.

Thank you very much. Meegwetch. Nakurmiik.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you very much.

Our questioning opens with MP T.J. Harvey.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'm going to start my questioning with Minister Bennett. Hopefully, at some point I'll have enough time to get both of you in.

I want to start by saying that I think the opening remarks from both of you speak to the importance of this issue. I think Canadians are seized with the importance of this file now more than ever, and I just wanted to say thank you to both of you for your leadership on this file, because it is a difficult file. It is a file that people are passionate about, and it's one on which it's hard to reach solid outcomes in a hurry. As a starting point, I want to thank both of you.

In our travel on the comprehensive and specific land claims study, one of the things we heard about a lot from a number of indigenous groups and individuals, especially around comprehensive land claims policy, is the interpretation. They interpret one of the things that needs to be done as requiring them to extinguish certain rights. Is this compatible with an approach based on the recognition of rights, in your opinion?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you so much for the question. It's a hugely important question in us going forward in a different way.

What we are now doing at each of the recognition of rights tables is exactly that. The extinguishing of rights is not on the table there, so that we get to go forward in a new way, where the communities will never have to choose between their rights and a settlement. This is our new way of going forward.

That's the reason why, even in a comprehensive “claim”, a specific “claim”, even that word bothers indigenous groups, because they have rights and they shouldn't have to “claim” rights. At the tables, we are recognizing their rights. As opposed to going out and asking them to prove their rights, we actually acknowledge that those rights exist.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Okay.

With regard to your department specifically, how is your department working to ensure that policies such as the comprehensive land claims policy are aligned with Canada's obligations under UNDRIP?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

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

Again, that's a great question.

All of the principles of UNDRIP, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, are about recognition of rights and therefore about everything we're doing at the working group on the review of laws, policies, and practices, but particularly as we reform this approach to self-determination and self-government—and the kinds of agreements that will be reached through those processes—as well as completely reforming the specific claims approach.

As the Government of Canada, we were doing a terrible job even in the process of what claims were accepted and then were spending time and money to lose in court. This doesn't make any sense, so we are working with indigenous communities and the AFN on a very specific process to overhaul the specific claims processes.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Perfect. Thank you.

Minister Bennett, could you elaborate a little bit more on how the recognition of rights and self-determination tables will be different, going forward, from what we've seen in the past? What type of measurable difference do you think that will make in the long-term outcomes?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

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

I think there was consensus that the comprehensive claims process took too long and was too expensive. One of the most difficult meetings I had this year was with Northern Shuswap. Twenty years and $30 million later, they still haven't reached an agreement. Their neighbours, Tsilhqot'in, are at a recognition of rights table and are beginning to work at what jurisdictions they want to draw down as their priorities.

Coast to coast to coast, at these tables, which have over half a million indigenous people represented, they're having a look at things like education, like the Anishinabek education agreement, or like child welfare or health or a fishery, with the coastal first nations. These nations are actually coming together now, reconstituting as like-minded communities, to actually work together to draw down their rights in the way they see fit.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

For my next question, I'm going to start with Minister Philpott, but I'm actually going to ask that you both answer because of your past tenure on this file specifically as well.

This week we learned about a third party manager, chosen by Kashechewan First Nation, who has pleaded guilty to misappropriating funds from their community. Can you tell us what is being done on this case and how we can assure that this is not repeated in the future?

I want to get that question in there because I have an indigenous community in my riding, which has been in third party management, and I've seen some of the struggles they've dealt with over the past 10 years. That has spawned its own subset of problems around affordable, sustainable housing, around transportation infrastructure on reserve, and around water quality. I'm just curious. Could you both elaborate on that?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Jane Philpott Liberal Markham—Stouffville, ON

This is a terrible story. What took place in Kashechewan has been absolutely devastating for the community, a community that's already faced a number of challenges. The background to what took place and led to that is rather long and complex, so I'll try to shorten it. For a variety of reasons, they were led into a circumstance where, under the current policies, they were obliged to enter into third party management. They had an opportunity then to choose which organization they wanted to work with, and Crupi Consulting was one group on the list. They had a previous relationship with Crupi Consulting on other issues in the past, and obviously, I don't know the details of why they made that decision, but the chief and council at that time chose Crupi Consulting to be the group they would work with under third party management.

The only thing that brings me a small measure of reassurance in this is that, apparently, it's extremely rare that the kinds of things that took place there happen in third party management, regardless of whether, as we all know, it's not an ideal policy. Cases of fraud are almost unheard of, but in this case, we now know that fraud did take place.

I'm sorry. I'm giving too long of an answer.

Let me just say I have tasked the department with making sure that we determine a plan to work with the community to address the losses they have undergone, and we will be supporting that community to address how they can build capacity in fiscal management.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Questioning now moves to MP Cathy McLeod.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm hoping to get in three questions. If you could signal and cut at two minutes and four minutes, that would be very helpful in making sure that I get in the different questions I would like to get in. They will be focused on Minister Bennett.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I'll do signals as to how many minutes are left.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

I'll make my questions short so that you can use your time effectively, Minister Bennett.

In 2016 Minister Wilson-Raybould said, “Simplistic approaches such as adopting the [UN] declaration as being Canadian law are unworkable and, respectfully, a political distraction to undertaking the hard work actually required to implement it back home in communities.” Your government has recently indicated that it's going to support Bill C-262, which does implement the declaration.

First of all, I want you to reconcile the minister's statement with the new stance on Bill C-262. Also, would you describe your approach to UNDRIP as applying within the confines of aboriginal rights under section 35, or will you propose having the principles of the declaration succeed the current framework of the Constitution?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

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

As we work to recognize indigenous rights in Canada, we will go forward in many ways. As Jane said, the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership have to be the relationship and the way we work together.

We believe the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a very good template for that internationally, but we know that we are going to have to develop a framework for Canada for the recognition of rights that will include distinctions-based, and that will include that first nations, Inuit, and Métis rights are different. We look forward to going out now and going further than what Romeo Saganash's bill will do.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Looking at what the minister said in terms of it being unworkable, what's changed so that what was unworkable before is now workable?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

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

We all know that whatever we do needs to be within the Constitution of Canada, and what we are doing now is articulating what was always there in section 35 in terms of treaty and indigenous rights. We are now articulating what was the spirit and intent of those treaties and the way we go forward to actually make sure that indigenous rights are understood here in Canada. That's the way forward.