Evidence of meeting #98 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 housing.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Michael MacPherson
Diane Lafleur  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Paul Thoppil  Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Indigenous Services and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Sony Perron  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

5 p.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

The young people who need supported services need mental health therapists or counselling, and it's not available on reserves or off reserve. How can you say that when you don't know exactly what's on the ground?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Philpott Liberal Markham—Stouffville, ON

Jordan's principle is one of the things that the deputy has mentioned to me, and a significant amount of the funding for Jordan's principle has gone specifically to mental wellness. We have to continue to provide those immediate responses and to provide programs like Choose Life to provide more mental wellness workers to support programs like the We Matter campaign, which is doing fantastic work.

5 p.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Yet we continue to lose youths across Canada.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Philpott Liberal Markham—Stouffville, ON

I accept that.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Questioning now moves to MP Will Amos.

March 20th, 2018 / 5 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Chair.

Minister and officials, thank you very much for your presence here. It's important for our committee to have this opportunity to have fulsome discussions. The frankness is very appreciated as well.

I want to split my time between two issues. One is long-term drinking water advisories, and the other is the department itself and your experiences in that aspect.

There are two first nations reserves in the riding of Pontiac: Kitigan Zibi and Barriere Lake. These are two communities with very contrasting profiles, but in particular, Kitigan Zibi has had some major drinking water issues over the course of many years. Early on in our mandate, I was pleased that we could announce approximately $5 million in drinking water infrastructure. That was a big deal, but there's more to go.

With a significant sum of money—$1.8 billion announced in the 2016 budget and you mentioned the additional funding in the most recent budget of $172 million—there's good news in the lump-sum category. However, at the end of the day, this has to hit the ground. Could you give us some specifics on how this gets prioritized, how the work is unfolding, and where you're finding the challenges? I appreciate that there have been some successes, but there's a long way to go. Maybe you can go into that a bit, please.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Philpott Liberal Markham—Stouffville, ON

Thank you for raising the issue. You're right that it's not without its challenges. In fact, many Canadians find it incomprehensible and obviously unacceptable that Canadians can't turn on their taps and drink water. This is one of the most important promises we've made. The Prime Minister said that all long-term drinking water advisories in public systems on reserve would be lifted by March 2021. People don't always understand why that can't happen tomorrow, but in fact, these are sometimes very remote communities. Until the money in budget 2016, there wasn't long-term funding. Some of these communities require a year or two to plan and design a very specific water system that's going to take into consideration the geography and environment where it takes place.

Thankfully, we have the long-term funding and a unique plan to address every single one of the long-term drinking water advisories. I have spreadsheets that I study on a regular basis, that the department follows up on in real time, tracking how far along things are, whether we're going to meet the target dates that have been set.

Oftentimes there are surprising things that are challenges along the way. Some of it is around the actual physical infrastructure, but sometimes it's getting agreements with local municipalities to attach up to water systems. Sometimes it's agreements between neighbouring nations that have to take place. When you look underneath at what the challenges are, I think you'd be surprised, but we are fully determined to address every single one of those. Some of it is around the training and retention of water operators, and making sure that there's also an operation and maintenance plan in place so that you don't fix systems and then find them once again lapsing into a drinking water advisory.

I feel very confident, and it's something that I track very closely. Of course, we have officials who are working on this on a daily basis to make sure that we meet those targets.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you.

As a short follow-up on that, what are some of the indicators of where greater success can be achieved in communities where long-term drinking water advisories have occurred in the past? What will give Canadians greater assurance that the significant sums invested are going to yield long-term results? We all know, for example, that sometimes communities will lose the staffing, the people necessary to maintain systems. A series of issues can come up. What are some of the things you're noticing that will help us get to a better place?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Philpott Liberal Markham—Stouffville, ON

That's a great question, and by asking those questions we really get to the roots of the crisis and why this has never been solved in the past. Some of the things you've hinted at there. One is the human resources necessary. They need to be trained properly, but they also need to be remunerated properly. We find in some places that there are big gaps in what a person will be paid for being a water operator on reserve versus what they might be paid if they work in a local municipality off reserve. Addressing those issues is still a bit of a puzzle, but we've seen in communities where they've been able to close those gaps that actually it has meant fewer long-term drinking water advisories.

The operation and maintenance piece is another thing, whether there is the appropriate funding and appropriate support and plan in place. Our teams are now working with each of these communities to make sure that they have what's called an “O&M plan” to make sure that we get these beautiful new systems.

I was in Slate Falls last week and they have the most spectacularly beautiful system. One of the first questions I asked was that I hoped they had a really strong operation and maintenance plan and trained water operators. They're training local young people who are moving up through the levels, and they have all that figured out.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

MP McLeod.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

On a point of order, Chair, when the bells go at 5:15, do we have unanimous consent to go to 5:25? That will give us 20 minutes to get up to the House.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

That sounds reasonable to me.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Absolutely.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I understand there's consensus to go to 5:25.

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

All right. We'll be quick getting back to the House.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Madam Chair, adding the 35 seconds that ticked off, how much time remains?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You have about a minute.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

No, not at all.

I would like to ask a question in French.

I thank Mr. Thoppil, Mr. Tremblay and Mr. Perron for being here, and I would also like to thank all of the public servants who work in their department.

Gentlemen, those are the people who support you and who help us to meet all of the challenges we are discussing.

I would like to know what you have learned concerning your department, in the five interrelated priority areas you mentioned. There are a lot of people in my riding of Pontiac who would very much like to know.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Philpott Liberal Markham—Stouffville, ON

I don't know if the deputy wants to speak to this as well, but I have to say it's been a delight to work in this new department. I think people always like things that are new and fresh, and the deputy comes with lots of great experience. Constituents will tell you whether we've been effective in this or not, but we have been trying to put in place a culture within the department that's a real can-do, positive, get to yes if you possibly can, and find a way to not constantly be denying people who have been denied for many, many years access to the kinds of things that make life better. We see that reflected in the attitudes of our staff, who are absolutely thrilled that they are hearing from our government that we are determined to close these socio-economic gaps.

Thank you.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Questioning now moves to MP Kevin Waugh.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Thank you, Minister, for coming here today.

I'm going to give you credit for the 54 long-term drinking water advisories having been lifted, but what you didn't add was that 30 have been added to the list. You didn't mention that, so we've gone two steps forward and one back. Why didn't you mention the 30 that have been added?

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Philpott Liberal Markham—Stouffville, ON

I am totally open about the number that have been added, and this is all publicly available on the website.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

I see it.