Evidence of meeting #17 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was businesses.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chief Perry Bellegarde  Assembly of First Nations
Ghislain Picard  Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador
Marjolaine Sioui  Director General of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission, Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador
Chief Norman Yakeleya  Dene Nation
Calvin Helin  Chairman and President, Eagle Spirit Energy Holding Ltd.
David Chartrand  Vice-President and National Spokesperson, Métis National Council
Charlotte Bell  President and Chief Executive Officer, Tourism Industry Association of Canada
Yan Hamel  Member of the Board of Directors, Alliance de l'industrie touristique du Québec
Susie Grynol  President and Chief Executive Officer, Hotel Association of Canada
Keith Henry  President and Chief Executive Officer, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada
Cathie Bolstad  Chief Executive Officer, Northwest Territories Tourism
Philip Mondor  President and Chief Executive Officer, Tourism HR Canada
Michelle Travis  Research Director, UNITE HERE Canada

2:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I call the meeting to order.

Welcome, all, to meeting number 17 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, March 24, the committee is meeting to discuss the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today's meeting is taking place exclusively by teleconference, and the audio feed of our proceedings is made available by the House of Commons website.

As I mentioned earlier, try to keep your phone on mute when you are not speaking, and I will call your names in the order I have them here for questions. Let's start with roughly five-minute presentations. We had hoped to have six witnesses but we have five, so we'll be a little better on time.

We'll start with Chief Perry Bellegarde with the Assembly of First Nations.

Chief Bellegarde, please go ahead.

2:15 p.m.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde Assembly of First Nations

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation and the opportunity to appear.

I want to acknowledge and give a shout-out to my fellow witnesses, Chief Yakeleya from the Northwest Territories and Chief Ghislain Picard from Quebec, as well as vice-president David Chartrand and president Calvin Helin.

Mr. Chair, this is a moment of unprecedented crisis for all of Canada and I want to acknowledge the work of the Government of Canada and all parties that came together to get the emergency aid legislation passed as quickly as it was. It was very important to get that legislation passed and get the financial aid out to all the people right across Canada.

I do want to say, when it comes to first nations people, that much more needs to be done. There are 634 first nations across Canada, roughly over a million first nations people, half who live on the reserve, half who live off the reserve in urban settings, and we also have 96 remote fly-in first nations communities. When it comes to COVID-19 and dealing with the pandemic, more needs to be done because of that isolation and the socio-economic conditions that first nations people face right now.

We want to say that first nations citizens are particularly vulnerable to the virus in many different ways. Due to overcrowding, the virus will spread quickly. The lack of clean water in many first nations means that basic things like handwashing are more difficult to follow and the virus will spread more quickly. Of course, the higher rates of underlying health conditions further increases the risk.

I mentioned there are 96 remote fly-in first nations communities across Canada. There are a number of challenges with that, such as accessing proper equipment and care, for example, gloves, masks, ventilators, hand sanitizer, the testing that needs to be done, dealing with the increased need for doctors and nurses at the nursing stations, and transportation. The medevac transportation in and out of the north is going to have to be taken into consideration, as will bottled water and food security. We believe that Canada's response to the COVID-19 crisis must take into consideration those unique factors facing first nations people.

We also want to say that Canada's response must look at the economies of first nations as well. Most first nations businesses do not have the funds to survive the slowdown we're seeing. Funding to first nations businesses and workers for the duration of this emergency, and full recovery once it has passed, is needed. It's really currently unclear whether first nations businesses will qualify for the wage subsidy or loans programs, or how many first nations workers will qualify for the other benefits. That has to be addressed and looked at.

Technology, such as access to the Internet, is critically important right now and it is desperately needed. This complicates communications and is a barrier to accessing federal programs.

I want to point out that first nations governments are clearly underfunded, with just 3% of expenditures used for administration. Most governments and organizations use at least four times that amount. When the Assembly of First Nations appeared at this committee on February 5, we emphasized this need and the current crisis only makes this more urgent. In particular, the band support funding program at each of the 634 first nations must be looked at and must be supported. That will deal with the gender balance that's required as well, because in a lot of first nations the females work in the band offices.

So far, Canada has provided $100 million in surge capacity for health services to Inuit and first nations people and $215 million for first nations stimulus through Indigenous Services Canada. I want to point out that this is not proportional to our population size. It is not based on any dialogue with first nations coming up with that number, and clearly it does not meet the needs, because a lot of those resources that had been sent out are already expended. We understand that this was a first step and that it can be scaled up. We at the Assembly of First Nations appreciate the government's commitment to flow more funds. New health supports have already been exhausted. As we enter the peak of the pandemic, first nations without nurses and doctors will face a dire situation. These circumstances show the urgent need to close the gap between first nations and other Canadians. The consequences are real.

The next steps going forward must be more comprehensive and involve first nations governments in the planning, designing and implementing of any emergency plans.

I have two recommendations. First, our Assembly of First Nations estimates that approximately 10% of all future federal funding for COVID-19 responses should be made immediately available to first nations directly. First nations are roughly 3% of Canada's total population with the fastest growth rates in the country, and with the recent Supreme Court decision in Descheneaux adding tens of thousands more to our list, there's a greater need to meet health care needs with the increasing numbers.

Our child poverty rate is four times that of other children in Canada. Overcrowding is seven times higher. The unemployment rate before the pandemic was two and a half times that of the rest of Canada. These statistics, and a host of other stats that I always talk about, show that support is needed at a higher proportion of response because of those needs. Recently, our executive estimated that the appropriate level is at 10%, at least, to address the higher vulnerability of our population due to historic underfunding that has led to the circumstances that these statistics demonstrate.

First nations must be at all decision-making tables in the plans for these and other resources that are going to be allocated, including the methods of distribution, so that our first nations governments can address the priorities of our people in communities.

I also want to say that using federal government departments to administer these funds that go through existing programs means that terms and conditions limit how first nations can use available funds and there are a lot of owners supporting the requirement. Therefore, we are urging that flexibility be shown. That must be demonstrated by various government departments.

First nations must be equipped to keep their families strong and safe, including support for the enforcement of self-isolation measures introduced by first nations governments. First nations businesses and their workforce need support to survive, resume operations and re-enter the labour market.

These are the next steps needed to protect our people and prevent a disproportionate tragedy for first nations.

My last point is that after this is done, post COVID-19, there is a need to create an economic recovery council for Canada with the full involvement of first nations people.

With that, Mr. Chair, I thank you for your time. I look forward to the questions.

2:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, National Chief, and I really appreciate the idea of those recommendations. We have to look far down the road, too, on how to gain economic recovery.

We'll turn now to Chief Ghislain Picard with the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.

The floor is yours, Chief.

2:20 p.m.

Chief Ghislain Picard Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador

Thank you very much. I certainly want to express appreciation for this opportunity today to present the situation for our first nations in Quebec and Labrador in light of the government response to the pandemic.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that all of us, no matter where we are in the country, are standing or sitting on the traditional territory of one of our many first nations.

I'll try to be brief, because I'd like to share my time with Marjolaine Sioui, who is the head of our First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission. I think the information that she has is very important for the work of this committee.

In light of the last few weeks, our first nations chiefs remain very vigilant and certainly worried about a very uncertain future. That's why we say that our communities have to have access to all the resources and the support that they need to face the pandemic and to protect the members of their territories. In Quebec, as elsewhere in the country, our first nations are part of the most vulnerable peoples and populations, so that certainly has to be taken into account. What we see, and what we have seen for the past three weeks now, is that for many of our communities the prevention measures and preparation that are required to provide the essential services and care for our communities are not meeting the needs as expressed by our communities.

What we also see is that the chronic underfunding in many areas that we've been talking about for many decades now—in housing, education, health, wellness and economic development—is really catching up with us right now. As a result, we have overcrowded housing that is very significant in light of the current situation and we have certain problems in meeting the needs, in terms of confinement, based on that reality. We have a lack of resources in the area of health and social services, and I'm talking about our staff. Obviously, there is a lot of concern as well about food insecurity. This has been expressed time and again by our chiefs.

As well, we're certainly very concerned about the well-being and security of our elders and children and, overall, our communities. Nobody can afford—and I think everybody will understand this—the luxury of facing the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic if we're not adequately prepared.

Yesterday experts mandated by the Government of Quebec presented two scenarios in light of COVID-19. The more optimistic scenario is inspired by what we've seen in Germany, which sees maybe over 1,200 deaths related to COVID-19 by the end of April. The more pessimistic scenario, which is inspired by Italy, projects maybe close to 9,000 deaths for the same period. Considering the risk factors in our communities, for many of our communities, we feel that we're not nearing what we would call a progressive return to our normal situation. That's why it's important to us to have access to the aid and resources that are necessary to try to prevent the worst-case scenario for our first nations in Quebec and Labrador.

To return to the sustained economic life that we would hope to have is going to be difficult. The impacts will be felt for months, maybe even years. I think we have to be prepared and I think it's very important now, more than ever, that we come together as governments in making sure that we can respond promptly to this situation. As stated by the national chief earlier, and I certainly support that, our first nations governments have to be fully involved in any decision-making that includes their communities, and obviously related to the pandemic.

One thing I want to say before I turn it over to Marjolaine is that we have concerns in terms of public safety, public security. As many of you know, many of our communities don't have their own policing services, so they have to rely on the Sûreté du Québec to provide those services. We have made a call about maybe having access to private security agencies or even the Rangers of the Department of National Defence to help support the efforts at the local level. We certainly feel that needs to be addressed as well.

We still feel that the equipment in terms of individual protection has to be delivered as well, even for those communities that have their own policing services.

At this point I'll turn it over to Marjolaine.

2:25 p.m.

Marjolaine Sioui Director General of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission, Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador

Good afternoon.

I'll add to the regional chief's examples. The First Nations of Quebec are the hardest hit in terms of the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Furthermore, with regard to public health, we must ensure that first nations communities have access to health monitoring. We know very well that, at this time, it's difficult to identify among the most vulnerable population—

2:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Marjolaine, could I interrupt you? The translator can't pick you up. Please talk slowly.

2:30 p.m.

Director General of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission, Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador

Marjolaine Sioui

Can you hear me better now?

Did you get that?

2:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Go ahead.

2:30 p.m.

Director General of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission, Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador

Marjolaine Sioui

Given that the Quebec communities are among the hardest hit in terms of confirmed cases of COVID-19, we must establish systems to monitor their health status.

With regard to personal protective equipment and testing, a number of communities felt wronged because they couldn't carry out the testing themselves. This requires the implementation of protocols with the provinces. Recommendations must certainly be made in this area. However, at this time, there are still issues with testing in the communities.

The psychosocial aspect is another key consideration. At this time, the services are meeting the demand. However, we know very well that we must anticipate the resources needed, depending on the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic, to mitigate the post-crisis impact.

Furthermore, the federal government has yet to address the issue of seniors' housing or assisted-living facilities. Quebec has announced a number of investments to protect one of the most vulnerable populations, people aged 70 and over. The federal government has not made any announcements on this matter. As you can understand, the need is critical at this time.

With respect to education, some of our questions regarding students who will complete their term remain unanswered. Some government funding has been announced. However, certain gaps remain, since some people still can't access the funding.

I also want to talk about housing and temporary accommodation. Quebec has about 15,000 affordable housing units. If we wanted to meet existing needs, without taking into account COVID-19, we would need to add 10,000 units in first nations communities. The proximity between the people in the housing units and the communities raises major concerns about the risks of spreading COVID-19. This causes anxiety, and it also constitutes an immediate need.

Lastly, we're also experiencing economic development issues. A number of communities in Quebec depend on the tourism industry and run businesses. These communities are very concerned about this matter. They're asking for measures to ensure a gradual return to normalcy, but also to address the impact that some businesses will feel for months, perhaps even years.

Thank you.

2:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much.

We turn to the Dene Nation's national chief, Norman Yakeleya.

Go ahead, Chief.

2:30 p.m.

National Chief Norman Yakeleya Dene Nation

Mr. Chair, thank you very much, and thank you to members of the finance committee, the Assembly of First Nations national chief, the Métis National Council and other dignitaries who are on this call.

I want to start with a quote from one of our chiefs, Chief Sitting Bull. He said, “Let us put our minds together and see what kind of life we can make for our children”, and that is so appropriate in this unprecedented time when all of us in Canada must come together and work together for the good of all Canadians and the humanity of our people. Our elders, known as knowledge-keepers, have always told us that we are to work together. When we signed our treaties—Treaty No. 8, Treaty No. 11 and other treaties—we were to work together.

Today, COVID-19 is pushing us to think together for all of Canada and to honour our elders, and so, Mr. Chair, I have a point to raise with you today. We ask, as Dene, to please allow us some grace and flexibility to do what we have to do to stay alive.

We have done this for thousands of years. We want to thank Minister Miller and the other ministers for giving us that flexibility by supporting lots of families to go back to the land, and to help our families, the ones who are able to, to go back to the land. We want to thank those ministers for listening to the Dene, listening to the aboriginal people, and helping us do this as we continue to look for continued funding to stay on the land and be self-isolated, as we have been told. For the Dene, it means being who we are. We look forward to financial support to continue this, but we also look for the financial support that we need in our most vulnerable communities for our most vulnerable people, our elders, because some of our elders are not able to do that.

We are finding that some elders have to go a long distance to pick up groceries in other communities. We have four communities without any stores. They cannot live in this time on the existing pensions that they receive. They are going above and beyond what most other Canadians maybe take for granted. For the most vulnerable of the Dene Nation, quick, credible research shows that we really need to look at some financial support for our elders. As my colleagues have indicated, they are there in our small communities.

We are working closely with other governments, such as the federal government through the regional office staff, the territorial government and with the chief public health officer to take the necessary steps to protect our nation and our people. There are 15,000 Dene in 27 communities, and 12 of those communities are accessible only by boat or plane. Now it is Easter and the winter roads have been closed, so we are looking at food security and other essential services for those communities.

Our indigenous communities all across Canada have been identified as the most at risk of COVID-19 because of their remoteness and minimal service. For example, in the Northwest Territories we have 10 communities without RCMP offices and eight communities without any full-time nurses. The Dene Nation was concerned, as we were considered to not have adequate equipment or preparations. We did our own survey and we will share the identified gaps and inadequacies in our communities.

This information has proven very helpful in planning and working with the chief public health officer in the Northwest Territories. The Dene Nation also spearheaded and got support from Canada to look at existing funding agreements. We continue to push for direct funding to bands, so that the chiefs and councils can work with the Dene families to go on the land, to look at how certain segments of society, such as schools, have shut down and to look at how to protect ourselves. There has been a huge uptake of this support in the communities for going back to the land. When we asked, between 853 to 1,880 people said they are prepared to go on the land immediately if they have the funds and more are still calling to go on the land. We thank the federal government for reacting, at a time like this, more quickly than we ever imagined. We know it's possible and we must not revert to the old way of doing business. The Dene will do what the Dene need to do to survive as a nation and sometimes that goes against a policy that we have to work around.

Yellowknife is the largest magnet community in the Northwest Territories. It has the largest indigenous population in the north at approximately 5,500 people, the majority of whom are Dene. The Dene Nation has applied for $800,000 of federal funding, under the special program, to provide support to urban indigenous people. The Dene leadership was also very concerned about the abuse of alcohol and the negative implications it is having on our people to fight COVID-19. The leadership met by teleconference on April 2 and 3 and passed a historic motion calling on the Government of the Northwest Territories to immediately institute restrictions of the sale of alcohol and cannabis using steps like the rationing of alcohol and cannabis, restricting hours of sale, increasing monitoring and enforcement to curtail bootlegging—bootlegging is doing really well up this way—and support for communities to use the available power to prohibit alcohol should they choose and to look at wellness programs to help our people. If we're asking them to do this, we need to back them up and not leave them in the mess. We need to put together community-specific Dene wellness healing programs.

The health of our people is our primary concern, but we are also very concerned about the economic health of the Northwest Territories with all the layoffs, business closures and food insecurity because of COVID-19 related restrictions. With food security, we are very concerned about our elders—as the federal government knows, we call them our knowledge-keepers—not having the means to put food on the table.

There is access to food as well as cost, where some communities have no stores, as I mentioned, and in some communities, private stores are raising their prices. We also want to make sure additional support for the elders is not clawed back from their pensions or income support. I raised these concerns with Deputy Prime Minister Freeland and Minister Miller at a meeting that they were at with the AFN executive last week.

I'd like to identify this as a challenge, in regard to dealing with Canada. We continue to struggle to ensure the bands are adequately resourced and supported by Canada. The Canadian government wants to work with the GNWT on a government-to-government basis. We do not want specific program money from Canada for our nations to go through the GNWT. Those days are over. We have to look at the Dene government contributing. As the national chief said, we need to work with you. Without our consent, without our control, it doesn't work anymore. This is no longer acceptable to the Dene. Simply put, nothing about us can be without us.

Overall, we are pleased with how Canada has been responding to the COVID-19 emergency and how well they've been working with us in the Northwest Territories. I would like to state that here today for the record, as we continue to defend against COVID-19. Given the time of the year, we must turn our minds to the rapid approach of the flood and forest fire seasons. We are praying that this will have minimum impact on us.

Finally, at this time of the COVID-19 emergency, I would like to wish all of you a safe and healthy Easter break, and a good long weekend with your families.

This is my last comment of the presentation today. We are told to work with our Métis brothers to the north. We ask that you not forget them when you look into the funding. We have 10 Métis nations here and we want to make sure that they are with us. As we've been told by our elders, the Dene and the Métis have to walk side by side and work together. Please think about the NWT Métis.

Mahsi cho, Mr. Chair.

2:45 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Chief.

I just want to remind people again that there is some noise starting to pick up on the line. If anybody who is not speaking could please mute their phone, we'll give you time to unmute your phone when we call on you for questions or to speak.

We'll turn then to Eagle Spirit Energy, with Chairman Helin.

2:45 p.m.

Calvin Helin Chairman and President, Eagle Spirit Energy Holding Ltd.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have to say that both of the numbers that I have are giving me the French interpretation, so I can barely hear anybody speaking.

2:45 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

What we'll do, Calvin, is that the people who are running the system from Ottawa will connect with you directly, if that's possible, and get that corrected. While they're trying to do that, we'll go to the Métis National Council with Mr. Chartrand. We'll have him speak first and then come back to you.


2:45 p.m.

David Chartrand Vice-President and National Spokesperson, Métis National Council

Thank you, Chairman Easter.

Let me first acknowledge my fellow indigenous leaders who are on the line today. Thank you very much for all your wisdom and sharing.

I do have a question for the chairman, Mr. Easter. I am asking why ITK, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, is not on the call. I was talking to my colleague Natan Obed and he's asking the same question. I'll leave that question for you to answer later.

Let me start off with my opening remarks to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance.

My name is David Chartrand, for the record. I am the vice-president and national spokesperson for the Métis National Council. I'm also president of the Manitoba Metis Federation. I want to start off by wishing everyone and all family members who are listening, indigenous and non-indigenous leaders, safe and best wishes for your families during this crisis.

I also want to state to my colleagues in Quebec and others who speak French, that I apologize for not having the time to translate my presentation into French. Please accept my apologies on behalf of the Métis.

Thank you for inviting me here today to assist in the study of the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In our discussion on March 13, the Prime Minister assured me that there would be a distinctions-based funding for the Métis nation. On March 25, the federal government provided $30 million for the Métis nation COVID-19 emergency response plan. The $30 million immediately went to Métis National Council governing members or provincial affiliates to provide immediate supports to the Métis nation's citizens, families and seniors. They have developed and are rolling out action plans providing immediate support such as food, income, supplies and rent supplements. Thousands of our elders across our homeland in western Canada have been contacted and are being provided with assistance while staying at home.

I greatly appreciate Canada's rapid response to help our citizens and families in times of crisis. At the same time, however, the health emergency has exposed particular vulnerabilities and disadvantages among the 400,000-strong Métis nation population in western Canada. At the federal level, we are excluded from the resources of the first nations and Inuit health branch. At the provincial level, despite our staggering chronic illnesses, the province tells us to deal with the federal government to deal with our unique health care conditions and needs. Even during this pandemic, amazingly, we remain a political football being kicked back and forth between different jurisdictions.

Let me share with you and all my colleagues who are not at this presentation that we paid billions in taxes as a Métis people in western Canada, but right now we are still a political football when it comes to who is going to serve us. It is our hope that the proposed new federal indigenous health care legislation will correct that inequity, but that has now been delayed for a year. In the meantime, we must be vigilant in ensuring that resources to cope with the COVID crisis are available to Métis governments as the situation evolves.

I want to touch on Canada's support for small businesses, which is of particular importance to our people.

We have the highest rate of self-employment of all indigenous peoples. Without special measures being taken, our entrepreneurs may not be able to access the funds being committed to help small business, or access them in time to avoid insolvency.

Our six Métis capital corporations, which make loans to our entrepreneurs, have paused the loan payments of their clients during this period of business interruption, but their clients still need additional bridge loans to make it through this shutdown. Our entrepreneurs are very anxious, which may force them to sell equipment or to abandon leases, decisions they would not otherwise make if they knew there was some financing available to them to get through this rough period.

Most also have difficulty accessing credit from conventional lenders, which is why we established the Métis capital corporations decades ago—in fact, over 30 years ago now. The Métis capital corporations are offering to deploy $17.3 million in loan capital now for interest-free bridge loans to many of their more than 900 medium and small business clients, who will require this support to survive. They are seeking federal government backing on these loans through the Canada emergency business account or other measures.

The Métis capital corporations are experienced and prudent lenders. They were established on the Prairies more than 30 years ago and they have rolled over their initial capital eight times. In August 2018, a Meyers Norris Penny survey of their activities showed that over the previous three years, their loans of close to $31 million had resulted in loan writeoffs totalling $510,000, or 1.6%. This was a lower default rate than the Canadian business lending index for small businesses of a similar period, so their loans could be accorded the same federal backing as those of the banks.

That is very important, and that's the message I'm sending the finance community. That can be supported all the way to Minister Morneau. Their loans should be accorded the same federal backing as those of the banks, but we don't have that.

They also need flexibility to ensure that all their business clients can be funded, including many who pay themselves by dividends and can't meet the $50,000 minimum payroll requirement for loans under the Canada emergency business account. Just as an example, there are 147 loans in Alberta, and only 37% of them would actually qualify for the $50,000. The rest won't, because they don't have the minimum $50,000 threshold.

It's a serious problem for our small and medium-sized entrepreneurs out there that they will not be able to qualify for support or backing of any type. The capital corporations can actually disburse it now. They have stored $17.3 million among the six capital corporations in western Canada. If they could get the backing, they could then release that to further support our businesses, but we need that assurance from Canada.

On April 2, I wrote to ministers Morneau and Bains seeking federal backing for the $17.3 million in loans. We are ready to deploy them right now. I realize this is money we have in the bank right now in these capital corporations, so we're not asking for new money at this point. We're saying to just give us the backing from Canada and we'll deploy this money right now to help the small businesses.

I realize that ministers, members of this committee and indeed all of us representing Canadians at this time are facing unprecedented demands, pressures and anxieties. Any assistance this committee can provide in supporting a positive response to our request would be greatly appreciated as I know it is in Canada's interest to help to ensure the survival of the Métis nation business sector.

We encourage you, please, as the finance committee to send this message. The Métis businesses are panicking. They are scared. Many may not come back if we don't give them the support they need now.

We have an opportunity to do something. We can react very quickly, but we just need your support to send that message loud and clear.

As the vice-president for Manitoba, on behalf of the Métis people of Manitoba and of course of Canada, I thank you for the time offered.

Before I close off my comments, I will give an example. Right now I am in dialogue with some of my Chinese business partners. I have done business in China before. I am looking at opportunities, because we have no supports in the Métis nation in western Canada. We do not have clinics. We don't have nurses. We don't have doctors. We have been completely left on our own. I am sincere about that. I'm not being negative about anybody right now, but I sincerely state that we are on our own.

The provinces tell us no. The federal government tells us no. We have no health supports coming into our communities. We have no face masks. We have no hand sanitizer. We have no disinfectants. Nothing is coming into our communities right now.

I am in the process of purchasing 500,000 masks from China. I'm looking at also purchasing gloves. Right now, we're purchasing sanitizer on our own. Those are risk factors for me to also purchase from China, to make sure my product gets here in time.

We have no other supports coming from any government. We're standing on our own as Métis people, yet we pay billions in taxes in this country and we have to fend for ourselves because of this political football of who is blaming whom for who is responsible. That's been our misery for the last hundred years. Daniels settled that in 2015, but we have yet to resolve it.

I thank every committee member for listening to me. I truly express our gratitude from our Métis nation.

Please be safe. Be safe with your families, and stay in isolation.

Mr. Easter, are you still there?

I think we got cut off.

2:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

It's okay. I was the one who was the problem. I put you on mute and forgot to take you off.

2:55 p.m.

Vice-President and National Spokesperson, Métis National Council

David Chartrand

Chairman Easter, I would echo that you please follow up with ITK and why they weren't on this call.

Thank you very much.

2:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Yes, I am going to make a note of that. We will follow up with them.

For anybody who wasn't invited, if they send a note to the clerk or to me, we will see what we can do in the future. We have only so much space for witnesses on each panel but we'll see what we can do in the future.

Just to point out, we will send up the line your point on the personal protective equipment you mentioned, and we are hearing a lot on the $50,000 threshold from all over.

Mr. Helin, with Eagle Spirit Energy, I believe you're okay to go now.

3 p.m.

Chairman and President, Eagle Spirit Energy Holding Ltd.

Calvin Helin

Yes, thank you very much.

I'd like to start off by acknowledging my indigenous co-panellists and thanking the MPs who are on this standing committee for organizing this at this very important time for not just indigenous people but everybody in Canada, and indeed the world.

I'd like not so much to address the immediate needs during this crisis but to look at the post-COVID-19 needs of indigenous people. I'd like to put those into the context of who indigenous people were in North America.

There's a common notion out there that indigenous people weren't involved in any economics whatsoever. That is a false narrative. For thousands of years we'd been trading with each other. Over 2,000 years ago the Hopewell culture, as it was called, had a trading network that extended across the continent. Indeed, when the Hudson's Bay Company first came into Canada, the reason it prospered was that it plugged into the indigenous trade networks. If it hadn't done that, it's very unlikely Canada would be a country. That prevented the Americans from coming into the western territories.

In the territory I'm from, our people were, like a lot of indigenous people across Canada, very, very astute traders. We were referred to as the Phoenicians of the Northwest Coast by the first Europeans because we out-traded them. This is really important to understand in the context of what's happened in the last couple of hundred years, when we were basically marginalized and shoved off to remote reserves where we couldn't earn any kind of income and we were very economically limited.

Basically, we were put into a situation of what I'd call an economic dependency trap, in which we were unable to prosecute the kinds of economic things we used to do. That's led to all of these problems, social and economic problems that are well known to everybody. The statistics are horrendous.

Recently, Premier Jason Kenney pointed out that Alberta was, in general, likely going to end up with 25% unemployment. That's comparable to the highest unemployment during the Great Depression in the U.S. What most people don't understand is that is the unemployment rate across all first nations in Canada all the time. We're in a great depression and a lot of our people want to get out of it. We want to go back to the big-risk trading culture that we originally had. In some northern communities there's over 90% unemployment. That's there all the time, whether we have COVID-19 or not.

We would like to go back to generating our own sources of revenue. We've been in a situation in which most of our communities are located in remote areas where there has been a lot of natural resources development, but by and large, we haven't been able to participate in that.

Right now there is an openness and a real desire in a lot of indigenous people across Canada to participate in various natural resources industries. It's really critical that we be given that opportunity. Unfortunately, the policy of government has been to put up various kinds of blockades to resource development in most of the indigenous areas.

This is really important for Canada, for several reasons. First, the rapidly growing indigenous population is going to result in a very high percentage of the population in western and northern Canada, where most of the natural resource sector operates. For the health of Canada, with this huge growing number of young people, we need to have jobs for them in the economy. Given that our population is aging, we need those young people in the economy.

We need to have policies that are aimed at allowing the open participation of indigenous people in various kinds of economic activity, and a lot of that is natural resource-based. It's critically important. I think that a lot of the energy policies that have arisen in western Canada are basically savaging the provinces. It's gutting the population in these provinces. Indigenous people have an opportunity to set the environmental rules for these projects. We want to take those opportunities, and we want to be able to create wealth that will lift the boats of not only the most impoverished people in Canada, but all Canadians.

That's my brief statement. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

3:05 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Calvin.

We will have to be quite tight on the questions to get the first round in at six minutes and the second round at five.

I hope you're on the line, Mr. Poilievre. We couldn't catch you earlier. Are you there?

3:05 p.m.


Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

I am on the line, yes.

3:05 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Before Mr. Poilievre goes to his questions, could I ask everyone to mute their lines, but don't do what I did and forget to take it off mute when you're talking.

Pierre, you're up for a six-minute round.

Perhaps you could name the people you're directing the questions to, so that they can turn on their microphones.

3:05 p.m.


Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

My question is for Calvin Helin.

Mr. Helin, I've long been an admirer of your work as an entrepreneur and as an author. I've just started reading some of your books, and I can say that, from what I've seen so far, they're very impressive and I look forward to completing them.

You've described the magnificent history of your people and the fact that they were great practitioners of free trade and free enterprise well before the Europeans even arrived in North America, and that the European ideas of socialism have really destroyed or attempted to destroy that free enterprise spirit. I think you're absolutely right. The socialist structures that have been imposed by governments have deprived first nations people of the opportunities to which they are entitled, and you give examples of that through the resource projects that the current federal government has been killing.

I know that you're part of the Eagle Spirit coalition, which is trying to get a major resource pipeline built in western Canada. If the government were to have a change of heart right now and fast-track the approval of that kind of project, would that be a good way to stimulate our economy back to life as we come out of the COVID-19 lockdown?

3:10 p.m.

Chairman and President, Eagle Spirit Energy Holding Ltd.

Calvin Helin

Absolutely. On the first issue, since this is an entirely indigenous-led project, we focused on the environment. Indigenous people and leaders laid down several rules about where they were prepared to go and where they were not prepared to go, and so the environmental model would be controlled by indigenous people. It would result in a hugely negative zero carbon footprint. It would result in a shorter land and ocean route, and we wouldn't be shipping dilbit, which is a mixture of diluent, so there'd be no wasted energy.

Currently, what's happening is we're shipping our oil and gas by rail or pipeline down to the gulf coast through the Panama Canal, through this huge ocean route to Asia, when we could be shipping it to the west coast of Canada and reducing the CO2 footprint markedly.

In capital investments, our project, according to the team, would result in about $525 billion in capital investment. In government revenue that would result in $6.5 billion per year in personal and corporate income tax and about $17.5 billion a year in royalties and other taxes.

In terms of construction jobs, there would be 50,000 direct and 80,000 indirect, permanent. On the energy corridor there would be 4,500 direct jobs and 29,000 indirect. The increased production would result in, we estimate, about 171,000 permanent jobs in all of western Canada.

This is a huge project. We've been forced to secure a port in Alaska. We're working with the Alaskan government, and they are actually prepared to give us grants to come into their area and have welcomed us. It's kind of unbelievable when we're Canadians and we're trying to help out our own people as indigenous people and trying to help out Canadians, because we have the highest regulatory standard in the world and we have the greatest situation, basically, as far as environmental standards go. It mystifies everybody in western Canada how we can be selling offshore drilling rigs to the Chinese to drill in the ocean off of Newfoundland and the east coast and they are shipping oil from all of these jurisdictions that have terrible human rights and environmental records.

We are basically a resource economy. If anybody has any doubts about that, I would encourage them to look at a Statistics Canada chart that basically shows the various product categories from consumer goods to transport services that contribute to Canada's net trade balance. The biggest contributors to a positive trade balance are natural resources. Energy by far is the biggest. Metals, agriculture and forestry are the next biggest contributors. Everything else, consumer and electronic goods, etc., contributes to a negative net trade balance.

This is critical for Canada. We have to understand why almost no other resource economy in the world is doing what we are doing: because doing it would kill their economy.

3:10 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We're going to end that round there. Sorry about that.

We'll turn to Mr. McLeod, then Mr. Ste-Marie and then Mr. Julian.

Mr. McLeod, you're up for six minutes maximum.

Michael, you weren't on initially, so just say where you're from so the interpreters can hear the sound of your voice.