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.