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Evidence of meeting #24 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aboriginal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kim Warburton  Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.
Ross Hornby  Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric Canada Inc.
Barb Keenan  Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.
Kelly Lendsay  President and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Human Resource Council
Peter Dinsdale  Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations
Elvera Garlow  Representative, Assembly of First Nations
Cheryl McDonald  Representative, Assembly of First Nations

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you. Colin. I know you have more questions, but your first question was so good and the response was so outstanding that we went well past your time. We'll have to move on to Mrs. Hughes. Go ahead.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Thank you.

First of all, a lot of my first nation constituents have spoken about the aboriginal-specific allocation of Canada Summer Jobs and how it provided employment skills for young people. I'm just wondering what the impact has been on your first nations. Did you see a decrease in the number of first nations people being able to get those summer jobs?

Second, because you're talking about the ASETS agreement, I'm wondering if you've been experiencing a significant turnover and reassignment of Service Canada project officers and senior development officers, and whether or not there has been a backlog in processing and payments.

5:15 p.m.

Representative, Assembly of First Nations

Elvera Garlow

Yes to all of that. We've had three finance officers since the beginning of ASETS. Within the first six months, we had three different ones. We could do their jobs without thinking. We know what it's all about. I have trained people who work in finance training them. They come in and ask what to do. We have to tell them, so it is bad. There's a lot of turnover. They try. I'm not saying they're not trying. It's just that it's going to take a long time for them to get the experience. For example, we had to hold back cheques to give to employers, because we had no cash. It wasn't our fault. All our reports were in. Everything was there. So it's a matter of speeding things up.

The Canada Summer Jobs is definitely a problem. We were used to getting so much money every year. Ontario and Quebec were the only provinces that got Canada Summer Jobs funds. So they had to make us like everybody else. We got nothing, just like all the rest of the provinces. That's their reason for doing it.

The first year—this is the second year with no funds—I took money from our programs and still had the Canada Summer Jobs last year, but we paid for it. We got word at the end of January that there would be no funds. There wasn't enough time to let our employers know they had to apply to Canada Summer Jobs themselves. It was a whole new system. That's what I did to help my community. This year it will be different because they had to apply. We had a whole year to tell them how to do it. So I don't know that, but I know many of our people in Ontario were concerned about not having those funds and how their students were not getting the work experience they had gotten in the past.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

It has come to my attention through one of the first nations in my riding that they got the ASETS agreement on September 29, 2011, and were advised to return it by September 30, 2011, in order to have it legally implemented on October 1, 2011.

Have you heard of other instances where there has been only one day to look at the agreement, sign it, and move it forward? What's the impact of that? How far behind are you right now in getting your allocations back?

5:20 p.m.

Representative, Assembly of First Nations

Elvera Garlow

I've had discussions with the regional office, the finance manager. They're telling me that we're not spending our money. The expenditures aren't there, and it's because they're not giving us the money. We can't spend the money, if we don't have it.

I have one outstanding—it's the CRF dollars that we've spent. It's $800,000. We need that cheque any day, and he's supposed to give it to me any day, and then we would have spent all our funds.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

How difficult is it to retain employers when you're not able to have those dollars there?

5:20 p.m.

Representative, Assembly of First Nations

Elvera Garlow

It is difficult. They have to wait. Sometimes it's difficult for them. That is one of the impacts. Training centres are affected as well, or it could be a college. We don't always deal with colleges, because we have our own training institutions. But you're correct—they just have to wait.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that.

We'll continue with the next round.

Mr. Shory, go ahead.

February 27th, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, witnesses, for being here.

I honestly couldn't agree more when you talk about the importance of education in the community. This is a must.

I'll touch on some economic opportunities rather than going to that side, because we have talked a lot about that. We all know that the aboriginal population is fast-growing and is also the youngest segment of the Canadian population. We do recognize the tremendous economic potential of aboriginal Canadians. That is why in 2009 our government released the Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development that reflects the significant, real, and growing opportunities for aboriginal Canadians to take an unprecedented step toward becoming full participants in the economy as entrepreneurs, employers, and employees.

I'm a little confused when I read the report of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which is called “The Business Case for Investing in Canada's Remote Communities”. When I read the executive summary, under the heading“Remote communities' place in Canada”, it states:

Not only does more of our untapped natural resources [wealth] lie in remote communities, the people who can most help us leverage it live in them as well.

It further goes on to say something that is a little confusing:

Despite many sources of government support and significant federal spending directed at rural/remote areas of Canada, consistent progress in building strong, self-sustaining remote communities is not evident.

What are we lacking in all this? Why aren't we getting the intended results? You may want to address those questions.

5:25 p.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations

Peter Dinsdale

Thank you.

I do. I think the 2009 Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development was an important first step. I think what it didn't do is focus on communities and nations, and their abilities to develop economies. The joint action plan agreed to by the Prime Minister and the national chief has a part looking at a task force to unlock first nations economies.

It's not simply a typical economic development argument when you have a resource and access to market, and you need to provide equity to leverage that and there may be political deals depending on where it has to go in the world. First nations are a rights-bearing community. For far too long, first nations have gone to court to determine and have their rights affirmed. We see concepts like the duty to consult. We're seeing first nations have legal title and then challenging the ability to develop that.

We're in this challenge right now, where we have certainly economic potential, but also communities wanting to protect their rights to, and interests in, their lands. If we just reflect briefly on Attawapiskat and all those diamonds so close to it being mined out of their communities, what is the resource and what is the connection with the community? How are those billions helping to support what's happening just down the road? What can we learn from that?

I think we have a lot of work to do together and I think we're starting that work. The missing point simply isn't a federal government program that is going to enable access to individual economic opportunities; I think it's about group and nation economic opportunities. How do we reconcile rights with the use and extraction of those resources? I think we're developing and beginning that conversation together, but it's going to take some time for the task force to do its work and then for us to come together and find ways of enabling that through these federal programs that are less focused on the individual and more focused on the community.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that, Mr. Shory.

We have about three minutes left. I can tell the committee that we had allocated 15 minutes with respect to our future study and the witnesses who were proposed. We'll simply move that to the next meeting.

Rodger, if you have some questions you want to ask in the next two and a half or three minutes, we can maybe conclude with you and go from there.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

I'd like to have you guys here for two hours, to tell you the truth. I think it would be very worthwhile.

I'm going to make a little statement and then just throw it out.

Since Paul Martin finished up with politics, he has remained committed to trying to help first nations communities. He came down to Eskasoni and met with high school kids in Eskasoni, and he asked them to give him their problems and their solutions. One gal who was in grade 12 said her baby got sick the other night and they needed more money for doctors. Paul Martin said it wasn't about the money. He asked, if the money were there, who in that room was going to study to be a doctor or nurse, and come back to that community to help out. There was silence.

Then she said that they went to institutions and that English wasn't her first language. They needed more money for teachers so she could learn English. He asked what if the money was not a problem. Let's say the money was there. Who was going to study and come back to the community and help with English, so that they could go and study to become a nurse or doctor and come back and help with the health care? That was the approach.

Then she asked him why he hadn't come there when he was Prime Minister, and Paul said he had thought he was going to be there a little bit longer, but that's a whole different story.

I'm looking at these kids. My wife teaches school. Say it was these kids here—and it's a beautiful picture. I know if I were to talk to the kids in my wife's class and ask those kids what they wanted to be when they grow up, the girls would say they wanted to be a nurse or a doctor and one guy would say he wanted to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs—and I'd say well, maybe you should have higher career ambitions than that.

5:25 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

But there'd be a fireman, and a policeman.

What do these kids want to be when they grow up?

Are the hopes and aspirations of the kids in remote communities the same as they are...?

I'll just throw that out, because I'm trying to link it with Colin's question about how once we get them out of grade 12, the success is fabulous, but it's that gap.

Do they have the same aspirations in remote communities? I'll just let you guys—

5:30 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Human Resource Council

Kelly Lendsay

The short answer is yes. We've done studies. We've done career studies. In one case of Ontario and Quebec, four kids out of 444 said they wanted to be an astronaut. Whether you're aboriginal or non-aboriginal, if you're a child of poverty, you lose hope by age five. So this is an issue of poverty, not an issue of being aboriginal or non-aboriginal.

What we are building—and we have examples we can provide to Mr. Shory in terms of evidence from Diavik to Syncrude. The northerners are way ahead of the southerners when it comes to really building partnerships. They're building leadership schools. They actually see a vision of getting people, like Dave Tuccaro, who was just inducted into the Business Hall of Fame.

We now have and are starting to build millionaires. We're building a middle class, just like the African-Americans did. It's at a turning point. It's not a tipping point yet, but there are some turning points in this country.

I know the economic development strategy very well, Mr. Shory. Three of those pillars are partnerships, entrepreneurship, and human capital. I think the partnership framework is the right one, the economic framework. I think what you've heard here is some of the frustrations when it comes to the funding. I'm saying, “Look ahead and forecast”.

There are only three places to put the money: social assistance—and I'm glad you brought up disabilities. I also want to bring up inmates. I'm on Mr. Toews' CORCAN, Corrections Canada national advisory group. It's social assistance, prisons, or education and employment.

Aboriginal people want to work. They've worked for hundreds of years, thousands of years. There's a proud tradition of work from the fur economy to the iron workers to today. What's really making another difference is aboriginal entrepreneurs, because they're running right smack into the same issues any employer does. You want to hire your own people, but you have to have the skills, the education, and the attitude. So the beauty of aboriginal entrepreneurship and all the procurement that's been happening is that they've pulled people to the same issues: education, employment, and, of course, development of that work attitude.

That's why summer jobs, by the way, are so important. All of us have had opportunities to learn those work skills somewhere through part-time jobs and through summer jobs. If we erode those types of programs, we're actually eroding that productivity agenda I mentioned earlier.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you, Mr. Lendsay, and with that, I think we'll conclude.

We really appreciate the testimony. Maybe we haven't turned a corner, but we're certainly entering some very exciting times, and we'll see where that goes.

The meeting is adjourned.