[Witness spoke in Cree]
I call on my father God to guide me.
Thank you, Honourable Chair Bratina and members of the standing committee.
I'm honoured to testify today on behalf of the Metis Settlements and the MSGC regarding our response to COVID-19 and its impacts on our communities and businesses. It is my pleasure to see many familiar faces here today.
Many of you may know already a bit about our hidden treasures, our beautiful Metis Settlements, but for those who do not, allow me a moment to explain. In 1938, His Majesty King George VI set lands aside for Métis people in Alberta by an act of the provincial legislature. Eight of these parcels of land remain and are today the only collectively held Métis lands in Canada. They are represented by the Metis Settlement General Council, of which I am the elected president. It is important to note that the MSGC is not a member of the Métis National Council or the Métis Nation of Alberta.
COVID-19 has challenged our Metis Settlements as it has the entire country. We acted quickly to ensure that the Metis Settlements had resources on the ground to enact local emergency plans to keep settlement members safe at home and physically distant. Sadly, we've had three elders pass from COVID-19 so far.
We've been able to obtain personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, gloves and gowns from Alberta Health Services, with additional federal support received from the COVID-19 indigenous community support fund. We are grateful for this support, and it will help save lives. I was pleased that Minister Bennett reached out personally to ensure that our Metis Settlements would be included in the indigenous community support fund and not forgotten.
At the same time, our settlements are confronted with exceptionally difficult economic circumstances in Alberta, including the collapse of the price of oil. This has resulted in an approximately 80% unemployment rate in our communities.
The current economic situation in Alberta has required settlements to increase the mill rates over the past two years by an average of 130% to 250%, driving companies away while our communities struggle to keep the lights on. Additionally, approximately 75% of resource development businesses in Metis Settlements have become or will become financially insolvent. The problem is only getting worse. Recently, Alberta has also placed an acquisition moratorium on oil and gas.
Regarding our Metis Settlements' businesses experience with the recent COVID-19 federal supports, they are currently accessing the Canada emergency business account and are eagerly awaiting a response. Additionally, we are hearing reports that most settlement business owners do not qualify for the other COVID-19 business programs announced, such as the Canada emergency wage subsidy or the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance. As well, our communities have a very low Metis Settlements participation in the new federal-provincial site rehabilitation program at this time.
While our intent is to always have financial sustainability, we find ourselves with a dwindling economy, depleted revenues from our resource sector and a province that is financially unable to assist.
Mr. Chair and members, the bottom line for the Metis Settlements is this: Should economic instability and lack of stable revenue sources continue, insolvency will darken our doorway in less than 24 months.
In order to ensure that we can continue delivering essential services across all of our settlements, MSGC requires immediate and longer-term support. We are currently working with the Government of Canada and Minister Bennett on a three-year stopgap measure of approximately $50 million per year, but the process has been delayed due to COVID-19.
We have prepared and submitted an appropriate business case to support this ask, but time is extremely short, and the twelfth hour of financial crisis is upon us. We do not want to fall between the cracks, and we need your support.
Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to take any questions the members of this committee have.
Thank you again, honourable members, for listening to our testimony, and thank you in advance for your support and understanding.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
Any remaining time I yield to Chair Bratina.