Evidence of meeting #13 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was fnfa.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ernie Daniels  President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority
Herbert Lehr  President, Metis Settlements General Council
Jonathan Huntington  Vice-President, Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations, Cameco Corporation
Dale Austin  Manager, Federal and Provincial Government Relations, Cameco Corporation
Steve Berna  Chief Operating Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

That's your time, Ms. McPherson. Thank you.

Now we're going to a five-minute round. My list of questioners has Mr. Schmale, Mr. van Koeverden, Mr. Dalton and Ms. Zann.

Jamie Schmale, you have five minutes.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, witnesses, for joining us.

Mr. Lehr, you mentioned how a number of communities that you represent rely on the oil and gas industry for a huge source of your revenue, which then funds programs you're able to provide for your constituents. Could you explain a bit more about that, and how, if policies come in place that potentially could hurt that expansion or development of those resources, that in turn would hurt the people you represent?

5:50 p.m.

President, Metis Settlements General Council

Herbert Lehr

I could very easily. This impacts us in a multitude of ways. Because we can become partners in some of the exploration of oil and gas activity within the communities, we've done that, so we actually have money invested in the game. When we have to increase our industrial tax, then we have to, in essence, pay more money as well for all that type of stuff.

The policy at the provincial government level right now of putting a moratorium on the acquisition and sale of oil and gas leases stagnates us. Our members have outside businesses that work within the industry, within the community, so they own their own companies that enjoy the work from that, as well as the settlements themselves have anything from drilling rigs to trucking companies.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

This gives your members the ability to grow and create wealth and opportunity and allows that to permeate the neighbouring communities. It's just a good story all around.

5:55 p.m.

President, Metis Settlements General Council

Herbert Lehr

It was when there was the sale of oil and gas. Now when there is no oil and gas and the land is what's called glacial till, where you can't farm or do anything but oil and gas activity, when there is nothing, then the absolute worst has happened. It's the perfect storm where all of a sudden all your companies are faced with bankruptcy and insolvency, and all your eggs are in that basket in your community to get paid for everything that goes on in that community. When all these companies are sitting because of COVID, because oil and gas are going down, now all our communities are saying they have no other money to go to. The province hasn't given us any as well.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Right.

I don't expect you to answer this one. As you know, we have the situation in British Columbia where the Wet'suwet'en people have elected chiefs and band council members who are running on pro-energy and pro-gas development and see this as an opportunity to provide jobs, opportunity and wealth for their people, who in some cases don't have much opportunity right now because of where they're located. I think that's a great story altogether.

Is there anything else you want to add before I jump over to Mr. Daniels?

5:55 p.m.

President, Metis Settlements General Council

Herbert Lehr

Yes, just that we were looking for the support of the committee with our $150-million ask. That's what we're looking for. Thank you.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Okay. Thank you very much.

Mr. Daniels, maybe I can pick up where you left off just a few questions ago. Can you expand on the estimation of what advantages for non-indigenous communities exist in supporting the restarting of indigenous businesses? How do robust indigenous business communities affect local non-indigenous communities that they surround or are in? That goes to what I was just talking to Mr. Lehr about.

5:55 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Ernie Daniels

Thank you, Mr. Schmale. That's a very good question.

When we are lending monies to a first nation, we are always collecting information on the economic impact. So far, with our $900 million that we've lent out, the economic impact we see is, at a minimum, about $2 billion. We know what the leakage is that happens for every dollar that goes into a first nation community. There's almost 95% leakage. The surrounding economy, such as the communities that are nearby and the provincial governments, benefit quite a bit every time a dollar is spent on reserve.

In this case, when we're talking about monetizing federal dollars for infrastructure, you can bet that the Canadian economy is going to benefit almost 100%, from building materials to supplies to the taxes that are paid by individuals who provide those services to first nations.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We're at time right there.

Thanks, Mr. Daniels.

We'll go to Mr. van Koeverden for five minutes.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Marsi. Meegwetch. I'd like to start by recognizing that I'm on the traditional territory of the Wendat and the Anishinabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and many other nations as well.

I'll also take this opportunity to recognize that I probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for an Inuit invention called the kayak. I grew up kayaking at a canoe club. I think it's important to make some space and to talk about the appropriation. As a white kid growing up in Oakville, I got to use an Inuit invention, and I got to travel around the world.

The reason I bring up my sporting past is that I find myself admittedly quite in over my head as we're talking about mining, finance and procurement. I don't mind telling my friends and colleagues in this forum that. My questions are going to be a bit more sociological, if that's okay. Really, my only experience with large mining operations has been in the Far North with a sport for development group, or in West Africa with another sport for development group, because very often these great big companies can afford to invest in really great community infrastructure, sports facilities and sport for development for great community impact.

I'm also the parliamentary secretary for sport, and there's an intersectional value in talking about indigenous sport, how we build community and how we build partnerships with big industry in order to have a great impact. If your communities or institutions have benefited from any of that type of investment, I would ask anybody who has any insight into this to tell us how we can do a better job of investing in community from the ground up, from the grassroots level, for kids and youth and for women and vulnerable people. I'll hand it over to you.

6 p.m.

Vice-President, Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations, Cameco Corporation

Jonathan Huntington

I can certainly try to answer some of that question for you, Adam. It goes back to part of our comments to start this meeting.

One of the shovel-ready infrastructure projects that's being put forward by one of our partner communities, the English River First Nation, is for a recreation complex near Saskatoon. They want to build a recreation complex that's available for youth and certainly for indigenous youth.

There is no question; if you talk to northern communities in Saskatchewan, they want to focus on their youth. We've seen time and time again that intersection of focusing on youth, whether it's in arts and culture or in sports like yours. If you focus on those youth and invest in those communities and in those youth, you can see a tremendous difference.

We know that northern Saskatchewan is a particular region with a very young population. As I think our company, Cameco, and our partner communities will say, we should focus on youth where we can to see them grow, develop and become great model citizens.

6 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thank you, Mr. Huntington.

6 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Ernie Daniels

If I could add to that—

6 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thank you, Mr. Daniels. That would be great.

6 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Ernie Daniels

I can give you a couple of examples. We had a first nation near Vancouver, in the heart of Chilliwack in British Columbia, that borrowed money—and they used their own source revenues to support it—to build a sports field for their community, a real running track, change rooms and those kinds of things. A lot of the initiatives our borrowers are looking at are really to try to improve the lives of the people in their community, and sports go a long way toward that.

I could talk about my community, Salt River First Nation in the Northwest Territories. They recently built a community complex. What they do is teach the young kids how to do traditional Dene hand games and those types of things to try to get them more involved in that.

We see a lot of infrastructure that goes up in a lot of the communities that we finance. It's a real community focus. They try to bring their community together to do celebrations. When I was growing up, I used to see those a lot, and now they're starting to come back.

6 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thanks, Mr. Daniels.

Mr. Lehr, I saw you nodding. Something tells me you may have done some sport in your life. I would love to hear some insight from you.

6 p.m.

President, Metis Settlements General Council

Herbert Lehr

I don't know if you remember, but we had a great hockey player come from Fishing Lake Métis Settlement, Sheldon Souray.

We're part of the sports teams that are out there, but in our communities, we find there isn't enough designated money and set-aside money to ensure that each of the different organizations can get access to the funds that are needed.

We need to work through health and social policy from Canada down into the communities so we can give each of our indigenous children something to dream about, that they have an opportunity to do some of this stuff.

What I hear about the development of tracks and stuff like that is great. I have eight communities that don't have anything for our kids to look at. We have to go to neighbouring towns 45 minutes away, and we have parents who don't have the money to take them there. We don't even have a school that goes to grade 12 so that we can get our children to have these recreational opportunities, and they miss out, so it's very hard to do it.

6 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Sorry, Herb, but we went over time there. That's great, thank you. I'm sure that we'll pick up on that.

We have Mr. Dalton for five minutes.

June 2nd, 2020 / 6 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

To begin, I have a couple of questions for Ernie Daniels.

Ernie, it might seem like a very simple question, but I'm wondering what the criteria is for being an indigenous company.

6 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Ernie Daniels

If they are operating.... Well, you can look at Enoch Cree. They operate a casino. They also have commercial property they lease out. They also have a gas bar. They have a number of different initiatives. It's where they have control of the operations. In some cases, first nations invest in energy projects or the like. That's what we're talking about.

We recently financed a community in Nova Scotia to set up their community store and their gas bar just before the pandemic broke out and social distancing came into place, so they were delayed in operating. That is an indigenous business. A number of people who would work there lost their jobs. They didn't have the inventory to start selling. It was just the perfect timing for them to not realize what they had set out to do.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

My understanding is that quite a few indigenous enterprises cannot receive the COVID supports because they're connected to the first nation or the band. I'm wondering if you can elaborate on that. For example, with the Canada emergency wage subsidy, are there strict rules? Do they exclude quite a few different indigenous businesses that need the supports?

6:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Ernie Daniels

When it was first announced it became really clear to us, because we received calls from our borrowing members that they were falling through the cracks. Some of their employees couldn't access the $2,000 a month. Also, the wage subsidy was where there was the biggest impact. I think, over time, there was some loosening of the definitions to try to include them. To date we haven't heard how much support was getting to the people who really need it, so yes.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

I must admit that I was amazed when you mentioned $943 million is under your umbrella, your supervision, as the FNFA, and there have been no defaults. That shows tremendous responsibility. Is what's happening here with COVID potentially undermining that record? How do you see things going forward in meeting those obligations?

6:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Ernie Daniels

For this year, and especially with the recent announcement, we can meet our obligations. If COVID-19 goes to 18 months, as was initially forecast, we would definitely start to experience some problems in the second year. A first nation that relies on a lot of own-source revenue, that deals with the public quite a bit, and would be shut down by COVID-19, would really be affected going forward over a sustained period of time.

We hope we don't get there. That's why we have a few recommendations. One is to set up an emergency fund that we can have in place so we can make zero interest-rate loans to our members on a repayment basis. We estimate that $50 million would be sufficient for us to weather the storm for up to 18 months, if we have to.