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

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Hello, everyone. I thank the witnesses for being here and testifying. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the staff, particularly the interpreters. It is not always easy. We are grateful for the work they do.

It is very interesting to hear Ms. Zann and Mr. Daniels talk about art. However, I am the Bloc Québécois climate change critic. So my question is for Mr. Austin.

The crisis we are currently experiencing is obviously causing its share of disruption on the world's energy markets. In the short to medium term, how do you see uranium prices evolving?

6:15 p.m.

Vice-President, Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations, Cameco Corporation

Jonathan Huntington

I believe your question is with regard to uranium prices in the current situation.

We're watching the uranium price very carefully. We've said all along that for our operations to come back to existence—if you want to call it that—we need long-term contracts to be ready to do that. We had to make difficult decisions to bring down our operations like McArthur River, Key Lake and Rabbit Lake in past years because the market wasn't where it needed to be for us to sustain those operations. We are hopeful that we'll see, for example, McArthur River and Key Lake come back. We're hopeful that we'll see Cigar Lake come back. However, we need not only the short-term spot-price market to rise, we need long-term contracts with partners. Those will then allow us to bring so many of our indigenous community partners back with us. We're very proud of our indigenous employment record, but we're just as proud of our indigenous record with our contractors.

We would like to see that price rise, just like so many others would, so we can see all those people return to work, but right now it's not where we need it to be. I wish I could tell you when it would return, but I don't have that crystal ball at the moment.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You have 20 seconds.

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Okay.

The Prime Minister of Canada has announced that, as part of a green recovery of sorts, he may want to fund projects such as those aimed at reducing the dependence on fossil fuels. Those that would reduce the dependence on fossil fuels would therefore have priority.

Does your company see this as a great opportunity?

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm sorry, but you'll have to hold that answer. We're out of time on this one, and will go to Ms. McPherson for two and a half minutes.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you very much for letting me have another opportunity here. I'd like to ask a question of Mr. Huntington.

We've seen indigenous communities across the country rightfully scared of the dangers of workers spreading COVID-19 to nearby communities.

You did touch on this a little bit, but could you talk about the tools you think the federal government needs to provide to help make sure indigenous communities have what they need to be safe?

6:15 p.m.

Vice-President, Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations, Cameco Corporation

Jonathan Huntington

That's a wonderful question. I would say that I don't want to speak for those indigenous communities. I have regular conversations with indigenous chiefs, mayors in Métis communities, etc.

I would say that at the beginning of this pandemic, when we looked at tough decisions to be made in the month of March, for example, when this really started to ramp up for us in Saskatchewan, we made a decision March 22 or March 23 or so to bring down Cigar Lake. I can remember the conversations with the indigenous chiefs at that point. They were concerned, in remote northern communities in Saskatchewan, that they did not have what was available in southern communities.

I would say the support that came from our uranium mining industry, but I would also say the support that came from health authorities—and I don't want to speak for them—I got the sense that it brought some of the concern down, to the point now where they're willing to look at reopening. I can only speak for ourselves. We sent almost 10,000 masks and 7,000 pairs of gloves and hundreds of litres of hand sanitizer to northern Saskatchewan to help in those cases. I think your question would be best framed to those indigenous chiefs for them to answer it, if they feel they're in a spot now where they're comfortable.

I will say this. From a conversation I had with a chief yesterday, there's no doubt there will not be a complete sense of ease until there's a vaccine or something that is solidly able to have life return to normal.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Of course, yes.

6:15 p.m.

Vice-President, Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations, Cameco Corporation

Jonathan Huntington

It's something that we look at right now, as a uranium company, when we have to make difficult decisions on how we're going to eventually restart our operations. The last thing we want, and those northern remote indigenous communities want, is COVID to return to their community or come to their community. We saw what happened—and Gary Vidal can speak to it—in northwest Saskatchewan, when it became a very serious problem in the area of La Loche, etc.

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks very much.

That brings us to our next round of questioners.

I have Mr. Arnold, Mr. Powlowski, Mr. Vidal and Ms. Damoff.

Mr. Arnold, please go ahead for five minutes.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses.

I'm from British Columbia. Mr. Daniels, we may have met out there. My riding spans the Shuswap-Secwepemc and Syilx Nation of the Okanagan. It's certainly a beautiful part of the country.

Mr. Daniels, I want to turn to you because you've really been focusing on the financial aspect and I think that's where the biggest challenge is for most first nations and all communities right now, first nations, Inuit and Métis.

When you are making investments through the FNFA, where do you see the biggest return on the dollar? Is it the resource sector? Is it production? Is it manufacturing? Where do you see the biggest return on dollars in investment through that organization?

6:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Ernie Daniels

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

The best return we see on the investments, the money the first nations have borrowed from us, is from alternative energy, anything in regulated resources. Dare I say a pipeline, because they are regulated and they bring a return. I know that first nations want to get involved in that in an equity way. It's mostly in green energy, where they're tied to long-term contracts, either provincially or territorially or federally.

I'm going to ask Mr. Berna if he can answer that as well, because there are a few other areas that he's more familiar with.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Go ahead, Mr. Berna.

6:20 p.m.

Chief Operating Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Steve Berna

Thank you.

One example is in Ontario. A smaller community had an opportunity with a FIT version 1 contract to be an equity participant in a wind farm. The amount of revenue they will receive from that wind farm will transform their community. We loaned them $117 million. They became a 50% owner in that community. Going forward for the next 25 years, their chief and council will receive steady cash flows that will allow them to build their community in the manner they foresee for themselves.

Currently we lend mostly in the area of wind farms, run-of-river projects and sometimes solar projects. As Mr. Daniels said, if those areas are backed by contracts with the provincial, federal or territorial governments, the communities will guarantee to have a profit at our current interest rate of around 2%.

There are other examples, but usually energy seems to be the most profitable one to date to allow communities to realize their goals and objectives.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

That's good. Thank you.

I'll switch over a bit. I'm subbing into this committee, as I'm on the fisheries and oceans committee, but I've heard a lot over the past few months about fishers, harvesters and so on not being eligible for the programs.

Do any of you have connections with first nations in our coastal or northern communities where organizations or individuals within those communities have had difficulty accessing the programs that have been announced?

6:25 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Ernie Daniels

Yes. We're aware of a few communities in the Atlantic in particular. The snow crab industry especially is highly affected, simply because the restaurants are not open. Delivering their products to restaurants was not available over the last few months. We definitely have seen that over there.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Okay.

You're financially involved or connected in some way to those organizations to have that information as well?

6:25 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Ernie Daniels

Yes, we are.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Okay. Thank you.

6:25 p.m.

Chief Operating Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

Steve Berna

Mr. Arnold, if I have time, we are starting to see phase two of first nations becoming involved in economic development. Instead of investing as individual communities, they are starting to group together, which will allow the purchasing of higher equity amounts and larger businesses. This means the return on investment is larger and goes back to the community.

We are directly involved in the Atlantic area in discussions where 13 communities want to work together and purchase something together. I can't give any details, but we are starting to see bigger thoughts, which means bigger groups of communities working together going forward.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Okay. Thank you.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We're at five minutes.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Okay. Thank you.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Mr. Powlowski, you have five minutes.