Thank you so much.
Thank you to the chair and all the distinguished committee members for inviting me to address you today.
It's not in my script, but a big hello to my friends Manny and Harold. It's great to see you.
I'm speaking to you from the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, as well as the Haudenosaunee people. I, myself, am Anishinabe from the Thunder Bay region, Sand Point First Nation. As mentioned, I'm in the process of launching Mokwateh, which is my consulting firm. Mokwateh is my Anishinabe name, which means “bear heart”.
As COVID-19 continues to have many impacts around the globe, I am personally witnessing the business impact. I resigned as the president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business to head to Fort McMurray to take on the role of CEO at the Bouchier Group, which at the time was one of Canada's largest private sector first nations companies. It was over 1,000-staff strong, of which 43% were indigenous. In March, the company, in response to the current economic climate, was required to reduce to nearly half its workforce, including senior executives. The Bouchier Group also reduced its business services from three to two.
The reason I share this story with you is that there are numerous indigenous businesses of significant scale and capacity that depend on the oil and gas sector in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan that have also been significantly impacted. Thousands of indigenous people have been laid off, unfortunately. However, there is hope, hope to bring some of those impacted workers back to the field, working for their community economic development corporations and other indigenous companies.
The Government of Canada recently transferred $1 billion in grants under the site rehabilitation program. Unfortunately, there was no mention of targeting some of those resources to the highly capable indigenous companies, unless, of course, the wells fall within a reserve, but I understand that's a small fraction of the work to be done. We can and must do better.
One of my proudest moments when I was at the helm of the CCAB was all the research and advocacy work that we did in procurement and program development to help support the government's commitment of a 5% indigenous business target within the federal supply chain. I know that the new CEO, Tabatha, and her team are still working hard on this file.
My friends, here is the “can and must do better” part.
When it comes to the $1-billion transfer, this is simply a missed opportunity for the federal government to add to the bottom line of its own 5% target. The Alberta and federal governments must circle around on the distribution of these resources to ensure that as many indigenous people as possible can get back to work. A minimum target of a 5% spend in the oilfield rehabilitation program—better known as the orphan wells—must be set. It's not only the right thing to do, it also just makes business sense.
Shifting gears, I would like to commend the current commitment to the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association to support its network of aboriginal financial institutions, which, of course, will ultimately support our indigenous entrepreneurs. This was overdue. As I have described, there is another echelon of first nations, Métis and Inuit businesses with larger balance sheets that could effectively use a larger fund to support them through these difficult times to help ensure that they emerge ready to continue contributing to our economy.
My friends, there is so much uncertainty when it comes to infrastructure projects in this country, particularly linear projects. All I have to say is Wet'suwet'en. I believe the federal government has an important role in empowering an indigenous economy through the establishment of an indigenous infrastructure fund. There are numerous examples in this country where indigenous economic development corporations have raised hundreds of millions of dollars on their own to become equity partners in major projects. A federal backstop similar to Alberta's indigenous opportunities fund would do much for the economy and, just as importantly, the certainty of our country.