Evidence of meeting #14 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 federal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jean Paul Gladu  As an Individual
Harold Calla  Executive Chair, First Nations Financial Management Board
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Evelyn Lukyniuk
C.T.  Manny) Jules (Chief Commissioner, First Nations Tax Commission
Kirt Ejesiak  Representative, Inuit Business Council

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Is everyone hearing a phone?

12:45 p.m.

As an Individual

Jean Paul Gladu

No, I'm not hearing a phone.

Anyway, I'll end it there in saying that communities have to be empowered to make their own decisions. I think we shouldn't be making them. Those communities need to decide what's best for them.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Yes, absolutely. The communities have to decide for themselves what's best for them, but maybe I could have the input of some of the other panel members on the question of development versus non-development.

12:45 p.m.

Executive Chair, First Nations Financial Management Board

Harold Calla

Mr. Chair, I've actually spent some time in the Ring of Fire communities with The First Nations Major Projects Coalition, and some of those communities are part of this coalition. Part of the discussion that we've had was on decision-making around approvals and recognition of Matawa as a government agency that can participate in that process. I know that in my own community in Squamish, we actually issued our own certificate on environmental assessment, and the LNG project is proceeding because of it.

This really gets down to sharing power and decision-making, and you need to open the door to allow that to happen. The times that I've spent up there certainly indicated to me that there were communities that are very prepared to support this kind of development. Some are not. We're never going to get consensus. It would be nice, but will we get it?

The other thing that the Ring of Fire is dependent upon is infrastructure. The Province of Ontario needs to build a road up there, doing it as a public-private partnership. The federal government can step in and provide the means by which that road can access those remote communities. That way we can run fibre optic cable up there and do a bunch of good things for that whole region and not just the indigenous communities. It takes a coordinated effort and it takes the provinces to be on side.

Part of this also means a new fiscal relationship that Manny and I talked, whereby some revenue-sharing would take place. Many years ago, I was asked by the Canadian government to go across Canada to look at first nations' participation in new projects that included not just first nations but also local governments. The mayor of Prince George said to me at the time, “This is great when you're here and I see my people working, but when you leave, there's not a lot, and if there's a problem here, I've got a big problem.” At some point in time, that kind of fear has to be removed.

The government has to step in and reassure people that this will happen. They need to share. They need access to capital. They need an informed ability to contribute to the decision-making, and then some of these projects will proceed.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks very much.

We're beyond time, and something strange happened. I had a phone hanging up in my ear. I couldn't hear for a while.

I have Ms. Bérubé for two and a half minutes. Please go ahead.

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is for Mr. Calla.

In your opinion, are the federal measures introduced during the past months sufficient to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the indigenous economy?

12:45 p.m.

Executive Chair, First Nations Financial Management Board

Harold Calla

I think many of the programs that have been developed by the federal government are very positive.

The challenge that we face is that they have excluded first nations individuals, businesses and governments. It only comes through a lot of persistence that we start to see some of these things considered and reflected on. Respectfully, we shouldn't have to do that. You should be doing that as you institute the programs, and that's not happening.

That's a question that I think you need to ask: Why is this happening in this manner? Why are we always last on the list?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Mr. Jules, did you want to speak?

12:50 p.m.

C.T. (Manny) Jules

Clearly, from my perspective, we're not a high priority of the federal government. We estimate that of the programs that have been announced so far, on a per capita basis indigenous peoples are receiving about 50% of what other Canadians are getting. That imbalance has to be corrected.

At the same time, in the longer term, we have to be able to look after ourselves, and that can only happen through a new fiscal relationship.

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Chair, do I have any time left?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You have 40 seconds.

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you.

How many indigenous businesses have had to shutter their doors in the wake of this?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Would you like to answer?

12:50 p.m.

Executive Chair, First Nations Financial Management Board

Harold Calla

We don't know. There's no means for us to get access to that type of information.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you. That's a very interesting answer.

We'll go now to—I'm sorry.

12:50 p.m.

C.T. (Manny) Jules

Can I just interject for a second here?

One of the things we've uncovered, though, is that in a lot of our communities, because we're a loophole economy, the casinos are being shut down, which impacts the public health systems. A lot of our businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy because of COVID-19, so the numbers are going to be strikingly high. What we need to be able to track that is a statistical institute.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you.

Ms. Gazan, please go ahead. You have two and a half minutes.

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is for Mr. Ejesiak.

The Inuit Business Council is asking for interest-free lines of credit of up to $250,000 due to issues with Inuit businesses being eligible for federal loans.

To your knowledge, why have some of the Inuit businesses been ineligible for the loans offered by the federal government?

12:50 p.m.

Representative, Inuit Business Council

Kirt Ejesiak

Number one, I mentioned that most small Inuit businesses are home-based. If you recall, some of the loans that exist are tied to the amount of payroll. I think they have reduced the requirement to $20,000.

Many small business owners do not take a salary. They pay themselves dividends, which currently are ineligible. If there's some money left over at the end of the year, they would pay themselves whatever, $30,000 or $40,000.

As well, I think the challenge for many businesses is that they are new and typically do not have the financial information required to be eligible. Many businesses do not have bank accounts, and of course, for the Canada emergency business account program you need to be tied to a financial institution.

There are many ways to address some of these issues. We can untie it from the payroll requirement. We can untie it from a financial institution. There are existing lenders in our communities; it's just how do we do it in a way that gives us the same opportunity?

In terms of amount, we think we have an extraordinary case. You can imagine building a house with materials that you have to pay for now, but you won't be starting construction until next March. That's because you have to assemble the materials, transport them get them on the ship and into your communities before October 1.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We will have to leave it there, Ms. Gazan. Thank you very much.

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you very much.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We're down to the last few minutes.

Mr. Zimmer, you must be in Terrace Bay by now if you're driving home.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

No, I'm just sitting here trying to stay online.

I want to talk to Mr. Ejesiak.

I've been in contact with the Chamber of Mines up in the north about the programs that haven't really been impactful to them during COVID. Because my time is limited, I will just ask that you write a response to me later. I want to save my last minute and 30 seconds for Mr. Calla.

It's great to see Manny here as well. He has been working so long to see some positive change for indigenous communities that just want to be part of the economy and stand together with everybody else. I think it's great.

Mr. Calla, I want to ask about your First Nations Major Projects Coalition. I know quite a bit about it, but how many groups do you have signed on, and how many projects?

I know you have some ambitious plans, and if they are realized, it's going to be great, especially considering we're in a tough place right now with COVID and being $1 trillion in debt. We need to get on our feet again with resource development.

12:55 p.m.

Executive Chair, First Nations Financial Management Board

Harold Calla

There are about 60 communities from Ontario to British Columbia that are now part of it, and it's starting to look at Atlantic Canada.

The First Nations Major Projects Coalition responds to first nations' interests on projects. It has developed standards for environmental assessment. It participated in the review that took place. It looks at business models and provides the administrative and financial support to first nation communities that otherwise might not be able to grasp the potential.

We're now looking at a $300-million hydro project in the Cheslatta area, turning a poor situation into a positive one by rewatering the Nechako River and creating fisheries again and using power that would be generated from this hydro project to support the development of a gold mine, with the support of the communities.

They are also involved in Coastal GasLink project in British Columbia, and are looking at participation and the potential ownership of Trans Mountain, when and if that proceeds.

What we're facing and what they're facing is this need, in the absence of a new fiscal relationship that provides certainty around first nations as a government to raise revenue, for access to the capital markets. As we've said in the past, and as I'll say again today, the federal government needs to step up to support first nations' access to the capital markets to secure their equity interest in these operations, if they choose to do so. Canada has historically done this. The most recent, which is not the best example, is Churchill Falls. We think we can do a better job.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

We need to get it done.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for your time and your patience.