Evidence of meeting #17 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 miller.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Daniel Quan-Watson  Deputy Minister, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs
Serge Beaudoin  Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs Organization, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs
Valerie Gideon  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services
Jean-François Tremblay  Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services
Annie Boudreau  Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

We are working as hard as we can. As I said, when it became clear that we weren't going to make it this month around the anniversary of the final report.... We will work continuously to be able to get the kind of report that the families and survivors will see is serious and accountable. We are working with the provinces and territories—all of the provinces and territories.

In your province, Minister Wilson has been amazing. I spoke with Alberta's organization for the advancement of indigenous women this morning.

There is lots of work to do, and we want to make sure this is an effective plan that will stop this national tragedy.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Will your government be supporting all of the calls for justice from the inquiry?

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

The issue now is that we've received them all, and we are engaging with our partners to develop a national action plan, which will outline the priorities of our partners to be able to put in place concrete action to stop the tragedy.

As you know, there is a website that documents the actions to date. As we said, we wouldn't wait for the final report to put in place the kinds of things that Mumilaaq talked about, whether that's around shelters, changes to child and family services, or what we are living right now, dealing with the racism and sexism in our institutions. The national action plan will—

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm sorry, Minister. We're way over time, and I want to make sure everyone gets a chance.

Also, to our speakers with earbuds, the interpreters really need to hear you clearly, so some of you may need to move the microphone a bit closer to your mouth to enable that.

Mr. Battiste, you are next, and you have five minutes. Please go ahead.

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Minister Miller, within our budget I was pleased to see an increase in funding for Jordan's principle. I'd like to acknowledge the work they are doing and the difference that these workers are making. Their work has been vital, both on and off reserve, to help those who have slipped through the cracks in health, education and a lot of areas where indigenous people had nowhere else to turn but to them.

How will our recent funding help us reach full implementation of Jordan's principle, and what are some of the challenges that have surfaced during COVID that we are able to address with this funding increase?

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

Thank you, MP Battiste, for what is really an excellent question that goes to the heart of some of the work that Indigenous Services Canada does.

Mr. Chair, at the end of my statement I will pass the microphone over to ADM Valerie Gideon to show some of the daily work that we do at Indigenous Services Canada. I'm going to quote numbers, but behind those numbers are kids whose lives are being transformed by the implementation of Jordan's principle by this government. It's key, as part of our work with first nations, to ensure that this principle is being.... It's a sacred one to be upheld. The children really have access to products and services that they support, need and have the right to have.

The member has noted that supplementary estimates (A) provide $232 million in new funding to support the continued implementation of this principle. It brings the total budget for Jordan's principle up to $668 million. This ensures that children receive access to the health, social and educational products, services and supports they need, as well as speech and language pathology, physiotherapy, mental wellness supports, education assistance and mobility aids.

During this COVID period, those needs have become more acute as schools are shut down. As those needs become more specific, it's tailoring critical needs within the home. That has put pressure on the system, but it's welcome pressure because it is something that we need to fulfill as part of our duty to indigenous peoples.

On that note, I will pass the microphone over to Valerie Gideon.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Valerie, you have one minute, please, because I have another question.

6:10 p.m.

Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services

Valerie Gideon

I'll just say that we were actually able to provide services to children who would have normally relied on services being provided in school, and that would be the same with respect to food for those vulnerable families. We were also able to provide some virtual mechanisms for families to be able to access supports. That included laptop technologies, for instance, or anything that they required, including connectivity supports. Those are concrete examples of what we've been able to do during COVID-19.

In terms of challenges, I would just say that the volume continues to increase. We had a 150% increase in the number of requests approved between 2018-19 and 2019-20, and we are going to continue to see that increase. I think that supporting first nations communities and organizations to really be able to lead the way in terms of addressing more systematically gaps that children are confronted with would be a sustainable approach going forward.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you, Valerie.

Minister Miller, during COVID, mental health has been something that we've heard a lot about in Canada. We've seen that the most successful models are where the first intervention is done by indigenous people themselves, often in indigenous languages, through social media or phone calls, instead of law enforcement.

With the recent deaths of indigenous Canadians in New Brunswick, I'm wondering if the minister can speak about how our government is making mental health a priority and about what supports our government is providing to ensure that indigenous models of intervention are being utilized.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

Jaime, this is something that we've seen throughout the pandemic: the increased demand for mental wellness support with the corresponding stress, anxiety and fear that COVID has created. As you know, the solutions that are best led are those within community. As we look at past weeks and question whether police really should be doing a number of these interventions that turn on mental health situations, it's obvious and it jumps out that work needs to be done to ensure, in short order, that these supports are provided even more so than they are today.

I'll give you some of the examples that we've seen from our perspective in supporting mental wellness. There's been an increase of 52 community-led wellness teams since 2015, 63 across Canada. The great example that we have is the great work being done by Nishnawbe Aski Nation's choose life initiative, which is benefiting upward of 22,000 high-risk youth and children. There are the implementation of the 24-7 Hope for Wellness Helpline and ITK's national suicide prevention strategy that I mentioned earlier.

These are all elements in a broader implementation of wellness supports that we need to continue working on. We see that in terms of budgetary pressure, but again, behind that are people who need the support, particularly during COVID-19.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks, Minister.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you, Minister.

Thank you very much, Chair.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you, Mr. Battiste.

We now go to Mr. Vidal for five minutes.

Please go ahead.

June 16th, 2020 / 6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I as well want to thank you, ministers and all officials appearing at committee today. I know your time is valuable and you're busy.

I firmly believe that one of the primary functions of a member of Parliament is to provide financial oversight. Scrutinizing government spending has become very difficult under the circumstances. In fact, this morning the Parliamentary Budget Officer issued a report in which he raised many flags about the government's lack of transparency and accountability, and identified how difficult it was for parliamentarians to do their job in light of the current conditions. I want to make the best use of the time we have today, and again, I do thank you for being here.

My first question is for Minister Miller. Minister, Saskatchewan is currently in its third phase of reopening, and in fact, this morning, announced the date for phase four of its opening.

The government started announcing measures to help Canadian businesses way back in March, but unfortunately, many indigenous businesses, indigenous financial institutions and urban indigenous organizations were left out of those original announcements.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with the general manager of a community futures organization that also acts as an AFI in northern Saskatchewan. Because of that, many of the businesses he serves are indigenous businesses. He indicated to me that he finally received his community futures funds last Thursday, and only this week will he be able to actually disburse the funds to those businesses that truly need this help.

Can you identify for me why it took so long for the funding to actually reach these businesses after the announcement on April 17?

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

Before answering, I want to highlight the excellent work you've done in communicating with our office as to some of the things you're seeing in northern areas of Saskatchewan. You have done excellent work with our teams in supporting all the work that has been done in La Loche, which is an extremely concerning situation.

On your question—and it's an extremely important question—we've been rolling out measures and programs in record times. The last thing we wanted to do was leave indigenous communities behind, and that includes in terms of business support. These are things that ordinarily would go through a very long process. As you recognized, they've been compressed into a very, very tight time frame.

The importance for us, when announcing things, was to ensure that potential recipients knew they had the backing of the Government of Canada. We announced $306 million of specific indigenous funding, knowing that indigenous businesses were best served through the 59 AFIs across the country. As well, last week we announced an additional $117 million specifically in loans, and those that would be, for the most part, forgivable, to ensure there was that support in place.

The timing of these things can always be scrutinized. Again, this is something that this committee plays a key role in doing, and Parliament plays a key role in doing. In terms of timing and the ability of government to move on a dime, I'm quite proud of the work we've done.

I can speak to a specific situation that you're highlighting, and I absolutely would like to look at that with my team.

Communities know that the Government of Canada has backed them financially and will continue to do so as we chart the path of COVID-19, which most experts still don't have the capacity to fully predict. We do have to acknowledge that uncertainty as we take measures in a very precipitous fashion.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you for that, Minister.

I would just comment that, from many of the people I've talked to, it seems that some of the support for indigenous businesses came almost as an afterthought and wasn't part of the original consultation. That's just some criticism I'm hearing from people on the ground. I pass that on.

I'm going to move on to my second question, also for Minister Miller. As you're well aware, northern Saskatchewan is home to many friendship centres that offer essential programs to urban indigenous people. In March, the government announced the application-based program for urban indigenous organizations to receive funding, which you referred to in your comments today.

The concern I heard from friendship centres was that it was weeks before they heard from the government, and then they received a small fraction of what they'd asked for. On May 21, you did announce some additional funding for urban indigenous organizations, but again, I'm hearing from these people on the ground, who could potentially be recipients and who have great work to do, but they've heard nothing from the government since the announcement. There's no idea of the timing or the outcome of this.

Can you clarify for us and for these organizations when they might actually get answers and when they might see some of this additional funding to support the urban indigenous people in their communities?

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You have less than 10 seconds. I'm sorry.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

Gary, this is very important. We made this $15-million commitment in an area of jurisdiction that is shared among municipalities, provinces and the federal government, and we realized quite quickly that the federal government had to step up, so in addition to the $15 million we announced an additional $75 million going into urban indigenous centres, serving people who need to be served by all members in all jurisdictions, provinces and territories.

It is a gap that we have tried to fill as quickly as possible. It doesn't necessarily fall under the mandate of Indigenous Services Canada, but it is something we have to reflect on. It hasn't prevented us from moving, and it hasn't prevented us from investing. If you have a particular case that you would like to address, I would be glad to get back to you. We will be deploying—

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We are way over time. We need to move on. I'm sorry, Minister.

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

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Before I start, I would like to acknowledge that I'm on the sacred territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Huron-Wendat and many first nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

My questions will focus on youth.

Minister Miller, we know that when indigenous communities and indigenous nations move toward self-governance and self-determination, they have better outcomes across the board, whether that's in health, education or other ways, but part of this involves supporting effective community governance in first nations. How will the $24 million allocated to the band support program in these supplementary estimates help these first nations move toward self-determination and better outcomes for kids?

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

When we speak about self-determination, the tendency in government is to speak in broad, almost philosophical brush strokes. We speak of the critical importance of UNDRIP, but you brought it to its core, and I spoke earlier to it when I addressed issues on Jordan's principle.

When you talk about building nationhood, you speak about a number of pillars: security and control over land, over people, the ability to have control over your health care and your education. Those are the pillars you look at as part of nation building, on the terms told to us by the indigenous people who are renewing that nation-to-nation relationship with us.

Kids go to the heart of that painful realization. When we talk about reforming child and family services, we talk about care, control and custody over things that somebody like me would take for granted, which has been taken away from indigenous peoples. It is a difficult topic for all of us to speak about, but most certainly for indigenous peoples.

Making sure that families have the supports they need, making sure that within government and its process, which you alluded to, we continue to support self-determination and continue to support the governance tables that Minister Bennett is in charge of, is so important in being able to speak to issues that I take, with respect to government, as granted, which are looked at in a different perspective in an indigenous community.

Indigenous children are an immensely growing part of the population, and it is a generation that cannot be left behind, but I don't dictate those terms. The terms need to be told to me, to us, and we need to work in partnership. Perhaps sometimes it makes things slower and more difficult, but it is the right way to proceed.

I want to conclude by thanking you for that important question.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Mr. Chair, do I have a few minutes left?

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You have two minutes.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thank you.

You took the second half of my question out of my mouth, with respect to what National Chief Bellegarde has said in this committee, and many times elsewhere as well, about the growing population of youth in indigenous communities across the country. I hope to focus on them, because they are the future of Canada and their success is so vital to everybody's health and well-being across the country.

How do we do more by doing less? How do we support people by stepping back and ensuring the programs they develop are culturally relevant and important to them? How do we ensure self-determination and self-governance while taking more of a supportive role or a background role? What does that look like?

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal Toronto—St. Paul's, ON

The example we use all the time is from Eskasoni, where 20 years ago, when they took control over their own education system, 20% of the kids were finishing high school. Now it's above the national average, in the 90% range.

We know that's what works. When they have the culture and the language part of the secure personal cultural identity, these kids do better. That is the future.