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

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I call the meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number 17 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

I would like to start by acknowledging that I am joining you today from the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabe and Chonnonton nations.

Pursuant to the motion adopted on June 9, 2020, the committee is meeting for the purpose of receiving evidence on the subject matter of the supplementary estimates (A), 2020-21.

Today's meeting is taking place by video conference. The proceedings will be made available by the House of Commons website. During this meeting, the webcast will alway show the person speaking rather than the whole committee.

In order to facilitate the work of our interpreters and ensure an orderly meeting, interpretation in this video conference is like that in a regular committee meeting. Choose, on the bottom of your screen, floor, English or French.

If you are speaking in English, please ensure you are on the English channel. If you are speaking in French, please ensure you are on the French channel. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, switch the interpretation channel so that it aligns with the language you are speaking.

Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name, and when you are ready to speak, you can either click on the microphone icon or you can hold down the space bar, as I'm doing now, while you are speaking. When you release the bar, the mike mutes.

I remind everyone that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair. Should any members request the floor outside of their designated time, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order. If a member wishes to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the “raise hand” function.

When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute. If technical issues arise in relation to interpretation, or if you are accidentally disconnected, advise me or the clerk, and the technical team will work to resolve it. We may need to suspend as we need to ensure all members are able to participate fully.

Click on the top right-hand corner of the screen to ensure you are on gallery view.

In this meeting, we will follow the same rules that usually apply to opening statements and the rounds for questioning of witnesses. Each witness will have up to five minutes for their opening statement, followed by the usual rounds of questions from members.

Now it's time to get to our witnesses: the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations; the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services; and the Honourable Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs.

Minister Miller, I was informed that you will be starting. Please go ahead for five minutes.

June 16th, 2020 / 5:15 p.m.

Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs Québec

Liberal

Marc Miller LiberalMinister of Indigenous Services

Thank you, Chair.

As I am in Ottawa, I do want to acknowledge my presence today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

Kwe, good afternoon, bonjour.

Before I begin, I would like to say a few words on the current social climate. Right now, we are in a moment when Canadians are recognizing that there's unfairness built into our systems and that these systems have always been unfair towards indigenous peoples.

I look to my colleagues on this committee among others and across government to reflect and question ourselves on why injustice towards indigenous peoples still happens and how we can move forward in the short, medium and long term.

This is obvious. We need to ensure that there is accountability and that policing services are committed to ensuring that they are always worthy of the trust we put in them. Indigenous peoples and their communities are entitled to the best, and the best there is of the RCMP.

We need to constantly question and reflect on the issues of systemic racism in institutions, particularly those that hold exceptional powers, ones, at times, of life and death. The exceptional powers exercised by police services across Canada come with correspondingly exceptional responsibilities. We must keep fighting to remove systemic racism from these institutions, institutions that are meant to serve everyone living in this country equally and fairly.

With that, I welcome the opportunity to provide you with an update on our continuing effort to confront the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and to answer your questions on supplementary estimates (A).

As of June 15, Indigenous Services Canada is aware of 247 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in first nations communities on reserves. Of these, 208 individuals are considered to have recovered. In terms of Inuit in Nunavik, all of the 16 cases reported have recovered.

Our commitment to supporting communities in their response to COVID-19 has never wavered. That is why our 2020-21 supplementary estimates (A) reflect a net increase of $1.7 billion. This was essential to address the needs of indigenous peoples during this global crisis. These supplementary estimates include $950.5 million of statutory funding, mostly related to the COVID-19 response measures, in addition to new funding support for key programs such as Jordan's principle and child and family services.

To date, the Government of Canada has made roughly $1.5 billion in distinctions-based funding available to indigenous peoples and northern communities to support their efforts to successfully battle COVID-19. Specifically, these estimates contain more than $280 million to support Indigenous Services Canada's health response in first nations and Inuit communities. This is essential funding that will help to provide first nations and Inuit communities with additional health care providers; personal protective equipment; health infrastructure, specifically retooling existing community spaces or purchasing mobile structures to support isolation, screening and/or accommodations; and community-level infection prevention and control measures that are essential.

In addition to this, these estimates also reflect $305 million for the distinctions-based indigenous community support fund. Of this amount, $215 million was dedicated to first nations, $45 million to Inuit, and $30 million to Métis nation communities, plus $15 million in proposals-based funding for first nations off reserve and urban indigenous organizations and communities.

An additional $75 million was also sought for organizations supporting first nations individuals off reserve and Inuit and Métis living in urban areas, as well as $10 million in funding for emergency family violence prevention shelters on reserve and in Yukon.

As part of our COVID-19 response, we are also providing $260 million to respond to financial pressures on income assistance.

Outside of funding to support our COVID-19 response, these supplementary estimates also include $232 million to support the ongoing implementation of Jordan's principle, and $468.2 million to support the ongoing delivery of the first nations child and family services program. These investments demonstrate the government's ongoing commitment to fully implementing the orders of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

This investment more than doubles the program's budget, bringing it to nearly $1.7 billion. Funding will be used to ensure that first nations children and families are getting the services they need.

You'll note that we have also made a few other announcements recently. These items will be reflected in future supplementary estimates. These include $75.2 million in new investments to support first nations, Inuit and Métis nations post-secondary recent graduates impacted by the pandemic, and $440 million in funding in support of indigenous businesses and the indigenous tourism industry in response to the hardships created by COVID-19.

I will close by saying that we are committed to responding to the needs of first nations, Inuit and Métis and to stopping the spread of COVID-19. We're committed to getting more nurses, paramedics, nursing stations and health centres to help those who need it most.

I want to take a moment, as I close, to thank all health care professionals working in indigenous communities for their continued dedication and determination to ensure that quality and culturally appropriate care, testing and treatment are provided during this pandemic.

I want to thank members for this opportunity to meet with you today, albeit virtually.

Again, I am happy to answer any and all questions.

Meegwetch. Nakurmiik. Merci.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you, Minister.

Now we go to the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

You have five minutes, Minister Bennett.

5:35 p.m.

Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I am joining you today from my home in Toronto, on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. I would also like to recognize the traditional territories from which all of you are participating.

I am pleased to be here today to speak to the supplementary estimates (A) for Crown-Indigenous Relations.

Officials from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs are also online to help respond to your questions, led by our deputy minister, Daniel Lee Quan-Watson.

This has been an emotional time. We have all been upset by the images on our screens and the undeniable evidence of systemic racism in Canada. It is the basis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and the over-incarceration of first nations, Inuit and Métis.

I know that everyone on this committee wants to ensure that Canada is investing in making amends for the past and in putting in place the concrete actions to make real change.

The estimates for CIRNA include key initiatives and new funding totalling approximately $748.7 million for Crown-Indigenous Relations.

This funding will ensure that we can continue the concrete work to renew the relationship between Canada and first nations, Inuit and the Métis nation, to support their visions of self-determination and to advance reconciliation.

The estimates re-profile $481.2 million for the Federal Indian Day Schools Settlement Agreement and $260 million in sixties scoop funding to ensure sufficient funds are available for individual compensation and to support ongoing administration costs of the settlements. In both cases, the re-profiled funds will ensure that there is no funding shortfall and that Canada can promptly make payments to survivors.

As you know, the McLean implementation date was delayed as a result of several court appeals.

The sum of $500 million has already been transferred to the sixties scoop claims administrator, and the transfer of an additional $250 million of compensation will be determined once the total number of eligible claims is known. Eligible class members have now already started receiving partial payments of $21,000 each.

The estimates also request $6 million to support the co-development of a national action plan in response to the issues identified in the final report and the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Our hearts are with the families of the missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit and gender-diverse people and the survivors. Our government, indigenous leaders, survivors, families and provincial and territorial governments are working hard to co-develop the national action plan that will set a clear road map to ensure that indigenous women and girls and two-spirit+ people can be safe wherever they live.

We will not let the families and survivors down. We have already put in place concrete actions to end this national tragedy as documented on my department's website. We are grateful for all the work of all of our partners towards a national action plan. As you know, prior to COVID-19, work to develop the plan was well under way, and indigenous women's organizations had received funding to engage their communities.

The funding in the estimates will further support national and regional indigenous organizations and groups to engage with their members, and families to engage in ensuring that the national action plan is accountable.

As we have seen with COVID-19, better data is essential in being able to assess results. We are working to determine the appropriate indicators and reporting by partners to ensure an effective plan. This money that is in the supplementary estimates today will ensure that we will be able to measure, adapt, measure, adapt for the next five years.

We cannot let the families and survivors down. We promised concrete actions to stop this national tragedy. We owe it to them to be accountable for the results.

I look forward to your questions.

Thank you, merci, meegwetch.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much, Minister.

Now for our third presentation, we have the Minister of Northern Affairs, the Honourable Dan Vandal.

Minister Vandal.

5:35 p.m.

Saint Boniface—Saint Vital Manitoba

Liberal

Dan Vandal LiberalMinister of Northern Affairs

Kwe. Hadlookut. Tansi. Greetings and bonjour.

I want to acknowledge that I'm speaking to you from my office in Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, Treaty 1 territory as well as the traditional homeland of the Métis Nation, and a city that is now home to many Inuit.

I'm happy to be here today with Minister Miller and Minister Bennett to clarify and contextualize the actions the Government of Canada has taken and continues to take to assist indigenous nations and all northerners during this COVID-19 pandemic. I also thank you for this opportunity to discuss the important work Northern Affairs is doing to confront and mitigate the situation in regard to COVID in the north.

I'd like to take the time to thank the public service for their adaptability and professionalism. They have been working under very difficult circumstances these last few months in their commitment to serving Canadians.

We recognize that many Canadians are facing financial hardships, and they are concerned for their health, their jobs and their families. This is especially true in Canada's north, but there are exceptional challenges in meeting the unique needs of northerners in this pandemic.

The supports I will speak to today augment ongoing funding and programs to help those living in remote and northern communities.

These estimates include key initiatives and new funding totalling approximately $879.5 million. Of that amount, $130.8 million is for Northern Affairs. This includes $15.9 million in vote 10 grants and contributions for the north, of which $10 million is to support research and higher education in Canada's north, and $6 million is to support planning activities led by the Government of Northwest Territories for the proposed Taltson hydroelectricity expansion project.

In response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, we have committed to additional investments and expanded measures and support for the north, which are included in these supplementary estimates. Our government's objective is to provide needed support to address the concerns facing the north, including support for health and social services and nutrition, as well as air transport. This is based on critical priorities identified by the territories in order to prepare for and respond to the pandemic and to avoid the spread of the virus.

We also recognize the increased costs of many essential goods in the north. Families are facing increased financial pressures and should not be worried about how to pay for nutritious food or essential household items. That's why we have committed up to $25 million to support enhancements to Nutrition North Canada, further safeguarding food security for people living in the north.

This funding will help ensure that Nutrition North Canada fulfills its mandate to improve access to healthy foods through nutritional education and subsidies. By doing so, we will help to alleviate the costs of food in isolated communities. We have seen recently what this means on the ground in cutting the cost of flour in half and making milk more affordable so that people can afford a four-litre bag rather than the one litre that they may have previously purchased. This support is in addition to the harvesters grant, which was developed in direct collaboration with indigenous partners. This grant is helping northerners access traditional foods by lowering the cost of getting out on the land.

We have invested up to $72.6 million to address urgent health care and social service needs in the territories in response to COVID and, as you know, airlines are a critical link in maintaining the supply chain for the movement of essential goods and services. That's why we have provided up to $17.3 million to enable the continuation of northern air services supporting essential resupply and medical services in the north. We recognize the essential role that a focused and reliable air network plays in enabling the movement of essential goods and services in response to the pandemic.

Funding has been disbursed already for the urgent healthcare and social support needs in the territories in response to COVID-19 and to enable the continuation of northern air services supporting essential resupply and medical services in the north.

We continue to work closely with indigenous partners as well as provincial and territorial governments to ensure that northerners get through this difficult time.

I want to thank you again for this opportunity to be here today. I look forward to your questions.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much to all of our ministers.

Now we go to our questions. The first round is six minutes, and I have Bob Zimmer, Adam van Koeverden, Sylvie Bérubé and Mumilaaq Qaqqaq.

Bob Zimmer, go ahead, please, for six minutes.

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is to Minister Vandal. It's great to have you at committee today.

It was well over two months ago that the Yukon and Northwest Territories and Nunavut chambers of mines wrote to you, raising the issue of how non-revenue-generating businesses like the north's mineral exploration industry are ineligible for the Canada emergency wage subsidy. As you know, Canada's mineral industry raises billions of dollars in revenue to explore...and yet due to the government's definition of revenue for the Canada emergency wage subsidy, these businesses are still unable to access this program.

Does the government plan on changing the definition of “revenue” for the Canada emergency wage subsidy to ensure that our north's vital mineral exploration industry does not get left behind?

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

We recognize that mining is the economic backbone of northern communities, and we support mining industry workers and their families. Mining produces more than $3 billion in minerals annually and more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. We are working hard to respond to the challenges posed by this pandemic. Emergency response payments, wage assistance and small business relief are flowing to meet the critical needs of those who require it.

I had a good meeting with the chamber of mines about a month ago. I'm working closely with the Minister of Natural Resources towards this issue. I look forward to coming back with help that will be tangible and will be of aid to the mining industry.

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you for that, Minister.

I know it's urgent. Coming from the mouths of the chambers themselves, they said that short of tourism, mining is the industry and they really need help.

I want to ask you about a specific line item in the estimates. It's on page 2-20, and it's “Contributions for promoting the safe use, development, conservation and protection of the North's natural resources, and promoting scientific development for Indigenous Peoples and the North”. The estimate to date is $147 million and the supplementary estimate is another $6.6 million on top of that, so the revised and total estimate is $153,792,914.

With that kind of money, Minister, we're wanting to know where that is going and what that's being spent on.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

That's an excellent question.

I will turn to the DM to clarify that question for Mr. Zimmer.

5:35 p.m.

Daniel Quan-Watson Deputy Minister, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

I believe that piece is not actually in the supplementary estimates today, but in the mains, if I understood the question correctly. I'll get the ADM for northern affairs—

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

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

It's in the supplementary estimates. It's on page 2-20.

5:35 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Daniel Quan-Watson

Okay. Sorry about that.

I'll turn very quickly to the assistant deputy minister for northern affairs who works directly with that, rather than taking up more time myself.

5:35 p.m.

Serge Beaudoin Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs Organization, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

I wonder if our chief financial officer would have the details of that in front of her. I don't have that figure in front of me.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

If I could get that after committee, that would be much appreciated. Certainly that's a lot of money, and I'm curious to know where that's being spent.

5:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Daniel Quan-Watson

Absolutely. We will do that right away. Sorry about that.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

Here is my third question. Airlines are a key service in the north, carrying essential goods, services, medical supplies and personnel to remote communities.

Is the government planning to reduce the costs related to fuel excise taxes as recommended by the Northern Air Transport Association? What about other related fees, like airport landing fees? Are any steps going to be taken by the federal government to assist our northern airlines in reconfiguring aircraft in order to manage the risk of COVID-19 virus?

Minister Vandal?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Yes, that's an excellent question.

I know that in April we announced $17.3 million to support a focused and reliable air network for all three territories and the moving of essential goods, medicines and foods. The funding has been disbursed, with $3.6 million to Yukon, $8.7 million to the Northwest Territories and $5 million to Nunavut. Those consultations are ongoing. I know that the public service is meeting with the industry, as is Minister Garneau, to look at how we can further help the industry. Those decisions have not been made yet, but I know those discussions are ongoing. I agree that it's essential to the north.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

Do you have a timeline for when those answers will be forthcoming? I know that some of these industries are hanging by a thread.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

I don't have a precise timeline, but I would say sooner rather than later.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

What about the mining industry? I know that conversation is ongoing, but as you know, the window for exploration is very narrow. I'm even further north, in British Columbia, and we have a solid four months of what we would actually call summer. I know that further north it's even more limited. When do you expect to have those answers for the mining industry as well?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

I know the conversations are occurring. There's a lot of communication among the different departments of the public service, and I hope those answers will be coming very soon.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thanks very much for attending, Minister. Again, I appreciate your efforts.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Thank you.