Evidence of meeting #18 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 masks.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Arianne Reza  Assistant Deputy Minister, Procurement, Department of Public Works and Government Services

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You have less than a minute.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

Yes. It's an excellent point that you raise, because in my discussions with Chief Mitsuing, as you noted, at the very beginning of my mandate, he was facing a crisis within his community, and it is not unique, but communities have unique needs, particularly in mental health. The solutions lie within communities.

I think one of the criticisms we heard from the chief was the challenge with having solutions that are sort of flown in, or even when it comes to tribal councils and the supports that they have, which are very good, the increased needs are financial and also homegrown. The ability to do that can only be done within infrastructure solutions that are always undercapitalized.

I think that's something we've got to take away and keep working on. We have, indeed, done great work in ensuring that the capital is there for services, buildings and infrastructure that can house that increasing pressure, in particular on mental health—

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Sorry, that's our time. Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

I can't make a direct commitment, but I'm glad to keep working on it.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Mr. Powlowski, you have six minutes.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Minister, I know that there are a lot of indigenous communities, and your department was trying to help a lot of different communities across Canada rapidly get ready for possible cases of the COVID-19 pandemic. I've been in touch with you about several of these communities, and I'm always really impressed that you seem to know something about, or a lot about, some very small communities. I think that was indicated in your response to Mr. Vidal.

I think this meeting was primarily called in regard to what happened in Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. Could tell us what is being done in order to address the needs of that particular community?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

Yes, and thank you again for your interaction with our department and ensuring that the needs in your riding are met and heard.

We've been working from the get-go at an accelerated rate. Obviously getting ahead of this curve has been the reason indigenous communities have had such optimistic outcomes, because they've been able to predict and communicate, open that line of communication and make sure that procurement is being done in a timely fashion and distributed.

In the case of Mathias Colomb, there were some movable structures that we were looking at essentially as part of a central procurement to deal with surge capacity to have moveable structures that are in great demand for communities that need isolation capacity or more testing capacity, so the company in question proactively released a press release that frankly mis-characterized what was being sent into the community, and the community, rightly so, reacted. Our department apologized for the miscommunication, but it was an issue of communication in coordination with their pandemic plan.

Essentially what Mathias Colomb wanted, which we have funded to the tune of about $400,000, was repurposing of one of their community centres as part of their pandemic plan and not the movable structures that we were proactively sourcing with a view to distributing them into a variety of communities that have those challenges that have been highlighted to the committee. I think essentially that's the crux of it.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I think, from what I've heard, that the community is quite happy with what's ensued after this initial controversy. Am I not right with that?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

I believe so.

You know, the frustration that a number of communities feel existed prior to the pandemic, because we're dealing with socio-economic determinants that make that vulnerability more acute. We're asked to do things in Indigenous Services Canada that we don't have to do in non-indigenous communities, because those conditions don't exist, so that frustration is very real. Ensuring that we communicate and essentially deal the cards that we're dealt and proactively source units for isolation and medical purposes actively, knowing that there has not been an outbreak, is very important.

I think always that the line of communication, making sure local needs are addressed, is important [Technical difficulty—Editor]

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Are you still there?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

—to the community [Technical difficulty—Editor]

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I was chief of staff for a couple of years at Norway House in northern Manitoba. What specifically was being done for the communities in Manitoba in order to prepare them for possible outbreaks in those communities?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

Manitoba first nations have done an exceptional job. We have worked with the regional chief, with Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, to make sure that we are responding to needs—that has been the core of this—and to make sure that they communicate with our regional teams, knowing that we proactively source the surge capacity material and resources, and to be ready to react on a moment's notice. You know, we take nothing for granted. The resourcing and the work that has been done by first nations to have a first nations-led data approach are exemplary across Canada, and so a lot of the credit is, frankly, owed to local leadership. Obviously, there has been some luck—we can't discount that—but they have been proactive and aggressive. It hasn't occurred yet in Manitoba, but those communities across the country that have reacted the best have let, frankly, medical leadership take the front and allow people to communicate so that you have a health response to, really, a health problem.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Chair, is there any time left?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

There's a minute left.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I haven't actually prepared further questions. Is the NDP ready to go?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We have to save that minute, because we have to vote on a budget item before one o'clock.

We'll move on now to Ms. Michaud.

You have six minutes.

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for joining us. I also want to thank the minister for making the effort to respond in French. I'm very grateful to her for this.

I want to address the motion that we're debating today.

Mr. Miller, you didn't get the opportunity to read your opening remarks, but I read them. You admit that your government made a mistake when it failed to share information about the procurement process with community leaders. Mr. Powlowski just discussed this issue.

I want to give you the chance to briefly explain how the process works and why the information wasn't shared with community leaders.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

Ms. Michaud, I want to start by saying that I'm pleased to be speaking in French, especially since I'm currently in Montreal.

To some extent, what happened was the result of the nature of the beast, if I may say so. We had to deal with a very unpredictable and historic pandemic. We had to take action and be proactive in order to source very expensive products and structures. We needed to develop a plan to deal with the epidemic. The plan wasn't supposed to concern just one province, but the entire country.

Indigenous Services Canada assesses all potential outbreaks and vulnerabilities, such as the remoteness or overcrowding of a community. The important thing was to be proactive.

There's considerable demand for movable structures designed to address overcrowding in some communities, for example.

In the case of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, there was an agreement to send movable structures to the community. However, the community didn't want them. Instead, according to its pandemic plan, the community wanted to resupply and restructure its community centre. We did this with a $400,000 investment. There was a misunderstanding regarding the press release because the company issued the release hastily. The misunderstanding concerned when things would be done and the nature of what would be developed for the community.

Our department apologized to the community. We're continuing to proactively communicate with its members to ensure that the community can meet all its resupply needs.

When we act urgently, we may make mistakes. We must learn from them.

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you.

My next question is for Ms. Anand. It concerns the COVID-19 supply council.

The first news release stated that the group provided advice to the government on the procurement of critical goods and services. Later, when you appeared before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, you said that the council had no role in procurement.

I want to clarify the situation. What's the role of the COVID-19 supply council?

12:30 p.m.

Oakville Ontario

Liberal

Anita Anand LiberalMinister of Public Services and Procurement

Thank you for the question.

I'm pleased to be here today.

Today I would like to that say I'm speaking to you from the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples from Oakville, Ontario.

With regard to your question, the council was established to provide advice on the federal government's work. The initiative seeks to ensure access to personal protective equipment and medical supplies in the context of the pandemic. Council members don't have a role in government procurement.

We've held only two meetings. During these meetings, we discussed a number of things.

One was the supply hub, which is a list of resources for purchasers and sellers on the Government of Canada's website.

The council doesn't have a role in contracts or discussions regarding contracts.

The things that we discussed today are on our website.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much. That brings us to time.

Ms. Ashton, you are next. You have six minutes.

June 19th, 2020 / 12:30 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'm pleased we're having this meeting today as a result of the work of my colleague, MP Qaqqaq.

It is a very important meeting, and we need to get answers. Pukatawagan deserves answers.

Pukatawagan, or Mathias Colomb, is a remote first nation here in northern Manitoba. It has done everything in its power to keep its community safe, like many other first nations. In the midst of all of this, through the CBC news, Pukatawagan found out that a company n Newfoundland was making specialized tents for them that they never asked for. Imagine that.

Then they went on to find out, and we all went on to find out, that the chair of the board of the company that made these tents is a former Liberal cabinet minister on the government supply council for COVID-19, so the plot thickens.

The reality is that the excuse that ISC, Indigenous Services Canada, was trying to be proactive doesn't stand up to the test. Pukatawagan deserves answers. How is it that these tents were destined for this first nation when nobody asked for them?

Minister Miller, who in your department made this request on behalf of Pukatawagan? Why was it Pukatawagan and no other first nation, including other remote first nations here in Manitoba or elsewhere?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

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

I believe my office has sent you the answer from our department.

We need to understand how surge capacity resourcing works, and as part of that we need to profile and model vulnerable communities. As you have highlighted and as the community has highlighted to our team, it is part of a number of vulnerable communities across Canada that have those vulnerabilities for unacceptable reasons.

As part of that, we need to establish procurement models and resources on a Canada-wide level. Mathias Colomb was named as part of a greater model in trying to understand what the needs would be, not only for the first wave but for a second or third wave. As you've heard in prior testimony but as I'm glad to reiterate, the press release from the company that was selected to provide these units was a little hasty and mischaracterized what these very important units are for, and as a result, the community was surprised.

That is not right, and I'll concede that. They had this pandemic—

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

If I can stop you there, you're not answering the questions, Mr. Miller.

Your letter in response to our letter did not provide any answers. You referenced first nations and leaders. You referenced.... There were generalities.

The reality is that here in our constituency, there are 21 remote first nations. Pukatawagan is one of them. Why was it Pukatawagan and no other community? Pukatawagan and all communities in our region deserve exact answers. Who made these requests from your department? I'm not interested in explanations about what surge capacity is. I understand. The reality is that Pukatawagan was singled out and, frankly, was used.

Could you please answer me this? Your government, after all of this scandal came out, finally confirmed and agreed to spending $449,460 to upgrade the youth centre in Pukatawagan as a way of having the community prepared for COVID-19. However, your government preferred to spend almost double that amount, $766,140.34, on these tents that nobody asked for, from a company that is chaired by a former Liberal cabinet minister.

How is it acceptable that your government benefited a Liberal and only then committed a mere half of the money to a community that's desperate to have the proper infrastructure in place? Does it take a scandal to get even half of the money that your government is committing to live up to the urgent needs of first nations?