Evidence of meeting #2 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 services.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Daniel Watson  Deputy Minister, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs
Jean-François Tremblay  Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services
Serge Beaudoin  Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you.

Mr. Watson, in your address you talked about the Tsilhqot’in decision. One thing I learned over the last four years is that there are a lot of discussion tables. That was a term I wasn't even familiar with before I got here. One concern with the Tsilhqot’in decision is that other operators in the area were left out of the decision-making on that. How does one get involved with these discussion tables and how do we bring ranchers and hunters into those discussion tables?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Give a very brief answer, please.

12:35 p.m.

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

Daniel Watson

Thank you. That's an excellent question.

The conversations go to decisions that have been made, in the past, by the Crown. What we would move to is decisions made not just by the Crown—be it provincial or federal—but by Tsilhqot’in. Certainly, where they have title it's like many other types of private property, so the types of conversations they can have with other parties on private property would be similar there. There are others. The history of understanding the importance of being good neighbours and the importance of interacting well with each other where all the systems are often connected is something that all the parties need to understand and work with.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm sorry, Mr. Viersen, the time's up.

The next speaker will be Ms. Zann for five minutes.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Thank you very much.

We know that when indigenous communities move toward self-governance and self-determination, they have better outcomes across the board. Jaime has talked about education, for instance, and health is the same. Part of this includes developing fiscal relations with communities that will allow them to make their own choices about where to invest. Government has proposed a new, collaborative self-government fiscal policy as a better way to address the needs of self-governing first nations.

My question is this: Can you tell the committee about government's work to establish renewed economic and fiscal relationships with indigenous communities that will ensure that the nations themselves have the fiscal capacity to govern effectively? How is funding allocation determined under this new policy?

Thank you.

12:40 p.m.

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

Daniel Watson

Thank you very much for the question. I suspect my colleague, Mr. Tremblay, particularly appreciates it being directed my way.

One thing that is very different now is that we sat down and talked with those indigenous governments that have been delivering the things we agreed upon for a considerable period of time. We actually looked at the demands that they had, the things that we had agreed to and the financing that was available. It was concluded that there was a significant gap.

These treaties and these agreements aren't things that we simply hand over to somebody else to go and they live on their own in their own life. These are agreements where we all agree that the best way for those citizens to move forward on the issues that are important to them and their community are managed by an indigenous government. We're all interested in that success, just as we are interested in the success of all Canadians. Making sure there was the right amount of funding to do those things and the right ability to have the choices to decide that we needed to invest a bit more here rather than somewhere else—recognizing that each community was a little bit different and the circumstances they faced would vary, not only from community to community, but over time in any given community—was one of the very important pieces.

Another piece that was important, as I mentioned in my remarks, was on the own-source revenue. It turns out that if you go as a government to those who you might raising revenue from and say that you're going to take some money from them, but it will actually achieve nothing at all other than the same amount of funding that was previously available, it doesn't make you very popular in that conversation. It doesn't really incent the desire to develop those revenues and to add to get better programs and services.

To me, that was another important part of that conversation. It incented those governments to actually look at opportunities to develop revenue and to bring those revenues into the services that they were providing and to improve them for everyone.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Thank you.

I would like to share my time with Jaime Battiste.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

On the topic Lenore brought up about self-government agreements, in my riding, 36% of children live in poverty. When you look at the community I'm from, the Eskasoni Mi'kmaq, the rate is 73%. You look at that number and say it's terrible, but to put it in some perspective, there are 17 children in my 10-year-old son's grade 5 class, meaning that only three other children in that class are not living in poverty. Yet, despite this poverty, we have the highest graduation rates. When I look at that, how can the people who have the highest rates of child poverty, the highest rates of unemployment, also have the highest graduation rates?

When I had a chance to talk to Chief Leroy Denny, he said it's simple: It's because the Mi'kmaq control their own education system, whereas social services are controlled by the federal government. What is the federal government doing to give first nations autonomy to create their own self-governing agreements around social assistance so we can see the same improvements when first nations take control of their own educational organizations? What if they took control of all of these things? What strides are we making to make sure that indigenous communities, first nations communities especially, are moving in that direction for things like social services and other areas.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

That takes us right to time. Do you want offer a very brief answer?

12:40 p.m.

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

Daniel Watson

In the agreements that we've set up with many parts of the country with the comprehensive land claims, those authorities are there. They aren't always taken up once they exist in those agreements, but that's been a great interest to many first nations for the very reasons you're talking about.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you.

We go to a two-and-a-half-minute round now.

Ms. Bérubé, go ahead for two and a half minutes.

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Tremblay, I would like to bring you back to the issue of drinking water in Kitigan Zibi. I heard your answer on your department's general plan to resolve drinking water issues in Canada, but, more specifically, when will Kitigan Zibi residents have access to drinking water?

In my riding, in Kitcisakik, there are no sewers or a water system. What can we do? This situation has been ongoing for years.

Earlier, you said there were priorities. You said that it depended on agreements in principle concluded with those communities, but these people must still be provided with what they are entitled to. We are in a civilized country, and these people are really affected by this situation.

February 25th, 2020 / 12:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

Yes. We have made a lot of investments to improve the situation. In some cases, like this one, it is a matter of radon contamination. Radon is a gas found naturally in the soil. It is not really something that comes from pollution. So we have to find alternative solutions. Contamination cannot always be eliminated. These things happen. Similar cases of radioactive contamination and mercury contamination have arisen in some communities.

There is no easy solutions, but there are 634 first nations communities and more than 634 water systems. There are sometimes also wells, just like in many non-indigenous communities. The problem is a complex one. As I said before, we are maintaining a close relationship with the groups to identify priorities, and we are trying to find the fastest and most effective solutions.

We have made tremendous progress, but the work is not done. We are still working on eliminating long-term advisories, as that is probably the most urgent issue. After that, it is a matter of ensuring the sustainability of systems.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

That's our time. I'm sorry. Thank you

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

I just want to add something.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Next is Ms. Qaqqaq.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Mat'na.

I'm wondering whether the department has a role to play in looking at reserves, treaties, or territorial agreements when we have natural resource extraction happening in Nunavut.

Do you have any space at the table in decisions on where mining is going to happen?

12:45 p.m.

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

Daniel Watson

Thank you for the question.

The short answer is that we don't want to have much of a role to play in that, particularly in Nunavut, and we certainly have limited roles in Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

This is actually at the core of the conversations about devolution. Historically, the federal government held virtually all of the authorities for permitting of resource development in the north. As things moved forward, both with land claims and devolution, we got to a point that we had less and less of that responsibility. By the time we've completed the Nunavut devolution, that authority will almost exclusively be with the Government of Nunavut and NTI.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

What about on an international scale, when we're talking about things like the whitecoat ban that sent the sealskin market crashing? That's when we saw a spike in suicide. Now discussions are being held on ivory. For certain countries, but for many Nunavut communities, this means a crash in the market again, and it means yearly income decreasing drastically.

Is there a seat for your department at those kinds of discussions?

12:45 p.m.

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

Thank you for the question.

Most definitely there are discussions internationally with Arctic nations, occurring through the Arctic Council. There's a very vibrant network of the eight nations constituting the Arctic. In particular, there are deep dive discussions on things related to climate change, marine pollution, and those types of things. Those are discussions for which Global Affairs Canada is the lead at the council; however, the department participates in the working groups through a number of fora.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

What do I have left, about 30 seconds?

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

It's 10 seconds, but try.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

I'll try.

For the suicide prevention strategy, I notice that the Indigenous Services speaking notes refer to “regional First Nations”. Once again first nations are being mentioned specifically. Are all groups involved in this suicide prevention strategy, or is it first nations-specific?

12:50 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

We work with Inuit on the Inuit strategy, and there's funding attached to it. I don't have the details here, but I can send them. This was referred to just because it was a recent announcement that we made.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much.

On behalf of the committee I'd like to thank our guests for a very informative and interesting couple of hours. We'll never get all of the questions answered, but we'll keep trying.

Once again, on behalf of the committee, thank you so much for your presentation today.

As a reminder, we need a list of witnesses for the study on food security. That needs to be sent to the clerk today before four o'clock.

The next meeting of the committee will be held on Thursday, February 27, right here in Room 315, when we will hear from officials. The notice for this meeting will go out shortly, and we'll give you the details.

I'm sorry, Ms. Bérubé. Go ahead.