Evidence of meeting #3 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 communities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Serge Beaudoin  Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs
Tom Wong  Chief Medical Officer and Director General, Office of Population and Public Health, Department of Indigenous Services
Wayne Walsh  Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

We're going to switch because they went first, if that's all right. We ended up switching the first slot.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Go ahead.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, gentlemen, for all showing up today and presenting your information to us.

I had the privilege last weekend of being in northern Ontario, in Treaty No. 3 territory, and meeting with some folks out there. In a follow-up to that, this week I got a letter from one of the chiefs of the first nations out there. He talks about the nutrition north program. In general, it's just not meeting the needs in their area. He said it's not measuring up. I'm going to try to summarize quickly.

As an alternative solution, he's requesting:

...consideration to defer a portion of the allocated NNC budget to projects that empower us to grow our fresh produce locally. We firmly believe that we can create partnerships with organizations that have developed successful technologies utilizing controlled environment agriculture units.

He goes on to define that.

Finally he closes with the following:

In closing, the opportunity to harness these technologies will create greater self-sustainability for our communities and less reliance on government intervention programming. The year-round endeavour will feed our people and create employment and economic stimuli.

In your response to my colleague Mr. Zimmer before, you talked about the CanNor program and it providing some funding to, if I grasped it rightly, this kind of endeavour. We quickly looked on their website and saw that money has been invested in the Northwest Territories to this point, if I'm not mistaken.

Is there opportunity in some of the northern provinces for that type of innovative solution to the food security challenges?

12:05 p.m.

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

Serge Beaudoin

You're right. CanNor would apply mostly to north of 60, so the territories. That's the focus of their program for the most part.

If you want to share the letter, we could commit to reaching out to the chief to see what other federal programming, for instance through our colleagues at Agriculture Canada, is available. There may be things available for this food innovation type of programming. We could get in touch with him and see what kind of programming is available in the spirit of trying to facilitate access to information on these things.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you.

His direct ask is the ability to defer some of the money. I'm assuming that wouldn't fall within the parameters of the nutrition north program. I guess that's the program he sees on the ground and that's why he's asking the question, I would believe.

February 27th, 2020 / 12:05 p.m.

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

Serge Beaudoin

Yes, okay.

The program terms and conditions are set. What we do is meet with an indigenous working group, for instance, to get feedback from them as to what's relevant and try to make the necessary adjustments within the programming. I think what he's talking about is a more major overhaul about shifting part of the resources.

Now, the whole idea of having CanNor receive funding for innovation-type programs was to address those types of things. I think there is such programming south of 60.

I don't know, Wayne, if you know more about that.

12:05 p.m.

Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Wayne Walsh

I think the outreach to Ag Canada and other departments would be the most appropriate at this point. In our engagements, we're always looking for innovations to address food security. If the chief or other regional partners have some ideas, we're always interested in looking at them for sure.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

I'm going to drill a little further now on a more local level.

I have a list of all the communities that qualify for nutrition north by province and territory or whatever. In my own riding in northern Saskatchewan, there are five of these communities that would qualify for the nutrition north program. One of the huge challenges.... One of the witnesses that we suggested was the airline company that serves all of these communities.

Has there ever been any kind of exploration of partnering with some of those service providers in, say, northern Saskatchewan? There's one specific airline company that is responsible for probably a great part of that additional cost to these fly-in communities.

Have you ever considered partnering with the industry people at all to reduce some of those costs, or is it all just through the nutrition north program?

12:10 p.m.

Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Wayne Walsh

The old food mail program was a transportation subsidy. When we changed the program to nutrition north, we made it a retail subsidy. One rationale for that was to allow the retailers the greatest flexibility to negotiate their own transportation costs. That's how the program was designed.

Certainly, whether it's The North West Company or Arctic Co-operatives, they have all the flexibility to then negotiate their supply chain system, whether it's airlines or whatever, and the sealifts. We have partnered up with the retailers in that regard.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

I think my colleague from the Bloc already asked the question, but the 2014 Auditor General's report that challenged the actual passing on of the....

The follow-up I would make is that in so many of these communities this is happening, and there's only one retailer. The assurance that those subsidies are being passed on is really critical in the sense that there's no competition to manage that. Is that a fair conclusion from my perspective? Perhaps you could quickly comment on how to address that.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You have 10 seconds.

12:10 p.m.

Director General, Northern Strategic Policy Branch, Northern Affairs, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Wayne Walsh

That's a fair point.

One of the challenges we have is the on-the-ground perception that retailers aren't passing it on.

We did respond to the Auditor General's report in 2014 with a number of initiatives, including point of sale and the audits. It's something that's ongoing, and it's something that we really need to focus on in terms of the education on the program and the marketing of the program. That's something that we're doing on a constant basis.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks very much.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

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

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair, for clarity on the last motion that was brought up and passed. My apologies to everybody on the committee.

We understood it was supposed to be six meetings dedicated to that. I don't know if that was discussed as part of the motion; I don't think it was. I just wanted to clarify whether that was the case. It doesn't need to be dealt with right now, Mr. Chair, but perhaps some clarity could be provided that it is, indeed, the case.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I suggest we finish our business here and then go into it, further define it and discuss it at that time. Is that okay?

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

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

Yes.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Mr. van Koeverden, you have five minutes.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll start by thanking all of you for being with us here today to share your insights with us. I know I speak for my colleagues when I say that your answers include valuable perspective, certainly more than worthy of our collective dedicated attention.

My question relates to the diversity and the complexity of some of these challenges and the commensurate diversity of solutions in the north. I've had the opportunity to travel only a little to Inuit Nunangat, but I do know the differences in the challenges between Nunavik, Nunavut, Inuvialuit and Nunatsiavut. They are as different as they are far apart, and that's just in Inuit Nunangat. We're also talking about communities that aren't in those four regions.

I've heard some recommendations that could potentially serve to benefit one community here or there, such as Amazon for Iqaluit, the only community that has that ability to order things online. I do recall that article, though. An Amazon Prime account costs $80 a year and it's only available for that one community, and there are all sorts of other challenges. Certainly, it looks like a model that could be expanded upon or maybe subsidized further.

Pointing to the individual solutions, such as a greenhouse in a community with an adequate growing season, or non-reliance on diesel energy, or even soil in which to grow food, they seem a bit, for lack of a better term, “piecemeal” when we're talking about thousands of people in hundreds of communities.

My question focuses a little more on programs that could help enhance the traditional knowledge base with respect to hunting and gathering and the country foods. I was really heartened to see that there's a harvesters support grant. The people I've talked to do elaborate on some of the lost traditional knowledge base. People often say, “Those people in the north, they've lived there for thousands of years; how did they feed themselves then?”, irrespective of the fact that generations of colonialism have totally destroyed that knowledge base. It's not discussed enough that the killing of all the dogs in our generation had a devastating impact on the hunting knowledge base of the north.

If you could elaborate a little, I would like to know how we can help restore some of that knowledge base. I've witnessed elders and children collaborating and talking about hunting, encouraging that knowledge base being incorporated into local curricula, as my colleague Jaime has discussed. When communities can control their curriculum, they often have higher success rates.

As a side note, I'm just going to ask one question and I'll allow you to take the floor after. I have a lot on my mind.

In Halton, which is a community that doesn't suffer from any type of food security commensurate with that in the north, there are kids who go to school hungry. Dr. Wong, you identified the difficulty that a child has when going to school hungry. My colleague Jaime asked about food programs that directly fund, subsidize or support kids in school so that every child or person who goes to school can receive a healthy breakfast and lunch. It's helped kids in Halton, who have a very different relationship with food and food insecurity.

I also know that partners such as the guardians, the Rangers and other programs that bring elders and youth together to restore some of that knowledge base that has been lost through colonialism have helped. It's reconciliation and it's an opportunity to regain some of that lost knowledge base.

I know that's a long, meandering question, but could you speak to the value of a school food program, an enhanced harvesters support grant to restore some of the knowledge base, and the diversity of the problems and the commensurate diversity of potential solutions all across the north, given that we can't use a one-size-fits-all approach or try to fit a round peg into a square hole?

Thank you.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You have 45 seconds.

12:15 p.m.

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

Serge Beaudoin

It's obviously a complex issue with many facets to it.

I'll just say, I was in Resolute last weekend, and I was heartened to meet a young Inuit man, 19 years of age, who had been taught by his family traditional ways of hunting. He was a hunter of polar bears and of beluga whales, and he was showing us how that had been passed on to him. He was wearing sealskin pants, and when I asked him about that, he said he had learned that in school. I was heartened to see that in the curriculum there, they were adapting these traditional ways, so that when he's out on the land, he's wearing something that he's made himself. He is a very resourceful, resilient young man who will be going to the Arctic Winter Games, because he also runs sled dogs and had built his own sled.

Those are things that are happening in the community without additional efforts from us. It's the space of traditions being passed on.

You talked about colonialism. If we step back and let traditional ways set in, that's what you get. I think that's a good solution.

I walked over—

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm sorry, but we're way over time.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

I'd like to ask Dr. Wong to talk about food programs.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm sorry, but your time is up.

Mr. Schmale.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Thank you to the witnesses for appearing. We appreciate your testimony here today.

I want to pick up on what Mr. van Koeverden was talking about, how self-reliance and self-determination are key to helping those in the north sustain themselves and move on.

I'm sorry if you have to repeat some of what you've already talked about. Are there any steps that you see, outside of what you're already doing, that we could be taking in order to give more control to the local communities? As was mentioned many times, when you have local people making local decisions, you can solve problems faster.

Is there anything on your wish list that you have in your minds that we could be doing to help solve this problem faster?

12:20 p.m.

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

Serge Beaudoin

My colleagues may want to add to this, but I'll say for myself that a recent addition I mentioned is the Inuit-Crown food security working group. That entity of governance is important because it enables us to sit down with Inuit representatives from the various regions and have a discussion around what the problems or issues are on the ground. We then have not just one department but many federal departments at the table, and we can pull in other partners if need be to see what kinds of solutions we can bring to the issues that are heard.

Within our mandate, we have specific things, but when we bring the various federal players to the table, that mandate broadens and together we can work on solutions from partners we're hearing from.

Maybe colleagues have additional things they would like to mention.