Evidence of meeting #6 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 pandemic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Evelyn Lukyniuk
Tom Wong  Chief Medical Officer and Director General, Office of Population and Public Health, Department of Indigenous Services
Daniel Watson  Deputy Minister, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs
Jean-François Tremblay  Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services
Valerie Gideon  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services
Jeff Moore  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Strategic Direction Sector, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

3:35 p.m.

Jean-François Tremblay Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Thank you, Daniel.

Mr. Chair, this is a very important question. I don't think there's an easy answer. I think Daniel touched on a long-term solution to this issue, but in the meantime, what I can tell you is that with COVID as a crisis.... As you know, we spend probably around $425 million per year in services related to mental health. Those are essential services, so we continue to deliver them.

We have also developed information that we are sending to all of the networks to make sure people know these services continue to be available, adding to them, of course, those based on Jordan's principle. We continue to respond to demands based on Jordan's principle.

Child family services is also considered an essential service, as you know. We even made an adjustment to the criteria to make sure that they would not be impacted negatively by COVID.

We've done everything we could to make sure that the offer or services that are there for mental health will continue to be there, but there will be a need for more and an adjustment in those services will need to be made. I think that was mentioned before. It's the same thing for the general population, but most significantly for the vulnerable population. The isolation has an impact on people, and we are looking at working with first nations, Inuit and Métis on how we can make sure that the services and the response will be there to support people, some of whom will clearly be affected from a mental health perspective in the context of this pandemic.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks for your comments.

That's the end of that six-minute round.

We go next to Madame Bérubé.

Ms. Bérubé, you have six minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is for Mr. Miller.

Minister, at a press conference, you admitted that more financial support would be needed to help indigenous communities. What are the next steps in that regard?

More specifically, can you quantify the additional support that's needed? How will that figure be broken down?

If you can't provide us with that information today, when are you going to announce additional financial help?

3:35 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

Mr. Chair, since the minister isn't here, I'll try to answer that question, if I may.

Yes, financial support to help communities is important. As for the amount that's needed, I'm sorry, but it would be presumptuous to give you a number today. These times and circumstances are without precedent, and we're trying to meet the demand. The minister brought up the subject of issues in urban centres. We're trying to meet the demand, but the demand exceeds the response capability. So we're going to have to recalibrate from day to day.

All I can tell you is that we're responding to the requests from indigenous communities. We're not necessarily waiting months or weeks to get all the details. We're responding to requests as they come in, whether they're requests for protection or for security services. We're relying as much as possible on the Emergency Management Assistance Program, which offers plenty of flexibility, because it's a program that we use in times of crisis. We're using it right now during the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure that resources go where they're needed.

There will definitely be a growing need for resources, but we're going to recalibrate once we have more information, as the crisis evolves.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you, Mr. Tremblay. I'll keep going with questions for you, provided you can answer, of course.

As you know, there are currently 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavik and one in Nunavut. Is Indigenous Services Canada monitoring the cases reported in Métis and Inuit communities and among first nations members living off reserve? What's being done to prevent the virus from spreading?

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

If you don't mind, I'll ask Dr. Wong to answer this question, since this is an issue he's monitoring on a daily basis.

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

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

All right, thanks.

3:40 p.m.

Chief Medical Officer and Director General, Office of Population and Public Health, Department of Indigenous Services

Dr. Tom Wong

Thank you for your question.

I'll start by talking about our department's program, and then I'll hand over to Ms. Gideon so she can provide more details.

There are no public health physicians from our department in Nunavut. To support Nunavut, we're working with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the communities and the Nunavut Department of Health.

As for Nunavik, we're collaborating with the Nunavik Commission, the communities and the Quebec government. Most of the time, the services have already been transferred.

Maybe Ms. Gideon can give you more details.

3:40 p.m.

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

I'll answer very briefly.

In Nunavik, public health is the jurisdiction of the province's Regional Board of Health and Social Services. The same goes for Inuit people in the territories.

In Nunatsiavut, Labrador, the Inuit government is responsible for public health, and it works with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

As for Métis people and indigenous people living off reserve or outside their communities, they are the responsibility of the province or territory, depending on where they live. We maintain a presence at the federal-provincial-territorial round table and work with these public health specialists to identify issues and challenges. We collaborate Canada-wide, but we're not directly responsible for public health in those communities.

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you. I could continue on the same subject.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you. I'm sorry, but that's all the time.

We will go on to Ms. Gazan. I believe you were going to share your time with Ms. Qaqqaq.

Please go ahead. You have six minutes.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you, Chair.

Mr. Chair, indigenous people make up approximately 5% of the Canadian population. If we look at the overall projected spending so far for COVID-19, it appears that only approximately 0.01% of all funds allocated to date are specific to indigenous people.

Given how COVID-19 has further compromised the safety of indigenous communities that are already suffering from ongoing human rights violations, I am wondering why the departments chose to continue to underfund indigenous communities at a time when it's clear that more is needed and when it's very clear that these decisions were not based on needs.

Could somebody answer that, perhaps somebody from Mr. Miller's department?

May 1st, 2020 / 3:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

Yes, I can start.

I think you have to take into account, first of all, that the $84 billion, or whatever the amount of money is now that is supporting Canadians, is for all Canadians, including first nations, Inuit and Métis. Everybody has access to the individual benefits and should have access to them, and we should encourage first nations, Inuit and Métis to make sure they access these benefits. It is the same thing for students and for PSE, for example.

The funding being provided is not supposed to be an allocation in line with the percentage of the population of first nations, Inuit and Métis. It's supposed to be additional funding to actually target populations to address where we think and perceive and know there are needs and gaps, and also where we have specific responsibilities.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you very much for that.

Mr. Chair, I appreciate his response. However, the Public Health Agency of Canada has identified several factors that make people more vulnerable during COVID-19, including economic barriers, social or geographic isolation, and insecure, inadequate or non-existent housing conditions. PHAC also noted significant health inequalities and inequities, as noted as well by Dr. Tam, between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Minister Bennett also acknowledged that today in her statement.

In light of these facts, again, why did the departments choose to disregard evidence from Health Canada and continue to underfund first nations, given the fact that they're already behind in the human rights that other Canadians enjoy?

3:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

Since the beginning of the crisis, the minister as well as the employees of the departments have recognized this issue. We know that the social determinants of health are particularly alarming in first nations, Inuit and Métis communities. We know that a pandemic may have and could have an impact that is quite significant in those communities, because they are a vulnerable population. We don't measure those actions necessarily at funding.

I would just turn to my colleague Valerie, who can explain to you the kinds of actions we have been taking at all levels—local, regional and national.

3:45 p.m.

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

Valerie Gideon

I'll just say that we don't have a fixed funding envelope at the moment when it comes to providing additional public health supports to first nations communities in particular. We are receiving requests on a continuing basis from communities across the country for what they require to ensure that their pandemic plans can be activated and that they have the surge capacity required.

We're filling personal protective equipment requests on a daily basis, seven days a week, and we are continuing to put in temporary health infrastructure supports, whether that's retooling the community infrastructure or whether it's procuring mobile medical units or temporary accommodation facilities.

We are spending as communities identify those needs that they cannot address within their existing funding allocations or their community support money.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you again for that.

Mr. Miller noted that several communities have asked for funding and did not receive it. He also noted that the funding is inadequate.

My final question is this: Since COVID-19—and I'm belabouring the point—we've witnessed the abhorrent failure of government to ensure human rights for all Canadians, specifically indigenous peoples. COVID-19 has certainly shone a very clear light on this failure. We cannot go back to business as usual. I'm wondering if the departments can inform the committee as to how they will ensure immediate action if unfortunately we should experience a pandemic in the future, so that we will not have another crisis as a result of the failure of governments to honour the rights and dignity of all Canadians.

One example I can share is that the Liberal government has promised all boil water advisories will end by 2021. We are seven months away from the target. Shouldn't this pandemic be an opportunity to address that issue immediately?

3:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

You are right. This crisis has shown us that the long-term social determinants of health that are due to historical reasons and that need to be addressed have to be addressed. It confirms that the investments made over the last few years are important and should continue in terms of addressing housing, addressing water issues and addressing all those elements that are related to the social determinants of health. That's what we need to continue to do. We hope Parliament will be helpful in addressing these issues.

Water and infrastructure are issues we have to look at. We want to continue to make sure all those long-term advisories are removed as soon as possible, but we also have to respect the fact that a lot of these communities are in isolation at the moment.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much. We're out of time. Sorry.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I believe Bob Zimmer and Arnold Viersen were going to share their time.

Do I understand, Bob, that you have to leave the meeting at four o'clock?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Yes. We still have 10 minutes, though, according to my clock, so we'll get it done as soon as we can.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Okay. You are up for the next five-minute round. You can start and then share with Mr. Viersen.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

I'll be brief. I was in communication with Chief Theresa Tait Day from the Wet'suwet'en and also Chief Maureen Luggi, who is an elected chief of the Wet'suwet'en. They are both extremely concerned. There's a letter that I just received yesterday. The elected chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en nations have not agreed to, nor have they given their support to signing, a proposed memorandum of understanding on rights and title with Canada or British Columbia.

I think the troubling part of this—and I respect that Gary is trying to speak to this—but with respect to him, it is shameful that the minister would try to sign something at a time when the COVID pandemic has limited person-to-person contact—

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm going to have to intervene. We had this conversation earlier. We're mandated to do COVID. This is not a completely different topic, but any topic can be nuanced into the main one. If you have something directly on the COVID crisis—