Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.
Welcome to meeting number 45 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
We acknowledge that we are meeting on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Today we are considering supplementary estimates (B), 2022‑23.
First we have the Minister of Northern Affairs and his officials. They will be followed, in the second hour, by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, accompanied by his officials.
I'd like to make a few introductory remarks.
Please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking.
You have a choice at the bottom of the screen between the floor, English, or French. There may be questions in Inuktitut. So you may now select the language you prefer to hear.
I remind everyone that all comments should be addressed through the chair. For members in the room, if you wish to speak, please raise your hand. For members on Zoom, please use the “raise hand” function. The clerk and I will try to respect the speaking order as well as we can, and we appreciate your patience and understanding in this regard.
With that, I would like to welcome the Minister of Northern Affairs, Minister Vandal, and his team.
You will have five minutes for your introductory remarks, and this will be followed by a question period.
Thank you so much for the introduction, Mr. Chair.
I'm glad to be here today to discuss and answer questions about the 2022-23 supplementary estimates (B) for northern affairs.
Joining me today is Paula Isaak, associate deputy minister of CIRNAC; Georgina Lloyd, assistant deputy minister of Northern Affairs; and Darlene Bess, chief finances results and delivery officer.
CIRNAC's final supplementary estimates for 2022-23 reflect a net increase of $6.3 billion, and of that, $130.8 million is for northern affairs.
My department continues to work on a number of priorities together with Indigenous, territorial and Northern partners. One of the most pressing, and a significant part of these supplementary estimates, is addressing food insecurity across the North and Arctic, because everyone deserves access to affordable and healthy food, no matter where they live.
Much has been said about nutrition north over the last few weeks. I’d like to be clear: no one government program will address food insecurity on its own, which is why we are taking a whole of government approach.
New funding for Northern Affairs includes $87.5 million for Northern Food Security, which was allocated through Budget 2021 and will allow the nutrition north Canada grant and contribution program to better support local food systems in communities across the North and Arctic.
This initiative also broadens the harvesters support grant with additional funding for the new community food programs fund to support food-sharing activities that include market, country and locally grown foods. Together, the harvesters support grant and community food programs fund mark a fundamental shift by empowering communities to determine their own food security priorities. These new measures were co-developed in full partnership and reflect the priorities of northerners.
With respect to climate change and cleaner energy, communities in the North and Arctic are seeing the effects of climate change at a much higher and drastic rate than in the rest of Canada. It’s impacting the traditional way of life and more.
These estimates also include $5.5 million to support flood mapping in First Nation communities in the North.
Many northern and Arctic communities have no choice but to rely on costly and polluting diesel to light and heat their homes. The estimates also include $6.2 million of re-profiled contribution funding for clean energy projects in the north, allowing for “by the north, for the north” solutions in the transition to clean energy and reducing reliance on diesel. The two streams consist of $2.2 million for community clean energy and $4 million to support planning and feasibility for hydroelectricity and grid interconnection projects in the north.
Just last month, I travelled to Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit to announce our government's support for the feasibility and planning of the Kivalliq hydro-fibre link project, where we invested $7 million, and the Iqaluit hydroelectric project, where we invested $4 million. These important projects aim to get Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit off diesel and onto cleaner, more reliable energy.
I have an article in front of me from Nunatsiaq News about housing in Nunavut, or, more specifically, the lack of housing in Nunavut. I was up there recently, as you probably know, Minister, and I heard there was an urgent need for many houses. Thousands are required.
Maybe I'll ask it this way, because you've seen them built and I haven't. How much housing has been built in Nunavut this year?
Since I became Minister of Northern Affairs, this is the issue that has come up most often in all my communications and consultations, both real and virtual. I know this is a priority for our government. We have several funding sources for housing. We have the national housing strategy, which is a $70-billion policy over 10 years—
I don't have a precise number on how many were built, but I can tell you that there is construction going on as we speak. There is a lot of work to do because the deficits were huge. We are slowly chipping away at those deficits. Much more work needs to be done.
My time is very limited, so I'll quote the article in front of me, the one I was referring to: “Rising construction costs have cancelled or delayed critical infrastructure projects across Nunavut, the territory's legislative assembly heard Wednesday.”
We heard that all housing projects were cancelled this summer because of increasing costs due to inflation. That's the question I want to get to. Why were they all cancelled?
Mr. Bob Zimmer: I'm asking a simple question about how many.
Hon. Dan Vandal: —and that's why I want to give you an answer.
I was in Gjoa Haven in late July of this year. Two fiveplexes in Gjoa Haven were near completion. They certainly were not cancelled. They will make 10 safe and affordable homes for families in the relatively small community of Gjoa Haven. That's a real project that's positive.
There is much more work to do. We completely acknowledge that. We are in conversations with the Premier or Nunavut on acceleration—
The next question is about the Arctic oil and gas moratorium.
Many northerners knew that as soon as the Liberal government took power, and this Prime Minister.... The territorial premiers all wanted to have a say, not necessarily that they wanted to develop oil and gas. However, the Prime Minister said there's a moratorium along the entire three territories, without consultation from any of the premiers.
Can you provide an update on the Arctic oil and gas moratorium? Is there going to be a change? We've seen certain extensions happen. Is it going to be there for the foreseeable future? At what point are you going to hand over those decisions so they are made by the territories themselves?
First of all, establishing an indefinite moratorium for new Arctic offshore oil and gas in federal waters was the right thing to do. We have been working on five-year science-based reviews that focus on marine and climate change science in the Arctic and offshore Arctic. They are continuing. They will inform the next steps of Arctic oil and gas development.
We are in constant communication with Inuit rights holders and all three territorial governments on the moratorium. We are working on an accord that will focus on shared priorities and green alternatives for—
Then it's not going to be a decision that was.... I think the promise was that decisions were going to be given to the territories to make themselves, but I'll move on.
My last question is about home heating.
Northern families are worried about how they're going to get through this winter. Some families could be paying more than $7,000 this year just to heat their homes. We've been in touch with a single mother who's working two jobs in the Yukon and was recently hit with an $1,800 fuel bill to fill her tank to start the winter. That tank will have to be filled three more times before the winter is done. This is why we asked the Prime Minister in question period about removing the carbon tax on home heating. All we get back is that it's a luxury and that it needs to be taxed.
Minister, I think you know that heating a home to stay warm this winter is certainly not a luxury to northerners. Families literally have to make a decision between turning up the thermostat to stay warm and buying food.
What's your response to the removal of carbon tax on home heating?
First of all, we are totally aware of the realities of Canadians and specifically northerners. It's important to note, as your party seems to not realize this, that the price on pollution does not cost Canadians anything. They are rebated the cost of the price on pollution in every territory and every province—
We are completely aware of the affordability issues across our country. I'm happy to say that this is why we brought in $10-a-day day care. I'm happy to say that Nunavut was the very first territory or province, as of December 1, to reach the $10-a-day day care goal. That will save Nunavut families thousands of dollars over the next year. That's why we brought it in.
We brought in dental care for all Canadians. There are over 60,000 applications for help with dental care. That will help people all over the country.
Also, we indexed the Canada child benefit to inflation. That's putting literally thousands of dollars into the pockets of Nunavut families.
All three are initiatives that your party voted against.
The only reason I'm asking this is that the minister has referred to the number of houses that were built and he has documentation to show that. I think he's claiming that. I ask that he table it for the committee for us to study, because according to my records, zero have been built. I'd like him to table it and at least inform us of where those are being built and how many.
I'm listening to the housing discussion with a lot of interest. It's still a big issue in the north and all across the Arctic. I'm very happy with the investments that we've been seeing from our government in the last number of budgets.
In my previous life, I was the minister of housing for the Government of Northwest Territories. It was very difficult to access federal funding for housing. We did get a couple of million dollars from the government of the day, the Conservative government, but we got absolutely no indigenous housing money—not a penny. It wasn't until this government got into power that money started flowing from Indigenous Services into the Northwest Territories for indigenous housing.
Now we have rapid housing money flowing, co-investment funding for affordable housing and homelessness and, on top of that, the stream from Indigenous Services. I'm quite excited about that.
I'll give you the opportunity to give us an update on the progress made and on some of the work that has happened with the territorial governments and indigenous partners.
First of all, in all the conversations I've had, I've said this is a priority. We fully understand the importance of it. We're also realistic as to the limitations of constructing in the territories, where the seasons are short and where, at the best of times, the cost of doing anything is elevated, especially during these difficult times with inflation. We're cognizant of that. Nevertheless, it's a priority.
Across the territories, every premier I have conversations with is working. We're working with them to put forward accelerated housing plans. We're doing this with Inuit rights holders, first nations and Métis communities, and I think there's progress being made. You can see it in your own territory. The last time I was in Yellowknife, you could see the construction going on and the dollars that were in the queue. Because of the short construction season and the supply chain issues, it is difficult for construction to keep up with the dollars that are allocated.
I've talked about my travels. I went on a 10-region tour over 12 days during the summer. I saw two five-unit constructions in Gjoa Haven, which I've mentioned. In Inuvik I saw a 14-unit construction that was almost finished. In Yellowknife, where I've met you many times, there must be dozens and dozens of new constructions under way now.
I can tell you that in Nunavut, we are working with housing corporations and with the government to accelerate the construction of many homes by 2030. The premier has been very creative in his partnerships and his funding. That's reflected in the budget.
Budget 2022 is investing $4 billion to accelerate work in closing indigenous housing gaps, including $2.4 billion for first nations housing, $565 million to support housing in self-governing and modern treaty holder first nations communities, $845 million to support housing in Inuit communities, $190 million for Métis communities and $34 million to four Métis groups in the Northwest Territories.
I can say that progress is being made. It's not fast enough; it's too slow. We acknowledge that. The gaps are as wide as this room, but we're slowly chipping away at them. What we need to do is continue investing for many more years to come, and that is certainly our plan.
It's quite exciting to see the number of units. I've lived in small indigenous communities, and I know there are at least 14 units hitting the ground. Seven of them are being retrofitted, and there are seven brand new ones coming up. That's just a small community. There is a lot of excitement. It's good to see that every indigenous government has received a funding commitment for housing in the Northwest Territories. I'm very happy about that.
I want to ask you a quick question on some of the devastating impacts of climate change. We are seeing communities flooded or starting to fall into the ocean or rivers because their banks are starting to erode. We need to do a lot to mitigate some of the impacts.
Maybe you could talk about what's being done or planned to try to mitigate some of the damage or impacts of climate change in our communities. How do we build a better environmental future in the north?
That's a great question. It's absolutely a priority for our government. Everyone acknowledges the climate is warming faster in the north than in the south.
We have, in our budget, hundreds of millions of dollars for the co-development of an indigenous climate leadership agenda. We are moving forward on hydroelectric projects, such as the Iqaluit hydroelectric project and the Kivalliq hydro-fibre project in the Kivalliq area. There is the Taltson hydroelectricity expansion project in your territory, where we're having great discussions with the premier. Budget 2022 invested $32.5 million for the Atlin hydro expansion project, which is first nations-led, in the Yukon.
Those are all real projects we are working on to lessen northerners' reliance on diesel. They're ambitious projects. They take time, but we are making the right moves to see them come to fruition.
I want to thank Minister Vandal for his testimony, as well as the entire team accompanying him.
I listened closely to Mr. Vandal, particularly when he discussed food insecurity in the north. It's a subject that people constantly talk to me about virtually everywhere I go. This insecurity, which he says is increasing, is also heightened by accelerating climate change and the incidents resulting from it.
He also referred to a whole-of-government approach. I would have liked to know exactly what he was referring to. It seems that food security doesn't just depend on his department, but on other departments as well. So I'd like to know exactly what he's referring to, whether it's programs or something else, so we can have the necessary details to establish commitments in the estimates.
I can assure you that we're taking this seriously. Our department manages nutrition north Canada's programs, and I know that the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food has very important food security initiatives as well. We often speak with the minister's teams and the—
The Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food isn't linked to the nutrition north Canada program. Nutrition north Canada is a program of the Department of Northern Affairs, but I know that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has its own food security initiatives.
That's actually what I'm interested in. You mentioned an all-of-government approach, which meant that other departments are involved. Without knowing what's going on in the north, for example, how can the other departments work in a complementary manner with what's being done by nutrition north, for example?
I was wondering how you assess needs when you don't know what others are doing. The estimates provide a certain amount of funding, but we don't exactly know what the others are doing elsewhere. How can we know if the work is satisfactory, or if it meets certain needs?
Food security is ultimately a poverty issue. Our government has many programs to assist all Canadians, including citizens of the north. There has to be affordability. I previously mentioned early childhood. Nunavut is the first of all the territories and provinces to create a $10 a day early childhood program.
I'm finding it hard to link all that to food insecurity.
You say that the $87 million will be used to expand what nutrition north is doing. Can you tell me more exactly where that funding is being allocated? How will it supplement the work being done by nutrition north?
I have another question about inflation and rising costs. I'm very sensitive to that. It's extremely expensive for people to feed themselves in the north. As was said earlier, half of Nunavut has trouble feeding itself.
The money will be in addition to the nutrition north subsidy and will provide new funding for community food programs to provide direct support for food security activities, such as morning programs in the schools. There are programs—
Yes. There's a breakfast program and a lunch program as well. There are greenhouse programs in the Northwest Territories. We provide additional funding directly to indigenous partners, like the harvesters support grant, which makes it possible to—
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:]
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Minister, for giving us an update on the budget items. I regret and I'm sorry to hear that it's going to be a very long process with housing and that very little will be done or completed.
The people I represent have told me many times that in Kugluktuk in the Kitikmeot region, in the middle of winter, there are some people who are homeless at the moment. The housing association in Kugluktuk has informed me that there was a young pregnant woman who was homeless. This young woman committed suicide due to homelessness in the middle of winter. She was totally homeless.
How long must we wait?
In Arviat, the people who live in one house are so numerous that they arrange their sleeping times in each room, in each house, by day and by night.
I hear your updates, but those are the stories I hear from the people I represent, who tell them to me personally. People commit suicide. They have no shelter to go to in the case of domestic violence. If they want to flee an abusive situation, they cannot go to their families because they are overcrowded already.
Why is it taking so long? The budget is so slow in being increased. Why is it so slow? Why can't you produce more budgets and financial resources for housing?
I don't disagree with you. I wish we had invested, and when I say “we”, I mean previous governments of all stripes, including some of our own. Governments did not invest what they should have in the north on infrastructure and housing.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:]
I asked you this previously. Again, I ask you why it's never a rush or a priority or an emergency to you. Right now, you should look at this as a crisis situation and do something quickly about it. Why are you not asking us to support you with supplementary funding for housing?
We read the report that you read to us. We heard the report. Many of us see the importance of adding more resources financially. Why aren't you pleading with us to support you to produce more resources, to produce more housing?
We are moving. We are investing dollars in the north as quickly as we possibly can. In fact, I dare say that we are investing them and moving them probably quicker than they can be absorbed by the local communities.
I can tell you that since 2016, Inuit have constructed nearly 500 new units, have repaired a number of existing units—
That is progress, but it's not enough. I am agreeing with you that we need to do more. We need to build capacity at the community level and at the territorial level. You know better than I do about the limitations—the short construction season, the supply chain problems, the inflation—but we are working.
We are working with the premier. We are working with rights holders. We are working with housing corporations to try to reduce the barriers and accelerate the construction. The only way this is going to get done is through partnerships.
I was very happy to learn—last week, I believe—that in Arviat, a modular housing plant is being planned. I think that's great news. I worked with the former premier on that when I was in Arviat. Ultimately, the answer is to build the capacity and the production ability in Nunavut and in other territories so that homes can be built there and skills can be learned.
It breaks my heart when I hear about homelessness and people dying in the cold weather, and I know I speak for everybody. We are trying to do better, but we are making small progress on a big, big problem.
Thank you, Minister, for being here to answer our questions.
I want to go back to food security. I believe $87.3 million has been allocated to support northern food security. I have a concern with the government's approach. According to all the information I can find, over the last number of years, each year funding has increased to address food security, with programs such as nutrition north, but each year in the northern parts of my riding, and of course the three territories, we see rates of food insecurity continuing to increase. The department is continuing to spend more and not necessarily getting more results from that.
I'm just wondering if you can tell us what more the government and your department are doing to work with communities on the ground to ensure that the dollars spent are actually achieving their targets.
We are working with people who live in all of the various communities. We know that solutions from the north are better than solutions from Ottawa.
We've invested $163 million of new money in food security initiatives in the north, including in a subsidy increase to nutrition north; a new community food program that's going to work on school programs; other food sovereignty initiatives such as building greenhouses and year-round hydroponic enclosures, which I have visited in my travels; and a hunters and trappers program, through which we encourage and financially help with country foods and traditional foods. Indigenous people helped us co-develop that.
Well, we have a nutrition north advisory council, whose job is to represent the various communities. The north, as you know better than I do, is a vast area. We try to get representation from most of those areas on the advisory council of nutrition north. We work directly with indigenous nations on—
Thank you, Minister. I'm sorry, but I want to get to another question.
I want to emphasize that you said I know the north better than you. I really appreciate that. Thank you for that shout-out.
Minister, in June 2021, this committee completed a report on food security in the north. One concern we heard around nutrition north was that the mandate of the program wasn't really to make life more affordable. One recommendation—the third recommendation from that report—was for the program's mandate to be changed in order to improve food security outcomes in northern communities. I'm wondering if your department has taken action to change the mandate.
I'm listening to the discussion with very, very keen interest. There's a lot of focus in the supplementary estimates on what the department is doing to address food insecurity. This issue has been around for a long time. It's good to hear that there are new options out there. There are new investments for greenhouses and for hunters and trappers, and there's an expanded program, but I think it's going to take more than just one government to deal with food insecurity. It's also going to take more than just addressing some of these programs through nutrition north. It's going to take a whole-of-government approach. I've been saying this for a long time. I know you've heard me say it before.
Having roads that go to our communities would eliminate the need for nutrition north in a lot of them. We have quite a few communities that don't have roads yet. All the communities along the Mackenzie Valley Highway are not accessible by road. Many of them are only able to get freight by plane. Even then, because some of our runways are not long enough, the plane can land with only half a load. That's the same with passengers too, by the way. Landing and takeoff restrictions really impact us in the north.
When we talk about food insecurity and the cost of living, transportation infrastructure is a big part of it. Can you explain how the government has approached dealing with the cost of living in our small communities? How are we dealing with investment to build better accessibility in small communities?
We had an investment for the road to Whatì. That has been a game-changer for the community. People can get out of the community to go into the larger regional centres, and they can be back that same evening. The cost of living has gone down too, but there are other communities where you can't get out. You sometimes have only six weeks to get a new fridge or a new larger piece of merchandise. It's very challenging.
Thank you for that question. It's a very important one. It's at the heart of what we're trying to do.
We've talked a lot about housing. Infrastructure is the same thing. We need to invest more dollars with the territorial governments for things like road construction. We have budgetary items. We have the northern transportation initiatives, which have application-based funding envelopes for the different communities so they can apply for transportation corridor funding. I know that has shown some benefit in the past. We need to do more of that to make sure more communities have road access for transportation. You're absolutely right that this would be of great benefit given affordability and food security issues.
I agree with you that the road to Whatì was a game-changer, and I'm glad we were able to partner to get that done. That's front and centre in our platform and a constant part of our communications and consultations with the territories. We can't do this alone. The territories need to be driving it. They're the representation of the people who live there, along with indigenous governments.
We are absolutely committed to continuing the investment. We've made some progress, but there is a long way to go.
We know that CanNor has been invaluable during the pandemic. It's the agency that provided relief not only for individuals but for businesses during the very difficult two years we all went through. It's been unprecedented. It is now playing a very significant part in the recovery by partnering, having ears to the ground and investing in businesses so they can grow and create jobs.
Yes, that's definitely one of our government's priorities, and I'm working closely with the Minister of Indigenous Services and the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations. The latter will be here later to explain how we can—
We're working closely with the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food and other departments, such as the Department of Transport and Infrastructure Canada, to address food security deficiencies. There's a lot of communication going on among us. Our teams are working closely with them to—
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:]
You reported about Inuit housing. When I was in Iqaluit, I was informed that there was a meeting on housing. I was told at that meeting and conference that the houses slated for Inuit had to be divided for all of Canada. Out of those that had been designated for Inuit in 2016 and 2018, they did not have anything slated for the territory of Nunavut. I wish to remind you to remember Nunavut.
I don't have enough time. I have many other concerns.
In Nunavut, we have many concerns about elders, who do not want to leave their homeland. They want to live in their own homeland, but they are sent from their homeland for elder care.
You've said that you committed some money towards elder facilities in Nunavut. Can you elaborate on the Nunavut infrastructure that you have committed and that you are slating for Inuit elders in Nunavut? Please elaborate.
Just as a quick note on housing, budget 2022 is investing $845 million to support housing in Inuit Nunangat. We work closely with Inuit rights holders and with the Government of Nunavut to roll out that money, but the final decision on where it's invested is with the rights holders. That's important. That has never been done before in our relationship.
Long-term care is a very important issue that comes up regularly with the Government of Nunavut. We are working in good faith with them to try to deliver better services in long-term care and in health care generally. I know that has been a priority, and our governments are working together.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:]
Regarding nutrition north, I have a quick question, and I've asked it many times. How do you evaluate the effectiveness of nutrition north?
The retail outlets are given millions in refunds. It's the retail outlets that are getting the refunds, and very little is going to the consumer. How do you evaluate how it will affect the consumer rather than the retail outlets?
It's very important to us that the food subsidized by nutrition north is more affordable because of the subsidies it receives. We have a nutrition north advisory committee that advises us on policies, and there have been audits done over the past few years on the programs as they have been implemented. Those audits are shared with territorial leaders and with Inuit rights holders.
We think there is room for improvement. That's why we are always consulting and have an open mind when it comes to making improvements that make sense. When they are proven by data and research, they will improve the program.
I want to acknowledge that we are meeting on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Today, I will give an overview of investments my government is making to ensure that Canada is honoring its lawful obligations to Indigenous Peoples and working to renew Canada’s relationship with treaty partners and all Indigenous communities.
We also continue to work with other government departments to implement investments and policies that address the root causes of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.
We will soon begin the engagement process with First Nations partners on redesigning the Additions-to-Reserve policy to ensure it’s effective and inclusive. We are also working with First Nations to modernize the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, and are working closely with First Nations fiscal institutions and First Nations to ensure they have sufficient resources to further their visions for self-determination.
Crown-Indigenous Relations supplementary estimates (B) include initiatives totalling $6.3 billion, which will bring the total budgetary funding for the department to approximately $13.7 billion.
Roughly half of the estimates, $2.9 billion, is funding for out-of-court settlements. These funds are used to advance reconciliation by paving the way for more respectful and constructive relationships with indigenous peoples.
These estimates also include $673 million in new funding for the continued management of the indigenous childhood claims litigation, further supporting the compensation of survivors of physical and sexual abuse under the day school settlement agreement, as well as related administration costs for the day schools and sixties scoop settlement agreements. As of November 2 of this year, over 118,000 class action members have received compensation for the harms they suffered attending a day school, and 20,798 class action members have been deemed eligible for compensation for the harms they suffered related to the sixties scoop.
Additionally, the top-up of $678 million in new funding in this fiscal year for the specific claims settlement fund ensures that funds are available for the timely payment of settlement agreements reached through the negotiations with first nations, or any compensation awards that are made by the Specific Claims Tribunal.
In parallel to our ongoing efforts to work with First Nations to resolve their claims expeditiously, we are working with the Assembly of First Nations and other Indigenous partners on the joint development of reforms to improve the specific claims process.
In addition to reform efforts, we are striving to address the lack of housing for Indigenous communities, which has been a long-standing crisis. Our partners have informed us of their urgent need for safe and sustainable housing options for their communities.
New funding of $458 million was provided through budget 2022 to improve and expand indigenous housing and infrastructure for self-governing and modern treaty first nations, Inuit and Métis. This funding extends and enhances the distinctions-based housing strategy work that's already under way, such as the Métis nation and Inuit Nunangat housing strategies. This investment helps to address the critical housing needs of indigenous partners and supports better health and socio-economic outcomes overall.
First and foremost, I think we can acknowledge that it is entirely within their discretion to come out with that type of resolution. Clearly we've heard from partners. I have heard from partners about concerns with respect to Bill C-21 as recently as today and yesterday, particularly in side conversations I had at the AFN. That's work we will do with indigenous partners. The Prime Minister and Minister Mendicino have also signalled that, and they look forward to that engagement.
We know that long rifles in particular are used to sustain hunting practices and for food initiatives and sustainability. That's work we'll be doing.
Just on a different topic, the estimates show that almost 93% of executive-level employees in your department received a performance bonus in the 2021-22 fiscal year. According to an Order Paper question, the criteria included individual results for executives rather than having bonuses based on how well the department performs.
According to the criteria, it seems they're based on the individual's results. I'm not sure how many organizations work that way. Should they not be based on the department's success rather than on an individual's success?
I'll pass the substance of the question over to my deputy minister.
This is an independent public service. I will, however, defend to the bone the work my department has done, as well as the work Indigenous Services Canada has done, to keep indigenous people safe throughout COVID.
I'll let the substance of the question be answered by my deputy minister.
There are two parts to the performance agreements, one of which follows from requirements from the clerk to the entire deputy minister community. The requirements then flow down into performance agreements for employees in individual departments. Then, yes, each director or each executive has a set of criteria that they are measured by and that they are required to meet. I'm responsible for all of those.
It's not accurate to say that 93% got a bonus. They got performance pay, but the biggest chunk of that every single year is to people who are deemed to have met the requirements that were set out for them. They get the amount that is for meeting their requirements, not necessarily for having exceeded—
It says here in this Order Paper question that “Individual performance pay holds executives accountable for individual results and is not related to Departmental Results, which measure organizational goals.”
I hold them to account for the portion that they're required to do, and they have done that. However, as the deputy head, I am responsible for the performance of the department as a whole. Each of them is responsible for their portion, as I assign it to them, for the course of the year and the performance over that period of time.
Okay. I want to move back to the minister, because I know my time is short here.
Minister, unfortunately, we don't have the indigenous services minister here. It's the third-largest department, with 10% of overall government spending. It's actually almost doubled its spending in the last year. It's unfortunate that she wasn't able to be here.
I want to ask you about some of the information here in the estimates, specifically around what the Auditor General came out with a few weeks ago regarding funding for mitigation and adaptation and specifically indigenous-led projects that would help give indigenous communities a fighting chance to stay on their land in the event of extreme weather occurrences.
It says here in the estimates that there's about $12 million. Has that been spent? Has any been spent, and are you expecting more than just $12 million? If you're talking about bridges, dikes and culverts, that's barely enough to address the problem.
Look, I had the honour of serving that department for two years during COVID, deploying extraordinary measures to keep people safe during a particularly difficult time in our history that we're still feeling the effects of.
What we've seen through that is that there are massive socio-economic gaps that need to be closed, so that increase is, in my mind, entirely justified. It's keeping people safe and alive. In the cases of flooding and fires, we know that indigenous communities are disproportionately exposed, partly because Canada placed them in swamps and areas in flood zones and has exposed them to it.
We can talk about climate change, which is increasing that vulnerability, but there's a role that Canada played, and we see that in some of the settlements that I have.... We've seen that with the flooding of Peguis, for example, just earlier this year.
We're not doing enough, and I think Minister Hajdu has acknowledged that. We will have to do even more if we don't start moving into mitigation projects, and clearly they are underfunding. Otherwise, we'll spend the money on the back end, as we've seen through the fire season and through the flood season.
There are 112 infrastructure projects that would deal with adaptation and mitigation that are not being approved. In fact, it's a 6:1 savings. You can save six dollars for every dollar invested in adaptation and mitigation. That, again, goes to my question—
I'm not going to pretend to disagree with, perhaps, where you were going. I can't presume what the question was, but clearly we need to invest more in mitigation. It is clear as day, and it's only going to get worse if we can't tackle climate change in a mature way.
Thank you, Minister, to you and to your team for appearing today for this very important discussion.
I'd like to acknowledge that last night we had a really important take-note debate on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in this country. There are so many issues we can focus on that can better support indigenous women and girls, but I think housing is specifically one that is just so important. It's a social determinant of health, as we know.
Minister, our government has previously noted that investments in first nation housing, including self-governing and modern treaty partners, play a role in closing the infrastructure gap and the socio-economic gap in indigenous communities by ensuring their needs are met.
Can you please speak to how the government ensures these projects address the needs of the communities and involves them in the process?
Yes. Often, infrastructure projects, as well-meaning as they are, just kind of drop on people, and the support and the capacity aren't there. What we do is as important as how we do it.
We know that with respect to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls the lack of housing is driving people into a precarious position of being vulnerable, and we know that it will continue to do so if we don't continue to tackle it through successive budgetary cycles.
That includes on-reserve housing that is adapted for women and children who are fleeing violence. That includes more housing generally, and it includes shelters and homes off reserve. We've often tended to silo our action in the quote-unquote on-reserve reality. It hasn't been sufficient, and it certainly hasn't represented what our ultimate responsibility is: to keep people safe in this country. Obviously what we've seen over the last few weeks is further evidence that as governments we continue to fail indigenous women and girls.
I was able to see this summer some really great investments by some of the modern treaty holders who are specifically targeting housing for women and girls who are fleeing violence in an on-reserve scenario. It's great to see it, because it's not just homes that they're building, which is important in and of itself, but homes adapted to people who need that safety and security and wraparound support. That violence is a legacy of our history in Canada, and it's ongoing.
The final report into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls outlined some substantive steps we need to keep following as Canadians, as the federal government, that don't touch necessarily the single moment where a traumatic tragedy occurs and all the steps leading up to the point where someone was put in that vulnerable position. We wish that it could have been solved in the snap of a finger, but we know that it can't.
We need to fix the ongoing tragedy of children in care and the overincarceration of indigenous women. It all ties into what the report has said, which is that we need to approach this in a systemic fashion, or else we will just continue patching it tragedy by tragedy.
I thank you for your presence last night, MP Atwin. I know that this is deep and profound for you, and I know you didn't have to be there, but I appreciate your remarks as well.
Another really impactful piece is supporting cultural spaces and the revitalization of languages.
We heard from indigenous partners and communities—and you did as well—that cultural spaces are critical to promoting those indigenous cultures and identities while fostering safe and secure communities for indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQI+ people.
Can you speak to how investments in cultural spaces help advance the calls for justice and the calls to action?
Call to justice 2.3 specifically called on the government to fund infrastructure projects for safe spaces for women and girls and 2SLGBTQI+ persons. Over the last year or so, we have been able to deploy about $100 million into that infrastructure. That covers over 65 projects. The envelope and the subscription to it were oversubscribed by a factor of nine. For the purposes of this response, whether they were eligible projects or ineligible projects, depending on the criteria, is relatively immaterial, but it shows the need to continue to invest in safe spaces.
What does that look like? Well, in some cases, it's a longhouse in Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw, which has some of the most impressive house posts that I've ever seen. I'm an east coaster, so maybe that isn't as impressive to MP Weiler, who has probably seen a lot more than I have. What it will do is honour a commitment we made 50 years ago to the community when it was displaced, and it was never honoured.
The final report underscored the vulnerability of people who are not able to reconnect with their culture, their ways and their language. This marvellous project, which will be about $6 million or $7 million, will allow communities to build their governance and have a safe space for those who are vulnerable in the community and ultimately keep them safe.
Sadly, I can't guarantee that if those projects had been in place years ago, they would have kept these people safe, but I know that they will keep people safe. I'm not so arrogant as to presume that the four women—we were horrified by the discoveries in what is a trash site—would have been affected by this. That's not the nature of my answer, but we do know that those investments need to occur as well in urban settings to keep people safe. That needs to continue, and that's work we'll do across all levels of government.
I would also like to thank Minister Miller and the whole team with him today for answering our questions.
Mr. Miller, you just mentioned the urban settings issue. I wanted to draw your attention to that subject. Since we meet with the Indigenous communities, we know that many young and not so young people are drawn to the cities. There's really an ongoing population transfer from the communities and reserves to the urban areas. I think 45% or 50% of the Indigenous population in Quebec currently live in urban areas. The number may be as high as 80%.
I know you aren't the Minister of Indigenous Services any more, but I'm absolutely certain you have some knowledge of its budget.
What percentage of the budget can be used to support Indigenous people who live in urban areas, for housing, health services and so on, in short, for all their needs? I'm thinking of housing, for example.
The percentages that you cited of the population living in urban areas or off reserve don't surprise me. They may be higher in certain parts of the country. Those numbers, in Quebec, don't surprise me.
Federal and provincial areas of jurisdiction are obviously a sensitive matter. Sometimes when we discuss Quebec, jurisdictional issues are fiercely debated on the backs of Indigenous peoples. However, I'm not claiming the federal government wouldn't have failed to meet its obligations absent this sensitive issue with Quebec because we see it all across the country.
As you very well know, the Canadian government's normal investments are made on the reserves, and it's making increasing numbers of investments. I'm referring, in particular, to targeted housing investments for Indigenous peoples worth many hundreds of millions of dollars. But I agree that's not enough.
Investments are being made in Val-d'Or and Montreal, for example. The organizations don't always have enough funding, and Quebec will also have to invest. I know it's doing that, but a very frank and open discussion of jurisdictional issues will be required, one that's still being conducted on the backs of Indigenous peoples both on and off reserve.
Indigenous friendship centres, for example, are requesting predictable, recurrent funding. As regards the plan, I understand that this is a shared jurisdiction.
In short, the needs are increasing. We know there's a real demographic boom going on in the communities, which is why I mentioned young people earlier.
If conventional funding isn't added for the indigenous friendship centres, shouldn't it be raised beyond current levels?
There's nothing in the estimates concerning this. I know you mentioned COVID‑19. The present situation is quite difficult. I don't want to mention inflation. That affects the entire population, especially people living in precarious conditions.
Wouldn't there be some openness here to adding something to assist these people who are living in urban areas?
Yes, there is some openness. I met with the same group as you today. I know those individuals very well. Among other things, they mentioned the extraordinary work they did during the COVID‑19 pandemic with the funding of Indigenous services to ensure that people stayed alive and healthy with vaccine and food distributions for seniors living in urban settings.
They did an outstanding job. At the same time, they also revealed something that we should have known: those needs are desperate.
A transition to a post-COVID‑19 era entails funding issues. I know that Minister Hajdu recently made an announcement on the subject in Vancouver. My parliamentary secretary, Mr. Battiste, announced the infrastructure investment at the friendship centre in Halifax. These are pivotal places for Indigenous people who choose to live in an urban setting.
There's always a discussion about funding to determine how much it takes. That requires the participation of the provinces, but the federal government has a duty not to be absent.
Earlier I spoke with your colleague Minister Vandal about planning. We often revisit the issue of housing more generally speaking. I'm not talking about off-reserve housing. It's often said that the effort has been made, that advances are being made, but that no objective is being achieved.
Are we really trying to achieve one?
We can see that additional funding has been provided, although we don't really know exactly how it breaks down, but do we have a deadline? When will the housing issue be resolved, if that's even possible? Housing is currently in crisis, and we've said it many times.
Do you have an idea of what's been done to date? What percentage of the housing units has been built? I know it can be hard to assess that—there's an enormous shortfall—but do you have an idea? Is there a long-term plan? Are we doing this on an ad hoc basis, ultimately hoping that the money will be used to build new housing units?
The objective is 2030, which will be here very soon, especially in the context of infrastructure that's being built under inflationary pressures.
I would note incidentally that we've made investments for the Cree nation in Nunavik. For them, we were able to provide a $200 million investment directly for housing in their community. These are record amounts and investments. However, I'm unaware of the percentages and exactly where it comes from. That has always been the issue between the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations, the Department of Northern Affairs and Indigenous Services Canada, as well as all those individuals who advocate for safe and affordable housing. There has always been this unfortunate tendency to throw figures around without knowing exactly where the money comes from.
We've recently made considerable progress with our partners, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, or ITK, the Assembly of First Nations, for AFN, and directly with the communities, in determining what the infrastructure deficit is, particularly with regard to housing. We've had breakthroughs, and we've formed an idea of the amounts involved. And they are enormous.
I will leave it to the Minister of Indigenous Services to discuss that at greater length, but the government as a whole, regardless of political party, must be prepared to make successive investments, year after year, to bridge this enormous gulf between now and 2030. I make no secret of the fact that the challenge is enormous.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:]
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
Thank you for coming here to give us a presentation.
I have a very short question regarding money. We're talking about supplementary funding and we're talking about money going to Nunavut government. What is targeted to the Tunngavik government? What are they planning to use it for?
On the devolution, there's progress and there are talks going on, hopefully in a productive way. I'm optimistic. Those are conversations we're having with the premier, NTI and Gwichʼin and Dene. I can't speak publicly about where that will be.
I don't know whether or not the question was more related to housing. In terms of housing, you know that the sums we've invested through the last budget—over $800 million over seven years—will not close that gap in Nunavut or any other of the regions.
I know that you had the opportunity to speak to Minister Vandal, and we need to keep investing. ITK has had a plan to move forward and close that gap.
The Government of Nunavut, as you well know, has recently asked us to move to their plan, the plan that they presented to the Prime Minister and me in supporting the government in its role as the territorial government to invest. It will take both the rights holders and the Government of Nunavut to work together, along with the federal government, to support those needs and all the communities that are crying out. They have been very responsible in putting together a plan. It's actually admirable, and they'll have to work through the finance to make sure it gets out.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:]
My next question is very different from the last one. Last night we had an emergency debate about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. They have to search for the body of Morgan Harris, and we thought it would be in the Prairie Green Landfill. Today we heard that they will stop all work there while they search for her body. Would you support their ceasing operations while they search for the body?
It's devastating. I have spoken to the family of one of the victims. They are having to search the trash for their mother. No one should have to do that, and no one should be treated like trash in this country—in this case, it's taken on a very literal meaning. This is a space where, as far as we know or have been told, there are now human remains. I think it needs to be treated accordingly.
There are a number of facts I still don't have, and I need to get to the bottom of those.
I absolutely support these women in finding their mother, or in honouring her, should there be no ability to find the actual remains. That, I think, is the work we'll have to do. I am in communication with the mayor of Winnipeg and other folks to make sure these women are heard and treated with dignity and respect in a very difficult time. This is a site that has had successive deposits of refuse since July, when they appeared to know there were bodies there.
I don't discount the complexities of it, but we need to make sure in this country that we aren't treating people like trash. If there is a way to search, I think the efforts should be deployed. If that can't be done, we need to find a way to properly honour them. These are evolving conversations with the families. They may reinforce their perspective or change it, and I want to respect that space while that final determination is made.
I left the conversation with the family yesterday with a lot more questions than I thought I had in the first place. I'm still questioning a lot of things. I think we all should, as a country, when this happens, because for too long, indigenous people have not been treated the same way as other people when they go missing and turn out to be murdered.
I'll get right to my question about a line on page 2-44 of the estimates: “Funding for the settlement of the Blueberry River, Doig River, Halfway River and West Moberly First Nations’ Treaty 8 Land Entitlement specific claims.” It's $673 million. I won't get into the smaller numbers.
Can you give me a breakdown of how much funding will be going to each community?
I'm not sure. This is a settlement that is obviously for people you represent federally. It's a game-changer for them. The government is paying their bills, so it's very important. I don't have the breakdown per community, though.
I also have questions about the breakdown for each community, and then even for those breakdowns.
Where's that money going? I represent those communities and their residents. I have a question I would share with many of them: How many of these dollars go to administrative costs or legal fees, and how many are actually landing in these communities, as they're meant to?
I'll speak generally, because the communities decide how they distribute it. When they do these ratification votes, they will have a scheme and a proposal, and they'll deliver according to that. Obviously, people want to see results on the ground, so there's usually a distribution. Sometimes it doesn't happen. Then there is a reserve for final...through whatever trust mechanism they have for future investments.
That brings up another question. We've had different discussions about different first nations communities in my area and about how, at times, the government is standoffish when it's being called upon to help, to assist and to govern, as is the job of the federal government, done in co-operation with the local first nation.
There's been a standoffish approach, even though they've been looking for help and looking for answers. We know personal examples, which I've brought to you, and the government has said, “Look, we're not going to get involved.”
This brings up a concern. From the community members' perspective, they want to see that this is done responsibly and that it will actually land in the places where it needs to land. I'm not getting any kind of new assurance that a mechanism is in place and that this will be done in such a way that a clear light is shone on how that money is going to be spent in the communities.
—of the compensation. We wouldn't do that with respect to any community that you represent.
We have to tread a very fine line. The Indian Act is very heavy-handed. People like me, in the past, have intervened too aggressively with devastating social repercussions. Sometimes it's been with evil intentions and sometimes with other intentions. That's the arena we're in.
I'm going to celebrate this with them, because it's long overdue. It's very important. Obviously you want to see results hit the ground.
I know we've had separate discussions on this. My role as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and my prior roles in Indigenous Services Canada are roles I've had to play very judiciously, hoping that I'm not intervening in areas where we've been too heavy-handed.
I get your point, but I think at the outset we have to start trusting each other a little better, particularly when we're the ones being sued and we're the ones who haven't paid the bills.
I think it's important to reflect on where we are in this country in terms of indigenous issues.
I've been going to the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly gathering that's been happening in Ottawa for more than 20 years. First, it was as part of the Assembly of First Nations Youth Council and then as a proxy. I spent some time as a regional chief too.
I remember that during the whole time I was on the youth council and was a regional chief, there was only one minister for all indigenous issues, including all of the things that are ISC-related today, that are Crown-indigenous-related today and that are northern issues.
We've seen, over the past few years, a real dedication from our ministers in making themselves visible during these meetings with the Assembly of First Nations. We are seeing all the ministers take time to meet with the different caucuses. At one time, there was only one minister who had to handle this huge responsibility.
Minister Miller, one of the responsibilities under Crown-Indigenous Relations is reconciliation. I think Canadians really woke up to the realities of the need for reconciliation with the discovery of children's bodies in several places, including in Kamloops and Saskatchewan. We're in the process of getting to the truth of just how many children went missing during the time of the residential schools.
I'm wondering if you could talk to us a bit about the progress we're making on the reconciliation file, especially with the calls to action around the burial grounds. They're calls 72 to 76, I believe. Could you talk to us about some of the money we've put out from coast to coast to coast to get to the truth, help indigenous families and communities find closure and help them reconcile with the dark history of Canada?
Something has just come to my attention. MP Idlout will appreciate hearing this, as indeed all members will. My understanding is that operations at the site in question—at the dump site—have been paused by the mayor and Premier Stefanson. This is good news. I believe this is what families have been asking for. That is positive news, and we'll see what happens next.
I don't want to take too long with my answers, MP Battiste.
About 96 projects are under way across the country to search those former sites. I've had the opportunity over the last year or so to visit about 20 sites across the country. Each has unique stories and survivors who have suffered unspeakable horrors, some speaking for the first time, some still suffering in silence. That space we still have to recognize and honour.
The reality is that this will take years to figure out. Closure comes in many forms. It comes in being able to speak about it, or it comes in being able to trace a long-lost loved one. That means a lot of money and investment from the Government of Canada.
You tend to think that radar searches are where you see the financial pressure. That isn't the case. They're relatively cost-effective. The real work is working with survivors in communities, having community gatherings and having healing sessions. Obviously, there are going to be long-term infrastructure asks that we will have to work with communities to do. It isn't every community that wants to do a search. There are traditions and views that say you leave the space lying as it is and do not touch anything. There are others that differ wildly from that.
When you talk about a place that kids have been dragged to from different communities with different protocols, you can imagine that communities are reeling and trying to figure out what the best protocol is to engage people. That is time-intensive. It is also retraumatizing, but it goes to that process of accountability and closure that people are trying to figure out. Accountability may very well mean bringing someone to trial. Accountability may mean trying to find out where your loved one was lost so that you stop blaming someone else for their disappearance. There are specific examples of that that have been shared with me in confidence. Each of them is unique, and each of them has to be honoured and researched.
I would finally highlight—so I don't dig into your second question—that the funding of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation for the next few years and the investment in a new building are so key to making sure that survivors have a focal point where they can go, consult and get documentation so they can get that information and perhaps closure. That is outside the control and purview of the federal government, which obviously they still have some healthy mistrust towards.
Minister, earlier you said we would ideally resolve the Indigenous housing shortage in the communities by 2030. That's in eight years, but we could just as easily say it's tomorrow.
We've often reiterated the fact that, in Quebec alone, we would have to spend $3.9 billion to build 10,000 units. For Canada as a whole, we're talking about nearly $40 billion for 120,000 units. I would point out that this only represents the shortfall.
In Quebec, 225 units of this type are currently being built every year. If we did a calculation to give us an idea, we would have to build 1,250 units. We would have to multiply funding by a factor of five just to cover the shortfall, and I'm not even talking about inflation, additional costs, delays or additional units that we will need.
I'm speaking generally, but I know the issue is more complex than that. In light of this information, and even considering more details and subtleties, can we admit that we won't be able to meet the 2030 target despite the amounts that have been invested? We simply can't do it.
There are obviously some challenges, and it may involve much larger amounts than those you've stated. In the past few years, we've tried to determine the exact size of the infrastructure shortfall, particularly in housing. It's enormous. It could well exceed $40 billion, regardless of inflation. We have a target for 2030, but it will be hard to meet. The problem won't be entirely solved in one budget cycle, but all governments, regardless of political affiliation, will have to invest in housing.
Does that mean your government may increase funding to offset the shortfall? We already know we can't do it. I wasn't talking about infrastructure generally; I was referring solely to housing based on the investments I outlined.
Will you increase funding by a factor of five this year? That's the amount that will be necessary or else the effects of underfunding will be cumulative.
Are you going to increase funding so we can meet the target?
I'm going to ask my question in English. We all know that food insecurity is a major issue, and I see that Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada is requesting $87.3 million to support food security in the north.
What are your two departments going to do to make sure that these funds don't just go into the pockets of for-profit corporations that are showing record profits, and that they actually go into the mouths of people who need to be fed by this program?
That's really an interesting question. You probably heard Minister Vandal's answer on nutrition north as well as some of the supports through COVID that have supported country food. I saw some amazing stuff going on in Inuvialuit in particular over the summer to keep people safe and get them good, nutritious food.
I don't think we should be afraid to speak publicly about the fact that we need to have a rethink and perhaps a means testing of some of the investments we're doing to keep healthy and nutritious food going into the north and, in particular, the Far North. I don't have the answers to that just yet. I think it's going to take a lot of work with rights holders to come up with a plan that's a little smarter than nutrition north.
Nutrition north works in different ways. It certainly needs more money, but the reality is that someone making a lot of money can get the same type of rebate that someone with less means can, and I don't think that's necessarily fair. I'm not launching a revamp of nutrition north from the committee, but I think we need to put some thought into that because it isn't working at the height at which it needs to work in order to keep people properly fed.
Yes, there is an advisory committee with all relevant players. In fact, most of the major changes that we did recently were at the suggestion of ITK and NTI. We work with those external players. They are the ones who recommended the harvesters grant, for example, and they're the ones who made the recommendations on the bannock list. They're very much at the core of who is driving an awful lot of the conversation about the program.
That still doesn't answer my question about how the monitoring of monies for those for-profit corporations is working. Nobody is monitoring the corporations and how they are using nutrition north. That's what I was asking about. How will this government monitor it so that it's not the for-profit corporations monitoring the use of this $87 million?