Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 2 - Evidence - Meeting of March 25, 2009
OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:32 p.m. to study the federal government's constitutional, treaty, political and legal responsibilities to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, and other matters generally relating to the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada (topic: follow-up on safe drinking water for First Nations).
Senator Nick G. Sibbeston (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Good evening, colleagues. We are the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. It is a standing committee of the Senate. Tonight we will be dealing with two reports. The first report is on water and the second report is on economic development.
Before we start, I would like to introduce my colleagues. To my immediate left, Senator Elizabeth Hubley from Prince Edward Island; Senator Patrick Brazeau from Quebec; Senator Daniel Lang from the Yukon; Senator Sandra Lovelace Nicholas from New Brunswick; Senator Lillian Dyck from Saskatchewan; and Senator Tommy Banks from Alberta.
Then to my immediate right are Senator Nancy Greene Raine from British Columbia; and Senator Sharon Carstairs from Manitoba.
I will introduce the officials who are here before us: Christine Cram, Assistant Deputy Minister, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships, Indian Affairs and Northern Development; and Michael Roy, Acting Director, Programs and Procedures Directorate, Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Welcome, and please feel free to begin.
Christine Cram, Assistant Deputy Minister, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: Good evening, honourable senators. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to provide information on the department's activities to help ensure safe drinking water in First Nation communities, and to provide an update on developments and actions taken with respect to your report on safe drinking water in First Nations communities.
The provision of safe drinking water and the effective treatment of wastewater are critical in ensuring the health and safety of First Nations people and the protection of source water on First Nations lands.
In 2006, the Government of Canada, together with the Assembly of First Nations, announced a Plan of Action for Drinking Water in First Nations Communities, and provided $60 million over two years to improve access to safe drinking water.
In Budget 2008, the government invested a further $330 million over two years to improve access to safe drinking water in First Nation communities through new measures outlined in the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan.
Further, in Budget 2009, Canada's Economic Action Plan, the government allocated $165 million over two years to accelerate water and wastewater infrastructure projects in First Nation communities across the country.
On March 19, Minister Strahl announced 14 of the 18 water projects that will be built across the country. These investments will not only improve the quality of life on reserve, but will also stimulate economic growth in these communities. These investments are over and above the annual departmental A-base of approximately $200 million for water.
Also on March 19, Minister Strahl outlined improvements that have been made since 2006. The number of high-risk drinking water systems has been reduced from 193 to 58. Of the 21 communities that had both high-risk systems and drinking water advisories in place, only four communities remain in that situation today.
We all know the importance of having properly trained and certified individuals operating these treatment facilities. Qualified operators not only ensure that residents receive a safe supply of water, but they also play an important role in preserving the life of infrastructure assets.
This is why the department has enhanced funding to the Circuit Rider Training Program, which helps train and oversee the work of First Nations water and wastewater system operators. Today, the percentage of operators in First Nation communities with at least level 1 certification continues to climb. In the fall of 2007, less than a year and a half ago, only 41 per cent had earned certification. That number now stands at 61 per cent.
Since January 2008, 12 additional circuit rider trainers have been hired and we are planning to hire approximately 15 more in 2009. In addition, the circuit riders have now formed a professional association in order to better serve First Nations.
In its Report on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations, your committee made two recommendations. The first was that the department provide for a professional audit of water system facilities, as well as an independent needs assessment of First Nation communities' water and wastewater systems. We are moving forward on this recommendation.
This is a large and complex undertaking, and we have been working with Public Works and Government Services Canada on the contracting process. The assessment will cover 1,300 communal water and wastewater systems, and over 70,000 wells, cisterns and septic fields, in 607 communities spanning nine regions. The assessment will provide a strong factual basis for the Government of Canada to develop a long-term strategy for water and wastewater for First Nation communities.
The assessment will also evaluate the potential for use of individual on-site systems, such as wells and septic systems, and the potential for sharing systems with neighbouring off-reserve municipalities.
This type of work takes time and expertise. The bidding process for this assessment has just closed and evaluation of submissions is under way. It is anticipated that the engineering assessment will commence this spring.
The second recommendation from the Senate Report was that the Department undertake a comprehensive consultation process with First Nations communities and organizations regarding legislative options.
We agree that a regulatory regime on-reserve would help to provide the tools necessary to ensure First Nation communities on-reserve enjoy comparable standards of safe drinking water to those enjoyed off-reserve. A regulatory regime would also provide accountability and enforcement measures and would give First Nation residents assurance that safe drinking water is being provided on-reserve.
Commencing on February 17, engagement sessions began with First Nation representatives, regional First Nation organizations and provincial-territorial governments on the principles of a proposed federal legislative framework for safe drinking water. Eleven of the thirteen cross-Canada sessions have been completed and the two remaining sessions will be finished by March 31.
Discussion at these sessions focuses on the preferred option of incorporation by reference of provincial/territorial regulations into federal law, with adaptation as required to meet the needs of First Nations communities.
This approach would not put First Nations under provincial or territorial jurisdiction; rather, the Government of Canada would reproduce existing provincial-territorial water regulations to ensure comparability with an existing, proven and well-understood regime.
These engagement sessions provide an opportunity for First Nation representatives, provincial-territorial representatives and other stakeholders to explore the scope of a potential regulatory regime, including enforcement and accountabilities. They provide the opportunity for First Nation representatives to discuss their thoughts regarding this approach. Participants are free to express their views on any and all legislative options.
Those not attending the sessions also have the opportunity to submit their views on the proposed legislative approach online through written submissions. We have also posted the discussion paper for the engagement sessions online in order to make it available to anyone with an interest in this issue so they may also have an opportunity to express their opinions.
At the conclusion of these sessions, a report containing a summary of the views expressed by participants at the engagement sessions, including written submissions, will be provided to the minister. This report will be taken into consideration in developing proposed legislation.
Should proposed legislation be developed and passed by Parliament, further engagement with First Nations, regional First Nation organizations and provinces and territories will take place on the development and implementation of federal regulations. This further engagement will likely take place over the course of several years.
We realize that despite the progress, much remains to be done. We recognize that access to safe, clean water is essential to a community's ability to survive.
We will continue to partner with individual communities, national and regional First Nation organizations, provinces and territories, Health Canada and Environment Canada, so that residents of First Nations can enjoy the same protection afforded other Canadians when it comes to drinking water.
I would like to note that we have distributed three documents. The first is a document called "Water is a Treasure.'' This kit was prepared by Health Canada, Environment Canada and INAC with the help of the IFN and other First Nations organizations. This kit is directed to schoolchildren. It is hoped that the activities in the kit hope will increase First Nation children's awareness of the importance of clean water and also encourage careers in water. We provided this to bands, provincial organizations, ministries of education, so it has had a wide distribution.
The second document we provided is the kit being used for the water consultations. This is the kit that is used at the sessions that I spoke of, the 13 across the country.
The third package of material is the package of the announcements on the 14 new water infrastructure projects.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Ms. Cram. Does that conclude representations from the department?
Ms. Cram: Yes.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you. I want to recognize Senator Grafstein, from the region of Ontario, who has joined us here tonight.
Senator Carstairs: Thank you, Ms. Cram. Looking at your front page, you think you are in the House of Commons, but you are not; you are in the Senate. Perhaps in the future you can make that change.
Ms. Cram: I am sorry.
Senator Carstairs: I have several questions I want to ask about your presentation itself. You talk on page 3 about the budgetary figures. You talk about $330 million over two years, which I presume is $165 million for budget year 2008-09 and $165 million for 2009-10. Can you tell me if the $165 million, which would be $82.5 million for this budgetary year, is in addition to that $165 million and so in fact you would be spending $165 million plus $82.5 million?
Ms. Cram: The answer is yes.
Senator Carstairs: It is an additional amount of money that has been spent?
Ms. Cram: Yes.
Senator Carstairs: In terms of the Circuit Rider Training Program, are these positions primarily being filled by First Nations persons? If so, what percentage of them are First Nations and how long does it take them to become proficient at least at level 1?
Michael Roy, Acting Director, Programs and Procedures Directorate, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: In this case, the First Nations are slowly starting to take the positions. Where there are no Circuit Riders, we will take a Circuit Rider who may not necessarily be an Aboriginal Circuit Rider trainer. However, where the Circuit Rider program is in strong operation, such as Manitoba, a majority of First Nation people are starting to take over those positions. We are slowly phasing it into a First Nation group that will have the ability to support First Nation careers and so on.
Senator Carstairs: On page 9 of your report, you talk about these engagement sessions beginning on February 17. I presume you mean February 17 of this year, because then you go on to say they will be concluded on March 31.
Ms. Cram: Yes.
Senator Carstairs: The report that came down from the Senate was May 2007. Can you explain why it took from May 2007 to February 2009 for these consultations to begin?
Ms. Cram: To start with, this is the second set of consultations we have done. First, we had technical sessions with technical people beforehand, both with First Nations and also with provinces and territories, to determine the level of interest in an engagement process and how to design it. We spent a number of months doing that.
We also spent a number of months developing the materials and discussion paper for it. These sessions were planned to take place earlier but had to be delayed because of other activities that were under way.
Senator Carstairs: Finally, with respect to this document, "Water is a Treasure,'' I found it interesting that you mentioned it had been distributed to bands and ministers of education, but you did not say it had been distributed to schools.
Ms. Cram: Yes, it has been distributed both to First Nations schools and provincial and territorial schools.
Senator Carstairs: Is it in every classroom, in every band, school across the country?
Ms. Cram: We distributed it to them. I cannot guarantee it is there, but they certainly received it. We had a very broad distribution, so they did receive it.
Senator Carstairs: What was the cost of production?
Ms. Cram: I am sorry. I do not know the answer to that. I can get that for you.
Senator Lang: I would like to take the opportunity to commend the department for taking on a job some three years ago. Looking at where you started and where you are, I think you have made great strides, in view of the testimony given today.
Not having been part of this committee, but having read about this issue over the last number of years, I think kudos must go to the federal government for taking this on and doing what we are doing. There are obviously some outstanding issues.
In your presentation you speak about the high-risk drinking water systems being reduced from 193 to 58. When will we be down to zero?
Ms. Cram: That is a very good question. One of the reasons we are doing the engineering assessment across the country is — as this committee recommended — to have actual engineers looking at each community to determine what is needed and the best solutions.
We hope to get the 58 down as soon as we can. The additional money provided in Budget 2009 will help to reduce them as well. There are really challenging issues in some places, that will take a couple of years to deal with. A water plant usually takes about two years to be built properly. We are working, and we hope we will continue to see a reduction in these high-risk systems.
As to whether we can achieve the same progress as in the past, we will have to see what the engineering assessment suggests to us in that regard.
Senator Lang: Following on with that, I noticed we had 21 communities that had both high-risk systems and drinking water advisories and now we are down to four communities. What are we doing in those four communities? Are alternatives being provided at this time? Once again, the same question: This must be a priority, looking at the number of communities. Do we have a time frame for when we will be able to resolve their problems, or will we be able to resolve them?
Mr. Roy: Work is under way for those remaining communities. In some cases there are some infrastructure events that have to move forward. They are in the plans and work will go forward. In others, there are issues of training for the operator to get that person trained, in place and up to speed.
In some cases, it is not just a matter of training them but a matter of years of experiencing to obtain the certification required, et cetera.
Out of the four that are remaining, one of them is Shoal Lake, Ontario, where we have a project on the books to upgrade the system that will be moving forward.
In Northwest Angle, Ontario, there is a study under way to find a more permanent solution to resolve the issue. There is oversight being placed there. The Ontario Clean Water Agency is providing support and oversight to the facility to ensure the water provided is safe as a short-term solution until the longer-term solution is in place.
It is the same thing for the other ones. Oversight is in place. We have enhanced Circuit Riders as well to do more training, and there are also places they can call, 24 hours a day, when they have a problem.
In Muskrat Dam, a project has started to expand the system. In this case, we want to get the operation, the trainer and operator in place to solve that.
Kitigan Zibi will be a longer-term issue. There is uranium in the water, and it is not as easy to address. Those on the communal system are fine. We have to come up with a longer-term solution to address the situation for those on individual wells.
Senator Lang: It is a pretty massive infrastructure project that you have undertaken over the last number of years. Along with the capital cost of the program, there is obviously an ongoing operation and maintenance program that will have to come into effect. Do you have the projected operation and maintenance costs that will be involved in running these systems? Is the money included in your base?
Ms. Cram: The way our funding works is that we cover not only the capital infrastructure, but we also cover the operations and maintenance costs. Currently, our budget covers operation, maintenance, new construction, the training, the Circuit Rider program and all those things.
What will happen is that as the new construction comes on, you devote more to operations and maintenance than you had before to include those new plans. We do have sufficient dollars to cover.
In terms of how much is operation and maintenance, I do not know. Mr. Roy, do you know that? If we do not know the exact number, we can get that for you.
Senator Lang: I will not ask you to provide it tonight, but I would like to see that figure. I think we should see the ultimate costs of this. As politicians we ask for things, and at the end of the day there is an ongoing cost we forget to ask about. I think we should know what the final project will cost. We know what the capital is, and we should know what the operational maintenance each year will be.
Ms. Cram: The engineering assessment will look at both the optimal solutions and also at what the ongoing operating costs will be for those optimal solutions.
The Deputy Chair: You will undertake to provide us with the information and send it to our secretary?
Ms. Cram: I would be glad to.
Senator Hubley: Welcome, and thank you for your presentation this evening. My question is along the same line. It has to do with when we get to the legislative stage. It was suggested that further engagement would take place with the First Nations and regional First Nations organizations, provinces and territories.
Our witnesses expressed a concern that water and waste water systems on reserve must be brought up to clear standards before a legislative, regulatory regime is put in place. They expressed concerns about a risk to individual communities that were unable to comply with legislated standards as a result of deficiencies in their existing water systems.
Is that something you were planning to do? Will you be using — as you just mentioned — that engineering assessment to ensure these communities do not have to be burdened then with coming to a standard of legislation before they can have their safe drinking water?
Ms. Cram: Senator, you are absolutely right. That is why we are doing the engineering assessment. This committee recommended that there needs to be an assessment right across the country in terms of trying to determine the optimal solution. The idea is that information will help us develop the plan to bring these systems up to a proper standard.
In the engineering assessment, they are using the current protocols we have as the baseline to determine what needs to be done. Then the idea is you would phase things in. The government first has to decide if it will proceed with legislation. After the consultation, we will provide a report to the minister. Based on that report, he will consider whether he wants to proceed with legislation. The government will have to decide if it wished to do so. That legislation would have to get passed, and we would need to work on implementing regulations. That is when we would have further consultations and be able to determine what is required to meet those regulations.
Mr. Roy: It is also a question of a phase-in. For example, Environment Canada is coming up with municipal waste water effluent regulations and there will be a phase-in period of a certain number of years that municipalities have to get up to standards. That will be a consideration for us as well. As we get the national assessment results in, we will know how long it should take us to get the systems up to the standard we want. From there we will plan accordingly to upgrade the systems, and the implementation and phase-in of any regulations.
Senator Hubley: Thank you for the answer. I have a sense that that will take quite a while. Do we have that amount of time before we improve the situation?
Ms. Cram: We are not waiting, in the sense that we continue to make progress. We are working with a protocol now, so we are continuing to work towards that end. We will not stop making progress towards that end until such time as we have the results from the engineering assessment. We also will not wait until the day we might have the legislation and regulatory framework.
We will continue working, making the same efforts we have been. As you have seen from the results, we have made quite a lot of improvements. We will keep trying to do that. Hopefully, it will all come together so we continue to make that improvement and have brought systems up to the level they need to be, while at the same time, we will be ready to implement regulatory framework.
Senator Brazeau: Welcome back. I have a quick comment and a question. Obviously, you have to be commended for the work that has been done because, when we look at the numbers of high-risk communities we had in 2006-07, obviously there has been a substantive drop in that number. I am sure you will agree that more needs to be done and you mentioned that, as well. However, there has been some progress and that is positive.
I have a question with respect to the consultation process. Previous testimony reflected concerns by First Nations organizations and communities that they did not want to fall under provincial jurisdiction with respect to water. On page 9 of your presentation, you mentioned the discussion at the consultation sessions included a preferred option of reference to provincial regimes or regulations.
First, I would like for you to elaborate on the consultation process itself. Second, are the individuals, the groups and communities you are meeting and consulting in agreement with this preferred option? Finally, if we will be consulting groups, why is there a preferred option before even having the consultation sessions?
Ms. Cram: The discussion paper identifies the preferred option but it also identifies other options that came out of the expert panel report. It does identify those. Anyone who goes to the engagement session is welcome to discuss any option they would like. The government felt it should do its due diligence in terms of its analytical work and it came to the conclusion that its preferred option was incorporation by reference.
Again, as I mentioned, anyone can express their view on any other option. As you are probably aware, the expert panel considered two other options. One was purely federal legislation and the other was developing legislation based on First Nations customary law.
The one that is easier to articulate in a discussion paper is one that is already known, in that it starts from a basis of what already exists in provinces and territories. Water does not stay still, as people know. We felt it was important for the issue of clarity on how to administer and look after water that it was compatible with what happens in provinces and territories. That is why it was our preferred option.
We will see what we hear through the sessions. I do not have all the results from those sessions yet. They will be compiled for the minister after the March 31 session interim report. Based on what we hear, we will have to see where we go from there.
Senator Brazeau: I would like to add something. A concern I have is the possible impact, if there seems to be a perceived pre-determined outcome as to the preferred option in the current consultations with stakeholder groups and communities. I would not want this committee in a year from now to hear from these stakeholder groups and communities that they have not been properly consulted. It would act as an impediment for any progress that we can implement as quickly as possible. We have seen that in the past.
Ms. Cram: That is a risk.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Unfortunately, some of my questions were already addressed. I would like to touch on Senator Carstairs' question about First Nations people in the labour force for the water. I would like to see women promoted in this project, as well.
Ms. Cram: That is a very good suggestion, Senator Lovelace Nicholas. As Mr. Roy mentioned, we would like to have every single one of the circuit rider trainers and every one of the certified water operators be First Nations. Personally, I would be delighted if many of them were women. We are working towards that.
We still have to work hard at it. One of the challenges is for people to complete the training. A number of people have been water operators for a long time but not certified and, thus, may have to return to school or take a lot of training in order to meet the requirements.
I will say there is another challenge, also. They are in very high demand. What often happens is that a First Nation will get an operator trained up and they will be attracted away at better pay. There is a turnover issue.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Yes. I know that women sometimes might have to drop out or quit the training or their jobs because there is no daycare service available.
Ms. Cram: Good point.
Senator Grafstein: Welcome, witnesses. This is the fourth set of witnesses I have heard from the government in the last six and a half years. I am glad it seems we have new blood and energy. I commend you for that. However, I am confused by your numbers.
This question returns to Senator Carstairs' point and please tell me if I am correct. You spent $60 million in 2006, you spent $330 million in 2008, you have another commitment for additional money — $165 million — and, in addition to that, there is $200 million a year that is part of the administrative package.
How much new money has been spent per system in the last three years to bring new systems online? My estimate is $3 million per system. Am I right about that?
Ms. Cram: Per system?
Senator Grafstein: Yes. All I have done is take your numbers and divided into the total number. Can you give us a sense of exactly how much money is being spent by the federal government? You have told us it has all been spent. How much has been spent and what is the cost per system?
We now know that part of it is capital and part of it is operations. However, could you provide a more detailed breakdown, system-by-system, so we can have a better sense of whether the money is going to the right place at the right time as quickly as it should? This is called the accountability lesson that we have learned from our friends on the Conservative side.
Ms. Cram: The challenge for a per system figure is that every system is different.
Senator Grafstein: I understand that.
Ms. Cram: I cannot tell you exactly per system how much money would be spent. The number you came to by dividing the total number of systems —
Senator Grafstein: Just give the committee the numbers, large or small, as to how much has been spent on what particular systems, how much is capital and how much is operating so we can assess whether the money has been properly spent or is being properly spent.
Ms. Cram: I would be glad to get them for you.
Senator Grafstein: I will move on to the next question. Of the existing good systems, what has been the number of boil-water advisories in the last three months? I am speaking of the good systems, not the high-risk systems.
Ms. Cram: We can tell you how many boil water advisories there were during the month of February.
Senator Grafstein: I would like you to break them down. We know the high risk systems will probably have boil water advisories every day. The question is how many boil water advisories have there been with the good systems.
If you do not have these numbers at your fingertips, just take this as notice.
Do you have a sense of what those numbers might be?
Mr. Roy: I do not have a number offhand. We will look into that.
There is a variation that I want to explain. A low-risk system is one that is being well run. If it is well-run, they will catch a problem and a boil water advisory will result. You will see boil water advisories, but they will be addressed more quickly. We will get the numbers for you.
Senator Grafstein: I have received 17 lectures on boil water advisory versus healthy water. Give us what you have so that we can assess what you are doing.
In the communities where there is a high risk system, do the people know that they are in a high-risk situation? How do you communicate that to them? It is the public's right to know that they are getting bad water.
Mr. Roy: Drinking water advisories are issued under the authority of the First Nation chief and council. They get advice and recommendations from Health Canada. I cannot give you the full details of how it works at Health Canada, but they have been providing packages to get the message out.
Senator Grafstein: I understand that, but do the 58 high-risk communities know that they are high risk? How is that information communicated to them and what is their option to get good drinking water every day?
Ms. Cram: Just because you have a high-risk system does not mean that you have a problem with your water. You do not necessarily get boil water advisories because you have a high-risk system. A high-risk system means you have a higher likelihood of getting boil water advisories. All those communities that have boil water advisories know that they have boil water advisories. In fact, they have a process of putting notices on households if there is a problem.
In many cases, there may be a particular well subject to an advisory and there may be 5 or 12 houses on that well. Those households are notified that there is a boil water advisories so that they can take the appropriate precautions, or they may be provided with bottled water.
Senator Grafstein: In the list you give us, will you include the boil water advisories in those communities that are supposed to be well done now and those that are high risk?
Ms. Cram: Yes.
Senator Grafstein: What are the health costs to those communities that suffer from bad drinking water? Do you have any statistics to indicate how bad the health of these communities is as a result of bad drinking water?
Ms. Cram: I do not know the answer to that question, and I do not know whether Health Canada would have an answer.
Senator Grafstein: I can tell you that Health Canada is reluctant to give us those numbers, because if they give us those numbers they will have to do something about it. As this committee proceeds with this study, it would be useful for us to have some quantum of health analysis to see how much money the taxpayer is paying for the bad health of these Aboriginal citizens because they have bad drinking water. It is part of a zero sum analysis of money. Can you give us that?
Ms. Cram: Unfortunately, Indian and Northern Affairs does not have the health information.
Senator Grafstein: Could you see if you can get it from another department?
Ms. Cram: We could ask Health Canada if they would provide that.
Senator Grafstein: That would be helpful.
I do not understand the regulatory framework. Is the regulatory framework the voluntary guidelines that the food and drugs section uses in its interprovincial discussions, or are they binding standards for the Aboriginal communities? Is there a difference between a standard and a regulation?
Ms. Cram: There is currently no regulation that applies.
Senator Grafstein: Let me move on.
Let us talk about the people who are trained. How many tests are done per community per week, per month, per year? Could you provide a breakdown of that? I am asking about individual tests in the water system.
We learned in Senator Banks' committee that in Newfoundland they are proud of the fact that they had done testing. They said they are now testing. We discovered that testing was not regular, that it was once a month. In New York, for example, they test the entire water system once a day and every district once a week.
What is the testing formula today for the Aboriginal community?
Mr. Roy: The testing formula is the testing requirements of the Canadian drinking water quality guidelines that were developed by Health Canada.
Senator Grafstein: How often?
Mr. Roy: I do not know the numbers offhand, but I can provide them to you.
Senator Grafstein: System by system in the last six months, how many tests; what was done; what were the findings?
My final question for now: Do you know how many elements are tested for in the guidelines that are being adopted for the Aboriginal communities? We have heard from our Aboriginal colleagues that in Aboriginal communities they find chemicals and other things that are not found in the rest of Canada. How many elements in the guidelines are being tested for as part of this regime? Is it 20, 30, 40, 50? Give us the number and give us a breakdown of the things that are tested for. Do not tell us about guidelines. Tell us what the guideline is, what you test for and how often you test.
To my mind, this is how to satisfy ourselves of whether, as Senator Lang has said, the government has done a great job.
Ms. Cram: Health Canada undertakes the testing, so we will have to get that information from them.
Senator Grafstein: Finally, how many scientists are used by the Aboriginal community for this testing?
Ms. Cram: Again, Health Canada does the testing, and I do not know how many scientists they use for that purpose. Again, we can ask Health Canada for that information.
Senator Lang: I would like to ask about the procedure for asking questions. It was my understanding that we could ask perhaps three questions and then another senator would have an opportunity to question the witnesses. I did not realize this was a cross-examination.
The Deputy Chair: I think Senator Grafstein was getting to the end of his questions. Can you accept that you have posed quite a few questions and that we should move on?
Senator Grafstein: I am not a member of this committee.
Senator Lang: You have monopolized the whole conversation.
Senator Grafstein: I understand that, Senator Lang. We have been at this for some time. There is a seven-year history of this issue in committees of the Senate. This is not new. I hope that, with the indulgence of the chairman, although I am not a member of this committee —
Senator Lang: That is the point I was going to make.
Senator Grafstein: In the Senate any senator can attend any committee and ask questions. I thought it would be useful for senators to have the benefit of what we have learned in committees.
Senator Lang: I understand that every senator has that right. However, at the same time, I would appreciate if you did not abuse that right.
Senator Grafstein: It is up to the chairman, not you.
Senator Raine: I appreciate the work that has been done. I know that this issue has a long history and I think everyone in Canada is hoping that we can resolve the matter and provide clean drinking water for all our citizens.
I want to ask something quite different. The assessment you have coming up will cover 1,300 communal water and waste water systems. I take it those systems serve more than one house. Many Aboriginals live on the land and are very spread out. There are 70,000 wells, cisterns and septic fields also to be looked at.
My question is this: Are we looking at what is being done in other countries and jurisdictions to find the most up-to- date and effective types of wells? There are probably a lot of places where wells are very difficult to drill and then operate, but I want to ensure that we are not working in isolation in Canada. We should be looking at other countries with similar terrain and similar rural properties and coming up with the best technology possible for any new wells, cisterns or septic fields.
Ms. Cram: Those are excellent suggestions. One of the reasons we thought doing the engineering study this committee recommended was such a good idea was that we were addressing water issues by building big plants. That was effective for certain parts of communities, but you still ended up with a lot of people on individual systems. We wanted to ensure that this engineering assessment was very broad and looked at the best technology that can be brought to bear on the solutions.
The cost of things has reduced in terms of individual systems. I do not know all the technical details, but you can now have a good solution that is inside a household. It is a much better solution. We want to look at those. In the past, the department was focusing on big communal systems. That is why we want to move to the approach that you are suggesting: Look at the best technology in the world and also look at all the needs in a community.
Senator Raine: I am glad to hear that. I think that one-size-fits-all does not work with Aboriginal communities. They love their land and they love being on the land. We cannot try to imagine that the systems they need for clean water and for looking after waste products will be those needed in an urban situation.
I come from a small community, and we were tasked with building a sewage treatment plant. We found technology in the Czech Republic that was designed for pig farmers whose problem was that their ground water was being polluted. They gathered up the effluent from the pigs and trucked it to a central place. It required a certain kind of technology because it was shock loading the system. There are great solutions in the world and we need to look everywhere so that we come up with the best and cost-effective solutions.
Mr. Roy: To add to that, we have been looking around. Last October, the Canadian Waste Water Association held a workshop, and, at our request, they added an extra day and brought in experts on small, individual and communal systems. We had our people there to learn about what was out there and what our options are because we were not familiar with it. We have been looking elsewhere to see what we can use.
Senator Banks: I would like to make a general point. As members of the committee know, this committee and other committees who are concerned with matters having to do with water, have been scathing in their criticism of a succession of governments, including the government before this, and the government before that, and the government before that. This is an ongoing, utterly non-partisan question. The criticism, questions and concerns are based on the facts and have nothing to do with singling out a particular government for criticism. I can assure you that if you read the reports of this committee previously, and the committee of which I was previously the chair having to do with water, you would find extremely volatile, critical language addressed at previous governments, as well as this one. The frustration that sometimes comes to the fore is based upon the fact that this has been going on for so many years under a succession of governments of different stripes and is still not fully addressed. I know you understand that, but I just wanted to make that point.
My question to the witnesses is in respect of your opinion on a philosophical view. Who is the proprietor of these new plants that you are building? Who owns, operates and is responsible, at the end of the day, for the safe operation of the new water plants to which you have referred? Who owns them? Who operates them?
Ms. Cram: It would be the individual chief and councils. It is their asset. It is not considered to be a Government of Canada asset. The Government of Canada funds it, but, at the end of the day, it is that individual First Nation who owns that asset.
Senator Banks: Right. Let me use an example: I am a manufacturer or purveyor of any consumable commodity, including one of which a First Nation might be a proprietor, a store let us say — and there are many examples of that. If I sell or purvey or manufacture bubble gum, or bottled water, or corn flakes, or chocolate bars and someone gets sick as a result, there are legal sanctions that are brought against me because I would not have done due diligence in those respects. Some of them are criminal sanctions. There are penalties for failing to apply sufficient due diligence to ensure that when I sell you something, wherever it is, that it is consumable and that I will not make you sick.
Do you think, as I do, that private proprietors, municipal proprietors, of something that they sell you out of the end of a tap, or in a bottle, or in a bag of ice, ought to be responsible in the same sense that the manufacturers of bubble gum, bagged ice, bottled water, corn flakes, meat and potatoes and eggs are, to ensure, upon penalty, that these things will not make me sick?
Ms. Cram: I am sorry; I cannot answer that question. My view would be that whatever regulation or legislation governing what you have described would set out who was responsible for what and what penalties would apply in the event that something did not happen as it should.
If I use the case of water, the challenge we face on-reserve is that we are working on the basis of protocols. We do not have a legislative framework or a regulatory framework. That is why it would be important to have that.
Senator Banks: Would it not be easier if there were clear, simple regulations?
Ms. Cram: Exactly. We think we need to have clear, simple regulations.
Senator Banks: From where will they come?
Ms. Cram: That part of the consultation process is to discuss various legislative options. Should the government decide to proceed with legislation, it would do so and set up a regulatory framework. We do not know the end result. We have said that our preferred option is one of federal legislation, which would incorporate, by reference, provincial regulations. However, we do not know what it will end up looking like.
Senator Banks: I have a concern with incorporation by reference of materials into legislation. Often, the incorporation of those materials includes ambulatory materials that might change. They come from sources other than government and might be changed by those other sources of government. If it includes, as some legislation does, the provision that if it is changed from time to time, that still becomes part of the regulation.
My worry is, why would you want to incorporate by reference provincial regulations — they are not even regulations — guidelines that are so vastly different across the country? Is someone in Corner Brook not entitled to the same kind of water as someone in the Siksika nation? At the moment, they are not. The one place in this country that we can assure unanimity of regulations across the country is in First Nations, because the federal government controls them to some degree. The disparity from province to province in the guidelines that are applied, and in the applicability and enforcement of them, is vast from province to province.
I do not know how you could incorporate provincial regulations by reference. You would be admitting that the regulations that apply in Manitoba, which might be more stringent than the ones that apply in Saskatchewan, do not apply in Saskatchewan. I do not understand that.
Ms. Cram: You raise good questions. We are not that far along yet deciding on how we will proceed with legislation or regulations. The issues you raise are good ones to consider.
Right now, as you pointed out, each province has different regulations.
Senator Banks: What does that have to do with it?
Ms. Cram: We feel that in a particular province, the rules that apply on-reserve vis-à-vis water should be the same rules or similar to the rules that apply off-reserve.
Senator Banks: First Nations on water will be susceptible to the lowest common denominator of where they happen to be.
Ms. Cram: It is possible, depending on which province they are in.
Senator Banks: Exactly.
Ms. Cram: We also said that we need to look at how they could be modified. We are not saying it would be necessarily exactly like that province's. You raise very good points, senator.
Senator Banks: Thank you. You appreciate that we have been raising them for a long time.
Senator Dyck: My question has to do with the human resource needs in terms of water treatment. The first recommendation from this committee was that INAC should undertake an independent assessment of the physical assets as well as the human resource needs. It is clear from some of the comments you have made that the people who are operating the system are as important as the actual physical system itself. It sounds as though progress has been made on infrastructure.
What have you planned in terms of undertaking a needs assessment of the human resources and training programs for the operators of the systems? Can you develop a specific training program for First Nations operators that may stay on the reserve longer than someone who is not a First Nations person? If there is a differential in pay that is drawing the water operators away, then why are we not equalizing the pay?
Mr. Roy: You raised several questions there. I will hopefully get to all of them. Please remind me if I miss one.
The national assessment that is moving forward will have part of that answer. It will be looking at the ongoing operation and maintenance costs. Part of that operation and maintenance is the salary for the operator, ensuring the operator is there and so on. That is part of the resource needs in that sense.
Another program that is moving forward is the Circuit Rider Training Program. That is specifically for the training of the operators. We have been expanding that program. It has been working well, particularly in the regions where it has been for some time now. In fact, our intent was to double it over a few years. We are almost there. Hopefully, by the end of next year we will reach our target. We are trying to get one trainer per six to ten First Nation communities. This trainer goes to those communities. He is always there to provide support and training to those operators at all times. That promotes it in that sense.
The Circuit Rider program has been going so well, in fact, that just recently, as of last Wednesday, the trainers have formed an association, the Circuit Rider Trainers Professionals. We got all the Circuit Riders across Canada together. They are sharing all of their best practices, techniques, on how they are moving forward. They are also promoting that as a career path. At that meeting, the question about Aboriginals getting into the job came up. They are training the operators so that the best ones can come into the training program, and train future operators. We have a separate program moving forward into promoting the human resource aspect of the operator system.
Senator Dyck: How do you get into that on the entry level? You are talking about Circuit Rider training operators that are on reserve now.
Mr. Roy: Yes.
Senator Dyck: How do you get someone who is not an operator into the system? Would you have a program to advertise and recruit?
Mr. Roy: There are different aspects to it. The "Water Is A Treasure'' kit we mentioned a while ago is to get awareness into the schools. There has been a good uptake. We are all out and will have to print a new batch. That promotes it on the educational side and we will be trying to move it forward again.
In terms of the operator side, we want an operator and a backup. That ensures succession planning for all of the operators. The backup training is how the new person gets in. While there is an operator there, the backup operator starts to get his or her training. If the primary operator moves elsewhere, the backup is ready to take his or her place and we can get another backup operator.
That kit is for the lower grades; that is true. We have an idea of how to expand it. Some groups are looking into that. It gets the idea at the very least. It shows how water and the water operator are important. We have noticed that when the little kids go back to their parents, the message is spread faster. That was phase one.
Senator Dyck: You do not have anything directed towards high school students?
Mr. Roy: Not yet, no.
The Deputy Chair: Everyone has had a chance to ask a question. We are at the point where our allotted time for these witnesses is up. I take it Senator Lang's point is on a point of order.
Senator Lang: I want to make a couple of points to Senator Banks. I am new to this forum. I know I have not got 20 years of experience, but I want to make a couple of points. I am in two committees. I have not only witnessed it here but in the other committee I am involved in as well. I find in some cases one particular member tries to monopolize the time of the committee and I do not think he or she should, in deference to all the other committee members.
Second, when we do ask questions of the witnesses, I do not like to see it almost verging on being disrespectful and an attack on the witnesses. I do not appreciate that. As a member of this committee or any other committee, I do not think it stands us in good stead.
I have a question that bothers me. We spoke about the provincial water standards, about the lowest common denominator. I would like to ask, and we should have for the record: If it is the lowest common denominator, is that the provincial standard? What is that and how do the provinces compare to one another? I find it difficult to believe that, where I come from, the water standard is so low that it is the lowest common denominator. I expect whatever the law is, that the water standards are what will meet my health standard.
Have you done a comparison of the provincial jurisdictions as far as their water standards are concerned and how they relate to each other?
The Deputy Chair: Do you have an answer for that, Ms. Cram?
Ms. Cram: I would just mention that all provinces have to follow national guidelines, federal guidelines, but they each have different legislation. When you say lowest common denominator, we have not ranked provinces anywhere in terms of where they are. Different provinces have different provisions in their legislation and regulations.
Senator Carstairs: I will ask for a written response to my question, since I do not think they can answer my question.
I would like to have a breakdown of the $30 million spent in the fiscal year 2006-07, $30 million in 2007-08, and $165 in million 2008-09, as to exactly how much was spent on the development of a new water system, not spent in INAC, not spent on bureaucracy but spent on actually developing the water system in a particular community.
The second thing I would like to address is the issue that Senator Brazeau raised. It is critical. My experience has been that if you go into an Aboriginal community, and you say, "This is what we will talk about,'' that is not considered a consultation. Then they will come back afterwards and say, "We were not consulted. You came in and told us what you wanted to do.''
If you have already decided on your preferred option, are you not fearful that they will then turn around and say they did not have a consultation but a directive?
Ms. Cram: On the first question, we would be happy to provide that information to you, Senator Carstairs.
Regarding the second comment, so far, First Nations have not at all, at these sessions, as I understand it, been hesitant to express their views. They are doing so. We will get all that information together and then make a recommendation to the minister on how to proceed. I do not think we are finding that First Nations are hesitating to express their views about the option we have proposed or any other option. Whether they will choose to say they have not been consulted, I cannot say whether that will occur or not.
Also, this will not be the only time. We are intending to have further discussions, if we proceed with the legislation on a regulatory regime.
Senator Brazeau: First, if we fast-forward and we get to a legislative framework, will the department, at that point, be in a position to recommend to the minister that perhaps it would be an option to have the drafting of such legislation with stakeholder groups, as was done with the specific claims legislation?
Second, with respect to the $165 million over two years that was announced by our government for infrastructure projects, such as water; What is the department doing to promote that there are significant amounts of money to be able to do this. That would mean we could get shovels in the ground, train, and give the capacity to our Aboriginal peoples so that we can get on with the work at hand and create some jobs?
Ms. Cram: In terms of the first question, Senator Brazeau, the government will have to decide what sort of process it wants to use for the development of legislation, but certainly an approach where draft legislation is shared is a common practice. I cannot say whether that will be the one that gets chosen or not, but it is not uncommon to do that.
In terms of the $165 million, as I mentioned in the opening remarks, that is for 18 projects. Fourteen of those projects have already been announced, and we expect the other four projects will be announced in the coming weeks. Every attempt is being made on all those projects, as well as the school projects that were announced, to ensure that they lead to economic benefits such as training and employment.
That is a key part of any of those infrastructure projects. You are probably aware that Budget 2009 included funding for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, for their training program. That will help ensure that people have the opportunity to be trained and take advantage of these opportunities.
Senator Raine: We just received your kit, and I have been looking through it, and it is well structured in terms of the consultations that will take place. Even though you come up with a preferred option, there is so much information here that it makes it easy for anyone involved to have a good look at it.
I saw right away something in regard to the wells and septic systems for individual service. With 70,000 wells out there, there is a lack of guidelines for those wells. It says here that regulations governing original well site selection on the basis of risk assessment and safe operation of wells do not exist.
We have to ensure that gets addressed as well. Do not leave that out. Do not just focus on the big systems.
Ms. Cram: Thank you very much for that, senator. That is an area we need to start focusing on.
Senator Grafstein: I just want to apologize to Senator Lang and other senators on the committee. My passion gets the better of me. I have been on this file for close to a decade, and progress is slow and not as fast as we would like.
I would like to conclude with this: The provinces are not obliged to follow the federal guidelines. They are voluntary, and there is no criminal sanction if a province does not follow the guideline. I thought that should be on the record. I think the witness agrees with me.
Ms. Cram: Yes, I do. Thank you.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much, Senator Grafstein.
Thank you, Ms. Cram and Mr. Roy, for the information you provided us tonight. We look forward to receiving written answers that have been asked for by senators.
Ms. Cram: Thank you, senators. I appreciate the opportunity.
The Deputy Chair: The witnesses now before us are Sara Filbee, Assistant Deputy Minister, Lands and Economic Development, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; Rose Kattackal, Director General, Aboriginal Business Branch, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; and Alan Clarke, Director General, Strategic Policy Branch, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
For the rest of the evening, we will be dealing with the federal government's response to a report that our Senate committee had done a number of years ago. The report is entitled Sharing Canada's Prosperity — A Hand Up, Not a Handout.
The report was tabled in the Senate in March 2007. The government gave its response in February 2008. Tonight, we will look at the progress that has been made since, and any other related questions.
Welcome to our committee tonight. I want to mention that Chief Clarence Louie is here. He is a great proponent of economic development on his reserve in B.C. Welcome. I am glad you are here. You can check to see whether the officials are telling us the precise truth tonight.
You may proceed.
Sara Filbee, Assistant Deputy Minister, Lands and Economic Development, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: Thank you very much, honourable senators. We appreciate very much the opportunity to appear before your committee today.
I am here this evening to describe the progress that the Government of Canada has made towards achieving better economic development outcomes for Aboriginal communities and peoples in Canada.
Specifically, I would like to outline the government's work to date on development of a new federal framework on Aboriginal economic development, which was a key recommendation of this committee. I will also highlight actions we have taken in the interim to move us toward achieving better outcomes for Aboriginal economic development.
Aboriginal leaders like Chief Clarence Louie have reminded us often that the best way to improve the health of a community is to invest in economic development, as the healthiest communities are those whose members have jobs and incomes.
We agree wholeheartedly with this statement. And we have been taking important steps forward to advance the Aboriginal economic development agenda.
With a number of factors that seem to be aligning — a young and rapidly growing Aboriginal population, a growing land base, the proximity of many First Nations communities to natural resource projects and a vibrant visionary and entrepreneurial leadership in many communities — there is an opportunity to make a real and positive impact on the future for Aboriginal entrepreneurs, businesses and communities.
As you know, in Budget 2008, the Government of Canada made a commitment to "establish a new federal framework for Aboriginal economic development'' in consultation with Aboriginal groups and other stakeholders.
This engagement was our first step. We wanted to know both what is right and wrong with the current federal approach.
We undertook an extensive, cabinet-authorized engagement process that ran from August 2008 to January of this year. Over 5,000 individuals took the time to read our discussion guide, Towards a New Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development, and many provided us with comments.
We met with more than 30 organizations, groups like the Metis National Council, the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs Committee on Economic Development, the National Inuit Committee on Economic Development and the Native Women's Association of Canada. Provincial and territorial governments were also engaged, as were Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal private-sector groups, including major corporations and financial institutions.
Our engagement process complemented the extensive consultations undertaken in the development of your 2007 report. We wanted more information on how the people we serve see the legislative and regulatory barriers facing Aboriginal peoples — the impediments to accessing land and resources for business development, the deficits in governance, human capital and infrastructure, and the fragmentation of the federal approach to economic development.
Out of this process, and I am oversimplifying, we heard that Aboriginal peoples are poised to take control of their economic future. People are ready and impatient to get on with the job.
We heard that instead of the current inconsistencies across federal departments and agencies, future federal programs should be more disciplined and mutually supportive, focused on economic development levers.
We were further reminded that rather than the current scattered approach to federal investments in human capital development, education, social assistance and labour market development, these programs should be connected and mutually reinforcing.
Furthermore, we heard that investments intended to support economic development should be systematically assessed, targeted and expanded where there is proven potential to produce real results. We also heard that major federal spending initiatives, such as housing and infrastructure development, should be linked to Aboriginal economic development.
We heard that mutually beneficial business arrangements should be forged between the Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal private sectors, and steps taken to ensure that businesses on reserve can compete on a level playing field with the mainstream private sector.
Finally, we were reminded that more federal spending should focus on the connection to Aboriginal economic development, and should leverage a growing involvement by corporate Canada in investment, lending and joint projects with Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
Informed by the input we have received, my team is currently preparing advice for Minister Strahl on how to maximize the federal role in Aboriginal economic development. We expect him to go to cabinet with his recommendations for the framework within the next few months.
It is too early to specify precisely what the new framework will contain. However, we know that First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples and non-Aboriginal Canadians expect transformative change.
There is no one simple answer to achieving this kind of change on a very complex and dynamic issue such as Aboriginal economic development. It is, however, a priority for the Government of Canada to improve the opportunity for Aboriginal Canadians to fully participate in the economy.
While we forge ahead with the development of the framework, the Government of Canada has already been making changes to the way Aboriginal economic programming is being done, and moving ahead with the kind of transformative change your 2007 report called for.
The lands and economic development sector was created last year, through an internal reorganization within Indian Affairs and Northern Development, to bring together key elements of Aboriginal economic development policy and programs, including lands.
We have established a $10 million loan loss reserve pilot that will lever up to $40 million in capital from commercial banks. We are investing $10 million in partnerships with Aboriginal communities, the private sector, provinces and territories for major resource and energy developments.
We have continued to move forward with legislation such as the First Nations Land Management Act, in order to address the negative impact of the Indian Act. Twenty First Nations communities are now fully operational under the First Nations Land Management Act, while another 30 are in the process of developing their own land codes.
The department has taken a number of steps to accelerate its Additions to Reserve, or ATR, process. Since the 2005 Auditor General's report, INAC has made great strides in the conversion of land to reserve status, with in excess of 315,000 acres being converted in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, representing a 42 per cent increase in three years.
Treasury Board has recently approved the First Nations land registry regulations to administer the First Nations Land Registry for First Nations operating under the First Nations Land Management Act, providing greater certainty and security of tenure to lenders and title insurance companies.
The government continues to support the ongoing operation of Aboriginal financial institutions, and is currently undertaking work to improve the suite of support offered to small Aboriginal businesses by restructuring delivery of Aboriginal Business Development Program's equity contributions — ensuring debt availability of AFIs — and strengthening our relationship with the AFI network.
The government has moved to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of Aboriginal youth, announcing the Reforming First Nation Education Initiative in July 2008, directing funding to this issue through the First Nation Student Success Program.
Budget 2009 addressed many critical infrastructure issues, including the construction of new schools, the renovation of older schools, the construction of housing and health infrastructure, water and waste water treatment facilities and increased support for community policing.
Budget 2009 dedicated a total of $515 million over the next two years to these critical infrastructure investments. For the community of Burnt Church, for example, this means a new K-8 school for students, including a library, computer lab, playing fields and a kindergarten.
Finally, Budget 2009 set aside funding for a new Aboriginal skills and training strategic investment fund, strengthening partnerships with business and developing targeted training to see Aboriginal employment grow. This latter program is particularly needed as it focuses on those particularly vulnerable to the downturn, helping them to acquire the necessary skills to adapt to a changing labour market.
All these actions move us in the same direction as the future framework towards investment-ready communities, viable Aboriginal businesses, a skilled Aboriginal labour force and a whole-of-government approach to Aboriginal economic development.
We will continue to move forward in a number of areas in concert with and as a result of the framework.
We will forge ahead with program renovation, building on the success of new initiatives like the pilot loan loss reserve and the major resource energy development initiative. We know we need programs like these that have measurable impacts, are focused on the specific needs of communities and are targeted where they can have the greatest impacts.
We will accelerate the adoption of the First Nations Land Management Act provisions by more First Nations, increasing the land assets that can be used by communities for economic development. We will continue to move legislative and regulatory reform forward, enabling more communities to develop land, manage their own resources and spur on their own development.
Currently, Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Indian Oil and Gas Act, is before Parliament. This initiative is intended to clarify and modernize the future regulation and management of petroleum resources on reserves, levelling the playing field between on- and off-reserve oil and gas activities. In the process, it will reduce barriers to economic development.
Fifty million dollars in new investments identified in Budget 2008, will provide some of the support that we need in order to move ahead. We anticipate that it will continue to support initiatives like the loan loss reserve and other access to capital initiatives, enable us to develop a strategy and funding proposal for comprehensive lands management and foster sector partnerships in the resource sector. Sector partnerships are key in preparing us for a return to a growing economy where natural resource development will play a crucial role in Aboriginal economic development.
Finally, we recognize that the federal government cannot go it alone. We will work with other federal departments, provinces, territories, corporate Canada and even foreign interests in developing partnerships that can leverage the efforts of the federal government in Aboriginal economic development.
The challenges we face are significant, and there is no one simple solution that will address all of them. The Assembly of First Nations' recently released report, The State of the First Nation Economy and the Struggle to Make Poverty History, points to those challenges. Education, income and employment gaps still need to be closed. The statistics show that we are headed in the right direction: Between 2001 to 2006, reducing unemployment from 19 per cent to 14.8 per cent, increasing average incomes by nearly 25 per cent and witnessing a 31 per cent growth in Aboriginal self-employment. In all these instances, Aboriginal growth outstrips that of the non-Aboriginal population.
We will continue to move ahead with the initiatives I have spoken about, all the while mindful of the changing nature of the economy and the labour market.
We will continue to consult and engage with stakeholders to ensure that the framework we are designing responds to the needs of all Aboriginal Canadians. We will continue to update all those following our work, such as this committee, on our progress as we move forward. We will continue to pursue the development of vibrant Aboriginal economies within the Canadian economy to the benefit of all Aboriginal Peoples and all Canadians. This is no small challenge, but I am confident that progress is being made.
Senator Carstairs: Thank you. I spent last Thursday listening to representatives from literacy organizations across the country. They gave me a figure, which I guess I should have known and did not, that 42 per cent of Canadians are functionally illiterate. That does not mean they cannot read or write; they can. They cannot read a doctor's prescription or a doctor's instructions as to tests they will take. Twenty-five per cent of our 15-year-olds are illiterate. What are those comparable figures for Aboriginal communities?
Ms. Filbee: I can get you the figures on that. I am not sure if we have them with us, but we can certainly get them for you.
Senator Carstairs: Thank you. Although Chief Louie may think that the health of communities depends on economic development — and I do not very much disagree with him — I think it is fair to say that economic development depends on the quality of education that Aboriginal people have in order to enable them to take advantage of economic development opportunities.
We just listened to the previous presenters who in fact indicated to us that many Aboriginals are not being trained or cannot be trained to look after their own water systems, and non-Aboriginal people are being used. They hope to change that, and I hope to change it as well, but right now that is not the situation.
How closely are you working with the education systems in Aboriginal communities to ensure that they have the human capital ready to take advantage of economic employment opportunities?
Ms. Filbee: I cannot answer too much along those lines because I do not have responsibility for the education side of the work done at INAC.
Our relationship is more with HRSDC with respect to issues around training, apprenticeship and so on. I do know there is a lot of effort being made with respect to K-12, and I also agree with you that that is a foundation for future success, literacy and employability.
We can obtain a response to that in terms of how we actually do that work, if that would help.
Senator Carstairs: My final question and comment is that that is the problem. There are too many silos working within the Aboriginal communities, and they do not work effectively with one another.
I once asked at a cabinet committee if those who are working in the Head Start program talked to the teachers teaching kindergarten and grade 1. I was told they did not, because they were run by different branches of government. If you are not preparing Head Start kids to go into kindergarten and grade 1, what are you training them for? That is the purpose of Head Start.
I guess my frustration is that I do not see the changes taking place that I think are essential; that HRSDC talks to INAC, INAC talks to Health Canada and they work together to improve the condition for our Aboriginal people.
Alan Clarke, Director General, Strategic Policy Branch, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: One of the things we are trying to do with this framework is to look at a kind of whole-of-government approach to economic development. One of the things we are suggesting we consider when we look at economic development is the broad dimensions of economic development. We are looking at things that we call the economic base, which are people, lands and resources, infrastructure; we want to look at the economic climate — laws and regulations; we want to look at things like institutions of governance and governance. We also want to consider things like fiscal capacity to relationships, as well as things we are calling economic activation, which are where we make deliberate decisions to invest through different programs or activities to stimulate the economic activity available in your economic base. We want to do that in a broad way, and one thing that was successful in terms of our engagement strategy is that we put a broad lens on economic development. We were able to look at the interrelationships of all these different things that affect economic development.
The other thing we want to do is ensure that when we talk about whole-of-government, we are actually talking about whole-of-government. We are working closely with not only HRSDC, but also with other departments that have some measure of responsibility for programs and policies that affect Aboriginal Canadians and the economy.
For example, internally in the government, we set up a federal working group that has over 20 different department and agencies that are participating in our work. We have a broad network. The idea ultimately, at the end of the day, is to ensure that when the federal government is thinking about economic development, we think about it as broadly as we can.
We make a lot of investments through the federal government in things like human capital. We want to ensure that investments in human capital are extended across the spectrum. If you are investing in social assistance, you think about the link to economic development. If you are investing in infrastructure, you think about the link to economic development. I do not think we are there today, but it is certainly something the framework was trying to achieve, and it was one of the things that drove the decision and the direction from cabinet to move forward with this framework.
Senator Brazeau: Welcome, and thank you for your presentation. There can be no denying that the Indian Act is probably the single greatest barrier to economic development and for communities to start developing their own economies, because of all the red tape attached to the Indian Act — red tape, no pun intended.
In conjunction with that, we have the First Nations Land Management Act. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the First Nations Land Management Act came into force in 1996 or thereabouts. When the act came out, there were 14 signatories, in terms of communities.
You mentioned in your presentation that the department will accelerate the adoption of communities buying into the First Nations Land Management Act. If we look at the period from 1996 to 2009, we have currently, I believe, 30 communities that are fully operational and another 30 that are developing their own land codes. When we look at the big picture of over 600 First Nations communities across the country, it is alarming in terms of the First Nations communities who are not buying into the act.
What exactly will the department do to incite and invite communities to opt into the FNLMA?
Mr. Clarke: The First Nations Land Management Act is just one of a number of different tools supporting the modernization of the economy in First Nations communities. One of the things we heard, not only from this committee but also when we conducted our own engagement sessions across Canada, is that one size certainly does not fit all. There are a number of different solutions for different communities, based on their needs, conditions and opportunities. There are successful communities that operate under the Indian Act and there are also successful communities operating under the FNLMA.
The goal may not necessarily be to bring all of the First Nations into the FNLMA. It may be the solution for some communities, but there must be a broad selection of measures that people can opt into. I think most people would agree, however, that there are not as many First Nations in the FNLMA as want to be.
Senator Brazeau: I realize that, but I also realize that there are, unfortunately, many First Nations communities are in remote areas and have no resources on their lands, which makes it difficult for them to create any economic development opportunities.
In terms of revenue and resource sharing, can you tell us the breakdown of what the federal government and provincial governments would receive, as well as First Nations communities?
Mr. Clarke: That is a technical question. I do not know if we would have that information with us today, but it is something we can look into.
Ms. Filbee: Are you talking about oil and gas?
Senator Brazeau: Any type of natural resource revenue-sharing arrangements that are in existence.
Ms. Filbee: With respect to resources on First Nations' land, under the Indian Act, there is a fiduciary responsibility, so the benefits go to the First Nations. Indian Oil and Gas Canada, for example, is the vehicle we use with respect to oil and gas resources on lands held under the Indian Act, and that is how we account for that. All of the monies that are gained through the use of those resources actually go to the First Nations. I am trying to understand your question.
Senator Brazeau: Do you have a breakdown of the percentage of revenue that goes to the First Nations? We hear many leaders across the country say that one of the impediments to growth and prosperity is the fact that First Nations are not able to have an equitable share in the resource distribution that comes out of the natural resources found on First Nations lands.
Ms. Filbee: My understanding is that, subject to the fiduciary responsibility, those are the resources of the First Nations, but I will get back to you on that.
Senator Brazeau: I think it was a positive step when our government took Aboriginal Business Canada from industry and brought it under the purview of Indian Affairs to make it a one-stop shop. That is very important.
I would like to mention as well, just for the record, that I, too, was consulted and had a dialogue in my previous capacity. One of the questions I had asked at that time, which I will repeat tonight, is what exactly the department will be doing to engage industry or corporate Canada in investing and perhaps creating opportunities in conjunction with First Nations communities who would like to partner up.
Rose Kattackal, Director General, Aboriginal Business Branch, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: We initiated two pilot projects as part of Budget 2008, involving $20 million, and $10 million of that was towards major resource and energy development projects. We are just finalizing agreements around those projects.
The idea is to look at opportunities that are near or in Aboriginal communities in regard to resource and energy projects. Our contribution of $10 million across three or four pilot projects is not very much, so the idea is to lever federal contributions, assist Aboriginal communities in getting a sizable share in a future project and bring the private sector — and in some cases, provinces and territories — to the table.
This project is long term. In the short term, there might not be returns. However, if you look at, say, hydro or mining or a larger project where there will be future returns to the community, this is the way we are partnering with the private sector and with provinces and territories.
The other initiative is loan loss reserve. We are in the process of negotiating agreements with commercial financial institutions, the mainstream, which normally would not lend to Aboriginal clients because they are seen as high risk; they do not have assets they can use to secure loans. This initiative is being piloted and is focused on First Nations businesses. We will encourage commercial financial institutions to provide loans to First Nation businesses, particularly medium- and larger-sized businesses. If the Aboriginal client or community defaults on the loan, our contribution will provide 90 per cent return to the commercial financial institution. This initiative is to encourage commercial financial institutions to invest in and provide loans to First Nation clients.
Ms. Filbee: Mr. Clarke also referred to some of the work that we are doing across the federal government with other departments. In the natural resources sector, we are exploring the identification of various collaborations — for example, where there is mining or forestry — to explore how we can increase the participation of Aboriginal communities and populations in those sectors and to determine what are the barriers, impediments and so on.
As you know, in many of those types of industries, an increasing number of partnerships are being formed between owners of the resources and larger companies. That also may well be a vehicle in the future for increasing partnerships.
Senator Lang: I have a few questions. One has to do with the question of finances available for economic development across the country. I think I read $10 million was available. Looking back in the last 10 years, I know that allocations of dollars have moved around the department. Where are you looking for more money to make it available and to make it that much more substantive across the country for Aboriginal economic development?
Ms. Filbee: The first step we are taking is to develop a framework and engage in discussions across the government to build an understanding that there is an opportunity we need to address and that money going into this will be leveraged, spent effectively, strategically and so on.
At that point, there will continue to be discussions with the departments of Finance Canada and the Treasury Board, the keepers of the money, as to whether and how we can access more funds directly.
However, one of the approaches we are also taking through the whole-of-government approach is to try and leverage funds being spent by other government departments, whether it is Natural Resources Canada, Health Canada, et cetera, and try to put in the lens of economic development so we can hopefully leverage other expenditures more effectively.
Senator Lang: I would like to return to the First Nations land registry and the regulations. I gather they have just been put in place over the last year. Is that correct?
Ms. Filbee: That is correct.
Senator Lang: I am very much a proponent of this type of policy for government. I would like see the Aboriginal people owning their own homes and property, if it is possible. I think it has to do with the 99-year lease.
How many actual communities have taken advantage of this across the country?
Ms. Filbee: Of the First Nations Land Management Act?
Senator Lang: Yes, the land registry. Also, how many communities have implemented it?
Mr. Clarke: I think there are 22 First Nations that have opted into FNLMA and there are about 30 —
Ms. Filbee: — in the pipeline working towards it. The land registry is for lands under the Indian Act, so they are not necessarily within FNLMA. It is what most of the communities are still under.
Senator Lang: Could I follow this through, then? Are you telling me that the registry would not apply to communities if they wanted to subdivide and provide leases to the people with their homes there?
Ms. Filbee: The registry does relate to the FNLMA communities.
Senator Lang: I just want to have it clarified, if I could, and then I will leave it for other members. If I am a band member, this registry allows me to lease my property for a 99-year lease and then go outside and procure money to build myself a house? Is that correct?
Ms. Filbee: The scheme of the act is that the First Nation, under the FNLMA, puts in place its own land code. Therefore, it would depend what the land code is that they have put in place for their particular community.
Senator Lang: Is there any community that has allowed a subdivision and have it privately held?
Ms. Filbee: I will check my source. I do apologize; I recently entered the job, so I am still learning some of the details. I apologize that I do not have it right at hand.
Senator Lang: I am learning, too.
Ms. Filbee: With the chair's indulgence, we will invite Mr. Egan to the table.
Martin Egan, Director, Additions to Reserves Lands Branch, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: I am not aware of any First Nations that have a code that would allow for that type of acquisition of land on the reserve under the FNLMA. The First Nation can put in place its own code but I am not aware of any that would be similar to what you have just described.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Would you know offhand how many schools will be built on different First Nations?
Ms. Filbee: I would want to have the specific number of schools for you. Ms. Cram, who was just speaking on water, would have had that number at her fingertips but I can certainly find it for you.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: As you know, a lot of the schools on First Nations have mould and poor air quality and children are becoming sick. I would assume each community that has this problem would get a new school.
Ms. Filbee: We will obtain the information for you in terms of the numbers. Thank you for the question.
Senator Banks: I thank the witnesses for appearing. I will continue along Senator Lang's line of questioning.
Am I right that reserve lands, per se, cannot be hypothecated in the sense of a mortgage or any kind of hypothecation. Is that correct?
Mr. Egan: Right now some First Nations have an ability under the Indian Act to put in place provisions allowing this under section 21 or section 22, where there are certificates of possession. Those certificates-of-possession lands are the closest thing to private ownership under the Indian Act.
Senator Banks: Can they be hypothecated? Do you know of any instance in which anyone has lent money using those certificates as security?
Mr. Egan: Those lands can be leased.
Senator Banks: That is not what I asked. Can they be hypothecated?
Mr. Egan: I am not exactly sure.
Senator Banks: I am asking the question because Senator Lang said, "If I am a member of a First Nation and I have the certificate of possession, which is the closest thing to fee simple that exists on a reserve, can I borrow money against that to build a house?'' That is the question. Is the answer yes or no?
Mr. Egan: I believe there are some banking institutions that may allow for that but I cannot say for sure.
Senator Banks: Could you find out and let us know?
Mr. Egan: Yes.
Ms. Filbee: Generally speaking, I think you are correct that it is difficult to do. There may be some who are now finding their ways around the difficulties. However, generally speaking, the difficulty has existed. It also exists for entrepreneurs in that it is a form of capital which is not generally available because they cannot mortgage their house and use that as a form of start-up capital.
There is no question that it is one of the impediments. There has been creativity and an ability to get around that in some cases but it certainly has not solved the problem.
Senator Banks: I think there are instances where the First Nation has made loans against some kind of security. However, the traditional lender such as a mortgage company will look at that and say, "Those are federal lands. If I try to take that back as security in the event of a default —''
Ms. Filbee: In many cases, it is also communal lands and therefore the risk would be higher.
Mr. Egan: If you put a lease on it, then the lease may be used as collateral. Therefore, I think there are some ways around some of this.
Ms. Filbee: Yes, where they have taken the lease-hold interest and secured against that.
Senator Banks: I have a further question along Senator Lang's line of questioning. Under the heading "concurrent efforts'' in your presentation, there is $10 million to invest in partnerships for economic development and a $10 million loan loss reserve program. Is $20 million the extent of the money being spent now by INAC to bring about economic development in First Nations? I do not want to be C.D. Howe, but that is not a lot of money.
Ms. Filbee: No, it is not the extent of the funding. That is additional programs recently announced.
Senator Banks: Over and above everything else?
Ms. Filbee: Yes. If you like, Ms. Kattackal could go through and identify available funds in the broadest strokes.
Senator Banks: Would you please do that so we have an idea of the scale.
Ms. Kattackal: We have the Aboriginal Business Development Program with a budget of approximately $38 million. The purpose of that program is to provide equity to Aboriginal clients to ensure individuals can secure a loan either with an Aboriginal financial institution or commercial lender. There is a requirement that the client have 15 per cent or whatever the business proposal may be to start up a business for example. That funding can be used for business planning, getting professional advice on how to set up the business, accounting systems, et cetera.
We also have funding provided to Aboriginal financial institutions to provide loans. This varies across the country. We can also make provisions to have a business support officer who would provide before care and after care — the hand holding. This is once a business has started up. This provides the individual client with what they need to do to get their business off the ground or what they need to do to maintain it for a period of time.
Senator Banks: What is the ballpark amount available in that fund?
Ms. Kattackal: The Aboriginal Business Development fund is $38 million.
Senator Banks: Is what you just described included in the $38 million?
Ms. Kattackal: Yes, it is all included.
We also have community investment programs. I do not have the exact numbers, but it is about $90 million.
Senator Banks: That is over and above the $38 million?
Ms. Kattackal: Yes. Those are investments we have for communities. These could be business planning or economic development from a community perspective rather than an individual perspective.
In total, it is $90 million plus $38 million.
Senator Banks: It is $128 million.
Ms. Kattackal: Yes, plus the new money, $20 million, that will be spent in this fiscal year.
Senator Banks: Is that ongoing and likely to be spent again in the next fiscal year?
Ms. Filbee: The amount announced for next year was $50 million in addition to the $20 million.
Senator Banks: I cannot remember. When was the Nisga'a treaty signed?
The Deputy Chair: It was approximately in 2000.
Senator Banks: The Nisga'a treaty was new. It had different parameters and means of allowing economic development for the First Nation involved, including partnerships, almost fee simple land, and the eventual drawing of a line in return for a certain amount of money.
You must have done comparisons. The agreement was held up at the time by some as a sterling example of a great leap forward in terms of economic development for First Nations. It granted much greater capacity to the Nisga'a people than other First Nations had at the time to bring about economic development themselves and to develop the resources to which they had access. These were in ways that were said to be better or certainly deeper than other First Nations had previously had in terms of access to the resources on their lands.
I assume you will have made a comparison between the Nisga'a history of the last nine years and other economic development. Is it working and is it what it was hoped to be by all of us?
Mr. Clarke: I am not aware of any comparison between the Nisga'a and the rest of the population. However, we have done work looking at First Nations under self-government agreements compared to other First Nations that are not. There is a correlation in economic outcomes within First Nations under self-government agreements. They seem to have trends toward better economic outcomes than those that are not self-governing. There are exceptions as well across the population, but there is a correlation between self-governing First Nations and somewhat better economic outcomes.
Senator Banks: Am I remembering correctly, though, that even among self-governing First Nations, the Nisga'a treaty was different. The terms of the treaty and what was contemplated going forward from that with respect to economic development for the Nisga'a people was quite separate and distinct from other self-governing nations. Do I have that wrong?
Mr. Clarke: That may be true. However, to my knowledge, we have not actually looked at comparing that particular agreement to others.
Ms. Filbee: Governance is well recognized as an extremely important part of successful economic development. For example, there have been contrasts between First Nations communities with significant resources but not such good governance and those who do not have significant resources but very good governance. Quite often, the latter groups are better off in terms of economic development than the ones who have the resources. This is counter-logical, but it shows the importance of governance, which you are raising here.
Senator Banks: For future reference, Mr. Chair, you might want to remember that in relation to the Nisga'a treaty, there was the question of the extinguishment of rights in return for certain benefits. It might be something the committee wishes to examine in terms of how it has worked over the last nine years.
The Deputy Chair: From what I remember of the Nisga'a agreement, it removes them from the provisions of the Indian Act.
Senator Banks: Exactly.
The Deputy Chair: Thus, it frees them in a sense to succeed in all areas. It would be interesting to hear Chief Clarence Louie talk about this since he is here. Regardless of whether you are in a situation like the Nisga'a or whether you are under the provisions of the Indian Act, if the conditions are right — if there is leadership, if resources are made available — then a group will succeed in business. Even under the provisions of the Indian Act, if there is the desire and determination to succeed, I believe you would succeed. All the normal impediments would be set aside.
It is like any person who goes into business. I got into business setting up a bed and breakfast. There are all sorts of hoops and red tape you have to go through. You have to be determined and able to work through these provisions. In a sense, it is like a test. If you are determined, you can get through anything and find a way to succeed. However, if you are not that determined or motivated, all these little challenges would seem like impediments.
I would be interested to hear the comments of Chief Clarence Louie on this point. If we have time, maybe we can give him an opportunity to tell us briefly his experience and why he and his band have been successful. I think it is in the nature of leadership and determination.
Mr. Louie, would you be interested in saying something about this point? It is very relevant to the success of Aboriginal people.
Clarence Louie, Chief, Osoyoos Indian Band, as an individual: I have been sitting back here thinking you should let me answer these questions. I can address all of them.
I have always read things coming from government, and hearing the questions here as well, there is the ongoing rumour that Indians do not own our houses on reserve. I have been on over 100 Indian reserves across the country and I can speak about most reserves. We own our houses and we pay rent for them. We rent to own them under the federal government's social housing program. Yes, there is a backlog of housing. I always tell people that there is never enough money to go around. Whether they are health people or education people, on or off reserve, there is never enough money to go around. The federal allocation of money for housing comes from Ottawa and is divided up amongst the provinces. My understanding is that the social housing program is rent-to-own, and we are waiting for an allocation. The mortgages of people on the reserve are for 20 to 25 years. Their certificate of possession is as close as you can get to fee simple ownership. That is the case for most. There are certificates of possession on most reserves, though not all of them.
In this discussion someone asked whether that could be used as collateral to build a house. Yes, that can be done if some non-natives will come in and lease it for business purposes. There are thousands of leases across the country on Indian reserves. If I were an individual band member who owned a chunk of property that was suitable for economic development, I could try to find a non-native to lease it. Some leases are for 20 years, some for 40 years, and some for 99 years. That revenue could be used to build a house.
Most natives, such as the West Bank Band or the Squamish Band, are under the social housing program, whereby they wait for an allocation and then pay rent. There also used to be Section 95 housing, where there was an individual loan through the band under a ministerial guarantee. The band is essentially a co-signer for the band member's loan to build that house, which is usually a 20 to 25 year mortgage.
I am against the U.S. example, where natives can sell or mortgage their property to anyone. That is how hundreds of thousands of acres of reservation land were lost in the U.S. There, you see a kind of checkerboard system on Indian reserves. We are a border band like the Mohawks or Blackfeet. Half of our people ended up on a reservation one hour south of us by the border. I know that experience. Their 1.3 million-acre reserve is not all tribal land because half of it was sold or taken away by non-natives. Natives there have a right to sell or mortgage their land to non-natives.
You have to remember that native people right across Canada have only had their band or governance offices since the early 1970s. In the Okanagan, we occupied the district offices of the Department of Indian Affairs in 1974. We kicked them out because they were our programs. That is when our band offices opened up in our region. It has all happened during my lifetime.
There are many chances for economic development when they talked about the FNLMA. That gives a lot more funding. Essentially, it removes the Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada, although you have to go through the process of having your land code accepted by INAC under their rules and guidelines. However, it gives more authority and speeds up lease transactions because you do not have to wait for INAC officials to set referendums. You set your own referendums. There are many good things in the FNLMA.
Robert Louie is an Okanagan Nation member and is the chair. Many bands are lined up to get in that but it comes to funding at the federal level. There is not enough federal funding to bring all these bands under the FNLMA. Most everything comes down to lack of funding.
Most bands can be successful under the Indian Act but business opportunities can be lost because of the slowness of INAC's land-leasing process. As Senator Brazeau mentioned, economic development and lands are finally together. We hope that will speed up the land-leasing process and the business opportunities for First Nations across the country. There is a handful of First Nations in every province that operate under the Indian Act. Even with all its impediments, we are still able to get some leases and developments through.
Bands like us are borrowing money at prime minus. We have two banks that want our business so if you have the right governance in place, it can work. The leadership that wants to focus on economic development can make it happen. You have to remember that under this 100-year-old system, 98 per cent of the $10 billion is spent on social and only 2 per cent on economic development. That is what we grew up on. We did not grow up with the idea that we could make our own money. We are in the first era of being business people.
There are bands like Osoyoos, West Bank and Squamish in every province who realize that the economy is the number one issue, as it is with white people. The first thing non-natives did when they came to Canada or the U.S. and colonized us was to take away our ability to support ourselves through economic development. If you go to an island and want to take over the inhabitants, just take away their economic development and then you will control them and make them dependent.
I tell First Nations that if they want to get back their independence, they need to focus on the economy. One lady spoke about education being important and I always say that economic development is important too. People do not want to live on welfare. There is no point to having a degree or a trade so you can live on welfare. Educated people want to work. Educated people want a job.
A previous minister of Indian Affairs, Robert Nault, said that you cannot have social justice without economic justice. I loved it when Mr. Prentice said that he does not want to be the minister of Aboriginal poverty. Every minister of Indian Affairs, including the current one, has been a minister of Aboriginal poverty in this country. We should be moving toward Aboriginal Inc. Let us become part of the economy. We will take care of our own housing, education, health issues with our own sources of revenue. The government will never have enough money. It never has and never will have enough to properly fund anything in Indian country.
The Nisga'a are an isolated community. What they did was outside the B.C. treaty process. That has been going on for 10 or 15 years. They spent hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in the treaty process. After 10 or 15 years, there is one treaty in the B.C. treaty process. Most bands do not want a system where they have to give up things in order to have a treaty. The Nisga'a, in my view, gave up a lot to get that treaty.
Senator Banks: Did they give up rights?
Mr. Louie: Their lands will not be Federal Reserve lands.
Whether the federal government likes it or not, they have that fiduciary, ongoing responsibility. As much as Indians do not like the federal government, they despise the provincial government even more. The Nisga'a did what they did, and that is rare. We have always said that one size does not fit all. Most chiefs that I know across this country want the reserve system just like in the States. The Inuit that I know look at us in the south and wonder why we want a reserve. They do not have a reserve. We grew up with reserves and we will defend our reserves to the hilt.
I spoke to someone from The Economist yesterday. They said that we do not like the Indian Act and want to get rid of it. That is a 100-year-old fight with the federal government. I will be long gone before there are changes to the Indian Act. I tell First Nations people to develop the economy. We need to get a handful of First Nations in every province to become an economic power.
Osoyoos is a small reserve. We employ First Nations people from 13 other Indian reserves. People from Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C. and the Yukon come to Osoyoos to work. A member of my band is in New Zealand right now training in wine making. He wants to be the first First Nation winemaker in the world, and he will be. He was not interested in that until we had a winery.
Four of our people have gone to California to get their golf pro management certificates. None of my band members wanted to do that until we started a golf course. We have people in trades programs right now. They did not do that until we started a construction company.
I believe that the economic horse must be in front of the social cart, not the other way. The government and most First Nations are putting the cart before the horse. The previous speaker talked about education. On my reserve, if we did not start these businesses, no one would be getting a golf pro management certificate or becoming a winemaker or a journeyman carpenter. Education and economic development — you cannot have one without the other.
The Deputy Chair: If you continue to sit there, we will consider you as part of the department staff.
Mr. Clarke: I would like to point out to the committee that I was the one who invited Chief Louie.
Senator Hubley: We are honoured, Chief Louie, to have you at the table this evening.
On economic development and education, I would have made that mistake. I would have said education, then economic development, but we do have to look at economic development that will drive education.
The presentation noted that several factors are beginning to align and indicate some success in economic development, and at the top of the list is a young and rapidly growing Aboriginal population. From your perspective, will that educated workforce carry on the economic development that you have been able to initiate in your communities? I believe that education must be part of this, because the trained minds will be the creative and innovative minds. All of those characteristics will make those businesses succeed.
Have you seen a response within your communities and education system to the economic development that is taking place?
Mr. Louie: Yes. The reality is that most native people do not think white companies will hire them. They would not have obtained their golf pro degrees in San Diego if we did not have our golf course. Seven of our members are journeyman carpenters and two more are pursuing that qualification. They would not be doing that if we did not have a construction company. One young man is studying hotel management. He did not start that until we partnered with a company from Calgary and built a 4.5 star resort with an awesome hotel.
In most First Nations there is a waiting list for education funding. Every program on every reserve is underfunded. We are the only band that does not have a waiting list, and that is because we have our own source of revenue. We are making our own money and we aresubsidizing our students. In fact, we subsidize them at a higher rate than does Indian Affairs. What you get from Indian Affairs is subsistence level. We subsidize our students out of our own pocket, as do all the bands that have economic dollars. Their students do not have waiting lists because they have their own revenue source to fund their people to pursue post-secondary education.
Senator Raine: I have been talking to Manny Jules, who is involved in the First Nations tax commission and has been working on the First Nations land title recognition act. Are you familiar with that? Is it part of your economic development framework?
Mr. Louie: We had Manny at our round table a week or so ago in Ottawa. His claim to fame in Indian country is chairing the First Nations taxation authority.
One thing that has helped bands that are pursuing economic development is the ability to collect taxes from the non- native leaseholders on reserve. That is a great use of money for the Osoyoos Indian band and others.
What is the name of the organization you mentioned?
Senator Raine: As part of the First Nations tax commission, they have been asked to research the land title situation, because land title is not clear on federal lands.
Mr. Jules has done quite a bit of research already. Phase 1 is finished and they are into phase 2, where they are looking at different possibilities for land titles. It is not to make it fee simple title, because there would be an underlying First Nation title on the reserve. It is just to make the titles clear, as Senator Lang was saying, so that there would be more certainty from a business point of view.
Ms. Filbee: You are quite right. We are working with Mr. Jules in exploring that. There are two aspects to it. One is moving toward a fee simple type of structure, and the second is conversion of the lands registry into what they call a Torrens system, which is what most of the jurisdictions now have. It is a form of guaranteed title rather than the old method. When I was practising law, we had to search titles by going through the books, and we could only ever get a title opinion.
Most jurisdictions have moved toward the Torrens system. It is a great enabler of economic development, because it enables land transactions to be done much more quickly and it removes title uncertainties. Obviously, a significant amount of work would have to be done because many properties are not properly surveyed or described, and so on. We are working with Mr. Jules toward having this system in the future.
Senator Raine: Chief Louie, what are the five most serious impediments facing First Nations with regard to economic development?
Mr. Louie: The Osoyoos Indian band council focuses on economic development, as do many bands. However, I find that too many councils do not do that.
I get myself in trouble with Indian people when I start talking like this. Land claims and treaty issues are important. Those are 100-year-old fights. There is nothing wrong with the national chief, the tribal council representatives or the vice chiefs fighting those issues. However, most chiefs and councils do not spend enough time at home creating jobs and making money, because that is not what they grew up with. They grew up with always going after the federal government for more money. That is the mentality that most councils have.
I always tell our people, we have to get from spending money to making money. That is a whole shift. There is a lot more discipline involved with making money. There are not many natives I know that can put up their hand and say they have made millions of dollars and created hundreds of jobs.
There were no economic development conferences in the early 1990s, if you can believe that, in Indian country.
Senator Raine: There are now?
Mr. Louie: Yes, more and more. Things started to roll with emerging leadership across the country. I went to one AFN meeting in my 22 years, only one. That is spinning your wheels. You have to have that forum, that political stuff. The only one I went to was because they had an economic development conference in Calgary a couple of years ago. That is the only AFN meeting I ever went to.
With respect to the Indian Act, there are a lot of problems there. In British Columbia, for example, which has the most number of reserves anywhere in Canada, we need more people at INAC in the lands department. It needs to speed up the leasing process. I have seen it with people on my reserve that want to lease their land out for agriculture, whose plants have to come from Europe, who have lost a whole growing season because INAC is too slow. We have talked about it at our board. INAC must move at the speed of business, not at the speed of government. I cannot stand slow gear. You have to move at the speed of business or else you lose opportunities.
Senator Raine: Are there any post-secondary education programs on economic development specifically for First Nations?
Mr. Louie: There is AFOA, the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada, which is a great organization dealing with financing and accounting.
I heard a tribal CEO tell me this back in the mid 1990s who travelled throughout the United States, and it is the same in Canada: If you go to an Indian reserve and say "let us have a meeting of all the people who work in social services,'' you will fill up chairs with all those people who work as underfunded social workers, drug and alcohol counsellors, education and all that. Then call a meeting in the afternoon for those people in that First Nation responsible for making money for the band, and you would be lucky if you have even one.
My problem with the federal government is they look at economic development as discretionary dollars. Economic development is one of the least funded programs at INAC, if not the least funded. The biggest budget on most First Nations is welfare. The federal government gives every First Nation a full-time social worker and a full-time drug and alcohol counsellor. That means we are entitled to welfare and to drug and alcohol counselling. They do not give us a full-time economic development officer.
They call it discretionary money. I get so mad when I hear that term. If you told a non-native at the federal level or at the provincial level the economy is discretionary, you would get a strong reaction. The Canadian economy and the provincial economies are not discretionary. That is what pays for everything.
It is that mind shift change. Make Aboriginal Business Canada and the economic development branch in INAC the main department. It will not happen overnight.
Senator Brazeau: It is so refreshing to have you here and to know there is a fellow Indian person who also gets heat for saying the right things.
I would like to commend you personally for the stand that you have taken throughout your career to move your community forward. That has created a wave across this country in terms of other communities looking towards you and the model that you have instilled to move forward economically.
I do not want to get into this whole debate of the Indian Act. I think we all agree that is the biggest impediment. It would be great if we could move on it at one point because it would provide more opportunities for our citizens across this country.
What advice do you give to communities who are often in remote areas and who do not have any natural resources that they can benefit from and have very few opportunities to create their own economies?
Mr. Louie: It is good to see that the federal government is finally moving on claims. I get this stuff across my desk from the specific claims branch, the backlog of specific claims. The problem with that, and I tell First Nations, if you want to settle a specific claim, there are a lot of claims out there. I think some of the bands in Hobbema have proven this, and not only there.
It is not about just having the money. You can have the money and still have 30 to 80 per cent unemployment rates and all the crime and social problems in the world. It is not about just having the money. You have to invest that money, create jobs and make money, not just receive handouts per capita.
Most of these bands you are talking about, a lot of the bands I see that are remote, they have specific claims in the hopper, or they are in the treaty process or getting treaty land entitlement dollars throughout the prairies. Any claim you settle must have an economic development focus for it, or else all that money will be gone in one generation.
That is why we need the mind shift, and that is why programs like some of the programs Ms. Filbee and Mr. Clarke were talking about are helpful. It took a hundred years to get First Nations into this dependency mind set, and it will be Aboriginal Business Canada and other programs and education that will get them out of it. Bit by bit, you will see a handful of First Nations in every province start to set the example for other First Nations.
It is the same thing I did; I learned from other First Nations I thought were becoming successful and creating their own jobs and getting out of this dependency where we always have to go to the federal government to get more money. I will say it again: They will never have enough money. INAC has to get out of that mind set of being just a social cart. What does BIA stand for in the States: Boss Indians Around.
It is time for INAC to help First Nations people become successful in the economy. That is the only way that First Nations in this country will succeed. We put on conferences. We get bands from every region in Canada come to our band because they want to learn from on us. Not just us; I suggest they go to other bands in their provinces in order to learn.
You also have to face the realities. Some of these bands, fly-in communities, bands with a hundred miles of dirt roads to get to, have a very limited chance of economic development, unless they have a land claim under which they can buy other land closer to economic development zones. You will never be able to make every First Nation an economic power. That will not happen. That is a fantasy. However, if a handful in each province can be successful, they will look after the employment. Most First Nations people I know — I am not saying all — they want to work in a First Nations community.
I toured the prisons for Corrections Canada two years ago, especially on the prairies, in British Columbia and Ontario. In the prairies, 70 per cent of Aboriginal people fill those prisons. Each year, $3 billion is spent on Corrections Canada. When I asked every prison warden how many of the people in here, forget a full-time job, how many people in here had a half-time job before being incarcerated, there were very few.
Again, it comes back to the fact that a healthy person is a working person. You have to have that job.
As I mentioned, like Osoyoos, we employ Crees and Blackfoots. If just a handful or more First Nations become successful, they will reduce much of this social and welfare spending, the $10 billion that gets spent on social programs.
Senator Brazeau: I agree with you that a change of mind frame needs to take place within our own peoples as well.
I have a quick question for the department representatives. We were talking about education and economic development. I, too, believe that both go hand in hand. I think you will agree that, unfortunately, many times departments work in silos. To that end, we have resources that are available for economic development under the INAC and we also have the Aboriginal Human Resource Development Strategy to train and give capacity and tools to Aboriginal Peoples to enter the workforce.
Have there been any recent discussions between the two departments as to the possibility of bringing the two streams of funding together? That way we would get a better bang for the buck and properly offer the tools and capacity for Aboriginal Peoples to get the training they need. With this, they could create their own economic development opportunities either individually or at the community level?
Ms. Filbee: Absolutely. We are working very closely with the folks in HRSDC that are putting together some of those new work initiatives. One of the things that we are working on is the idea of national initiatives that would meld with some of the work that we are trying to do. For example, with respect to surveying, which is required for much of the work we need to do with respect to lands for additions to reserves, we could increase the number of Aboriginal surveyors. That is one example, but there are a number of different areas.
We also have a program for the FNLMA, for a reserve land management environmental program. I will be speaking at the recognition ceremony, like a graduation ceremony, on Friday morning in Saskatoon to congratulate them on the new crop of graduates coming through. That is something we are talking about with HRSDC, as to how we can perpetuate the work of that program and try to identify further and better ways that we can collaborate. They are very open to working with us and are enthusiastic about doing so.
When you talk in the big picture, it is not that there is not enough money. It is a question of how we leverage it. It is a question of where we are spending it, as Chief Louie mentioned. We spend so much on putting band-aids on and not trying to prevent the band-aids from going on in the first place. Unfortunately, it has been that way for a long time and it will take a long time to reverse that.
The Assembly of First Nations had their economic summit last week or the week before. Their report recognized that we were starting to have some improvement in terms of economic development potential. It is not enough, but it is starting.
Mr. Clarke: In the longer term, one of the things we want to do is have this framework in place to give some overarching guidance and direction to the federal government when it comes to economic development and explicitly make those links between these different areas that support economic development. When we talk about the programs at INAC that support economic development, we should also be talking about some of the programs at HRSDC and other departments that support economic development. Many of these programs are coming up for renewal in 2010, so that is an opportunity for us to make those linkages stronger and integrate some of the work and make things a bit more coherent. We are moving quickly to get the framework in place so we can use it as a guide to how we organize these programs moving into the future.
Senator Lang: This question is either to the new witness or the old witnesses. I have a couple of observations. First, I want to say to Chief Louie that your reputation precedes you. I know you do a good job for your community in southern B.C.
Mr. Louie: It depends who you ask.
Senator Lang: You are good at what you do and that is important.
I want to quiz you in terms of home ownership by band members on reserve land. Where I come from, in the world I live in, we have a lot of social housing, both for First Nations people and non-First Nations people. I find these people do not take care of their homes the same way as people do who own their own homes or have built their own homes. It is a mindset; it is just the way it is. It would be beneficial if, across Canada, we started to promote home ownership for individual band family members to have their own home so they would take care of their own home. They would need access to capital to build or purchase their own home as opposed to going for funding to INAC. It would also, in my judgment, expand the economic possibilities and opportunities for the band, for band members and band companies, if one were to go in that direction.
Mr. Louie: The social housing program I speak of is rent-to-own. You do get to own your own home after you pay it off. On most reserves, you rent to own under social housing. You get your half acre or one acre allotment with that house once it is paid off in 20 years or 15 years, whatever the mortgage is. You are renting it.
I will not get into treaty stuff, but I have talked to a number of chiefs on the Prairies who battle the mindset that housing is a treaty right. That is the idea that the band gets a housing allocation, the band does not charge rent. Band members get the house without paying rent. On all the reserves in British Columbia, you rent to own your social housing unit.
There is another mindset where there are treaties, and I know some chiefs are trying to change that mindset. I went to some of their reserves on the Prairies, and for the first time ever they are saying "enough'' because people who get a house without paying rent do not look after it. The damage is unbelievable after a while because they expect the band to fix everything, too, because they are not paying rent.
Some bands in the Prairies for the first time ever are saying, "for our next batch of social housing, people will be paying rent.'' They have that investment every month in that house. Bands will not fix damage to that unit unless it is normal wear and tear. That is what our band does. It must be normal wear and tear. Under the social housing program, you get a maintenance budget, but that maintenance budget does not go towards broken windows or holes in the walls or things like that.
On half the reserves in Canada, you rent to own your social housing unit and once it is paid off you get your certificate of possession to that house and that piece of property with it. However, there is a treaty mindset on the Prairies. They are struggling with that, to make it a rent-to-own process.
Again, I do not agree with the U.S. experience where the reserve lands are being able to be put up for collateral and being chipped away.
You have to remember, as I mentioned, our governance offices did not open up until the 1970s. This mindset will not change overnight. On every Okanagan nation band, the people rent to own their homes. The house my mom lives in was built in the 1960s. She still lives in it. There are many 40 and 50 year old houses on my reserve that people take pride of ownership in.
Senator Lang: I would like to ask something of the department. I appreciate your comments. The rent-to-own on reserve lands is new to me. I was not aware that was the case, at least back home. Is that prevalent across Canada? If that is the case, do you know how many homeowners are on each reserve? Are they classified?
Ms. Filbee: I do not know. We can find out what data is available and report it back to you. I would be hazarding a guess at this point. I suspect it is different according to each of the reserves but we will definitely send something back to you.
Senator Dyck: I know the evening is growing late but you have been giving us such wonderful comments and my mind just started to clear again. Chief Louie, I picked up on one of your comments. You were talking about 70, 80 and 90 per cent of prisoners in both the male and female prisons in the Prairies being Aboriginal. The women are also in prison but it is the Aboriginal women who are gaining the advanced education. However, they are not necessarily moving into jobs that are creating a business or economy. They are heading into social work in order to be a social worker on the reserve. They are looking into teaching and law to fight the treaty system and look for justice and in health.
In terms of the transformative change, you mentioned the University of Saskatchewan. I was at a banquet the other night for the Aboriginal Business Students Society, an up and coming group of Aboriginal students who are looking to create businesses as individuals; students starting T-shirt companies and so on.
In the vision that INAC sees, could you see focusing on developing in that area; creating training programs to encourage more individual entrepreneurs?
Ms. Filbee: Yes. One of the interesting and exciting projects we have underway is some work with Status of Women Canada with respect to entrepreneurship and women. Some of the initial discussions have been around not really having enough data to really understand the situation and that one of the first things we need to do is to start gathering data.
That is part of the work we are doing that is aligned with the framework in terms of identifying what is happening and what will happen. One of the interesting aspects about economic development with respect to women is that women tend to be primary caregivers and, thus, the money they earn tends to be spent on the family; where the need is.
Senator Dyck: I did not make myself very clear. I was not focusing specifically on women. I was thinking about business programs for Aboriginal students and for training Aboriginals, male or female. I am talking about economic training programs to increase the number of people with the entrepreneurial mind set and ensure they have the skills to go out and apply it.
Mr. Clarke: That is a very interesting comment. It is something we heard when we were going out and engaging with people on our framework. Entrepreneurship is not necessarily something people are thinking about right off the bat. It is not necessarily the first thing people wanted to do.
However, there were a lot of people who identified that as a gap in terms of how to be an entrepreneur.
Senator Dyck: I want to relate a very short story. My uncle lived on the Gordon First Nation and, as a young husband, he left the reserve to try and work because the traditional role for men was to be a provider and protector. However, he could not do that because he did not want to give up his treaty status when he left the reserve. That blocked the traditional role.
Yet in modern times, I think it is very clear from what Chief Louie said to us — and I believe it myself — that it is important for people to be independent. The way to be so is through employment.
Ms. Filbee: I might answer your question in a slightly different way. One of the areas we are working on is with respect to the support of Aboriginal financial institutions. Money flows to them to support their work and to support some of their networking capacity and so on.
I mention it because, while it does not necessarily refer to the MBAs and that specific type of education, they can become sources of what we call "smart money,'' which is, in many cases, even more effective in terms of developing business opportunities. It is not just money that comes without the education, guidance, coaching and best practices that you can get access to.
That is one of several reasons why we are so keen on promoting and working with the Aboriginal financial institutions. In many cases, they can bring smart money to them.
Mr. Louie: I will relay a short anecdote from when I did the prison tour. I saw the Aboriginal programs in the prisons. I am all for culture. There is a time and place for any type of spirituality or religion. What I saw was too much of a focus on healing. It is not just in prison Native people are institutionalized. We were institutionalized for a hundred years.
It is mostly around spirituality and religion, such as sweat housing. I saw a lot of drum making, hide tanning and tepee building. I do not know many Natives who will come out of prison and find a job making tepees. I do not know many Natives who will come out of prison and be able to pay their rent by making drums, although there are a few.
I was telling that to a committee I was on. I saw what are called healing lodges throughout this country where Aboriginal prisoners are sent. Again, I saw very little about trades and very little on promoting skills to get a job. It was all this healing and wellness stuff, which is fine; I realize some people need that. However, I always say the best counselling you can receive is employment counselling.
Unless you come out of those prisons and be a monk, there is a time and a place for religion and spirituality. The last thing I said to that committee was: "You guys probably will not do this but here is the last thing I want from me in that report: Quit calling those things healing lodges; call them healing-get-a-job lodges.'' That is what they should be called. Put that in a quote because the report was to wind up on the Prime Minister's desk.
Senator Raine: I do not really have a question. A brief came about the crime situation in Vancouver right now across my desk and a study has just been completed on the importance of early childhood education and wholeness in terms of eventual crime. There was a statistic there that said more than 50 per cent of children who cannot read by grade 3, wind up delinquents and eventually have trouble with the law. That is pretty shocking.
In all of this economic development, I often think about one of the most entrepreneurial races you will find anywhere in the world, the Jewish people. They talk business around the dinner table and the kids grow up with that in the family. I think that is very important.
If you look at a lot of immigrant families where mom and dad and all the kids are involved in the business, it is all part of that culture.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much. I want to thank the officials for appearing.
Senator Brazeau: I just need a clarification as to whether Chief Louie's comments are reflective of the department.
Mr. Clarke: Not all of them.
The Deputy Chair: I want to thank the department officials for appearing.
Chief Clarence Louie, thank you for coming. If you could imagine yourself being involved with government as an official like them, what would you like yourself to be called? I have an idea. What about "chief of social program elimination,'' or something like that?
Thank you very much for coming.
Mr. Louie: Thank you for allowing me to speak.
The Deputy Chair: With that, I will conclude the meeting.
(The committee adjourned.)