Proceedings of the Special
Senate Committee on the Arctic
Issue No. 15 - Evidence - October 15, 2018
OTTAWA, Monday, October 15, 2018
The Special Senate Committee on the Arctic met this day at 6:29 p.m. to consider the significant and rapid changes to the Arctic, and impacts on original inhabitants.
Senator Dennis Glen Patterson (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Unnusakkut. Welcome to this meeting of the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic. I’m Dennis Patterson, senator for Nunavut. I’m privileged to chair this committee.
Before I ask my colleagues to introduce themselves, I’d like to welcome a new member to the table: Senator Yvonne Boyer. Welcome to the committee. We are looking forward to working with you. I understand your colleague Senator Donna Dasko will also be a new member of the committee. Welcome to you. I would like to thank Senators Galvez and Pate for their contributions to the committee. They will no longer be on the committee.
I’d like to ask senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Bovey: Patricia Bovey, Manitoba, deputy chair of the committee.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Ontario.
Senator Coyle: Mary Coyle, Nova Scotia.
Senator Boyer: Yvonne Boyer, Ontario.
The Chair: Thank you.
Tonight, as part of our study on the significant and rapid changes to the Arctic, and impacts on the original inhabitants, we continue our study of two specific topics: economic development and infrastructure.
For our first panel, I’m pleased to welcome someone who’s appeared before Senate committees more than once: from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Mr. Natan Obed, President; and Mr. Will David, Legal Adviser.
Thank you for joining us. I would invite you to proceed with your opening statement. You can expect some questions after that. Welcome.
Natan Obed, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami: Nakurmiik. Thank you so much for the opportunity to appear before you all this evening. Economic development and infrastructure are of vital importance to Inuit. I look forward to talking about those issues in a wider context, especially in relation to current initiatives with this government and also with the renewal of the relationship between Inuit and the Crown.
I’ll start by talking a little about our governance. Inuit have a democracy that sits alongside the federal-provincial-territorial democracies. ITK is the national organization that represents the rights of 65,000 Inuit in Canada. We have four land claim regions. Each of those four regions have modern treaties or land claim agreements with the Crown. We have regional governance processes that range from self-governance in Nunatsiavut to corporations like in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Then we have Makivik Corporation and Nunavut Tunngavik who work with provinces and territories in ensuring the needs and rights of Inuit within those jurisdictions are upheld.
We also co-manage a massive part of this country; 35 per cent of Canada’s land mass is co-managed through these four land claim agreements, which is approximately 3.5 million square kilometres. That space also encompasses about half of Canada’s coastline. We have 51 communities in that space. Very few of these do not have any sort of marine infrastructure related to being able to move goods and services in and out of those communities, even though all but two of those communities are within a tidal area.
There’s a huge infrastructure gap within this country that most Canadians are simply unaware of. If given the opportunity to comment, I would imagine they would be aghast to think you could have marine communities with absolutely no marine infrastructure that are in this country, especially considering we don’t have roads to connect us to Southern Canada — all but the Dempster Highway that connects Nunavik and Tuktoyaktuk to Southern Canada.
I want to pause and talk about the renewed relationship in relation to economic development and infrastructure. It’s been a challenging three years to try to move with this new government and move with Canada at a respectful pace and also in a place of recognition of rights and land claim agreements. To do that, we’ve created an Inuit-Crown partnership committee that was struck through an Inuit-Crown declaration signed in February of 2017 in Iqaluit, Nunavut. We are working through the second year of our work plan, where we have joint priority areas that are not just interests of the Government of Canada or not just interests of Inuit, but are of joint interest. We have decided upon joint activities to breathe life into the shared commitment of a renewed relationship.
That is a bilateral process between Inuit and the Crown.
The other major link to this particular issue is the Arctic Policy Framework, which is not a bilateral link between the Inuit and the Crown; there are a host of different actors that play within that space. However, it is just as important as our bilateral mechanism when it comes to the transformation of the Canadian Arctic for the better regarding economic development or infrastructure.
I’d like to pause and talk about the Arctic Policy Framework, its develop, and our hopes within that space, then circle back and talk a bit about our Crown partnership and some of the priorities within it that give the context of how economic development or infrastructure can be properly considered and properly invested in this country.
The Arctic Policy Framework should replace the Northern Strategy. The Northern Strategy was basically a policy statement that didn’t have any specific funds attached to it at that time. Hopefully this new Arctic Policy Framework will not make the same mistakes of the past in relation to the way it can be implemented. Therefore, the content areas — right now it is imagined there will be an Arctic policy statement as one of the major components, which would guide the implementation of federal policies and programs in Inuit Nunangat; and that there would be regional action plans that would identify particular policy statements and implementation guidelines in provinces, territories and also in Inuit Nunangat.
A brief word about regions. The Arctic can be described in many different ways. It is a very subjective term. But Inuit have created a term, Inuit Nunangat, which applies to the entirety of our homeland in a 2018 sense. We are hoping to implement an Inuit Nunangat policy space within all activities at the federal level that imagines, first, this concept and, second, all other concepts that have been previously thought of when you think of northern and Arctic.
We recognize there are other Indigenous interests within the “Arctic.” We are completely in support of our fellow Indigenous peoples and their path toward self-determination. But there is room to have a meaningful conversation about Inuit Nunangat because of the vast space that it takes up and also due to the homogeneity of that space. There are not just First Nations and Metis that we are talking about within the homeland; there are other parts of the Arctic and the North that has those have populations. When we say Inuit Nunangat, that isn’t the space we’re talking about.
Just like any public policy debate you might have, there is a centre. When you’re talking about the auto industry or marine infrastructure on the West Coast, you imagine a centre of that conversation where perhaps there are the most people or maybe the industry is the largest. Sometimes when you talk about the Arctic or even about the North, there isn’t that same expectation that Inuit Nunangat and Inuit interests dominate the public policy conversation.
When we talk about regional action plans, I am hopeful we can get to that space where Inuit interests can be seen in their rightful place within the larger public policy context without diminishing other provincial, territorial or other Indigenous interests.
There is also a plank in this APF which talks about an Arctic leadership framework, which would provide a forum for federal, provincial and territorial governments and Inuit to implement and discuss the implementation of the APF, encourage collaborative action and assess results. This would feed in very nicely with shared economic development or infrastructure plans in the Canadian Arctic or in Inuit Nunangat because we work with public governments and with the federal government closely to actualize our land claim agreements and breathe life into them.
These aren’t agreements that imagine we have our land and Canada is in another space. Our land claim agreements imagine we are still Canadians, that we have the rights of all citizens and that we interact with public governments. A lot of our service delivery areas are still through public governments in a very different way than the Indian Act imagines reserves and distinct relationships between the federal government and First Nations.
We welcome new forums that allow breaking down the silos of the past that, for better or worse, have not been able to get us where we want to go when it comes to social equity and infrastructure and development.
The last plank within this piece that we see of great importance within the APF is the Arctic finance strategy. I would imagine there would be an announcement, probably within a budget, that would have a specific target to the Arctic space. It would most likely be targeting infrastructure development, economic development initiatives and would probably want to imagine we could build upon that pot with private money or Indigenous-specific money to take advantage of more opportunities than just one fund would allow.
These components are intimately connected. They’re also connected very clearly with the topic at hand in this conversation. What we don’t have at this point is any clarity on when the framework might be finalized or whether there will be actual money at the end of this negotiated space between Indigenous interests, provinces and territories, and federal interests around the framework. It’s a remarkably big undertaking that involves a lot of players. It’s also very ambitious. If done successfully, it could be transformative in its implementation. We know it’s going to take time. We are happy to have been having active discussions with the Government of Canada for perhaps two years.
The other major piece I talked about in my opening was the Inuit Crown Declaration or the Inuit Nunangat Declaration. In that bilateral mechanism, we have identified eight priority areas. They are not numbered in order of precedence. They are eight priority areas that we diligently work on. They are the implementation of land claims; the creation of the Inuit Nunangat policy space; education; housing; languages; health; reconciliation measures; and environment and sustainability. We have developed action plans around those particular areas. We meet three times a year with federal ministers of the Crown and once a year with the Prime Minister to ensure there is proper progress in these areas.
In the implementation of land claims and the Inuit Nunangat policy space, those connect directly with infrastructure and economic development, although all our priority areas are meant to create an environment for social equity. An environment where Inuit Nunangat, or wherever Inuit live, can take advantage of all the opportunities this country has to offer, whether it’s in the expression of self-determination of Inuit as Indigenous peoples in Canada, or whether it’s as Canadian citizens and creating new businesses or taking advantage of the land and resources within the particular areas in which Inuit live.
Every year we put forward pre-budget submissions. This year we have an emphasis on infrastructure, which is no different than our request from last year. We’ve also talked a lot in relation to environment, getting our communities off diesel and creating alternative solutions for diesel generation so we can be in line with our ambition on climate action. It’s hard to know sometimes where to start when you begin to calculate how much it would cost to put essential marine infrastructure in all 51 of our communities. Those numbers add up quickly. What it would take to ensure that we have the air infrastructure, whether it’s airports, runways or perhaps even subsidization of airlines as an essential service, considering there are no other ways to get to our communities for most or all of the year.
We have a number of these large-scale infrastructure needs that sometimes we don’t quantify because the numbers don’t allow for a meaningful conversation with those we need to have it with. People get scared away by big numbers. I can understand that from a political sense. But we are still living in a country that is not completely built. We are living in a country that imagined a cross-continental railway and imagined that we would have marine ports that would link in internationally for foreign trade. We have not imagined a country in which Inuit Nunangat is part of that ambition, either domestically or internationally. It will take significant investment for us to become the country that we already think that we are when it comes to infrastructure.
In relation to economic development, a lot of our economic development interests in what we hope to achieve are based on infrastructure and go hand in hand with essential infrastructure. The fact we don’t have broadband which connects Inuit Nunangat to the rest of the world and also to economic development opportunities in a fundamental way is a huge challenge for us to be able to participate in this new economy. There are many different natural resource projects that are either being undertaken now in Inuit Nunangat or are imagined. Some of this essential infrastructure would go a long way to ensure, not only that there are quicker access to markets or there are efficiencies within supply chains, but also that Inuit can take advantage of and participate in business opportunities or employment within large-scale economic development in Inuit Nunangat.
We don’t want to lose the opportunities that are before us. We also want to retrench ourselves within our own society. We think we can do all of that, but we need to have this conversation at the federal level about what it will take for success, not only for Inuit and our ambitions but also for Canada’s ambitions as well.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Bovey: Thank you. I appreciate what you’ve said and applaud your breadth of thinking, your umbrella strategies and the way you’ve defined some of the details. My question is on both, if I may.
As far as your umbrella and looking at the future — people have heard me say before that I think the Arctic is Canada’s future.
My umbrella question is: What are your thoughts about the timing of the framework policy? You said you don’t know when it’s coming out. You’re aware the work we’re doing is alongside that.
Are you wishing it would come out very quickly? Or from what you said, am I getting the feeling you’d rather have longer discussions and perhaps a more solid document? That’s my umbrella question.
Mr. Obed: The timelines in relation to the Arctic Policy Framework have been slipping. We had imagined we would perhaps already be in the first or second year of implementation of a framework. For us, we want to get this right. That’s the biggest consideration. The time frames to do that reflect the level of ambition of the other players at the table as well.
It’s not insignificant to think that provinces and territories especially want a lion’s share of the consideration within any Arctic Policy Framework, and the federal government has to manage the expectations of Indigenous peoples and public governments in relation to the content of this and also the expected ask for implementation. I am sympathetic to those concerns. I think we, as Inuit, have been rational and consistent. We hope that goodwill and pledge to be honest and clear at the table about what our ambitions are, and also to take the word of the federal government over things like an Inuit Nunangat section of an Arctic Policy Framework — something told to us from the very beginning — that we don’t lose it. Also that we make the best out of it. I don’t think it takes a long time to get to meaningful action. There’s so much to do that we don’t need another year or two years to figure out how to create a framework that would have very meaningful ambition and scope.
The politics around what is funded is probably the biggest challenge. I hope we can work through those as efficiently as possible.
Senator Bovey: You mentioned broadband and that aspect of infrastructure. I know you mentioned marine. I’m going to focus on the broadband, if I may. In relationship to your eight priorities, without wanting to bore my colleagues, you’re probably aware I’m from the visual art world and have worked a lot with Inuit artists. I’m very concerned about equal access. You talk about social equality and economic drivers. If we go back to the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, one of those economic drivers for the Inuit, I believe, was their art, purchased internationally, in the U.S. and in the South.
I’d like to get your assessment of what happened to the access to markets for that part of the Inuit economy and to the opportunity for funding for creative innovation, which now seems to be based on making applications online. Tell me if I’m overreacting when I say I don’t think there’s equal access for artists and creative innovators across the North to the funds to allow them to do the work. I didn’t see culture on your list. I wonder if that’s part of language, education, health and environment. To me, it seems to fit everywhere. Can I ask your assessment, am I right or wrong?
Mr. Obed: You’re correct in thinking our culture, society, world view and language are embedded in all of the different priority areas, most especially with the languages work that we’re doing with hopefully the creation of a meaningful First Nation, Inuit and Metis language administration.
In relation to Inuit art, I think a lot of Canadians understand that Inuit are artists and Inuit art is synonymous with Canada. To the extent Inuit art plays a vital role in economic development in the Arctic, I think it’s poorly understood and supported. In some of our communities, up to 50 per cent of the adult population make some of their money, in any given year, as artists. It’s remarkable, for example, in comparison to how many artists there are per capita in Ottawa.
The way in which art comes to market has been dominated by supply chain issues with the co-ops in most of Inuit Nunangat or in the past with the North West Company. For many of our more celebrated artists, there are direct relationships with galleries. I think there needs to be an evolution of that system to ensure Inuit art is not only marketed globally but also that artists get the absolute top dollar for their work and can make a living off their art.
In relation to grants and filling in applications, whether it’s the Canada Council for the Arts or provincial or territorial mechanisms, it’s not only the broadband access that sometimes is the barrier; it’s also the language in which the applications are written and the terminology that’s necessary to fill out a successful application for a grant within a federal system or system that is perhaps a completely foreign place for the applicant and their ability to understand how to be successful within it. I think there are other supports for our artists and for our art market that would retrench the place that Inuit art and Inuit artists play within our society.
I think everyone in this room has probably heard drum dancing or throat singing or an expression of Inuit art. There are only about 65,000 Inuit in this country. When you think of Inuit art, you can see some sort of carvings or prints and when you think about Inuit cultural expression, you can see drum dancers. Those are amazing things we’re very proud of. They are also a link to economic development and something that fulfills a spiritual and cultural space as well as that economic development space.
Senator Bovey: Thank you. I think that’s really important. I appreciate that.
The Chair: I’d like to ask you about your work on the several pieces of legislation that were also committed to and in support of the whole-of-government approach on the Arctic Policy Framework. I know there has been work done on the Indigenous languages bill to help with one of your goals of language enhancement and preservation. That, in turn, feeds into the goals under the strong, healthy, prosperous Arctic peoples in communities.
We have heard some concerns, though, about that language bill and also about the Indigenous rights framework that was promised. There seem to be concerns with progress on these two commitments. I’m wondering, first of all, if the government engages with ITK on these bills — the rights framework and the Indigenous language bill — in addition to the Arctic Policy Framework?
Mr. Obed: Thank you for the question, Senator Patterson. I’ll address both.
On the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis languages act, we’ve worked with this government, from its inception, on the ambition of an Indigenous languages bill. The level of ambition was something that was basically unfettered until recently. We had hoped to have official language status for Inuktitut in Inuit Nunangat, and we still do. We hoped to have service delivery rights in relation to Inuktitut in league with the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its implementation in this country and the rights we have as Indigenous Peoples globally beyond that declaration.
The challenge we face is we are within a framework with First Nations and Metis. We are trying to pass this legislation within this government. We are trying to ensure the ambition is not lost. We hope we can get there.
We have a very robust working group with the Assembly of First Nations and the Métis Nation and Heritage Canada that Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami participates in. We also have a bilateral conversation with Heritage Canada between Inuit leadership, all Inuit regions, in which we’re trying to create an act that goes beyond symbolism. Inuit cannot accept symbolism as an outcome for this act.
We’ve been told time and again not to compare this exercise with the Official Languages Act and the language rights of francophones or of English-speaking Canada. It’s a really fascinating caveat.
Inuit fully respect the rights of all other language groups in this country. We respect the Official Languages Acts, the rights of francophones and the rights of English-speaking Canadians. It doesn’t make any sense to me why that favour is not returned in a practical way.
When you look at the numbers for Nunavik, basically 100 per cent of Nunavik Inuit can speak Inuktitut. In Nunavut, the numbers are lower, but they’re still the majority — 70-some per cent. I don’t have the exact figure in front of me. These are viable spaces where an Indigenous language is the dominant language within an Inuit society. If we can’t create the level of ambition at the federal level to accept and recognize that it is still possible for this country to pass legislation that basically overturns 150 years of oppression of Indigenous languages. Wouldn’t that be an incredible thing? But we get lost in precedent and the worry of the inability to provide services, and we go down another path of symbolism. I hope that does not continue.
In relation to the recognition and implementation of our rights in that particular framework, we do have concerns that we are trying to work through with this government around the recognition and implementation of a rights framework. I want to make sure I get that right on the record.
The challenges we’ve had as Inuit have been that we have four settled land claims agreements. The challenge of the implementation of land claims is where we pause and would like to see more supports from a legislative space.
We are also supportive of other Indigenous peoples in this country that don’t have that same level of recognition of their rights. The challenge has been to try to understand the approach of this framework for all Indigenous peoples in a respectful way of all Indigenous realities.
I hope we can get there. At the Inuit-Crown Partnership table, we have talked about policies or program shifts or reviews that would allow for the implementation of our land claims to happen in a much more efficient way. We hope those issues that we were talking about before the framework was even discussed are still scopes of work we can pursue and finish and not be bound by something that may be too large and ambitious within the time frames afforded to it.
Senator Boyer: Thank you, Mr. Obed, for that comprehensive overview. It was good for me to hear that and see the big picture.
Last week we heard about the Grays Bay Road and Port Project. I’m wondering about how ITK would see that fitting in with the regional action plans?
Mr. Obed: At the national level sometimes our regions bring requests for support forward to national leadership. Because many of these projects happen in only one of our four regions, then it’s the goodwill of the national Inuit democracy to support projects if they feel there is general support from all of Inuit for these projects.
The Grays Bay project is one of the specific projects that has been brought forward to our board. Our board has been supportive of the project. We wrote a letter to that effect to the ministers responsible.
We also support a project that would see a road from Churchill to the Kivalliq Region with a hydro development project as well.
In each of our regions, there are massive infrastructure projects. Sometimes the main Inuit proponents come to our national organization and ask for support. Usually Inuit leadership is very supportive and that allows for me to go out into the world and champion them as well. The Grays Bay road and port is one of these major infrastructure initiatives that we support at ITK along with a number of others in other Inuit Nunangat regions.
Senator Boyer: Earlier this year you spoke at the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples about tuberculosis. I see it’s one of your eight priorities. What has happened between January and now? It may have been one of your priorities before, but I’m just wondering where it fits and if there has been any improvement? Has the funding been flowing properly?
Mr. Obed: In Budget 2018 we received $27.5 million over five years for TB elimination work. Minister Philpott and I announced, I believe it was in March, the goal of reducing the rate of active tuberculosis in Inuit Nunangat by 50 per cent by 2025 and eliminating tuberculosis in Inuit Nunangat by 2030.
To reach that end, we are going to have to do a lot of work. Each region will have to create regional plans. What we’ve done, between January and now, is have a TB expert team that has worked to create a national framework.
This framework will guide all of the work we do, not only on the Inuit side but also with provinces, territories and federal ministries which are supportive of this work. Between Indigenous services, Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, there’s a lot of work to do for all of these federal bodies and with the health portfolios in public governments as well as in Inuit regions with our land claim organizations and self-governments.
To that end, we are going to create action plans. We’re hoping the action plans are all completed by February 2019, which will then allow for the $27.5 million to be flowed strategically to fulfil the initial phases of these action plans across our four regions.
In concert with that, we recognize that tuberculosis is a social disease and know that if you’re not going to do anything on housing or health care, then we are not going to have long-term success in elimination of TB, which leads us to our pre-budget submission of 2019. This focuses again on more housing and food security, poverty reduction, health care delivery and access. All of those things together with the ability to target populations with the highest risk and to do community-wide screenings in communities that are particularly hard hit by tuberculosis are all steps we need to take to get to that end goal.
It’s going to cost much more than $27.5 million over five years, but we have a level of ambition I’m very pleased with, with this government. Just like with boil water advisories, you have to start somewhere. You have to figure out how to say what needs to be said. Then you have to mobilize across government to take action, even if the entirety of the mount isn’t there on day one.
I’m giving the benefit of the doubt and support to this government for their ambition. We’re right there with them. This is a priority for us. Healthy communities are essential for a healthy economy.
In this piece, we have a historical issue that does need to be resolved. It’s within our reconciliation measures within our Inuit-Crown Partnership work plan. That’s the 1950s and 1960s treatment of Inuit tuberculosis patients by the Government of Canada. During the 1950s, I believe 50 per cent of the adult population of Inuit had been taken at one point to sanatoriums in the south. Many Inuit did not come home. Their loved ones were not notified, their graves are unknown, but there are records of their treatment. We are looking for an apology from the Government of Canada for the treatment of Inuit during this period as human rights abuses, and we’re looking for a program that would allow for families to reconnect with lost loved ones.
There is a database within Crown-Indigenous services that is just waiting to be utilized. We are hoping that within this suite of action on tuberculosis that there will be an apology by this government, there will be monies that will be set aside for those to find their loved ones and to have the decency to mark their graves, say their last respects and honour them.
Imagine not knowing where your mother or your aunt is buried. The reason is because the Government of Canada in its provision of service just decided you weren’t human enough to be provided that level of respect. I don’t think you can say sorry too many times. I think if there are human rights abuses in this country that are documented and there are populations willing to accept apologies and move beyond it, that we should take advantage of those opportunities. It plays into the future of this country and also the health of this country as a whole.
I know that is more than you bargained for with that question. I think it’s part of a whole that we can’t ever forget.
Senator Boyer: Thank you.
The Chair: You mentioned housing, Natan. We have just done a tour of the Arctic east to west and heard that theme consistently. As you said, if we’re not going to do anything about housing, this TB problem is only going to get worse. I would like to know how that priority is going in your work.
I have to talk for a second about my own region of Nunavut, where the housing shortage documented by the Aboriginals Peoples Committee, just to catch up with the backlog, is about 3,000. We have a current commitment from the Government of Canada for $240 million over 10 years. That’s $24 million a year, and the Nunavut Housing Corporation has said they could build about 48 houses with that money. It seems to me we’re losing ground unless that changes. I know you’ve got a budget submission that features housing. If you could share that with the committee, I’m sure that would be of great interest to us.
Are you optimistic that through your work there will be progress made on this fundamental issue?
Mr. Obed: We’re working now to create a national housing strategy. We’re in the final stages and we hope within the next two months it will be ready for consideration of the ITK board of directors and hopefully for approval.
We have been working with this government on the administration of housing just as much as we’ve been working on the dollars and cents that go into housing. There is a fundamental win that we have had over the last three years in the ability to self-determine where housing funds go when they are allocated from the Government of Canada to Inuit. That is a really positive step for this new relationship.
Inuit across Inuit Nunangat may not be in the business of construction, but it is our right to self-determine where the funds for our housing flow and that we can create partnerships or we can create capacity to either do the work ourselves, depending on what region, or to ensure the partners that we partner with have a shared commitment to the same level of ambition that we do with the monies that we receive, and also in how the housing money is spent.
What’s clear in the conversations we have around our housing strategy is that more money for social housing is needed. But we are going to have to imagine a new housing structure that allows for wealth generation, administration and things like housing inspectors, operations and maintenance of housing to happen in a different way in small communities so there isn’t this continued perpetual reliance on social housing or subsidized federal, provincial or territorial housing as the only housing options within Inuit Nunangat.
There is a small home ownership component to Inuit Nunangat housing to date, but it is very small. This is another fundamental difference between the way most Canadians would imagine housing in your reality versus the way that Inuit Nunangat housing exists. I don’t have the figures in front of me, but a very small percentage of Inuit own homes. A very large percentage are in social housing. Another interim amount is in subsidized rental units if they work for RCMP, schools or the governments.
What we need is to figure out a way to make the housing system work that builds pride in ownership or pride in residence, which creates a fundamental building block for economic development and success but also has the social element retained to ensure we house our population. Fifty-two per cent of our population is in overcrowding situations. It’s a massive number of our population. It grew 10 per cent over the two census counts or StatsCan counts.
We have to do better and, yes, money is going to help solve that. We also need to rethink how housing happens. This Inuit Nunangat housing strategy will hopefully be that next step towards a new realization of how housing can work in the next 20, 30 or 40 years.
We are in crisis, though. We need more funds to ensure we don’t have hidden homelessness, that we don’t have a lot of very negative social conditions that arise from overcrowding and that we also build essential infrastructure in all of Canada, not just in parts of it.
The Chair: Minister Duclos has talked about an Aboriginal housing strategy in connection with the National Housing Strategy. You’re saying ITK is developing an Inuit Nunangat housing strategy that will be different from the Aboriginal housing strategy or will it fit in? Would you explain that?
Mr. Obed: Last month the Government of Canada released an early learning and child care strategy. There were distinctions-based components to it. Inuit worked with the Government of Canada to create that section within that strategy. There is also twice the amount of money for that particular initiative for Inuit than there was in the previous budget. We are hoping that Minister Duclos and the work we are doing will feed directly into the Indigenous housing strategy, that there will be a distinctions-based approach to it and the Inuit Nunangat section can be in line with our strategy. The strategy will be an Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami product. We are working closely with Minister Duclos and Minister Philpott and other federal agencies. We hope there can be that direct transition between the work we are doing as Inuit and the work we do together with the Canadian government on behalf of Inuit.
Senator Oh: The committee recently travelled to the Arctic. We saw many things, heard and learned a lot. Could you tell us about the housing problem due to the melting permafrost? Is there anything that can be done to save that housing?
Mr. Obed: Adaptation and mitigation from climate change will be a key consideration for all Inuit Nunangat infrastructure and housing is just one component. When you think about schools, health care centres, airports and roads, melting permafrost is going to have a massive effect on our society. It already is having a huge effect on our society.
It’s important for existing funds for adaptation and mitigation of climate to be linked in with Indigenous and then very Inuit-specific pots of funding to allow for mitigation of negative effects.
Often we hear about these big pots of funding around climate action, but they’re already earmarked for provinces and territories or very specific projects. Unless we have strategized with the Government of Canada prior to and have a distinctions-based approach within an Indigenous space, Inuit very often fall through the cracks when it comes to getting funds for any of these issues. I also think we can benefit from innovation and that Canada should be a leader in understanding the effects of permafrost melt or other erosion caused by climate in the Arctic and being able to solve those challenges with specific Canadian made solutions.
In the global Arctic, other countries are doing this. I hope we in Canada can be a global leader when it comes to climate change solutions.
Senator Oh: So far, though, are we able to contain, control or slow it down?
Mr. Obed: I don’t have enough information to give an informed answer on that.
Senator Coyle: Thank you, Mr. Obed. It’s a perfect time to be hearing from you. We just travelled the Arctic, as you hear, and we want to make sure that what we put forward as our recommendations in relation to the Arctic Policy Framework is definitely something coming from the voices of the people of the Arctic. Your point about making sure that framework has a very large space within it for your people, your lands and your coastlines is something I heard loud and clear. I also liked that you talked about ambition, global leadership, innovation, about not just making it another framework but making it a transformative framework and thinking big within the context of Canada. The Arctic itself is a huge place of opportunity. We should be seeing it differently from how we have been. I thank you for that.
However, in building on the two questions my other colleagues have asked that I would like to hear more about — I feel strongly there has to be a revolution in mental health care. Your people are your biggest asset. Your other biggest asset is your land. I would love to hear about what it’s going to take on the mental health side. Also, on the land side, you spoke of climate change and opportunity to move away from diesel and other such things. What are your ambitions in that area?
Mr. Obed: In relation to mental health, we at ITK released a National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy in 2016. Mental health figures very prominently within the articulation around why suicide happens the way that it does in Inuit Nunangat and then also, in a solutions-oriented context, what mental health supports are necessary to ensure we can lower the rate of suicide within Inuit Nunangat.
We still are struggling to have any in-patient care facilities for addictions and mental health. In our pre-budget submission for 2019 we draw a highlight to that and hope there can be investments for in-patient care facilities in Inuit Nunangat. Right now the only one operating is in Kuujjuaq in Nunavik. They’re looking for a new facility and the funds to do that.
The challenge of providing care in mental health is sending people thousands of kilometres away, putting them in boarding homes or hotels, using a clinical care model that doesn’t have a connection to Inuit society. It’s a challenge to mental health in itself. There are some Inuit who benefit greatly from that model. I’m not saying that it is uniformly bad. I’m saying there are many people whose mental health needs are better met in communities with an Inuit-specific level of care. Then the follow-up and the continuity of being able to be seen by those who know them, know their case files and know what they’ve been through in life are part of their community. That’s invaluable in relation to the ongoing sustainability of good mental health.
There’s also an upstream element to this as well, which we talk about in our suicide prevention strategy, about creating optimal environments for our young people. That means we have to do something to curb child sexual abuse. We have to do more to ensure there is cultural continuity and opportunities for children to learn their culture and language, to grow up in a loving environment that is an Inuit-specific environment, to be healthy and to have good food.
These are all things that are protective factors for life, that you can never take away from a human being. The fact of belonging or a language or the fact they do not have adverse life events that diminish their ability to be productive members of society. We can do that for our kids. We can do that for our communities. I think we just need to pause and focus on that.
I think about the inquiry that’s happening right now in relation to murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls and how violence in our society is something that often contributes to negative mental health and also death for many people. These are things we have to work through. The recommendations that come out of the inquiry, the interim report that was released, the work of organizations like Pauktuutit Inuit women of Canada and the recommendations they’ve had about creating safe shelters for Inuit women, child-rearing practices and other solutions for our society are all things we need to take more seriously and spend more time on.
Sometimes with any of these issues we work on at a federal level, you’re done with one report and onto the next. The pause and focus on implementation sometimes just isn’t there because there’s another mandate or another thing to get in the news for.
We’ve been talking about these issues for a long time. There’s continuity with Inuit politics in a way that there really isn’t with federal politics or provincial and territorial politics. In many cases there aren’t party systems that necessitate the wild swings in what the mandates are of successive regimes. I follow very closely with my predecessor when it comes to the priorities of my organization.
Mental health, the environment and our connection with the land and all living things within it are things that are consistent and have been consistent for a long time.
In relation to climate and climate action, we want to make sure we are living sustainably within our environment. We’ve set up our land claim implementation mechanisms, especially around co-management, to ensure we are living that ambition. If there is this larger threat of climate change and the fears that we have about losing the essential foundation of our Arctic environment, then that’s something we need to also focus on and ensure we do as much as we possibly can to give our future to our future generations intact instead of having them worry about how to maintain a society in a fractured environment.
The Chair: Senator Dasko, welcome to our committee. We have time for one question from you before we have to wrap up.
Senator Dasko: Since I’m new to this committee, you’ll forgive me if I ask a question like this. I very much appreciated your presentation. You used the words “large-scale economic development.” When you peer into the future, what large-scale economic developments do you see? What do you envision? What is that? Is that what we in the South would typically see as resource development, hydroelectric or mining? Is it different from that? Is it manufacturing? Is it agriculture? Is it trade? What do you see when you use the words “large-scale economic development”? That’s my first question.
With this development, do you see an influx of people into the Arctic? Is that going to be part of the future? You’re talking about your communities right now, but if you are engaging in “large-scale economic development,”— again, your terminology — that might be an expectation. I’m asking you to sort of fast-forward and what it is you’re envisioning?
Mr. Obed: I think everyone would agree that Baffinland would be a large-scale economic development. It’s a pretty massive iron ore project in north Baffin.
Traditionally, when we think of the Arctic and the opportunities for economic development in the Arctic, the oil and gas and natural resource sectors are the two that dominate the imagination of what’s possible. Our land claim agreements were negotiated and signed within that particular framework. The own-source revenue that drives the implementation of land claims, our self-governments and our self-determination are hand in hand with these types of projects. That’s always been the great hope of Indigenous people with the ability to benefit from economic development initiatives such as mining or natural resource extraction.
In the future, especially with climate change, shipping lanes opening, globalization on a whole number of fronts, perhaps large-scale economic development will look very different. Right now, the immediate interests of Inuit leadership — and provinces and territories — is there is still that very traditional idea of a gold mine or oil and gas development or iron ore, nickel and cobalt. Those types of opportunities are the opportunities that drive economies and drive own-source revenue for Inuit representational organizations.
I work on behalf of all those interests and all the interests of Inuit. Inuit organizations have been supportive of many mines or many economic development opportunities. The key caveat is there is a system in place that allows for self-determination in that process. Unlike other places in this country, Inuit don’t have to always say “yes” to economic development even if others want it, because of our land claims, environmental assessment processes and impact benefit agreements. We are fortunate that we have the ability to work within that frame when it comes to “large-scale economic development.”
In relation to how that interacts with society and with the influx of people to come and take advantage of those opportunities, many of those projects have been fly-in/fly-out. There are many projects where people leave from a southern point and go directly to a remote mine site, go back and never set foot into an Inuit community along the way. Again, those are often agreements that are made between project proponents and environment assessment processes before the project is even agreed to.
In the future, I’m sure there will be an influx of people who come to the Arctic. There already is in some of our larger centres an influx of non-Inuit who come to take advantage of economic development opportunities.
That’s a big question for the future. I certainly don’t have an answer, other than to say that our land claim agreements, the strength and resilience of our society and our willingness to participate in a Canadian economy while still upholding our Inuit way of life will see us through.
The Chair: On that note, thank you very much for your thoughtful answers to our questions and your thoughtful presentation.
For the second segment, I’m pleased to welcome, by video conference from Yellowknife, from Denendeh Investments Incorporated, Darrell Beaulieu, Chief Executive Officer. Welcome and thank you for being with us tonight.
I invite you to proceed with your opening statement. We may have some questions afterwards.
Darrell Beaulieu, Chief Executive Officer, Denendeh Investments Incorporated: Thank you, Senator Patterson. My name is Darrell Beaulieu and I’m the CEO for Denendeh Investments. Denendeh Investments is owned by the 27 First Nations of the Northwest Territories and was incorporated in 1982. We are involved in the oil and gas sector, the mining sector, real estate, communications, infrastructure maintenance, and we’re also involved in food services and fuel. That’s a brief introduction to what we’re doing.
Most recently, we’ve been working with the Indigenous groups here in the Northwest Territories on major infrastructure initiatives. We are trying to look at collaborating with the Nunavut, Metis and Dene in spearheading a historic motion passed by the Dene Nation a number years ago supporting and promoting the concept of working together with Aboriginal and Indigenous governments in support of controlled resource development, and the development of export corridors that will contribute to significant long-term social and economic benefits for the Dene. What is basically being said is that the Dene want to be key players, along with other governments, in developing the badly needed transportation, energy, communication corridors in infrastructure in the Northwest Territories. Part of that plan is to design, build, own and operate corridors, working with Indigenous groups and governments, conducting research and consultations, and looking at raising the financing, whether it be public, private, Indigenous or by tolls or user fees.
Of course, at the very outset is securing Indigenous support for the corridor, obtaining those clearances and setting aside lands. The benefit of that is to provide own-source revenue for Indigenous governments through land access agreements, royalties and tariffs — and royalties for other governments. Employment and business opportunities normally follow for the Indigenous people, business and the corporations. There is skills training. It will definitely bring certainty and control over the locations and the size of the developments in streamlining the environment processes and, of course, lowering the cost of living in remote communities.
It’s one step, I think, from looking at how we can develop economically and have the spinoff or induced social conditions improved, whether it be housing or health, et cetera. It’s meant to be transformative versus transactional. That’s the norm in business. We need innovative solutions to address the social disparity. As you may know, we’re second to Nunavut. Even though we have high GDPs, we’re second in being the poorest in the country. Without own-source revenue, Indigenous communities will continue to be reliant on federal transfer funding and program delivery, and frequently at lower standards.
As I mentioned earlier, the cost of living in the North is estimated to be 28 per cent to 40 per cent higher than the rest of Canada. In the mining sector, the cost for exploration is two to three times higher than non-remote projects. Operating costs are 30 to 40 per cent higher. Canada is like two places. I don’t know if my numbers are correct, but approximately 80 per cent live within 200 kilometres of the U.S. border. I would say 60 to 70 per cent of those living within that area live in probably four or five cities.
If you look at a night shot of Canada, you’ll see all the lights within that 100 to 200 kilometres. The rest of us are in the dark. There’s no infrastructure. There’s a huge lack of infrastructure in the North. At this point in time, I don’t believe there are any ports in the North, other than a refuelling station. If you look at the North from a resource perspective, I think just along the Slave Geological Province up to the Grays Bay Road and Port area, there’s about a $2 billion capital investment that would stimulate approximately $39 billion in capital projects, maybe mines, whether it’s gold mines or extensions of diamond mines, lead-zinc mines, et cetera.
When you look at economic development in the North, it’s mining heavy. Oil and gas has been operating since 1921 until recently. We’re sitting on trillions of cubic feet of gas and billions of barrels. Because of the lack of infrastructure, that resource is stranded and will continue to be stranded for the foreseeable future. We all realize at this time our one and only client or one and only buyer of our products is the U.S. We really need to get that infrastructure to the east, west and north.
Maybe I’ll continue for a minute. To move things forward, we ask ourselves what can be done and what can governments do. In the North, there’s the settlement of the Akaitcho and Dehcho land and resource agreements. The self-government agreements need to be fully implemented, as well as support for Indigenous governments to develop regulatory processes and economic policies. Also to implement land-use plans that guarantee free, prior and informed consent to protect the environment and streamline complex regulatory regimes. And, of course, promoting real government-to-government relations, where Indigenous governments manage the development and maintenance of infrastructure using their development corporations and their local businesses.
Geographically, if you look at the Yukon, N.W.T. and Nunavut, that’s 40 per cent of Canada. That is a huge space with 100,000-plus people but very little access to adequate capital through funding programs or loan guarantees or allowing Indigenous corporations and businesses to become major players in looking at the future.
One of the things we talked about was creating an Indigenous infrastructure investment fund. If you’re looking at the infrastructure deficit, I think the Government of the Northwest Territories said there was about a $13 billion deficit. If you look more broadly, the need is closer to about $30 billion based on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples projection way back in 1996 of $20 billion.
I’ll stop there. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Darrell. I’m going to turn to the deputy chair of our committee first, Senator Bovey.
Senator Bovey: Thank you very much. I’m going to stay on the numbers game for a minute. I certainly understand the complexity of the issues with which you’re faced.
I want to know what the criteria should be for federal funding. It seems to me there’s consistency in the north and south as to how the money is to be handed out. I would like you to crystal ball gaze for a moment. What should be different in the criteria for federal funding? What about regulations? Should the regulations for mining and oil and gas and environment be set by the Northwest Territories and the North alone? What kind of regulatory role should be implemented between the territories and the federal government?
Mr. Beaulieu: First of all, if pure and free economics are played out here, every dollar in Canada would be spent in the cities. As I said earlier, the cost of living and remoteness of Canada’s North, it’s almost like a separate country by the way it has been treated in terms of investment. We’re actually like a Third World country but we’re a stable environment.
In terms of regulatory issues, there have been some land claim agreements settled, land and government agreements. The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which governs the regional acts through the Sahtu agreement, the Gwich’in agreement and the Inuvialuit and the Tlicho do have their regulatory boards which are aligned with the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. Then you have the Akaitcho and Dehcho that are still negotiating their land and resource agreements.
The intent was always to establish the spirit and intent of the treaties. That was the co-existence. Co-management was one of the key elements of some of the previous land use management agreements. Sharing the responsibility for the management of the lands and resources was really from, if I remember the elders’ approach was a holistic approach, considering the political, economic and social well-being of the peoples of the North.
Senator Bovey: With the per capita funding models that have been in place, when we talk about the remoteness of the communities in the North, and you’ve talked about 40 per cent of Canada land-wise and the size of the population — and maybe I’m putting my own voice in this and I shouldn’t — surely, per capita funding models really add to the deficit rather than help resolve the deficit?
Mr. Beaulieu: You’re correct. Based on population, that would not work. But if you look at the future and the increased population of Canada or the in-migration and you look at the demand for resources, whether it’s oil, gas, minerals, traditional foods or forestry products, I think Northern Canada is well endowed in terms of those types of resources. When you say it’s to the benefit of the North, we’re also saying it’s to the benefit of Canada.
Now, if you look at the sovereignty of Canada, which would be another benefit in terms of roads and ports, et cetera, I would say that would be to the benefit of Canada.
Senator Bovey: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. Mr. Beaulieu, you have referred to the Akaitcho and Dehcho outstanding claims.
I know you have been a participant in public affairs in the territories for many decades. Where are we at with the Akaitcho and the Dehcho? Is it getting close? Is progress being made since devolution was transferred to the Northwest Territories from Canada? Does this just need a push to be concluded?
Mr. Beaulieu: My discussions with some of the leaders has been a mixed reaction in terms of what devolution really meant. I think it’s conflicting with the intent of their negotiations. That needs a lot of discussion and it has to happen quickly in relation to the current land and resource negotiations. From what I understand, they’re probably close to completing those negotiations. But I really couldn’t tell you at what point they will reach the agreement-in-principal stage in the Akaitcho and conclude in the Dehcho.
Senator Boyer: Thank you very much for that overview. I appreciate it. I have a question about the mining industry. What do you think needs to be done to get more Indigenous people in the upper echelon, the upper management and in executive positions in the mining industry? Has the First Nations Infrastructure Fund been useful, a tool to advance those interests?
Mr. Beaulieu: Indigenous people have been involved in industry and the mining industry, not so much many years ago but within the last 20 years. I was part of negotiating the impact benefits agreements with the diamond mines. There was one prior with a gold mine. It has created employment, business opportunities. The employment is 40 to 50 per cent of the northern-employed people, which is about 40 to 50 per cent also, and has created anywhere from 60 to 70 businesses that provide services and supplies to the mine.
One of the shortfalls we found a number of years ago was that there weren’t that many people involved in management or supervisory roles. One mine did take up the challenge and started a program that can bring people into supervisory and management positions.
In terms of the overall industry in exploration, there has been participation in the mineral exploration side, but not so much on the actual mining side. When I say that, I’m speaking in terms of equity participation and ownership. One of the initiatives we created was our exploration company called Denendeh Exploration and Mining Company or DEMCo for short. We acquired some mineral properties, took them to lease, did mineral exploration and hired geologists and geophysicists to work on our properties. Like any other mineral exploration company, the challenge is finding the financing and getting the investment community to invest in our projects.
That was based on the discussions where the elders had given direction many years ago and said, “Well, we own the land and the resources, but why are international companies coming to the land, developing it, benefitting from it, and then leaving a mess, such as Giant Mine or Faro or other projects that need to be remediated and have left contaminations on the sites.”
In 2013, when we brought the chiefs and all the CEOs together, the direction was to get involved in resource development, in infrastructure, and looking at getting involved in the development and exploration of mine sites for the benefit of the North. We realize the changing nature of our populations: we’re encouraging our children to get a good education, post-secondary educations, whether in the engineering disciplines or in management, in business, et cetera. Exploration, in the vast territories, means that you can get out on the land. It’s an opportunity to have our youth involved in geology and the geosciences, and be able to walk on the lands of their ancestors. If they find something, that will benefit the current populations.
Senator Boyer: Thank you.
Senator Coyle: Thank you very much for your presentation. I have two questions. I’m going to make it pretty quick. We were just up in the Northwest Territories. One person who spoke with us talked about not only the growing gap in income between the Indigenous people of the Northwest Territories and other Canadians or other people in the Northwest Territories, but also among Indigenous people themselves. There’s getting to be almost a class of haves and a class of have-nots within the Indigenous population in the Northwest Territories. What’s your observation? What might your organization be doing about that? I think you’ve started to talk a bit about that.
The second question is about opportunities related to mining, but more on the remediation side. When we went to the Yukon, we heard a lot about mining and exploration, but we also heard a lot about economic and job opportunities on the remediation side. You’ve mentioned some where there were problematic environmental issues previously. It is such a huge job to clean those up. Is that something that your group of companies is interested in?
Mr. Beaulieu: In terms of your first question, the industry such as the diamond mines have provided has been a really good opportunity for a lot of people. How is that opportunity leveraged? The pay that they make. They get paid very well. In the North, in a lot of the communities, we’ve never had opportunities like that; it is totally new. You have people that are all of a sudden making $70,000 to $100,000. Now they’re starting to learn from co-workers from the South, et cetera. And then they are looking at the cost of living in the North and the cost of living in the South. In some cases, we’re having de-ruralization happening where it’s much cheaper to fly back from the southern city to the mine site than to live in a community.
From the smaller communities, people who are now generating a good source of income are moving into the larger centres such as Yellowknife. If I ask why — some of them are single families, some single mothers, and some are whole families — they say, “Well, we want our kids to have access to organized sports, hockey, swimming pools, education.” The parents themselves want to get educated. That’s creating that gap from the communities.
Yes, right now the diamond mines are probably producing 30 per cent of the GDP in the N.W.T. We’ve got to realize those mines have a finite life. You’ve got Diavik Diamond Mine that is going to close down in 2024. It’s 2027 for De Beers, and 2027 or maybe an extension for Dominion Diamond. That’s 3,000 employees.
Now, there are four or six mines that are looking for financing. Those mines, the goldmines and the lead and zinc mines, won’t make up for one diamond mine. That’s going to be a real challenge because that’s driving the economy now. It’s a reality that we have to live with.
Now that we’ve had employees who have a welder’s ticket or they’re certified, they’re not going to live in the communities. Maybe they’ll move on because they have a mortgage to pay, truck payments to pay, families to feed, et cetera. What normally happens in Canada is you move to where the work is. They will move out of the communities.
There are all kinds of things to look forward to. I forgot your second question.
Senator Coyle: It was about the opportunities associated with remediation of the mines.
Mr. Beaulieu: Yes. That’s one of the recommendations we made. I’ll be really blunt about it: In the North there’s been a number of large remediations, but the two largest are Giant and Faro. I think they’ve been projected to be about a billion dollars. They’re going to be going on for many years. Then you have other mines that could be $100 million or $50 million, et cetera.
The Indigenous businesses have expressed an interest in being able to be the ones to clean them up. They’ve actually bid on the work, but not successfully. Some government policies aren’t really working here.
If you look at the government set-aside programs, remediation projects apparently do not apply in the North. The other big beef is it’s American companies that are coming up and doing the big remediation projects.
If you want to develop the capacity and skills of Northern Indigenous peoples and you have these remediation projects that are going to run on for multiples of years, then shouldn’t that opportunity be given to them? I’m not saying sole source everything, but I think this is one area where it can be done.
It was mind-blowing to say the set-aside program doesn’t work, and then the next day we hear IBM is given the sole-source contract for half a billion dollars. How do you rationalize that?
Senator Coyle: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Mr. Beaulieu, you referred to the efforts you’ve been making since the Denendeh Investments were incorporated in the 1980s to look at spearheading resource development corridors, export corridors. I wonder if you could tell us a bit more about that initiative and, in particular, whether the Dene of Northwest Territories have been involved with or could be involved with the Eagle Spirit project, which, I believe, is basically an export corridor.
Mr. Beaulieu: Yes, thank you for the question. I have been involved with the Eagle Spirit Energy corridor for the last four or five years, and basically that’s the same concept. That concept actually took one of the models and, as you’re aware, Fred Carmichael, Nellie Cournoyea, Chief Harry Deneron and the leaders of about 15, 20 years ago were part of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group that was 33 per cent ownership of the Mackenzie gas pipeline. Unfortunately, markets collapsed on gas prices. The project was put on hold.
I believe it’s the only permitted project with a certificate still in good standing until 2022 in Canada.
Eagle Spirit, again, is a project that’s being proposed for northern British Columbia and Alberta and 100 per cent endorsed by 35 First Nations across northern B.C. Unfortunately, there’s a tanker ban that was proposed and going through the process there.
The people and the leadership of those communities are still intending to develop a project that will bring not only oil and gas but a corridor that will look at rail, at fibre-optic lines, and very similar to what can be done here along the Mackenzie Valley from Fort Simpson up to Nunavut. That will limit any environmental risk instead of having pipelines, roads and rail all in different places where you’re mitigating that risk. There’s construction risk and all kinds of risks that you have to assess in any major project across this country.
The Chair: Your corporation will still be participating in the Eagle Spirit project if the tanker ban doesn’t get in the way, is that correct?
Mr. Beaulieu: I believe that right across this country, Indigenous involvement in Canadian infrastructure is increasing and growing. For large projects like that, you’re going to need the critical mass of the people involved, the financing that’s going to be involved, and trying to mitigate environmental risk, et cetera. It’s the whole process that needs to be looked at, including the legal framework with those large infrastructure needs. Population growth and drive for increased Indigenous involvement is growing.
Senator Coyle: I have a question that came to my mind as you were describing what’s happening in the mining area in your territory. It’s classic. We’ve seen it in other environments as well where there’s a rich resource environment. It has to be just the right level to attract investment from outside that you’re talking about. Then when the big projects are gone, there’s the boom and then there’s the bust cycle that you’re describing. You’re concerned that the bust is coming fairly quickly in terms of the big mines that are going to be closing in the next number of years.
As leaders in economic development in the area, what sort of diversification are you looking at beyond the typical oil and gas or mining? We’ve talked about infrastructure development, but it’s infrastructure that’s going to serve other economic opportunities. What’s on the horizon?
Mr. Beaulieu: That’s a really good question, and it’s not only oil and gas and mining in the north. There’s tourism, traditional economies, and now the onslaught of robotics and the Internet of things, et cetera.
You’re aware that Iceland, I think, is leading in terms of developing a huge data centre because these huge data centres need cold weather to cool off. Now, if they’re producing so much heat, why don’t they put it near a community in the North and utilize that heat for district heating? We need heat. They need cool. We need heat.
The other thing they need is affordable power or what they would call “cheap power,” I guess. As you’re aware, the cost of electricity in the north is horrendous. Without government subsidies, it could run you into $3 or $4 per kilowatt hour. Right now, with those subsidies, we pay 33 or 35 cents per kilowatt hour. It depends on whether you use 700 kilowatt hours a month or more and whether you’re residential or commercial. If we had the critical mass of a large user, because right now we don’t use all the power produced from the hydro, but a majority of our other communities are on diesel and there’s going to be a huge impact in terms of the proposed carbon tax. We’ll be almost double taxed on top of our cost of living of 30 to 40 per cent. It’s a huge impact. Northern business people and communities are looking at other ways of growing our economy and having a balanced approach. We see what’s happened to Alberta when you depend totally on oil and gas; we’ve seen what happens to other jurisdictions. It’s definitely a discussion that’s happening at the leadership tables, whether at the Dene, Metis or the Inuvialuit areas.
The Chair: Just another question in closing, Mr. Beaulieu: You talked about the huge infrastructure gaps in Canada’s North. You mentioned the Indigenous infrastructure fund. We know the current government has committed sizeable sums of money. I think the number is $180 billion over ten years for infrastructure. I’m wondering if you could describe a little bit more how you would see the Indigenous infrastructure fund working and whether there has been some progress made towards that end.
Mr. Beaulieu: I see what’s happening across the country in terms of Wataynikaneyap Power in Ontario where the federal and provincial governments have invested some of those infrastructure dollars for a 1,800-kilometre transmission line. I see some of the projects of the First Nations Power Authority in Saskatchewan. I know in British Columbia the First Nations Major Projects Coalition has been working on how they can get involved in major projects and get financed. There are a number of instruments the First Nations Financing Authority, I think, has been looking at in British Columbia. They have been looking at bonds. I think we’re no different than how multinational corporations in southern Canada would look at finding or developing infrastructure and finding the financing, realizing the territorial and the federal governments have limited financial capacity for projects.
The big thing here in the Northwest Territories is infrastructure dollars do not reach Indigenous peoples, Indigenous communities, or Indigenous development corporations. Minister Sohi, minister at the time for Infrastructure Canada, was almost aghast that infrastructure dollars do not reach Indigenous communities and governments.
The Chair: And is that where the Indigenous Infrastructure Fund would come into being?
Mr. Beaulieu: Yes. We see that as a partnership between the federal government, the regional, provincial and territorial jurisdictions and Indigenous governments. It’s not that it has never been done. If you look at Alaska, you have the Alaska export development and industrial fund and that helped create the Red Dog Road from the port to the Red Dog Mine. They had access to those dollars to develop that infrastructure. I’m not just talking about roads, pipelines and transmission. We also have to consider social infrastructure because a lot of the communities lack the municipal infrastructure that’s required to build housing and for water and sewage and community development.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your insights and for joining us here tonight. It’s very much appreciated. It’s nice to see you again.