- The Hon. Chuck Strahl, Speaker
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- A salute to the Empire Club of Canada. The Empire Club with an affinity for Aboriginal issues. The lands of Canada’s North and its Aboriginal peoples as Canada’s greatest untapped assets. The need the move forward together with Aboriginal people realizing their full potential to the ultimate benefit of all Canadians. Three areas to make progress. Why our country has failed to take full advantage of this rich human resource. Some good news about the changing situation and evidence for same. Ways in which these positive developments are also good for all Canadians. The need for all Canadians to fully participate in Canada’s economic life. Some facts to consider. Some demographic trends as representative of significant opportunities for long-term economic growth. Young Aboriginal entrepreneurs. Ways in which the government is working alongside partners in different levels of government to ensure Aboriginal peoples play increasingly active roles in the economic life of Canada and how that is so. Partnership, consultation and education all making strong headway with a brief review of each, including examples. Why these three essentials are so important. Some persuasive economic statistics. Looking forward to new partnerships.
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- May 15 2008
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May 15, 2008
Partnership, Consultation, Education
THE HONOURABLE CHUCK STRAHL
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Government of Canada
Chairman: Catherine S. Swift
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests:
Gareth S. Seltzer: Director, The Seltzer-Chan Pond Inlet Foundation, and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada
Angela Flamand: Grade 11 Student, Native Learning Centre
Andrew Wesley: Aboriginal Priest, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, and Elder for the Aboriginal Community of Toronto
Clint Davis: President and CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
John Beaucage: Grand Council Chief, Anishinabek Nation/The Union of Ontario Indians
Angus Toulouse: Regional Chief, Ontario, Assembly of First Nations
Charles S. Coffey: OC, Chair, Canadian Centre for Diversity, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada
Roberta Jamieson: CEO, National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (NAAF)
Gary Lipinski: President, The Métis Nation of Ontario
William F. White: President, IBK Capital, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.
Introduction by Catherine Swift:
There are many important current issues in the Canadian Aboriginal community, including the need to upgrade basic living conditions on many reserves, alarming rates of suicide among young Aboriginals and the growth of the off-reserve native population and its implications. There are also very upbeat stories of how various reserves and Aboriginal groups are achieving considerable success with a range of business ventures and a self-sufficient approach to improving their lot.
In light of the fact that Canada, along with most developed countries, is facing considerable problems with labour shortages looming well into the future as our population ages, our Aboriginal population could well be a not-so-secret weapon to help alleviate labour market pressures. If this is done correctly, it should work out to be a win-win for Aboriginals and the Canadian labour market.
According to our most recent census conducted in 2006, Canada’s Aboriginal population surged past the one million mark for the first time ever. Our Aboriginal population is growing at a rate six times faster than the non-Aboriginal population. As well, more and more Aboriginals are living off-reserve, with this most recent census indicating that 54 per cent now call urban areas home. Unfortunately, unemployment rates among Aboriginals remain much higher than those in the non-Aboriginal population.
To discuss the important role of Canada’s Aboriginal work force, we are fortunate today to be joined by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Honourable Chuck Strahl. Chuck was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 as MP for the riding of Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, and was re-elected in 1997, 2000, 2004 and 2006. During this time, he participated in the Foreign Affairs Review as a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and sat on the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, the Standing Committee on Industry and the Standing Committee on Heritage. At the close of the 37th Parliament, he was Vice-Chair of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee.
He has also served as Official Opposition Whip and House Leader. He spearheaded the Official Opposition’s efforts to work closely with other Opposition parties and to foster parliamentary reform. In 2004, he was appointed Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and Chair of Committees of the Whole. He became Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board in 2006, and Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in August 2007.
Please join me in welcoming the Honourable Chuck Strahl.
Thank you, Catherine, for that very kind introduction. I also want to congratulate you for your tireless work on behalf of small and medium-sized businesses in our country. As someone who worked in the logging industry for many years before entering political life, I know first-hand the valuable contribution you’ve made to advance the interests of Canadian business people.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to salute the Empire Club of Canada. For more than a century, this vibrant organization has provided Canadians from all walks of life with a vital forum to speak to each other, learn from one another and share with one another the enriching stories and lessons of Canadian life.
I am delighted that the Empire Club has demonstrated an affinity for Aboriginal issues. In fact, the names of recent speakers read like a “Who’s Who” of prominent Canadian Aboriginal leaders: former Chief Roberta Jamieson, Inuit leader Jose Kusugak, National Chief Phil Fontaine and the Honourable James Bartleman to name a few. And way back on November 12, 1936, a quiet, unassuming fellow by the name of Grey Owl was a guest of the Empire Club.
Now l know full well that Grey Owl is about as authentically Aboriginal as I am. But in his Empire Club remarks, Grey Owl—otherwise known as Archie Belaney from Hastings, England—said something that’s as stubbornly true today as it was more than 70 years ago. He identified this country’s Aboriginal peoples and the lands of Canada’s North as our greatest untapped assets.
What I want to talk to you about this morning is how we need to move forward together, so that Aboriginal people can realize their full potential to the ultimate benefit of all Canadians. I think there are three areas in which we can make real progress to help make this happen, and I’ll go into them more fully in a moment—partnership, consultation, and education.
But first, why has our country failed to take full advantage of this rich human resource? Three reasons come immediately to mind. Far too many Aboriginal peoples remain isolated from the economic mainstream of our country. Far too many First Nation communities have unresolved specific and comprehensive claims with federal, provincial and territorial governments. And far too many Aboriginal youth aren’t gaining the education and skills they need to enter the modern work force.
But I don’t want to dwell on why Aboriginal peoples have been for too long an untapped asset. I’m an optimist. I prefer to work openly with others to find solutions to problems as they stand right now and to challenges that loom on the horizon.
In this spirit of optimism, let me tell you that there is some good news. The situation is changing—too slowly for my liking, but it is changing.
Today, Aboriginal workers are playing greater roles in local and regional economies.
Young Aboriginal people who complete high school are beginning to receive the vital training and support they require to thrive in today’s fast-paced, volatile information economy.
First Nation communities and Inuit groups that have resolved their claims are taking advantage of natural resources in and around their traditional lands and waters.
And in Canada’s North—where we are seeing huge economic growth opportunities that will benefit Canada for generations to come—our northern communities are proactively getting involved to maximize our potential.
These are clearly positive developments. Increasing Aboriginal participation in the Canadian economy is the most effective way to ensure that Aboriginal people and other Canadians enjoy the same opportunities for success when it comes to education, housing, health care, social services and other key ingredients of healthy and fulfilling lives.
But these are not just positive developments for Aboriginal peoples. Make no mistake: all Canadians have a tremendous stake in the success of Aboriginal people in Canada. Strong, healthy, self-reliant Aboriginal peoples and communities have much to contribute to everyone. After all, there is only one economy, and the more that First Nations, Inuit and Métis participate in and contribute to that economy, the better off all Canadians will be. In fact, I firmly believe that Canada won’t realize its enormous potential until all people fully participate in our country’s vibrant economic life. For those who might think I’m exaggerating, just consider the facts.
Aboriginal people in Canada are on average younger than other Canadians—fully half of the Aboriginal population is under the age of 25. At the same time, Aboriginal peoples represent the fastest-growing segment of our population. In fact, Canada’s Aboriginal population is growing by leaps and bounds—particularly in the Western provinces and Northern territories. Since 1996, the Aboriginal population has increased by 47 per cent, compared to only eight per cent for the rest of Canadians.
I believe these trends represent significant opportunities for long-term economic growth. If we as political, business and Aboriginal leaders act properly, this exploding population should result in expanding markets for goods and services, fresh supplies of workers and entrepreneurs, and tremendous economic returns for us all.
In fact, many Aboriginal youth are already hard at work starting up their very own businesses. These young entrepreneurs show enthusiasm, energy, persistence and savvy. They employ members of their communities, they inject capital into local economies, and they grow secondary industries. And in the classic spirit of entrepreneurship, they identify, develop and exploit opportunities for sustained economic growth in areas that would otherwise remain neglected.
For years, economists have trumpeted the fact that small and medium-sized businesses are the real engine of the new Canadian economy. If this is the case, then these young Aboriginal entrepreneurs have their foot on the gas!
But our country needs more of them. And we need to ensure more Aboriginal people play active roles in our local, regional and national economies regardless of whether they run their own businesses or work for someone else. Why? In the straightforward yet eminently wise words of Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band in Beautiful British Columbia: “The best social program is a job.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Chief Louie.
I can assure you that this government—working alongside our partners in different levels of government, Aboriginal organizations and First Nation communities—are doing everything we can to ensure Aboriginal peoples play increasingly active roles in the economic life of our country. In fact, there are three areas in which we are making strong headway, which brings me back to the points I was mentioning earlier on: partnership, consultation and education.
Partnerships are a vital way to successfully involve increasingly greater numbers of Aboriginal peoples in the workplace. Building partnerships is nothing new to the business community. Many in the private sector recognize that partnering with Aboriginal-owned companies is no longer just a matter of good corporate citizenship; it’s also good business. To quote the Conference Board of Canada: “Corporations that ignore the economic potential of Aboriginal people do so at their own peril.”
This quote helps explain why multi-national corporations partner with Aboriginal businesses in dozens of ventures. Several Aboriginal companies are involved in oil-sands development in Alberta. In Voisey’s Bay, Labrador, a multi-billion dollar project involves Inco, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Innu Nation and the Labrador Inuit Association. Indeed, across Canada, an increasing number of First Nation communities and Aboriginal organizations are forging similar partnerships on all manner of projects.
This government is playing a leading role to encourage and support these and many other types of business partnerships. Aboriginal financial institutions are a prime way we as a government are using partnerships to help Aboriginal entrepreneurs generate tangible economic results. There are 57 Aboriginal financial institutions—or AFIs—located across Canada. These AFIs are Aboriginal-owned and -operated lending organizations that deliver financial services and loans to First Nations, Inuit and Métis who own small and medium-sized businesses.
Why were these vital financial institutions created? Going back 20 years, Aboriginal entrepreneurs had great difficulty getting commercial loans from conventional sources. Provisions in the Indian Act, which prevented these entrepreneurs from pledging assets, were largely responsible. These budding entrepreneurs also lacked track records as successful business people and had yet to acquire proven business expertise.
Thanks to partnership, the situation is much different today. In addition to helping found AFIs, the Government of Canada has invested more than $200 million to capitalize them. The AFIs have done the rest. Using this capital and rolling it over many times, AFIs have invested $1.2 billion in the Canadian economy via more than 30,000 loans to Aboriginal entrepreneurs.
This access to capital has been—and continues to be—critical to long-term Aboriginal economic self-sufficiency. Consider the case of Waubetek Business Development Corporation. This AFI, which serves 27 First Nation communities as well as off-reserve and Métis clients throughout Northeast Ontario, has granted $28 million in loans to 750 Aboriginal businesses in all manner of industry sectors—from tourism to forestry and construction.
The impact of these loans is straightforward yet profound. Ninety-five per cent of the businesses that have received loans remain in operation. Equally important, 21 of the First Nation communities in the geographic region covered by the Waubetek Business Development Corporation contribute more than $240 million each year to the provincial economy—substantial results from business partnerships that work.
Another prominent way the federal government has been working to bolster Aboriginal participation in Canada’s economy is through our efforts to build an Aboriginal Economic Development Framework. This partnership-based, opportunity-driven approach, which we intend to have in place by the end of this year, will not only build on the economic development results we have achieved already, but will also create new measures to help Aboriginal peoples participate more fully in local, regional and national economies.
To develop this framework, the federal government is working with a wide range of Aboriginal groups, notably the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board. The Government of Canada recently strengthened the role of the board and appointed outstanding Aboriginal business and community leaders to it, including its new chairperson, Chief Clarence Louie, whom I mentioned earlier. Made up of business and community-development leaders of First Nations, Métis and Inuit heritage, as well as non-Aboriginal members, the board is now playing a direct and increasingly vital role in advising the federal government on economic-development approaches and on matters related to major investments in Aboriginal ventures.
Because we need skilled workers of all kinds and potential workers need skills, our government has more than doubled the size of the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership—a program that really has produced results. About 16,000 Aboriginal people will benefit from this investment.
Let me give you another solid example of a productive partnership. Our government has introduced an innovative, decisive new approach to resolving the specific claims of First Nation communities. The cornerstone of this effort is the Specific Claims Action Plan—a bold step we have taken with the Assembly of First Nations to introduce impartiality, fairness, faster processing times and better access to mediation into the specific claims process.
In fact, legislation now before Parliament will establish an independent Specific Claims Tribunal to make binding decisions on claims if negotiations have proven unsuccessful after three years of effort. We have made this move because we recognize that settling these claims gives business people the certainty and confidence they need to unleash promising economic opportunities for all Canadians, but especially for First Nations.
Successful working partnerships also mean that we in government have the duty to consult with Aboriginal groups whenever an economic development project may impact an Aboriginal and Treaty right. I know this issue is of particular interest to those of you in the business community.
To ensure our efforts to promote economic development are channelled toward collaboration instead of litigation, our government introduced an action plan on consultation and accommodation. The plan will help all federal departments and agencies live up to their legal obligations to properly consult with First Nation, Métis and Inuit groups when Crown conduct may affect established or potential Aboriginal and Treaty rights.
The action plan will also, in the long term, provide more predictability, certainty and transparency on when and how to practically consult and possibly accommodate Aboriginal groups.
With regard to large development projects, we recently announced the launch of the Major Projects Management Office. One of the important services the office provides is the integration of Crown consultation requirements with Aboriginal groups at the beginning of the process—further demonstrating this government’s commitment to consulting with and listening to Canadians, particularly those who would be most directly affected by resource development projects.
I think I should add here that it is not just incumbent on government to consult. It is also simply good business for the private sector to work with and engage Aboriginal groups as early as possible in the development of projects, which may affect them. As partners and as a source of labour, there is simply no question that everyone benefits when all parties who could be involved are brought early into the process.
The third way in which we can ensure Aboriginal peoples play increasingly active roles in the economic life of our country is education. The role of education in promoting economic growth cannot be underestimated. And it’s the main reason why we will spend $1.7 billion this coming year on First Nations and Inuit education, including $300 million to enable more young people to take advantage of post-secondary education opportunities off reserve.
Why all this investment? Education opens the door to employment opportunities. It’s as simple as that.
But we’re also working to accomplish this goal in ways other than spending money. An ideal example is the agreement signed between the federal government, the province of British Columbia, and BC First Nations. This landmark accord—now ratified by Parliament—enables participating First Nation school authorities in the province to develop curricula firmly founded on their communities’ rich histories and cultures.
And just a few weeks ago I was in New Brunswick to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on education with the province of New Brunswick aimed at improving education outcomes for First Nations students—whether they attend Band-operated schools on reserve or provincial schools off reserve.
I’m convinced this approach will translate into a fuller, more culturally relevant education for Aboriginal students, the result of which will be more Aboriginal students graduating from high school and entering universities and colleges throughout the country.
This outcome alone is well worth pursuing. But when more young Aboriginal people gain the education they require to play meaningful roles in modern economic life, the bottom-line results are staggering for us all.
Listen to this. A recent report prepared by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards estimates that if Aboriginal Canadians were able by 2017 to increase their level of educational attainment to the level that non-Aboriginal Canadians reached in 2001, Canada’s GDP would increase a further $71 billion.
And, if in addition to ensuring the same educational outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, we were to eliminate the disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers in terms of employment rate and employment income, the contribution of Aboriginal peoples to our country’s GDP over the 2001–2017 period would increase to $160 billion.
This, as I am sure we would all agree, is a significant amount!
Closing these gaps will require us to make the investments and take the steps necessary to ensure young Aboriginal people can access high-quality education and achieve increasingly higher grades and performance. It will also require political, business and Aboriginal leaders to increase their commitment to partnership and consultation.
Partnership, consultation and education. Those are three broad but vital areas in which the federal government is taking action to ensure an increasing number of Aboriginal people participate in, contribute to, and benefit from, the Canadian economy.
As I look around this room of accomplished, ambitious business people, I know that you too can take action in these areas. Look for opportunities to partner with Aboriginal peoples and Aboriginal businesses. Get involved in efforts to improve consultations among industry, governments and Aboriginal people. Reach out and take advantage of what will become an increasingly educated and skilled Aboriginal work force.
If you look at today’s report published by the Conference Board of Canada, you will notice case studies of successful Aboriginal businesses, all of which reiterate my message. Business partnerships are there to be had and they are in everyone’s best interest. The report speaks about key elements of successful businesses, including skills development, partnerships, and access to capital. It also speaks about another key ingredient that pulls all of this together, and that is visionary leadership. It identified leadership in all regions of the country. Successful Aboriginal companies are found in the resource sectors, in service industries, in the high-tech businesses, but consistently they are successful because of collaboration, not confrontation; because of consultation, not litigation.
They are successful when governments, Aboriginal people, and the business community make it a priority to work together. They are successful when all of our citizens, including Aboriginal people, are active participants in our nation’s economy. And when these businesses see such success, Canada will be able to reach its full potential.
I look forward to working with all of you and all of our Aboriginal people, as we partner together to achieve this desirable goal. Thank you very much for having me.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Charles S. Coffey, OC, Chair, Canadian Centre for Diversity, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.