Speech of Minister Jane Philpott at the Economic Club of Canada


Minister Jane Philpott
April 13, 2018

Thank you very much and good afternoon, everyone. It’s a real privilege to be here. Thank you, Regan for the introduction. Both Regan and Rhiannon have already acknowledged that we’re gathered on the land that has been walked on for many, many years and cared for many years before us by the Mississauga New Credit, by the Haudenosaunee, by the Huron-Wendat and other nations. I want to acknowledge those who have gone before and continue to live in this land and territory and care for it.

I am very pleased to welcome you all here today. It is an honour for me to be here with you, discussing issues that are so important to the future of this nation, and I thank you for being here.

I’m so pleased as well that IBM has hosted an event like this. They have certainly, as an organization, demonstrated a commitment to engagement with vulnerable people through work across North America. They are now increasing participation in Indigenous education in Canada which is to be commended and I want to thank Regan and IBM for your leadership in this area. 

Some of you may be aware of the work that IBM has done through P-Tech in finding ways to connect education and jobs and this is ground-breaking work. It’s work that I think has much more capacity in Canada and we’re very lucky that you’re engaged on this issue.

I was thrilled to see that Rhiannon started her presentation referring to the Arctic and in fact, that’s where I wanted to start as well. I want to start with sharing with you some comments that were in a piece in the Globe and Mail that you may have come across about a week or so ago. A doctor, Kevin Patterson, brought up the story of two teenagers from the Arctic who had actually died in recent months with a diagnosis of tuberculosis. He noted in his comments that tuberculosis is an expression of poverty as much as it’s an expression of a microbacterial infection.

The point was that in 2018, when Canadian teenagers each year die from tuberculosis, the cause is more than bacterial. The etiology includes things like nursing shortages, language barriers, weather delays associated with medical transportation to remote communities and some of the most overcrowded housing in our entire country. The article described Arctic homes where six people often share a bedroom and in fact, he wrote of one woman who came from the community of Naujaat, Nunavut, who said that these days, she had 20. They sleep wherever they can find room, bedrooms, kitchen, living room.

Canada has failed. We have failed to address the upstream causes of tuberculosis among many other topics, but tuberculosis indeed among Indigenous people. The result is that the rate of tuberculosis amongst Inuit who live in the Inuit Nunangat which is the Inuit homeland across the north of this country, the rate of tuberculosis is 300 times that of the non-Indigenous Canadian born population. First Nations have tuberculosis rates that are 40 times the non-Indigenous Canadian born population. 

On World Tuberculosis Day this year, just a couple of weeks ago, I joined Nathan Obed, a remarkable leader. He’s the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. President Obed and I announced that Canada will claim a very serious target, to eliminate tuberculosis in Inuit Nunangat by the year 2030 and on our way there, to make sure that we reduce active cases by half by the year 2025. It’s something that’s never been achieved before, but we will not achieve it unless we deal with these issues like housing – recognizing that overcrowding rates in Nunavut, which you just saw here on the screen, overcrowding rates are as high as 52% across Inuit Nunangat.

I raise the topic of an ancient infectious disease that, while being the No. 1 infectious killer in the world, is not necessarily felt to be compatible with a modern audience in an urban context. I do so in order to flag for us those vast socio-economic gaps that exist and that face Indigenous communities on a daily basis. It’s 2018 and we’re still facing outbreaks of a completely preventable treatable infection in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet.

Secondly, I wanted to highlight this story because it shows the value of a target and I don’t need to tell people in this audience that what gets measured gets done. We’re trying to use this approach in almost every area of our work. Without setting defined targets like this and holding ourselves accountable to them, we struggle to mobilize the resources that are necessary and the partners that need to come together for success.

My final point in raising this, and I thank Regan and others for the kind words that they said about the work that I’ve been able to do, but when I hear things like that, I want so much for people to understand that no single person, no single government can actually address these gaps and that we will not be successful without partnerships. In the case of the tuberculosis elimination strategy, we’re working closely in partnership not only with territory governments, but most importantly, with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. These vast gaps that exist socio-economically between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians need this kind of partnership in order to get done. We should also understand if it’s not entirely clear, that Indigenous peoples will lead the way and the implementation of the solutions that already exist in Indigenous communities.

So what I wanted to do today, and I’m very pleased just to give you a little bit of a taste of what’s to come, is that I will spend a bit of time speaking about some of the challenges and opportunities as I see them. Then I’m going to be inviting J.P. Gladu to join me here on the stage. J.P., I’ll tell you a bit more about him in a few minutes, but he’s the CEO of the Canadian Council on Aboriginal Business.

I very often have the wonderful privilege of sharing my thoughts and some of the issues associated with my portfolio but I think that the voices of Indigenous business leaders are even more important for you to hear. They need to be amplified because it is leaders like J.P. that will set the agenda for economic development and how we will actually move more quickly down the path of reconciliation.

For my part, I’m going to address this issue in a couple of contexts that I think are critical if one of our goals is the full engagement and participation of Indigenous people in the economic and social fabric of our country and that is the issues of both human capital and physical capital. 

So let’s start first talking a little bit about human capital. You all know very well that our Canadian economy that we value so greatly will not thrive without a fully engaged workforce to drive it. We’re proud to be one of the best educated countries in the world. We have created a hugely talented innovative workforce that creates jobs and in fact, doing a very good job right now creating those jobs and growth. But Indigenous people in this country, we must all acknowledged have suffered from the denial of rights, from neglect when it comes to participation in the education and employment opportunities of the land. Our economy and our society are the weaker for it.

If you look at something like high school graduation rates and I often ask when I go to high schools, what they think the graduation rate is across the country and I get a range of guesses on that. The rate across this country, it’s about 88% of young people who graduate from high school which is not bad. We could do probably a little better, but if you look at First Nations on reserve, the graduation rates from high school are 44%, half that of the national average. 

And then you look at something like the number of non-Indigenous Canadians who have post-secondary credentials. I suspect in this room, it’s probably pretty high in terms of post-secondary credentials, but across the country, it’s about 65.5%.and yet only 49% of Indigenous Canadians across the country have post-secondary credentials. As a result, Indigenous peoples are under-represented in almost every sector of the workforce. The gaps are particularly concerning given the fact that we know that Indigenous youth are the fastest growing sector of our Canadian population.

The good news is that change is happening and it is being led without a doubt by Indigenous people. For example, you can go back actually some time, to 1999, when the Mi’gmaw of Nova Scotia won the right to manage education. Actually I should clarify – they didn’t win the right, they always had the right, the right was affirmed by the courts to manage education for their own children for the first time in a century. As a result, students in the Mi’gmaw school board have now the highest graduation rate in their entire province, a stunning 90%, higher than the national average.

A few months ago, we launched a First Nations school system in Manitoba and another one is coming very soon in Alberta. We look forward to working across the country to support First Nations who are ready, willing and able to take over the control, the design and the delivery of education in their communities. I should also comment at this point in the post-secondary space that there’s a lot of work being done. I know that there are representatives here from Indspire. Indspire is a fantastic organization, a not-for-profit that is led by the amazing Roberta Jamieson. They provide more than 3,700 funding awards to Indigenous students every year and they absolutely cannot meet up with the demand.

Nearby in Six Nations, we recently celebrated the launch of an amazing academy called the STEAM Academy and this has been done in part with the support of IBM to implement an amazing curriculum. It is founded on STEAM. You all know about STEAM, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math and I hope all you make sure that the ‘A’ is in STEAM because it’s absolutely essential. I met with somebody just a few minutes ago from the National Ballet and promised to make sure we give a shout-out because the technology is nothing without the arts.

Here’s to the humanities, long may they live. The STEAM Academy really takes us to the next level because STEAM is the first school in Canada that offers Indigenous students the combination of being able to acquire a high school diploma along with a college diploma concurrently. Students are taking courses, college courses as early as a grade 10 level. They finish the program in five or six years and they have their Ontario Secondary School diploma as well as a two-year college technician diploma. So I want to really give a shout-out to the outstanding work of Roberta Jamieson who is here and maybe Roberta can give a wave to us all.

She is the genius behind Six Nations polytechnic as well as Aaron Hobbs who is the president of the STEAM Academy. They are here today with three very special people who I will ask to stand, three of the academy students, Wayne General, Kayla Choir-Esquire, and Christian Tiel.

Thank you so much for being here. I had the opportunity to visit the STEAM Academy. What actually impressed me the very most is not only the amazing technology that they’ve got there and the fantastic education these young people are getting, but a beautiful blending of technological education with Indigenous arts and culture. Imagine what happens when you’ve got these fantastic computer-assisted design technology and 3D printers in one room and in the room next door, you have people who are understanding Haudenosaunee arts and culture and history and learning the language and offering programs in Indigenous languages and offering the ability to be able to have elders who can come in to teach Indigenous knowledge and ceremony. Combining that and the technology that will come out of that place will be the best in this country. So kudos to STEAM at the Six Nations Polytechnic.

There are so many examples of progress to highlight but there’s much more that needs to be done. We have to continue to support the capacity of Indigenous communities across the land to control the delivery of culturally appropriate education. I’m very proud to say that with the result of investments  from our government, we’re going to reach the time very soon, this year, where for the first time, there will be equitable funding for First Nations students on reserve. Stunning that we haven’t gotten there yet, but per capita student funding will, for the first time, be as good as or better than provincial per capita funding in every part of this country.

Education is the key to hope and opportunity for every one of us and the STEAM Academy shows how to unleash the potential of Indigenous youth. We need many more programs like it across the country. I hope you and your organizations will be looking at other ways to develop similar partnerships between the private sector and Indigenous communities to design and test some of these creative ways of getting Indigenous youth into the workforce and being able to enjoy what they will be able to contribute there. Later this afternoon, I’m really looking forward to meeting with business leaders and STEAM Academy leaders and students as we explore these kinds of partnerships and find ways that we can particularly make sure that we create self-evident pathways for high-skilled jobs as a part of our discussions.

In my role as Minister of Indigenous Services, I have an incredible privilege of meeting and learning from inspiring First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders across the country. I hope that you are seeking ways to be able to do the same. In your communities, in your organizations, in your companies, I hope as you look at your board of directors, your senior executives, your staff, making sure that you find ways to have fulsome Indigenous representation. Also how you can particularly attract Indigenous youth to your organization. We should be very clear, this is not about charity, this is about enlightened self-interest, it’s about making your organizations better than they are now.

The National Indigenous Economic Advisory Board has estimated that by engaging Indigenous Canadians in the economy at the same rate as non-Indigenous Canadians, we could boost Canada’s GDP by 1.5% and create at least $28 billion in annual economic growth. Many have suggested that the number is actually much higher. This past week, the McDonald Laurier Institute posted an article written by Carol Ann Hilton who is a First Nations business leader from British Columbia. She proposed that Canada should be preparing for a $100-billion Indigenous economy. I hope you’re going to be ready for that.

So let’s move on. I will ask J.P. to talk more in a few minutes about the human capital side of things, but let me turn to physical capital. Canada, I hope you feel it, is in the midst I think of an infrastructure renaissance. In this city alone, the federal government is investing billions of dollars in public transit, housing, flood mitigation and more. I trust that many of you know that our government plans to invest $186 billion in infrastructure over the next ten years.

Many of us would argue that there is nowhere that this is more than in Indigenous communities and I know we have, I think, an entire table here today from the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, wave there to the CCPPP. They have actually done work to try to estimate what the gap is. Looking at First Nations on reserve alone, they estimate that the infrastructure gap on reserve is in the order of $30 billion and quickly growing.

I was recently in Pikangikum First Nation with the Prime Minister. The Chief had his council around him and said to the Prime Minister, as he pointed down the table to one of his council members, that she had approximately 20 people living in her house. Not unlike the example that I spoke of earlier in the Arctic. She said that of those 20 people living in the house were young people and that they had to sleep in shifts because that was the only way 20 people in a two-bedroom home could try to be able to get a good night sleep. A young man in her family had to recently drop out of high school for the mere fact that he couldn’t actually get a decent night sleep. Again, this is happening in this rich province, in this rich country.

So we have made significant investments in Indigenous housing including working with Inuit regions and the Métis region on ten-year plans for their own strategic approach to housing. We’re in the process of working with First Nations partners on a ten-year approach on housing, a housing strategy on reserve. We cannot do this alone. The gap is too big and we certainly can’t address this gap by doing business as usual. I think that there are significant opportunities while recognizing Indigenous rights, including treaty rights. I believe that there are significant opportunities to engage the private sector and the not-for-profit sector in this work. New financing procurement models and designs are necessary to build and maintain what some have estimated is a gap of 80,000 housing units for First Nations communities on reserve.

So we’ve begun to work with Indigenous partners to develop the possibility of a housing and infrastructure challenge fund which you’ll hear more about in the months to come, I hope. It will feed innovative work in these areas and let me give you an example – this is the really fun stuff that happens when smart people get together. The Métis Nation of Alberta has a housing corporation associated with it and when I was in Edmonton recently, I went to see their family reunification project. What they have done is solve two problems at once: solved the housing problem and solved the very serious problem in this country around the severe over-representation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system.

What they did was they bought a housing unit, a small apartment building with eight units and renovated it and the dollars that they used to renovate that apartment building came from the funding that would have gone to foster families, non-Indigenous foster families to care for these kids. By doing that, they were able to bring parents, sometimes single parents, back together with their children, able to do it for actually less than the cost of supporting these kids in the foster care system. They were able to provide 24/7 coverage of nurses, support workers, counselors, social workers to be able to help these moms and dads reunite with their families, get back into the workforce, build their skillsets, stay with them for – anywhere from one to three years until they were able to launch out in their home with their families intact. This is the kind of amazing opportunity that we have before us, if we use our minds and our resources better.

Another area where we’re seeing exciting opportunity is in the energy sector. A few weeks ago, I was in Thunder Bay to celebrate a really fantastic project. It’s a $1.6 billion investment from the federal government in order to support Watay Power. Watay Power is a First Nations-led partnership of 22 First Nations from Northern Ontario who have combined forces with Fortis. Through their network, they are going to be connecting 16 First Nations communities in Northern Ontario to the provincial electricity grid.

Our funding, the federal funding for that, a portion of it at least comes from booking savings in advance and recognizing that when we connect those First Nations to the electricity grid, we will save money that is currently being spent on diesel generated power in these northern communities over the next number of decades. So First Nations investors then are also going to be reinvesting the profits from their portion of the corporation to build their share over time until they will be full owners of this transmission corridor.

And then the other area that I can’t help but mention is the issue of clean drinking water which I know some of you are following. It’s one of the Prime Minister’s boldest commitments. He announced in 2016 our firm commitment to ensure that all long-term drinking water advisories for public systems on reserve will be eliminated within five years and we have made the investment appropriate for that. We’ve undertaken now over 400 projects across the country, to date have lifted 57 long-term drinking water advisories.

A few weeks ago, I was in Slate Falls who has the most spectacular, probably the most beautiful water system I’ve ever seen, perhaps partly because it’s brand-new but it’s also a beautiful state-of-the-art facility. They were able to lift 11 long-term drinking water advisories, most of which had been in place for 14 years. So we still have 78 long-term advisories in place. We’re always keeping an eye on high-risk systems that may become long-term advisories. There’s a lot more to be done, to get to 2021, but we’re well on our way.

I hope that many of you are thinking about ways that you may participate, for example, in things like a housing and infrastructure challenge fund that we would like to launch in the coming months. This would be a way to provide support to these kinds of innovative partnerships between the private and not-for-profit organizations with Indigenous communities and leaders, to develop new financing models, design procurement operations models, for housing, energy, broadband, all kinds of other critical infrastructure.

I’m convinced that we will not properly address the infrastructure gap that exists on reserve without significant innovation, including recognizing Indigenous ways of knowing and doing. From the housing perspective I think that this means looking at designs that are more culturally and geographically appropriate, rediscovering traditional ways of building styles and techniques, sourcing and manufacturing materials locally, hiring and training locally. We’re also working with the Canada Infrastructure Bank and chair, Janice Fukakusa to ensure that Indigenous infrastructure is a key part of their portfolio as they go forward.

We’ve started to engage with Infrastructure Ontario to develop pilot projects using their procurement models with Indigenous partners. I believe that somewhere in the audience is Ehren Cory – hi, Erin, nice to see you – who is the head of Infrastructure Ontario and really helping to dream up some of these ideas.

You should know that there are 40,000 Indigenous small and medium enterprises. Maybe Dave will refer to this a little bit later, but the number of Indigenous businesses in this country is steadily growing and they operate in every province and territory of this country. It’s no longer just gas bars and convenience stores, but it’s a whole range of large complex ventures like franchise food chains, high-tech start-ups for renewable energy projects, etc. The majority of Indigenous businesses in the country are located off reserve. Indigenous tourism for example contributes $1.4 billion to Canada’s GDP and employs more than 33,000 people.

To give you one more great example, from Muskowekwan First Nation in Saskatchewan, they have formed a joint venture with Encanto Potash. They are building a $3-billion potash mine on reserve in Lestock, which is about 100 kilometers north of Regina. They’re working with the federal government, with provincial and First Nations governments to make this happen. The project currently has a present value over $1 billion. In a recent edition of the Canadian Mining Journal, their Chief, Reginald Bellerose, has spoken about the venture as more than just about revenue and jobs in his community. He’s spoken about it from a recognition of rights perspective in terms of the building of the local economy, saying that the goal is to have control over their lives and their priorities.

In the article I referenced earlier, that Carol Anne Hilton wrote, she said, “Today’s new reality is that First Nations are emerging as economy powerhouses”. Canadian business leaders like you in this room should be looking for respectful and fair ways to participate in the opportunities of the Indigenous economy. Hilton asks the question: “Is this the time that Canada will finally get it? That Indigenous peoples are actually the most integral part of the value chain of this country?”

My work in this portfolio of Indigenous Services isn’t easy, but I see so much hope every day. In spite of a national history that has neglected and discriminated against Indigenous peoples, they persevered. With resilience, strength and dignity, First Nations, Métis and Inuit have found ways to innovate, thrive and grow. Indigenous leaders and communities are ready and willing and able to lead. All Canadians have a responsibility to be involved in repairing the wrongs of our national past, learning about our obligations to truth and reconciliation, and to ensuring that all Canadians can succeed.

There is no shortage of ways to participate. I hope that you are increasingly using your skills, experience, networks and creativity to partner in this collective effort. Now it’s my great pleasure to invite J.P. Gladu to join me here, the CEO of the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business. I’m going to tell you a bit more about him once we sit down together. Thank you very much.    

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