Opening remarks: Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs—June 19, 2020

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Thank you for inviting me today.

I am meeting you today from Oakville, which is on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabeg peoples.

Joining me today are Michael Vandergrift, Associate Deputy Minister and Arianne Reza, Assistant Deputy Minister, Procurement.

Today is my first appearance before the Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. I am pleased to be here with my colleague Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller.

We have been working closely together during this crisis. At Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), we are focussed on procuring equipment and medical supplies needed to fight COVID-19, and we buy on behalf of other departments including Indigenous Services Canada.

I will talk about the specifics of procurement in a moment but first allow me to briefly outline the work my department is doing towards reconciliation.

Public Services and Procurement Canada and reconciliation

We know that advancing true reconciliation is only possible in full partnership with Indigenous Peoples. This is why last February, PSPC became an official signatory of Indigenous Services Canada’s strategic partnership initiative.

This initiative supports greater participation in federal procurement for Indigenous individuals and businesses.

My department’s varied mandate gives us a unique role in how we can contribute to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

For example, last year, for the first time in the history of Parliament, our Translation Bureau began offering Indigenous language interpretation services for members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons. The bureau also offered interpretation of the leaders’ debates in Indigenous languages for the first time.

We are also increasingly including requirements for benefits for Indigenous Peoples and businesses in our contracts, through Indigenous Benefits Plans.

For example, remediation work at Fraser River Big Bar Landslide and also at Esquimalt Harbour in British Columbia include Indigenous Benefit Plans. In each case contractors are working with local First Nations to develop training, employment and sub-contracting opportunities for these communities.

PSPC is also working with the Canadian Construction Association to increase the diversity of bidders on government contracts particularly for Indigenous-led businesses.

And we work alongside Indigenous Services Canada to implement the Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Businesses.

Overall, our government’s aim is to award at least 5% of all federal contracts to businesses managed and led by Indigenous Peoples.

Procurement during a pandemic

Those are just a few of the reconciliation activities we’re advancing.

Right now, we are in rapid response mode in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

As we cautiously restart the economy the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) will rise. We must be ready.

PSPC will continue to place large orders of vital supplies to meet Canada’s short-term and anticipated long-term needs as the pandemic evolves.

Participation of Indigenous-led businesses

Mr. Chair, given the urgency of the situation and the scarcity of global supply, we have aggressively procured from a range of suppliers based on their capacity to meet Canada’s needs as quickly as possible.

I’m happy to report to this committee that indigenous-led businesses are very much a part of our response to COVID-19.

The Spirit Healthcare Group of Companies in Manitoba is a great example.

In early March they used existing contacts in China to deliver essential PPE for Manitoba’s First Nations.

The group’s pharmacy and medical supply company, SpiritRx then ramped up delivery of PPE to help meet both provincial and federal needs.

SpiritRx provided 1 million isolation gowns for the province of Manitoba and by mid-June will have fulfilled a federal contract to provide more than 656,000 digital thermometers.

They are one example. To date, PSPC has signed 12 COVID-19-related contracts with 10 Indigenous-led suppliers for a total of nearly $40 million.

We know there is always more we can do to engage Indigenous-led businesses.

On that note, I am pleased to highlight a recent request for proposal to solicit interest specifically from Indigenous-led businesses that can help provide 25 million disposable, non-medical masks. The response so far has been encouraging, and we expect to award contracts in the coming weeks.

Indigenous suppliers are also key participants in our recently launched PPE supply hub, an online tool that provides resources for buying and selling PPE. This includes links to resources specifically for Indigenous businesses, as well as lists of Indigenous-led suppliers.

Collaboration is key

Mr. Chair, working together is critical in this highly competitive PPE market.

That is why I am leading the COVID-19 Supply Council, which provides expertise in supply chains, procurement of critical goods and services, shipping and distribution.


We know that tackling COVID-19 is a long-term endeavour. Thank you for your time, and I am happy to take your questions.

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