Key themes: Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs—June 19, 2020
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This document summarizes witness testimony and outlines key points raised by members by theme at the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAN) meetings on May 1, May 8, May 15, May 22, May 26 and May 29. Main themes include personal protective equipment (PPE), the National Emergency Strategy Stockpile (NESS), the COVID-19 Supply Council and government contracts.
May 29, 2020
- Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business: Tabatha Bull, President and Chief Executive Officer
- National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association: Shannin Metatawabin, Chief Executive Officer
- Northern Air Transport Association: Sébastien Michel, Member, Board of Directors
COVID-19 Supply Council
The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) asked whether Ms. Bull, who was appointed to the supply council and represents Indigenous businesses, would be able to advance some of the concerns and wishes of Indigenous businesses across the country.
Ms. Pam Damoff: You've been appointed to the COVID-19 advisory committee for procurement. Do you think that will give you an opportunity? I think it was a really good appointment. Besides the fact that you're an incredibly accomplished woman who will provide terrific input, having an Indigenous business voice on that committee is critical. Do you think that will be helpful in trying to advance some of the concerns and the wishes of Indigenous businesses across the country?
Ms. Tabatha Bull: Yes. I'm very pleased for the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB) and for Indigenous business to have Indigenous representation on that supply council. We've had 2 meetings to date. I would say that we are already making some progress in some of the discussion around connecting buyers to sellers in corporate Canada. By being there, we're able to make sure that we're going to be able to connect those buyers to Indigenous businesses, both our members and other organizations' members. Out of that, I raised the same issue at that supply council with Minister Anand. They did follow up and ask specifically for the list, so I do think we're making progress.
The LPC asked how many Indigenous businesses were put in contact with the Government of Canada (GC) in order to get a contract related to COVID-19.
Ms. Pam Damoff: I'd like to start by acknowledging that I'm joining the meeting today from the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. I want to thank all the witnesses for your testimony, especially for the research that you have been doing and are able to provide to our committee. Tabatha, I'm going to start with you, because you've provided us with some great statistics. I met with you in February, and I know that you have robust research and have for many years. One of the things we talked about was procurement. I know that the minister's mandate letter calls for 5% procurement, and if I remember correctly, you said that Indigenous businesses could actually provide 23% to 25% of the requirements of the federal government. When I hear you say that you've provided lists to the government related to COVID-19 and none have been given contracts, it's very concerning, and I do give you a commitment to follow up on that. How many businesses have you actually provided to the federal government in the hopes of them getting a contract related to COVID-19?
Ms. Tabatha Bull: Originally when COVID-19 started and we all started working from home, our initial action was to look through our certified aboriginal businesses and look to who could provide PPE immediately. That's about 20 of our members. Then we went to our members and asked who would be able to pivot to manufacture PPE or face shields. We had quite a few members who were interested in doing that. Not unlike other independent businesses, they were concerned about putting in any type of investment without having a contract. That was probably another 20 to 25 just of our members. As the task force and all of our organizations, National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) included, we have gone out to all of our members and asked if they could provide PPE. It was about 12% of the respondents from the survey. If you think about it, the number of respondents to the survey was just shy of 900, and that's a significant number just for people who responded, but if you think about the close to 60,000 Indigenous businesses across Canada, 12% of that is a significant number. We have been providing those lists to various departments and also working with some individual members to try to connect them. It's definitely been a frustrating process.
The LPC asked about the benefits of government contracts given to Indigenous businesses.
Mr. Greg Fergus: I thank all the witnesses for joining us. I have questions for them, and I hope to have enough time to put some questions to Ms. Bull, Mr. Michel and Mr. Metatawabin. I will start with you, Ms. Bull. One of my colleagues recommended that I watch your interview with The Future Economy. I found it very interesting, especially when you talked about how important it is for Indigenous communities that a share of government procurement be set aside for Indigenous businesses. In the Minister of Public Services and Procurement mandate letter, our government proposes to award 5% of federal government contracts to Indigenous businesses. Could you comment further on that and specify how the awarding of government contracts to Indigenous businesses can help them during the pandemic?
Ms. Tabatha Bull: We were quite pleased to see that announcement of the 5% procurement. We have had a procurement marketplace structure at CCAB for 2 years now. It's been used by corporate Canada and it's been very successful. The biggest thing there is that corporations are setting targets, and they're measuring against those targets. I know we talk about this example often, but Suncor set a target of 5% for all of their spending from Indigenous business and they have more than reached that target. A number of other businesses have done the same. I think what we need to do, for the federal government, is to do the same. Just set a metric for all ministries to be able to ensure that they're meeting that—
The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) asked about success stories of Indigenous businesses who received procurement contracts from the government.
Mr. Arnold Viersen: I'd like to continue in a similar vein of questioning as Ms. Damoff. For Ms. Bull, around procurement, I'm curious if you have any success stories to share with us of how Indigenous businesses have been able to land procurement contracts with the federal government?
Ms. Tabatha Bull: Through this period, no, we don't, unfortunately. We do have some businesses that are working with corporate Canada, Indigenous businesses that are supplying hand sanitizer, for example to the Bank of Montreal. Chief Fuels is an example of a business out east that has pivoted to start to provide hand sanitizer with a local maple syrup distributor. They are providing that hand sanitizer to the Province of New Brunswick and, I believe, the Province of Ontario. These are Indigenous businesses that either were originally in this space or have pivoted to do so, and they have been able to access contracts with corporate Canada and with provinces, but not yet with the federal government.
The CPC asked if any Indigenous businesses that are part of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business received contracts with the GC.
Mr. Arnold Viersen: Have none of your members landed a contract with the federal government at this point?
Ms. Tabatha Bull: That's correct.
The CPC asked about the approval process in order to bid for a government contract.
Mr. Arnold Viersen: Yes, that's what I've been getting from them. They said that they already went through the process, were an approved vendor for the federal government, and now they seem to have to do it again through a different process.
Ms. Tabatha Bull: Yes, this seems to be another requirement to get a new registration number that not all businesses were aware of. We have had some businesses that brought that to our attention, and we brought that to Public Services and Procurement Canada’s attention.
May 26, 2020
- First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba: Amanda Meawasige, Director of Intergovernmental Relations
- Innu Nation COVID-19 Strategic Unit:
- Chief Mike Mckenzie
- Jean-Claude Therrien Pinette, Assistant to the Chief
- Dr. Stanley Vollant, Health Expert
Personal protective equipment
The New Democratic Party (NDP) asked if Indigenous communities were able to have a say regarding their needs of PPE.
Ms. Mumilaaq Qaqqaq: My next question is for Chief Mckenzie. What has your experience been in the delivery of personal protective equipment and other resources to your community? Were they what you expected, and did you feel that you were able to have a say in what communities needed?
Chief Mike Mckenzie: It took a long time to deliver the necessary protective equipment to all the communities. It took a really long time. As I said in my opening speech, there was a jurisdictional squabble between the provincial and federal governments at the beginning of the pandemic. In the meantime, our First Nations’ government took steps on our end to prepare our communities for the pandemic, in spite of everything we were going through. We've already lived through similar crises with other diseases, so First Nations have some experience. We went through hell trying to get our hands on PPE. It took a month, a month and a half, maybe 2 months, before First Nations got PPE.
The CPC asked whether the PPE has been distributed uniformly throughout the different communities.
Mr. Arnold Viersen: We've seen is that getting protective equipment into northern communities has been a challenge. Do you have any examples of that in your area? Do you see it differing from community to community?
Ms. Amanda Meawasige: There is a shortage of PPE within our communities. We do have adequate supplies for the nursing stations, and it seems that Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has been very good in responding to that request, but we do have shortages in our personal care homes, for example. We know that the elderly population is at an increased risk from COVID-19, so it's very important to have appropriate numbers of PPE. We also have people who have ongoing addiction issues and require daily medical travel, for example, for harm reduction medication. They're often travelling without PPE in confined spaces. Most definitely, this is why we say it's imperative that First Nations be at the top of the list for these types of materials, given that we don't have adequate primary and public health care available at the community level.
The CPC asked the Innu Nation Strategic Unit if there are enough masks should there be a need for them.
Mr. Bob Zimmer: Do you have enough masks, Doctor? Do you have the masks available to use if you require them?
Dr. Stanley Vollant: We don't have enough, but our communities are making masks for our population. It would be nice to have more funding to have more masks for our people.
May 22, 2020
- Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador: Chief Ghislain Picard
- First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission: Marjolaine Siouï, Director General
- Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority Inc.: Tara Campbell, Executive Director
- First Nations Health Authority:
- Richard Jock, Interim Chief Executive Officer
- Dr. Shannon McDonald, Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer
- First Nations Health Council: Chief Charlene Belleau, Chair
Personal protective equipment
The CPC asked whether PPE has been made readily available for the Indigenous communities around Williams Lake.
Mr. Bob Zimmer: Chief Belleau, I was through your community just this week. I drove to Vancouver. I had some very important meetings down there. I always like going through Williams Lake. I have family there still. It's a great city. My role is critic, or shadow minister, for northern affairs and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, so my questions are going to be posed around the economic side of where we are with COVID-19 and the situation we're in. Many have asked—and I'll even speak to my local community here where the Blueberry River First Nations are. They were struck with a few cases of COVID-19 with a huge lack of PPE during that crisis. They were left scrambling to places like Walmart to find hand sanitizer, masks and all kinds of supplies to address those cases in their community. It goes against what has been said about the availability of PPE for our Indigenous communities. Chief Belleau, has PPE been readily available for your communities, broadly speaking, in the Williams Lake area and in the Indigenous communities that you know of?
Chief Charlene Belleau: I know that PPE is an issue for sure, whether it's within our own region here in Williams Lake but throughout the province as well, but we also recognize the limitations across the country. We are constantly advocating for PPE not only for our health care providers but also for our people who are providing security on the lines or band offices.
The CPC mentions that providing PPE is a federal jurisdiction for Indigenous communities.
Mr. Bob Zimmer: I'd like to go to Mr. Jock from the First Nations Health Authority. I have a question that is similar to what I asked the chief about the PPE and the access to it. Are you seeing access to the needed and available PPE? We hear about this provincial-federal jurisdiction and who's in charge of what. It's a federal responsibility to provide PPE to the Indigenous communities. It was supposed to be established that way. We're seeing and hearing of shortages across the board across Canada. Have you seen that shortage? We don't need to get into the politics of it, I guess, but if there is one, what needs to be done to re-establish this? I think there's a national emergency strategic stockpile that's supposed to provide access to this equipment across Canada. What needs to be done in the future to make that accessibility to the PPE better?
Mr. Richard Jock: I would say 2 things. One, as Charlene has said, is that we have made sure there's a few weeks' supply of PPE. What we've done is develop a system of distribution and we make sure that we can replenish those supplies, but I would not want to say that there's a stockpile or an accumulated surplus. I think part of what does need to happen is that each region needs to stockpile. In our case, what we're saying is that each of our sub-regions within British Columbia (BC) also has to have its stockpiles and, as you pointed out, that it is available to provide supplies to schools, commercial ventures and other aspects of the everyday operation of communities. We are developing that, but I think there's a long way to go, no question.
May 15, 2020
- Missing and Murdered Women, Girls and 2-Spirit People (MMIWG2S+)— Manitoba coalition:
- Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, Co-Chair
- Sandra DeLaronde, Co-Chair
- Native Women's Association of Canada: Lorraine Whitman, President
- Women of the Métis Nation—Les Femmes Michif OtipemisiwakM: Melanie Omeniho, President
National Emergency Strategic Stockpile
The CPC raised concerns about the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile (NESS) vanishing and mentions how individuals had to procure PPE on their own as a result.
Mr. Bob Zimmer: I have a question for Ms. Omeniho. You brought up some really concerning problems that we had actually seen. I'm the northern affairs critic, so it's part of my responsibility to see what the PPE situation is for the territories and northern Canada. I was very alarmed to see that the national emergency strategic stockpile had somewhat seemed to evaporate. The problem you brought up is that there was this assumption in many of our communities that there was this stockpile they could rely on, so if they made the request from the stockpile, the masks and the ventilators would arrive. Then, even one of our reserves just north of Fort St. John, where I live, was left scrambling to get hand sanitizer, masks and cleaning supplies from Canadian Tire, Walmart and all these other places, when we were all of the understanding that there was this equipment waiting for us. You also brought up one thing that affected one of our reserves too. As you mentioned, many of these community members are caregivers for their elders, so not having this equipment really puts them at risk, and the elders as well. I'm really alarmed by that. I just want you to speak to that, and I guess the next question after the response is, where do we go from here? We certainly don't want to see this happen again.
Ms. Melanie Omeniho: Being Métis, we had a significant issue, because many of the resources that were available through Indigenous Services Canada actually went to the first nation treaty places. I have no idea how they were disbursed or if there were even that many, because there were also crises in the hospitals and things were being collected for there. But it did create a significant issue in our communities. I know that many of our Métis women throughout western Canada have been busy making masks and sending them out to people, trying to prevent issues, but things like hand sanitizer.... To this day, actually, I don't think people can buy disinfectant wipes, even if they want to. Those things are causing serious issues. In some of our communities, as you well know, the messages are mixed. We talked about communication earlier. There are mixed messages. Do we isolate or don't we isolate? Are we protected? Some of the northern communities thought that if they isolated and didn't let other people into their communities they would be okay, and we've had massive outbreaks in some of those communities. In fact, we've had young people dying, which is very traumatizing for us as well. I do support and understand...but we need to be better prepared for anything, moving forward. We are still looking for resources, even thermometers. We can't get thermometers. For people who are at risk and need to take their temperatures to make sure they're okay, those resources are not even available.
The CPC mentioned how PPE was given to China and asked for suggestions on what the Government can do now.
Mr. Bob Zimmer: As a follow-up question to what you said, again, I think we are all alarmed by.... There's been some speculation that what was given to China was our complete national emergency strategic stockpile. It was all given away, essentially, and it left us with no supplies for our own people. That said, we are looking forward and we need to make sure this doesn't happen again. What would you suggest we do? We talk about the groups as being somewhat separate: the Métis who are not necessarily affiliated to a band and don't have that same sort of governance. We really need your solution to this, because we need to make sure it doesn't happen again. What would be some of the solutions? I know you only have a few minutes left to say what you're going to say, but can you submit your ideas to my office or to this committee? Often the people who know how to fix it best are the ones who are in the trenches with the problems right now.
Ms. Melanie Omeniho: We absolutely can make some suggestions, because we have some ideas about how we need to make sure that going forward this never repeats itself again. We will do a written submission to you to make sure that those things are addressed. We actually have a few other things that we'd like to bring forward, which we just haven't had the opportunity to do today.
Personal protective equipment
The CPC asked about the PPE needs and what the government can do further to supply.
Mr. Marc Dalton: I have a question regarding accessibility to PPE and masks. I know there were some comments on that a little earlier. These are getting to hospitals and other locations, but as we open up our country from COVID-19, economically and in a variety of ways, what are the needs? Are there significant gaps? One of you mentioned Métis women who are making masks and all that. Can you elaborate as far as how prepared we are? Are we ready to go forward in these practical ways? What can the government do on this? I'll open it to anyone who would like to address this. Thank you.
Ms. Lorraine Whitman: We have put in dollars from our own funds to be able to do masks, but those are the medical masks. We need to be able to give our women, our elders, that peace that at least they are being comforted by the mask. As well, we have single moms who may have 3 or 4 children. In order for them to go out, they need a mask, because they are afraid of bringing the virus home to their children. It's not economical to take the children with them because they can't go in shopping as well, so there is this seriousness. I don't think we are equipped if we have a second wave. This virus has been what was expected, and there should be dollars available for the women at home, the moms and the elders and the vulnerable, as well as the ones with addictions. We need to be able to take care of all of our people, and I don't think we're equipped at this time.
Ms. Sandra DeLaronde: I want to note that there is no support for Indigenous women in any urban area, and probably not in remote areas, but Hilda can speak to that. There is no PPE and there is no distribution process. If we are talking about reopening, then we know Indigenous women and their families will maintain that vulnerability and will be at the highest risk for contracting the virus. We are not prepared. Indigenous women need to be protected, and they need those resources in order to provide that protection.
The CPC asked about the distribution network of PPE.
Mr. Bob Zimmer: Ms. Omeniho, would you say the distribution network is there? Again, I hope you will write to the committee as soon as you can on the broader answer to this, but in terms of that distribution network, where should that PPE go specifically so that essentially the equipment gets into the hands of the Métis, to the people who need it, to the caregivers you mentioned and to the elders? Where's the best place for that PPE?
Ms. Melanie Omeniho: I'll be really honest and say that the last place should be the provinces. The provinces very, very often tend to work with the treaty organizations, even though they're supported federally by Indigenous Services Canada. Number one, I think there can be a coordinated effort amongst our Métis communities and our Métis organizations. There are lots of them. I know that they're trying really hard to do food hampers and grocery cards, things that are tangible for people and that make a difference. If they have access to those resources, it will be far easier to get things out to our communities rather than have them go through a large bureaucratic process.
May 8, 2020
- Assembly of First Nations: National Chief Perry Bellegarde
- Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami: Natan Obed, President
- Métis National Council: David Chartrand, Vice-President and National Spokesperson
Personal protective equipment
The Bloc Québécois (Bloc) asked witnesses if they are satisfied with the amount of PPE they received.
Ms. Sylvie Bérubé: Are you satisfied with the supply of medical protective equipment in northern communities?
National Chief Perry Bellegarde: We're never going to be satisfied with the supply of PPE or any of the things going into the north. We're saying everything is a good start but more needs to be done. We're going to have to push. My job is to advocate and push to make sure that the governments honour their treaty obligations, their federal fiduciary trust obligations, and when they make commitments.... Both the prime minister and Minister Marc Miller made commitments that these funds that had been announced are scalable, which means that they can and should be expanded. Once the needs have been identified, the resources should be put in place. Again, we say it's a start but they are scalable. The needs are great and so the funds should be...extra resources should be put in place to meet those health care needs that have been identified.
The LPC asked if First Nations were consulted by the GC on the quantities of PPE needed for their communities.
Ms. Lenore Zann: First of all, I want to say thank you so much, wela'lin, to all of the gentlemen who have presented. We're talking about really important stuff today. It's very interesting. It's wonderful to see Nunavut COVID-19-free and to see your community there celebrating on television for that incredible milestone. It's wonderful and so uplifting. It would be nice if we could all learn from what you've done. Here in Nova Scotia we have a number of cases. So far we're doing pretty well in Millbrook First Nation, which is in my community, but I'm always concerned because during the last epidemic we had, which was H1N1, I was actually in government at the time here in Nova Scotia. We were telling folks that pregnant women and First Nations People needed to be inoculated first because it was easy for them to get that particular virus. I was shocked at the racism that this brought up, when people were complaining that our First Nations people were able to get in line and be inoculated first. I'm aware of racism, of course, but that really blew me away and I was so disgusted. As Chief Bellegarde mentioned, there are so many things we need to look at on a larger scale, and COVID-19 just brings out certain things and puts a spotlight on certain things that are already happening. One thing I'm interested in asking you about is the personal protective equipment. On May 1, the minister of Indigenous Services told the committee that $59.8 million had been used so far to purchase personal protective equipment and to support emergency preparedness for the communities, and noted that the funding is in addition to the $80 million for health emergency preparedness announced in budget 2019. However, prior to the pandemic, did the department consult Indigenous communities and organizations about the types and quantities of protective equipment and essential supplies that might be needed in the department's stockpile? Also, I'm just curious as to how long, on average, it takes for remote and isolated communities to receive the orders that they need of personal protective equipment from the department. I'm not sure which one of you would like to respond.
Mr. David Chartrand: Let me start. Thanks. Nobody has asked that question. From our perspective let me put it this way: from here to eternity probably, because we never got anything. We didn't get one mask. We didn't get one hand sanitizer. We didn't get anything in our Métis communities. As I said, there are 400,000 of us in western Canada, and we play a very important role in the economy of this country. We pay billions in taxes as a people. I'm not even being treated as a Canadian because of this jurisdictional limbo of who's responsible for us. When these stockpiles are taking place in Canada, I'm sad to say as a leader that they are not inclusive of us. We have nothing. We don't get one mask. We don't even get one band-aid. Let's put it that way. I'm not making this up. This is real and sincere. As I said, last week you heard in the committee when the representative for First Nations, Philippe, said that Métis are not their jurisdiction, that that's provincial jurisdiction. You go to the provinces and they say, “No, you have to go back to Canada.” We're in a dark zone, and we're not even treated as Canadians, so we get zero. Thank you for the question, Lenore.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde: Thank you, Lenore. It varies across Canada. Like I said, there are 634 First Nations, and in your territory there are 13 in Nova Scotia, and they're all Mi'kmaq. There are also 2 in PEI and w in Newfoundland, and it varies in terms of getting out supplies to the First Nations communities. I also mentioned earlier that we have 96 fly-in communities in the north, and that's a different situation, with more challenges in the north. Even on the ground, Indigenous Services Canada has a responsibility through treaty, through section 35, to provide this, again in exchange for all the land we're sharing. Certain rights and responsibilities and obligations were to be provided to First Nations people. They're slow coming out. There's a need for more PPE to be accessible, there's no question. Again, keep pushing for our full involvement and inclusion in policy design and legislation and programs going forward.
May 1, 2020
- Honourable (Hon.) Carolyn Bennett, Privy Council (P.C.), member of Parliament (M.P.), Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
- Hon. Marc Miller, P.C., M.P., Minister of Indigenous Services
- Hon. Dan Vandal, P.C., M.P., Minister of Northern Affairs
- Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs:
- Daniel Watson, Deputy Minister
- Jeff Moore, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Strategic Direction Sector
- Serge Beaudoin, Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs
- Ross Pattee, Assistant Deputy Minister, Implementation Sector
- Department of Indigenous Services:
- Jean-François Tremblay, Deputy Minister
- Valerie Gideon, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch
- Mary-Luisa Kapelus, Assistant Deputy Minister, Education, Social Development Programs and Partnerships Sector
- Christopher Duschenes, Director General, Economic Policy Development, Lands and Economic Development
- Dr. Tom Wong, Chief Medical Officer and Director General, Office of Population and Public Health
Personal protective equipment
The CPC asked about the measures taken by then government in order to respond the pandemic in Indigenous communities.
Mr. Gary Vidal: Thank you to all the ministers for appearing here today. I know you're very busy in the midst of all the challenges we're facing. Minister Miller, according to CTV News yesterday, northern Saskatchewan has become where there is the most concerning outbreak of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities in Canada. There have been 2 deaths of elders in the care facility so far, and the spread has been dramatic and rapid. Many active cases now are in neighbouring First Nations communities, and there was a positive test of a worker at the Beauval gas and grocery store. For anyone who understands the area, the Beauval gas and grocery store is the hub of everybody moving around in northwest Saskatchewan, so you know the fear is real. Minister, beyond my role as critic of your file, even beyond my role as a member of Parliament, this is very personal for me, as this is my hometown. This is my area. These are all the kids and families I coached in hockey. These are all friends and direct connections, so this has become very personal for me suddenly. I guess my challenge is that it's too late for reactive measures. Now is the time for a major proactive response from ISC in northern Saskatchewan. This has become a very dangerous situation for all of us in northern Saskatchewan. My question is quite simple. What actions are being taken today to provide the capacity to proactively respond to this crisis? I'm thinking along the lines of health personnel. I'm thinking of PPE. I'm thinking of testing and tracing, and I'm also thinking even of the military. We have a military base within a couple of hours of this crisis, so could you just clarify for us what's being done today on the ground?
Hon. Marc Miller: Yes, and thank you, Gary, for the passion in that question. It is something that I'm worried about as well, and indeed all Canadians should be. I am going to spend very little time speaking in general terms. This is very important, and I think you deserve specific answers. I will pass it over to Tom Wong to speak to the specific actions that we are taking. You should know that ever since we've had news of this outbreak, we've been engaging with the Government of Saskatchewan, working in particular with the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority and the Saskatchewan Health Authority to ensure that our responses are not only appropriate but coordinated. You may have heard recently of some of the surge support that we have provided in terms of getting PPE into the community. There's a lot of active work being done on contact tracing and making sure that communications are heightened so that people are isolated and we are controlling something that could become precisely as you describe it. On that, I would ask either Valerie Gideon or Tom Wong to speak for a couple of minutes about the specific actions that are taking place.
Dr. Tom Wong (Chief Medical Officer and Director General, Office of Population and Public Health, Department of Indigenous Services): We are working actively with the Public Health Agency of Canada as well as the Indigenous communities, both off reserve and on reserve, together with the local public health department and the province. Of course, off reserve, the lead is the province, but on reserve, the lead is Indigenous Services Canada. As an example, we are mobilizing testing capacity to the area. The area needs point-of-care testing so that testing can be done rapidly. As a matter of fact, as we speak, the Public Health Agency of Canada is working with us, and the provinces are moving rapid point-of-care testing equipment into the area so that point-of-care testing can be done there. In addition to that, as Minister Miller said, we have made arrangements for PPE to be moved into the area. As well, we've been asked to provide surge capacity to the area, including health professionals, nursing. In terms of our staff in the region, we have a network of medical officers, coordinators for health emergencies, as well as nurses. We're fully behind the communities in providing those supports, including public health measures such as isolation, physical distancing and contact tracing. Thank you. Maybe I'll turn it over to Valerie—
The NDP asked about underfunding for Indigenous communities.
Ms. Leah Gazan: Mr. Chair, I appreciate his response. However, the Public Health Agency of Canada has identified several factors that make people more vulnerable during COVID-19, including economic barriers, social or geographic isolation, and insecure, inadequate or non-existent housing conditions. Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) also noted significant health inequalities and inequities, as noted as well by Dr. Tam, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Minister Bennett also acknowledged that today in her statement. In light of these facts, again, why did the departments choose to disregard evidence from Health Canada and continue to underfund First Nations, given the fact that they're already behind in the human rights that other Canadians enjoy?
Mr. Jean-François Tremblay: Since the beginning of the crisis, the minister as well as the employees of the departments have recognized this issue. We know that the social determinants of health are particularly alarming in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. We know that a pandemic may have and could have an impact that is quite significant in those communities, because they are a vulnerable population. We don't measure those actions necessarily at funding. I would just turn to my colleague Valerie, who can explain to you the kinds of actions we have been taking at all levels—local, regional and national.
Ms. Valerie Gideon: I'll just say that we don't have a fixed funding envelope at the moment when it comes to providing additional public health supports to First Nations communities in particular. We are receiving requests on a continuing basis from communities across the country for what they require to ensure that their pandemic plans can be activated and that they have the surge capacity required. We're filling personal protective equipment requests on a daily basis, 7 days a week, and we are continuing to put in temporary health infrastructure supports, whether that's retooling the community infrastructure or whether it's procuring mobile medical units or temporary accommodation facilities. We are spending as communities identify those needs that they cannot address within their existing funding allocations or their community support money.
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