Hon. Jean Chretien (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development):
Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister stated in the house that I had planned to make a statement to the house last week concerning the reorganization of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. However, since there were many statements made on motions on Friday and because of the death of Prime Minister Johnson on Thursday, I was unable to do so. I should now like to make the statement I had planned last week.
When Indian affairs merged with northern affairs to form the new Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in 1966 it was intended that some reorganization be undertaken to consolidate activities that were being carried out by the various branches of the new department. Two branches were providing education services, one to Indians and the other to Eskimos. The same situation prevailed in respect of welfare services, engineering services and other services which obviously could be carried out more efficiently and more effectively if they were amalgamated. Indeed, the consolidation of activities was one of the main purposes of the government reorganization.
Proposals to effect this consolidation had been under discussion with the Treasury Board for the past year, and recently received the board's approval. The new framework recasts the organizational pattern of the department from the old one of Indian affairs branch, northern administration branch, national and historic parks branch and Canadian wildlife service to a new pattern involving three distinct program areas; first, social affairs program; second, economic development program; third, conservation program.
The social affairs program will cover education, community development, welfare, social affairs, cultural affairs and Indian trust
administration. The economic program will cover major resource development in the Canadian north, industrial development for both Indians and Eskimos, land management as it applies to Indian reserves and wet-land acquisition. It will provide economic research and advice in these areas and will include the management of territorial resources and related government functions in the territories. The conservation program will include national parks, historic parks and sites and wildlife.
While this internal reorganization at headquarters involves a major regrouping of the previous programs and the branches and directorates responsible for them, the basic regional structure will not be altered although it will be strengthened to provide increased support for the department's economic and social programs. The need for an accelerated economic development program has been evident for a long time. The need for such an accelerated program to promote resource and industrial development on reserves has been emphasized by representatives of the Indian people, private individuals and groups on different occasions. The new structure of organization recognizes this need and will allow us to use our resources more flexibly and more effectively to meet this need and as well allow us to administer existing programs and programs which I will announce in the house at a future time. Also, as stated by the Prime Minister yesterday, it makes available to the Indian people the resources of the whole department rather than those provided in the past by the Indian affairs branch alone.
Mr. Speaker, I and the government are committed to consultations with the Indian people in respect of amendments to the Indian Act and in respect of major policy objectives. Since my department is held responsible for the development of programs to assist the Indian and Eskimo peoples I consider it of the utmost importance that the department be as effective as possible. I believe this reorganization will accomplish this. I have arranged to have a booklet explaining the reorganization sent to all members of the house, Indian representatives and the territorial governments. This should be received shortly.
Oclober 2, 1968
690 COMMONS DEBATES
Statement on Indian Affairs Reorganization Hon. Robert L. Stanfield (Leader of the Opposition): Mr. Speaker, I accept the sincerity of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (Mr. Chretien), also the sincerity of the Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Andras). But surely it is not enough to say that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has decided on its own that these structural changes were of insufficient interest to require consultation. Such an appearance of bureaucratic indifference is bad enough at any time, but it is particularly unforgiveable when it is widely known that the attitude of officials of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, rightly or wrongly, already constitutes a cause of tension between the department and the people it is supposed to serve.
Nothing will be solved by administrative changes which deepen the division between the department and the Indian communities. This careless refusal by the government to consult with the Indian community, or to take steps to inform Indian spokesmen of the changes, has added another unnecessary complication. It was caused by the kind of casual approach to the responsibilities of government that is becoming all too familiar. Canada cannot afford more tension or more delays in assisting the Indian people to achieve equality and opportunity.
[DOT] (2:40 p.m.)
The official opposition fully approves of the special assignment of a minister without portfolio to help develop an effective Indian policy, and we very much regret any indication that the government is insincere in that assignment. One of the very unhappy consequences of this more recent insistence on secrecy by the government is that it has damaged the reputation and the effectiveness of the Minister without Portfolio. The fact that the government would fail to consult even him is bound to raise suspicions that his assignment is window dressing, his influence is nil, and that he is deliberately circumvented by the minister and officials of the department of Indian affairs.
This action has also served to undermine the appearance of co-operation and good faith the government sought to achieve when with great fanfare it created national and regional advisory committees of the Indian people, for exactly the purpose of consultation. The failure to consult these committees on this matter will confirm the fear that the committees were established as another empty gesture.
There are at least three issues here. One is the failure to consult. The second is the failure to inform the Indian people by making a deliberate point not to distribute this memorandum. Certainly there is no shortage of people to write press releases in the department of Indian affairs, and it was not budgetary restraint which kept this information from the Indian people. The third point is the content of the memorandum on reorganization itself. The minister has said the document does not concern policy in any substantive way. Let me quote from the foreword by the deputy minister of Indian affairs and northern development:
-the purpose being...to eliminate any difference in policies affecting the treatment of the Indian and Eskimo peoples."
That dedication is bound to cause concern. By statute and by treaty, commitments made to the Indian people do differ from those made to the Eskimo people. There are statutory and treaty differences which, on the face of this document and in the words of the deputy minister, the government proposes to eliminate. The word "eliminate" is a strong word, especially when it comes from a department of which the Indian people are already suspicious. The content of this document, the manner of its preparation and the refusal to put it into circulation are bound to increase suspicions and widen the gulf between the Indian peoples and the department created to serve them.
Yesterday it surprised us that the Prime Minister had no record of a request for a meeting with the Indian Brotherhood of Canada, which according to the telegram sent to me was requested at noon of the day before the question was raised in the house. The house has a right to expect advice as to whether the Prime Minister intends to act on that request and meet with representatives of the Indian brotherhood.
Second, the Prime Minister left questions unanswered concerning whether consultations occurred between the minister and the national and regional Indian advisory committees. There was an indication that the ministers would provide that information when they both returned to the house. I can only assume there has been no such consultation.
There is a very serious question as to why it is necessary to restructure the department now when we are told that the Indian Act is under substantial review. Furthermore, the Minister without Portfolio on television on
October 2, 1968 COMMONS
Sunday night made a serious suggestion that the reorganization ought to be postponed. I can only assume that he had his reasons. In light of his reservations and the great concern of the Indian communities, as well as the uncertainty generally about governmental policy concerning our Indian peoples, this reorganization should be reviewed immediately. There should be consultation with representatives of the Indian people. There has been consultation with the Treasury Board, but apparently with no one else. I should think there ought to be consultation also with the Minister without Portfolio.
Subtopic: STATEMENT ON REORGANIZATION OF DEPARTMENT