Splitting Indigenous Affairs more effective in long term: CMHC head
Carolyn Bennett (left), minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs looks on as Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott speaks to media after a Liberal cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, September 27, 2017 5:11PM EDT
OTTAWA -- The need to establish a new Indigenous Services ministry could complicate First Nations housing in the short term, but the system will be more streamlined and effective in the long haul, says the head of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
Indigenous housing needs a lasting solution for generations to come, Evan Siddall said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press, and there's nothing wrong with the government stepping back to examine how best to create better outcomes.
Through the CMHC, the federal government provides funding each year to address housing needs in First Nation communities.
Considerable changes are underway in Ottawa, however, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled in August a plan to split the existing Department of Indigenous Affairs into two separate entities.
Jane Philpott has been tapped to oversee Indigenous Services, focusing on issues like health and housing, while Carolyn Bennett will tackle the Crown's relationship with Indigenous Peoples -- an oft-stated priority for the Trudeau government.
"At a very basic level, this employee doesn't know if she works for this minister or that ministry yet, and they've got to figure it out," Siddall said.
"They've got to take that personal distraction, put it aside and get to work."
It is clear the current approach has not worked, Siddall added, noting he is pleased to see the federal government looking a distinct Indigenous housing strategy, given the desperate level of need in Canada's Aboriginal communities.
It's the most acute poverty problem in the country, "full stop, " Siddall said.
"You can't ultimately have a full housing strategy for the country if you can't address your area of most acute need," he said.
"But the way we address it has to be different because of the nature of those communities, and it has to be different because of the commitment of the prime minister to do this on a nation-to-nation basis."
The departmental changes have also led to anxiety among employees at Health Canada's First Nations Inuit Health branch, according to the Union of Health and Environment Workers, but Philpott has said consultations will be part of the ongoing work.
Details will be spelled out in legislation expected this spring.
"One of the things that I've heard (from) Indigenous leaders in this country is they do not want our machinery-of-government changes to in any way interfere with the timelines and the ability to get programs and services delivered," Philpott said Wednesday after a speech in Ottawa.
"By truly doubling the strength of our government's commitment to these particular areas, we will actually be able to deliver more effectively on a range of issues."
The creation of a new ministry offers an opportunity to eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic steps, she added.
"I look at it as a way to simplify processes and hear from people on whether what we have been doing up until now is working," Philpott said.
"This is a fresh start and it should be seen as such."