To deliver at the
Métis Economic Development Symposium
December 15, 2009
Check against delivery
I want to begin by welcoming all of you here this evening.
It really is a pleasure to see my counterparts from different provinces and our partners from Métis organizations - together in one room.
And I want to thank you for that, because I believe there's no substitute for this kind of face-to-face meeting.
Instead of writing letters or communicating via news release or talking through government officials, we're talking to each other about how we can work together. I hope we can have a discussion this evening that is honest and unfiltered. In fact, a genuine dialogue.
Ladies and gentlemen, we know that the people we serve have these kinds of conversations all the time.
They take place in community halls, around kitchen tables and among youth.
They're not asking questions about process, they're asking about results that make a difference in their lives.
People don't expect government to have all the answers. But they do expect government to show leadership, to provide focus and to open doors that will allow partnerships to flourish.
We also have an obligation - as governments and Métis organizations - to ensure that we coordinate our efforts. With the current economic challenges, it is more important than ever that we are all pulling in the same direction.
We need to work together to build and strengthen our partnerships. Métis people continue to be nation builders. And this is the fundamental truth at the heart of the Métis Nation Protocol we signed in September of last year.
The Protocol was a turning point in Canada's relationship with Métis people. It provided us with a solid framework for working together. It represented our government's commitment to taking steps to ensure that Métis fully share in economic opportunities across Canada.
The Protocol is similar in many ways to some of the relationship agreements which the provinces and the Métis have entered into. These agreements supplement our existing tripartite relationships and Métis Economic Development Strategies happening in your provinces.
This Métis Economic Development Symposium embodies one of the first major steps in this plan. This is an opportunity to bring all the players together to find new and innovative ways of doing business.
Ladies and gentlemen, improving economic opportunities for Aboriginal people is a priority for the Government of Canada.
This past June we introduced a new Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development.
The new framework represents a fundamental change in the approach to supporting lands and economic development.
That is why we are investing almost $200 million in Aboriginal economic development in this fiscal year - investments that will promote long-term economic self-sufficiency for First Nations, Inuit and Métis across Canada.
While the federal government is making significant financial commitments, we know that we don't have the market cornered when it comes to good ideas.
Provincial governments, together with provincial Métis organizations, have been exploring practical steps that will connect Métis people with economic opportunity.
For instance, I want to congratulate Minister Hutchinson and the Saskatchewan Government and the Clarence Campeau Development Fund of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan for working with us on innovative new approaches through the Major Resource and Energy Development Investment Initiative that our government recently announced. This will increase the availability of equity funding to medium and large Métis businesses so that they may participate and partner in major development projects.
I also want to acknowledge Minister Robinson and the Manitoba Métis Federation for working with us in exploring similar options in their province.
Our government is eager to work with all of you on these types of arrangements - innovative, forward-looking initiatives that will provide Métis businesses with the access to capital they need to reach out and grasp those economic opportunities.
Métis leaders have told me that the most effective approach to addressing the economic challenges in the Métis community is to support Métis owned and controlled institutions.
Many Métis organizations have established highly successful Aboriginal Capital Corporations, or ACCs. They have been facing an increasing demand for loan capital for large scale business ventures from Métis entrepreneurs. There is a strong desire to access contracts from resource development projects.
However, Métis-owned ACCs have not been able to serve the new and expanding demand for loan capital. The Métis National Council has suggested that we work together to establish a loan syndication fund that Métis-ACCs could access to address the need for large amounts of loan capital. Our government is interested in exploring this idea to determine how a loan syndication fund could be structured. Officials from my department will be meeting with representatives of the Métis National Council in the coming weeks to discuss this question. Access to capital is a key ingredient to the successful launch of more Métis owned businesses.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Manitoba and the Manitoba Métis Federation, or MMF for inviting us to participate in a Métis Economic Development Strategy in their province. I am happy to have provided the means for the MMF to acquire a qualified business support officer to implement and follow through on this Strategy.
This has subsequently led us to approach other provinces and other Métis National Council Governing Members to put in place similar strategies all the while adapting them to the realities and circumstances of their region.
But the long-term success of any business venture will also depend on access to skilled workers.
This is another gap that we have to address to improve economic opportunity.
As we all know, Aboriginal youth are the fastest-growing segment of Canada's population. We need their talents, their energy and their optimism to ensure that our economy prospers.
In Canada's Economic Action Plan, this government made important commitments to help Aboriginal people with workforce training opportunities. For instance, we're investing an additional $100 million over three years in the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership initiative, which is expected to support the creation of 6,000 jobs for Aboriginal people, including Métis. In addition, the government is investing $75 million in a two-year Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment Fund.
I would also like to emphasize of the importance of the engagement process that we will be starting in the new year around the renewal of our economic development programming. The input we receive during this process will help us to ensure that we are providing the best possible supports for improving economic development opportunities available to Aboriginal businesses and individuals. We are still developing our plans for this engagement process, and will work closely with the MNC to determine how best to incorporate your input and comments.
As I said at the outset of my remarks, we all know that Métis people are looking for genuine solutions to the issues they are facing in their everyday lives. Although commitments to invest funds in new programs are encouraging, what people really want to see are doors being opened and opportunities being created in their communities.
That's our challenge. Because we know that simply directing money at problems is not the solution. Increased investments and new programs are certainly an important starting point. But to be successful we need to work in partnership with each other, and we need to attract more partners from the private sector to be part of the work we are doing.
That is why I'm looking forward to a productive discussion at this symposium.
I believe we have reached a new era of cooperation and hope for Canada and for Métis people. But we have to keep up the progress we have achieved. There is much more work to be done.
I'm proud to continue working with strong and committed partners like you toward meaningful and constructive change.
Together, we are making significant progress and I have confidence that there are many more successes to come. Our government truly recognizes the important role of committed partnership with the Métis National Council, guided by the leadership of President Chartier and the governing regions.
And I want to thank all of you for your support and encouragement in organizing this symposium, and in all the progress we've made over the past year.
As we move forward in partnership, I feel that we can meet any challenge. We can and must seize every opportunity. And we will build a bright future - together - for Métis and for all Canadians.