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Notes for an Address by Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-status Indians to the National Symposium on Aboriginal Economic Development
January 24, 2007
Check against delivery
Thank you for that kind introduction, Maynard [Sonntag, Saskatchewan Minister]. I’m pleased to take part in this important national symposium. Unfortunately Minister Prentice is unable to attend today. But he asked me to bring you his greetings and his sincere wishes for a successful exchange of ideas.
I want to begin by congratulating the organizers of this symposium for the exceptional calibre and relevance of the speakers and topics. The list of presenters includes many of Canada’s top Aboriginal entrepreneurs and business experts, while the panel sessions, workshops and discussion groups address topics crucial to economic success.In many ways, this symposium reflects the Minister’s view of economic development for Aboriginal communities – each community following its own path toward improved economic and social wellbeing, and collaborating with those partners who can help them reach their goals.
In order to facilitate this process and to better assist communities in securing their own economic future, this government has brought together the expertise of Aboriginal Business Canada, or ABC, and the economic development programming function of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to form a new unit. This will improve the coordination of programs across the country and better support Aboriginal business development.
The match is a good one. ABC and INAC programs already complement one another: ABC provides financial and other supports to individuals and community-based firms, as well as to Aboriginal business development and financial organizations, while INAC programs work more broadly at the community level by funding the business plans and feasibility studies needed to launch successful projects.
We also know that with the guidance of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board we will be able to make important innovations and improvements in Aboriginal economic development in the years ahead.
This amalgamation of functions is also a timely one. Aboriginal entrepreneurs operate a growing number of businesses in the full range of economic sectors and they are more willing and better able than ever before to initiate and partner on new projects. And while no single business model will work for everyone, all successful ventures offer at least one technique or approach worth emulating.
Over the next two days, you will have access to an abundance of the best practices used by some of Canada’s most astute entrepreneurs. I’m confident that this exchange of ideas will spark further growth in all areas of Aboriginal entrepreneurship. This development is of tremendous importance to Canada, in light of recent economic and demographic shifts.
I cannot stress enough that we are currently at an historic crossroads. A booming economy and a youthful Aboriginal population are presenting unprecedented economic opportunities for Aboriginal people, and it is incumbent on all of us — federal and provincial governments and Aboriginal business people such as yourselves — to ensure that Aboriginal communities are able to make the most of them.
As the generation of so-called baby boomers enters its retirement years, Canada faces a potentially extended period of labour shortages-particularly in the skilled trades. This shortage, combined with the close proximity of many Aboriginal communities to major resource development projects, is providing us with the conditions for robust economic development in communities and among individuals – conditions that we cannot overlook. In the mining sector alone, CBC reports that 50,000 new jobs are being opened up.
While these trends affect the whole country, they are particularly evident here in the Prairies. According to a study released last spring by Eric Howe of the University of Saskatchewan, Aboriginal entrepreneurship in this province is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. Between 1996 and 2001, growth in entrepreneurship among Aboriginal residents exceeded that of non-Aboriginal residents, and did so by some 800 per cent.
Given these circumstances, symposiums and forums like this one serve an ever more significant and practical purpose. And it is vitally important that we as federal and provincial governments use these opportunities to meet and engage in discussions with you, and that you use them to exchange ideas and best practices amongst yourselves.
In recent years, I believe we’ve begun to catch a glimpse of the true potential of Aboriginal business both in this province and across the country. The spirit of energetic optimism once confined to communities such as Meadow Lake First Nation has now inspired members of Whitecap and Muskeg Lake First Nations to launch ventures of their own. The results speak for themselves: thriving businesses, a wealth of job and training opportunities, and increased revenues flowing through communities.
The same confidence is evident in other parts of the country: the Aboriginal Pipeline Group owns a significant share of the Mackenzie Gas Project, the largest development ever proposed in the North. From the Nisga’a on the West coast to Membertou on the East, communities are ensuring a prosperous future by taking advantage of economic-development opportunities. This surge benefits all Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike.
All stakeholders have a contribution to make to further increase Aboriginal participation in Canada’s economy. Industry, for instance, moves to realize the advantages of hiring and training Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal communities secure partnerships with the businesses and agencies that can help them achieve their goals. Provinces design and implement effective policies and programs. And the Government of Canada continues to foster the conditions needed for success.
Since taking office, this government has adopted a coherent strategy to address Aboriginal issues. The strategy focuses on immediate investments in drinking water, housing and other matters related to quality of life. A second component of the strategy involves accelerating the negotiation of land claims and self-government agreements. And the third calls for improvements to the legislative frameworks that govern relations between Canada and First Nations.
We believe very strongly that this directed approach – improving quality of life, providing certainty through land claim and self-government agreements, and reworking the legislative frameworks – lays the necessary groundwork for sound, economically stable Aboriginal communities that will contribute to the prosperity of all of Canada.
Through the implementation of this approach, the Minister has been honoured to work alongside national Aboriginal groups such as the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women’s Association of Canada. For the only way to make sustainable, tangible progress on the issues we face is through collaboration.
Partnership is also essential to economic development. To foster this partnership, action is required in four principal areas. We must:
- improve access to venture capital;
- nurture successful Aboriginal businesses;
- promote partnerships among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal businesses; and
- foster long-term attachment to the labour force.
There’s no question that this is a tall order; one that no single entity-not even the Government of Canada-can fill acting on its own. Thankfully, many partners from the private and public sectors are keen to contribute to this effort. As a result, important progress has been made in all four areas.
When it comes to access to venture capital, Aboriginal entrepreneurs in this province, for example, have several options, including the First Nations and Métis Fund and the Clarence Campeau Development Fund. And firms such as Westcap, which manages the First Nations and Métis Fund, are keen to ensure that promising ventures have the capital they need to succeed.
Significant gains have also been made in the second area, nurturing successful Aboriginal businesses. For instance last year, INAC provided money to Onion Lake First Nation to help the community realize its economic-development plans. And as many of you know, only a couple of days ago, the Government of Canada announced its commitment to invest $15 million to support economic development in the Métis communities near Primrose Lake.
Canada’s New Government sees this funding as an investment in a solid foundation for sustainable economic development in Northern Saskatchewan.
These investments will further promote economic development, and lead to greater self-sufficiency, while being accountable to community members. These and other investments will promote successful, sustainable Aboriginal businesses.
The third key area involves promoting additional partnerships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal businesses. The number of companies across the country that recognize the advantages of partnering with Aboriginal groups has grown rapidly in recent years. In fact, these partnerships are at the centre of many of the largest projects underway in Canada: diamond mines in the North, oil-and-gas projects in the West and nickel-mining in Labrador.
I’m pleased to see that more and more Aboriginal groups are taking the bull by the horns and initiating these partnerships. A few months ago, Minister Prentice had the pleasure of attending CIBA 2006, an economic-development conference and trade show staged by several First Nations in Alberta. The conference is just one example of the many efforts made by Aboriginal groups to secure partnerships with private companies.
The Government of Canada is proud to contribute to these efforts in a number of ways. Consider, for instance, the Aboriginal Workforce Participation Initiative, or AWPI. Rick Hansen will speak more about AWPI tomorrow morning.
AWPI secures partnership agreements with some of Canada’s leading companies and public agencies, along with industry, professional and labour groups. Rather than fund job-creation schemes, this initiative strives to remove the barriers that often stand between Aboriginal peoples and fulfilling, stable jobs.
Just this morning I was proud to sign an AWPI agreement with Siemens Canada Limited. Under the terms of the agreement, we will work together to generate the economic development opportunities that will benefit Aboriginal people, the federal government, and Siemens Canada.
Saskatchewan is positioned for success. The province invests significantly in educational programs for Aboriginal peoples and the results speak for themselves: some 2,000 Aboriginal students in Saskatchewan graduate from post-secondary studies each year. Aboriginal students in the province can access $22 million worth scholarships, bursaries and non-repayable income support. Last year’s provincial budget funded 83 new seats at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies.
The private sector in this province is also keen to do its part. Saskatchewan’s largest private broadcaster, Rawlco Radio donated $1-million to support First Nations business education at the University of Saskatchewan. More recently, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce contributed some $225,000 to an Aboriginal mentorship program at the University of Regina. These investments will help ensure that energetic, ambitious Aboriginal people can acquire the education they need to further their careers.
Provincial programs and local private-sector partners such as these vary across Canada, but both exist in all provinces. In fact, Aboriginal peoples enjoy unprecedented access to venture capital, business supports and training and educational programs. Mainstream businesses have never been more eager to partner with Aboriginal groups. In the West, a booming regional economy continues to generate a multitude of lucrative opportunities in many key sectors such as oil-and-gas. And many Aboriginal communities across this country are ready, willing and able to seize these opportunities.
All of us must work to make sure that First Nations, Inuit and Métis can take advantage of current circumstances. This symposium has attracted many of Canada’s top entrepreneurs, financiers and business operators. I encourage all delegates to tap into this expertise; pitch ideas, establish new partnerships. We must launch new business ventures. We must encourage Aboriginal youth to pursue careers in business, sciences and the skilled trades. And we must remove the obstacles that impede access to employment.
I’m confident that with the eager collaboration of all parties-governments, private companies and Aboriginal groups we can ensure enduring prosperity for all Canadians.
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