Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Welcome, minister. In June, before you became defence minister, the government released the co-developed action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, principles. Substantial sections are related to defence, imposing several responsibilities on your department. One of them is to collaborate with the Inuit Treaty Organizations to jointly identify Inuit-specific priorities and considerations for inclusion, where feasible, in National Defence policies, programs and initiatives. These matters are to be jointly identified by the partners, whose focus includes Inuit Nunangat, being the northern regions where Inuit traditionally live in the country. Minister, how is this work proceeding? How is the meaningful consultation engaged and the partnership developed?
Hon. Bill Blair, P.C., M.P., Minister of National Defence: Thank you very much, Senator Dalphond. I have some good news on that. I met earlier this week with the Inuit Treaty Organization. It was a meeting chaired jointly by Natan Obed and my colleague Minister Gary Anandasangaree. There were a number of discussions that took place with respect to our UNDRIP commitments with respect to the military. And as I spoke earlier, one of the Indigenous leaders we had met with earlier this week, I met yesterday with his team, and we talked about how we can work more collaboratively and consultatively with Inuit leadership, working with the Nunangat in order to fulfill our obligations.
Senator, I want to assure you we see this area as critically important, but every investment we make has to be done in close and proper consultation and collaboration so that, first of all, we would benefit from their knowledge of the territory but also take full advantage of their presence and capabilities within the region and allow us to invest in those capabilities.
We also discussed the important work that the Canadian Rangers do and why they are such an important part of the Canadian Armed Forces’ presence in the North, and that needs to be done also in consultation and close collaboration with the Inuit Treaty Organizations.
Senator Dalphond: Thank you, minister. I see that the work is only beginning. Will that work include a recognition of the strategic role and contribution of Inuit, including prioritizing Inuit access to federal procurement in relation to National Defence focused on Inuit regions?
Mr. Blair: Again, thank you, Senator Dalphond. That is an important question, and that was part of our discussion both at the Inuit Treaty Organization meeting and the meeting that I had with Mr. Smith yesterday following that. We talked about, for example, some of the money that has now been committed by the government with respect to NORAD modernization and what those investments could form. We talked about very specific investments in Inuit territory, and we also talked about the role of Inuit in those investments and being part of, for example, maintenance at CAF facilities in the region, but also the construction of what we might refer to as multi-purpose infrastructure. For example, a military airstrip could also be used by the community. We have begun those consultations. I want to assure you it is a consultation. We won’t simply tell them what we are doing.