Jane Philpott, the federal minister of indigenous services, was the keynote speaker at the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships annual P3 conference in downtown Toronto.
Philpott began by saying the reason a minister for indigenous services is addressing a P3 conference is that infrastructure is that basic needed infrastructure is missing from many indigenous communities.
"The status quo is not an option," Philpott said, nor is waiting for an appropriate time to address these concerns. Immediate action must be taken.
Her department has made progress regarding infrastructure, with 348 drinking water projects currently funded. In housing, 8,800 units have been built or renovated, and 143 schools are underway or completed in 120 communities.
Philpott said she has seen progress first-hand, and cited a community centre that was being used not for sports but to build "mini-homes" for the community.
But too many communities lack the resources or expertise to build and maintain clean water systems, and Philpott also cited the child-welfare system as having a high population of indigenous children.
The reason for this high population, she said, is overcrowded housing and poor living conditions, which also contributes to higher rates of sickness.
"I hope you've figured out that it's smart to invest in indigenous infrastructure, communities and people," Philpott said, and pointed out First Nations and Metis are the highest growing population in Canada.
Additionally, the infrastructure need of indigenous communities might be in the order of $30-40 billion without counting the Inuit of the north.
P3's "spirit of innovation" can benefit First Nations communities, Philpott said.
There are also leaders within First Nations communities who are open to innovative work and to bringing P3 projects to fruition in First Nations communities.
"To the extent we see challenges across the country, we see opportunities," Philpott said, and encouraged conference attendees to look at current First Nations Infrastructure projects and to examine hiring First Nations individuals to work toward engagement via infrastructure work.
Philpott said First Nations deserve the same access to basic resources as other Canadians, and that P3 can help provide that.
In a scrum after her keynote, Philpott addressed the challenges facing Canada's construction industry as it tackles bringing infrastructure to northern communities.
"Canada does have and continues to build expertise in terms of what it means to build in the north," Philpott said. "Canadian companies know how to do this and have demonstrated that, and obviously there are some international companies that are interested in this space, but the partners in the room today are the ones that have the capacity and when we show how to do it well, with the technologies we're developing here, obviously will be a great export opportunity for us as well."