Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 148, Issue 169
  Tuesday, June 4, 2013
 
Question: First Nations Education Funding Gap
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, my question today is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Honourable senators, two important reports have been released on the issue of the funding inequality for on-reserve First Nation students just this spring. Both reports highlight the funding gap that exists between First Nations students that attend K to 12 schools on-reserve compared to those students that attend a provincial school. The first report, called Comparison of the DIAND Funding Formula For Education with the Saskatchewan Provincial Funding Formula, was released on March 6. It was commissioned by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and adds to the numerous reports that show that the funding formulas themselves used by the department have led to chronic underfunding of education when compared to the Saskatchewan provincial funding formula. The report found that the funding for basic instruction and special education for First Nations schools is at least 18 per cent less than for provincial schools, and yet the department and Minister Valcourt have once again stated, as recently as April, that funding for First Nations students is comparable to or above the provincial average in Saskatchewan.

Last December, I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate to table the funding formula used by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to determine the per-student funding for on-reserve students. It has now been five months and still no answer.

I will ask my question again: In light of yet another report that clearly outlines that the funding formulas used by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to determine on- reserve per-student funding create a funding gap, will she now release the funding formulas used by regional Aboriginal Affairs departments to determine on-reserve per-student funding?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I have to commend my colleague, the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, who is working extremely hard with Aboriginal leaders. He has begun the process of consultations to develop a First Nations education act because obviously it is the desire of the government and the desire of all of us to see the that Aboriginal youth are able to take advantage of all of the opportunities Canada has to offer, especially in the North and in the resource-rich areas of the country.

We have provided new resources for new schools and programming for Aboriginal students. In Budget 2013, which is before us, we have put new resources into scholarships, bursaries and personalized jobs skills training for First Nations youth across Canada. I am sure the honourable senator will not mind me making note of the fact that her colleagues in the other place voted against these actions.

Senator Dyck: My question was will the honourable leader table the formulas used by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to calculate how much funding goes to on-reserve schools? Can she answer that question?

Senator LeBreton: Though I am not party to the negotiations, obviously they are conducted by our very capable Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, the Honourable Bernard Valcourt. To the degree that it is possible, I will forward the request to Minister Valcourt and ask if he is able to provide further information to enlighten the honourable senator on these extremely important matters of Aboriginal youth and their education.

Senator Dyck: Thank you.

Ironically, this morning we heard from Vice Chief Simon Bird from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations at the Aboriginal Peoples Committee meeting and we started to talk about education. He said, not word for word, that we do not need an education act to close the funding gap. I know the honourable leader keeps saying the government is coming up with this act that is going to help things out, but he said very clearly that we do not need an education act to close the funding gap. If it was a government priority, the gap would be closed, so why is it not closed?

Senator LeBreton: In fairness, honourable senators will have to acknowledge that this government has worked extremely hard with Aboriginal leadership in a whole host of areas, but specifically with regard to education and the funding of education. We have built or renovated hundreds of new schools, increased funding for child and family services, settled over 80 outstanding land claims, built over 10,000 homes and renovated thousands more. We have invested in safe drinking water and invested in over 700 projects linking Aboriginals across Canada with job training, counselling services and mentorship programs.

All of these efforts by the government, in addition to the other ones I have already responded to, are to improve the livelihood of our Aboriginal citizens, improving the livelihood where they live, and also their education. As I said earlier, we believe that the many job opportunities and other opportunities that are open to Canadians should be equally open to Aboriginal youth.

Senator Dyck: I thank the Leader of the Government in the Senate for that answer, but in the preamble to my question, I said very clearly that the funding for on-reserve schools compared to provincial schools makes it clear that the amount of money for basic instruction and special education for the actual students is not equal. You can build all the schools you like, but if you do not have the money that goes towards the instruction of the students, there is no way those students will get a comparable education. Why has the government not closed the education gap between on-reserve schools and provincial schools?

Senator LeBreton: The honourable senator has raised this particular matter with regard to Saskatchewan. I will point to another province.

On April 9, a little more than a month ago, Minister Valcourt, along with the Province of Ontario and the Nishnawbe Aski First Nation, signed an historic education agreement to benefit thousands of Ontario First Nation students. National Chief Shawn Atleo said this was a practical example of how Aboriginal people can improve their living conditions and work with the government. This is the course of action that Minister Valcourt is following. It was of benefit to the Aboriginal youth in Ontario, and I am quite certain as he works his way across the country and meets with Aboriginal leaders, he will have the same good results.

Senator Dyck: I am well aware of that memorandum of understanding.

This was released on April 10. A spokesman for the Mattagami First Nation - Nishnawbe Aski Nation that signed this memorandum of agreement said the group remains opposed to the enactment of a First Nations education act, despite signing the joint plan. Therefore, the funding gap still remains a critical issue even here in Ontario. Why has the government not closed the education funding gap?

Senator LeBreton: The people say they signed the agreement and then they are opposed to the agreement. I can only answer again what the National Chief Shawn Atleo said. He said this is a practical example of how Aboriginal peoples can improve their living conditions and work with governments. That is the objective of the minister. It is obviously the objective of the grand chief. If individuals in these various communities do not agree with agreements that have been signed, I cannot answer for that. I can only answer for what the government is doing.

Senator Dyck: I do not think they were saying they were opposed to the agreement. They were saying they were opposed to the education act, to make that point clear, because the funding gap is critical, as I have said before. If we do not dedicate the same amount of money to an on-reserve student as we do to a student in an Ontario or Saskatchewan provincial school, there is no way those two students will get an equal education.

If we want students to advance, especially considering how many youth we have, the government, if they want those students to be educated and get a job which the leader talks about all the time then the government should equalize the funding that is going to on-reserve schools versus provincial schools.

Senator LeBreton: Again, as honourable senators know, we are working very hard with First Nations leaders to develop a First Nations education act. As the honourable senator stated, the objective of the government, and for us all, is to allow opportunities for Aboriginal youth to come through our education system and take advantage of all of the opportunities that Canada has to offer.