My questions are for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and I'm not going to test your psychic powers to guess what the topic of my question is going to be. It's going to be aboriginal education, and I'm going to ask you four questions.
Last week, the Assembly of First Nations youth held a summit in Saskatoon. It was the First Nations Youth Summit. More than 300 Aboriginal youth attended this event, and, by all accounts, it seemed to be an inspiring and uplifting summit that demonstrated the vast potential of the next generation of Aboriginal leaders in Canada. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was there, and he delivered a speech to the summit promoting the recently uploaded First Nation Education Act. The Aboriginal youth responded to his speech with harsh criticism and skepticism. They see this education act as paternalistic and told him that his speech to them could not be considered consultation. In response, the minister said the following:
No decision has been made as to whether or not we introduce a bill. We will see what the consultation results in.
While I'm happy to hear this, my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate is this: What are the most up-to-date plans on the First Nation Education Act? Is the government undertaking real consultation wit.h First Nations leaders and stakeholders, as well as the National Youth Council?
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): As you said, the government is committed to holding consultations for the draft proposals concerning First Nations education. You talked about the summit that the minister attended, after which young Aboriginal students were able to share their point of view. I think this is a very good example of the consultation process that is under way. As for when this bill will be introduced, no final decision has been made as of yet.
Senator Dyck: Thank you for that answer. The youth did stand up and say very clearly —that this was not consultation. It was a one-way dialogue. It was a speech given by the minister, so I fail to see how that could be consultation. Perhaps you could provide us with a definition of what consultation is according to the government.
Senator Carignan: Any comments from individuals who wish to express their opinion on the bill are welcome. The draft was made public on October 22, and people who wish to share their point of view are welcome to do so.
Senator Dyck: On Monday of this week, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo wrote a letter to Minister Valcourt stating that the current draft of the First Nation Education legislation is inadequate and unacceptable. In his letter, he outlined five conditions that need to be met before First Nations will be onside or will agree with any legislation on First Nations education.
First, the government must give First Nations control over their children's education.
Second, there must be a guarantee of adequate funding.
Third, there must be a commitment to promote First Nations' languages and education.
Fourth, the government cannot assume it will provide unilateral oversight.
Fifth, there must be meaningful engagement going forward.
My question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate is: Since the minister has already signaled that the draft bill is open to changes, and now this week you said it may not even be tabled, will National Chief Atleo's conditions be incorporated into any new drafts or new versions of the bill?
Senator Carignan: Senator Dyck, as you know, it is fairly rare for consultations to be held on the draft of a bill. Usually, the bill is introduced and the process begins in Parliament.
I think that it is very open-minded of Minister Valcourt, who made the draft public on October 22, to be willing to listen to any constructive comments and suggestions that are made. In fact, knowing the minister and given our government's policy, I am convinced that all of the constructive comments and suggestions, including those that you expressed here, will be taken into account.
Senator Dyck: This will be my final supplementary question. Honourable senators, a week ago I was surprised to hear on the CBC news that in the documents that the RCMP have seized, there was actually reference to the Senate committee reports. In a memo from Nigel Wright and others to the Prime Minister dated March 22, he does talk about First Nation education. I was quite shocked that that was in the report. I'm going to read into the record parts of that memo from March 22 to the Prime Minister. He's talking about the Senate:
What we see is a laissez-faire system that requires constant direction, supervision and follow-up [from PMO] to ensure that Government messaging and direction are followed. This problem is not limited to expense and residency issues. There are Senate committee reports that call on the government to lower airport rents, create a national pharmacare plan, . . .
And this is the important point here:
. . . and invest heavily in Aboriginal education.
Now, almost a year ago, the Aboriginal People's Committee from the Senate released its report on First Nation Education. We had four recommendations. One of them clearly said that we must close the funding gap for First Nations schools on reserve; so my constructive criticism would be: Will you follow those recommendations outlined in that report, particularly with regard to closing the funding gap? That is a constructive criticism. That is a recommendation from our committee's report adopted by the Senate as a whole. Will you take that recommendation to Minister Valcourt and say, "Please, this is a good recommendation. Let's follow it."
Senator Carignan: Senator, as you know, once again, we have a very good track record on this issue. We have built and renovated over 260 First Nations schools since 2006. We have made new investments in First Nations elementary and secondary education programs and in the operation, maintenance, repair and construction of First Nations educational institutions.
Minister Valcourt was very clear. He said:
In the best interests of Canadian taxpayers, and particularly in the best interests of First Nations youth, our government will not sink any more money into a system on reserve that continues to fail far too many young people year after year. Many experts, leaders and organizations, including the Auditor General, are calling for a legislative framework. We remain committed to working with First Nations in order to create a legislative framework that will allow them to exercise more control over education on reserves through a system of good governance and accountability.