Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Thank you, Your Honour. First of all, I would like to offer my warm congratulations to you on your new appointment.
Honourable senators, my question today is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate and has to do with Budget 2015. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Chief Betty Ann Lavallée have both condemned the federal budget that was tabled just a few weeks ago. Lavallée said the budget was a disappointment and did nothing to help the more than 1 million Aboriginal people who live off reserve. Bellegarde said there was no significant investment to close the gap that sees First Nations people living in poverty, ranked at sixty-third on the United Nations' Human Development Index in a country that ranks sixth overall.
Honourable senators, you know that in the last 10 years I've asked a number of questions about the funding gap when it comes to education of First Nations children living on reserve compared to those living off reserve. For many years, the government has denied that there is such a funding gap, that children on reserve receive the same funding as those off reserve.
However, as part of the Cindy Blackstock case at the Human Rights Tribunal, a document was tabled in June 2013 entitled Cost Drivers and Pressures — The Case for New Escalators, and this document was actually prepared by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. It clearly states that the 2 per cent cap on education funding has created a gap in education funding between on-reserve schools and off-reserve schools and that an escalator of 4.5 per cent should have been implemented in 2014-15; that is, last year's budget.
My question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate is: Why didn't this federal government listen to their own department and remove the 2 per cent funding cap on First Nations education and replace it with a 4.5 per cent escalator in Budget 2015? This is what their own department had recommended. Why wasn't it changed?
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Senator, as you know, Economic Action Plan 2015 will create jobs and stimulate long-term economic growth and prosperity for all Canadians, including Aboriginal Canadians. Our budget includes strategic investments in key initiatives to improve the well-being of First Nations by enabling them to take full advantage of Canada's economic prosperity.
This includes various measures such as investments in First Nations education to ensure that Aboriginal youth can have access to the high-quality education they need to enjoy the benefits associated with a well-paying job; investments in skills development for Aboriginal people in order to create more opportunities; and investments to support the expansion of the First Nations Land Management Regime, which will open up new economic opportunities on reserve.
Senator, Economic Action Plan 2015 contains specific measures that will help Aboriginal Canadians. As you know, the budget implementation bill will be introduced in the next few days. We will have the opportunity to study it here. I invite you to pay particular attention to the measures being proposed and to support them.
Over the next few weeks, you will learn much more about two different visions. One is about cutting taxes, creating jobs and balancing the budget. The other is about believing that the budget will balance itself, which will result in higher taxes and a deficit.
I hope that, if you are as independent as you say, you will publicly oppose Mr. Trudeau's plans and vigorously support Economic Action Plan 2015.
Senator Dyck: My question was why the federal government didn't remove the 2 per cent cap and replace it with the 4.5 per cent escalator instead, and you didn't answer that. You talked about jobs. We all know that in order to get a good job, you need to have a good education, and to get an equitable education you also need money to have books and good teachers. The government chose not to do that.
They also had a second chance. We see in Budget 2015 that much of the spending is future oriented and it won't start flowing until 2017, things such as security and infrastructure spending. It's a promise in a couple years' time.
Why couldn't the government commit to a promise of funding for First Nations education at the 4.5 per cent cap starting in 2017 instead of the 2 per cent cap that we have now? Why couldn't they put that promise forward? It wouldn't have changed the balanced books or anything. It would say in two years' time, we commit to doing that. That would have been something good. That would have been a promise and given hope to First Nations children on reserve.
Senator Carignan: Senator, since 2006, our government has invested more than $10 billion in primary and secondary education to support approximately 117,000 aboriginal children on reserve. We also invested some $1.7 billion in school infrastructure.
Furthermore, I could add that last year our Prime Minister announced an investment of $500 million over seven years in school infrastructure for Aboriginal peoples.
Consequently, I reject your accusations. I believe that you should withdraw them in light of these figures. I invite you once again to condemn the tax hike plan of your leader, Justin Trudeau, and to support our Economic Action Plan 2015. Our action plan will help families, lower taxes, create jobs and balance the budget, as opposed to a risky plan that will increase taxes and produce deficits.
Senator Dyck: With regard to education and the 2 per cent cap, this budget didn't even mention the $1.9 billion that has already been approved as part of Budget 2014 for First Nations education. That's being held at the side. You could have taken some of that $1.9 billion and used that to implement the 4.5 per cent escalator instead of the 2 per cent, and that wouldn't have affected your balanced budget.
So the money is there, but you chose not to use it. Then this cap on funding is an enormous impediment to getting an equal education. This was an opportunity that you could have put forward as an act of good faith. Why wasn't that done?
Senator Carignan: Senator, as I pointed out, our government has made very significant investments since 2006. More than $10 billion has been allocated for the primary and secondary education of almost 117,000 First Nations students who live on reserve. As I mentioned earlier, Economic Action Plan 2015 contains specific measures to support education on reserve. The Senate will examine this action plan in the next few weeks. I hope that you will vote with us so that we can continue to build schools, among other things, on reserve and ensure that we have an action plan that creates wealth and jobs. I also hope that you will use your independence, as you call it, to oppose Mr. Trudeau's plan to hike taxes.
Senator Dyck: I will go back to what I said before. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in June 2013 tabled a report that clearly said there is a gap in funding.
So despite however many millions of dollars you have spent on education, that is a treaty right; you have to spend that money. The report clearly states that there is a gap and that it should be increased to 4.5 per cent. That remains as a fact that the department has said. Therefore, are you saying you don't believe what your own department has said?
Senator Carignan: With regard to the restructuring of the education system, our approach does not consist of disbursing additional money, but of making structural reforms in order to use the money we have as efficiently as possible. The money is there. You used the term "millions." We have invested billions, not millions, of dollars in First Nations education.
I will repeat that our Economic Action Plan 2015 provides for investments in First Nations education so that Aboriginal youth have access to the quality education they need to enjoy the benefits associated with a well-paid job. It also provides for investments in skills development for Aboriginal people and the expansion of the First Nations Land Management Regime, which will open the door to new economic development on reserve.
Senator, the action plan will generate wealth for all Canadians, and that includes Aboriginal Canadians. Once again, I hope that you will vote in favour of it.