Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, my
question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate,
and it relates to funding for the First Nations University
As honourable senators know, Minister Strahl
recently made a decision to withdraw $7.2 million in funding
from this world-class institution. It is now on the brink of
I am pleading for a reversal of that decision, because it
will abandon over 800 Aboriginal students, 65 faculty
members, all the support staff and about 1,200 University of
Regina students who take classes at this institution.
Last year, at the Council of Ministers of Education,
First Nations University was held up as a model of best
practices. In addition, there is a Treaty 4 obligation that
indicates there is a federal responsibility to fund
How can the minister justify such drastic action?
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government):
Honourable senators, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has
been working for many years with the First Nations
University to address long-standing and systematic problems
related to governance and financial management. Throughout
this period, scandal after scandal has rocked the public's
faith in this school.
Minister Strahl met with a delegation from First Nations
University on March 11 and, as previously stated by the
minister, we will no longer fund the university directly.
However, we are working on options regarding how this
funding could best support Aboriginal post-secondary
Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, it is true that
there have been scandals. However, those scandals have been
enormously magnified in the media. In fact, many reviews and
audits of the university have not given substance to those
The University of Regina has agreed that it will
institute a management system with First Nations University.
They have agreed to a working group to put together a
memorandum of understanding. Pressure has been put on them
to produce that document within a matter of two days, which
we know is not possible.
I am hoping that the minister will use her office to
persuade the minister to allow this agreement to proceed.
That agreement will take care of all the financial and
administrative matters that have been brought to the
attention of the minister.
We have new leadership in the Federation of Saskatchewan
Indian Nations in Chief Guy Lonechild, who has taken a
strong stance on this matter. All the chiefs support it. The
Canadian Association of University Teachers supports it.
Everyone is supporting it. It is time to reverse that
decision. Can that be done?
Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, the
minister and the government will not reverse the decision.
While we understand this situation creates difficulty, we
need to be accountable and transparent to all Canadians,
including the First Nations.
As I mentioned earlier, Minister Strahl met with the
delegation from the First Nations University. The honourable
senator mentioned the offers from the University of Regina.
He met with the delegation on March 11 and I believe that
together they are working to ensure that the students are
As far as further funding is concerned, the decision has
been made and the government and the minister will not
reverse the decision.
Senator Dyck: With all due respect, the Standing
Committee of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
will discuss this issue later today. I hope that committee
will come to a resolution that will help us end this
The federal government, through the Indian Studies
Support Program, has signed an agreement to provide annual
funding to First Nations University and has been doing so
for at least the last five years. How is it that the
agreement can now be broken by the minister? That is a
Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I am
certain the various committees of Parliament and many
members of Parliament, whether they are in the House of
Commons or the Senate, would be interested to hear how these
matters can be dealt with in the future.
In the case of this particular university, the
long-standing and systematic problems have gone on for
years. The misappropriation of funds has rocked not only the
Aboriginal community but also the public. The decision of
the minister is firm. Our government has done a great deal
to invest in education for our First Nations people.
With regard to the First Nations University, there is no
point in pursuing the matter further. The decision is final.
Senator Dyck: With respect, Honourable Minister,
my mailbox is filling up with email messages from people
across the country, asking the minister to reverse the
decision. One of the latest communications is from the
Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing 54,000
members. They are urging the minister to restore funding to
First Nations University.
I urge the minister to use her powers of persuasion to
convince the minister to take another look at this issue and
reverse his decision. Will the leader be able to do that?
Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I think the
minister, the government and I have all been clear. The
decision with regard to this university has been made and
the matter is now closed. However, I will inform honourable
senators of all the things Minister Strahl has done for
education. Since 2006, our government has invested $395
million in the completion of 94 school projects. Canada's
Economic Action Plan provided for 10 new schools and
three major renovations. Also, the Building Canada Plan
provides for eight new schools or renovation projects. As I
have mentioned many times, last year we invested $100
million over three years in the Aboriginal Skills and
Employment Partnership, and $75 million in the new two-year
Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment Fund.
In December 2008, Minister Strahl launched two new
programs to help Aboriginal students succeed academically:
the Education Partnership Program and First Nation Student
Success Program. We worked closely with British Columbia,
Manitoba, New Brunswick and regional First Nations on
initiatives to improve educational outcomes. In February,
the minister signed a memorandum of understanding with
Alberta and the Assembly of Treaty Chiefs, an historic
partnership to strengthen First Nations education in that
province. Furthermore, Budget 2010 provides additional
funding to strike agreements with remaining provinces and
First Nations to support better education for First Nations
Honourable senators, the government has invested great
sums of money in the education of our First Nations people,
and obviously does not want a situation where they are
investing good money in good projects and then must go back
on a decision and no longer fund the First Nations
University because of problems of the university's own
making and their own incompetence.