Debates of the Senate  
3rd Session, 40th Parliament,Volume 147, Issue 19.
  Wednesday, April 21, 2010
 
Question Period: Indian Affairs and Northern Development

  Funding for the First Nations University of Canada

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: I have a supplementary question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and I thank her for those answers.

We know that the First Nations University of Canada is still in a state of crisis. As I have said in the past, my mailbox is filling up with letters, not sent to me but directed to Minister Strahl, asking him to restore full funding to the First Nations University of Canada.

For instance, I have a letter in my hands from the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce:

The First Nations University of Canada has many more successes than challenges, and unfortunately of late, it is the challenges that have drawn attention. We see the potential for the future of FNUC as very bright, especially under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed on March 22, 2010.

Basically, the board of directors of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce is asking the government to maintain its commitment of funding of $7.2 million to the university for the full year. As it stands now, the government has only committed $3 million until the end of August. As Senator Peterson has stated, without full funding, it is likely that the Saskatoon campus will close and faculty will be laid off. The viability of the whole university is in peril.

Will the minister please do her best to ensure that Minister Strahl recognizes how serious this situation is and ask him to restore full funding for the full fiscal year for First Nations University of Canada?

Senator LeBreton: I thank Senator Dyck for the question. I believe that Minister Strahl is an excellent Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He has worked hard on a host of issues and he is a committed minister. Based on what I am told by people who work with him in Ottawa and also by the major stakeholder groups in the Aboriginal community, they have a great deal of respect for him because he has a great deal of respect for them.

As the honourable senator mentioned, there are obviously great concerns about the viability of this university. I have indicated what the minister has done thus far. As to where we go from here, the government and the minister are extremely encouraged by the changes, as outlined by Senator Peterson, that we have seen thus far.

However, there is still a great deal of work to be done. We hope that all parties will conclude the legal agreements as per the MOU and bring about the changes the Aboriginal students expect and deserve. Also, we hope it would be accountable to the Canadian taxpayer for these expenses, as we all would want it to be.

Things are moving along the right track, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. We remain committed to supporting First Nations learners to ensure they graduate with the skills and the education they need to join with other Canadians in the future economic prosperity of our country.

Senator Dyck: With all due respect, I was not implying that Minister Strahl was not respected. I think he is well respected and does an excellent job. I was not in any way trying to claim that he was not paying attention to the file.

However, First Nations University of Canada is in dire straits. The federal government seems to be committed to pouring billions of dollars into its "tough on crime" agenda, but unable to come up with $4 million more to support about 700 students at First Nations University.

It has been estimated that it costs far less to educate a student than to put them in a prison and keep them there. The money that the university would cost, $7.3 million, would only pay for the incarceration of 80 inmates, whereas it would educate at least 700 to 800 students at the First Nations University of Canada. Where is the priority? The priority seems to be on crime rather than education.

Senator LeBreton: One priority does not suffer at the hands of another. We have a priority to keep our communities and streets safe. That does not mean that commitments made in one area come at the expense of commitments and attention required in another.

I have simply answered the honourable senator's question. Minister Strahl, as we have already said, has put $3 million forward to ensure the students are able to complete this school year. As I also reported, the government and the minister are encouraged by the changes they have seen; they are working on it and are happy with the changes thus far. However, there is still work to be done. Minister Strahl is well aware of the importance of education to our Aboriginal youth.

Again, it would be totally unfair to say that one area of importance is overlooked at the expense of the other, because that is not the case.