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?
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.
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
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
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.