Hon. Claudette Tardif (Deputy Leader of the Opposition):
Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the
Government in the Senate. The national panel mandated to
evaluate First Nations elementary and secondary education,
created by the federal government and the Assembly of First
Nations, released a report last week recommending positive
measures for First Nations education.
recommendations come in addition to several reports released
over the past few years that reiterate what everyone already
knows: First Nations communities lack a truly organized
education system, and resources and investments earmarked
for students on reserves are significantly less than those
earmarked for students in provincial school systems. An
earlier report calculated that First Nations schools receive
between $2,000 and $3,000 less per student than provincially
The government has all the facts it needs to rectify the
situation and develop a funding formula tailored to the
needs of First Nations students and communities.
Madam leader, what is your government waiting for to
eliminate the gap in funding for First Nations education?
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government):
I thank the honourable senator for the question. I hasten to
add that there was also an excellent report prepared by the
Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, which I am
sure Senator Tardif would have wanted to acknowledge and
We have obviously received the recommendations of the
panel. The government, most particularly the Minister of
Aboriginal Affairs, is working now to quickly study these
recommendations. As I have said before, with regard to
Aboriginal education, this is something that the government
will work on in partnership with our Aboriginal leaders and
As honourable senators know, we have signed five
education partnership agreements with the provinces and
First Nations. In January, Minister Duncan was proud to sign
the British Columbia First Nations Tripartite Education
Framework Agreement. This was a very good program in which
to participate. There is every indication that very good
results will come of it. Since coming to office, the
government has built 22 new schools; and last month, it
tendered for a new school in Attawapiskat.
Senator Tardif: The panel finds that most First
Nations schools clearly do not have enough resources to help
their students succeed. They have fewer books and computers,
classrooms are overcrowded, and there is a huge disparity in
the salaries of the teachers and principals.
Given the extent of the current underfunding and the
urgency of the situation, the panel is recommending
immediate financial measures.
My question is simple: will the government follow through
on these urgent recommendations in the next budget in order
to reduce the growing gap in education funding for
Senator LeBreton: The government acknowledges, as
did the report, that serious issues need to be addressed.
The Crown-First Nations meeting held in late January focused
almost exclusively on economic opportunities and education
for Aboriginal youth. The government takes this matter
seriously. Significant progress has been made. I assure
honourable senators that the government realizes the
severity of the issue. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs
and Northern Development and his parliamentary secretary
will take measures as quickly as possible to address these
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, this
is a critically important issue. I would like to provide a
concrete example of the funding gap and how it affects
teachers' salaries in Saskatchewan.
As reported in The Globe and Mail last week and on
CBC Radio, the principal of the school on Waterhen Lake
First Nation in Saskatchewan, Mr. John Walter, said that the
funding is so critical that he has to choose between firing
some of his teaching staff or asking them all to take a pay
cut, which of course he should not have to do. Senator
Tardif talked about the lack of resources. Mr. Walter has to
cut programs and put together his own computers.
Despite all of that, the school program is succeeding.
This year, they will graduate six students from high school,
and their success rate in math has increased. Two years ago,
none of the students were performing at grade level, but
today, 33 per cent are meeting that standard. Mr. Walter
said that if he cannot keep his teachers, in particular the
experienced teachers who cost more because they have been
teaching longer, then that success rate is at risk. He is
truly in a dilemma. Like many other on-reserve schools and
principals, he cannot match the salary that a comparable
teacher would receive if they taught at the provincial level
Mr. Walter has been told by Aboriginal Affairs and
Northern Development Canada that there will not be
additional funding for salary increases for his teachers.
What is he to do? What will the Department of Aboriginal
Affairs and Northern Development do about this funding gap,
in particular for Waterhen Lake school in Saskatchewan? What
will the government do? Will it fail this school and not
provide the funding to retain those experienced teachers?
Senator LeBreton: The honourable senator has
brought to the attention of this place the situation in one
school. All of the things that she put on the record, and
she cites one example, are reflective of the situation in
many communities across the country.
There is no doubt, honourable senators, that we cannot
tolerate young people in our Aboriginal communities leaving
communities and not being properly educated. The honourable
senator participated in and supported a Senate study, and
the government has received the report and the
recommendations of the national aboriginal education panel.
The government takes these recommendations very seriously.
The minister is working extremely hard and realizes that
there is a grave problem. The government will not sit by and
watch this situation deteriorate further.
The government is committed. It was clear at the
Crown-First Nations meeting at the end of January that the
government and the Aboriginal leadership are one and the
same on this issue. They recognize that in order to pull
communities out of the existing conditions, first and
foremost proper education must be provided for young people.
Senator Dyck: I agree with the leader that this is
a critical situation and that I used only one school as an
example. However, the national report also states clearly
that the situation is critical and that in the meantime
funding pressures should be relieved in First Nations
schools through increases that are equal to those of
provincial schools serving similar locations and regions
with similar needs.
The question is: What will the government do in the next
budget? Will it be possible to equalize, at the very least,
the teachers' salaries, which are critical to the successful
education of students? We are not asking for everything but
can the leader at least say that the government will put
aside money to equalize the teachers' salaries?
Senator LeBreton: As the honourable senator would
understand, I am not in a position to divulge various
components of the budget. The Minister of Finance and other
ministers are in the consultation process to ensure that all
views are incorporated in the deliberations and ultimately
in the budget.
I can assure honourable senators that the Honourable John
Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern
Development, is fully committed and engaged and is working
hard within government and with his Aboriginal partners to
alleviate what up until this point has been a very