Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 148, Issue 125
  Tuesday, December 4, 2012
 
Question: On-Reserve Education Funding

.Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, on October 3 the minister and officials from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development said that First Nation students from K to 12 were funded on par or above par with students attending provincial schools. The minister's announcement that First Nations students were not underfunded came as a total shock as it is so out of line with the reality of the situation. No doubt his statement will be discussed at the Assembly of First Nations' special chiefs' assembly this week across the river in Gatineau.

The minister's October 3 statement certainly was at odds with what I have learned here in the Senate over the last seven and a half years. For example, during his testimony to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in October of 2008 on Bill C-292, the implementation of the Kelowna accord, the Right Honourable Paul Martin said that on reserves, primary and secondary school education is within the federal government's jurisdiction. That being said, he added, the provinces spend substantially more per capita on students within their jurisdiction than the federal government does within its jurisdiction.

How can the Leader of the Government in the Senate reconcile this statement with what the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is now saying about on-par funding?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I thank the honourable senator for the question. Honourable senators, every year we invest in education for over 117,000 students on reserves. As I have said before in this place, we have announced additional measures, such as early literacy programming, to further improve educational outcomes for First Nation students. Since 2006 we have completed 263 school projects, including 33 new schools.

We will continue to work with the Aboriginal community to take concrete steps to improve educational outcomes for First Nation students. Of course, we have committed to intensive consultation with First Nations on education legislation. This commitment flows directly from the recommendations of the national panel that was co-sponsored by the Assembly of First Nations.

Obviously, as I have said before, honourable senators, it is in the interests of us all in this country, especially with our focus on jobs and the economy, to ensure that First Nations students have the same opportunity as all Canadians. We look forward to continuing this program and having further input from the First Nations communities over the coming weeks and months.

Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, at the same committee meeting the former minister of AANDC, the Honourable Andrew Scott, commented on the inadequate funding formula used by the department. Referring to the province of Saskatchewan, he said that in using and applying the exact same formula used by the province to the demographics that his department was dealing with, it was immediately apparent how badly under-resourced First Nation education was in Canada.

Again, how does the Leader of the Government in the Senate reconcile this with what the current Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and his department now say about on-par funding? It just does not match up.

Senator LeBreton: The honourable senator would not expect me to answer for a minister under a previous government. I can only put on the record the substantial effort and progress that has been made under this government. I have no comment on the views of previous ministers. I can only say that I do believe, as I stated a moment ago, that the government has made significant effort and has put significant resources into Aboriginal education, including investment in the many students living on-reserve, the building of many new schools and the upgrading of other schools.

Senator Dyck: I thank the honourable senator for her answer, although it does not really answer my question. I will proceed nonetheless.

The Auditor General of Canada reported on the issue of First Nations education in the 2004 and 2011 reports. In 2004 the Auditor General recommended that AANDC undertake a review of all funding formulas for education and determine the real cost drivers for the delivery of service on reserves for comparable educational services. In 2011 the Auditor General noted that no funding adjustments were made after the review.

Why has the department not followed the Auditor General's recommendation and adjusted the funding formulas to reflect the reality of delivering equitable education on reserves?

Senator LeBreton: The honourable senator cites the Auditor General's report in 2004 and I cannot answer for that. I know when we formed government in 2006 it was obvious this was an area in dire need of action. I would argue strongly that the government has taken action. I already put on the record the many steps that we have taken and also that the minister and our government look forward to continuing our work with First Nations communities over the coming weeks and months with a view to even improving on the many good things we have already done.