Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 148, Issue 126
  Wednesday, December 5, 2012
 
Question: On-Reserve Education Funding

.Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, many sources, such as the Assembly of First Nations, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, provincial governments, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Auditor General of Canada, and numerous parliamentary reports, highlight the underfunding of on-reserve First Nations students in schools. An average of these sources would put the rate of underfunding at about $3,000 per on-reserve First Nation student. The provincial average student rate is about $10,000 while the on-reserve student rate is about $7,000. I will repeat the question I asked yesterday because it is very important: Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate table in the chamber the exact methodology used by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to arrive at the figure of $14,243 per First Nation student as stated in a statement by the minister on September 14, 2012?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I indicated yesterday that I would absolutely take the honourable senator's question as notice and attempt to provide an answer in written form to the honourable senator.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader for that clarification, but she must also realize that not all First Nation students attend an on-reserve school; it is about a 60-40 split. Therefore, that number, while it may be accurate, does not reflect the actual number of students who attend an on-reserve school versus the number that attend an off-reserve school. Therein lies the problem of the funding gap.

The leader talked about the money that was spent in the last budget $275 million, with $100 million for literacy and $175 million for infrastructure. At the same time, in the last budget for 2012-13, there is $64 million for Canada's Economic Action Plan ads, such as the things we see on TV, et cetera. Why are we spending that amount of money on the advertising for Canada's Economic Action Plan? Could we not have spent some of that money on closing the education gap?

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Mercer: Good idea. That does not fit with the re-election plan.

Senator LeBreton: On the issue of on-reserve students, the young Aboriginal children living in cities or in provinces who do not live on-reserve are students in the public school system. I have pointed out before that unlike previous governments that balanced their books on the backs of the provinces, we have actually increased transfers to provinces for health care and education. For people who go to a public school system in a province, education, like health care, is handled by the provinces. Our government has increased transfers to provinces for health care and education by almost 35 per cent.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader for that answer. Regardless, we could have taken that $64 million and spent it all across Canada to try to equalize the funding gap between on-reserve and off-reserve students. Across Canada there are approximately 68,000 First Nation students who attend on-reserve schools. If we had spent that $64 million on those students to top up their funding so it was equal to what they would get if they go to an off-reserve school we would have closed the gap for 18,285 students. Why would we not do that instead of advertising?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, each department is allocated hard-earned taxpayer dollars to administer the programs within the department. The Department of National Defence is allocated certain sums for their programs. The Department of Canadian Heritage is allocated certain sums. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is allocated significant sums for the programs under their department.

The honourable senator knows that is not the way departments and governments operate. Each department is budgeted a certain amount of money. Aboriginal Affairs is allocated a significant amount of money to fund the programs within their department. It is really a mug's game to be comparing what one department spends on their programs versus what another department spends on theirs. Each department of government has an obligation to the Canadian public.

The honourable senator talks about advertising. Much of the advertising is the public service advertising for the betterment of Canadians. I remember the amount of money spent on advertising and

An Hon. Senator: I think for the benefit of Conservatives.

Senator LeBreton: by the way, it was a lot less than was spent by the previous government, including the $40 million that we never found from the sponsorship scandal.

An Hon. Senator: Always blame, blame, blame.

Senator LeBreton: In any event, it is not fair to compare programs in one department with another. All I can say is there have been ample funds provided to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to run their programs.