Skip to main content Start of content

PACP Committee Report

If you have any questions or comments regarding the accessibility of this publication, please contact us at accessible@parl.gc.ca.


GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE SEVENTEENTH REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS

EDUCATION PROGRAM AND POST-SECONDARY STUDENT SUPPORT

INTRODUCTION

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is acting on the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (the Committee), through the implementation of the Education Action Plan, which was presented to the Committee on May 4, 2005. The Education Action Plan addresses the observations and recommendations in Chapter 5 of the Auditor General of Canada's Report, November 2004. The measures proposed are also part of a broader, ongoing agenda to foster excellence in First Nation education and thus narrow the education gap between First Nation and other Canadian students.

The recommendations made by the Committee in its June 2005 report reinforce many of the measures contained in the Action Plan and seek assurance that the Committee is kept abreast of the progress the Department is making with First Nations and key parties in achieving the Plan's overall objective - renewed comprehensive First Nation Education policy and management frameworks that support First Nation control of First Nation education, strengthened accountability, and improved opportunities and outcomes for students.

INAC shares the Committee's concern that progress must be made to close the education gap between First Nations and the broader Canadian population. It is a concern that is also shared with provinces and territories. Through the Canada-Aboriginal Peoples Roundtable process, the federal government and its First Nation, Métis and Inuit partners have identified a number of shared priorities related to Aboriginal education, with a focus on elementary and secondary education. The Government of Canada is now also engaging provinces and territories through a multilateral process to address a number of these priorities at a fall First Ministers' Meeting on Aboriginal issues.

This work is being undertaken within the context of a new relationship between the federal government and First Nations, Métis and the Inuit. This relationship was formalized at a Policy Retreat on May 31, 2005, at which time joint accords were signed between the Government of Canada and National Aboriginal Organizations. The accords provide a basis for First Nation, Métis and Inuit involvement in federal Aboriginal policy development.

This new way of doing business is being reflected in the implementation of the Education Action Plan, and thus, the development of the new policy and management frameworks for First Nation education. Specifically, the Department has established a number of joint working groups with First Nations that are being utilized to collaboratively address specific issues raised by the Auditor General in regard to INAC's elementary/secondary education programs, as well as a joint working group with First Nations and the Inuit of Labrador to respond to post-secondary education issues.

The Education Action Plan is the roadmap that INAC will use to develop and implement, jointly with First Nations, a new foundation for First Nation education. The Department is encouraged that the Committee's report reinforces this overall approach and it respects the intent of its recommendations to ensure the Plan is carried out in a timely and effective manner. To respond to the report, the remainder of this document addresses the Committee's recommendations according to a number of main themes - roles and responsibilities, funding, performance measurement and reporting, accountability, First Nation systems development, and retention of Deputy Ministers.

ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Under the current legislative framework, INAC establishes overall elementary-secondary education policies, funding levels and delivery requirements for status Indians living on reserves. Under various funding arrangements with the Department, First Nations deliver education on reserves, arrange to buy education services from local provincial school boards, or use a combination of both. INAC also establishes overall policies, funding levels and delivery requirements in a number of education-related programs including post-secondary education and cultural education centres.

Based on this starting point, the Department is finalizing a draft statement of INAC's current roles and responsibilities and will hold information sessions with First Nations over the fall in order to arrive at a mutually agreed upon statement of roles and responsibilities. Once this statement is finalized, it will be made publicly available and published regularly in the Department's RPP and DPR to the extent possible within Treasury Board reporting frameworks. In the interim, INAC will report on its progress in drafting its roles and responsibilities in its 2006 RPP and DPR.

In order to keep the Committee abreast of progress, INAC will present a draft statement of roles and responsibilities to the Committee in September 2005 with the understanding that the document: is a work in progress that will need to be revised based on First Nations' comments; will be subject to further discussion and consideration leading up to the June 2006 Policy Framework; and will be subject to government decision-making.

This section responds to the following recommendations made by the Committee:

RECOMMENDATION 1

That INAC report to the SCPA in confidence on an ongoing basis on its progress in defining its roles and responsibilities. In particular, the Department's draft statement of roles and responsibilities must be completed for presentation to a meeting of the PAC planned for the end of September 2005.

RECOMMENDATION 2

That INAC report on its progress in drafting its roles and responsibilities in its RPP in the spring of 2006 and on its progress in developing a final version of its roles and responsibilities in its DPR in the fall of 2006. Once the roles and responsibilities are defined and in the public domain, they must be published regularly in both the Department's RPP and its DPR.

FUNDING

INAC is responsible for providing First Nations with the funding to provide elementary and secondary education programs and services for students ordinarily residing on reserve. This includes funding for the delivery of programs and services in First Nations schools that are reasonably comparable to those provided in provincial schools in the same geographic area; and the reimbursement of costs for on-reserve students attending provincial and private schools.

A joint First Nations/INAC working group is currently reviewing the band-operated schools funding formula in order to provide recommendations for a revised national funding formula that supports First Nations to deliver a high quality education program that respects First Nation languages and cultures and meets provincial standards.

INAC will provide a copy of a report on the current national funding formula for basic First Nation education services identifying the cost drivers of basic First Nation education programs to the Committee by the end of September 2005. The Department will update Parliament on the cost of First Nation education starting in its 2005-2006 Departmental Performance Report.

The Department is also undertaking a comprehensive review of the Post Secondary Education (PSE) Program, in partnership with First Nations, the Inuit of Labrador, and the National Association of Indigenous Institutes of Higher Learning to ensure that it continues to be successful and better meets the needs of First Nation and Inuit students. The review is being conducted on all three components of the PSE program - the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, the University and College Preparation Program, and Indian Studies Support Program. As recommended by the Committee, funding mechanisms and regimes for the PSE program will be examined as part of the review process and the outcomes will inform the development of the comprehensive management framework.

This section responds to the following recommendations made by the Committee:

RECOMMENDATION 9

That INAC provide a copy of its report on the cost of a basic FN education to the SCPA by the end of September 2005 for presentation to the Committee along with a separate report outlining costs specific to providing First Nation education.

RECOMMENDATION 11

That INAC review its post-secondary funding mechanisms, including the use of flexible transfers, to ensure that they are delivering equitable funding to as many eligible students as possible. This review must be conducted within the context of the Department's roles and responsibilities, which are expected to be completed by December 2005.

RECOMMENDATION 12

That INAC immediately collect the necessary data to determine which communities receive a proper amount of post-secondary funding with regard to the number of eligible students. It must use this data to further its study of post-secondary funding mechanisms.

PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENT

INAC has a preliminary set of performance indicators based on available data from current reporting as well as an Education Tracing System that allows it to perform long-term analyses related to retention, promotion and graduation rates. Furthermore, the Department has undertaken a pilot project with the First Nations Education Steering Committee in British Columbia and the province to link INAC and provincial education data in order to track the progress of students who move between on-reserve and provincial schools.

Despite this progress, the Department concurs with the Committee that further improvements need to be made. First Nations also recognize the importance of this issue and will be directly involved in this process since First Nations themselves deliver education programs and services on reserve, and it is their children's performance that will be assessed. Current data limitations are being addressed, and performance indicators need to be revisited in order to further strengthen measurement and reporting, reflect new policy directions, and ensure consistency with First Nation and Government of Canada priorities.

As indicated in the Education Action Plan, and agreed to by First Nation representatives, a set of performance indicators will be collaboratively developed based on the First Nation Education Policy Framework, and therefore based on the identification of desired education outcomes, and incorporated into the Management Framework. Existing indicators will be reviewed and assessed as part of this process.

By the end of 2005, the Department will be in a position to report on progress made with First Nations to develop a revised set of performance indicators. A further update will be provided in the Department's 2006 Report on Plans and Priorities to outline how the set of indicators will be completed and implemented. The finalized indicators will then be utlized to measure progress in future Departmental Performance Reports. In the interim, the Department will keep the Committee updated on this work as requested.

Given that roughly 40 percent of on-reserve students attend provincial schools, it will be important for the Department and First Nations to engage provinces on this topic to ensure comparable indicators are being utilized and to establish acceptable targets for narrowing the education gap in the short, medium and long term that can be realistically achieved through the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders.

This section responds to the following recommendations made by the Committee:

RECOMMENDATION 3

That INAC complete a set of performance indicators for its elementary, secondary and post secondary education programs by the end of 2005 and report on these in its 2006 RPP. These performance indicators must be used in future departmental performance reports.

RECOMMENDATION 4

That INAC keep the SCPA abreast, on a semi-annual basis, of its progress in establishing performance indicators through periodic submissions.

RECOMMENDATION 8

That INAC, in consultation with FN communities, set a timeline for closing the education gap between FN students and the broader Canadian population. The Department must report on its progress, or lack thereof, in closing the educational gap in its departmental performance reports.

REPORTING

INAC recognizes that its public reports are important vehicles to keep First Nations, Parliament and Canadians abreast of progress on First Nations education. The Department currently reports on its education programs and services in the following documents: Report on Plans and Priorities, Departmental Performance Report, Basic Departmental Data, and Canada's Performance Report (Aboriginal Chapter). In addition, INAC will publish the second edition of the Education Programs Report in December 2005 that will provide Canadians with an update on the education programs it provides and the activities it is undertaking in partnership with First Nations to provide access to a high quality education for First Nation learners.

In all of these publications, INAC endeavours to: provide accurate and clearly worded information that is appropriate for a wide audience; define the objectives and expected results of its educational programs; and demonstrate the progress being made to improve outcomes for First Nation learners and narrow the education gap between First Nations and the broader Canadian population. As part of its program authority renewal exercise that went to Treasury Board, the Department provided accurate and detailed information on the way all of its education programs operate, including in-depth information on funding mechanisms.

This section responds to the following recommendations made by the Committee:

RECOMMENDATION 5

That INAC improve the quality of its Estimates documents by defining the objectives and expected results of all its educational programs and the PSSSP in particular. It should report on costs and performance and clarify how the programs are making a difference in narrowing the education gap between FN and the broader Canadian population using comparable indicators.

RECOMMENDATION 10

That INAC update Parliament annually on the detailed cost of FN education in its departmental performance reports.

RECOMMENDATION 13

That INAC provide accurate information and avoid the use of misleading language in its TB filings on the way in which the PSSSP operates. The Department must also provide the SCPA with a rationale for the information supplied to Treasury Board with respect to PSSSP funding.

RECOMMENDATION 15

That INAC ensure the clarity of its policy documents so that they can be understood by a wide audience.

ACCOUNTABILITY

In June 2005, the Department completed compliance directives for its education programs that will be implemented this October, and for which guidance and training will be provided to regional staff. The purpose of these directives is to provide guidance to INAC regions to establish consistency in the application of existing terms and conditions for the Department's education programs. The objective is to provide clarity to regional staff, rather than to introduce new requirements or measures for First Nations. The elementary and secondary education directives include a requirement for First Nations to arrange for an independent evaluation of each First Nation school at least every five years and instruct INAC regions to ensure that the Council (or recipient) has a plan in place for the implementation of the recommendations made in the school evaluation report. Moreover, the directives provide instruction on the implementation and management of tuition agreements between provinces and First Nations as well as between provinces and INAC, on behalf of First Nations.

The compliance directives will be revisited by the Department, through its regional offices with First Nations as part of the process to develop a renewed management framework for all INAC's education programs that will strengthen the accountability regime in all areas of education, including the mutual accountability between INAC and First Nations.

A main objective of this process will be to allow more flexibility at the community level to respond to local needs and circumstances while, at the same time, ensuring consistency with government management standards. In doing so, it will be necessary to ensure compliance measures can be implemented within existing resources.

This section responds to the following recommendations made by the Committee:

RECOMMENDATION 6

That INAC immediately take steps to ensure that school evaluations are completed and that recommendations flowing from these evaluations are addressed. The Department must report on its progress in its DPR.

RECOMMENDATION 7

That INAC, in consultation with FN, immediately take steps to ensure that all tuition agreements between it, FN and provincial school boards are in place. The Department must also provide its regional offices with sufficient guidance and training to ensure that its responsibilities are understood and applied consistently. The Department should report annually on its progress in its DPR.

SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT

Another issue related to elementary/secondary comparability is the current lack of school board-type services for on-reserve First Nation schools to provide effective and efficient planning, instructional support, and management and accountability of programs and services to individual schools. The support offered by provincial school boards to public schools is critical to the successful outcomes of students across the country. First Nation schools cannot be expected to achieve comparable educational outcomes from their students without this essential level of support.

Through a joint process with the Assembly of First Nations, INAC is currently gathering information from provincial, and the few existing First Nations school boards about the range of school board services offered and their associated costs. Concurrent with this study is a detailed mapping of the existing capacity, needs and long-term objectives of identified First Nations regional education authorities. The First Nations Education Steering Committee and the Mi'Kmaq Education Agreement, as well as other existing regional education initiatives, are providing valuable information with respect to organizational models, process, service delivery, lessons learned and accountability. The Department, working with First Nations, will provide an update on its progress in this exploratory work in its Departmental Performance Report beginning with the report for the period ending March 31, 2006.

This section responds to the following recommendation made by the Committee:

RECOMMENDATION 14

That INAC immediately review the strengths and weaknesses of the Mi'kmaq Education Agreement and the BC FNESC and develop strategies to expand the best features of both initiatives to other FN communities. The Department must report on its progress in this work in its DPR beginning with the report for the period ending March 31, 2006.

RETENTION OF DEPUTY MINISTERS

The Committee's sixteenth recommendation, which is not linked to the Education Action Plan, calls for the retention of Deputy Ministers for at least three years to ensure policy continuity and coherence. This recommendation is not within the purview of INAC as Deputy Minister appointments are based on the operational and policy needs of the government. The length of a Deputy Minister's term in a position in no way diminishes his or her accountability and responsibility. Deputy Ministers typically have significant depth and breadth of experience and expertise, and they remain accountable for the performance of their departments regardless of the duration of their assignment. However, the government makes best efforts for Deputy Ministers to remain in position for a number of years to ensure stability and continuity for the organization.

This section responds to the following recommendation made by the Committee:

RECOMMENDATION 16

That the government take immediate measures to retain Deputy Ministers at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for at least three years to ensure policy continuity and coherence, as recommended by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts in its 10th report.

CONCLUSION

Fostering excellence in First Nation education is a complex long-term challenge that INAC and First Nations are working together to address through the establishment of nationally coordinated policy and management frameworks for First Nation education programs and services, as outlined in the Education Action Plan. This will require the concerted efforts of all stakeholders - First Nation leadership, educators, organizations and communities, and federal, provincial and territorial governments - working in a meaningful partnership towards improving the outcomes of First Nation students, whether they attend provincial schools or those on reserve, and enabling First Nations to assume greater control over their education. The Department acknowledges and appreciates the considerable contribution the Committee's report and recommendations will make to the success of this process.