moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to open debate on Bill , and mark what I believe is a pivotal moment in ensuring the future success of first nations children and youth in Canada.
I firmly believe—and I am sure that all members in this House will agree—that every child in this country has a right to a quality education, regardless of where they live. Unfortunately, right now, this is simply not the case for first nations students living on reserve in Canada.
First nations youth represent the fastest growing segment of our population, yet the reality is that graduation rates continue to be significantly lower for first nations students on reserve, compared to other Canadians. It is 38% versus 87% in 2011.
In 2012, 72% of first nations members living off reserve who had completed a high school degree had a job, compared to 47% without a high school diploma. The unemployment rate for Canadians aged 25 to 29 without a high school diploma, the majority of which are first nations, is almost double that of high school graduates, at 16.4% compared to 8.8%.
It is clear, and our government firmly believes, that the current situation is neither acceptable nor sustainable. That is why we have made reforming first nations education a priority. We believe that the time to act is now.
Do not just take it from us. This is a goal we share with first nations parents, teachers, students and communities across the country who have been calling for years for greater control of first nations education. In fact, they have been calling for this for four decades now.
The National Indian Brotherhood, as it was then known, and now known as the Assembly of First Nations, released its landmark paper in 1972, entitled “Indian Control of Indian Education”. It has itself directly informed the development of this legislation. More recent, the call for first nations education legislation has been repeated in years of studies, audits and reports, including: the 2011 June Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada; the Standing Committee Aboriginal Peoples in the Senate 2011 report, entitled “From Crisis to Hope”; and the 2012 report of the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education for Students on Reserve, “Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students”.
Each of these reports exposed the lack of a system for first nations K-12 education. Everywhere in our country, in every province and territory, there is education legislation in place to ensure that students have access to equal education, but this does not exist on first nations reserves.
Each of these reports recommended the development of a legislative framework supported by stable and predictable funding.
I am proud to stand before this House today to say that this proposed legislation, for the first time in our country’s history, will put in place a comprehensive education system for first nations elementary and secondary education on reserve.
I am pleased that, like us, the Assembly of First Nations has placed the needs of children first and confirmed that this bill is a constructive and necessary step forward. However, getting to this point was not an easy road.
Our government launched formal intensive consultations with first nations across the country in December 2012. That work was spearheaded by my colleague, who is now our whip.
The input received from the extensive and intensive consultations that were held with hundreds of first nations leaders, educators, and parents across the country guided the development of the draft legislative proposal that was shared last fall with first nations leaders and made public for further input from all interested parties. That document was a springboard for much more discussion and debate. We listened. In November 2013, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations sent me an open letter that identified, according to him, five conditions for success for education on reserve. These conditions were subsequently endorsed by consensus in a resolution by the Chiefs-in-Assembly at their December 2013 gathering here in Gatineau.
Specifically, the resolution directed the national chief, national executive of the first nations, and first nations to take all necessary steps to press Canada to respond to the conditions required to achieve success for first nations children, including respect and recognition of inherent rights and title, treaty rights, and first nations control of first nations jurisdiction. Second, it called for a statutory guarantee of funding. Third, the first nations education system would be enabled, supported, and funded to design and implement languages and cultures programming. Fourth, it called for mutual accountability, including recognition of the principle of first nations control and supports without unilateral federal oversight. Finally, it called for ongoing meaningful dialogue with first nations on education and co-development of regulations.
Following the special chiefs assembly, I responded with my own open letter where I reaffirmed our government's strong commitment to working with the Assembly of First Nations and first nations leaders to stand together to create a better education system for first nations students and address each of these five conditions in the legislation. That is exactly what we did.
The way forward was subsequently announced by the and the national chief this past February at Kainai High School in Standoff, Alberta and included an historic agreement to proceed with the final drafting and introduction of the first nations control of first nations education act that embodies the five conditions for success identified by the Assembly of First Nations.
In addition, the Prime Minister announced an unprecedented financial commitment of over $1.9 billion in new, incremental funding to support the legislation through three different streams.
One stream is core statutory funding, including funding for language and culture; the second stream is transition funding to support implementation of the new legislative framework; and the third stream is funding for long-term investment in on-reserve school infrastructure.
The first stream includes core funding in the amount of $1.252 billion over three years beginning in 2016-17 on top of the existing funding of approximately $1.55 billion and all of this with an annual escalator of 4.5%. This core funding mechanism would replace the current mix of seven different programs, each with their own reporting requirements, and will move to a single formula-based core fund providing first nations with access to the stable and predictable funding supports that they have been asking for. The 4.5% escalator is important because it replaces the much maligned 2% funding cap on education put in place by the former Liberal government under former finance minister Paul Martin in 1996.
The second stream, the education enhancement fund, would allow first nations to move quickly to become early adopters of the new system and structures set out in the bill. It would also promote partnerships, build capacity, and encourage innovation in education practices in the longer term. This fund would provide $160 million over four years beginning in 2015-16.
Finally, the third stream provides an additional $500 million for school infrastructure over seven years beginning in 2015-16 when budget 2012 investments end. This funding would support the construction of new schools and major innovations to existing schools and help gain efficiencies in the way projects are designed, procured, financed, and constructed.
On April 10, 2014, I was pleased to introduce this legislation in this House. I am proud to report that Bill not only responds to, but enshrines in law every single one of the five conditions for success that were endorsed by first nations at the special assembly.
First, at the heart of the legislation before us is the recognition that first nations are best placed to know what their children need, and it puts control of first nations education back in the hands of first nations leaders, parents and educators—where it rightfully belongs.
As the stated in February at Stand Off, the legislation will end Ottawa’s unilateral authority over first nations education, while requiring first nations communities and parents to assume responsibility and accountability for the education their children receive.
Specifically, Bill legally enables first nations control of first nations education in several specific ways. First nations will choose their governance system from a number of options to manage their own schools. First nations will develop their own curriculum. Ottawa will not impose any of the curriculum; first nations will develop it themselves.
First nations will choose how they will incorporate language and culture into their curriculum. They will choose their own education inspectors, control the hiring and firing of teachers and determine how their students will be assessed. First nations will determine how the school calendar will be structured to meet a set number of days. All of that is designed to give them control over their education.
I have heard criticism from certain people who allege that this bill would actually give the minister more power and more control over first nations education. That could not be further from the truth.
Bill gives the minister less power and it is less intrusive than comparable provincial legislation in the country. The bill simply demands that first nations schools meet five core standards, including access to education, minimum instruction days, the need for certified teachers, recognized degrees or diplomas, and the ability to transition with provincial systems.
These are the five core standards that the act requires be adhered to, but for all other aspects of education, they are free to design it the way they wish. All other standards will be defined by first nations. In fact, the legislation reduces the role of the minister in comparison to the current powers afforded to the minister.
That was to deal with the unilateral oversight of the federal government. The bill would also create a joint council of education professionals. The joint council would provide advice and support to the Government of Canada and to first nations on the implementation of the act. It would also serve as a strong mechanism for ensuring the accountability of the minister to first nations. The creation of this council, coupled with the legislated and funding supports for first nations education authorities, would dramatically reduce the involvement of the minister and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the administration of education on reserves.
It would also help develop regulations and be obliged by law to review the act in five years. In addition, as I outlined earlier, the proposed legislation would put in place the mechanism required to provide first nations with stable, predictable, and sustainable funding, which includes a statutory funding regime that accounts for language and culture programming.
In fact, clauses 43(2) and (3) exceed the second condition set out by the AFN chiefs by not only setting a statutory guarantee of funding but by taking the unprecedented step of legally requiring that federal funding be sufficient to support comparable service delivery to that offered in the provincial system. We go further than what was proposed as a condition for success.
As for language and culture programming, as I stated in my letter of April 15 to all first nations across the country, Bill ensures in law the incorporation of first nations language and culture programming in the education curriculum, including the option of immersion in a first nations language in a manner that ensures transferability of students between education systems and allows for students to obtain a recognized diploma.
Clearly, this is a giant step forward for first nations students, and follows years of dialogue and consultations with first nations all over the country and the Assembly of First Nations who identified the need for a better education system for first nations children.
Just last week, the Assembly of First Nations published an analysis of the bill that states:
Bill C-33 is a constructive and necessary step supportive of the goals expressed by First Nations for control, respect for Treaty and Aboriginal rights, recognition of language and culture and a clear statutory guarantee for fair funding.
That is the analysis and the result of the analysis of the Assembly of First Nations.
Let me be clear: the partnership does not end with introduction. As I made clear on April 10, I have extended an invitation to the AFN to work on a political protocol to establish exactly how the members of the joint council would be chosen with meaningful input from first nations and how the joint council would then work with first nations to develop the act's regulations.
Obviously, there is a great deal of work ahead to have regulations in place by the 2016-17 school year and for statutory funding to flow.
In order to do this, we all have to continue to work together.
In conclusion, I urge all members of the House to put partisan politics aside and do what is clearly in the best interests of first nations children and youth across Canada.
Mr. Speaker, with the indulgence of the House, I would like to take a minute to acknowledge the tragedy that took place today in Nanaimo, where people lost their lives and were shot at the Western Forest Products mill. My condolences on behalf of New Democrats, and I am sure all members of this House, go out to family and friends and to the community, and to the first responders who had to deal with the situation.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill , an act to establish a framework to enable first nations control of elementary and secondary education and to provide for related funding and to make related amendments to the Indian Act and consequential amendments to other acts.
I would like to start by situating the importance of education, both to first nations communities and to this country. I know many first nations community members and leaders have said to me that, of course, they want quality, fair, comparable education for their children; that they want to deliver services that are accountable; and they want their children to succeed, so they can become part of the workforce of the future in Canada. There is no question that, for all sides of the House and for first nations, our goal collectively is to ensure that first nations children have the same right to education that all other children in this country have.
In that context, I want to refer briefly to the rights of the child, because it is important to put this in the context of rights.
Under article 28, regarding the right to education, all children have the right to a primary education, which should be free.
Under article 29, children's education should develop each child's personality, talents, and abilities to the fullest. It should encourage children to respect others' human rights and their own and other cultures'. Education should aim to develop respect for the values and cultures of their parents.
Another important rights document is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 14 states:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.
Article 18 says:
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.
Those two articles are very relevant to the bill before this House today. I know the minister referenced some of these documents.
However, I want to turn to a couple of documents. Of course, first nations education has been on the books for discussion for many years, going back to the 1972 paper on Indian control of Indian education. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples talked about the importance of education and first nations control of education.
Then, in the Auditor General's report in 2011, the Auditor General laid out some criteria for moving an education system forward because, as the Auditor General pointed out, success certainly was not being achieved. The Auditor General said:
To provide true comparability, it would be important to include a clear statement of comparability in program objectives and define comparability on a program-by-program basis. Roles and responsibilities would also need to be specified, as would the level of services required for comparability. In addition, the costs of achieving comparability would have to be determined and programs would have to be adequately funded.
Part of the talk about the legislative base said:
A legislative base for programs specifies respective roles and responsibilities, eligibility, and other program elements. It constitutes an unambiguous commitment by government to deliver those services.
That one in particular is important, because what we see in the piece of legislation that is before us is that there is a lot about defining the roles for first nations, but there is very little about defining the roles for government, and that is absolutely a piece that must be part of any legislative agenda. We must be able to hold the government to account for its successes, but also for its failures.
Finally, the Auditor General stated:
It was then called INAC.
—used a funding formula dating back to the 1980s and lacked information that would enable it to compare costs with those of providing comparable education services....
For any of us who have been dealing with this file for a number of years, when we met with the department to talk about comparable services, we have always been told that it is like comparing apples and oranges. Although this legislation talks about comparable services, there really is no mechanism to talk about what those comparable services are, and I am going to cover that a little more.
I also want to touch on Justice Berger's report. He did a report in Nunavut back in 2005-06. I want to talk about this because of the language element, and although it says “Nunavut”, it is relevant to the piece before us. It states:
There are essentially two methods of effectively producing bilingual graduates in Nunavut. One model is that which is common in many European countries, in which students are taught in both languages, typically the standard languages of European nation-states, from the first year to the last. The second model, perhaps more familiar to Canadians, is the immersion model....
Either model appears to be capable of producing the desired results: students who are not only bilingual but also biliterate—able to read and write at an acceptable level in either language. The difficulty is in the detail: both require a high level of commitment to both languages, together with the resources—skilled teachers, appropriate curriculum materials, and methods for assessment of student progress—in both as well.
The reason I raise that is that much is being made of the fact that language is included in this legislation, and yet nobody has the comfort level that the kinds of resources that are required to make sure that happens are actually going to be available.
I want to turn to a few more points before I go into some of the concerns about the particular piece of legislation.
In a briefing document prepared by the Library of Parliament for members, it indicated that “Indian control” has often meant little more than local administration of federal education programs and policies, and many people who are opposed to this legislation maintain that the legislation before us is little more than administrative in nature. It is not truly first nations control of first nations education; it is just a document that outlines what kind of administrative responsibilities first nations will have. Further on, it speaks of transferring only limited administrative control of education to first nations but not the necessary resources that allow for full implementation of a first nations-controlled education system.
In 1995, the federal government formally recognized the inherent right of aboriginal self-government as an existing right under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Under the inherent right of self-government policy, federal recognition of that right is based on the view that aboriginal peoples in Canada have the right to govern themselves in relation to matters that are internal to their communities, integral to their unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages, and institutions. Importantly, the policy identified education as a matter falling within the scope of self-government negotiations.
It goes on to talk about two very specific agreements, the First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act and the Mi'kmaq Education Act. Of course, there are successes with the First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act and the Mi'kmaq Education Act and yet, under this piece of legislation before us, those two agreements, after 2017, would be forced under this piece of legislation. There are grave concerns, because a significant amount of work has already been done in those areas and successes are being achieved.
One of the other documents that has been referenced is “Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students”. That particular document laid out a process for making sure we move forward on a successful piece of legislation. The document said:
A strong First Nation Education System would be built upon a solid foundation that encompasses the following:
The co-creation of legislation in the form of a First Nation Education Act that outlines responsibilities for each partner—
There is that “each partner” again, both the government and first nations in the system.
—and recognizes and protects the First Nation child’s right to their culture, language and identity, a quality education, funding of the system, and First Nation control of First Nation education
Statutory funding that is needs-based, predictable, sustainable and used specifically for education purposes...
Of course, there was much more in this document, but again, it is important to talk about the fact that a number of reports and human rights conventions laid out the fact that legislation must be co-created. First nations need to be at the table throughout the process in a meaningful way, not in a way that has been developed by the government, which leads me to consultation.
In a brief by Hutchins Legal, the firm said that the duty to consult was not met with regard to how this legislation was developed. It said there are minimum requirements for the consultation process:
In consultation regarding the First Nations Education Act, the federal government must explicitly acknowledge, respect, and accommodate First Nations' jurisdiction over education.
Canada must acknowledge and respect First Nations' jurisdiction over education as part of the consultation process....
First Nations ought to determine internally who Canada will consult, and Canada ought to respect their decisions.
Canada and First Nations should cooperate in developing a methodology for assessing and addressing submissions made during the consultations before any further consultation sessions are held.
All submissions made during the consultation process should be made public.When the draft legislation is produced, the Crown ought to provide written reasons to show that First Nations' concerns raised during consultation were considered and to explain how they impacted on the draft text.
Meaningful consultation must continue after the draft legislation is produced and throughout the legislative process.
The Crown must provide adequate funding to ensure that First Nations can effectively participate throughout the consultation process.
Those are important points. We are hearing from first nations from coast to coast to coast who do not feel that kind of process has been followed.
Information was provided to me, which was gathered by another individual under an access to information request. It was discovered that in the draft legislation proposal for first nations education, 293 documents were received in response to the access to information. Of those 293 documents, 236 were clearly against the legislation and/or expressed concern regarding consultation, and only 7 were for it, yet when we see the draft legislation that came out and the legislation that is now before the House, although some changes have been made, they are not significant.
If we want to talk about a respectful relationship, if we want to talk about consultation and collaboration, if we want to talk about joint development, then we need to tell first nations that we heard the 236 concerns and this is how they were addressed in this piece of legislation, or this is why they were not addressed. I have not heard from one person who submitted a comment who heard back from the government saying why it was or was not included.
In lining those up and in hearing concerns from across the country, New Democrats did what any responsible parliamentarian would do, and we wrote to the minister. We wrote to the minister before this legislation was debated today at second reading. We told the minister that we all agree that first nations education is important and that New Democrats believe that first nations control over first nations education is not only important but an inherent right.
In that spirit we asked the minister if he would consider referring the bill to committee before second reading because that would allow us to have a much broader look at it and a better ability to amend this legislation that many people feel is flawed. It was really no surprise to most of us that the minister said no, and here we are debating the bill at second reading, which will limit our ability to change it.
I want to turn to some of the concerns that have been raised because it is important that it is just not my voice talking about the concerns. We are hearing from the first nation chiefs and councils and first nation community members who are going to be the ones who will be directly impacted by the legislation.
In my question to the minister, I read into the record the request from Vice Chief Bobby Cameron asking the federal government to confirm in writing its commitment that first nations would have jurisdiction and control over their education system. I want to reiterate that, because when I asked the minister this question, I did not get a commitment that the minister would sign off on the letter that was sent on April 11.
This is an important matter. As I pointed out to the minister, there is a lack of trust between first nations and the government, and that is not just the current government. This has a long, sorry, sad history in Canada of a Colonial approach which says that the government knows best and first nations need to do what they are told.
First nations are saying that they understand their communities. They know what their treaty and inherent rights are. They understand their culture and language. They want to work with the government to develop legislation and they ask the government to truly commit to that co-creation process, but it will not do that.
We have to ask why. I have spoken about this a number of times in the House. What is it that the government thinks it knows best so first nations are not at the table as meaningful partners throughout the entire process?
Consultation does not mean, “what do you think?” Consultation means providing the resources and information, that first nations determine who will sit at the table and that they sit at the table from beginning to end. They do not just say to the government that this is what they think and the government goes behind closed doors and dreams up something without their input on the final product.
The fact that the minister will not commit to that in writing is a concern for first nations.
The First Nations Education Council through the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador had done a detailed brief. I will not have time to go through the whole brief, but it maintains that many of the five conditions that were set out have not been met.
The brief starts off with the first condition, respecting and recognizing inherent rights and aboriginal titled treaty rights, not being met:
—the bill does not in any way recognize the legal jurisdiction of the First Nations, nor does it promote implementation of the policy statement.
In the brief, it goes through the bill in detail, section by section, for example, sections 20, 23, 27 and 47. It says:
The exercise of legal jurisdiction entails the power to pass laws but in this case the power of First Nations is limited to adopting administrative regulations in accordance with the bill.
It highlights throughout this document how many times the bill says “may”, which is a tricky word. The word “may” does not compel a minister to do something. The minister “may” do something. The more important word is that the minister “shall”, but that is absent. Throughout the proposed legislation, we find this time and time again, that the minister “may”.
The minister referenced the joint council and talked about how it would be providing advice, but there is nothing in the act that actually says the minister will follow the advice of the joint council. It will provide advice, but so what?
I want to read from a couple of other news releases because I want to give the flavour. I have already noted Quebec and Labrador and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, UBCIC, says that:
Bill C-33 reflects Canada’s interpretation of control by ensuring that control remains with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs with 'advice' from a Joint Council of Education Professionals leaving First Nations across the country to choose from the menu set by the federal government” stated Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President.
The news release states:
The Bill imposes increased federal supervision, burdensome compliance and enforcement requirements, by imposing unilateral national standards and increased administrative reporting. With this bill, the federal government is plowing ahead with its punitive “take it or leave it, resistance is futile” approach to First Nations where the Minister reigns and remains the supreme authority to appoint third party management or revoke a designation of a First Nation Education Authority.
I think that is pretty clear.
Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee stated:
The Minister of Indian Affairs has all the power and authority over First Nations education while taking on no legal responsibility whatsoever—that’s the reality of the kind of control this government is talking about...We asked for an integration of language and culture, but they’re making French and English mandatory with an option of First Nation language, if the Minister approves it....We asked for fair and equitable funding, so they announce vague promises of increased funding after the next federal election with no specifics on how it will be allocated.
Regional Chief Stan Beardy stated:
Bill C-33 continues to take a disciplinary approach rather than a collaborative approach to improving First Nations education. First Nations have much more innovative ideas on how a collaborative approach would serve our students better but once again, we weren’t involved in the direction of a bill that affects our future.
I already mentioned the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador that have done a thorough analysis. This is an important piece because the government asks where the solutions are, but Chief Gilbert Whiteduck said:
Let's be very clear, all our Chiefs, all our teachers and all our specialists have been engaged for decades to ensure our young people get quality educational services to which they are entitled and that the federal Government refuses to provide them. We have proposed repeatedly concrete solutions that the federal Government systematically refuses to listen too. He prefers to impose on us its views...
There are many more than I have time to read into this record. However, I wanted to conclude with an analysis of the first nations control of first nations education by Wab Kinew. He does a detailed analysis on this. He concludes:
Yet in the bill tabled today, the government does not use the words fair or equal. Instead it will fund education of a “quality reasonably comparable” to provincial schools in similar locations and with similar demographics. This is not inspiring language. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of equality, not reasonable comparability.
On that note, the New Democrats will be opposing this bill at second reading.
Mr. Speaker, improving educational attainment for first nations students is one of the most pressing social justice issues in Canada. It is absolutely fundamental in ensuring the equality of opportunity for first nations in Canada.
Shockingly, still only one third of those living on reserve achieve a high school leaving certificate, compared to 78% for other Canadians. All Canadians should see this gap as totally unacceptable. It is quite clear that the status quo is just not good enough. As the House has heard already, the Auditor General of Canada, in 2011, and the government's own 2012 evaluation of on-reserve education both made it clear that education opportunities and results that are comparable to the Canadian population are not being achieved.
Although first nations have made meaningful strides to improve education themselves, a lack of proper resources and systemic structural problems in the first nations education system have severely limited their progress. Fixing those structural problems must be grounded in a process that is first nations-led, and one that recognizes first nations' inherent and treaty rights.
Unfortunately, the approach of the Conservative government has been rooted in unilateralism and paternalism.
It is currently estimated that it will take nearly 30 years to fix this.
All Canadian children have a right to basic education and for first nations it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that access. The unacceptable gaps in educational attainment between first nations people on reserve and the rest of the Canadian population is not only a profound social injustice but represents a huge loss to the Canadian economy. In the economy of the 21st century, access to jobs and even skills training requires a high school and often, post-secondary education. We know youth who graduate high school are twice as likely to find a job as those who do not. Research shows that aboriginal high school graduates have almost the same post-secondary participation rate as non-aboriginal high school graduates.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has identified Canada's labour skills shortage as one of the 10 biggest barriers to Canadian competitiveness and the aboriginal population “a huge potential workforce” that we must support more.
Furthermore, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives has clearly stated that the government needs to improve education and skill levels in the aboriginal population and create more opportunities for aboriginal peoples, to enable them to participate fully in the economy.
The Canadian business community now gets it. It believes engaging the aboriginal population in Canada, the youngest and fastest growing population in the country, is fundamental to dealing with an aging population and the current disconnect between worker skills and labour market needs.
The question is, how do we ensure first nations students have the equality of opportunity they deserve and that first nations communities and the Canadian economy benefit from the huge potential of the current generation of aboriginal young people?
It was 10 years ago that first nations, Inuit, and Métis leadership met across the street with provincial, territorial, and federal ministers to begin the process that ended in October 2005 with the Kelowna accord. Indigenous leadership chose five areas to focus upon: health, education, housing and infrastructure, economic development, and accountability. They divided into working groups and then developed real strategies: what, by when, and how. The necessary budget was determined and the then-Liberal government booked the money in the fiscal framework. For education, a hard target was determined that within 10 years, first nations students would complete high school at the same rate as the Canadian average. The $1.7 billion was booked over five years with the promise that additional resources would be available to meet that target if needed.
Unfortunately, the Kelowna accord was not honoured by this government. Aboriginal youth paid the price, and Canada is worse off as a result.
Liberals know that simply bringing back the Kelowna accord a decade later is not possible, but we do believe that the true partnership that led to that breakthrough holds the key to improving current education outcomes for aboriginal peoples. We feel that this was a lost decade in that still only one third of first nations students living on reserve are finishing high school.
How do we fix it? Beyond the need to recognize first nations jurisdiction over their own education, we must develop a comprehensive approach to protect language and culture, a mutual accountability framework and adequate, sustainable, and predictable funding. First nations must also be intimately involved in developing every aspect of education reform, not just in terms of legislation and regulation, but any government policy that impacts on the administration of first nations education.
The National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education for Students on Reserve set out the key components of what would be needed to effectively improve on-reserve education, as I was reminded on Monday when I met with the chiefs from Quebec. Among its 2012 recommendations was for the federal government and first nations to “Co-create a Child-Centred First Nation Education Act”.
Instead of working in collaboration with first nations to co-develop this legislation, as the panel recommended, the government released a unilateral one-size-fits-all proposal last fall.
This proposed legislation for first nations education was quickly rejected by first nations and educators from coast to coast to coast.
Building on the work of the national panel and the first nations communities, chiefs from across Canada passed a resolution last December setting out five conditions that must be met for any first nations education reform to be acceptable.
That resolution called for: one, the recognition of first nations jurisdiction respect for treaty and rights; two, a statutory guarantee of funding; three, funding for language and culture; four, reciprocal accountability; and five, ongoing meaningful dialogue.
We now have before us Bill , which is the latest attempt by the Conservative government to restructure the on-reserve education system. The December AFN resolution provides an excellent lens to assess whether the bill will actually deliver what first nations have been working toward for the last 30 years, meaningful control over their own education system.
While some people have suggested that Bill is a good start, first nations have also expressed many concerns about this bill.
In the model proposed by Bill , the Aboriginal Affairs Department becomes a ministry of education, as well as a national school board, and in some cases, actually operates first nations schools.
While the bill has been renamed the first nations control of first nations education act, the bill itself does little in terms of jurisdiction beyond entrenching the delegation of day-to-day management that has already been government policy for the last 30 years.
Many first nations have told me that they are worried about the fact that the body of the bill does not reflect the title or the conciliatory language of the preamble.
Put simply, the bill fails to expressly recognize first nations jurisdiction over first nations education.
Further, first nations are very concerned that the minister retains extensive powers, arguably more power than he currently has under the Indian Act, to intervene in the administration of first nations schools. These excessive powers of the minister include the ability to effectively oppose third party management on first nations education authorities and even disband responsible education authorities based on broad and ill-defined criteria.
The bill should actually enable the transfer of law-making authority to first nations related to education like sectoral self-government arrangements. We have seen this before regarding land management under the First Nations Land Management Act, or for taxation, financial administration, and public financing under the First Nations Fiscal Management Act. It does not.
Furthermore, the minister's discretionary powers are very broad and, for the most part, unnecessary. Those powers should be limited and, in many cases, eliminated.
There is no question that stable and predictable funding, which was announced, confirmed, in budget 2014, is a step in the right direction. This increased funding is particularly welcome given that as recently as January this year, the then minister was denying that there was a funding gap for students attending school on reserve. However, it is completely unacceptable that the government is delaying money to help close the annual per student funding gap until 2016-17. As a result, first nations students on reserve will have to wait at least another two years before the significant funding gap, compared to their provincial counterparts, will even begin to close. This is patently wrong. First nations students should not have to wait one more day for the equitable funding they deserve. The money should have flowed immediately.
I am hearing across the country that people are very concerned that the language and culture funding cannot be stolen from other areas in terms of core curricular activity. Language and culture is essential to the secure personal cultural identity of first nations students, and it is essential to their actually doing well in educational outcomes, health outcomes, and economic outcomes.
There is also some serious concern across the country about the need for funding for special needs students, which unfortunately are in great numbers in the first nations schools. They want to see that the funding is secure, and again, is not coming out of other core funding needs.
Mutual accountability is also an issue. While the accountability will be an important component of effective education reform, that accountability must not amount to responsibilities being downloaded to first nations without the corresponding authority or resources to fulfill them. It should also not include unnecessarily paternalistic oversight powers, exercised by the minister, in Ottawa. First nations expect a truly reciprocal partnership in terms of the evaluation and oversight of a restructured first nations education system.
Bill would establish a joint council of educational professionals, and the government points to this body as ensuring mutual accountability and oversight of the new system. However, the joint council, ultimately appointed by the Governor in Council, would only advise the minister and would be answerable to the minister. It would not be mutually accountable. It is not accountable to first nations. It would not even be a shared governance entity, as are, for example, the First Nations Financial Management Board and the First Nations Tax Commission, and it would have no meaningful statutory power. With the exception of its responsibility for carrying out a review of the act and its associated regulations every five years, there are no other specific functions or powers identified in the bill.
First nations have also expressed serious concerns about the makeup of the joint council.
The bill would rovide the Governor in Council with the discretion to appoint a minimum of five and a maximum of nine members, on the advice of the minister, and would only require one to be nominated by an entity representing first nations' interests. I do not believe that this is first nations control over first nations education. The phrase “entity representing the interests of First Nations” is not properly defined, and the minister would also retain the authority to remove members of the body during their five-year term. The potential imbalance in the composition of this body and the vagueness regarding its powers and responsibility undermines its credibility and falls far short of the mutual accountability that first nations rightly expect.
While I understand that there have been some discussions between the government and the AFN about entering into a political protocol to bring clarity on the function of this body, something so fundamental to the legislation should be in the bill itself. There is a need for more creative machinery of government here. What is needed is a responsible and accountable first nations institution to support responsible and accountable local governance and the delivery of quality education services that are adequately funded. The bill should define the powers and functions of this body and address concerns about the broad discretion of the government to appoint its members, and particularly, we are hearing, the chair.
We believe that the bill should ensure that a majority of the members of the joint council are first nations and should mandate that the chair of the joint council be a first nations nominee. The bill should also include a mechanism to ensure appropriate regional representation on the joint council.
Bill provides the minister with the regulatory authority to determine the extent of the use of a first nations language as a language of instruction. First nations have questioned why the minister finds it necessary to retain that authority.
Questions have also been raised about its potential impact on immersion programs.
Although the minister has stated that Bill legally supports “the incorporation of First Nation language and culture programming in the education curriculum, including [the ability to administer] immersion in a First Nation language”, there are serious questions about whether regulations, which are yet to be developed, would actually do this.
In terms of the ongoing dialogue that will be essential for improving first nations educational outcomes, the Conservative government's cynical and unilateral approach to aboriginal issues thus far has badly undermined the trust of first nations. This is extremely problematic for the needed good-faith discussions going forward.
There are numerous sections of the bill that are excessively prescriptive, and given that there is no requirement in the legislation for meaningful consultation on regulations and tight timelines, there are very real concerns about whether first nations will be sufficiently engaged in developing those regulations.
We have listened to many concerns of first nations across the country, and in their opinion, the bill only partially meets the five conditions. Moreover, it would actually create a system that is administratively top heavy, which would put excessive power into the hands of the minister. The bill would essentially make the the new ministry of first nations education.
Bill still needs a lot of fundamental work. The bill needs to live up to its title: first nations control of first nations education.
We will continue to work with the government on this, but we believe that, unfortunately, the trust of first nations has been irreparably damaged by the government.
We look forward to a real solution. We will continue to work with first nations and the government on this. This is too important to get wrong.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have this opportunity to rise and voice my support for Bill , the first nations control of first nations education act.
I have to say I am disappointed that the opposition members have indicated that they will not support this bill. It is an important initiative, and a lot of work has gone into it with first nations, precisely as we have said. We have been working on this legislation with first nations for years. They have been calling for it for decades. As the minister noted, first nations have long called for first nations control of first nations education, dating back as early as a 1972 policy paper on education by the National Indian Brotherhood. It is a principle that has been repeatedly called for in many reports and academic studies since then.
I am proud to be a part of this government, the only government that has heeded these calls for first nations control over first nations education, that has worked with first nations to address their concerns and has moved forward with the introduction of legislation that would, at long last, put an end to the patriarchal and colonial approach to first nations education and would instead put the best interests of first nations children first, respecting that first nations know best how to educate their own children.
Anyone who has read the bill will be able to clearly see that first nations control is at the very core of the bill before us today. However, it has been a long journey to get here. I want to take this opportunity to explain the significance of returning control of first nations education to first nations through force of law. To do so, history must be acknowledged.
The Government of Canada first began to play a role in the development and administration of Indian residential schools in 1874. Throughout this dark chapter in Canadian history, some 150,000 aboriginal children were separated from their families and communities to attend residential schools. While most Indian residential schools ceased to operate by the mid-1970s, the last federally run residential school closed only in the late 1990s.
In 2006, again it was our government and this that announced the Indian residential schools settlement agreement, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history. In 2008, the Prime Minister offered an historic apology to former students of Indian residential schools on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians. The apology acknowledged that the policy of assimilation was wrong, had caused great harm, and had no place in our country.
The legacy of Indian residential schools is still felt today by aboriginal people across Canada. Our government recognizes this, and that is why we have placed such importance on reconciliation and the renewal of Canada's relationship with aboriginal people. First nations control over first nations education is part of the commitment to closing the door on this chapter and moving forward in reconciliation.
Our government is proud of the deeply collaborative approach that has been taken on this important file, and we are seeing the results. From the outset, our government committed to working with first nations to develop a first nations education act. Consultation and engagement with first nations parents, students, leaders, and educators, as well as the provinces, were integral to the development and drafting of the legislation we are talking about here today.
This critical reform of first nations education is informed by discussions that have taken place for decades, including a series of engagement processes over the last several years. I want to highlight some of the important milestones.
In 2011, our government and the Assembly of First Nations jointly launched a national panel on first nations elementary and secondary education. Over the course of five months, the national panel held seven regional round tables and one national round table. Panel members visited 25 schools and 30 first nations communities across Canada, meeting with key individuals and organizations in each region. In its final report, the national panel described education legislation as a fundamental part of an education system. In the words of the national panel, legislation:
...establishes and protects the rights of the child to a quality education, ensures predictable and sufficient funding, provides the framework for the implementation of education support structures and services, and sets out the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of all partners in the system.
Following the report, our government made a commitment in economic action plan 2012 to put first nation education legislation in place and launched an intensive consultation process in December of 2012.
The consultation process consisted of two stages. First, our government shared a discussion guide with all first nations across Canada. The discussion guide informed first nations of components that could be covered in proposed elementary and secondary education legislation for first nations on reserve. The guide was informed by years of studies, audits, and reports, including the June 2011 status report of the Auditor General of Canada, the 2011 report by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and the 2012 report of the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education for Students on Reserve.
From January to May of 2013, our government engaged first nation parents, youth, educators, provincial partners, and others with an interest or expertise in education through regional consultation sessions across the country. As well, more than 30 video and teleconferences were held, and opportunities, including email submissions and online surveys, were made available to provide additional input.
Areas of interest and concern raised throughout these consultation activities included first nations control over first nations education, funding, the transition to a legislated system, parental involvement in education, language and culture, and aboriginal and treaty rights.
After considering the findings from the national panel and the feedback received through the consultation process, the government developed an annotated outline of the proposed legislation. The blueprint, called “Developing a First Nation Education Act—A Blueprint for Legislation”, was released in July 2013. It was shared with first nation chiefs and councils, first nation organizations, provincial governments, and others with an expertise or interest in first nation education for their feedback.
In October 2013, following additional feedback and comments in response to the blueprint, the government released “Working Together for First Nation Students: A Proposal for a Bill on First Nation Education”.
In addition to posting this draft legislative proposal on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website, our government shared the draft legislative proposal with more than 600 chiefs and band councils and every first nation community across the country, as well as provincial governments, for their input.
We have undertaken unprecedented and intensive consultations with first nations across this country, which have led to the exchange of open letters and dialogue between the and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
In November 2013, the Assembly of First Nations released an open letter to the Government of Canada asking for collaboration on five issues. These issues included first nation control and respecting inherent and treaty rights, a statutory guarantee for adequate and fair funding for education, support for first nation languages and cultures, jointly determined oversight that respects first nation rights and responsibilities, and an ongoing process of meaningful dialogue.
In December 2013 my colleague, the , responded in an open letter with a commitment to address the issues raised. Our government worked with the Assembly of First Nations to address its five conditions for success.
It is in this context that we can understand the importance of the February 7, 2014, announcement by the and the Assembly of First Nations to move forward on first nations primary and secondary education as an historic moment for Canada-first nations relations.
The stood with the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and announced an unprecedented $1.9 billion in new funding through three streams: statutory funding with an unprecedented annual rate of growth, transition funding to support the new legislative framework, and funding for long-term investments in on-reserve school infrastructure.
This historic announcement was reinforced through economic action plan 2014, which would ensure stable and predictable funding consistent with provincial education funding models.
In addition to current funding, core transfer funding in the amount of $1.252 billion over three years, beginning in 2016-17, would be implemented through the act and would also increase annually by 4.5%. The core transfer would include funding for language and cultural programing.
This funding responds to one of the five conditions for success set out in a resolution by the Assembly of First Nations, endorsed by Chiefs-in-Assembly in December 2013. While it is important in the context of reconciliation, integrating languages and cultural programs into schools also increases parent and community involvement and supports student success.
As demonstrated by the name, first nations control is the central principle upon which this proposed legislation is based. It would recognize the ability and responsibility of first nations to educate their students. It would recognize the importance of treaty and aboriginal rights, which are protected by the Constitution, and it would not apply to first nations who are taking part in existing comprehensive or sectoral self-government agreements that cover education.
When our government announced our intention to introduce legislation, we made it clear that the partnership does not end with the introduction of a bill. Going forward, through the creation and role of the joint council of education professionals as proposed by this bill, Canada and the Assembly of First Nations would continue to explore ways to further engage first nations as part of the commitment to respecting first nations control over first nations education.
This partnership with the first nations, as I said, does not end with the introduction of this bill. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has extended an invitation to the AFN to work on a political protocol to establish how the members of the joint council would be chosen. This would ensure meaningful input from first nations and elaborate on how the joint council would work with first nations to develop the act's regulations. The government looks forward to continuing our partnership with the AFN in developing this political protocol.
Full implementation of the proposed legislation would occur in steps over a three-year period; from royal assent, to coming into force, and the application of the first and second sets of regulations. First nations and all Canadians would have the opportunity to continue engaging during this parliamentary process.
In addition, if and when this bill receives royal assent, our government will work with first nations to ensure that there is a smooth transition for communities and first nations education organizations, and has committed the funding to do so.
The proposed legislation would ensure first nations control of first nations education while establishing a legislative framework that sets out standards consistent with provincial standards off reserve, standards that are common to students across Canada.
The act would establish five core standards: access to education, a recognized certificate or diploma, certified teachers, a minimum number of instructional hours and instructional days, and transferability of students between systems without penalty.
For example, the act would require that first nations schools teach a core curriculum that meets or exceeds provincial standards and that students meet minimum attendance requirements. It would require that teachers are certified and that first nations schools award recognized diplomas or certificates.
All other decisions on standards would be made by first nations who would control the schools. Specific details that support standards would be contained in the regulations. As part of the announcement on education in February, our government and the Assembly of First Nations agreed to collaborate on the development of these regulations.
The choice of which governance model to pursue would be up to each individual first nation. While the Government of Canada would be encouraging the development of aggregates through the creation of first nations education authorities, each first nation would have to make the determination on which governance option would best address the educational needs of their students while meeting the standards as laid out in the legislative framework. First nations could choose to continue to operate schools directly, establish or delegate their authority to operate schools to a first nations education authority, or enter into agreements with provincial school boards to operate on-reserve schools.
First nations students, parents, families, communities, schools, teachers, and administrators would all have roles and responsibilities in the implementation of the act, as would governments, the joint council of education professionals, and first nations educational organizations.
The proposed legislation would establish clear structures, roles and responsibilities, service delivery standards, and accountabilities in a measurable way. It would introduce a system of rigour and accountability that has not existed in the past.
The joint council of education professionals would support this approach through its robust oversight role, its review of annual reports, and its advice to the minister on how to respond to the findings of school inspections. Further, its role would support first nations councils and first nations education authorities in the improvement of their education system, as well as the oversight role of ensuring that the ministerial powers provided by the act are exercised with the benefit of the first nations perspective and used only as a last resort.
Results on the achievement of standards would be monitored and reported on regularly by the responsible education authority selected by the first nations community. Where required, school success plans would set out how to improve performance. These reports would be overseen by the joint council of education professionals, which would make recommendations to the minister when further steps are necessary to protect student well-being.
Under exceptional circumstances and as a last resort, the minister may appoint a temporary administrator after seeking advice from the joint council of education professionals. This provision would only be exercised in exceptional circumstances, such as where inspection reports have not been submitted, significant issues have been revealed, or there is significant risk to student well-being and success. The joint council would also conduct a review of the legislation after five years.
Members would be chosen for their recognized experience and education and their knowledge of education in first nations communities. As previously mentioned, the minister is committed to concluding a political protocol with the AFN to establish an appointment process for the joint council.
The joint council of education professionals is a key change to the draft legislative proposal shared in October 2013. It responds directly to first nations concerns about the unilateral authority of the minister to intervene in the administration of first nations education. I would also like to note that we agree with National Chief Shawn Atleo that Bill is not a replacement for self-government, but, rather, a bridge to support first nations in establishing their own first nation-controlled education systems that respond to their own traditions and priorities.
What we all agree on is that every child in this country has a right to a quality education no matter where he or she lives in Canada. We can also agree that despite the best efforts of countless parents, teachers, and communities, too many first nations children are being left behind. We stand behind the consultation and engagement process that supported the development of Bill . Our government conducted extensive consultation activities, which allowed for a fruitful dialogue with first nations organizations and individuals on the content of the proposed legislation.
The historic way forward with the Assembly of First Nations is reflective of this constructive exchange with first nations. I am proud of the deeply collaborative approach that we have taken on this file. Working closely with first nations we have reached an historic agreement on education, something that has been desperately needed for generations. Bill represents an important step forward together. We will continue to focus our energies to work even harder now to ensure improved outcomes for first nations students on reserve. Every child in this country has a right to a quality education no matter where he or she lives.
To quote National Chief Shawn Atleo, “This work is simply too important to walk away and abandon our students to the next round of discussions...” I urge my colleagues on all sides of the House to support the speedy passage of Bill to create a first nations-controlled system of first nations education in Canada.