Mr. Speaker, let us resume where we left off a few minutes ago.
Following consideration of Bill , as well as the study I did with my colleagues and the meeting that took place two days ago with representatives from APTN and the Assembly of First Nations, in the office of the Leader of the Opposition, I have been telling my colleagues that we need to stand back when first nations take assertive action. They want to be heard and they will very likely mobilize in the upcoming months because of this draft bill on first nations education. By that, I mean let us not try to score political points.
In my last few years in the House, all too often I have noticed that some politicians, regardless of their party affiliation, usually try to score political points at public gatherings. Given the identity issue that is primarily at stake in this bill, namely first nations education, we must act judiciously. That is why first nations must be front and centre and their assertive action, their own arguments and their own points must take precedence.
It is also important to recognize that education is chronically underfunded, which naturally affects the quality of education offered in remote first nations communities. Unlike what has been claimed, it is the chronic under-funding that has affected the delivery of education services in most of the remote regions. This contradicts the claims we have heard here and what the bill is trying to imply in a roundabout way, namely that the first nations are responsible for overseeing and maintaining the quality of education and that they should shoulder the blame for their lax approach to integrating and applying the recognized education principles.
Statistics and interventions show that the chronic underfunding has been primarily responsible for the adversity in these communities. My chief said that communities can receive up to 35% less funding than the rest of the Canadian public might receive.
Therefore, the first nations members, teachers, principals, and staff who are responsible for education have had to make do with less funding and under less-than-ideal conditions. The very fact that I am here today and that there has been an increase in the level of education in these communities is evidence of the resilience of first nations members.
The government must also try to get the consent and support of community members when it enacts public policy, which has not been done or has not been done often enough. With this bill and with many others, the Conservatives have shown a rather narrow view of the concept of consultation, research and consent. I have witnessed this in my few years in the House.
That is why members of first nations, who are the primary stakeholders, were only somewhat involved. In fact, their degree of involvement remains unclear to this day. The AFNQL told us that it had not been consulted, and the vast majority of first nations members said the same. That is deeply deplorable considering the nature of the issue, the education of first nations people, which is closely linked to their identity and will ultimately lead to self-determination, a basic principle of our justice system and our parliamentary system. Self-determination of peoples can be achieved only by emancipation through education. That is why primary stakeholders must be involved in the drafting and enactment of this particular kind of bill.
It is important to keep in mind that the honour of the crown and the responsibility of the state are inextricably linked to the enactment of public policies that affect matters relating to the quiddity of being Indian. Identity and quiddity are synonyms, but there are differences. The term “quiddity” is used primarily in a legal and “aboriginal law” context.
The education of first nations is also covered by the fiduciary responsibility that must be observed between the crown and first nations. That is my understanding, and I think that many jurists in the country would agree. As such, attempting to attribute all of the blame for the questionable outcomes of education in these communities to teachers and first nations is quite inappropriate.
Canada is currently in an uncomfortable international spotlight. UN representatives, auditors and rapporteurs have come here over the past two years because our reputation has gone beyond our borders.
Europeans, who know a thing or two about this, decided to come take a look at what is going on with respect to education, housing and food.
I met two of those rapporteurs, so I know that Canada's human rights reputation is suffering worldwide. That is the subject of another debate.
Education is covered by this fiduciary relationship. The honour of the crown and the Government of Canada are involved every time that appalling situations come to light. Just six days ago, I was in an Innu community in Pakuashipi where members mentioned that educational adaptation is necessary, given the distance, remoteness and cultural subtleties of aboriginal communities. Teachers had to adapt out of necessity. Sometimes, children are simply brought into the forest because it is nearby. It is culturally relevant and part of the nomadic cycle and life cycle of these communities. Therefore, adjustments need to be made.
The Government of Canada must consider these specific characteristics when it drafts bills like this. Moreover, when this kind of reform is put forward, stakeholders in the community must truly be involved. Otherwise, it remains an empty shell. In this case, I would go so far as to say that authoritarianism is at play here. I will come back to that later.
The substance of the bill submitted for our consideration today shows this desire to control and interfere that is oftentimes selective. The Conservative government is trying to intervene selectively in the things that might cast an unfavourable light on the situation internationally and on education. Given that the government was exposed, it is trying to intervene in a draconian way, just as it did in many other areas in recent years. I was able to gauge this desire to intervene. The Conservatives are cherry picking, meaning that they intervene in matters that expose them and that are somewhat comfortable to them.
Therefore, the legislative instrument submitted for the consideration of the House was to outline the obligations and responsibilities of the federal government in the provision of education services on reserves, rather than to exonerate the government of its obligations by transferring the horrible consequences of the chronic underfunding of educational institutions to the institutions' local administration.
The narrative presented so far by stakeholders, who are most often Conservative stakeholders, is that the communities and stakeholders are responsible for the quality of education, even though the chronic underfunding has now been calculated. Indeed, the chronic underfunding has been calculated at a rate of 35%. My boss, the , announced that.
I would point out in passing that, under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, the Government of Canada is responsible for Indians and lands reserved for Indians. That is the first building block in our institution.
The government must provide education from kindergarten to grade 12 on reserve, and it must provide measures for post-secondary education. This must involve financial investments wherever they are needed. So far, this dynamic has received the most exposure.
There was tacit recognition in rather oblique language when the announced recently, with a great deal of hype, that there would be a huge financial investment in either 2016 or 2017. Those funds are needed now, not in 2016, because there is a dire need.
Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that this is a step forward. There had been no such recognition up until now. The government therefore took a step forward and indicated that if $2.4 billion—if memory serves—needs to be invested in 2016, that means that this area is now drastically underfunded. Now the question is what other areas will it pilfer from to come up with that money, but that is not my problem.
The selective interventionism and punitive nature of the Conservative government's initiatives clearly illustrate the inadequacy of the “my way or the highway” approach to providing services to the public and meeting government obligations regarding basic rights. I am talking about the punitive nature and selective interventionism because I have seen them first-hand, since I travel around to communities that have asserted their rights and have taken a stand, and are now being punished for it.
This is punishment. The government is simply making cuts. The government finds that the number of students does not correspond to the list that dates back to who knows when, and for that reason it is cutting $460,000 from the budget. For a remote community, that is a lot of money. These are punitive measures. Make no mistake.
Now I will say a few words about the moves the Conservatives keep making to off-load their obligations and their responsibility for government inaction on education for first nations youth by shifting the blame onto local stakeholders who have to deal with difficult conditions and limited resources.
The current government is trying to off-load its obligations not only to Canada's aboriginal peoples, but also in terms of providing services. We saw that with Canada Post. It is trying to off-load its obligations. Service delivery is more or less favourable, more or less on this government's agenda. In any case, the government will have to change its position, what with the general election just around the corner. Soon we will likely see the government handing out goodies, if I may put it that way.
Let me read a subclause that was brought to my attention; it belongs to a different time. The last time I had to analyze a section of legislation that reads a contrario goes back at least 13 or 14 years, when I got into law school. That is certainly a different time, but here it is still: clause 41 of the bill before us today reads as follows:
41. (1) The director of education, the principal, the teachers and the other staff of a school must provide all reasonable assistance to enable the temporary administrator of the school to exercise their powers and perform their functions and must provide any information relevant to the administration of the school that the temporary administrator requires. They must also comply with any direction given by the temporary administrator relating to the administration of the school.
Subclause 2 is where the harm lies:
No proceedings lie against any person referred to in subsection (1) for having in good faith provided the temporary administrator with assistance or information or complied with their directions.
Strangely enough, the title of the subclause is “Immunity”. We know, of course, that the Conservatives often use a word to mean the opposite—they talk of transparency and the , even though there is actually nothing very fair about it—and this subclause is no exception. If you read it a contrario, it means that the director of education, the principal, the teachers, and the other staff members of a school can be sued if they do not provide the administrator with assistance in good faith.
It remains to be seen what good faith is and what level of co-operation is adequate in the eyes of the Conservatives and the minister. Ultimately, I very much doubt that the minister will be the one making the assessment. This kind of not-so-veiled threat is really disgraceful. Circumstances will make the Conservatives see that they are not the only ones able to make threats like that. They may have to put up with some heat this summer.
I submit this respectfully.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the member for .
I rise in the House today in support of Bill , the first nations control of first nations education act. I am proud to be a part of a government that supports first nations education success. 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. Consultations and engagement with first nation parents, students, leaders and educators, as well as the provinces, were integral to the development and drafting of this proposed legislation. I would like to highlight some important milestones.
In 2011, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations jointly launched a national panel on first nation 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 in 30 first nation 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 this report, our government made a commitment in economic action plan 2012 to put in place first nation education legislation and launched an intensive consultation process in December 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 which would 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 2011 June 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.
From January to May 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 included email submissions and an online survey to make available and 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 treaty and treaty rights.
After considering the findings from the national panel and feedback received through the consultation process, our government developed an annotated outline of the proposed legislation. The blueprint was released in July 2013. It was shared with first nations chiefs and councils, organizations, provincial governments, and others with an expertise or interest in first nation education for 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 further 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 included first nation control and respecting inherent and treaty rights, a statutory guarantee for funding for education, support for first nation languages and cultures, jointly determined oversight that respects first nation rights and responsibilities, and, finally, an ongoing process of meaningful engagement.
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. As a result, in February 2014, Canada and the Assembly of First Nations announced the first nations control of first nations education act.
The bill includes important changes, such as the creation of a joint council of education professionals to provide advice and support to first nations and the Government of Canada on the implementation and oversight of the first nations control of first nations education act; first nations control in incorporating language and culture programming in education curricula, and providing funding for language and culture programming within the statutory funding stream; third, a commitment by the government to work in collaboration with first nations to develop the bill's regulations; and last, adequate, stable, predictable, and sustainable funding.
It was a historic moment for Canada-first nations relations, and we must not lose this momentum. These changes responded in full to the AFN's five conditions for success.
Our government has taken an open, transparent, and iterative approach to legislative development, including, as I have mentioned, the unusual step of the online release of draft legislation ahead of time.
We have listened and responded to concerns. Throughout the consultation process, our government provided updates to all first nation chiefs and councils on next steps in the development of a proposed approach to legislation.
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. It would not apply to first nations that are part of an existing comprehensive or sectoral self-government agreement that covers education.
When our government announced our intention to introduce legislation, we made it clear that the partnership does not end with the introduction of the bill. Going forward, through the creation of, and the role of, the joint council of education professionals as proposed in Bill , Canada and the Assembly of First Nations will continue to explore ways to further engage first nations as part of the commitment to respecting first nations control over first nations education.
It is in this vein that the minister is committed to negotiating a political protocol with the AFN on the role and membership of the joint council. First nations and all Canadians will have the opportunity to continue engaging during the parliamentary process.
In addition, 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 it has committed funding to do so.
Given the importance of this issue, these discussions have sometimes raised passionate and differing points of view. What we all agree on is that every child in this country has a right to quality education, no matter where they live in Canada. We can also agree that despite the best efforts of countless parents, teachers, and communities, too many first nation children are being left behind.
The historic way forward with the Assembly of First Nations is reflective of a constructive exchange and consultation process with first nations. I am proud of the deeply collaborative approach we have taken on this file. Working closely with first nations, we have reached a historic agreement on giving first nations control of first nations education, something that has been desperately needed for generations.
Bill represents an important step forward together. Our government will continue to focus our energies to work even harder now to ensure improved outcomes for first nation students on reserve.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising in the House today in support of Bill , the first nations control of first nations education act. I welcome this opportunity to outline the advantages of Bill C-33 and the many benefits it would bring to the first nations and all Canadians.
The proposed legislation would provide flexibility for each first nation, while establishing legislation that sets out standards to encourage students' success. For the first time ever, every first nation youth would have a guaranteed access to the high quality education that all Canadian students enjoy.
I want to speak about the need to improve the quality of education for first nation students and why it is a shared priority for our government and first nations. First, I want to acknowledge the first nation communities across Canada that have demonstrated commitment to improving education for their youth. We have seen the success these approaches can deliver, and we hope that Bill can empower other first nation communities to achieve similar results.
While first nations have worked hard with our government, provincial governments, and other partners to establish quality schools, the vast majority of first nation children do not have the same educational opportunity as other Canadian children do. Statistics show that this has a dire impact on their chances for success later in life.
There are numerous success stories, but we still have an urgent situation at the national level. According to the 2011 national household survey, only 38% of registered natives living on reserves, ages 18 to 24, had completed high school, compared to 87% of non-aboriginal Canadians. I am sure members will agree that this is a shocking and appalling number.
When we consider that aboriginal youth represent the fastest growing segment in the Canadian population, it becomes clear that steps must be taken to close this education gap. Currently, standards vary in on-reserve schools and, as a result, students have no guarantee of being able to transfer to a provincial system without academic penalty or to receive a diploma or certificate that is recognized by their university or employer of choice.
Recognizing that first nations are best placed to determine how to achieve the best results for their communities, the bill is informed by and built upon the fundamental principle of first nations control of first nations education. It gives first nations the same authority that is awarded to provincial school boards. The ability to set curriculum, hire and fire teachers, and set student and teacher evaluations are just a few examples that come to mind.
First nations would retain these authorities as long as they meet basic standards that are legislated in the act, and these would include requirements for teacher certification; requirements for minimum instruction days similar to provincial requirements; a recognized high school diploma; transferability between systems without penalty; and access to education for every first nation student.
These are basic requirements that every school off reserve must fulfill and are essential to ensuring a high quality of education. By setting standards, education legislation ensures that the features of a quality education system are there for our children every day.
In the rest of the country, legislation allows provinces to set standards for schools and school boards, like annual planning, health and safety, and requirements for daily operations. Legislation ensures that everyone involved knows their job and their responsibilities, from education directors and school principals to teachers and parent community committees.
Such legislation is in place in every province and territory in Canada except on first nation reserves. The proposed legislation would provide stable and predictable statutory funding consistent with provincial education funding models. This means the first nation would have the resources to determine the best means for educating its children, integrating language and culture, and developing policies and procedures for its school system.
Equally important is that first nations would be able to choose the governance model for their education system. First nations would get to decide whether they wanted to operate their own community school, whether they wanted to join a first nations education authority, or whether they wanted to participate in a provincial education system.
Supported by funding for governance and administration costs, first nations education authorities would be school-board-like organizations that would be run by first nations and would have the size and capacity to provide participating first nations with functions such as hiring teachers, setting policy, and purchasing supplies, as well as providing a wider range of support services for students. Whether first nations chose to enter into agreements with provinces or decided to form first nations education authorities, these organizations would provide support to schools to ensure they are meeting their requirements under the act and providing a quality education for students.
Let me emphasize again that the bill would establish first nations control over first nations education and would provide first nations with the flexibility to determine what is effective for their students' success. Parents, community members, and first nations leaders would be able to work with school administrators on the operations, planning, and reporting processes in their schools.
In addition to setting important standards, Bill would strengthen governance and accountability and provide mechanisms for stable, predictable, and sustainable funding.
We want to ensure that on-reserve schools provide the support services that are so important in achieving good educational outcomes and in ensuring that first nations children get the resources they need in order to succeed. We want all first nations students to have access to the quality and the quantity of the tools they need to learn: desks, textbooks, computers, sports equipment, and all the rest. We also want to ensure that first nations students are able to transfer seamlessly between schools on reserve and the provincial system if necessary.
First nations students and parents deserve to feel confident in their quality of education and confident that graduation comes with a recognized diploma or certificate so they are prepared to enter the labour force or continue their education.
We know that in order to provide the high quality of education that all other Canadian students enjoy, we need to ensure that first nations students are being taught by certified teachers and are spending a minimum number of days in class each year.
The proposed legislation would help turn the corner for first nations elementary and secondary education. That is why the historic announcement made in February by our with the Assembly of First Nations on first nations control over first nations education legislation included an unprecedented amount of money, $1.9 billion, to support it. When this bill passes, the funding would be guaranteed by law. It would also be subject to a 4.5% escalator, replacing the 2% funding cap that the Liberals put on first nations spending.
The proposed legislation and the new funding respond to the five conditions for success set out in a resolution by the Assembly of First Nations and endorsed by the Chiefs-in-Assembly in December 2013.
These are investments in the future of first nations children and in Canada's prosperity. Bill would establish first nations control over first nations education, with the flexibility for first nations to choose what works best in their communities. It is not about making all on-reserve schools the same; it is about making sure that every student has the same opportunity, no matter where he or she lives in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today and first take note that today is May 1, the international day of solidarity, which is about the workers of the world. My colleagues on this side of the House take that day very seriously. I say this to remind members that “mayday” has a second meaning. Mayday is the international voice call of distress among mariners. That is precisely what we are hearing today from first nations across Canada, with the introduction of Bill .
I put to the House, and I maintain, that Bill is pure Orwellian newspeak at work. In George Orwell's 1984, it was the minister of peace who waged war. It was the ministry of love that oversaw torture. It was the minister of plenty who oversaw rationing. Here we have the Conservative government introducing into Parliament a bill euphemistically called an act for first nations control of first nations education, which should more appropriately be called a bill to increase ministerial power over first nations education and to limit first nations' inherent rights.
Today, as we speak, the minister does not have the long list of powers that this bill is designed to give him by statute. Currently the minister has to rely on a not so genteel form of extortion, by which first nations must agree to sign a contribution agreement, which stipulates those powers to the minister in order to get money to educate their children. Bill would give the minister, who I would remind the House is a person of another culture, another background, and another language and history, all of those intrusive powers by law.
I have news for the minister. The right of first nations to control their education already exists. It is for this Parliament to recognize that right, an inherent right, a right confirmed by sacred treaties, a right recognized by international covenants. I argue that Bill would put limits on those rights by design.
First nations are demanding nothing more than what we already take for granted: the right to see that their children receive an education in accord with their own culture, language, and teaching of history and values. The right was not surrendered by first nations at treaty. It is not necessary to have an act of Parliament to confirm an existing right. All that is needed is a mechanism so that the right can be fulfilled and made manifest and realized by having the means provided to do it. In fact, letting Parliament give that right or afford that right makes it a legislated right and not an inherent right, which is one of the inherent flaws of this bill.
After the exercise in creative writing that is the title of this bill, I ask the House to consider the preamble. We all know that the preamble does not have the effect of committing Canada to doing anything, but I challenge members here today to read those lofty verses in the preamble and then to try to match them in any meaningful way with the real content of the bill.
I will give the House an example. The preamble states:
Whereas First Nations must receive support that enables them to exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities relating to the...education provided to their children;
All that sounds good, but compare that with the actual fact that we offer them a paltry 4.5% annual increase on the already miserly amount they receive now, which is half or less than what their provincial counterparts receive. It would take up to 22 years to catch up, without even considering population increases, inflation, and the increasing cost of education. Compare that with the lofty principles of the language in the preamble. What a cruel deception we are being asked to pass here with this legislation.
Another example in the preamble states:
Whereas First Nations education systems must receive adequate, stable, predictable and sustainable funding...
Then we give them a bill that makes this promise empty, which is an utterly cruel deception and Orwellian doublespeak, if I have ever seen it. These are inherent contradictions meant to deceive.
The minister is crowing that under the current system, there is no recognition of first nations languages and first nations culture, and he is giving them that by virtue of this bill. This is another example of the Eurocentric, paternalistic, colonial attitude of the government. It is not his to give, because that is already their inalienable, inherent right.
First nations can already teach language and culture if they choose to do so. The permission of the minister is not required. However, under Bill , the minister can impose the regulations that would set out how that language and culture would be taught. He can impose the amount of money that can be spent for that purpose. He can impose who is qualified to teach the language and culture and whether the laws of the province apply to the teaching of that language and culture. The end result is that first nations would have less control over the teaching of language and culture than they have now. It is blatantly disingenuous or ignorant to imply otherwise.
Clause 43 is another example of contradictory Orwellian newspeak. It provides that the minister must pay to a first nation education authority an amount of money determined by a calculation, which is what it costs for a provincial public school in a similar location, per pupil, to provide educational services. On first reading, one would assume that by this legislation, they would get the same amount of money as provincial students do, except that reading further, on the very next page, clause 45 of the bill states that the minister will obtain an order in council limiting the amount of money in any fiscal year to whatever amount the minister wants to set, or whatever amount of money the minister can pry out of the hands of his minister of finance around the cabinet table. Presto, the obligation to provide equitable education has just completely vanished, because the reality is that clause 45 trumps, again, the lofty principle, the carrot dangled, by clause 43.
I know that members opposite will say that we have to be fiscally responsible, that we cannot do this all at once, and that it has to be phased in gradually. In actual fact, there are two problems with that argument. The first is that if a first nations school decides it can no longer deprive its children of the education they deserve and decides to send its children to a nearby provincial school, the minister will pay that full school tuition for those students, double the amount he planned to spend if those children stayed on reserve. The money will be there for that, so why is it not available as a first option for students to stay at the reserve school?
The second reason is a larger picture, perhaps, that we really have to address in the context of this kind of funding question. It is that first nations receive absolutely not one penny from the tens of billions of dollars from oil, minerals, forestry products, and natural resources taken from their lands. It is trillions of dollars over the years if we were to add it up. One cannot tell people that there is no money to provide for the basic needs of first nations children to realize their full potential when we are harvesting tens of billions of dollars per year from first nations lands and territories. In all good conscience, those of us in the House of Commons have to address that fundamental issue. First nations children are Canadian children, and all Canadian children deserve the right to realize their full potential through a quality education.
I want to take a moment to look at the international obligations the bill fails to acknowledge or recognize. The year 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 28 recognizes the right of a child to equal opportunity to have an education.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that indigenous people must have access to schools consistent with language, culture, and values and that “indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages” and cultures.
Article 13 of that UN declaration states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
Bill gives no recognition to any of these international instruments, nor does it acknowledge that Canada has any responsibilities and obligations in this regard. I believe that this is by design, not by any oversight.
We have also heard the minister say that Bill C-33 is a first step, a transition to something better and that this will evolve into something more acceptable in time.
That is exactly what they said about the act for the gradual civilization of the Indians 14 decades ago, and we still have the Indian Act today, an act best described as 140 years of social tragedy, an act unworthy of a western developed democracy. Instead of rising above that act, this piece of legislation is consistent with the Indian Act in that regard.
What is the purpose of this legislation? Clause 3 states:
The purpose of this Act is to provide for the control by First Nations of their education systems by enabling councils of First Nations to administer schools situated on their reserves
That, perhaps more than any one phrase, is the nutshell of the problem.
There is a considerable difference between control of education by first nations and enabling councils to administer the schools. The whole structure of Bill is to give control over first nations education to the minister and then to provide for the administration of the minister's will at the local level by the council. The boss gets to dictate the means of production, and the workers get to decide what colour to paint the lunchroom. That is what this boils down to, but then it would not be a vision of industrial democracy.
In the bill, first nations are finally going to be allowed to be their own Indian agents. Again, that is what this boils down to. They would be the administrators of regulations decided in Ottawa by the minister on their behalf.
The charade continues with clause 7:
The council of a First Nation must, in accordance with this Act, provide access to elementary and secondary education to any person who is ordinarily resident on a reserve
Thus Bill would impose an obligation on a first nation council to provide education, whether or not the resources were provided to do so, and neither is there freedom of the council in how it complies. It must do so in accordance with the bill.
The bill would expand the discretionary powers of the minister in more than one way. If we cannot see what is wrong with that mindset and world view, then we have no right to be addressing such an important subject today.
In clause 10, we come to the joint council of education professionals. Why does the government call it a joint council when all the appointments are made by cabinet, the chair is appointed by cabinet, and the minister can kick out anyone who does not toe the line? That is what a powerless group it would be. Essentially, it would sit and wait until the minister asked for its advice on certain matters, but the minister would be under no obligation to follow the advice or to explain why the advice was not followed. This is not self-determination under any sense of the word, nor does it meet the test of true implementation of authority over the system.
The minister would only be obliged to ask the council for its advice when he wished to do so. We would never know what that advice to the minister was or why it was being implemented, or not, because advice from a statutory body to a minister is considered a confidential cabinet confidence and is protected from release. The council would not be obligated to support first nations control of education.
The minister says that the council would provide oversight to the operation of the act, but unfortunately, Bill provides no oversight powers. Again, it is an inherent flaw in this legislation that is deliberate and not by accident.
When concerns like this are raised, the minister's response is, “trust me”. There will be political protocols, he has assured his doubters. I do not have to remind the House that Ottawa is a boneyard of discarded political protocols. Why does the minister want to wait until after the bill becomes law to offer a protocol? We all know the answer to that question.
In clause 20 of Bill , we move into governance, and again we find what I believe is tricky and calculated deception. We have to read clause 21 with one eye focusing on what the bill says first nations can do and the other eye focusing on the power of the minister to make the regulations. For example, the council must establish policies and procedures; establish education programs, attendance policies,and success plans; monitor the quality of education; and provide the minister with an annual report. The minister says this is evidence of local control.
The bill goes on to provide the minister with the unilateral authority to impose regulations that set out the form and content of the budgets, the plans, the programs, and the policies. The minister may also impose provincial law to govern such matters.
Again, this bill has to be read in its totality, not as isolated clauses selected to make a certain case that local autonomy or local control is in fact a reality.
Clause 21 also provides that first nation language can be the language of instruction, but it has to be in addition to English or French. That clause pretty well wipes out the possibility of immersion instruction. Just imagine telling a French immersion school that it must also be providing parallel instruction in English.
Will there be any extra funding for instruction in a first nation language? Again, Bill is silent in this regard. Then, once again, the instruction of the indigenous language must be provided in accordance with the regulations unilaterally set out by the minister. “Trust me”, the minister says.
I am almost out of time, and I am not even halfway through this bill. It gives cause for us to reflect on just how pockmarked and potholed, with one-way streets, with arrows pointing both ways, this bill really is. I have not had time to mention how the provinces are going to react when the minister starts to force the provinces to pick up part of the tab, bit by bit, until, I would argue, the whole expense is going to be offloaded.
I have been assisted by comments and analysis that are starting to emerge from first nations, and I urge members opposite to do the same.
I will end my formal remarks by pointing out how appalling I find it that a bill of this nature has been subjected to time allocation and closure before the opinions of those first nations can be registered and made manifest before decision-makers and policy-makers.
I cannot imagine anything more contradictory to first nation culture than to shut down debate in a culture that values oral tradition, that values letting everyone's voice be heard until consensus is achieved.
I honestly did not think the Conservatives would have the gall to invoke closure on a bill of this nature, on this subject matter, but they have. They keep saying that the AFN is in favour of this bill, and that is why they are plowing ahead. We have heard from first nations. As of two hours ago, the executive council of the Assembly of First Nations has overridden the opinion of their leader. A resolution to that effect is coming forward.
On May 14, there is a confederacy scheduled for Ottawa where these first nations leaders are going to bring the true position of the affiliates of the Assembly of First Nations to convey their real opinion of this bill, which is unanimously opposed. No one can find a first nation constituency in the country that supports this bill.
To implement it now would be the height of hypocrisy and colonial, Eurocentric arrogance. I say this looking at the , who I think knows better and who knows how offensive to the sensibilities of first nations and all Canadians it would be to continue this legacy of paternalistic colonialism and impose on them a piece of legislation that they are not in favour of.
Whether the Conservatives say their consultation met the test of true consultation or not, and I do not believe it did, the tables have turned as of today. As of two hours ago, this has all changed, yet by May 14, will we even still be debating this bill, or will it have been rammed through the House of Commons and sent on to the Conservative-dominated Senate?
This bill warrants and deserves careful examination. First nations have a right to have input in the legislative process and to give testimony at committee. If there was ever a bill that should be taken on the road by committee for consultation in each region of the country, this is one.
I know it is not my job to ask them questions. They will ask me questions. However, how do the Conservatives justify clamping down debate on such an important piece of legislation, denying the opportunity for first nations to participate in the legislative process? It is beyond me.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with a fellow educator, the member for .
It was 40 years ago this week that I entered my first classroom as a teacher, fresh out of the University of Alberta. One of my instructors was J.W. Chalmers, a great historian on native education and advocate for aboriginal youth. I gained an insight and appreciation for native culture that has stayed with me over the years.
I was also honoured in 1976 to attend the centennial commemoration of the signing of Treaty No. 6 at the Saddle Lake Indian reserve with numerous provincial political leaders, including the former Alberta minister of education, Bob Clarke, premier Peter Lougheed, and NDP leader, Grant Notley. One of the mementoes that I brought back that day was a bumper sticker that not only commemorated the ceremony, but contained a very important message:
As long as the sun shines, the river flows and the grass grows.
That message was in my classroom for the rest of my career, and it is proudly displayed in my office here in Ottawa. It is in that context that I am so proud to be able to speak to this important legislation this afternoon.
There are many reasons to support Bill . Among these, it must be said, are the accountability and governance measures contained in the legislation. They are vital to ensuring that the gap in educational outcomes is closed between first nations children and youth and other Canadian students, which is the ultimate goal of this legislation. The addresses the need for clarity regarding governance and accountability, one of the five priority issues identified by the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and endorses in a resolution by the Assembly of First Nations of December 2013.
As the stated in February, when he and the national chief made this historic announcement:
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.
The fundamental principle on which this bill is founded is establishing first nations control of first nations education. While our Conservative government may be the first to take this important step and to bring this principle into legislation, the idea behind it is actually not something new.
The Government of Canada began the process of devolving control of first nations schools to first nations councils back in 1973. This was, in part, a response to the 1972 policy paper, entitled “Indian Control of Indian Education” and written by the National Indian Brotherhood, now known as the Assembly of First Nations. More recently, the call for legislation that gives control to first nations has been repeated in various reports, studies, and audits, including those done by the Auditor General and the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
While these may have led to small structural improvements, the major piece of legislation devolving control of education to first nations is the one before the House today. As a result of Bill , first nations would, for the first time, have the ability to choose how they want to operate their schools.
They could choose to operate their own community schools, or they could choose to aggregate into a first nations education authority with other first nations in order to manage a number of schools. If such a body is formed, it would effectively serve as a first nations-led and operated school board. Alternatively, they could choose to enter into or continue an existing agreement with the provincial school board to manage a school on reserve.
Whatever the choice, first nations would be responsible for providing first nations students on reserve with access to an elementary and secondary education that would enable them to obtain a recognized high school diploma. Whether a first nation chooses to administer its community school or delegate this responsibility to a first nations education authority, the management of schools and the provision of educational services would need to meet basic conditions set out in regulations.
For example, students and their parents, elders, and community members would need to be consulted on school policies and education programs, including policies or programs that relate to aboriginal language and culture.
First nations councils would also need to report back to their community members. This would enable them to evaluate whether their needs and the needs of their students were being met under the arrangement that they were currently in. These changes would build more robust and responsive education systems for students on reserve. Equally important, they would establish a relationship of mutual accountability among governments, first nations and community members, which would contribute to long-term success in educational administration. In turn, this would improve educational outcomes for first nations, which is of course the overarching objective of Bill .
It is important to understand that in addition to first nations having control over curriculum and the day-to-day management of reserve schools, provincial governments also carry responsibilities. Provinces are important partners in first nations education due to the high rate of student mobility between first nation-operated and provincially operated schools.
In 2011-12, approximately 39% of first nations students attended provincially operated schools subject to tuition agreements. It is important to remember that joining a provincial education system is one of the government's models available to first nations under Bill . As well, provinces have expertise on curricula, criteria for high school graduation and standardized testing, all of which can be of interest to first nations-run schools.
Bill would clarify roles and responsibilities for education on reserve, acknowledging both the Government of Canada's ongoing obligation and the role of the provinces. Most important, however, it would provide a vehicle for first nations to take control of their own education systems.
For their part, first nations' responsibilities reflect the broad control they would have under the legislation, including choosing and implementing one of the three governance options to operate schools and delivery education services; determining appropriate measures for the inclusion of language and culture; developing bylaws to establish policies and procedures for their education systems; exercising responsibilities and accountability for the management of their education system; hiring and firing of teachers, principals, and inspectors; developing curricula; developing the school calendar; and reporting on outcomes.
All the while, the federal government would be limited to providing funding for education, including $1.9 billion in core statutory funding transfers, infrastructure and capacity building. It would establish a joint council of education professionals with the Assembly of First Nations, developing regulations and collaborations with first nations and with the advice of the joint council; providing additional resources to aid in implementing the act, including capacity building and; and based on advice from the joint council, appointing interim administrators in exceptional circumstances and only in cases where the minister has received advice to do so from the joint council.
Partnerships with first nations and the provinces will be increasingly important under the act to ensure that all governments are working in the most coordinated manner possible.
Many of the details surrounding these issues will be addressed in the regulations and will be developed together with first nations. The regulations would set out provisions regarding the establishment and operation of first nations education authorities, including bylaw making powers and conditions, as well as governance agreements between first nations and first nations education authorities. Regulations would also elaborate on the functions of councils, first nations education authorities, directors of education, and principals. The joint council would be required to consult with chiefs, parents and educators before working in partnership with a government to develop necessary regulations.
Those are details to be worked out collaboratively over time. For now, our objective is to move Bill forward so we can finally realize the shared goal of our government and first nations across the country, recognizing first nations control of first nations elementary and secondary education on reserve.
I urge members of all parties to support this worthy legislation, the product of consultation and years of collaboration, which will finally enable us to achieve our mutual objectives.
Since my first involvement as a university student and throughout my 34 years as an educator, I have always believed that parents of native children, because of their traditions, want the very best for their children. As such, this bill would give these children the opportunity to grow and flourish, “as long as the sun shines, the river flows and the grass grows”.