House of Commons Hansard #173 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Public Integrity Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Public Integrity Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Public Integrity Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

June 18th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That, in accordance with subsection 81(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act, Chapter P-1 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985, this House approve the appointment of Mary Elizabeth Dawson as Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

All those opposed will please say nay.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

And five or more members having risen:

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

In accordance with the order adopted earlier this day, the division on this motion is deferred until 6:30 p.m. later this day.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I move that the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development presented on Monday, February 12, 2007, be concurred in.

The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development looked at post-secondary education for first nations and submitted a report. We now have the government response to that report. It is an opportunity for us to talk about not only the importance of post-secondary education, but also some of the broader issues facing first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

I will not go through all of the recommendations in the report, but essentially the report focuses on a couple of key areas. One area is around information. Some of the recommendations in the report of the standing committee dealt with the fact that information is absolutely essential to ensure that first nations have access to best practices and information that would enhance the availability of education. There really is inadequate information around the statistics on access, how many students do not get on the waiting lists, how many students complete their education, or what their employability is. There is a huge gap in information and data gathering.

The other two areas where there were substantial recommendations from the standing committee were around post-secondary funding and access for first nations, in other words, student and band funding, and funding for post-secondary educational institutes.

On student funding, one of the recommendations centred around the fact that there really is inadequate funding in terms of tuition, living costs, support to families and the different scenarios that students face in this day and age. I am going to be talking a bit more about that. The first nations post-secondary educational institutions have very limited access to funding. Much of that money has to be sought through their own devices.

I must admit that the government response was very disappointing. The response obscures information. It does not directly deal with some of the issues. It was a non-response in many cases. Some of the language that was used in the report is obscure in that at times, it talks about aboriginal peoples, and at times it talks about first nations, Métis and Inuit. That language continues to cross over. This obscures the reality in many communities about who is getting access, and how many people and how much money. When it comes to things like completion rates, it further obscures the data.

The committee heard from many people across the country. We heard concerns consistently from coast to coast to coast about how first nations post-secondary education is handled in this country. I want to add something on top of this, a very recent decision that is going to further compound the difficulty.

The B.C. Supreme Court in the Sharon McIvor case ruled that a section of the Indian Act is discriminatory against women. The Sharon McIvor case has gone on for 18 years. Many women and men across the country are hoping the government will not appeal this very important decision, particularly a government that continues to claim it is functioning from a place of human rights. If the current government sees fit not to appeal the case, the government will be facing an additional funding crunch when it comes to things like post-secondary education, housing and all of the other things that are under continuous funding constraints on reserve. Up to a third more students could be eligible for post-secondary education if this decision is not appealed. The very difficult situation that is facing many people on reserve now would only get worse.

I want to talk a little about the social context. We cannot talk about education without looking at the social context.

We have talked about these numbers in the House of Commons before, but they are worth repeating. One in four first nations children lives in poverty compared to one in six Canadian children. One-third of first nations households with children are overcrowded. More than half of first nations children face health issues because of obesity. High school completion among first nations youth is half the Canadian rate. At the current rate it will take 28 years for first nations to catch up to the non-aboriginal population.

When we talk about poverty, one of the arguments that is frequently made is that one way to close the poverty gap is to look at economic development and education. If that is the case, then we need to invest money in that area.

Another argument that is often made is about the myth that exists. The Assembly of First Nations published a paper, “The $9 billion myth exposed”. There is a myth that first nations on reserve have all the access they want to education, that money is no object. Of course, we know that is absolutely not true.

The other number that is bandied about is that each individual on reserve gets $16,000, plus or minus. The Assembly of First Nations looked at some of these numbers and published the paper, “Fiscal Imbalance: The Truth About Spending on First Nations”. In talking about per capita spending, it said:

Per capita spending on First Nations is half the amount for average Canadians (between $7,000-$8,000 compared to $15,000-$16,000). Spending on First Nations through core federal programs is capped annually at rates lower than inflation and population growth.

That is an important point to raise because the notion that there is unlimited access is just not fair and not true.

In many first nations communities the reality is that their responsible governments, their chiefs and council are often faced with the very difficult decisions around whether to spend money on education when people are going without adequate housing, or whether to spend money on education when people do not have access to clean drinking water. That continuing pressure on band councils exists.

The 2% cap in federal funding has been in place since 1996 and applies across reserves for all funding, except health. Health is at a 3% cap.

When we look at the long history of recommendations around providing access to post-secondary education, report after report after report has talked about the importance of post-secondary education and funding it adequately. In the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, volume 3, “Gathering Strength”, chapter 5 on education, paragraph 3.5.20 says:

The government of Canada recognize and fulfil its obligation to treaty nations by supporting a full range of education services, including post-secondary education, for members of treaty nations where a promise of education appears in treaty texts, related documents or oral histories of the parties involved.

In paragraph 3.5.19 it states:

Federal, provincial and territorial governments collaborate with Aboriginal governments and organizations to facilitate integrated delivery of adult literacy, basic education, academic upgrading and job training under the control of Aboriginal people--

It talks about delegating responsibility and supporting the adaptation of programs, and so on. The final point in the RCAP report is under paragraph 3.5.21, which states:

The federal government continue to support the costs of post-secondary education for First Nations and Inuit post-secondary students and make additional resources available

(a) to mitigate the impact of increased costs as post-secondary institutions shift to a new policy environment in post-secondary education; and

(b) to meet the anticipated higher level of demand for post-secondary education services.

As far back as 10 years ago that very comprehensive report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples had some very strong, clear recommendations that talked about the need to adequately fund and support post-secondary education.

In November 1996 the then Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, in a report on education dealing primarily with elementary and secondary education, made a recommendation on a national aboriginal education institute. It talked about the fact that the mandate could include a resource centre for curriculum gathering and development, evaluation of education and labour training programs, analysis and reporting on innovations and best practices, and a collection of data on academic performance.

This is a report from over 10 years ago. Some of the recommendations in this report are the very same recommendations that the current standing committee was making. In 10 years there has been no action.

In addition, the April 2000 Auditor General's report focused on elementary and secondary education. In her observations and recommendations in paragraph 4.23, she said:

--education for First Nations has been studied for over 20 years. This includes at least 22 studies between 1991 and 1999 in one departmental region--

That is one departmental region. There has been study after study after study and still we continue to see that gap in post-secondary education availability and accessibility. In the Auditor General's report of November 2004, we begin to see a pattern. We do a lot of talking. We do a lot of reports. We do a lot of responses to reports. Where is the action? In her 2004 report the Auditor General in paragraph 5.91 talked about the fact that Parliament is not receiving a complete picture. She said:

It does not compare the post-secondary achievement of First Nations people, living on or off reserves, with that of the Canadian population as a whole; nor does it explain to what extent the program contributes to the educational achievement of First Nations.

This speaks directly to one of the recommendations in the report, that there is insufficient information to talk about the results around the money that is being spent. First nations are calling for that support. They need help on reserve and off reserve in order to gather adequate data.

In the same report, in paragraph 5.92, the Auditor General said:

Unaudited departmental information also indicates that the annual number of students being funded has actually been declining in recent years, from a high of about 27,000 in 1998-99 to about 25,000 in 2002-03. However, the Department does not explain this trend.

In paragraph 5.93 it states:

We noted that about 27 percent of the First Nations population...between 15 and 44 years of age hold a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree compared with 46 percent of the Canadian population within the same age group. We believe that Parliament should be informed about the gap, the potential causes, and the way that the program helps to address it.

It sounds like there is more need for information.

An audit was prepared by the Developmental Audit and Evaluation Branch, assisted by Hanson/Macleod Institute. This is an evaluation of the post-secondary education program from June 2005. This is an audit on the department's own work. It looked at both post-secondary education and the Indian studies support program. In talking about the funding formula, it states:

The formula covered the costs of tuition, books and an itemized list of living expenses. Since 1997, block funding envelopes have been capped with annual increases allotted according to Treasury Board directives.

One of the things we have been talking about is that the funding is capped and is creating some serious problems. Later on in the audit report under “Findings: Rationale and Relevance” it talks about the importance. It says:

Post-secondary education for First Nations and Inuit is intended to lead to enhanced economic self-reliance and stronger communities, people and economies, all of which are consistent with federal policies and priorities.

That is an important item. In Canada we often hear about the looming skills shortages. We also hear about the population increase in first nations. First nations in this country currently have a higher birth rate. We are seeing in some places a significant growth in the youth population. Here is a ready population to help address the skills shortages, but that means access not only to post-secondary education, but to apprenticeship programs as well.

The report says that first nations and Inuit participation rates have not yet achieved the same level as other Canadians or even that of other aboriginals. Between 1986 and 1996 for example, although first nations participation rates followed the same upward trends of those of other aboriginal Canadian students, they remained roughly 10% and 14% lower than the other two groups throughout the decade.

Furthermore, program utilization rates amply demonstrate a strong level of pent-up demand among first nations and Inuit communities for additional resources in both PSSSP and the ISSP sub-programs. It is estimated that 3,575 students were deferred each year between 1999-2000 and 2001-02 and that, for instance, requests for ISSP funding outstripped available resources over the past years by factors of two to one in one region and by three or four to one between 1995 and 1997 in other regions.

This is the department's own information that continues to support that there is an absolute need to address some of the gaps. Later on in the same report it says:

Statistics show improved employment rates among First Nation and Inuit individuals with higher levels of education. Employment income also increases dramatically as a percentage of total income as educational attainment levels increase. Given that many student respondents said they would not have been able to improve their education level without the PSE program support, it was concluded that the program has achieved progress in enhancing individuals' economic self-reliance.

It does say in here that this is based on the best available evidence. We have heard from other places that the information available is inconsistent and often does not deal specifically with employability outcomes. Under “Cost-Effectiveness” it states:

It was found that the guidelines for a PSSSP student living allowances are 14 years out of date, that PSSSP students are, on average, receiving between $500 and $4,000 less per academic year than they are paying in living expenses; and that current per student allowances are below the national average established under the Canada Student Loan Program five years ago.

One of the comments in the report was the fact that students could go and get a student loan. That certainly is an option for some students, but for many students that is just not an option. First of all, they are often coming from areas of extreme poverty and there is something called “sticker shock”. For many students, unless there is some support in recruiting and retention, they are actually even prohibited from getting into a university or college to begin with.

In fact, many of the universities cannot supply that information about which students are actually deterred from actually entering into a post-secondary education institution because of what they call sticker shock. As we know, tuition costs continue to go up across this country and many students, both first nations and non-first nations students, are simply not able to access affordable education in this country.

There was a cost-drivers report, again it is the department's own analysis, which said:

The PSE program is recognized as one of the more effective means of eliminating the gap in life chances between First Nations and Canadians, and is funded as a matter of social policy by the Canadian government.

Since the introduction of the 2% growth cap in 1996-97 the number of students has fallen by 9%...The decrease is attributed to post-secondary funding being reallocated to cover non-discretionary costs such as provincial school billings and the per student costs growing as a result of the cost-drivers below.

When it talks about the cost-drivers, it talks about some other impacts. There are an increasing number of secondary students graduating from high school which is of course putting demands on the funds that are available. There is a cohort of mature students who are finding that older students are now wanting to return to school and complete their education. Of course the budget is a huge constraint.

It talks about the amount of resources that are required in order to catch-up. This was part of the “resource ask” that the parliamentary standing committee put in its report. The catch-up said:

In order to return first nations post-secondary education participation to 1996-97 levels, ongoing annual funding of approximately $24.8 million would be required.

This is actually based on a rate of $11,390 per student which the report later on talks about the fact that it should actually be based on $13,300 per student, which is a blended rate.

To increase first nations post-secondary education participation in accordance with population growth of the 18-34 age cohort would require a further $22.6 million annually.

There are more numbers in that report, but I think the point is that the department's own information talks about a very serious gap.

One of the things that the government will say, and previous governments have said, is that post-secondary education is a matter of social policy; it is not a legislative requirement. The government has a responsibility, whether it wants to acknowledge it or not, and social policy or not. A need has been clearly identified through a number of reports, audits and evaluations. I would suggest that the parliamentary standing committee's report requesting a removal of that 2% cap is an important report.

In 2004, the Assembly of First Nations prepared a paper called “Background Paper on Lifelong Learning”. That report talked about the fact that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada had not changed post-secondary education, PSE, policies and programs since 1988 or kept current with the increasing costs of higher education.

Policy changes in 1988 resulted in a reduced number of students eligible for funding. Applicants being placed on waiting lists, limited access to PSE by offers or residence, outdated guidelines, amounts for student living costs, tuition fees and educational expenditures discouraged and stressed first nations people. Students experienced financial hardship and many had to drop out. Funding was subsidized through other social programs. Again, the litany continues.

I want to turn very briefly to the fact that post-secondary education institutions are left out of this mix. They are an important part of the picture. I hope that the government will take a serious look at the report prepared by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and follow through on the recommendations that were made.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important motion and one that this House needs to act on very quickly. I would like to ask my hon. colleague this question. What does she think the positive impact of implementing these recommendations would be on the aboriginal community?