House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, coming from British Columbia, I will take this opportunity to ask my colleague how he feels about the tripartite education framework agreement.

I take the points around the issues of spending on a per student basis but we know moving forward, based on our consultations and our relationships with first nations and the provinces, that part of the success in reconciling this, improving the quality education and the outcome, is based on flexibility within the provinces with first nations and the federal government to get into certain agreements that guarantee comparable standards of education, whether they are on or off reserve, and the flexibility to deal with the reality of students who may transfer to and from a provincial and first nations school.

Does he see this tripartite agreement, by way of example, and others that we formed with the provinces, as an important step, moving forward, with respect to improving the quality and the outcome for first nations children?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree that a tripartite agreement is fundamental in developing a sound relationship with first nations.

As the parliamentary secretary referenced, I am from British Columbia, from New Westminster—Coquitlam. I have worked a long time with first nations and one of the most fundamental elements of working with first nations is developing a relationship. Developing a relationship takes time. It means establishing trust, and that is something that must be done over a long period of time. However, once we have that trust and relationship, and once we have built those agreements, we need to take action .

It is not like we do not know. As I pointed out in my speech, the Auditor General over the past 10 years has pointed out time and time again the specifics that we need to do to address the systemic, fundamental problems of not only education but poverty that exists on first nation reserves.

We know this. We need to build on the agreements, the partnerships that exist, and we need immediate concrete action today.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of sadness that I rise to speak to this motion.

From 1984 to 1992 I taught at an inner-city school in Nanaimo. At that inner-city school there was a very high percentage of aboriginal students. I saw the struggles first-hand that those students were going through.

After having taught for a while, I became a counsellor at the school. I soon began to see overall how many of the aboriginal students left school, disappeared from the school I should say, at a very early age. I had to ask myself why that was happening. Why was it that so many secondary school students from the aboriginal community were leaving school? We had no way of knowing what was happening to them.

As I got to know many of the students, I began to realize the struggles they were having. I also began to realize that in order to address those issues we had to talk not about equality but about equity. There were services we needed to provide that were not needed by all students at the school but were absolutely needed by first nations students. I also saw in the school the lack of role models and mentors. I saw the alienation aboriginal young people felt in public schools when they walked onto those hallowed halls.

I left in 1992, but I returned to that school in 2007. During that period, the provincial and federal governments made all kinds of pronouncements about how they had made things better. It was with a great deal of sadness that I realized when I went back to the school that things were actually worse for first nations students. Things were worse 15 years after I had left that inner-city school.

Yes, I saw more first nations workers. I saw more liaison and closer ties with the community. I saw more social interaction. However, I also saw a greater number of students who were disillusioned and not engaged in their learning. There are fundamental reasons the students were not engaged in their learning. We were trying to educate them in an environment that was not culturally sensitive. We were trying, through our own education system and without meaning to, to colonize them. That is what happened. There was very little in the curriculum or the day-to-day teaching about the aboriginal community itself or the language. Maintenance of a language is a very important link to a culture and therefore, it is absolutely imperative to try to preserve many first nations languages.

The point I want to make is when we look at Shannen's dream, she is asking not just for a nice school but also for a culturally sensitive education so that the curriculum actually speaks to who the first nations children are. Who their parents are speaks to their history, dreams and aspirations.

This reminded me a little of my early years in teaching. There was a wonderful program in England called the Ladybird reading scheme. The stories are written in beautiful language. Jane and Peter, both Caucasian, had a dog called Pat. They went on beautiful picnics. They would put out a tablecloth. They would go to the park. Everything was glorious.

That reading program was sent to the Caribbean. This amazing program that was so successful in England failed in the Caribbean because children in the Caribbean could not relate physically to Jane and Peter nor to the activities in which Jane and Peter engaged. They did not have the kind of family structure that Jane and Peter had. Every Sunday in the summer they did not go to the cricket field or on a picnic.

One of the things I have learned from teaching over the years is that if we really want to connect and engage children in their learning, we have to connect with the child. Those of us who teach may enter the profession to teach a subject but I can assure the House that those of us who have a passion for teaching and who stay in teaching do it because we love working with children.

I have argued the point most of my life that the only way to be an effective teacher is to build relationships and know where the students are coming from. The teacher's role is not to make them like everybody else. Today in our multicultural society, we are sensitive to that. I would say that where we lack sensitivity as a nation even today is toward our first nations communities.

Attawapiskat has been in the news a lot recently. I thank my colleague, the member for Timmins—James Bay, not only for his courage but also for his passion for social justice and equity. He has not given up on that story or that community. He has gone there. He has painted us a picture.

Suddenly the world's eyes are on Attawapiskat. The United Nations is looking at it. The Red Cross is looking at it. Every Canadian is looking at what I would say are some of the worst third world living conditions right here on Canadian soil for Canadian citizens. Canadians are upset. They want action.

Canadians do not want long-term promises anymore. The children cannot wait. I have a very difficult time when people say that this is going to be a 20-year plan. That 20-year plan has to start today. It has to be meaningful and it has to provide services.

Twelve years is a long time. Imagine that from birth to the time a child reaches 12 years old is how long Attawapiskat has been dreaming of a school. In the meantime, Shannen has passed on without having her dream realized.

I would urge all my colleagues on all sides of the House to go to www.shannensdream.ca and to watch the very moving video. I urge all members to make a commitment in this Parliament to work together to make Shannen's dream come true.

All Canadian children, no matter where they are born, north, south, centre, east, west, no matter whether they are from aboriginal or other ethnic groups, deserve a quality education. It makes economic sense to provide that. The savings to the health care system, the increased productivity and the taxes going into the public purse all show that this is not just a humanitarian issue, but it makes economic sense as well. The Conservatives should be able to understand that.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to hear my colleague speak to this extremely important issue in terms of first nations peoples, the Government of Canada and the other interested parties, including students, elders and parents.

We have invested approximately $1.5 billion in first nations education and 118,000 students. We reached a tripartite agreement in B.C. on January 27. There are now seven of those tripartite agreements. We also had the joint first nations and Government of Canada conference and the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education. It is extremely important and that report has just been released.

Would the hon. member agree that we need to work in partnership with all the first nations people, our provincial governments, the parents, the elders and the children to ensure that education moves forward?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, absolutely we need to work in partnership. No one level of government has the solution. I would also argue that the time for talking without taking action is over.

Shannen passed away at the age of 15 with a beautiful dream. That dream is one we would want for any of our own children: a decent school that is culturally sensitive. Surely it is time for Canada, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, to ensure that all our children, including our first nations children, have a school that is culturally sensitive.

Sometimes we use working in partnership to prolong taking action. It is time to take action now. Let us not confuse the issue by throwing around numbers and what has been done over a number of years. We see the images on television. The circumstances are dire. Children in Canada, Canadian-born children, do not have a decent school, never mind a decent education.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that being a teacher my colleague fully understands the intent of lifelong learning.

Earlier the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River talked about portable classrooms not only being in first nations communities. If members have ever been in a first nation community and have seen those portables, they would know why they are such an issue. Regardless, portables should not be allowed as part of the learning environment. Maybe the member could speak to that.

I would also like the member's opinion on the following comment by Chief Angus Toulouse:

Let me begin by expressing that the federal government continues to have an obligation to ensure that First Nations can implement their inherent right to exercise jurisdiction over lifelong learning. This entitlement is affirmed by the spirit and intent of treaties signed in exchange for the sharing of the territories and lands and is guaranteed also by section 35 of the 1982 Constitution of Canada.

Could the member comment with respect to lifelong learning and the jurisdiction that the first nation—

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order. The member for Newton—North Delta, a short answer please.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, lifelong learning is the only way to go. That is what we want for ourselves and for everyone. As for jurisdictional issues, the first nations community should be the driver and should have a critical say in it.

I want to talk about portables. In my community in Surrey there are thousands of children sitting in portables. That is not acceptable. However, I have visited portables in first nations communities on the west coast of B.C., and we would not survive for an hour in some of those portables. It is an absolute shame and is unacceptable.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to have this opportunity to stand in the House to address this important issue and talk about our government's commitment to first nations education.

There has been proof in the House of our government's commitment to ensure that we produce results for first nations children, their families, and the communities that are represented in many of our constituencies. I am proud to represent 32 first nations.

Members on this side of the House recognize that education is a key personal empowerment tool that leads to prosperity. We fully understand that the way for individuals to succeed, for communities to escape poverty and for first nations economies to prosper is to have an educated, skilled and employed population. A strong economy and a good education really go hand-in-hand.

There is no question that our government is committed to ensuring that first nations students enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians do. First nations students deserve an education that ensures they graduate with the skills that they need to succeed in the jobs of today and that they can fully enjoy the same opportunities everybody else in Canada can.

That is precisely why, in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, we created the national panel on first nations education last year. The panel criss-crossed the country during the fall of 2011, consulting with first nations leaders, parents, elders, students, teachers, provincial officials and the private sector about how to improve the elementary school experience and the outcomes for first nations students across the country.

We are grateful for the panel. It did tremendous work. Its final report offers ideas to improve educational outcomes for first nations children and youth. We are currently reviewing this report and its recommendations carefully before determining the next steps.

Successive federal budgets further reinforce that this government places a high priority on first nations education. We invest roughly about $1.5 billion on an annual basis to elementary and secondary programs for 117,500 first nations students across our great nation. This investment supports structural service, special education, cultural educational centres and targeted initiatives for first nations students. Band councils and first nations educational organizations manage and deliver these programs and services in some 520 on-reserve schools.

We are also investing $200 million on an annual basis to school infrastructure so first nations children have a safe and healthy environment in which to learn. Construction projects are under way in communities across the country. I know of many in the province that I represent and even in my own constituency. These include new comprehensive schools, such as the one that has been recently opened in Birch Narrows First Nation in Saskatchewan, the new community school in North Spirit Lake First Nation in Ontario and the recently inaugurated Mah-Sos School in Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. Our government has completed 248 school projects since April 1, 2006.

More important than issuing cheques, we are working in close partnership with first nations communities and the provinces to ensure that every first nations school gets off to a good start. We know that dollars alone will not address the challenges confronting first nations students.

Budget 2008 was an example of this. There was an investment in first nations education, not simply by adding money to existing funding arrangements but by focusing on practical initiatives that would lead to real results in the classroom. The budget launched the reforming first nations education initiative, which set out the foundation for long-term improvements to first nations education.

For instance, our first nations students success program took the tools to strengthen on-reserve education and put it into the hands of local decision makers. The program helps first nations educators plan and make improvements in the three priority areas of literacy, numeracy and student retention. Over 90% of first nations students are now benefiting from these initiatives.

Participating schools develop school success plans tailored to increase efforts in these priority areas. They are supported in developing success plans, conducting student assessments and measuring performance to assess and report on school and student progress. To monitor progress, students are looked at to ensure that they are making progress. Schools implement a student learning assessment process based on provincial jurisdictions and established performance measurement systems. These processes and informed instruction methods help teachers in setting priorities in assessing the planning to increase student success over the long term.

Our government recognizes that language and culture also play an important role in helping first nations students build confidence and self-esteem. These are essential skills and important elements to ensure academic success.

Pride in one's heritage and culture is important in encouraging first nations students to stay in school. Understanding this, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada provides $9.5 million for cultural educational programs, which help to preserve and strengthen aboriginal culture, tradition and language.

Support is also available to first nations through initiatives, such as the new paths program, to allow first nations and their organizations to develop a curriculum for first nations schools, which are culturally relevant to the student population.

There is an additional $5 million that the Government of Canada provides each year under the aboriginal language initiative. It underwrites community-based projects to preserve and revitalize first nations, Inuit and Métis languages.

Beyond these important activities, our government recognizes that deeper structural reforms are needed to provide education that is comparable to that which is provided in the public school systems, but this is not something that we can tackle alone. Improving educational outcomes is a shared responsibility in which governments, communities, educators, families and students all play an important role.

Another of our key reform initiatives is the education partnerships program to increase collaboration among first nations, provinces and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada so we can collectively increase students' success.

Many first nations schools have operated largely independently, with little connection to one another, or any connection to the provincial systems. As a consequence, these schools are left without some of the essential tools that are needed to improve student outcomes, attain provincial educational standards and ensure students can transition between first nations and provincial schools with no academic penalty.

The Government of Canada believes that co-operation and collaboration among first nations and other governments are essential to provide first nations students with the same advantages that other Canadian children enjoy. These three-way partnerships marry first nation control over local education with new models of accountability for results and stronger links to provincial standards for students and teachers.

The educational partnerships program supports the use of joint action plans where first nations and provincial officials share expertise and services. This approach helps to ensure that first nations students receive comparable instruction and obtain comparable results, whether the classroom is located on reserve or off.

To date, we have reached seven tripartite educational partnerships across Canada and five new tripartite educational memorandums of understanding have been entered into by our government since introducing the reforming first nations education initiative.

Since 2008, these include agreements with first nations and the Governments of New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and a sub-regional agreement with the Saskatoon Tribal Council. There are additional pre-existing tripartite partnerships in Nova Scotia and British Columbia. These tripartite agreements enable first nations communities to provide educational programs with high standards and strategies that reflect their unique first nation cultures and aspirations.

I am happy to report that negotiations are under way to complete many more such agreements. We are close to finalizing a tripartite educational memorandum of understanding with the First Nations Education Council in Quebec as well as with the Labrador Innu in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Equally encouraging, there is a province-wide effort to reach an MOU in Ontario with the Chiefs of Ontario office. Several sub-regional agreements are proceeding well and so too are negotiations with the Yukon first nations. We are especially excited about the work that is taking place in British Columbia, which perfectly illustrates the benefits of the tripartite approach.

In budget 2010, the Government of Canada invested $30 million for comparable education for first nations. We started in B.C., where there is an advanced state of partnership between the province and the First Nations Education Steering Committee.

The committee is an independent society that represents 88 first nations across the province and provides administrative services for first nations school administration. B.C. First nations and FNESC have been working together to establish an educational system that provides support for first nations students, demonstrating their capacity to administer educational programs and services.

On January 27, a new second generation tripartite educational framework agreement was signed by our government in the province of British Columbia and the First Nations Education Steering Committee. Under this agreement, the steering committee will support the delivery of quality education programs and services. This means meeting standards that will allow first nations students to transfer, without academic penalty, at a similar level of achievement between first nations schools and the provincial public schools.

Most promising is that this partnership agreement is accompanied by a new funding model. First nations education funding will be comparable to a similar size and situated school which would be funded in the public system within British Columbia. Progressive steps like these will close the gap in educational outcomes and graduation rates between first nations and other Canadian students.

The tripartite educational framework is an option available to all first nations in a province to help operate their schools. Communities in British Columbia are currently negotiating educational self-government agreements that they will be able sign on to and the framework that will establish the conclusion of the self-government agreements.

I should point out that approximately 21 nations and Inuit communities have opted to negotiate an assumed jurisdiction over education outside the Indian Act as part of a broader agreement or modern treaties covering self-government arrangements and comprehensive land claims.

Our government is determined that first nations students will enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians. We are providing the funding necessary to make education accessible to individuals and communities. Most important, we are partnering with first nations communities and the provinces to bring about meaningful educational reforms that will lead to lasting student success.

We know that education holds the key to creating a future in which first nations are self-sufficient and prosperous, making their own decisions, managing their affairs and making strong contributions to their communities and the national economy.

I am not suggesting that the initiatives I have outlined today are the entire solution, but there is no question that they are vital steps in the right direction.

There should be no doubt about our government's determination to keep moving forward. We have made it clear with our investments and commitments to productive partnerships that we believe in the value and necessity of education for first nations children and youth. We are ready to do our part and anxious to work with willing partners to achieve better and greater results.

I know that we all agree in the House that first nations children deserve nothing less. With the fastest growing youth population in the country, we want to ensure first nations young people acquire the knowledge and skills that are necessary to be part of the growing Canadian economy and society.

I can assure the opposition that our government will continue to work with first nations partners across Canada, as we have been doing, to deliver tangible and lasting results and ensure that first nations are well positioned to be full participants in a strong Canadian economy.

I just hope that first nations children and youth can count on the support of all parties in the House to work together as we move forward.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member on his rapidly acquired understanding of the concept of a culturally integrated approach as presented in the House this morning. It fits quite nicely into a speech. All of the Conservatives' speeches this morning have one thing in common. They all include plenty of mind-boggling numbers to shore up their attempts to show that they are committed and that they want to hand the reins over to communities and help them. Are they really committed to getting involved on the ground and taking into account the sometimes difficult situations that young people have to deal with in their communities?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member opposite that I have long been engaged on the issues of first nations education throughout this country.

More specifically, I can assure the member that the 32 first nations that I represent have been engaging with me as their member of Parliament over the last six years to ensure that we build a stronger and more vibrant education system within our community and throughout this country.

I will take no lessons from the member opposite. Of course, he is new to the House and may be unaware of the work that this government and I have undertaken. That is why it is important that he listen to the speeches today so that he might be able to learn about some of the advanced work that has been undertaken by this government in partnership with first nations communities across this country.

I am proud of the work that we have been doing and we will continue to do. I could speak all day on our accomplishments, even in my local communities.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague is probably aware, in 2008 our government brought in the student success program that helped educators make plans for and improvements to literacy, numeracy and student retention.

I wonder if the hon. member could speak to that and other programs that have been beneficial to first nations over the past several years.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I talked a bit about some of the partnerships that had been undertaken and the new initiatives that our government has launched over successive years in successive budgets.

Our government strongly believes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to education in first nations communities across this country. This is a new relationship being charted by our government with first nations communities. As a matter of fact, the realities in one of the communities in my constituency are far different from those in some of the other ones. To see the different partnerships that are now being established, the different avenues that our government has undertaken, the tripartite agreements that our government has undertaken really begins to speak to the reality that there is not a one-size solution for all communities. It is about working with first nations, dialoguing with first nations, consulting with first nations on these.

I hope that the hon. members across the way understand the essential role that consultation plays when dealing with the issues and ensuring that educational outcomes improve for communities across this country.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure working with the hon. member for Peace River on our aboriginal affairs committee.

I have heard members across the way speak about partnering, but it is my understanding that it is the first nations communities themselves that have been reaching out and asking the government to partner with them. It is therefore encouraging to hear that the government is now keen on moving in that direction.

Looking at some of these partnership agreements, I am concerned because I do not see a lot of direct transfers of dollars to in fact deliver quality services. For example, the one in British Columbia appears to establish a non-governmental organization or NGO to be somewhat of a school board and give assistance to the first nations, who have long been wanting to deliver education, and in fact in some cases have been doing a good job of delivering their own school systems.

Some of my colleagues and I visited the Six Nations community and its school a while back. They are delivering education in traditional ways in traditional languages, but are struggling because they do not even have a facility or any support from the federal government to deliver that kind of education.

I wonder if the member could speak to the government's commitment on that.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member asked about two different things in her question. I will jump to the second because she talked about infrastructure and the necessity of having good teaching facilities and opportunities for students to come together in adequate facilities.

I know this is not the first time the member has heard this today, but since 2006 our government has undertaken nearly 250 building projects to ensure that schools are upgraded. Over 34 brand new schools have been constructed, many in the province of Alberta, which I know she would be fully aware of. She lives in the province of Alberta and I know that she would be mindful of many of those significant investments over the last number of years.

I can also assure the hon. member that there have been over 26 massive undertakings for major renovations of schools. The infrastructure is there. It is being re-established. There is a major challenge in many communities, because the system thus far has been to ignore the structures and allow them to become dilapidated. Our government is now having to invest significant amounts of money to ensure they are retrofitted and, in some cases, replaced to ensure students have adequate places to go to school.

She also talked about ensuring that on-reserve schools are funded at the same rate as other schools. Of course, the joint panel, which has just made its recommendations known to the government, talks about the necessity of moving toward a number of things. Our government is reviewing that and will continue to work with first nations to ensure that students in first nations communities have the same outcomes as those in the general population.