Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today on this important topic before the House. The member who has called this concurrence debate is a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and is a passionate advocate for aboriginal people throughout Canada and, of course, students.
This was an important study that was the first that I took part in as a member of Parliament and, as such, was not only a study on education but was very much an education for me.
We received many submissions and it was an extensive study. We also, in my opinion, found important information about the process for which aboriginal students across Canada are learning.
If there is one thing that everyone can agree on, it is that the path for individuals to succeed, for communities to escape poverty, for societies to flourish and for economies to prosper lies through education, education and more education.
Despite heroic efforts by thousands of students, parents, teachers and educators and many green shoots of progress, we all must admit there has not been enough of that progress. Too few aboriginal children finish high school. Too many schools lack the labs and libraries or the access to extra support services that make a difference. They have little measurement, no real system and no education act, just schools, lots of funding, agreements and people trying to make it work by throwing money at a system that may not work in the short term but suffices for the here and now.
However, it will not last. We need deeper renovation. We must do better. It is essential for all students across Canada and especially aboriginal students. We cannot wait.
Thankfully, we have seen a process begin in British Columbia. First nations people have led the way by forging a unique three-way partnership with the two levels of government. This partnership marries old ideas of first nations people along with new models of clear accountability for results in interconnection to the provincial standards for students and teachers.
Parliament passed this law to support the partnership last December. It is something that all members of the House were very proud of. We are moving swiftly, not just to implement it in B.C., but to offer similar partnerships in other parts of the country.
We have also learned from successes in Nova Scotia and the James Bay coast of Quebec. We have forged solid working relationships with experts in provincial ministries and universities.
We are still not sitting in a way that is urgent to press forward on these problems but we will in fact move forward and invest more than $50 million in important new school projects and extend the SchoolNet program that supports these schools with the Internet connections that they need to become the schools that everyone expects in this modern age.
This fall we will be doing a lot more as well. We cannot let this story end with an improvement in high schools. We also know that it is crucial to build bridges from these secondary schools to the labour markets and how important these further skills can be, whether that means university, college or accreditation for trades.
That is why our budget presented in March made an investment of an extra $105 million over the next five years. It is more than double the size of the aboriginal skills and partnership initiative which will fund skills training for thousands of aboriginal people.
That is why we sign partnership deals, bringing together first nations with private sector firms like EnCana and Siemens. We have renovated and extended for another five years the urban aboriginal strategy with a tighter focus on employment.
I have visited many communities throughout the north, including the community of Thompson. I know we have the member of Parliament from the Thompson area here today. I witnessed some of the work that was done with the aboriginal strategy in that fine city in which I was born and I can say that it has worked for the citizens of that community.
The one thing we learned in our study was that it is essential for post-secondary students to actually graduate. Perhaps the most important point that I personally learned as part of that study is that first nations students on reserve, in fact all aboriginal students throughout Canada, when graduating at the high school level are just as likely to proceed to post-secondary education and achieve success as other students in different demographics in Canada. This is an important fact that was learned by myself and other members of the committee during that important study.
As a government, we feel that we must focus much of our energy on improving the standards of secondary education throughout first nations communities. Unfortunately, there is a patchwork of systems in place that governs education. I know British Columbia has moved forward with an important initiative but many other provinces in Canada have yet to embrace these models. This is something that we as a government must do.
I want to highlight some of the other things we learned in the study since today we have been called upon to have this debate. One of the areas that I particularly focused on was the area of funding provided to first nations communities and how that funding is then further allocated. There is debate in relation to the amount, which is roughly $300 million. Some have argued that there should be more and some have argued that this amount needs to be more efficiently utilized. Of course, I believe there could be new efficiencies brought about to improve the outcome of that $300 million.
That is an area that I believe needs more work. There is really no general accountability on that $300 million. In fact, it is invested directly into the bands' general operating funds. If there were a new system that allowed for these communities to specifically allocate those funds to universities, I think new efficiencies could be found.
Of course, if an individual on reserve wanted to complain about the fact that there is not necessarily assurance in the way that $300 million is spent, they currently cannot do so within the Canadian context but, thankfully, we are bringing an important bill before the House, Bill C-44. I know the member for Churchill is not interested in this topic.
Bill C-44 extends the Canadian Human Rights Act to first nations people on reserve and that is important.