moved that Bill C-34, An Act to provide for jurisdiction over education on First Nation lands in British Columbia, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my enthusiastic support for Bill C-34, the first nations jurisdiction over education in British Columbia act. This is legislation that will give effect to future agreements in respect of first nations education in British Columbia. As I do so, I would like to acknowledge the support of the other parties in the House of Commons for this legislation. I know they will be speaking. My hope this afternoon is that through a display of cooperation and good faith on the part of all the parties in this honourable House that this legislation will clear the House this afternoon.
I note as well that the Chalo School of Fort Nelson First Nation, the Okanagan Indian Band school which is called Snc’c’mala?tn, and the Bella Bella Community School are with us today as the students watch the passage of this legislation.
Three parties signed an agreement earlier this year: Canada, the province of British Columbia and the First Nations Education Steering Committee, also known as FNESC, in the province of B.C. The agreement enables first nations in British Columbia to assume meaningful control over education on reserve at both the elementary and the secondary school levels. Bill C-34 is the legislation that will give effect to these kinds of agreements.
This legislation is extremely important. In terms of the framework for self-governing first nations in this country, education is extremely important. Legislation such as this will provide the framework for a modern legislated school system driven by first nations in Canada. I would describe this legislation as the most important bill that I will have brought forward as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. It is something that I am quite passionate about. I have spoken for some time about this subject.
Essentially, at the present time--and I make this comment in a non-partisan way; I attribute responsibility to successive governments--we have not had a system of education for primary and secondary education in this country for first nation children. First nation children, frankly, have been the only children in Canada who have lacked an education system. Instead they have had the mere legislative authority of the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs expending a budget of approximately $1.2 billion per year, with really a framework of only 30 employees in the department. What those departmental employees do is they basically administer one-off grants to individual schools.
What we have lacked is a school system. What we have lacked is a first nation driven school system that will provide first nations with authority over their own education which will inculcate a sense of possession on the part of the community, a sense of pride in the school system. What we have also lacked is working relationships between the respective provincial government and the first nation authorities working hand in glove to make sure that the system of education works properly and to make sure that there is provincial compatibility. That is very much at the heart of this particular legislation.
When the first nations take responsibility for developing curricula, defining educational standards and certifying teachers, I am convinced that the quality of on reserve education will only improve and that this education will also be more pertinent for the students.
Over the years, dozens of studies have demonstrated that the quality of education that young people receive is one of the most accurate predictors of the standard of living that they will experience in adulthood. I was reading a report that was published not long ago and I was struck by the fact that an aboriginal woman who graduates from high school has the same opportunities throughout life that any other Canadian would. In fact, aboriginal children who graduate from high school carry on to succeed, whether it is as lawyers, doctors, engineers, tradespeople. They carry on and succeed at rates that exceed those of the Canadian population at large.
The challenge is high school. I was struck by the fact that an aboriginal woman who gets through high school has the capacity in her life to have a normal lifetime earning span, but an aboriginal child who does not graduate from high school will make over the course of his or her lifetime less than $100,000 of private sector income in total. The longer one thinks about these numbers, the more disturbing they become.
The studies and pilot projects that have been done have demonstrated quite clearly that this sort of an approach encapsulated by the FNESC education system is one that will work. The pilot projects have been enormously successful. Well-educated young people will be the predictors of the increases in standard of living for those first nations that adopt this sort of report.
Recent reports by groups such as the Fraser and the C.D. Howe institutes reconfirm the disheartening truth about the majority of on reserve schools in this country and the educational outcomes of their learners. That is what we are all trying to cure, aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians alike.
Students who attend on reserve schools have in the past been much less likely to complete high school and to study at the post-secondary level than students who have attended provincial and private schools. I resolved and made it very clear when I became the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development that this was an issue that we were going to do something about, this was an issue that I would attack personally as a minister. It was with considerable pride in June of this year with Premier Campbell at my side and other representatives of FNESC that we signed the agreement that brought into place FNESC and prepared the way for this legislation here today.
This discrepancy in the quality of education has serious repercussions, not only on students in reserve schools, but on all Canadians as well. For example, it is likely that students who have attended a reserve school will one day experience long periods of unemployment.
That means that society can expect an increase in the demand for social programs as well as in associated costs. Given the rapid increase in the native population in Canada, the expectation is that these problems will become more serious.
Currently, approximately 120,000 first nations students attend on reserve elementary and secondary schools throughout Canada. This figure represents about 60% of all first nations students. The other 40% attend provincial or private schools either by choice or because their community does not have a school on the reserve. At present, band operated schools suffer from several significant disadvantages. They do not benefit from aggregated systems of service delivery, nor do they enjoy the legislated protection afforded to provincial schools.
Basically, education of the first nations remains in a kind of legal limbo and the Government of Canada serves as the main department of education for reserve schools.
Given the remote location of many first nation schools and communities, there is necessarily a large disconnect between many on reserve schools and the authorities that are supposed to manage them; that is, there is not a strong link, as is required, between the federal government which is technically responsible for education on reserve and the communities that manage the system on a day to day basis.
Bill C-34 proposes to eliminate these disadvantages for on reserve schools in British Columbia. I am convinced that the legislation will lead to significant improvements in the education outcomes for first nations students in the province by providing communities with the tools to improve the quality of education and to build on current success. As I will speak in a moment, my conviction is founded on a remarkable story of a first nation school in northeastern B.C., which I will come to in just a moment.
Bill C-34 is well drafted. It is not a lengthy piece of legislation. It establishes in clause 11 the first nations education authority to be managed by a board of directors in British Columbia.
The purpose of the legislation, as expressed in clause 4 is to allow individual agreements to be entered into between participating first nations.
I would emphasize that the first nations that decide to participate in this legislation are doing so voluntarily. They are doing so because of the strength, the wisdom and the compassion in their communities and their willingness to work toward the education of their children. They are voluntarily participating first nations.
It allows the first nations to enter into an agreement with respect to jurisdiction over education. The agreements that this legislation contemplates are agreements between Canada, the first nation and the province of British Columbia.
The fundamental concept underlying the legislation is really expressed in subclause 9(2), and it is referred to as transferability. I am going to quote this subclause, for the record:
A participating First Nation shall provide, or make provision for, education so as to allow students to transfer without academic penalty to an equivalent level in another school within the school system of British Columbia.
The underlying concept of this and the wisdom behind it is that we are trying to ensure transferability or compatibility between this first nation driven school system and the provincial system of education. The consequence is that students, upon graduation from high school, will have the same ability to qualify as other students in British Columbia for entrance whether it is into the trades, apprenticeships, technical colleges or universities. There will be full transferability. Likewise, the wisdom behind this is that the students, over the course of their high school education, for example, would be able to transfer back and forth from one school to another, maintaining the quality of education.
That is obviously not to say that there would not be unique aspects of the first nation education schools that would benefit the students. I have said myself over many years that what we need in the building of this remarkable country is strong first nation partners. We need strong first nation children who know who they are, who know their history, who celebrate their language, who celebrate their traditions and who will assist all of us in building this remarkable country. They are part of the enduring strength of Canada. This school system as envisioned will celebrate that and allow a thousand flowers to flourish and bloom across this magnificent country.
The legislation itself allows for the school authorities to deal with matters which are pretty crucial to a system of education. It allows them, as expressed in clause 19, to establish standards that are applicable to education for curriculum, for examinations. It allows them to provide for a teacher certification process for those teachers who will teach in the primary and secondary schools. It provides, as well, for a teaching certification process for teachers who will participate in teaching language and culture to first nation students. It also allows for a process, among other things, of certifying schools.
The long and short of it, as set out in clause 23, is that the Indian Act ceases to apply. This is in a sense sectoral self-government legislation. It is legislation that allows first nations to assume full control over the education of their bright, young people. It does so in a way that is compatible and jurisdictionally integrated with the adjoining public school system.
We can see in all of this something that is quite remarkable and that really holds the keys for the future of our country.
I mentioned earlier that there is a remarkable story about a first nations school in northeastern B.C., and I will share it with my colleagues in the House. It is the Chalo School operated by the Fort Nelson First Nation. It was inspired by a hopeful yet potent idea that when a community took control over the education of its children, it built a stronger future for itself, a deeper sense of community and a stronger sense of place.
For generations, the only educational option available to the children of the Chalo School was the provincially operated school system. Attending schools in town, navigated a very different world for first nation students. They were following a curriculum that was completely disconnected from their lives on the reserve. Not surprisingly, very few first nation children performed well academically.
In 1981 the Chalo School took its first humble steps toward changing these outcomes with a single teacher, a small portable classroom and a handful of elementary students.
Today, almost 200 primary and secondary students attend this school, which has become the dynamic and flourishing centre of life on the reserve.
Earlier this year, 15 students passed 24 of the 27 provincial secondary exams in basic subjects such as mathematics and English.
The bill being studied will enable communities such as the one in Fort Nelson to achieve even better results. Even though the legislation targets only students in British Columbia, the proposed approach could be duplicated by other regions of the country.
I can advise the House that in the time since June, when this agreement was executed with the representatives of FNESC and the Premier of British Columbia, I and my department have had discussions with virtually every province in the country regarding what I refer to as the model for the future of education for first nations in Canada. I acknowledge the hard work in British Columbia.
FNESC did not come into existence accidentally. It cannot be described as something that was created instantaneously. Very hard-working people have worked for many years to give birth to FNESC and to put British Columbia in a circumstance where there is the capacity on the ground to have a first nation driven education authority for the province of British Columbia. This has taken a lot of work by a lot of very fine and decent people, and we as Canadians are indebted to them.
I salute as well Premier Campbell, who has shown leadership on this. He has ensured that we are working together in British Columbia with our first nation partners. I celebrate and salute his efforts as a Canadian in shepherding this legislation through in British Columbia and for the commitment that B.C. has shown. At the end of the day, this does not work if governments retreat to their jurisdictional compartments. It works based on cooperation and an honestly held sense of the way forward.
A similar agreement in a different form has now been signed in a tentative way in Quebec. I can assure the House that I have had discussions with virtually all other provinces to implement this across Canada.
Today members of the House have an opportunity to show support for first nations across Canada. We have an opportunity to provide first nations in British Columbia with the means to deliver a high quality, meaningful education. We have before us legislation that will inspire hope in all first nations. It is a bill that speaks to the future of Canada.
I know this if I know nothing else about my term as the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. If we can make the education system work and if we can graduate bright, young, capable, articulate, dynamic children from high school, then everything else will take care of itself and our country will be a brighter place.
I urge my colleagues to support Bill C-34.