Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development presented on Monday, December 3, 2007, be concurred in.
I am pleased to stand in the House to speak to the motion for concurrence on the report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development entitled “No Higher Priority: Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education in Canada”. This report was originally developed in February 2007 and the government subsequently responded on June 12, 2007.
Given a number of factors that have arisen over the last couple of months, it is timely that we are talking about post-secondary education once again in the House. We have had a number of opportunities to do so over the last several months.
The reason it is so important right now is because the House prorogued, and subsequently we had the throne speech and the economic statement. Certainly, some of the recommendations that were in the report were not addressed in either the throne speech or the economic statement. It would seem important that we are once again talking about post-secondary education.
I want to touch on a couple of the recommendations that were in the report. I will not go over every recommendation, but one of them dealt with student funding. It said that the committee recommends that the 2% annual cap on spending increases for the department for post-secondary education be eliminated immediately.
Of course, the 2% cap was imposed under the Liberal watch and has stayed in place every since. Over 10 years, the 2% has been in place. Certainly, from the reports of the Auditor General and others, it has become apparent that the population growth of first nations, Métis and Inuit people far exceeds the 2% cap that is in place.
The government's response, although lengthy, really did not have a lot of substance. Part of that response was that the government also believes that the responsibility for financing post-secondary education should be shared by learners and their families according to their financial circumstances.
The important part in that line is “according to their financial circumstances”, and certainly on reserve, many first nations face pretty desperate circumstances in their lives in terms of their income.
On a recent campaign 2000 report, it once against emphasized that first nations in this country are the poorest of the poor. That would be first nations, Métis and Inuit. The numbers say that one in four first nations children grows up in poverty and as I said before in the House, we do not have poor children unless we have poor families.
Further on in the report under committee proposals, the committee made a number of proposals for the government. One of them was to ensure outstanding funding and accreditation issues affecting aboriginal controlled institutions would be raised in any intergovernmental meetings on aboriginal post-secondary education, or on post-secondary education more generally, and urged provincial and territorial governments to address them.
In the response to that recommendation, it says:
The primary responsibility for most aspects of the issue, however, resides clearly with the provinces. To the extent there is a federal concern in a particular area, it needs to be addressed by federal and provincial governments working together.
We certainly would agree that much of post-secondary accreditation does fall under provincial jurisdiction, but it is incumbent upon the federal government to take full responsibility for first nations, Inuit and Métis across this country in terms of their access to post-secondary education, so one would look for leadership from the federal government when talking about post-secondary education.
There were numerous witnesses who appeared before the committee. They spoke about the lengthy number of reports that were done over the years. I want to go back to one report that was cited. It was the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. In volume 3, “Gathering Strength”, it talked about post-secondary education. In chapter 5 at page 561 it states:
As the skills requirements of a post-industrial, globalized economy rise, the marginalization, poverty and relative disadvantage of Aboriginal people are in danger of increasing unless success in education can be radically improved.
Equipping successive generations with the skills to participate in a global economy is a major goal of Aboriginal people and their educators, but it is only part of the story.
Aboriginal people are determined to sustain their cultures and identities, and they see education as a major means of preparing their children to perceive the world through Aboriginal eyes and live in it as Aboriginal human beings.
Aboriginal education therefore must be rooted in Aboriginal cultures and community realities. It must reinforce Aboriginal identity, instill traditional values, and affirm the validity of Aboriginal knowledge and ways of learning.
On page 565, the report states:
Our recommendations include establishing an Aboriginal Peoples' International University, an electronic information clearinghouse, a statistical clearinghouse, and a documentation centre. We also recommend the formation of a Canada-wide board or association to set standards and accredit Aboriginal post-secondary programs.
In 1996 the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples held extensive hearings across this country. It heard from organizations and people on the ground and came up with some concrete recommendations. On the tenth anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, we found that the overall response from both the Liberals and the Conservatives had been pretty dim in terms of moving forward.
There is some self-interest here for the rest of Canada. There is certainly the question of fairness and justice in this country and ensuring that first nations, Métis and Inuit have access to post-secondary education, but there is an economic perspective for the rest of Canada as well. Even if arguments fail on the point of fairness and justice, surely economic self-interest would come into play.
A recent study was done by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards. I am going to quote from the press release:
Canada stands to lose billions over the next decade in lost productivity and labour growth because almost one in two aboriginal youths don't graduate from high school....
The study, by Ottawa's Centre for the Study of Living, projects Canada's GDP would grow by an additional $71 billion by 2017 if aboriginals had the same graduation rate as the rest of the population.
Using figures from the 2001 census, the study said only 52 per cent of Canada's aboriginals earned their high school diploma compared to 70 per cent of non-aboriginals.
If the Canadian economy could better harness the potential of aboriginal youths, aboriginal communities and the nation's economy as a whole would benefit....
Further, it states:
“Not only would it significantly contribute to increasing the personal well-being of aboriginal Canadians, but it would also contribute somewhat to alleviating two of the most pressing challenges facing the Canadian economy: slower labour force growth and lacklustre labour productivity growth”.
That is the economic self-interest of Canada.
It has been well documented in Canada that we are facing some critical labour shortages in any number of areas and in any number of provinces in this country. Here is an opportunity to truly invest in education, right from kindergarten through to a post-secondary system. When I am talking about post-secondary, I am not talking simply about university. I am also talking about apprenticeships and vocational and technical programs, because we are seeing shortages in all these areas.
This press release goes on to talk about the fact that only “8.9 per cent of aboriginals held a university degree in 2001 compared to almost 22 per cent of non-aboriginal Canadians”, but they also face tremendous poverty.
States the release:
National Chief Fontaine, with the Assembly of First Nations, said it's clear aboriginals are an “untapped resource”. They are the fastest growing segment of the population and the majority of aboriginals are under 25, he said.
But they also face tremendous poverty--unsafe drinking water, inadequate housing, illnesses and suicide...Until aboriginals can expect the same standard of life...they will have difficulty making a strong contribution to the Canadian economy.
“It doesn't make sense...to keep people poor, poorly educated, poorly trained and unable to access jobs...This is a significant labour pool but it has to be developed.
Further on in the press release, Andrew Sharpe, executive director of the centre and co-author of the study, said:
--the economic argument for boosting aboriginal graduation rates is strong but all levels of government have [an] equally strong moral incentive as well.
So there is the economic argument about why we need to invest in education.
Again, the department's own records show that the Conservative government inherited what the Liberals failed to invest in, so this problem has not erupted in just the last two years. This has been a longstanding problem from coast to coast to coast in terms of investment in aboriginal education.
In the department's own records, both K to 12 and post-secondary are talked about. They cannot be pulled apart if we cannot get children to graduate from grade 12 so that they are eligible for post-secondary. We need investment at both ends of the spectrum.
In its own documents, the department talks about this fact:
The funding shortfall, which is met by the department through internal reallocation of resources from “discretionary” programs, was $86.3 million and is forecast to be $100 million in 2005-06.
Here the department is talking about the fact that there simply has not been enough money going into instructional and support services, despite the growing population.
In light of these kinds of numbers, the department has also looked at the fact that over the last six years any real capital and facilities management expenditures have actually declined. “This is because the CFM program is often perceived as discretionary,” says the department, “and its resources are used to make up funding shortfalls in other more essential programs such as Elementary/Secondary Education and Child and Family Services”.
Thus, schools are being underfunded because bands are forced into the position where they have to reallocate funds. They simply do not have enough to meet some of their other pressing needs.
The department goes on to talk about the fact that the “per capita expenditure on capital has declined from $1,660 to $1,225, or a 35% decrease in current dollars”. The money simply is not going as far as it used to. Further on, there is a mention of the estimated five year incremental capital requirements. Overall there is a $1.6 billion shortfall and that is just on projects currently on the books.
In addition, bands continue to face an outdated band school funding formula. The Assembly of First Nations representatives from Quebec and Labrador were on the Hill yesterday. They were here to raise awareness around first nations education.
They talked specifically about the band school funding formula. They say that “the formula ignores a number of costs”, as follows: zero dollars for the integration of technology in schools; zero dollars for school libraries; zero dollars for vocational training in secondary schools; zero dollars for extracurricular sports and recreation activities; zero dollars for implementing provincial education reforms; and zero dollars for providing students with a diversified and stimulating curriculum, such as sports, arts and international programs.
The band operating funding formula is due to expire in March 2008. We are hearing from bands from coast to coast that they are simply not being included in a meaningful way in the discussions around what is needed in their communities.
As well, the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec and Labrador has done a comparative study on the kind of funding that is received by provinces and territories. There are huge discrepancies. I will not go over every difference in provincial averages, but the average funding per student across the country is $13,588 for a provincial student. For an aboriginal student, the provincial average is only $7,946.
We can see the huge difference in those numbers, which means that what we are continuing to say to first nations across this country is that they are second class citizens and they do not deserve to have education at the same rate as every other Canadian student who goes to a provincially funded school.
When we are talking about post-secondary, there are a couple of points that I would like to make. One is that the Canadian Council on Learning has made some recommendations. Again, we have had report after report. This is another report that talks about it and is called “Post-Secondary Education in Canada: Strategies for Success”.
Although this is larger than the first nations report, a number of the recommendations apply equally to first nations. There are three key recommendations. The report talks about: “The development of a national framework with the participation of [post-secondary education] partners across Canada; the development and implementation of a national data strategy; the development of a series of benchmarks that measure Canadian progress through the efforts of the sector”.
In the report, the council talks about the fact that “Canada does not have the structure, practices and mechanisms to maximize the [post-secondary education] sector's social and economic contribution”.
We know that a significant percentage of the jobs that are going to be created or are currently being created across Canada require post-secondary education. We have an untapped resource with aboriginal peoples who could fill those jobs, but we simply are not investing and we do not have a national strategy. Instead what we often hear is passing the buck. The federal government simply will rely on provincial governments to step in and fulfill what is a responsibility of the federal government for first nations, Métis and Inuit.
I want to come back to the First Nations Technical Institute, FNTI. This is a first nations institute that has a good track record. It has had over 2,000 graduates, with almost 400 aboriginal students per year, and it has established its credibility in terms of educating students to actually step into that job market.
However, its federal funding in 2004 was cut by 50%, “leading to double-digit layoffs, wage freezes and restructuring of the institute”. Again in October of this year it was advised that its current budget, and we are part-way through a fiscal year, was slashed by an additional 65%. Here is a first nations post-secondary institute that has a track record in terms of graduating students with some success, yet its money is being cut.
The conciliator's final report, dated March 1, 2006, “The Nunavut Project”--and again, it was talking about K to 12, but this report also touched on post-secondary--talked about the Nunavut Sivuniksavut, which is also called NS, and the track record and the difficulties that this institution has in obtaining funding.
In Justice Berger's report, he states:
Perhaps the most striking figure is the completion rate: over the past 10 years, between 80 and 85 percent of NS students have graduated, a remarkable figure when the nature of [the]program and its distance from home--geographically and culturally--is considered.
NS is a nonprofit organization and a registered charity, with strong oversight. My sense is that few pennies are wasted, except those that must go to fundraising: since only NTI has committed to long-term funding of NS, the program must go cap-in-hand to other organizations and donors to ensure ongoing support. This is a strain on the minimal administrative resources available.
He goes on to say that despite the fact there is a demand there is very limited capacity to actually expand this program, simply because NS just does not have the funding in place. Like many organizations, it goes go from year to year, or perhaps in three-year terms, for funding. What organizations like NS need is long term and sustained core funding that allows them to focus on education rather than fundraising. It is very difficult to talk about a post-secondary institution that ends up spending a significant part of its very limited resources fundraising just to keep its doors open when it has such a great success rate.
The committee had the opportunity to go to the school, hear from the students and see their accomplishments. I would be surprised if each and every committee member was not touched upon seeing the energy and enthusiasm of the staff and students for this opportunity.
These students come here with great personal difficulty. They travel far from home. Some have children and bring their children with them. They are separated from their families and communities, yet they come here because they recognize how important education is for Nunavut in terms of stepping into the 21st century in a way that means they are meaningful participants in their economy and their communities.
It is another really good example of where the federal government could demonstrate leadership and could step in to provide some long term, sustained funding for this very important organization.
We cannot take education apart and have it as a stand-alone. Yesterday we heard from Chief Picard, who talked about the fact that the approach is often a patchwork. People take one part of a program and work at resolving some of the difficulties and challenges, but they do not look at it in the context of the whole.
When we are talking about post-secondary education, what we also know is that it is very difficult for these students and for their families to have these students go far away, because they simply do not have the money and the resources to return home when they need connection with their family. If they do return home, they are often dealing with overcrowded conditions and very difficult study conditions.
If we are serious about tackling poverty with regard to first nations, Métis and Inuit, we simply must invest in post-secondary education in order to provide those economic opportunities. Many people in this House will say that a job is the way out of poverty, but to get a job people need an education in order to take advantage of the opportunities that are available.
I would urge members in this House to support the recommendations in the standing committee's report on post-secondary education. I would certainly urge the Conservatives to take some of that surplus and invest it in a meaningful way in first nations communities.