Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise in this very important debate on post-secondary education for the first nations.
We in the Bloc Québécois have studied the main issues concerning the first nations of Quebec, Labrador and the rest of Canada of course. After a thorough analysis of the situation, we agreed that education was one of the most important issues facing the first nations. We discovered that there are a lot of studies dealing with primary and secondary school education. These aspects are quite well covered and well dealt with by the government, regardless of the party in power.
We were astonished, though, to discover the major shortcoming that exists in regard to post-secondary education. The hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and I realized that this major deficiency existed when we were helping to create a First Nations Pavilion in Val-d’Or, as we are still doing.
The First Nations Pavilion in Val-d’Or is supposed to help educate the aboriginal leaders of tomorrow. It is a university building, therefore, that is supposed to be established and managed by the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue. It is noteworthy that the president of the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue is Ms. Édith Cloutier. The hon. members are probably not very familiar with her, but the people who live in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and are listening to me today know that Édith Cloutier is aboriginal and the director of the Native Friendship Centre in Val d’Or. On the strength of the university courses that she herself took, she is working now on setting up institutions to help her brothers and sisters in the aboriginal communities.
A First Nations Pavilion seemed to us to be very obvious and self-explanatory. The hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and I were in favour and supported it before the committee to ensure that it was recommended. When we submitted this recommendation to the committee to get it adopted and brought forward, we were astounded to discover that the government is only obliged under the Indian Act to provide elementary and secondary school education to Indians. I use the words “Indian” and “Inuit” advisedly because the Indian Act is probably the most retrograde piece of legislation that exists under this government and in this country called Canada. This act must be changed because it keeps the first nations in a state of total poverty. Nothing in the Indian Act requires Canada, as the trustee of the native peoples, to provide them with a post-secondary education. Absolutely nothing.
My hon. colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, who had worked so hard on establishing the First Nations Pavilion was absolutely thunderstruck, as was I, to discover that nothing in the budget or in the legislation required the government to help the first nations go beyond a secondary school education.
That is why we began our work, and it was the Bloc Québécois that was responsible for the adoption of the motion that this should be examined immediately once the committee was established. In considering the work to be done, we decided that our focus would be on post-secondary education, because we felt there had already been quite a few, not to say many studies into elementary and secondary education.
The government indicated in its response and the minister told us that by spring 2008, they would be implementing a new policy dealing with elementary and secondary education for first nations. It did not refer to the essential role of post-secondary education.
My colleague from the Liberal party, who spoke just before me, gave some examples and I will give some as well.
In my riding of Abitibi—Témiscamingue, there are five Algonquin Anishnabe communities—whom I salute by the way—including several communities that have experienced unprecedented population growth.
The government has put nothing in place to train these young people who will be the leaders of tomorrow. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are equally to blame. When it comes to post-secondary education, first nations have been left for too long to manage on their own.
Yes, there is a budget of $308 million. The hon. parliamentary secretary said that this year’s budget provides $308 million for post-secondary education. I asked him a question and I did not receive an answer. Will the government promise to include recurring amounts—I emphasize recurring—for post-secondary education of aboriginal people? Do I have to spell it out for him to understand? If so, I will say it again slowly so that the translation is clear. Will the government include in its future budgets recurring amounts for post-secondary education of aboriginal people? There are none at present. There should be and there must be recurring amounts of money because the survival of the first nations depends on it.
I read the following statement somewhere. I do not know who said it but I will quote it: “Education is the beginning of freedom; education is the beginning of independence; education is the beginning of taking control”.
Let us imagine post-secondary education. I remember what we were told in our history courses. We, French Canadians, were not allowed to get ahead. It would be dangerous to give us too much schooling or we would recognize the way we were being treated and do something about it. That is exactly what is happening in terms of first nations. That is how the country is treating them. They must not get too much education or they will know too much and they will be able to take control of their lives.
If we train too many aboriginal lawyers, they will know their rights. They will be able to sue the federal government, which has kept them in the dark for too long. We must therefore be careful. We must not train too many. We must not train too many therapists. It would be better for white people to take care of that.
Do I need to provide an example? What about the schools where aboriginals were imprisoned? Young aboriginals were imprisoned to make them forget their knowledge, their language and their culture. I am referring to the residential schools.
That came to an end in 1975. I did say 1975. We are not talking about 1875, but 1975. That went on for almost 100 years. Had these peoples been informed in their language and their culture of what was going on in the residential schools, I do not believe that—and I will say it—they would have become as assimilated as they have. That is what happened. The first nations have the right to receive appropriate education.
That starts with post-secondary education, which is the door to the future. That is where doctors are trained. In committee, we met with many people and someone told us that you could not train enough first nations doctors because it takes too long and there was not enough money in the budget. It takes seven to ten years to train a doctor. They have a budget every year.
This is how it works. If a student wants to become an engineer, lawyer, doctor or dentist, he or she must be on a list. Every year, the government awards bursaries, but the bursary must be given out by the band council. The council decides that it does not need a doctor, because the training takes too long. How are the doctors trained? There is not enough money and the first nations are left behind. According to the government, there are not enough aboriginal doctors. An appropriate investment must be made in order for the first nations to develop.
Let us return to the minister's reply. I did not say it, the minister did. This is what he said:
The Government believes that a concept of shared responsibility must apply in providing support for Aboriginal post secondary education and that this entails exploring the range of resources available from public, institutional, non profit and private sector sources.
What I just read means that they want to put the report on a shelf to collect as much dust as possible, and to never talk about it again.
I would like to thank my colleague from the NDP for bringing this issue up today in the House. On the contrary, we must talk about it, because post-secondary education for first nations people is very important. The minister went on to say, and it is worth listening to this:
Issues of funding for post-secondary education will be considered as part of the required review of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's education programs.
This means that nothing will happen at all.
It is not complicated. Will the government commit to recurrent funding in next year's budget, or will it not? I asked the minister that question and I am awaiting an answer. I am also waiting if the answer is no. This would mean that he did not understand anything, that he does not understand anything and that he does not want to understand anything. Education for first nations people is a priority. This is 2007. Post-secondary education is a priority. I agree that this must be done according to the rules. I do not think we should send the money just anywhere. I agree. This is taxpayers' money. We must give some thought to how we spend it. There must be some control.
I have another story. There are 648 first nations in Canada, and the federal government does not know whether each of these communities has an information system linked to the federal government. Something is not working here. This is why we are asking first nations to provide multiple reports. I will not name names in case I am wrong, but a first nation told us that to receive $39,000 it had to produce nine reports for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Nine reports is a little excessive.
We are told that $10 billion has been spent on the first nations and that this is too much. The problem is that the departments do not communicate with each other, as we have seen.
The representatives of the Departments of Justice, Health, Transport and Natural Resources do not talk to the representatives of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and vice versa. Everyone stays in their own corner, and then the point comes when it blows up.
I would like to read another excerpt from the minister's response. This is worth listening to:
To this end, the Department is working with interested parties including First Nations and Inuit representatives on a broad review of its education policies and programs in preparation for renewal of the Department's education programming authorities in March 2008.
If that is not a bureaucratic response, I do not know what is. The public who are listening to us surely cannot imagine anything worse than that.
The problem is that in that sentence the minister is replying only with regard to elementary and secondary education. Not a word is said about post-secondary education. My question to the minister is still the same: are we going to put a recurring item in future budgets that will be called “post-secondary education—$308 million”?
I would like to address another subject. It is unacceptable in 2007 that we would be freezing the increase in the ceiling on first nations spending at 2% a year. When the aboriginal population is climbing by 3.4% a year and the first nations budget is rising by only 2%, something is going to happen. Something will rip, will crack, will break, will be destroyed, I do not quite know what, but we are going to have some very tough days ahead.
Think about it. What is going on in post-secondary education? There is not enough money to send aboriginal people to get training. We are being told that the private sector will have to do its part. I am choosing my words carefully. Education for the first nations is the responsibility of the federal government. If it wants to transfer money to the provincial governments and hand over its role, that is fine. I agree with that. As long as things stay they way they are, however, education for the aboriginal people is the responsibility of the federal government, which has a fiduciary duty, and the government must absolutely shoulder those responsibilities.
My colleague talked about the Kelowna accord. We had an opportunity to hear the former Prime Minister, and the Minister of Finance and Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs who were involved in 2005. They are still members of this House, but I have forgotten the names of their ridings, except for the former Prime Minister; we know that his is LaSalle—Émard. They all said in committee that $280 million per year had been earmarked for education in the budget, in addition to money already budgeted. That would at least have been a start, to get things moving.
I do not want to take more time, but I want to remind this government of its duty. If we want the aboriginal people to develop, to take charge of their future, if we want the aboriginal nations to become self-governing and to be capable of planning their own development so it is not imposed on them by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, we absolutely have to invest large amounts of money, right now. That money has to be recurring in future budgets.