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House of Commons Hansard #173 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was post-secondary.

Topics

Conflict of Interest and Ethics CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

And five or more members having risen:

Conflict of Interest and Ethics CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

In accordance with the order adopted earlier this day, the division on this motion is deferred until 6:30 p.m. later this day.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 18th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I move that the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development presented on Monday, February 12, 2007, be concurred in.

The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development looked at post-secondary education for first nations and submitted a report. We now have the government response to that report. It is an opportunity for us to talk about not only the importance of post-secondary education, but also some of the broader issues facing first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

I will not go through all of the recommendations in the report, but essentially the report focuses on a couple of key areas. One area is around information. Some of the recommendations in the report of the standing committee dealt with the fact that information is absolutely essential to ensure that first nations have access to best practices and information that would enhance the availability of education. There really is inadequate information around the statistics on access, how many students do not get on the waiting lists, how many students complete their education, or what their employability is. There is a huge gap in information and data gathering.

The other two areas where there were substantial recommendations from the standing committee were around post-secondary funding and access for first nations, in other words, student and band funding, and funding for post-secondary educational institutes.

On student funding, one of the recommendations centred around the fact that there really is inadequate funding in terms of tuition, living costs, support to families and the different scenarios that students face in this day and age. I am going to be talking a bit more about that. The first nations post-secondary educational institutions have very limited access to funding. Much of that money has to be sought through their own devices.

I must admit that the government response was very disappointing. The response obscures information. It does not directly deal with some of the issues. It was a non-response in many cases. Some of the language that was used in the report is obscure in that at times, it talks about aboriginal peoples, and at times it talks about first nations, Métis and Inuit. That language continues to cross over. This obscures the reality in many communities about who is getting access, and how many people and how much money. When it comes to things like completion rates, it further obscures the data.

The committee heard from many people across the country. We heard concerns consistently from coast to coast to coast about how first nations post-secondary education is handled in this country. I want to add something on top of this, a very recent decision that is going to further compound the difficulty.

The B.C. Supreme Court in the Sharon McIvor case ruled that a section of the Indian Act is discriminatory against women. The Sharon McIvor case has gone on for 18 years. Many women and men across the country are hoping the government will not appeal this very important decision, particularly a government that continues to claim it is functioning from a place of human rights. If the current government sees fit not to appeal the case, the government will be facing an additional funding crunch when it comes to things like post-secondary education, housing and all of the other things that are under continuous funding constraints on reserve. Up to a third more students could be eligible for post-secondary education if this decision is not appealed. The very difficult situation that is facing many people on reserve now would only get worse.

I want to talk a little about the social context. We cannot talk about education without looking at the social context.

We have talked about these numbers in the House of Commons before, but they are worth repeating. One in four first nations children lives in poverty compared to one in six Canadian children. One-third of first nations households with children are overcrowded. More than half of first nations children face health issues because of obesity. High school completion among first nations youth is half the Canadian rate. At the current rate it will take 28 years for first nations to catch up to the non-aboriginal population.

When we talk about poverty, one of the arguments that is frequently made is that one way to close the poverty gap is to look at economic development and education. If that is the case, then we need to invest money in that area.

Another argument that is often made is about the myth that exists. The Assembly of First Nations published a paper, “The $9 billion myth exposed”. There is a myth that first nations on reserve have all the access they want to education, that money is no object. Of course, we know that is absolutely not true.

The other number that is bandied about is that each individual on reserve gets $16,000, plus or minus. The Assembly of First Nations looked at some of these numbers and published the paper, “Fiscal Imbalance: The Truth About Spending on First Nations”. In talking about per capita spending, it said:

Per capita spending on First Nations is half the amount for average Canadians (between $7,000-$8,000 compared to $15,000-$16,000). Spending on First Nations through core federal programs is capped annually at rates lower than inflation and population growth.

That is an important point to raise because the notion that there is unlimited access is just not fair and not true.

In many first nations communities the reality is that their responsible governments, their chiefs and council are often faced with the very difficult decisions around whether to spend money on education when people are going without adequate housing, or whether to spend money on education when people do not have access to clean drinking water. That continuing pressure on band councils exists.

The 2% cap in federal funding has been in place since 1996 and applies across reserves for all funding, except health. Health is at a 3% cap.

When we look at the long history of recommendations around providing access to post-secondary education, report after report after report has talked about the importance of post-secondary education and funding it adequately. In the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, volume 3, “Gathering Strength”, chapter 5 on education, paragraph 3.5.20 says:

The government of Canada recognize and fulfil its obligation to treaty nations by supporting a full range of education services, including post-secondary education, for members of treaty nations where a promise of education appears in treaty texts, related documents or oral histories of the parties involved.

In paragraph 3.5.19 it states:

Federal, provincial and territorial governments collaborate with Aboriginal governments and organizations to facilitate integrated delivery of adult literacy, basic education, academic upgrading and job training under the control of Aboriginal people--

It talks about delegating responsibility and supporting the adaptation of programs, and so on. The final point in the RCAP report is under paragraph 3.5.21, which states:

The federal government continue to support the costs of post-secondary education for First Nations and Inuit post-secondary students and make additional resources available

(a) to mitigate the impact of increased costs as post-secondary institutions shift to a new policy environment in post-secondary education; and

(b) to meet the anticipated higher level of demand for post-secondary education services.

As far back as 10 years ago that very comprehensive report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples had some very strong, clear recommendations that talked about the need to adequately fund and support post-secondary education.

In November 1996 the then Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, in a report on education dealing primarily with elementary and secondary education, made a recommendation on a national aboriginal education institute. It talked about the fact that the mandate could include a resource centre for curriculum gathering and development, evaluation of education and labour training programs, analysis and reporting on innovations and best practices, and a collection of data on academic performance.

This is a report from over 10 years ago. Some of the recommendations in this report are the very same recommendations that the current standing committee was making. In 10 years there has been no action.

In addition, the April 2000 Auditor General's report focused on elementary and secondary education. In her observations and recommendations in paragraph 4.23, she said:

--education for First Nations has been studied for over 20 years. This includes at least 22 studies between 1991 and 1999 in one departmental region--

That is one departmental region. There has been study after study after study and still we continue to see that gap in post-secondary education availability and accessibility. In the Auditor General's report of November 2004, we begin to see a pattern. We do a lot of talking. We do a lot of reports. We do a lot of responses to reports. Where is the action? In her 2004 report the Auditor General in paragraph 5.91 talked about the fact that Parliament is not receiving a complete picture. She said:

It does not compare the post-secondary achievement of First Nations people, living on or off reserves, with that of the Canadian population as a whole; nor does it explain to what extent the program contributes to the educational achievement of First Nations.

This speaks directly to one of the recommendations in the report, that there is insufficient information to talk about the results around the money that is being spent. First nations are calling for that support. They need help on reserve and off reserve in order to gather adequate data.

In the same report, in paragraph 5.92, the Auditor General said:

Unaudited departmental information also indicates that the annual number of students being funded has actually been declining in recent years, from a high of about 27,000 in 1998-99 to about 25,000 in 2002-03. However, the Department does not explain this trend.

In paragraph 5.93 it states:

We noted that about 27 percent of the First Nations population...between 15 and 44 years of age hold a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree compared with 46 percent of the Canadian population within the same age group. We believe that Parliament should be informed about the gap, the potential causes, and the way that the program helps to address it.

It sounds like there is more need for information.

An audit was prepared by the Developmental Audit and Evaluation Branch, assisted by Hanson/Macleod Institute. This is an evaluation of the post-secondary education program from June 2005. This is an audit on the department's own work. It looked at both post-secondary education and the Indian studies support program. In talking about the funding formula, it states:

The formula covered the costs of tuition, books and an itemized list of living expenses. Since 1997, block funding envelopes have been capped with annual increases allotted according to Treasury Board directives.

One of the things we have been talking about is that the funding is capped and is creating some serious problems. Later on in the audit report under “Findings: Rationale and Relevance” it talks about the importance. It says:

Post-secondary education for First Nations and Inuit is intended to lead to enhanced economic self-reliance and stronger communities, people and economies, all of which are consistent with federal policies and priorities.

That is an important item. In Canada we often hear about the looming skills shortages. We also hear about the population increase in first nations. First nations in this country currently have a higher birth rate. We are seeing in some places a significant growth in the youth population. Here is a ready population to help address the skills shortages, but that means access not only to post-secondary education, but to apprenticeship programs as well.

The report says that first nations and Inuit participation rates have not yet achieved the same level as other Canadians or even that of other aboriginals. Between 1986 and 1996 for example, although first nations participation rates followed the same upward trends of those of other aboriginal Canadian students, they remained roughly 10% and 14% lower than the other two groups throughout the decade.

Furthermore, program utilization rates amply demonstrate a strong level of pent-up demand among first nations and Inuit communities for additional resources in both PSSSP and the ISSP sub-programs. It is estimated that 3,575 students were deferred each year between 1999-2000 and 2001-02 and that, for instance, requests for ISSP funding outstripped available resources over the past years by factors of two to one in one region and by three or four to one between 1995 and 1997 in other regions.

This is the department's own information that continues to support that there is an absolute need to address some of the gaps. Later on in the same report it says:

Statistics show improved employment rates among First Nation and Inuit individuals with higher levels of education. Employment income also increases dramatically as a percentage of total income as educational attainment levels increase. Given that many student respondents said they would not have been able to improve their education level without the PSE program support, it was concluded that the program has achieved progress in enhancing individuals' economic self-reliance.

It does say in here that this is based on the best available evidence. We have heard from other places that the information available is inconsistent and often does not deal specifically with employability outcomes. Under “Cost-Effectiveness” it states:

It was found that the guidelines for a PSSSP student living allowances are 14 years out of date, that PSSSP students are, on average, receiving between $500 and $4,000 less per academic year than they are paying in living expenses; and that current per student allowances are below the national average established under the Canada Student Loan Program five years ago.

One of the comments in the report was the fact that students could go and get a student loan. That certainly is an option for some students, but for many students that is just not an option. First of all, they are often coming from areas of extreme poverty and there is something called “sticker shock”. For many students, unless there is some support in recruiting and retention, they are actually even prohibited from getting into a university or college to begin with.

In fact, many of the universities cannot supply that information about which students are actually deterred from actually entering into a post-secondary education institution because of what they call sticker shock. As we know, tuition costs continue to go up across this country and many students, both first nations and non-first nations students, are simply not able to access affordable education in this country.

There was a cost-drivers report, again it is the department's own analysis, which said:

The PSE program is recognized as one of the more effective means of eliminating the gap in life chances between First Nations and Canadians, and is funded as a matter of social policy by the Canadian government.

Since the introduction of the 2% growth cap in 1996-97 the number of students has fallen by 9%...The decrease is attributed to post-secondary funding being reallocated to cover non-discretionary costs such as provincial school billings and the per student costs growing as a result of the cost-drivers below.

When it talks about the cost-drivers, it talks about some other impacts. There are an increasing number of secondary students graduating from high school which is of course putting demands on the funds that are available. There is a cohort of mature students who are finding that older students are now wanting to return to school and complete their education. Of course the budget is a huge constraint.

It talks about the amount of resources that are required in order to catch-up. This was part of the “resource ask” that the parliamentary standing committee put in its report. The catch-up said:

In order to return first nations post-secondary education participation to 1996-97 levels, ongoing annual funding of approximately $24.8 million would be required.

This is actually based on a rate of $11,390 per student which the report later on talks about the fact that it should actually be based on $13,300 per student, which is a blended rate.

To increase first nations post-secondary education participation in accordance with population growth of the 18-34 age cohort would require a further $22.6 million annually.

There are more numbers in that report, but I think the point is that the department's own information talks about a very serious gap.

One of the things that the government will say, and previous governments have said, is that post-secondary education is a matter of social policy; it is not a legislative requirement. The government has a responsibility, whether it wants to acknowledge it or not, and social policy or not. A need has been clearly identified through a number of reports, audits and evaluations. I would suggest that the parliamentary standing committee's report requesting a removal of that 2% cap is an important report.

In 2004, the Assembly of First Nations prepared a paper called “Background Paper on Lifelong Learning”. That report talked about the fact that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada had not changed post-secondary education, PSE, policies and programs since 1988 or kept current with the increasing costs of higher education.

Policy changes in 1988 resulted in a reduced number of students eligible for funding. Applicants being placed on waiting lists, limited access to PSE by offers or residence, outdated guidelines, amounts for student living costs, tuition fees and educational expenditures discouraged and stressed first nations people. Students experienced financial hardship and many had to drop out. Funding was subsidized through other social programs. Again, the litany continues.

I want to turn very briefly to the fact that post-secondary education institutions are left out of this mix. They are an important part of the picture. I hope that the government will take a serious look at the report prepared by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and follow through on the recommendations that were made.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important motion and one that this House needs to act on very quickly. I would like to ask my hon. colleague this question. What does she think the positive impact of implementing these recommendations would be on the aboriginal community?

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the input that the member has provided at committee around this important issue.

We in Canada have been cited internationally for our work around poverty on reserves. Whether it is the Conference Board of Canada or other think tanks, one of the elements that consistently comes up is the fact that we have to provide education if we want to raise people's standard of living.

The committee specifically dealt with post-secondary education, but was fully aware that the kindergarten to grade 12 system needs to be addressed. The department is supposed to put together some material on this. A report is coming, but we are still waiting for it.

In terms of post-secondary education, whether it is university, college, vocational, or technical apprenticeship, it will truly help raise people out of poverty. When we talk about things like capacity building, when we talk about things like self-government, or when we talk about things like economic development, education is key.

The recommendations that came from the standing committee are extremely important in terms of addressing the gap in first nations' ability to access education.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member and I want to congratulate her first for presenting this motion that will be debated in the next few minutes, here in this House, and also for the work she does in committee.

When the work of the committee began, at the start of the new session, we spent some time determining which issues the committee should address, which should take priority and which required exhaustive study.

Lord knows that when it comes to aboriginals, there are a number of issues, such as water, housing, health and so forth. We agreed that the key was post-secondary education, to ensure that whether aboriginals lived on reserve or not, they could achieve independence and be able to work.

We made an initial observation and I am surprised the minister did not mention it in his response. It is all well and good for the government to say that it is allocating $308 million in the 2006-07 budget to post-secondary education, but this is a one-time allocation. The Conservatives can suddenly decide to cut the budget, scrap the $308 million and use it for something else.

Does the hon. member believe that we should urge the government to take another look at its findings and carry out the main recommendations, namely recommendations one and two, which are so very important?

Post-secondary education needs a stable budget. The survival of the first nations depends on it.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue is a hard-working colleague on the committee. The issue around funding of course was key to the report from the standing committee.

I talked about the context of the 2% cap that has been in place since 1996 and the growth in population.

The other issue is that there is not multi-year long term funding that has been committed year over year. The challenge that happens for people is that they are not able to do some of that long term planning and strategic thinking that needs to take place in terms of addressing the very real needs around post-secondary education.

Because it is social policy it is not legislative and therefore there could be a change in the funding levels. They could be decreased because it is a matter of social policy.

The committee recognized that fact and called for that long term stable funding to be in place. Therefore, I would absolutely support that kind of funding mechanism to be put in place and would encourage the government to actually take up the very good work that the standing committee did on these recommendations.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development I certainly learned a lot about the educational needs of our aboriginal students in that study.

One of the statements that was made during that study was that aboriginal students who complete secondary school are as likely to graduate from a post-secondary education as non-aboriginal students.

Would the member agree that we need to spend more time on initiatives to help primary and secondary students succeed? Because the member comes from British Columbia, perhaps she could focus on a recent agreement that was signed that would possibly be a model for other areas to implement in terms of increasing those opportunities for aboriginal students.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think it is unfortunate that we end up in a discussion that talks about either/or. This really needs to be a discussion that talks about and/and. Absolutely, we need to take a look at kindergarten to grade 12. We need to take a look at supports, completion rates and culturally relative curriculum.

We need to continue to take a look at the fact that a number of post-secondary students simply do not have access. They simply cannot afford to get in. The bands cannot afford to send them. We need to take a look at the fact that we could really help address the economic disparities on reserves by ensuring that access to post-secondary education is there for first nations students who wish to take that up.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I recently had the honour of attending a graduation ceremony at the Friendship Centre in Victoria of aboriginal students and others who had completed a bridging program, since these were largely adults who had less schooling and found a way of coming back.

During the evening I spent a lot of time talking with many of them and I found out that they were saddled with huge debts. Does my colleague think that aboriginal people, adults and young people who want to go back to school, have the support they need?

The young people with whom I spoke that evening were interested in going up north to Alert Bay do a traditional trip as part of the completion of their program and to get a better understanding of their own culture.

Could the member talk a bit about what exists in terms of first nations post-secondary education, institutions and programs.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the post-secondary education critic, I know my colleague from Victoria comes up against the cost of tuition and the cost of student support all the time. It is compounded in first nations communities because many times we have older students who are returning to school and they need to deal with things like child care and additional transportation costs because they are often leaving remote communities.

In terms of the importance of a culturally relevant curriculum, which includes things like trips to Alert Bay, there simply is not the funding to develop that culturally relevant curriculum and there is not the funding around appropriate language material. In terms of support to first nations post-secondary education institutions, it was not until amendments to the Indian Act in 1951 that first nations people were actually even permitted to go to post-secondary institutions.

We also have this long and sad legacy of residential schools which has meant that many students have struggled in terms of leaving their communities to go away to educational institutions. The importance of first nations post-secondary educational institutions is extremely important in that kind of social context.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

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.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

That is not true.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

It is very important and that is true.

In 1977, the Canadian Human Rights Act exempted first nations people on reserve from being able to launch human rights complaints against other bodies, first nations or, of course, the Government of Canada. This is something that has been in place for a number of years and it needs to be changed. Thankfully, we have a bill before the House of Commons right now that would repeal this unfortunate exemption and allow for first nations people on reserve to lodge their complaints in areas that they feel they are being infringed upon.

I would like to wrap up by saying that this government is very committed to education for first nations people, not only post-secondary but also education at the secondary level.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I find it really interesting that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development would find it necessary in this speech to mention me, which maybe is complimentary.

Nonetheless, speaking about human rights, first nations' access to education and post-secondary education as being the fundamental premise, as we have heard, in terms of building a better standard of living is necessary for first nations as the disparity is so great.

Could the member expand upon the principles of the B.C. legislation model that he talked about because we have seen that type of model throughout Canada with first nations who have been very active in terms of having frameworks for first nations education? We have it in Manitoba. I think it would be very good for the parliamentary secretary to know that because that is his home province. If he could expand upon the principles of the B.C. education model that would be very helpful.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, prior to becoming a member of Parliament I came from the film industry and as such I am a great fan of all movie stars, so perhaps that is one of the reasons why I made my comments.

In relation to the member's question, I do have an interest in theB.C. model. I think it could work well for other jurisdictions, including Manitoba. Having spoken with individuals within the province and also with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, I know that there is an interest in this.

I think one thing that is agreed on is that the current outcomes in secondary education in Manitoba in first nations communities are not satisfactory. This is one of the reasons why we need to move to a model that will look toward bringing about standards that allow first nation learners to enter into post-secondary education in a way similar to that of other students in other demographics.

I know that there is a lot of interest in first nations communities in being able to embrace some of the things that British Columbia has done with its important piece of legislation.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the parliamentary secretary. I still have many questions. The minister's response to the report, in which we invested many hours and days of work, and that was tabled here in this House, is inadequate, in my opinion.

The minister must understand—and I hope his parliamentary secretary will make him understand—that the money earmarked this year in the budget for post-secondary education, that is, $308 million, is unfortunately not permanent. In addition, for any reason at all, the government could decide tomorrow that there is no longer any money and announce that it is cutting the $308 million.

Why will the government not plan for this money from now on, in the form of an established program? Indeed, there is no program at this time. This amount is being paid at the discretion of the minister or the Treasury Board.

Once again, post-secondary education for first nations people is being jeopardized. I will give a quick example. We asked the minister to intervene to help establish a first nations university in Val-d'Or—the First Nations Pavilion—construction of which is scheduled to start immediately. We are calling on him to intervene to help us create day-to-day educational programs for first nations people. The answer is no, because there is no money, and any money we do have is going only for something else.

Why can we not budget this money, that is, $308 million, every year? Thus, from one year to the next, we could be guaranteed this amount, which would no longer be subject to Treasury Board approval.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, of course the $300 million that the member speaks about is in this budget, as it has been in previous budgets, and it will continue to be. Our budgets are approved by the House, budgets that his party has the ability to vote for, and it has done so.

I expect that this will continue all along, as our government has said. We will continue to say that post-secondary education is essential for first nation learners in order for them to achieve the degree of economic outcome that so many other citizens in Canada have.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, in his speech the member raised the issue of human rights, so I would like to ask him a question given the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision with respect to the Sharon McIvor case. In regard to its potential impact, given that this decision has the potential to increase the number of people who could be eligible for funding in a number of areas, including post-secondary funding, I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could give some indication to the House as to whether or not the government intends to appeal that decision.

If the government does not intend to appeal that decision, given the context that we already have around a 2% funding cap and around growth in the number of young people on reserve who are eligible for post-secondary education, I wonder if he could indicate what plans the government has for addressing the potential increase in the number of eligible students applying for post-secondary education.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my presentation, the amount of $300 million is something that I believe can be more efficiently allocated. I think that efficiencies are the most important part of making this allocation work better for first nations people. I know that some of those recommendations are in the report and hopefully possibly will advance this outcome.

In relation to human rights violations that might be occurring in Canada, I think that as a government that is one of the reasons why we are bringing forward Bill C-44. We are not going to stop because there might be a flood of complaints. We do not think that is going to be the case, but that is no reason to put off such important efforts.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to come back again to the McIvor decision, which my colleague opposite raised. It is a very important decision. It is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for first nation communities and indeed for Canada.

It is important that the parliamentary secretary be able to elaborate on what kinds of efficiencies could take place in post-secondary funding. When we look at the potential for 200,000 more people to be recognized as having status, we do not know what the numbers will be in terms of those eligible for post-secondary education, but given the demographics of the community, we know it will be substantial. We need to know a little more about what idea the government has as it relates to efficiencies in education. What we are hearing about over and over again is lack of opportunity and lack of capital funding.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, of course the member opposite has spent some time at the aboriginal affairs committee with me on this very topic. I also have focused much of my interest on the fact that this dollar amount of some $300 million does get invested into general revenue within the communities.

Occasionally it does not even make it to said communities, so this is where I think efficiencies can be brought about. When these dollars can be tied to specific spots, it will be a great improvement, so I hope that as time proceeds we can see a model like this in the future.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion presented by the member from the New Democratic Party. I sat with her on the aboriginal affairs committee for a period of time.

I rise because this issue is very important to me. I probably would not be standing here today if not for the post-secondary program in my community. My wife and I were the first university graduates from our families and we were both the first in our families to graduate from grade 12. If not for the post-secondary program, I honestly and truly really would not be here. The quality of life that my children and my family enjoy today is key. The key to that quality of life has been the support I got from the post-secondary education program.

With both our families coming from poverty and being raised in northern isolated communities, we did not and could not afford the opportunity to attend post-secondary education. I feel that I serve my country and my people much better as a productive member of Canada by having secured an education and by contributing to what needs to be done to make our country even better.

This is what the post-secondary program has done for me, my wife and my kids. My two eldest children are now going to university as well. I know that they both are going to be a tremendous success and will continue to contribute to their community, their province and their country in the way that I hope I am doing in the role I am enjoying today as a member of Parliament in this great House of Commons.

When I look back at my situation and the situations back home, this is the aspiration of many first nations, Métis and Inuit youth in this country: to secure an education and to secure the support, because many of my people, whether they are first nations, Métis or Inuit, unfortunately find themselves in a situation where poverty is a daily reality. Education is the key to being able to rise from that poverty, as the parliamentary secretary spoke about and as my hon. colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan and many others have spoken about.

Having grown up in a community where poverty and such things are unfortunately the norm, we are starting to see a change. We are starting to see an emerging reality where there is a positive attitude, where people can see a light at the end of the tunnel. One of the biggest ways to support achieving that new pinnacle or that next level, moving out of poverty, is by securing that education.

I agree with the parliamentary secretary that the K to 12 system is key to this, but we cannot ignore post-secondary today, and I will speak a bit more to that as we move on.

For the most part, aboriginal people have existed on the margins of this great country. I will speak very briefly about three modern phases of aboriginal-state relations and I will put into context why post-secondary funding and institution support funding are key today.

From shortly after the world war ended until about 1969, aboriginal people were in their communities. Governments knew we were there, but there was never any response unless there was a crisis. Until a crisis occurred, the government response was usually ad hoc. There was no real resolution in the short, medium or long term. It was just an ad hoc crisis. That is the name of that phase. It was just an ad hoc crisis relationship between the aboriginal peoples of this country and the state.

Something changed in 1969. The spark that caused an upwelling within the aboriginal community was the issue we are talking about today: education. The white paper was introduced in 1969. One of the keys in that document, aside from language that our people did not like, was that in order for us to be contributing members of Canadian society, we needed to access post-secondary education, or our education system needed improvement.

That launched the next phase. Aboriginal people were tired of being marginalized. It was only in recent memory that they were able to hire lawyers and able to leave the reserves to shop or do anything. They needed a permit from the Indian agent. They all still remember not being able to vote until just recently. Coming out of that phase into the next phase, they challenged, stood up and wanted their rights recognized. The key issue that arose at that point was the Indian control of the Indian education document that came out in 1972.

From about 1970 until the early 1990s, it was very much a phase where aboriginal state relations were best characterized as confrontational. Aboriginal people used the courts to identify, protect and advance their rights. Unfortunately, blockades and other events occurred in Oka and Ipperwash where lives were lost. This was not a very positive time in that relationship phase from the early seventies to the mid-nineties.

However, out of that came some clarity. The Supreme Court, the Federal Court and the provincial courts said that enough was enough. They said that there were enough case law and decisions that the government and the first nations, Métis and Inuit people should use to guide the next stage of the relationship. They told all parties to take those tools and use them as a framework to establish a new relationship between Canada's aboriginal people and Canada.

With RCAP in 1993, we began to see a bit of a change in the relationship that began as an ad hoc crisis. It was “we know you're there but we really don't care if you're there” attitude. It was a phase where there was confrontation. The early nineties started with a more collaborative approach, in part fuelled by RCAP. We saw an increase in the devolution of programs to aboriginal communities. We saw over 100 self-government tables spring up across the country.

What we saw from the nineties to now was an emerging consensus that we were here to stay in this country and that we all needed to work together. We needed to build on the rights that were there. We needed to put them within the Canadian context so we could be Canadian together.

Having been a chief at the time that the Kelowna accord was negotiated, the Kelowna was the high-water mark in that relationship. The political accords signed between the first nations, the Métis and the Inuit were key documents which spelled out how the Government of Canada should proceed in its relationship with first nations, Métis and Inuit people to discuss issues of mutual concern, such as post-secondary education, housing, economic development, health and so on.

Unfortunately, that high-water mark was erased. What concerns me today is that we are starting to see a relationship going back to the middle phase, a phase that nobody wants. Certainly the first nations, Métis and Inuit people do not want to go back to that more confrontational phase after they have invested blood, sweat and tears to get to the relationship where collaboration ruled the day.

The number one priority achieved with the Kelowna accord and the political accords was to break the back of poverty in aboriginal communities. That had to be the number one pressing issue we had to address. Having said that, I am concerned that we are moving backward after achieving so much.

That is characterizing a bit of where we are at. It helps to set a context. I want to speak about aboriginal people themselves. I do not know how many of us in this House understand that 50% of the aboriginal population is under the age of 18 for the most part, for sure under the age of 20. In communities in my riding, 50% are under the age of 18. That represents potential that cannot go wasted, a potential that, if we mobilize this young population properly, could help break the back of the poverty that I spoke about earlier. This is a population we cannot ignore.

Yes, $305 million were talked about but I, respectfully, wholeheartedly disagreed with the parliamentary secretary's comment that the money could be spent in a better way. Sure, that could probably happen, but there is not enough there to meet the demand we have today. Any money can be spent in a more appropriate way but it is important to point out that what the parliamentary secretary and the government ignore is that government has not provided the infrastructure for proper data collection to occur.

We then have irrational numbers that people pick and choose and use against each other. The fact is that today we have the highest number of young people that we have ever seen in the history of the country who need support to go to post-secondary education because, unfortunately, many of them living in poverty. Start of story, end a story.

Therefore, we need that investment, they need that investment and Canada needs that investment today.

I am also concerned about some of the messaging coming from the government side that aboriginal people are to blame for the mess they are in. I think it is absolutely critical to understand that government policies, not necessarily just the Conservative government, but the past government, have forced aboriginal people, more particularly first nations people, to implement policies that discriminate against their own. Therefore, we have discrimination between on reserve and off reserve, between men and women, between children with disabilities and children without and between what status one was born with under the Indian Act membership code and what one was not born with.

It is those policies that have contributed to painting a real negative picture because people do not understand. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, which is what we have across the floor. It is that little knowledge about the realities that gets assembled to point the finger specifically at aboriginal people for the situation they find themselves in. That is what concerns me the most.

It must be understood that aboriginal people across the country are out there getting jobs. They are going to work in the morning. They are seeing their kids off to school, registering them, if they can, in minor hockey and minor sports, and they are paying their bills trying to do what Canadians do every day.

However, the future has them worried because the opportunities for success are extraordinarily narrower for aboriginal people than they are for the average Canadian because of the poverty they find themselves in.

What concerns me is that we see the media and many others profess that the sins of the aboriginal people are their own. However, they go too far when they say that. We have people who confuse the culture of poverty with the culture of the aboriginal people. The culture of poverty does not discriminate between the colour of our skin. Poverty wreaks havoc in one's life. Sometimes I get concerned with the messaging from all sectors of Canada that confuse the two and say, “It's your fault that you're in the situation that you're in”.

The good news in the aboriginal community is that we are seeing some of the highest rates of graduation from grade 12 in the history of this country and some of the highest rates of graduation from post-secondary institutions in this country. We are seeing the highest rates of business development, new businesses, successful businesses being developed in aboriginal communities by aboriginal people in this country that we have never seen before. It is unprecedented.

There is good news out there and I would like all members of the House to take the time to find out about that good news because it is simply too easy to find out the bad. When we confuse the bad with the message of connecting cultural poverty with the culture of aboriginal people, we are doing a huge disservice to aboriginal people and to Canadians in general. There is good news out there and there is a tremendous and positive amount of things happening.

Where is Canada at? This country is going through an economic boom in many sectors but mostly in the resource sector. Economic activity in the resource sector typically occurs near aboriginal communities. That economic activity provides the opportunity for skilled jobs in many different areas. It provides an opportunity for business development. When we talk about this economic boom in the resource sector, trades, professional training, management training, all these things become available. Skilled labour is needed within the mines or in whatever the resource activity. There are joint venture partnerships in business, partnerships in general and sole ownership. Opportunities present themselves. We need to look at where we are today and line up the resources to capitalize on the youthful population.

Canada is experiencing a labour shortage. Baby boomers are retiring at an alarming rate. Within the next five years I hear that up to 50% of teachers in the Canadian Teachers' Federation will be retired. We are seeing similar numbers in the nursing profession, doctors and in the trades. One just needs to look at the cost of building a house in Saskatoon now.

We have a tremendous opportunity before us and we have the circumstances lining up in the best possible way. The economic boom, the labour shortage and the healthy state of the country's fiscal capacity all line up to state very clearly that if we see investing in post-secondary education as an investment, we will see a huge payback to this country in the form of increased productivity and, at the end of the day, we would begin to break the back of poverty.

Investment in post-secondary training for our aboriginal youth is an investment in Canada, in the provinces and in rural Canada even more today as we stand here but, more important, it provides the opportunity to break the back of poverty.

I will now switch gears and talk about student funding. The parliamentary secretary mentioned some numbers a few minutes ago. A 2% cap on post-secondary funding was implemented in 1996 and it has prevented thousands of first nations students from attending post-secondary education just in that short few years. In 2007 and 2008, at least 2,858 students, first nations students in particular, will be denied access to post-secondary funding.

Since 2001, that is 13,000 students. Think about what 13,000 young people, working and contributing to Canada's productivity, would do for their families, their communities and Canada. Instead, unfortunately, many of them are still in their communities collecting social assistance because there are very few jobs. The cost of doing nothing is huge.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples said that by 2016, if we maintain the status quo, it will cost government 47% more. That is a drawdown on Canada's productivity. Instead, if we invested we would see an increase in Canada's productivity.

This response today is extremely disappointing. It fails first nations youth who aspire to pursue their dreams of post-secondary education by not investing in the youth to ensure their success. We are seeing the government off-loading some of its fiduciary responsibility to the provinces. First nations, Métis and Inuit institutions are extremely successful but they need investment.

The government's response to the report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, “No Higher Priority: Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education in Canada”, is a complete, wholehearted, huge disappointment. I could not express it in words, from the phone calls and the correspondence I get from across the country. People are very disappointed that it is abandoning our youth.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for outlining so clearly the importance of post-secondary education in the country. I appreciated the fact that he said how important it was we talk about the positive aspects currently happening in many communities. In fact, part of the recommendations the committee made was to put together some data so people in communities could take advantage of best practices.

In his speech the member touched on the allegations by the government that $300 million-plus was plenty and what we really needed to do was look at efficiencies in communities. Could he expand on and give his observations, from his personal experience, on the very good students who simply do not have access, no matter how efficient a community is, under this funding cap? He mentioned something like 13,000 since 2001.