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House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 16th, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should adopt Shannen's Dream by: (a) declaring that all First Nation children have an equal right to high-quality, culturally-relevant education; (b) committing to provide the necessary financial and policy supports for First Nations education systems; (c) providing funding that will put reserve schools on par with non-reserve provincial schools; (d) developing transparent methodologies for school construction, operation, maintenance and replacement; (e) working collaboratively with First Nation leaders to establish equitable norms and formulas for determining class sizes and for the funding of educational resources, staff salaries, special education services and indigenous language instruction; and (f) implementing policies to make the First Nation education system, at a minimum, of equal quality to provincial school systems.

Madam Speaker, first of all, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona. I sincerely hope that my speech here today gets as much media attention as other events that have happened recently.

The presentation of this motion will go along the same lines as the approach I used in my previous speeches. Madam Speaker, I have made a number of speeches in this House since I arrived here on May 2, 2011. My detractors and those who might be interested can look at my record at www.openparliament.org. There are nearly seven pages on my speeches.

It should be noted that analysis of the material on the living conditions in aboriginal communities in the country lends itself well to empirical considerations and highlighting cultural subtleties. As with my previous speeches, I will talk about the basics and address the realities as experienced in the communities and on the streets of my home reserve. This ties in with the oral tradition I come from.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the press conference held by the national panel on first nation elementary and secondary education. To my great surprise, the spokespeople for the organization addressed a number of points that demonstrate culturally relevant progress, thanks to which it is possible to identify the obstacles to educating youth on first nations reserves. Sometimes in my speeches, I talk about cultural relevance and a culturally integrated approach, and those are the aspects I am going to focus on today, since government efforts in the communities to promote school enrolment and completion of education among youth have to be measures that take into account the sometimes difficult realities experienced by young people in the communities. This has to be a grassroots approach.

The panel is to be applauded for the mere fact that, in preparing its report, it focused on the true causes of absenteeism and dropout rates in the communities. During the press conference, the panel members also highlighted one of the greatest strengths of youth living in adverse conditions: resilience. In fact, as I stand before you this morning, I am an excellent example of that resilience. Despite the fact that industry-sponsored media have tried to take me down, I am still here. I want everyone to know that I ate out of garbage cans as a child. This is nothing new to me, and it takes more than that to bring me down.

In my remarks today, I will focus on adversity and resilience because first nations youth encounter obstacles to learning every day. One of the primary obstacles is the cyclical way of life that has gradually become the norm on reserves in Canada. By “cyclical way of life”, I am referring to, in my language, mitsham shuniau, or social assistance benefits. Life in reserve communities today follows the rhythm of social assistance payments.

Teachers in reserve communities can attest to that. Absenteeism is significantly higher on the 1st and 15th of each month because that is when people get their cheques. As I will show, a large proportion of families that depend on federal transfers do not function well on the days the cheques come in. Children in such families suffer the consequences of their parents' dysfunction and do not go to school because they cannot find food in the morning or get themselves ready. I am talking about young kids, high school kids and elementary school kids.

This factor must be taken into account when implementing education programs adapted to the realities of Canada's aboriginal communities. Teachers and other stakeholders called upon to work on remote reserves that are truly struggling do not have an easy task. Therefore, it is important that we focus on giving educational institutions the tools they need to meet the needs of these students on their individual journeys. When I talk about their journey, I not necessarily referring to their academic journey, but rather their life journey. This is not the case in all communities, but from my personal experience in the communities of Uashat-Maliotenam and the Lower North Shore, from a very young age, children are regularly exposed to deviant, negative influences and behaviour that would be considered unacceptable by today's standards, but that is trivialized in those communities because it is so pervasive.

These young people have been brought up in a world that is quite different from that of other young Canadians. Any teachers who answer the call to go to these communities to work—for they are often from outside the community—will have to learn about and be prepared for this reality, as demonstrated by the youths' behaviour and psyche.

The dysfunctional nature of many aboriginal communities in Canada is partially linked to idleness and dependence on agencies that are part of the band management. For instance, in my community, over half of all individuals who are of working age, that is, 16 and over, depend on Mitsham Shuniau, or money to eat. Basically, that is our word for social assistance. In some cases, band leaders are forced to divert funding to other priorities established by the band council.

There is a case in a community in my riding, a community whose name I will not mention because it is rather infamous. It announced that, due to fiscal restraints, it had to cut the school days at the secondary school to four days a week in order to mitigate the cash shortage. It is the young people who are ultimately going to suffer the consequences. That is a concrete example.

All efforts to implement policies regarding the first nations education system must ensure that the funding allocated to education is used only for the purposes of the specific educational programs.

I will certainly not limit my remarks to students attending on-reserve primary and secondary schools. My arguments also apply to post-secondary students who often have to leave their home communities to pursue their academic endeavours. Those students, like the ones living on the reserves, are entitled to high-quality education that takes into account the added burden on aboriginal youth who want to pursue higher education.

I want to talk about my own experience. I left my home community in early 2000 to pursue my post-secondary education. I then enrolled in the faculty of law at Université Laval. I spent six years in all in Quebec City. Things did not go smoothly at first. I had a hard time adjusting to urban life. I carried the reality I grew up in with me during those years. Young aboriginals who have to study abroad or away from home are dependent on transfers from the band council education authorities. They are on an allowance. Imagine how hard it is to rent an apartment when your only source of income is an allowance from a band council. You can imagine how many doors were slammed in my face. I ended up living in residence. That is just one of the obstacles facing students wanting to pursue higher education, not to mention breaking from their traditional lifestyle and the distance between them and their home community.

I want to clarify that just because my head was leaning over towards my BlackBerry, that does not necessarily mean I was asleep in my seat.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I appreciated the speech given by the member opposite. I would like to ask him a question and make some comments. On June 9, the minister and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, announced a Canada-first nations joint action plan designed to improve the quality of life of first nations people. Education was identified as one of the major priorities. On January 24, 2012, a historic crown-first nations gathering took place. Once again, education was identified as a priority by the first nations and the Government of Canada.

My question for the hon. member is a simple yes or no question. Is this the first and most important step in making sure that we have established a relationship and that both parties intend to work together to build an education system in every province that will benefit every first nation in Canada? Is it important to start with that?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question.

Yes, it is of the utmost importance. In passing, I would also like to compliment my colleague on his French. This is the first time I have ever heard him speak in French.

We must now ensure that the government's willingness is transformed into action. We have been hearing lip service for the past 50 years. Clearly, big things are happening now, meaning there is a great interest in aboriginal issues, and I am a prime example of that, this morning. However, this willingness must truly be transformed into concrete efforts and inclusive measures to help first nations.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, my friend from Manicouagan and my friend from Edmonton—Strathcona accompanied me on a visit to a reserve in Ontario where education was its number one priority. Members of the reserve have created a native language immersion school for grade school students and they have built their own polytechnic but the government works hard to make it very difficult for them. They had space donated for the school and the government withdrew the value of that space from the allotment for these children.

The government refused for years to hire a superintendent for their school system. We were told that 8,000 kids are awaiting spaces for post-secondary education and that there are so many on the waiting list that the waiting list is now full. They cannot even put their names on a waiting list for post-secondary education. Would the member please comment?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

I cannot speak for other communities, but I can draw on my own personal experience. It is a good sign that so many people want to pursue higher education. However, that is not the case on my reserve right now, where the high school graduation rate is less than half that in other Canadian communities.

I think that the Canadian government should help communities and community members who show a strong interest in higher education, and it should invest money accordingly. Sometimes, these measures manifest as a massive cash injection. I think this is one of those cases. Some situations call for significant additional funding so that aboriginal students who wish to exercise their right to education have the means to do so.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Hillyer Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, the member said that people in first nations communities depend on federal funding for their education, and I understand that they do. Does the member have any ideas that can help them in the future become less dependent on federal funding and become more independent or self-reliant for education funding?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

I have a solution, but it does not necessarily involve pillaging natural resources as the only option for economic development. We have to find other ways to ensure that these programs receive adequate funding.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague from Manicouagan for his heartfelt remarks. It is a pleasure to work with him on this file.

I think it appropriate to commence my remarks in support of this motion with a quote from Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. I intend to close my remarks by sharing messages from children. Shawn Atleo stated:

It is unacceptable in Canada that First Nations children cannot attend a safe and healthy school. It is unacceptable in Canada for First Nations education to languish with outdated laws, policies and funding practices that do not support basic standards. It is time for fairness and equity. Shannen Koostachin stood up for justice so the young people coming behind her might have an equal opportunity for a quality education in her community, just like young people have in communities throughout Canada. Now is the time for fairness, justice, and equity. Now is the time to realize Shannen’s Dream.

National Chief Atleo also shared with parliamentarians this sad statistic. More aboriginal students are incarcerated in this country than graduate from high school. Fewer than 50% of aboriginal youth graduate from high school. Why is this? It is perhaps not surprising, given that on average first nations students receive $2,000 to $3,000 less support for their education per year than other Canadian students. That is discounting the non-investment in computers, lab equipment, libraries and other basic supports.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer reported in 2009 that close to a tenth of first nations schools were temporary structures. Only 49% were in good condition. Many had not even been inspected. Seventy-six per cent of Alberta and B.C. reserve schools were reported in poor condition. I have personally witnessed the mould in the Lubicon community school in Alberta.

Increases in first nations children's education funding have reportedly been capped at 2% per year since 1996. Remarkably, the cap on funding was imposed the year following the issuance of the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples calling for substantial new investments. The funding shortfall for schools for 2009-10 was $620 million. The cumulative shortfall in funding is estimated at $1.2 billion since 1996.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer concurred with the finding of the Auditor General that the formula for band-operated schools has not been modified since the late 1980s and warrants review. Auditor General Sheila Fraser, in her final report of June 2011, criticized the poor response by the government to the growing gap in education opportunities and rates of graduation for first nations children. She stated:

What’s truly shocking, however, is the lack of improvement. Last year, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada reported that between 2001 and 2006 there was little or no progress in the well-being of First Nations communities. In a wealthy country like Canada, this gap is simply unacceptable.

She criticized the government for failing to implement the action plan that both she and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts recommended in 2004 for post-secondary education. They called for a comprehensive strategy and action plan to address serious gaps. She said that education is critical to raising the social and economic strength of first nations comparable to other Canadians. In her words, “Post-secondary education could improve employment opportunities for First Nations”.

Last November, I asked the government when it would finally commit to ending the discrimination in the funding of education for aboriginal children. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development responded that another panel had been appointed to recommend an action plan. The action plan from the national panel has been released. Its findings and recommendations mirror those of all the previous reports over the last decade. It issued a strong call for action now. Its recommendations are reflected in this motion.

When asked last week if his government would finally end the discrimination and invest in education and economic opportunities for first nations children, the minister astoundingly replied that he found the report aspirational. If decades of reports and inequities still fall on deaf ears and if its international commitments are not inspiring action, perhaps the government will listen to the pleas of Canadian children. Yesterday, more than 400 elementary school children came to Parliament Hill to deliver their message to the government. Their message was clear. Aboriginal children have the right to an education of the same quality as other children.

They can be counted among the many children across this country determined to carry on the legacy of Shannen Koostachin, to fulfill her dream of a school and quality education for her community of Attawapiskat and all first nations communities. I was pleased to deliver the children's handmade schoolhouse, filled with their letters, to the office of the Prime Minister. They will be waiting patiently for his response.

Last month, a delegation of aboriginal students travelled to Geneva to present their concerns to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. They pointed to the failure of the government to comply with its international commitment to end discrimination of access to education. The students shared concerns about Canada's failure to comply with commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They testified that Canada has yet to deliver on the right of first nations children to quality education in their own language, respecting their own culture and delivered by their own peoples.

Let me share two of their heartfelt letters. This is from Christa. She writes:

A long time ago our ancestors made a 'treaty' with the white people that included education. Now, the government doesn't give the same amount of money as the others, they give us less. To me, I think this is Racism. It's not fair that we get less money. So, it's about time someone stood up and brought up the past about the treaty. We are going to fight for this. We need our education.

A letter from Jeremy, submitted to the UN committee says:

I feel angry that the government is taking money from us. It's not fair that we don't have the same amount of money like the other schools near our community. We want to learn as much as them. Why should it be different? We have dreams and we want to realize them. Without this funding, some of us won't make it to college or university. We need an education to succeed in life.

In closing, I would like to share a plea sent to me just last week by Savannah Thomas, a Manitoba first nations student. She wrote:

I'm a 19 year old Aboriginal girl who has spent the last three years trying to finish grade 12. I quit twice to go to work at Domino's Pizza. After I make a bit of money I go back to school again.

Presently, I have no income. I'm about to graduate from high school at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.

I hear a lot of conversations about how so many Aboriginal youth do not finish high school. For me, the point is lack of funding and no support from anybody except for my grandparents. My grandfather and grandmother have given me what they can over the past two years to help me stay in school. They're both old-age pensioners and cannot spare much.

I'm sure there are many other youth in my predicament. What do we do when no one listens? I read the other day about the government's response to the recent study on Aboriginal education. The word I hear is aspirational. However, that is not going to help me at all. I still need to eat and clothe myself in order to stay in school.

Perhaps we need to look at individual cases across Canada. Where do we, as Aboriginal youth living in urban areas, go for help? My First Nation community does not have a high school so a lot of us have no choice but to live in the cities. But we are forgotten the minute we leave our communities. Our rights are portable and should extend beyond the borders of our First Nations.

Savannah told me if she can just graduate from high school, she hopes to study earth sciences so she can help protect the environment. What can possibly be more important than investing in Savannah's and all first nations children's futures?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the passion with which the member speaks. It is a pleasure working with her at committee, particularly around education and the relationship with the environment. Just as recently as this week, we had an opportunity to talk about that relationship so first nations communities can play an important role in environmental stewardship and processes that take place with development across the North.

My question is with respect to a recent agreement signed by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development; British Columbia's minister of education, George Abbott; and Tyrone McNeil, president of the First Nations Education Steering Committee. It is a tripartite education framework that aims to provide B.C. first nations students with access to quality education programs and more flexibility to attend school on or off reserve.

Does the member concur with the notion that provinces, as a constitutional matter, play a significant role in the administration and the delivery of education, that they have an important role to play across the country and that developing these tripartite agreements across the country, as we have a number of already, is also an important way to improve the quality of education for first nations on and off reserve?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for his comments. Indeed, we are doing important work in our committee together.

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the tripartite agreements. I have had the opportunity to look at the recent one signed with the organization in British Columbia. The good part of the agreement is that it is transferring responsibility for first nations organizations to be organizing and overseeing education of their own children.

However, I found this agreement lacking any commitment to dollars. I am concerned that increasingly we are seeing the government downloading responsibilities that are solely its own, including responsibility for first nations peoples and their interests, to the provinces. That is a matter that I look forward to pursuing with the first nations communities to ensure their interests are being looked after.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I share the emotions felt by the hon. member who just spoke and the previous member. I thank them for sharing their personal experiences with such dignity. When I was first elected to the House, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, where we heard a great deal of moving and alarming evidence.

I think it is absolutely appalling that we still need to move such a motion in 2012, and I congratulate the hon. member for doing so. I do not understand why the government cannot set aside its ideology, and its propensity to do everything based on that ideology, and do something immediately to fix this problem. The Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-599 on this same problem.

Why is it that services, including education, are still capped at 2%, as they have been since 1996? This is appalling and must be corrected. What are the member's thoughts on this?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his dedicated work in the direction of providing quality education for first nations children. It is a very good question.

As far back as, and probably earlier than, 1995 recommendations have come forward to provide the proper funding to ensure the quality of education for first nations children, as is provided to other children. It is reprehensible that in report after report, in 30 reports over a decade, the Auditor General has come forth and remonstrated with the government for lack of attention to this.

We have heard from the Parliamentary Budget Officer. We have heard from other committees of Parliament recommending that the funding structure be revisited and addressed. Indeed, I would say today is the time. The budget is coming soon to this House. That is the time to be addressing the shortfall in funding.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I will start my remarks by thanking the constituents of the great Kenora riding, particularly the 42 first nations and the great people who work in towns and cities across my riding on first nations education. I appreciate their input over the past couple of years as we move forward together around strengthening education on and off reserve for first nations.

I want to thank the hon. member for his remarks from the outset, and extend my thanks for bringing this important matter to our attention.

That said, of course we have, in my presentation this morning, quite a bit to say about this. We have had some major accomplishments, even quite recently.

I would like to thank the hon. member for the motion and tell him that I support it. Improving the education of students in first nations communities and the conditions in which these children learn must be one of the highest priorities of all of us here in the House. First nations children must be afforded the same opportunities as children who live off-reserve.

The stakes are simply too high for us not to make first nations education a priority. In fact, the stakes could not be any higher. First and foremost, quality education enables people, regardless of their background, to enjoy more fulfilling, more meaningful and more rewarding lives.

We also know that, in today’s knowledge-based economy, a quality education is an essential building block for career success and community enrichment. As a result of continuing globalization and rapid technological advances, new skills and knowledge are required to enter the labour market. In fact, study after study tells us that some two-thirds of all new jobs will require higher education or advanced training.

What may be less well-known is that, in this emerging working world, gaining a quality education is especially critical for people in first nations communities. It is especially critical for these Canadians because there are major developments occurring in regions, particularly in the north and in the great Kenora riding, where new industries and traditional industries, particularly in the mineral resource area, are fast developing.

As a group, first nations people are much younger than the average Canadians. The median age of these Canadians is 15 years younger than all other Canadians, 25 versus 40. What is more, the growth of the first nations population has been five times greater than the growth of the country's non-aboriginal population in the last decade.

Simply put, young men and women of first nations communities represent the fastest growing segment of our country's population and the most potentially dynamic contributors to our labour market moving forward. If our country is to address anticipated labour shortages in a variety of industries, if we are to boost levels of innovation and entrepreneurship, then first nations kids must be equipped with a quality education.

If Canada is to reach its full potential in a world in which the highest paying jobs are filled by people who possess, not only deep knowledge and keen skills but also nimble minds who are eager to take on new challenges, then first nations youth must be ready to take their place in this exciting labour market moving forward.

This was echoed at the crown-first nations gathering that took place in January. The Governor General said that “our future hinges on our ability to share and to learn from each other, and to create the conditions in which aboriginal and non-aboriginal people can thrive equally, according to their hopes and dreams.”

What are current conditions when it comes to education for first nations children? The federal government spends some $1.5 billion each year to support education for approximately 117,500 elementary and secondary school students who live on reserves.

That is a lot of money. Yet it is not giving us the return we want. Educational outcomes for first nations students are not improving as quickly as they should be.

We are working with our first nations partners to improve high school graduation rates for first nations students. Currently they are significantly lower among children who live on reserves than they are for other Canadians. We appreciate that. Without a high school diploma, labour market options are limited and diminished.

Further, our government is currently spending more than $820 million annually on income assistance programs. We need to find ways to use these programs to better prepare first nations for the workplace.

We must take steps to encourage more boys and girls in first nations communities to stay in school. We must work to improve the educational outcomes of boys and girls in first nations communities.

We must help these young people graduate with the skills they need to enter a labour market that is projecting large labour shortages in the next 5 to 10 years, including up to 190,000 jobs in Alberta and 80,000 jobs in Saskatchewan. With a good education and the right supports, these young people can become permanently attached to the labour force and fully share in Canada’s economic opportunities.

Enabling first nations children to experience better educational outcomes and set off on the path of personal and career success is not an easy task. First nations education is a complex matter, complex because the different levels of government involve the different learning challenges that first nations children face and because of the very nature of education, first nations or otherwise.

That is why our government is focused on practical partnership efforts with two new programs that are already working to set the foundation for the long-term improvement for first nations education. Indeed, these two programs are building blocks that are helping us establish some key school-based, commonly found in high school, high-performing school systems around the country.

The first is the first nation student success program. This program was created to support first nations communities as they develop school success plans, implement learning assessments for students, and put in place performance measurements that will enable schools to assess and report on the progress of their schools and students. In particular, the program focuses on projects that these schools can use to improve literacy, numeracy and student retention.

The program encourages individual first nations to partner together to deliver projects and also to align with provinces by implementing comparable assessments and improving the overall standard of education in first nations communities.

We have also advanced work on the education information system. It is a single data system that tracks performance and, in doing so, responds directly to one of the key concerns that were raised by the Auditor General.

I am pleased to report that 92% of first nation students across the country are benefiting from the first nation student success program. That level of enthusiastic adoption of the program tells me that it is working—that administrators, teachers and students at first nations schools recognize the value of the program.

The second program I want to discuss is the education partnership program. This is a common sense initiative that establishes and advances formal and practical working relationships between officials and educators in regional first nation organizations and schools, and officials and educators in provincial systems. I am pleased to report that, since 2008, our government has used this program to put in place five tripartite education memorandums of understanding with provincial governments and first nations communities and organizations in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta, Prince Edward Island. There is also a sub-regional agreement with the Saskatoon Tribal Council and, as I mentioned in the question previous, more recently in British Columbia.

Those five partnerships, as a result of our efforts, have realized practical partnerships between the federal government, the provincial government and first nations communities that now cover the education of some 58% of eligible first nations communities represented in formal tripartite partnerships.

On January 27, 2012, we signed a tripartite education framework agreement with B.C. and the first nations education steering committee. This tripartite agreement seeks to ensure comparable education so that first nations students are able to transfer between first nations schools and provincial schools at the same grade level and similar level of achievement. I would add that this is an important indicator for success in college and university. One of our superordinate goals here would clearly be to reduce, if not eliminate, the number of preparatory years at college or university that first nations students would require before embarking on a substantive program in a specific faculty.

However, the momentum does not end there. Drafting of tripartite arrangements is currently under way in Quebec, Labrador, Ontario and Yukon.

On a similar note, on Friday I will be in Chisasibi First Nation in Quebec, for the grand opening of this community's new elementary school. This new school is yet another demonstration of the commitment we all share to ensure first nations students have the tools and facilities they need to succeed.

I am pleased to tell my colleagues in this place today that over the past couple of years we have opened no less than three schools in the great Kenora riding with another one soon to be opened. In some cases, these were schools that, for more than a decade and a half, needed to be replaced but which previous administrations or governments had passed over. In one instance, the Lac Seul First Nation had a school built for the first time, one of the richest historical first nation communities in the Sioux Lookout region.

Under the education partnerships programs, partners are working together, sharing expertise and services with the objectives of not just improving the learning environments but, importantly and objectively, through the framework to ensure that the appropriate facilities for first nations communities are available to them so that children can go to school in a nice facility and celebrate learning.

Yet it was Chief David Peter-Paul of Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick who voiced the best reason for this practical partnership approach. He stated that these forward-thinking agreements—like the one reached in his province—ensure that our first nations children are better educated and prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

I could not agree more. These education partnerships are beginning to address some of the key structural impediments to progress raised by the Auditor General's report. However, members should not take my word for it. The success of these partnerships has been so apparent that first nations leaders and provincial officials elsewhere in Canada have expressed a keen interest in forging similar tripartite arrangements.

I can assure the House that this government will continue to work with our partners in the months and years to come to develop these kinds of important agreements.

We are also using our success with these tripartite agreements as a springboard to carry out the next phase of partnership-based reform. Our government will continue to work with first nations groups and other willing partners to overcome the challenges and impediments they face.

We in this government know that we must work hand in hand with first nations communities to address these impediments. There is simply no other way.

Last summer, we joined the Assembly of First Nations' national chief, Shawn Atleo, a champion in no uncertain terms for education for first nations, to announce Canada's first nations joint action plan. One of our key action plan priorities was education, a non-partisan, arm's-length national panel on first nations K to 12 education. We asked panel members to travel to first nations communities across the country to gain perspectives and opinions from first nations leaders, parents, students, elders and teachers on further steps that we could take to improve first nations education for children living on reserves. Many other Canadians have also had the chance to contribute to this important effort via the panel's website.

Let me provide you with one quote the panel received from Kenzie, a grade 7 student from Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba, where I worked as a nurse over 7 or 8 years ago. He said, “No matter what kind it is, we will be better off with education. We become better people and better citizens and we also can have better lives.”

We are indebted to the national panel members for their tremendous work, which will guide our actions in the months and years ahead. Their report, which was released just last week, provides valuable feedback and recommendations on the next steps that could be taken to improve education on reserves. They done first nations youth in our country a great service by offering a menu of pragmatic measures and recommendations to ensure that first nations children succeed in school, develop their talents and fulfill their hopes and dreams.

We will now work with the Assembly of First Nations and others to consider and act on the panel's recommendations to improve K-to-12 first nations education.

Our overall goal, however, remains much the same: to provide first nation students with quality education that enables them to realize their aspirations and receive the skills they need to enter the labour market and be full participants in a strong Canadian economy.

With just a couple of minutes left, I want to emphasize that our government is determined that aboriginal learners will enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians. This motion also represents a relationship here in this place between all parties. It recognizes that while there remain some structural challenges ahead and there continue to be questions of resources, it does not depend exclusively on any one of these. It demands partnerships here in this place and non-partisan, substantive discussions about how we can work with first nation communities, first nation leadership and organizations and the provinces to improve the fortunes of first nation students and the education they receive.

I want to thank the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for his tremendous leadership in education and leadership in working with National Chief Shawn Atleo and stakeholders and the provinces across this country, and for giving me the opportunity, not just at committee but in so many instances, to work lock-step with him and my colleagues on the standing committee. We have received tremendous support from this caucus to make important strides toward improving education in first nation communities across this great country.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for his encouraging comments that go in the right direction, but the concern is about how quickly we are going to be moving in that direction. It is encouraging that the government is now beginning to look at comparability. It is regrettable that past governments stalled on that and first nations and organizations have been forced to go to the courts to try to seek comparability between provincial and federal programs for social services, education and so forth. The children deserve to have comparable, equitable programs.

The Auditor General and the public accounts committee and the recent national panel between first nations and the government all came forward with the same recommendation, that we need to have in place federal measures to which first nations can hold the government accountable. These would include federal legislation mirroring provincial and territorial legislation guaranteeing long-term funding for quality education and, second, clear and binding criteria setting standards for the services to be provided.

I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary can advise us if, in the coming budget, we are going to see the dollars and commitment to initiate this legislation immediately and to take substantial action on ending the discrimination in funding and support for first nation children.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my colleague so much. She is one of the few members who is able to ask within one question fifteen others. We went from accountability to resources to legislation, all in one fell swoop. I am going to take this opportunity to focus on the accountability component of this because it is key.

When we look at the partnerships we are establishing, I would point out that accountability rests on all of us, not only federally but also provincially, because provincial governments have constitutional competencies in this administratively and in terms of program delivery. The same applies to first nations educational organizations and first nations community leadership and families. In moving forward we all understand that accountability for this rests on all of us to make important, substantive contributions to help not just to improve education but also, as highlighted today, to commit ourselves to finding the best ways to keep kids in school. We all have to make contributions in this way. This is about the accountability of us all.

On the question of resources, as I said earlier, we have identified education as a key priority in the joint action plan and we are going to work with the Assembly of First Nations and our provincial partners to get maximum value for our collective investments in education moving forward.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, I have a couple of questions. What role does Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada play in first nations elementary and secondary schools, and how many students does AANDC support when overseeing the delivery of elementary and secondary education?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Madam Speaker, I am humbled to answer the question by a gentleman who has invested his professional life in education in the great province of Saskatchewan, from where my mother, her father, and so many of my family members hail.

It is a great question. Aboriginal Affairs supports first nations and their regional organizations by providing funding for programs and services for elementary and secondary education for first nations students who live on reserve. This includes funding for students who are attending band operated schools or funding for the tuition of first nations students who live on reserve and attend provincial schools.

We are talking about 117,500 students, 61% in band operated schools, 36% in provincial schools, and 3% in federal and private schools across this great country.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, I just wish to ask the parliamentary secretary this: will the Conservatives be voting for this motion or not?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Madam Speaker, I think I mentioned at the outset of my speech that we will be supporting this motion.

I get no greater pleasure than rising in this place and answering any question, whether on water and sewer, education, or the health services delivered by the federal government, and to hold the third party's record on this to account. Decades of whimsical and irresponsible spending is what gave rise to these foundational problems and structural challenges that we face. I know this. I was living there during those dark decades and experienced first hand the shortcomings of the government, as they were then, with respect to education and any other major file with respect to on-reserve living conditions.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, the parliamentary secretary asked us to work together. I would suggest that perhaps we should step back a little.

We have a situation of institutional discrimination that has gone on for many years and has left our first nations children at particular risk. At the same time we hear the extraction companies talking about how they need our first nations, who include one of our largest growing demographics as well. We not only have to invest to correct the mistakes of the past but also to prepare for the future.

I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary about this discrimination. Is the government prepared to address directly the $2,000 per pupil difference in educational spending on first nations versus other Canadian students?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Madam Speaker, with the exception of my last answer, where I perhaps had a little more of a personal point of contention with previous governments' handling of this and other files, the tone has been respectful, to say the least. I have said to my colleagues across the way that we look forward to working with them.

That said, we are going to move forward in a manner that respects and understands the role of all partners on this important point. Obviously, there is a need for reconciliation in this regard. We believe that improving the quality of education necessarily demands that we all understand the resources that we put into this, that we support the administrative capacity for providing a good education and that we have a framework of tripartite agreements that absolutely delivers on reconciling what, if any, disparities, exist from a purely resource perspective.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I am interested in the member's comments. I would be interested in knowing what he thought of the Kelowna accord.

When he talks about all parties and stakeholders coming together, that in fact did happen. Paul Martin did a fabulous job in bringing first nations, aboriginal peoples, and many different stakeholders together in Kelowna. They came up with a multi-billion dollar agreement that would have resolved many of the issues we face here today. Yet one of the first actions his government took was to get rid of the Kelowna accord.

Does the member not recognize that the Kelowna accord would have done far more for our first nations people than this government has done in the last number of years, in which--

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation childrenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I would like to give the hon. member time to respond.