Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the member for Miramichi.
I rise in the House today in support of Bill C-33, the first nations control of first nations education act. I am proud to be a part of a government that supports first nations education success. Our government is proud of the deeply collaborative approach that has been taken on this important file and we are seeing the results.
From the outset, our government committed to working with first nations to develop a first nations education act. Consultations and engagement with first nation parents, students, leaders and educators, as well as the provinces, were integral to the development and drafting of this proposed legislation. I would like to highlight some important milestones.
In 2011, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations jointly launched a national panel on first nation elementary and secondary education. Over the course of five months, the national panel held seven regional round tables and one national round table. Panel members visited 25 schools in 30 first nation communities across Canada, meeting with key individuals and organizations in each region.
In its final report, the national panel described education legislation as a fundamental part of an education system. In the words of the national panel:
—legislation...establishes and protects the rights of the child to a quality education, ensures predictable and sufficient funding, provides the framework for the implementation of education support structures and services, and sets out the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of all partners in the system.
Following this report, our government made a commitment in economic action plan 2012 to put in place first nation education legislation and launched an intensive consultation process in December 2012. The consultation process consisted of two stages.
. First, our government shared a discussion guide with all first nations across Canada. The discussion guide informed first nations of components which would be covered in proposed elementary and secondary education legislation for first nations on reserve. The guide was informed by years of studies, audits and reports, including the 2011 June Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada, the 2011 report by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and the 2012 report of the national panel.
From January to May 2013, our government engaged first nation parents, youth, educators, provincial partners and others with an interest or expertise in education through regional consultation sessions across the country. As well, more than 30 video and teleconferences were held and opportunities included email submissions and an online survey to make available and provide additional input.
Areas of interest and concern raised throughout these consultation activities included first nations control over first nations education, funding, the transition to a legislated system, parental involvement in education, language and culture, and aboriginal treaty and treaty rights.
After considering the findings from the national panel and feedback received through the consultation process, our government developed an annotated outline of the proposed legislation. The blueprint was released in July 2013. It was shared with first nations chiefs and councils, organizations, provincial governments, and others with an expertise or interest in first nation education for feedback.
In October 2013, following additional feedback and comments in response to the blueprint, the government released “Working Together for First Nation Students: A Proposal for a Bill on First Nation Education”. In addition to posting this draft legislative proposal on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website, our government shared the draft legislative proposal with more than 600 chiefs and band councils and every first nation community across the country, as well as provincial governments, for further input.
We have undertaken unprecedented and intensive consultations with first nations across this country, which have led to the exchange of open letters and dialogue between the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
In November 2013, the Assembly of First Nations released an open letter to the Government of Canada asking for collaboration on five issues. These included first nation control and respecting inherent and treaty rights, a statutory guarantee for funding for education, support for first nation languages and cultures, jointly determined oversight that respects first nation rights and responsibilities, and, finally, an ongoing process of meaningful engagement.
In December 2013, my colleague the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development responded in an open letter with a commitment to address the issues raised.
Our government worked with the Assembly of First Nations to address its five conditions for success. As a result, in February 2014, Canada and the Assembly of First Nations announced the first nations control of first nations education act.
The bill includes important changes, such as the creation of a joint council of education professionals to provide advice and support to first nations and the Government of Canada on the implementation and oversight of the first nations control of first nations education act; first nations control in incorporating language and culture programming in education curricula, and providing funding for language and culture programming within the statutory funding stream; third, a commitment by the government to work in collaboration with first nations to develop the bill's regulations; and last, adequate, stable, predictable, and sustainable funding.
It was a historic moment for Canada-first nations relations, and we must not lose this momentum. These changes responded in full to the AFN's five conditions for success.
Our government has taken an open, transparent, and iterative approach to legislative development, including, as I have mentioned, the unusual step of the online release of draft legislation ahead of time.
We have listened and responded to concerns. Throughout the consultation process, our government provided updates to all first nation chiefs and councils on next steps in the development of a proposed approach to legislation.
As demonstrated by the name, first nations control is the central principle upon which this proposed legislation is based. It would recognize the ability and responsibility of first nations to educate their students. It would recognize the importance of treaty and aboriginal rights, which are protected by the Constitution. It would not apply to first nations that are part of an existing comprehensive or sectoral self-government agreement that covers education.
When our government announced our intention to introduce legislation, we made it clear that the partnership does not end with the introduction of the bill. Going forward, through the creation of, and the role of, the joint council of education professionals as proposed in Bill C-33, Canada and the Assembly of First Nations will continue to explore ways to further engage first nations as part of the commitment to respecting first nations control over first nations education.
It is in this vein that the minister is committed to negotiating a political protocol with the AFN on the role and membership of the joint council. First nations and all Canadians will have the opportunity to continue engaging during the parliamentary process.
In addition, when this bill receives royal assent, our government will work with first nations to ensure that there is a smooth transition for communities and first nations education organizations, and it has committed funding to do so.
Given the importance of this issue, these discussions have sometimes raised passionate and differing points of view. What we all agree on is that every child in this country has a right to quality education, no matter where they live in Canada. We can also agree that despite the best efforts of countless parents, teachers, and communities, too many first nation children are being left behind.
The historic way forward with the Assembly of First Nations is reflective of a constructive exchange and consultation process with first nations. I am proud of the deeply collaborative approach we have taken on this file. Working closely with first nations, we have reached a historic agreement on giving first nations control of first nations education, something that has been desperately needed for generations.
Bill C-33 represents an important step forward together. Our government will continue to focus our energies to work even harder now to ensure improved outcomes for first nation students on reserve.