Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc québécois to speak to Bill C-61 because we strongly encourage these types of initiatives.
With Bill C-61 we will be able to help implement the agreement enabling the Anishinabek Nation to create and oversee its own education system by partnering with the federal government and the Ontario government.
After more than 20 years of negotiations, 23 communities will now be united under their own education system, a system they will be able to shape according to their culture and their priorities. This means that Anishinabek communities in Ontario will be able to develop programs that promote their language and pass on their history. It is also an opportunity to develop educational environments that allow children to adjust to their schools more easily and to feel at home.
The Bloc québécois recognizes indigenous peoples as distinct peoples who are entitled to their cultures, languages, customs and traditions, and to the right to decide how to develop their own identity.
It goes without saying that nation-to-nation relationships begin with recognition of the different nations and their right to self-determination. We welcome these types of agreements, which give first nations more autonomy, an initiative that follows perfectly on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is essential that first nations have full control over their children's education.
In a context where indigenous languages are often on the brink of extinction and children's academic success is jeopardized by education systems that do not correspond to the cultures of the first peoples, gaining control over education means taking charge of the future.
Quebec has already signed agreements with nations that took this direction, such as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which led to the peace of the braves. We would never go back to the old way. We are sure that the Anishinabek people will not regret it either, but the federal government will have to become a real partner and meet its funding responsibilities.
Ottawa has been almost perpetually lax when it comes to funding for first nations education. One year ago today, the parliamentary budget officer criticized the Canadian government for underfunding indigenous schools. He found that Ottawa invests just half of what the provinces invest per child in education. What the numbers tell us is that the federal government considers indigenous children to be worth only half as much as non-indigenous children. Former prime minister Paul Martin has also harshly criticized this imbalance on many occasions since leaving politics.
Although funding is already massively deficient, federal spending on on-reserve education is increasing at a slower rate than indigenous populations themselves. These young and fast-growing populations are not being properly served by Ottawa's usual grand plans, in part because Ottawa is too far from these communities to know what people need.
In fact, the parliamentary budget officer criticized the rigidity of the federal funding model, which fails to account for a wide range of factors, including geographic location, school size, language and culture, percentage of students whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, specific socioeconomic conditions, climate, and percentage of students with special needs.
The parliamentary budget officer must have had a sense of déjà vu, because in 2009, his predecessor came to the same sad conclusion that, at best, Ottawa was underestimating actual school infrastructure needs by more than half. Perhaps he got wind of the work that had been done in 2007 by the Quebec National Assembly's committee on education, which is in an ideal position to observe the differences between the treaty education systems and the work of the federal government. At that time, the committee members found significant differences between band schools and those of treaty first nations. They added:
At first glance, the funding formula of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development seems to put band schools at a disadvantage as compared to treaty first nation schools.
The committee ended its report by calling on the Government of Quebec to pressure the federal government to release the necessary resources so that indigenous communities in Quebec could offer education services comparable to those offered by the province.
The committee also criticized Ottawa's lack of flexibility with regard to funding. It indicated that federal funding failed to keep pace whenever changes were made to the programs and services offered by Quebec schools, and schools on reserves were unable to keep up with the advances that other Quebec students were entitled to, or were only able to make such advances after long delays. Simply put, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Bloc Québécois salutes the Anishinabek communities and fully believes that they will benefit immensely from this promising agreement. It should be clear by now that although it is unusual for the Bloc Québécois to speak on bills that do not involve Quebec, we have no hesitation about supporting Bill C-61.
The Prime Minister made a commitment on his very first day in Parliament. He said:
We will keep our diverse communities strong and will renew Canada’s nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.
He added that this would include:
...working in collaboration so that every first nations child receives a quality education.
We are taking him at his word. The government must take the initiative to ensure there are more agreements like the one we are implementing by voting for Bill C-61.
The government will have to be both a partner and a leader in its negotiations with first nations.
It took the Anishinabek people 20 years of hard work to get to this point. That is too long. A whole generation of children missed out on having an education system that was tailored to their specific cultural needs and well equipped to help them achieve their highest aspirations.
Make no mistake, first nations face many obstacles on their road to academic success. These will take some time to overcome, but one thing is clear: the future lies in self-government and a nation-to-nation relationship.
The future does not lie in non-indigenous governments imposing their own priorities. When it comes to decisions about education, the further away the federal government stays, the better off everyone will be.