Mr. Speaker, let us resume where we left off a few minutes ago.
Following consideration of Bill C-33, as well as the study I did with my colleagues and the meeting that took place two days ago with representatives from APTN and the Assembly of First Nations, in the office of the Leader of the Opposition, I have been telling my colleagues that we need to stand back when first nations take assertive action. They want to be heard and they will very likely mobilize in the upcoming months because of this draft bill on first nations education. By that, I mean let us not try to score political points.
In my last few years in the House, all too often I have noticed that some politicians, regardless of their party affiliation, usually try to score political points at public gatherings. Given the identity issue that is primarily at stake in this bill, namely first nations education, we must act judiciously. That is why first nations must be front and centre and their assertive action, their own arguments and their own points must take precedence.
It is also important to recognize that education is chronically underfunded, which naturally affects the quality of education offered in remote first nations communities. Unlike what has been claimed, it is the chronic under-funding that has affected the delivery of education services in most of the remote regions. This contradicts the claims we have heard here and what the bill is trying to imply in a roundabout way, namely that the first nations are responsible for overseeing and maintaining the quality of education and that they should shoulder the blame for their lax approach to integrating and applying the recognized education principles.
Statistics and interventions show that the chronic underfunding has been primarily responsible for the adversity in these communities. My chief said that communities can receive up to 35% less funding than the rest of the Canadian public might receive.
Therefore, the first nations members, teachers, principals and staff who are responsible for education have had to make do with less funding and under less-than-ideal conditions. The very fact that I am here today and that there has been an increase in the level of education in these communities is evidence of the resilience of first nations members.
The government must also try to get the consent and support of community members when it enacts public policy, which has not been done or has not been done often enough. With this bill and with many others, the Conservatives have shown a rather narrow view of the concept of consultation, research and consent. I have witnessed this in my few years in the House.
That is why members of first nations, who are the primary stakeholders, were only somewhat involved. In fact, their degree of involvement remains unclear to this day. The AFNQL told us that it had not been consulted, and the vast majority of first nations members said the same. That is deeply deplorable considering the nature of the issue, the education of first nations people, which is closely linked to their identity and will ultimately lead to self-determination, a basic principle of our justice system and our parliamentary system. Self-determination of peoples can be achieved only by emancipation through education. That is why primary stakeholders must be involved in the drafting and enactment of this particular kind of bill.
It is important to keep in mind that the honour of the Crown and the responsibility of the state are inextricably linked to the enactment of public policies that affect matters relating to the quiddity of being Indian. Identity and quiddity are synonyms, but there are differences. The term “quiddity” is used primarily in a legal and “aboriginal law” context.
The education of first nations is also covered by the fiduciary responsibility that must be observed between the Crown and first nations. That is my understanding, and I think that many jurists in the country would agree. As such, attempting to attribute all of the blame for the questionable outcomes of education in these communities to teachers and first nations is quite inappropriate.
Canada is currently in an uncomfortable international spotlight. UN representatives, auditors and rapporteurs have come here over the past two years because our reputation has gone beyond our borders.
Europeans, who know a thing or two about this, decided to come take a look at what is going on with respect to education, housing and food.
I met two of those rapporteurs, so I know that Canada's human rights reputation is suffering worldwide. That is the subject of another debate.
Education is covered by this fiduciary relationship. The honour of the Crown and the Government of Canada are involved every time that appalling situations come to light. Just six days ago, I was in an Innu community in Pakuashipi where members mentioned that educational adaptation is necessary, given the distance, remoteness and cultural subtleties of aboriginal communities. Teachers had to adapt out of necessity. Sometimes, children are simply brought into the forest because it is nearby. It is culturally relevant and part of the nomadic cycle and life cycle of these communities. Therefore, adjustments need to be made.
The Government of Canada must consider these specific characteristics when it drafts bills like this. Moreover, when this kind of reform is put forward, stakeholders in the community must truly be involved. Otherwise, it remains an empty shell. In this case, I would go so far as to say that authoritarianism is at play here. I will come back to that later.
The substance of the bill submitted for our consideration today shows this desire to control and interfere that is oftentimes selective. The Conservative government is trying to intervene selectively in the things that might cast an unfavourable light on the situation internationally and on education. Given that the government was exposed, it is trying to intervene in a draconian way, just as it did in many other areas in recent years. I was able to gauge this desire to intervene. The Conservatives are cherry picking, meaning that they intervene in matters that expose them and that are somewhat comfortable to them.
Therefore, the legislative instrument submitted for the consideration of the House was to outline the obligations and responsibilities of the federal government in the provision of education services on reserves, rather than to exonerate the government of its obligations by transferring the horrible consequences of the chronic underfunding of educational institutions to the institutions' local administration.
The narrative presented so far by stakeholders, who are most often Conservative stakeholders, is that the communities and stakeholders are responsible for the quality of education, even though the chronic underfunding has now been calculated. Indeed, the chronic underfunding has been calculated at a rate of 35%. My boss, the Leader of the Opposition, announced that.
I would point out in passing that, under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, the Government of Canada is responsible for Indians and lands reserved for Indians. That is the first building block in our institution.
The government must provide education from kindergarten to grade 12 on reserve, and it must provide measures for post-secondary education. This must involve financial investments wherever they are needed. So far, this dynamic has received the most exposure.
There was tacit recognition in rather oblique language when the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development announced recently, with a great deal of hype, that there would be a huge financial investment in either 2016 or 2017. Those funds are needed now, not in 2016, because there is a dire need.
Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that this is a step forward. There had been no such recognition up until now. The government therefore took a step forward and indicated that if $2.4 billion—if memory serves—needs to be invested in 2016, that means that this area is now drastically underfunded. Now the question is what other areas will it pilfer from to come up with that money, but that is not my problem.
The selective interventionism and punitive nature of the Conservative government's initiatives clearly illustrate the inadequacy of the “my way or the highway” approach to providing services to the public and meeting government obligations regarding basic rights. I am talking about the punitive nature and selective interventionism because I have seen them first-hand, since I travel around to communities that have asserted their rights and have taken a stand, and are now being punished for it.
This is punishment. The government is simply making cuts. The government finds that the number of students does not correspond to the list that dates back to who knows when, and for that reason it is cutting $460,000 from the budget. For a remote community, that is a lot of money. These are punitive measures. Make no mistake.
Now I will say a few words about the moves the Conservatives keep making to off-load their obligations and their responsibility for government inaction on education for first nations youth by shifting the blame onto local stakeholders who have to deal with difficult conditions and limited resources.
The current government is trying to off-load its obligations not only to Canada's aboriginal peoples, but also in terms of providing services. We saw that with Canada Post. It is trying to off-load its obligations. Service delivery is more or less favourable, more or less on this government's agenda. In any case, the government will have to change its position, what with the general election just around the corner. Soon we will likely see the government handing out goodies, if I may put it that way.
Let me read a subclause that was brought to my attention; it belongs to a different time. The last time I had to analyze a section of legislation that reads a contrario goes back at least 13 or 14 years, when I got into law school. That is certainly a different time, but here it is still: clause 41 of the bill before us today reads as follows:
41. (1) The director of education, the principal, the teachers and the other staff of a school must provide all reasonable assistance to enable the temporary administrator of the school to exercise their powers and perform their functions and must provide any information relevant to the administration of the school that the temporary administrator requires. They must also comply with any direction given by the temporary administrator relating to the administration of the school.
Subclause 2 is where the harm lies:
No proceedings lie against any person referred to in subsection (1) for having in good faith provided the temporary administrator with assistance or information or complied with their directions.
Strangely enough, the title of the subclause is “Immunity”. We know, of course, that the Conservatives often use a word to mean the opposite—they talk of transparency and the Fair Elections Act, even though there is actually nothing very fair about it—and this subclause is no exception. If you read it a contrario, it means that the director of education, the principal, the teachers and the other staff members of a school can be sued if they do not provide the administrator with assistance in good faith.
It remains to be seen what good faith is and what level of cooperation is adequate in the eyes of the Conservatives and the minister. Ultimately, I very much doubt that the minister will be the one making the assessment. This kind of not-so-veiled threat is really disgraceful. Circumstances will make the Conservatives see that they are not the only ones able to make threats like that. They may have to put up with some heat this summer.
I submit this respectfully.