Mr. Speaker, I am rising in the House today in support of Bill C-33, the first nations control of first nations education act. I welcome this opportunity to outline the advantages of Bill C-33 and the many benefits it would bring to the first nations and all Canadians.
The proposed legislation would provide flexibility for each first nation, while establishing legislation that sets out standards to encourage students' success. For the first time ever, every first nation youth would have a guaranteed access to the high quality education that all Canadian students enjoy.
I want to speak about the need to improve the quality of education for first nation students and why it is a shared priority for our government and first nations. First, I want to acknowledge the first nation communities across Canada that have demonstrated commitment to improving education for their youth. We have seen the success these approaches can deliver, and we hope that Bill C-33 can empower other first nation communities to achieve similar results.
While first nations have worked hard with our government, provincial governments, and other partners to establish quality schools, the vast majority of first nation children do not have the same educational opportunity as other Canadian children do. Statistics show that this has a dire impact on their chances for success later in life.
There are numerous success stories, but we still have an urgent situation at the national level. According to the 2011 national household survey, only 38% of registered natives living on reserves, ages 18 to 24, had completed high school, compared to 87% of non-aboriginal Canadians. I am sure members will agree that this is a shocking and appalling number.
When we consider that aboriginal youth represent the fastest growing segment in the Canadian population, it becomes clear that steps must be taken to close this education gap. Currently, standards vary in on-reserve schools and, as a result, students have no guarantee of being able to transfer to a provincial system without academic penalty or to receive a diploma or certificate that is recognized by their university or employer of choice.
Recognizing that first nations are best placed to determine how to achieve the best results for their communities, the bill is informed by and built upon the fundamental principle of first nations control of first nations education. It gives first nations the same authority that is awarded to provincial school boards. The ability to set curriculum, hire and fire teachers, and set student and teacher evaluations are just a few examples that come to mind.
First nations would retain these authorities as long as they meet basic standards that are legislated in the act, and these would include requirements for teacher certification; requirements for minimum instruction days similar to provincial requirements; a recognized high school diploma; transferability between systems without penalty; and access to education for every first nation student.
These are basic requirements that every school off reserve must fulfill and are essential to ensuring a high quality of education. By setting standards, education legislation ensures that the features of a quality education system are there for our children every day.
In the rest of the country, legislation allows provinces to set standards for schools and school boards, like annual planning, health and safety, and requirements for daily operations. Legislation ensures that everyone involved knows their job and their responsibilities, from education directors and school principals to teachers and parent community committees.
Such legislation is in place in every province and territory in Canada except on first nation reserves. The proposed legislation would provide stable and predictable statutory funding consistent with provincial education funding models. This means the first nation would have the resources to determine the best means for educating its children, integrating language and culture, and developing policies and procedures for its school system.
Equally important is that first nations would be able to choose the governance model for their education system. First nations would get to decide whether they wanted to operate their own community school, whether they wanted to join a first nations education authority, or whether they wanted to participate in a provincial education system.
Supported by funding for governance and administration costs, first nations education authorities would be school-board-like organizations that would be run by first nations and would have the size and capacity to provide participating first nations with functions such as hiring teachers, setting policy, and purchasing supplies, as well as providing a wider range of support services for students. Whether first nations chose to enter into agreements with provinces or decided to form first nations education authorities, these organizations would provide support to schools to ensure they are meeting their requirements under the act and providing a quality education for students.
Let me emphasize again that the bill would establish first nations control over first nations education and would provide first nations with the flexibility to determine what is effective for their students' success. Parents, community members, and first nations leaders would be able to work with school administrators on the operations, planning, and reporting processes in their schools.
In addition to setting important standards, Bill C-33 would strengthen governance and accountability and provide mechanisms for stable, predictable, and sustainable funding.
We want to ensure that on-reserve schools provide the support services that are so important in achieving good educational outcomes and in ensuring that first nations children get the resources they need in order to succeed. We want all first nations students to have access to the quality and the quantity of the tools they need to learn: desks, textbooks, computers, sports equipment, and all the rest. We also want to ensure that first nations students are able to transfer seamlessly between schools on reserve and the provincial system if necessary.
First nations students and parents deserve to feel confident in their quality of education and confident that graduation comes with a recognized diploma or certificate so they are prepared to enter the labour force or continue their education.
We know that in order to provide the high quality of education that all other Canadian students enjoy, we need to ensure that first nations students are being taught by certified teachers and are spending a minimum number of days in class each year.
The proposed legislation would help turn the corner for first nations elementary and secondary education. That is why the historic announcement made in February by our Prime Minister with the Assembly of First Nations on first nations control over first nations education legislation included an unprecedented amount of money, $1.9 billion, to support it. When this bill passes, the funding would be guaranteed by law. It would also be subject to a 4.5% escalator, replacing the 2% funding cap that the Liberals put on first nations spending.
The proposed legislation and the new funding respond to the five conditions for success set out in a resolution by the Assembly of First Nations and endorsed by the Chiefs-in-Assembly in December 2013.
These are investments in the future of first nations children and in Canada's prosperity. Bill C-33 would establish first nations control over first nations education, with the flexibility for first nations to choose what works best in their communities. It is not about making all on-reserve schools the same; it is about making sure that every student has the same opportunity, no matter where he or she lives in Canada.