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Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul’s, Lib.):
Election overspending is a serious offence, but Conservative MPs seem to think election laws are optional.
Elections Canada has now said there are three Conservative MPs who are not entitled to sit or vote in this place: the member for Selkirk—Interlake, the member for Saint Boniface, and now the member for Essex. Last week the member for Peterborough tried to abuse his parliamentary privilege and interfere with an Elections Canada investigation in his riding.
The law is clear.
Why does the Conservative government refuse to enforce the Canada Elections Act?
Mr. Pierre Poilievre (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, CPC):
These Members of Parliament were duly elected. We expect that they have the right to speak in defence of the filings that they made and which Elections Canada has in the past accepted. The member across mentions their right to sit in the House of Commons. In fact, we all have the obligation to sit in the House of Commons. That is why we are paid. Unfortunately, her leader actually skipped out on his obligation to vote in this chamber in order to get paid a second time for a charitable appearance that all of us in this House would normally attend for free as a matter of our parliamentary duties. It is time he paid back the money.
All Canadian children have a right to basic education and, for First Nations, it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure they have that access. But it is also in all of our interests to close unacceptable gaps in First Nations’ education funding and graduation because, in failing to do so, we are squandering a source of future prosperity for all Canadians.
Canada is facing a skills shortage or more accurately a disconnect between workers’ skills and labour market needs. These chronic labour shortages are projected to worsen as we face an aging population and a job market skewed more and more toward skilled labour. Put simply, Canada risks a future of jobs without people and people without jobs. Canadian business understands this and believes engaging Canada’s aboriginal population the youngest and fastest growing population in the country is fundamental to meeting this challenge.
Just this year the Canadian Chamber of Commerce identified Canada’s labour skills shortage as one of the ten biggest barriers to Canadian competitiveness and the Aboriginal population as “a huge potential workforce” that we must support more. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives’ most recent pre-budget consultations also made it clear that the government must improve education and skill levels within the Aboriginal population and expand opportunities for Aboriginal peoples to participate fully in the economy.
In the economy of the 21st century, access to jobs and even skills trainingrequires a high school and often post-secondary education. Shockingly, only one in three Aboriginal kids on reserve is graduating high school and that outcome has not improved over the past several years. We know youth who graduate high school are twice as likely to find a job as those who don’t, and research shows that Aboriginal high school graduates have almost the same post-secondary participation rate as non-Aboriginal high school graduates. But sadly, First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth are still significantly under-represented in post-secondary education.
In her 2011 report, the Auditor General of Canada made it clear that the government, “has not maintained a consistent approach and cannot demonstrate improvements to date” in closing the First Nations’ education gap. This conclusion was supported more recently in the government’s own 2012 Evaluation of the Elementary/Secondary Education Program on Reserve, which found, “education opportunities and results that are comparable to the Canadian population is not being achieved.”
Although First Nations have made meaningful strides to improve education, the lack of proper resources has severely limited their progress. Appallingly, students attending school on reserve are funded on average at two thirds that of provincial systems. Despite this, the government has consistently failed to make the needed investments to close this gap. In fact, the Conservative government still denies this funding gap existsfurther straining its credibility and relationship with First Nations across Canada.
The government’s own 2012 Evaluation of the Elementary/Secondary Education Program on Reserve contradicts its spin. The evaluation states, “Expenditures to First Nations and tribal councils for the operation of schools do not appear to account for actual cost variability applicable to the needs and circumstances of each community or school, and particularly the cost realities associated with isolation and small population.” As noted earlier this year by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, “Funding for aboriginal education at all levels has lagged for many years, and education results have, too. It’s not hard to see the connection.”
The government’s response to the unacceptable aboriginal high school graduation rate has been to deny existing funding gaps and set an uninspiring target of just an eight per cent improvement over five years. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt now claims that the solution to unacceptable First Nations graduation rates will be the anticipated First Nation Education Act, but the Conservatives’ track record of broken promises, misleading figures, and their complete failure to meaningfully consult on the development of previous bills does not bode well for this new piece of legislation. First Nations are frustrated that yet again the government chooses to legislate instead of meaningfully addressing the funding shortfalls well-documented by auditor general report after auditor general report.
We need to engage in a renewed respectful and inclusive process with First Nations like the one resulting in the Kelowna Accord. That bottom up process lead to a series of concrete commitmentsincluding $1.8-billion over five years to achieve both a high school graduation rate for Aboriginal people equal to other Canadians and a 50 per cent improvement in post-secondary education completion rates by 2016. Unfortunately the current government walked away from these commitments.
Now, five years after the Prime Minister’s apology for the tragic historic wrongs of the Indian residential schools, we must rekindle the goodwill and promise that existed on that day. As a young elementary school student said so eloquently at the “Our Dreams Matter Too Walk” in Ottawa last week, “this apology has meaning only if First Nations children have opportunities, can grow up happily in their homes, have a good education, be healthy and have pride in their culture.”
Canadians believe in equality of opportunity and understand that access to education for all children is an issue of fundamental fairness. Let’s get on with it.
Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who represents St. Paul’s, Ont., is her party’s aboriginal affairs.
The Hill Times
Critics say the Tories are continuing to impose policies top-down on First Nations.
The federal government continues to face accusations that it’s imposing paternalistic legislation and failing to consult with First Nations, but the Conservatives insist that their legislation will improve on-reserve quality of life and stimulate economic development.
The Conservatives continued to move forward on First Nations legislation last week, passing two more bills that will impact those living on reserves across the country for better or worse.
Bills S-2, the Family Homes and Matrimonial Interests Act; and S-8, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, passed third reading in the House of Commons last week and await royal assent.
The bills take steps to improve the quality of life for on-reserve First Nations, but have been criticized by the Assembly of First Nations, individual bands, and opposition critics for imposing new responsibilities on First Nations communities without addressing the underlying lack of capacity in many communities to implement the new requirements.
While Bill S-2 sets out rules for dividing on-reserve matrimonial property in cases of divorce and enables First Nations women to obtain emergency protection orders against abusive partners, it has been criticized for failing to address the demand for women’s shelters, social services, and legal resources needed in cases of domestic disputes.
Bill S-8 empowers the federal government to impose mandatory drinking water and wastewater regulations for reserves, but doesn’t address the issue of financing water system infrastructure and operation on reserves. The legislation also protects the federal government from being sued over any issues related to the regulations.
The recently passed bills are the latest to affect First Nations. Last year’s budget bills, C-38 and C-45, sparked much of the outrage that led to the Idle No More movement by making significant amendments to environmental laws that will expedite natural resource development in and around First Nations’ territory, including limiting the scope of the Fisheries Act and restricting the participation of groups in the environmental assessment process.
In March, the government passed the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which requires First Nations bands to publish the salaries and expenses of elected officials online, as well as the financial information of band-controlled businesses. The requirements go far beyond MPs, Senators, and Cabinet ministers’ own financial disclosure responsibilities, and the bill does not include funding for communities to implement the legislation.
The government is also moving ahead with Bill S-6, the First Nations Elections Act, which updates the framework for First Nations elections and includes clauses that enable the minister of Aboriginal Affairs to impose the requirements on communities without their approval.
Indigenous legal scholar John Borrows, a member of Ontario’s Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, told The Hill Times that the government’s current approach to First Nations’ self-determination goes against traditional conservative values of limited government and free choice.
“Conservative principles are that big government should get off the backs of people, including Indian people, and the best way to get big government off the back of Indians is to allow them to locally determine what they think their objectives should be,” Prof. Borrows said. “It’s somewhat ironic that we have a Conservative government in power right now that seems to want to operate in accordance with these Republican-type principles, and yet it’s big government that’s being used to put in place the [First Nations] transparency act, the elections act, and the matrimonial property act.”
Prof. Borrows, who previously taught aboriginal law at the universities of Toronto and Victoria, is currently the Robina Chair in Law, Public Policy, and Society at the University of Minnesota. Since joining the University of Minnesota in 2009 he has studied U.S. policy and found greater progress south of the border in promoting indigenous self-governance.
“The reason is that all of these pieces of [U.S.] legislation have as their guiding principle that Indian people are self-determining,” Prof. Borrows said. “What Congress does is pass enabling legislation which recognizes the inherent rights of indigenous self-determination. This enabling legislation allows governments to be able to partner with First Nations as they determine on a piece-by-piece basis.”
Federal legislation and policies aimed at facilitating First Nations self-governance is not at work in any of the government’s recently passed legislation, said Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul’s, Ont.), her parties aboriginal affairs critic.
The problem, said Ms. Bennett, is that much of the government’s legislation is mandatory for First Nations and gives the minister of Aboriginal Affairs the power to impose requirements and withhold funding based on new conditions.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act allows the minister of Aboriginal Affairs to withhold or terminate funding if a reserve fails to meet the requirements, the First Nations Elections Act allows the minister to impose the requirements on reserves without their consent, and the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act protects the federal government from litigation.
“It is a bizarre approach to resetting the relationship and the duty to consult. It’s paternalism and prescriptive father knows best,’” Ms. Bennett told The Hill Times.
Ms. Bennett, who sits on the House Aboriginal Affairs Committee, said that on bills like S-2 and S-8, several witnesses raised concerns that the federal regulations would put new pressures on reserves without addressing the lack of capacity that is required for implementation.
Ms. Bennett said that the First Nations Election Act “could have been a poster child” for a new way for the federal government to work with First Nations, but the government instead chose to allow it to be imposed without consultation.
“This was an opt-in bill that should have been supported because it was optional, and they couldn’t help themselvesthey put in a clause that allows the minister to impose it,” she said. “They have suggestions coming bottom up from First Nations, they codify them, and then add some poison pill at the last minute.”
However, Andrea Richer, press secretary to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt (Madawaska-Restigouche, N.B.) disputed suggestions that the government was failing to take its consultation with First Nations into account when it drafts legislation.
Ms. Richer stated in an email response that the government had consulted with First Nations on the forthcoming First Nations Education Act, which she said would make on reserve schools “of equivalent quality” to off reserve schools and be “flexible enough” to enable First Nations to design programs and curriculum that would address their unique needs and interests. She said that draft legislation based on consultation will be shared with First Nations and educators by the end of the summer.
“This is just one example of the steps out government has taken to create the conditions for healthier, more self-sufficient First Nations,” she replied. “We remain committed to continue working with aboriginal Canadians and ensure they are full participants in building a better future for themselves and a stronger future for Canada.”
The Hill Times
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