Funding Levels for On-Reserve Education

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I have a supplementary question to the leader. There are other facts involved in this issue when it comes to federal and provincial responsibility. It seems to me they must be partners in this.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the leader continues to suggest that First Nations students in on-reserve schools are funded at or above par with students attending provincial schools.

In the 2012 Budget we know that there was an additional $275 million over three years for the construction or repair of on-reserve schools as well as literacy and numeracy programs. That in itself is acknowledgement of more funding for First Nations education.

In response to that 2012 Budget we have Saskatchewan Minister of Education Donna Harpauer urging the government to invest more in teaching children who attend on-reserve schools. She said that there is a serious gap between the amount of funding spent for First Nations children and those who attend classes in the provincial system. In fact, an increasing number of First Nations students are attending provincially funded schools in that province.

We have First Nations students attending provincial schools, but their band must pay the school board tuition equivalent to the per student provincial rate of funding. The result is that the Government of Saskatchewan is collecting approximately $1.1 million from First Nation bands to pay for students in the provincial school system.

This is unacceptable, honourable senators. Bands are being forced to fund their students’ education in provincial schools because on-reserve schools simply are not up to par. What will be done to correct this situation?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): The minister has worked in collaboration with various provinces to improve the situation with regard to education for Aboriginals living on reserve.

I can only repeat what I said to Senator Dyck. We have made a very serious commitment as a government to continue with our intensive consultations and our work with First Nations to ensure that we focus on the very serious issue of educating our young Aboriginal people living on reserve. This commitment is real and taken very seriously. The minister works diligently with First Nations to further improve the already obviously credible and positive results we have received thus far.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, obviously the numbers and figures that the leader keeps putting out are not sitting well with Saskatchewan’s Minister of Education. It seems, as usual, that the government is downloading its responsibility, and it should not be when it comes to Aboriginal youth. The government has a serious responsibility to care for and educate Aboriginal youth and work with bands on reserve.

Just this year, on February 27, a motion concerning First Nations education was unanimously adopted in the other place. It called on the government to fulfil Shannen’s Dream by, among other things, providing funding that will put reserve schools on par with non-reserve provincial schools.

It seems to me there is a contradiction here. How can the government support this motion and maintain that First Nations students attending on-reserve schools receive the same amount of funding as those in provincial schools? It is a simple question.

Senator LeBreton: It is interesting, because all the significant measures taken by our government and the various budgetary measures we have taken to assist and improve the education of Aboriginal peoples living on reserve were voted against by the honourable senator’s colleagues in the other place each and every time.

I can only say that we have a very solid record. I will repeat what I said to Senator Dyck. Every year we invest in education for 117,000 students on reserve. We have also announced additional measures such as early literacy programs and we have invested in infrastructure. We have completed 263 school projects and have built 33 new schools. I would think this is quite a commendable record on the part of the government.

Having said that, as I indicated, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, working with the leaders of the First Nations, continues to work to make even further improvements. As we know, education was the focus of a report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. Many of the recommendations in that Senate report have been implemented by the government.