Canada's Original Think Tank

Third reading of Bill C-61, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Third reading of Bill C-61, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Third reading of Bill C-61, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: 

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak briefly at third reading of Bill C-61, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. As I stated in my second reading speech, this bill gives effect to an agreement already negotiated and concluded between Canada and the 23 Anishinabek First Nations in Ontario. It is important to note that this bill is part of the self-government process and works in partnership with the Master Education Agreement with the Province of Ontario. The education agreement with Ontario is dependent upon the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement taking effect on April 1, 2018.

The bill was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples on Wednesday, December 7, and we met yesterday, Tuesday, December 12, 2017, to study the bill. We heard from Government of Canada officials from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Department of Justice, and representatives from the participating Anishinabek First Nations. I would personally like to thank Deputy Grand Chief Glen Hare, Kelly Crawford, Evelyn Ball, Lisa Michano-Courchene and Tracey O’Donnell for travelling to Ottawa and offering their insightful testimony.

Colleagues, in my second reading speech, I mentioned that the funding agreement should be a critical point of study for the committee to focus on. Our committee asked questions about this funding agreement, what is included and what has been left out. According to this agreement, the Anishinabek Nation Fiscal Transfer Arrangement is a separate contract between the Anishinabek Nation and Canada that details the fiscal relationship in the implementation and ongoing operation of the education agreement. As Mr. Perry Billingsley, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of Treaties and Aboriginal Government of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, told our committee:

The new fiscal transfer agreement will provide stable, predictable and flexible funding for participating First Nations. The fiscal arrangement consolidates a fragmented and short-term bundle of core and non-core education programming into a single self-government grant transfer, which is typically renewed at five-year intervals. Funding is indexed annually for inflation and volume, as reflected by changes to student enrolment, to ensure that provincial comparability is maintained over time.

This is particularly important, because that is exactly the type of recommendation our committee put into its education report that I referred to at second reading: You have to have stable, predictable funding, and you have to make sure the same level of funding is given to schools off reserve that are funded by the province.

This agreement includes one-time implementation funding to get the process rolling as well as funding for instructional services, special education, student support services, and culture and language programming. We know one of the main objectives of this agreement is so that students can maintain their culture and language. This is a critical component of the funding, and it’s good that it’s there.

This agreement combines existing and new core funding to meet the educational needs of the Anishinabek education system. As Evelyn Ball from the Chippewas of Rama First Nation said:

The funding arrangements we negotiated are a positive step toward closing the gap in education funding between what Canada funds for First Nations and what the Province of Ontario provides on a per-student amount in our system.

Honourable senators, closing that funding gap is crucial for the ability of First Nations students to achieve outcomes comparable to non-First Nations students. I am hopeful this can be achieved for Anishinabek students through the Fiscal Transfer Arrangement.

We have heard in the Senate over the last decade and longer of the funding gaps between First Nations students on reserve and non-First Nations students who are funded by the province. This will close that funding gap.

However, as my colleague and friend Senator Patterson said, the agreement is silent in the areas of capital funding for the construction and maintenance of schools. According to Tracey O’Donnell, the chief negotiator for the Anishinabek First Nation, this issue was brought up throughout the negotiations by the Anishinabek First Nation. She stated:

The position of Canada throughout the negotiations is that they didn’t put major capital into sectoral self-government arrangements.

That means participating First Nations will continue to be funded via the capital infrastructure investments in schools from the INAC budget. Ms. O’Donnell went further and told the committee:

In our view, in order to run an education system, an integral part of decision making is the decision to build new schools or to replace schools. At this time, we have an opportunity again. Canada has suggested that we contact the regional office and put together an aggregate proposal on major capital to have that reviewed and considered by Canada.

I hope that Canada is able to work with the Anishinabek to achieve an ancillary funding commitment on school infrastructure for the participating First Nations. This will also be critical to the success of the Anishinabek education system.

I thank Senator Patterson for bringing up the issue of capital funding for schools on reserves, and I join my colleague in being concerned that the issue of capital funding has been left out of an otherwise comprehensive agreement. I nevertheless support the passage of Bill C-61, as it is a big step in the right direction and truly has the potential to change the face of education for the participating Anishinabek First Nations.

As Evelyn Ball stated:

Now it is the time for the Anishinabek to use education to restore our culture, our languages, our traditional knowledge, our spirituality and our traditional family structures. With the Anishinabek control of Anishinabek education, we can ensure the very survival of our nation and the well-being of all of our students.

I would like to end with the quote that I used at second reading: On the Prairies, of course, we say that education is our buffalo.

[Editor’s Note: Senator Dyck spoke in Cree.]

We have to have education in both worlds. We have to have the White eurocentric education to navigate in the modern world, but we also have to have education in our own indigenous languages, indigenous knowledge and in our own indigenous culture, so we have a sort of dual education system.

Colleagues, to reiterate, I support the passage of Bill C-61. Thank you. Meegwetch.