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Question Period
(13 March 2012)

From Hansard. Go page 10 out of 38.

Funding for First Nations Education

The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister of Education.

Hon. Ms. Harpauer: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And on this issue of what the funding is from the federal government on reserve schools, the member opposite and I are in complete agreement. They grossly underfund the reserve schools, and unfortunately that is to the detriment of our First Nations people, young people in our province. And it is to the detriment to the future of our province, for them to have the opportunity to engage in our growing economy.

So, Mr. Speaker, we are engaged with the federal government, encouraging them to increase funding, and we‟re very encouraged by the latest movement in the federal government of a unanimously supported motion to increase funding to reserve schools.

Meanwhile we are doing what we can here, and we know that there‟s more that can be done within the province. We have struck the task force. We‟ll be announcing that soon, who the panel members will be on that task force, as well as we have a number of programs that are available to encourage school divisions to have individual plans for their particular First Nations students.

The Speaker: — I recognize the member for Regina Rosemont.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The education funding gap between on-reserve First Nations students and provincial students simply must change. It‟s unacceptable. We share some agreement across the floor here today.

On February 27th the members of the House of Commons voted unanimously to support Shannen‟s dream, a motion to ensure that First Nations children have an equal right to high-quality education. A federal budget is coming down shortly, and we need to speak with one voice calling upon the federal government to follow through and provide the financial resources needed to close the funding gap.

At the end of question period, I will be introducing a motion calling on the federal government to provide the resources needed. The minister mentioned something about this in her statement here today, but my question to the minister: will this government support that motion?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister of Education.

Hon. Ms. Harpauer: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Myself, along with the Minister of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration have been very much engaged, not only with the federal government but also with the other ministers across the entire country on this very issue. We will continue those conversations and those efforts in working with the federal government to get this very serious issue addressed.

The Speaker: — I recognize the member for Regina Rosemont.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — Mr. Speaker, the question was, would the government support the motion? The government has the motion before them right now. But the Premier, we know, was in Ottawa last week. And we suspect he had the opportunity, or would hope he had the opportunity, to meet with the Prime Minister. And that was at the same week that the Prime Minister and other members of the House of Commons voted unanimously to support Shannen‟s dream.

My question to the Premier: did First Nations education funding come up during that meeting? And as a result, what can Saskatchewan people expect to see in the federal budget? [14:15]

The Speaker: — I recognize the Premier.

Hon. Mr. Wall: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thank the member for the question. I did have a chance to meet with the Prime Minister about a number of issues as we were returning from the economic development and job fair mission in London and then Dublin. Mr. Speaker, indeed Aboriginal employment and First Nations education did come up in the course of that conversation. It was raised by myself.

The Speaker: — I recognize the member for Regina Rosemont.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — provincial education system. The Sask Party has cut more than 350 educational assistants. They‟re closing public schools and failing to support community schools and their programs.

Because of an unfair funding system, many First Nations schools can‟t afford to provide a fair and equitable education. They struggle to retain talented teachers, and they are often using outdated technology and resources. The impact, Mr. Speaker, is felt by students, society, and our economy. And we‟re told to brace for more cuts in this provincial budget.

I would like to see a unanimous voice going forward here today, calling with one voice to the federal government. Instead it seems that we don‟t have that support. By not supporting our motion, the government is out of step with MPs [Member of Parliament] of all political stripes and offside with the research. To the minister: what is this government doing from a provincial perspective to show leadership on this most important file?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Minister of Education.

Hon. Ms. Harpauer: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And again, the member opposite and I can agree on this as a most important file. What we cannot agree on is him repeatingly saying that we have cut funding to education when in fact, in our first term of government, we increased the funding to school divisions for operating by over 18 per cent, Mr. Speaker. We have invested more in four years in infrastructure, in school infrastructure, than that government did almost in their entire time of being government. Mr. Speaker, we have put unprecedented amounts of capital money into improving and building schools within our province.

Mr. Speaker, specific to First Nations, again I will mention that we have struck a task force that is going to study this issue so that we can do better in closing the gap not only in education but in employment.

We have created . . . We have increased the pre-K [pre-kindergarten] programs, because we see how important those very first years are, by over 75 per cent to what they were when the NDP [New Democratic Party] were government.


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