Hansard, March 5, 2010
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, yesterday’s budget mentions post-secondary education for aboriginal people, but there is no mention of funding and no mention of First Nations University in Regina. That institution is working hard with partners to correct its governance problems. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the University of Regina and the government of Saskatchewan are all pulling together to help.
Will the federal government fully support these combined efforts to first fix and then preserve First Nations University?
Mr. John Duncan (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we continue to work on options to ensure the affected students complete their academic year. That is our primary concern. As previously stated, we will not be renewing the funding agreement with First Nations University. In terms of discussions with the province the department continues to look at a wide range of options for the funding.
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, this is about hundreds of aboriginal and non-aboriginal students now at First Nations University and generations yet to come. It is about treaty rights and it is about the federal minister’s fiduciary responsibilities. It is about the proper administration of a genuine university and $8 million in federal funding without which a noble vision will get thrown out with the bath water.
Specifically, is that money in fact in the federal budget for 2010-11? Exactly where is it in the budget and will it be directed to the students at First Nations University?
Mr. John Duncan (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the department has been working since 2005 with the university to address longstanding and systematic problems. There have been allegations of mismanagement of funds, audit information handed to the RCMP commercial crimes unit, and politicization of the board on all issues. Meanwhile attendance has been falling. That is why the university was censured by the major teacher’s union and it is why the province withdrew its funds as well. We need to be accountable to Canadians as well as first nations.
Hansard, March 8, 2010
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, last Thursday the Minister of Agriculture said that the federal government supports the concept of First Nations University and will work with the University of Regina on ways to save the institution. However, on Friday the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development suggested there would be no federal support for First Nations University, period.
Could the minister correct any misimpression here and confirm that some $7 million will be available to and through the University of Regina once the U of R and other partners finalize a remedial plan with First Nations University?
Hon. Chuck Strahl (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, of course we have announced that the funding for First Nations University will not be renewed. The hon. member would know why.
Back in February 2005 when it all started and even before then, senior administrators were suspended from the university. The then Liberal government launched investigations. Forensic audits were done. Those results were handed over to the commercial crime unit of the RCMP. Subsequent to that, we have tried every conceivable way to try to get First Nations University to change the way it does its administration on the board of governance always without success.
For the sake of transparency and accountability, we have had to remove the funding for First Nations University. There will be funding; that money will be put into the university programming generally–
Hansard, March 10, 2010
Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations voted yesterday to turn financial control of First Nations University over to the University of Regina.
Will the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development agree now that he should reinstate funding to the university, or will he let a great institution die, just when the Speech from the Throne says that education is a priority?
Hon. Chuck Strahl (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, there is some dispute about whether it is a great institution or not.
What we have had over the last number of years is an escalating series of problems, starting with investigations, criminal investigations, forensic audits, and there have been reports of trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii. Now the latest one is that $400,000 of money designed to go to student scholarships has been used for other purposes.
How long does one just cut a blank cheque to that kind of organization? We are here to help the students. That is what we are going to do. That is what we promised to do in the throne speech, and we will deliver on that.
Hansard, March 11, 2010
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development met this morning with Chief Lonechild of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. The chief no doubt informed the minister about the decisive action he has taken to fix the problems at First Nations University.
Chief Lonechild has worked sincerely and successfully with a new interim board of governors and CEO, with faculty and students, with the University of Regina and Premier Wall’s provincial government. A strong remedial plan is in fact in place. Will the federal minister now support that plan?
Hon. Chuck Strahl (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I did meet with the First Nations University delegation today. I repeated our position that the current funding formula for First Nations University ends as of March 31. Of course, we will continue to help aboriginal students directly through our post-secondary programming and institutions through our Indian student support program.
Unfortunately, however, repeated and ongoing efforts over the past several years did not bring about the change in accountability that Canadian taxpayers expect and aboriginal students deserve. It is time to focus our attention on those aboriginal students themselves and ensure we have more and continued success for them going forward.
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, if the minister does not reach the March 31 deadline, if certainty is not achieved by then, First Nations University will begin to disintegrate and faculty, staff, and students will need to go elsewhere. Sadly for hundreds of young aboriginal students, there is no elsewhere. Their dream of post-secondary education will simply be over.
Surely the minister will not visit upon these innocent young people the past sins of others. Will the minister ensure the problems are fixed and multi-year federal funding is in place on time?
Hon. Chuck Strahl (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member wants to look at the past sins of others, he should start by getting up in the morning and looking in the mirror.
If he had taken action when he was still the finance minister for the former Liberal government, then perhaps we would not be in this position today. However, he did not take action.
After repeated efforts, time and again, we ended up where we had forensic audits, trips to the commercial crime unit. The last chief financial officer is talking about trips to Las Vegas, trips to Hawaii. Now $400,000 is missing from students’ scholarship funds and we do not know where it is.
It is time to be accountable to taxpayers and to students and get this fixed.
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