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From an opinion piece by Murray Mandryk in the Regina Leader-Post of June 5, 2010.

No one acted more admirably than Cadmus Delorme and the other students, who immediately took the fight to the assembly of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

Along with dedicated FNUC teachers such as Randy Lundy, they didn’t quit until the funding was restored this week.

The entire First Nations community should be proud them. We all should.

But absolutely no one deserves more praise than FSIN Chief Guy Lonechild.

Read more in the Leader-Post.

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From an editorial by Doug Cuthand in the StarPhoenix of April 30, 2010.

The First Nations University of Canada, too, has been cast aside by the federal government. This month’s payroll may well be the last for many FNUC staff. Funds have run out and Ottawa refuses to reinstate its funding despite all the positive moves the university’s new board of governors has made.

The University of Regina is onside to provide administrative support, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers has lifted its censure of FNUC. The university is on the right path to reform, but the federal minister is steadfast in his refusal to support this institution. It’s obvious that First Nations institutions are not part of the Conservative government’s political landscape.

Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl began his political career as a member of the Reform party that begat the Canadian Alliance which morphed into the new Conservative Party of Canada. The Reform party was to the right of the old Progressive Conservative party and made considerable noise about First Nations politics and accountability.

This may have appealed to the Tories’ redneck base, but once in power they tried to bury their past. However they continued to attack First Nations and aboriginal issues. They scrapped the Kelowna Accord, refused to sign on to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples and, when FNUC encountered internal problems, they jumped on the chance to destroy the university.

In spite of the best efforts of the new board, the new president and the University of Regina, the federal government remains steadfast in its desire to shut down FNUC.

Read more in the StarPhoenix.

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From a news release published on Liberal.ca on April 22, 2010.

“Stephen Harper is letting two important institutions die away – Canada’s First Nations University and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation” said Mr. Ignatieff. “This is a serious matter. If Mr. Harper does not take immediate action to restore vital funding, First Nations students won’t have a university to return to next fall and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation will be forced to close their doors, leaving residential school victims and their families out in the cold.”

Mr. Ignatieff pledged that a future Liberal government would fully reinstate federal funding to the First Nations University of Canada. He also called on the Harper government to immediately restore funding to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation to keep the doors to this vital Canadian institution open.

In January, following the Saskatchewan government’s decision to cut funding to the First Nation University of Canada (FNUC) over allegations of financial irregularities and mismanagement, the federal government followed suit, deciding not to renew the approximately $7.3 million in annual funding. While the provincial government has since restored funding after improved governance and financial structures were put in place at FNUC, the federal government continues to withhold support.

Read more on Liberal.ca.

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The following is an unofficial and unedited transcript of a meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. This document is being sent for information purposes only and may not be quoted, as it may contain transcription errors. The edited, translated transcript will be available on the Committee’s website (http://www2.parl.gc.ca/CommitteeBusiness/CommitteeHome.aspx?Cmte=AANO&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3) within the next two weeks.

The Chair: We’ll now go to the second round of questioning, and it’s even more difficult because it’s only five minutes now for both the question and the response. We’re going to begin with Mr. Bagnell from the Liberal Party of Canada. Five minutes, Mr. Bagnell.

Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair. You’re doing an excellent job, as usual.

I’d just like to start by saying nothing is unclear or in motion because we can put conditions in our funding that anything needs to be in place at the time we fund it.

I’d like you to get back to us in writing. I don’t want you to answer this question now, but just the technical details of what you would get through ISSP, the maximum, why it’s not enough, etc. Also, if you could, give us on paper the written comment on the best practice that the minister from Saskatchewan said to you.

What I want to do, I don’t really need to say anything because you’ve already said it all, but there have only been three reasons why you wouldn’t get the funding restored. The most ridiculous one is that we’re going to continue giving funding to the students. Well, students, as you all said, all get funding anyway, so that’s a red herring. They always will get funding under the ISSP and INAC funding, so that’s not an answer.

That would go on if they could go elsewhere, and as you’ve quite eloquently said, you can’t go elsewhere if there’s no elsewhere to go to continue your programming. You’ve given a lot of unique examples. It’s like saying we’ll give you money for gas for a car, but you can’t have a car, or we’ll let you learn Cree or French in this particular university when it’s not even offered. So it doesn’t help that you can elsewhere when there’s nowhere else to go.

You can’t get the indigenous culture transfer, the indigenous environment programs, the dental therapist, which is really going to hurt the health minister because the only way she can get dental therapists in Nunavut is through your university. It’s not like there’s an option.

The last question, of course, which you’ve also answered, are the problems in the past, which everyone here acknowledges. You’ve dealt with that. I mean, any suggestion that there’s a problem now that the agreement’s signed would be an insult to the University of Regina, a great institution.

I don’t know if anyone wants to comment on any of those. It doesn’t seem like anyone in this room can give a reason now, because any of the reasons that might have been, have been answered.

I don’t want you to use the last of the time because I have one more question.

In fact, maybe I’ll ask my last question and then anyone can answer on any of these things. What is the worst thing someone from the Government of Canada said to you, either the minister, the minister’s office, or employees of the Government of Canada, in your discussions related to the university?

The Chair: Okay, it’s somewhat open. Who wants to go first?

Miss Timmons, go ahead.

Ms. Viane Timmons: I don’t care would be the worst thing I heard. I don’t care to me is not the kind of answer I would expect from my federal representatives, when I’m talking about students’ lives, faculty members’ lives and staff members’ lives. So I would say. I would also acknowledge that I as the President of the University of Regina just stated … we have a signed MOU as of a half an hour ago. If you question that, Mr. Duncan, I would be extremely insulted. I just said that it’s signed and done.

Thank you.

The Chair: Mr. Boire.

Mr. Gary Boire (Vice-President Academic, University of Regina): Thank you very much. I’d like to acknowledge Chief Lonechild.

The worst thing I’ve heard is that we don’t believe in deathbed conversions. This is a comment that I think is an inaccurate perception of the actions taken by the chief and FSIN and the assembly of chiefs. I think it’s an insensitive response to the restructuring changes that the working group has been working on for the past four weeks. I don’t think it’s an especially helpful perception of the long-term vision of post-secondary education for aboriginal students.

It’s been mentioned that the Department of Indian Language and Literatures program is unique in Canada. It’s unique in more ways than one. It’s not simply that books by aboriginal authors are taught. What is significant is that this unit is dedicated to the preservation of languages such as Cree, Saulteau, Nakoda, Dakota, Lakhota as well as Dene. We all know that the death of a language is the death of a culture and we all know that being prevented from speaking your own language is a crime that we never hope to repeat in this country again.

Thank you.

The Chair: Okay, now there’s only 40 seconds left.

Does anyone else want to just quickly jump in on that?

Madam Myo, go ahead.

Ms. Dorothy Myo: I think what I want to say is that it’s not so much what people are saying, it’s the fact that there isn’t anything being done looking at it. It’s really a case of not so much what is said but that there’s no action from our perceptions.

The Chair: Thank you very much and thank you, Mr. Bagnell.

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The following is an unofficial and unedited transcript of a meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. This document is being sent for information purposes only and may not be quoted, as it may contain transcription errors. The edited, translated transcript will be available on the Committee’s website (http://www2.parl.gc.ca/CommitteeBusiness/CommitteeHome.aspx?Cmte=AANO&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3) within the next two weeks.

Le président: Maintenant, nous procéderons aux questions des députés. Nous commençons avec M. Russell pour sept minutes.

Monsieur Russell.

Mr. Todd Russell (Labrador, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon to each of you and thank you for taking the time to come here to Ottawa, particularly on such short notice. I understand the urgency of this particular situation for each of you, and just as importantly of course, for the students and faculty, and all of those who are impacted by the federal government’s decision not to fund the First Nations University of Canada.

I have to say that in my almost five years at the committee, this is some of the most powerful testimony I’ve heard, and the most compelling arguments around a particular position. In this case, it’s to keep the First Nations University of Canada open. Over the last number of weeks and months, we have heard many, many different stories reported through many different types of media, whether it’s by radio or by newspaper or by television, about what is going on or not going on.

It is refreshing to see that you are bringing, I think, to light exactly what is happening, because when we ask questions in the House of Commons–I have to be quite frank with you–to the minister on this particular issue, Minister Chuck Strahl, all we get is the negatives. We have never heard of its successes. We have never heard about the uniqueness. We have never heard about the positive changes that are taking place.

There have been many calls by ourselves, many of my colleagues in the House of Commons, to restore the funding, and of course our leader, Michael Ignatieff, has added his voice to that as well.

You have laid out every criticism that’s been levelled against this institution. It seems to me that every criticism that’s been levelled against this institution by the Conservative government has been answered, so where do we go? When I asked the minister last Thursday if there was any scenario that he could see where funding would continue, he did not answer the question, but continued to raise doubts about the progress that has been made, about changes that you have undertaken; extraordinary changes, many of you have said, with FSIN and the leadership of Chief Lonechild, and I indeed I would say all of you at this particular table.

However I think it is important as well for us to enunciate that you have made the fundamental change in governance, in administration, in management, that everybody who was a critic has asked for. You have done your part. Now it’s up to the federal government to assure that this new model can succeed and, as many of you said, reward transparency and accountability, not penalize it.

There’s also been a perception that March 31 comes, April 1 comes, and the students can just move from one institution to another, that life will go on as usual, that somehow faculty will all find jobs, that somehow this unique university will not survive. I want to ask each of you–in a very short time frame, I know–to tell us what impact this will have upon the students and the faculty and FSIN.

The Chair: Just before you start with that, the way this works–and I’m just going to stop the time here temporarily–on a seven minute question, it’s the time for the question and the answer, so we can get more in if you keep your responses succinct and members keep their questions succinct also. I’m sure we’ll receive a number of questions from members. The more succinct we can keep it, the more we’ll get through. Okay?

With that, please carry on, Ms. Adams.

Mrs. Diane J. Adams: I think the most important thing to remember is that the students of this institution are people who chose to come to this institution.

When you’re entering into university, at whatever age you’re at, and I assure you that our demographics look much different than at the average university–most of our students are actually well into their thirties, and I would guess 80% of our student body are parents, many of them single parents–you have made a choice about your future. You have made a choice about your future career, and you are busy defining what the path of the rest of your life is going to be.

The threat of the closure of this institution has basically thrown a wrench into the hopes and dreams and plans for the future of every single student who is going to that university. For many students, there is not an option to go to a mainstream institution. First nations students have barriers to being successful in post-secondary education. For 34 years, the first nations people have been addressing how to address the barriers, and only we know how to do it.

With that, I suspect that many of our students will just exit post-secondary forever, and if not, they are going to have the future plans that they had trotted out over many years, and have overcome many hurdles to get to, just basically trampled on. Their futures are very uncertain and it’s very disheartening for the students at the university.

Mr. Randy Lundy: A follow-up?

Mr. Todd Russell: No, just go ahead, sir.

Mr. Randy Lundy: I just want to make clear that we are talking about whether the doors to the institution are open or not. From what I’ve heard from Minister Strahl, he’s not inclined to restore the $7.2 million in federal funding. He seems to want to fund students to go wherever they choose to go, as long as it’s not us because our doors won’t be open.

What that means is that 66 faculty members will be out of work, about a couple of hundred staff people will be out of work. So we’re looking at least 200 or 250 staff and faculty who will be on the unemployment line. I don’t think that’s necessarily a plank in Canada’s economic action plan, but that’s what we’re looking at. We’re going to be at least 200, 250 people unemployed.

More importantly than whether we find jobs or not elsewhere, as I was suggesting earlier in my comments, what’s important is that we have a gathering, a nexus of expertise here that will be dispersed, and it exists no where else in the country. If we don’t get that funding back in place, then all of that expertise is going to be dispersed and spread out thinly across the country. We’re going to lose a very important resource, a very important capacity that, as I said, it’s taken us 34 years to build.

Mr. Todd Russell: Thank you.

How much time, Mr. Chair?

The Chair: You only have 15 seconds. If someone had wanted to add just a very brief comment.

Ms. Dorothy Myo (Special Advisor to the Chief, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations): Good afternoon, Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

I think at the first nations community level, there is a going to be a huge loss in terms of having an institution that is there to transfer our indigenous knowledge to the next generation. That means our languages, our culture, our ceremonies, our practices will not have a mechanism how we will transfer it to both aboriginal students and non-aboriginal students.

The Chair: We’ll have to hold that thought there, and perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to continue with that comment further.

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For Immediate Release
March 24, 2010

OTTAWA – Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff today reiterated his call for the Harper government to restore its portion of funding to First Nations University, following the lead of the Saskatchewan government.

“Yesterday, the Saskatchewan government restored $5.2 million in funding to First Nations University because they realized the importance of this institution to the future success of so many First Nations students,” said Mr. Ignatieff, who raised the issue in the House of Commons. “The Conservative government must follow suit, or their snap decision to pull FNU’s funding will continue to cause very real harm to hundreds of students and faculty.”

Mr. Ignatieff said everyone recognizes that there are problems at the institution that need to be addressed, but the provincial government is working with university faculty and students, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the University of Regina to keep it operational.

“Stephen Harper sat in his office on Parliament Hill and decided its problems weren’t worth expending his time and effort on – he simply decided it wasn’t worth saving,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “I visited FNU. I met the leadership. I met the students. And I can tell Mr. Harper that these are hard-working young people who deserve a chance to get an education – a chance that will be lost if Mr. Harper doesn’t reverse his decision.”

Mr. Ignatieff argued that the Harper government’s attitude towards FNU reflects their overall lack of support for learning, with harmful consequences for the Canadian economy

“Mr. Harper just doesn’t seem to get the importance of a learning society to the future success of our country. He has cut funding to FNU, cut student grants and scholarships by $254 million, cut adult learning and literacy programs, and he has put a new tax on research that will make it harder to recruit world-class researchers.”

“This is not how you build the innovative economy of the future.”

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Contact:

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Office of the Leader of the Opposition
613-996-6740

Pour diffusion immédiate
Le 24 mars 2010
L’Université des Premières Nations a besoin de l’aide fédérale, selon Michael Ignatieff

OTTAWA – Aujourd’hui, le chef libéral Michael Ignatieff a de nouveau pressé le gouvernement Harper de rétablir la part fédérale du financement de l’Université des Premières Nations, comme l’a fait le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.

« Hier, le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan a rétabli un financement de 5,2 millions de dollars en faveur de l’Université des Premières Nations parce qu’il a compris l’importance de cet établissement pour la réussite de nombreux étudiants autochtones, a déclaré M. Ignatieff, qui a soulevé cette question à la Chambre des communes. Le gouvernement conservateur doit emboîter le pas. Sinon, sa décision impulsive de couper les vivres à cette université aura vraiment des conséquences néfastes pour des centaines d’étudiants et pour les enseignants. »

Selon M. Ignatieff, tout le monde reconnaît qu’il y a des problèmes à régler à l’Université des Premières Nations. Mais le gouvernement provincial collabore avec les enseignants et les étudiants, avec la fédération des Nations indiennes de la Saskatchewan et avec l’Université de Regina pour qu’elle continue de fonctionner.

« Stephen Harper s’est assis dans son bureau de la Colline parlementaire et a décidé que les problèmes de l’Université des Premières Nations ne valaient pas la peine qu’il s’en préoccupe. Il a décidé que cet établissement ne valait pas la peine d’être sauvé, a ajouté M. Ignatieff. J’ai visité cette université. J’ai rencontré ses directeurs et ses étudiants. Et je peux dire à M. Harper que ces jeunes travaillent dur et méritent une chance de s’instruire. Or ils perdront cette chance si M. Harper ne revient pas sur sa décision. »

M. Ignatieff soutient que l’attitude du gouvernement Harper envers l’Université des Premières Nations témoigne du fait que de manière générale, il ne favorise pas l’éducation, ce qui a des conséquences néfastes pour l’économie canadienne.

« M. Harper semble ne pas comprendre du tout qu’il est important d’avoir une société instruite pour la prospérité future de notre pays. Il a coupé le financement de l’Université des Premières Nations, réduit de 254 millions de dollars les subventions et bourses aux étudiants, sabré les programmes d’éducation des adultes et d’alphabétisation. En outre, il a frappé la recherche d’un nouvel impôt qui va nous empêcher de recruter les meilleurs chercheurs au monde. »

« Ce n’est pas ainsi qu’on construit l’économie innovante de l’avenir. »

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Renseignements :

Service de presse
Cabinet du chef de l’Opposition
613-996-6740

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The following is an unofficial and unedited transcript of a meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. This document is being sent for information purposes only and may not be quoted, as it may contain transcription errors. The edited, translated transcript will be available on the Committee’s website (http://www2.parl.gc.ca/CommitteeBusiness/CommitteeHome.aspx?Cmte=AANO&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3) within the next two weeks.

Mr. Todd Russell (Labrador, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon, Mr. Minister. It’s good to have you with us again. I appreciate your comments, particularly with the fact that you’re opening up the scope of any possible questions and subject matter that we can bring before you.

I know that you discussed education in your remarks. I want to focus on a particular issue that has certainly been of some attention for a lot of people over the last few months, and that is the First Nations University.

You have raised issues of accountability, of transparency, and I believe that all members at this committee share your concerns. We know that they have been challenged in the past, but I think it would be remiss not to say that there have also been some successes, like the over 3,000 graduates that have come out of the First Nations University, alumni like Perry Bellegarde, who ran for national chief and who was chief of the FSIN, and many others who have become doctors and lawyers, who have gone into almost every profession and made remarkable contributions to their communities and to Canada.

The situation of accountability; there have been changes. I think you should agree that there have been some changes. There’s been a change in the board of governors. There’s been a change in the chief financial officer. There’s been a sense and certainly a strong indication from the University of Regina that they are willing now to become involved in this, to provide administrative oversight and to allow this institution to continue, so there have been changes. I think it would be wrong for anybody to make an assumption that there have been no changes, that even if it is a last-ditch effort, that people are making a sincere effort to save this institution.

Is there any scenario, Minister, that you can envision that would allow First Nations University to continue, this unique and historical institution to continue, and to do some good work for first nations students? As you know, if the funding is cut off, it closes down. Some of those who are pursuing higher education now will not go back to pursue higher education, and so I ask you, is there any scenario that you can envision that would keep First Nations University open after March 31, and to allow it to pursue its goals and objectives?

Hon. Chuck Strahl: Thank you, Mr. Russell.

Of course I think all of us feel badly about what’s happened at First Nations University in the broad sense. It has been embroiled in turmoil of course over the last number of years, and some of that turmoil continues, although I grant you that some changes have been made.

I think first of all it’s important to note a couple of things.

First of all, about 65% of the students that go to First Nations University receive funding directly from the federal government through our post-secondary programming, and that continues wherever those students are. It’s not directed toward FNU. It’s directed to the students themselves, that can be used–

Mr. Todd Russell: To be clear, the funding we’re talking about is seven point whatever million out of their ISSP.

Hon. Chuck Strahl: No, I’m talking about the funding to the students directly.

Mr. Todd Russell: Yes, but to the institution, it comes out of the ISSP, right?

Hon. Chuck Strahl: Right, but the funding that the students get directly continues. That continues whether they go to FNU or any other university.

When I met with the group the other day, the delegation that came from Saskatchewan, I pointed out a couple of things. First, even in Saskatchewan, probably 10% of the aboriginal students to the FNU. Ninety per cent go elsewhere, and in the country, 95% of aboriginal students don’t go to FNU. They go to all kinds of places across the county.

Mr. Todd Russell: But that’s not the question, how many are going there. The point is, is there any way that you see that we can keep this institution going? Don’t you see the value of the institution in and of itself, in terms of its goals and objectives?

Hon. Chuck Strahl: It’s not a matter of whether I see a value in the institution. The problem right now is that there still isn’t a plan on the table. I know that there’s a change in the governance. The last time we went through this, there were recommendations to completely overhaul the board. The FSIN got involved and said, “Okay, we’ll completely overhaul the board”. The board was completely overhauled. That was four years ago.

I’ve been through this so many times. What I’ve said to them is, “What’s the proposal?” When I met with them the other day, I said, “Have you got a proposal?”, and Ms. Big Eagle, who was at the meeting, said that they are making preparations to work with the University of Regina. They hope to apply through the ISSP programming. I said that sounds good to me, and if the university could apply, we would help in any way we could to help with the application forms or do some things through the ISSP programming, but what we’re not interested in doing is funding–this is the same story you’re going to get from the province–they’re not prepared to fund the model that’s there, and so–

Mr. Todd Russell: I understand the model is changing.

Hon. Chuck Strahl: It’s still not there. When they approached me the other day, what they came to me and said is, “I need $3.8 million for the next 60 days.”

I said, “$3.8 million is 50% of what we paid you all of last year, and that is only for 30 days into the new fiscal year?” He said, “Well, yes, and then we’ll need $2 million a year for the rest of the year.”

I said, “It’s twice, three times as much as what we paid last year.”

Mr. Todd Russell: With all due respect, it doesn’t seem like there’s a sincere effort, Mr. Minister, to keep this institution going. That’s what I see from your comments. You haven’t outlined a scenario where we would keep it going.

Hon. Chuck Strahl: That’s not true.

Mr. Todd Russell: The Canadian Association of University Teachers who were at one time very critical and censured, the University is on-side saying we must keep it open, and they’re trying very diligently.

The University of Regina is there. Even the Province of Saskatchewan seems to be more open to allowing for this institution to survive for the benefit of students and communities.

I just wonder, is there something else that we don’t know about, that’s not out there in the public purview that’s keeping you from being supportive?

Hon. Chuck Strahl: Without getting specific, I think there probably is. If you read the report from the CFO—like you said, they’ve changed CFOs but not willingly. The last guy got ballooned when he blew the whistle on what was going on down there. He talked about abuses in the severance pay, abuses in the holiday pay, abuses in travel allowances, abuses in salary allocations, and so he got fired for saying all this.

What I’m saying, Mr. Russell, is there are ways it could be funded through the ISSP. There’s 42 post-secondary institutions in Canada that deal with Aboriginal people specifically that apply through our regular programming. They can apply for that. I told them they can apply for that. I wish them success. We offered to help them with that.

That’s how we help institutions, and we’re prepared to help but we’re not prepared to fund the FNU model and neither is the province.

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