The Liberal government is redoubling efforts to improve the quality of First Nations education across Canada, after confirming the quiet removal of funds by the previous Conservative government.
The Liberals are rushing to find money for First Nations education ahead of their first budget on March 22. They say much of the funding they had counted on from the previous government was quietly removed from the books.
“I can confirm that the previous government removed the promised additional funding for First Nations education and which the previous minister confirmed in this House,” said Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett during a question period last week. Bennett could not confirm the exact amount removed.
During the election campaign, the Liberals pledged to invest $2.6 billion into First Nation education initiatives across four years, and $500 million in infrastructure for First Nation schools over three years. This task has grown more difficult after learning that much of the funds the previous government had promised to be in place are absent.
According to the Finance Department, the Conservative government allocated $1.25 billion in First Nations education over three years starting in 2016-17.
The Conservatives expressed that this funding was dependent on First Nations’ support of Bill C-33, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, which was put on hold following its second reading in 2014.
“In Budget 2015, much of this provisioned allocation was removed but not announced,” said David Barnabe, an official working with the Finance Department. “Of this amount, currently $241 million remains in the fiscal framework for those three years.”
Former parliamentary budget watchdog Kevin Page told CBC that the government is being far too unclear on the issue. “The Finance Department has not been sufficiently clear on how the money was reduced and re-profited.”
The New Democratic Party are urging the Liberals to follow through on their promises to improve First Nation education instead of blaming the Conservatives.
“Blaming the previous Conservative government for their failure doesn’t help First Nations children out now,” said NDP MP Nathan Cullen during question period. “Simply saying that it’s the last government’s fault, when the Liberals made a sacred commitment to fix the gap, to fund $2.6 billion in education.”
Minister Bennet has said the government will fulfill its promise with or without the funds they were counting on being in place.
“Although we are saddened by the revelation of the previous government taking the money for First Nations education, we will redouble our efforts to actually close this gap,” said Bennett. The minister did not provide any specific details about the governments plan to make up for the unaccounted funds.
The Liberals are expecting a deficit of $18.4 billion in 2016-17 and $15.5 billion in 2017-18. This is before considering any new expenditures revealed in the March 22 budget.