rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

First Nations education bill fails the test

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Politics is a messy business, so it is helpful to have clarity now and then. 

Certainly, partisan posturing often can muddy the issues and impede progress. On First Nations issues, entrenched positions and a high volume of uninformed rhetoric from both sides doesn’t help either. As a result, before the bill had been tabled many blindly rejected the new education legislation, while others absurdly insisted it should be adopted. 

Those early positions were both unfair, but this much is now perfectly clear: unless it is amended before passing, the Bill the government tabled in parliament yesterday is a failure. 

This judgement can be made so clearly because everyone agreed on the criteria for assessing the legislation, and Bill C-33 -- the "First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act" -- simply doesn’t meet them.

In December of 2013, faced with a draft bill that satisfied no one outside the Harper government, First Nations Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a resolution setting down five conditions that must be met. 

According to the resolution, the legislation would need to:

a.     Respect and recognize inherent rights and title, Treaty rights and jurisdiction.

b.     Provide a statutory guarantee for funding of First Nations education.

c.      Enable and support full immersion and grounding of all education in Indigenous languages and cultures.

d.     Provide mechanisms for reciprocal accountability and ensure there not be unilateral federal oversight and authority.

e.     Ensure a process to address these conditions.

This was followed by an exchange of letters with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and, on behalf of the Government of Canada, he committed to meeting those five conditions in re-drafting the legislation. Yesterday, Bill C-33 was tabled. In presenting it, Minister Valcourt again claimed the five conditions were met. 

For his part, National Chief Atleo was more cautious yesterday, saying First Nations need to assess the language of the bill on their own. That position is consistent with his mandate. His job was to get the government to draft the best bill possible, while it is the task of First Nations, as rights holders, to judge the result.

The problem is that it fails so obviously only those willing to ignore the conditions set in December's resolution, to which all have committed, could think otherwise.

Although there is room to debate it, one need not worry about whether the funding, scheduled to begin in 2015, actually meets needs or enables language immersion. Nor is the degree to which the legislation acknowledges and respects First Nation jurisdiction the key question, although that is closely related to the main issue.

What is absolutely clear is that Bill C-33 does not respect the condition set down by Chiefs that there be reciprocal accountability. While the bill has plenty of language on how First Nations must be accountable for their schools, there is a complete absence of reciprocity.

Bill C-33 creates a joint council of education professionals to provide advice to the Minister and the Minister is compelled to seek that advice. He is then free to ignore it.

The bill also commits the Minister to take certain actions, most importantly to meet the funding levels that will be established by regulation. However, the Minister is authorized to set those regulations unilaterally, after seeking the advice that he is permitted to choose to ignore.  

The right to sue if the Minister fails to observe process -- which is all this amounts to given the Minister’s sole authority over content -- is the same one administrative law provides to all Canadians under all legislation.  

As a result, no one can claim that the bill meets the condition for reciprocal accountability as it was described in the December resolution, a resolution that explicitly and specifically identifies the exercise of unilateral authority by the Minister as the defining feature of non-reciprocity. 

Regardless of one's partisan stripe, position on First Nation rights, feelings about the role of the AFN, or any other issue that might prejudice opinion, when everyone agrees on the criteria for assessment and the assessment is this easily made, the bill is clearly a failure.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.