Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau went on the attack Thursday, blaming Stephen Harper for not doing enough to close the gap in quality of life between First Nations people and other Canadians.
"Mr. Harper has done little to improve things," Trudeau said during a campaign stop in Saskatoon. "No nation-to-nation dialogue, no respect for rights or for treaties, no regard for First Nations control of First Nations education, no delivery on desperately needed investments. Just a unilateral, top-down approach from Ottawa."
In his first major promise of the election campaign, Trudeau said that a Liberal government would invest a total of $2.6 billion in First Nations education over four years and $500 million over three years in infrastructure for First Nations schools.
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"We will make up for 10 long-lost years," Trudeau said in another not-so veiled swipe at Harper's Conservatives, as the Liberal leader continues his push to position his party as the one to renew Canada's relationship with First Nations.
Today's announcement builds on the Liberal Party's platform that also includes a commitment to lift a two per cent cap on federal funding for First Nations programs.
"It's time for a renewed, respectful and inclusive nation-to-nation process to eliminate the gap in First Nations education."
Trudeau's plan would invest more per year in First Nations education than what the Conservatives have promised to date, and would accelerate infrastructure spending.
The Conservatives under Harper earmarked $1 billion over five years for First Nations education and $500 million over seven years for infrastructure starting in 2015-16.
The Harper government earmarked:
- In the 2015 budget — $200 million a year over five years starting in 2015-16 for First Nations education.
- In the 2014 budget — $500 million over seven years beginning in 2015-16 to improve First Nation school infrastructure.
Trudeau said a Liberal government would budget:
- $515 million per year over four years in core annual funding for First Nations K-12 education, rising to over $750 million per year by the end of the first mandate.
- $500 million over three years for First Nations education infrastructure.
- $50 million for the post-secondary student support program, which provides financial assistance to Indigenous students who attend post-secondary schools.
Harper announced in 2014 $1.9 billion for First Nations education but the funding was contingent on First Nations' support of the government's First Nations Education Act.
The education bill was put on hold following the sudden resignation of Shawn Atleo, the AFN's former national chief, last year. Atleo quit amid criticism from chiefs who accused him of selling out First Nations by siding with the government on its retooled aboriginal education bill after an initial draft had flopped.
In an email to CBC News, the Aboriginal Affairs minister's office said Thursday the remaining $900 million is "still available, but as we have said all along, investments will follow reform, not replace reform."
Bellegarde welcomes 'substantive plan'
The Assembly of First Nations welcomed Trudeau's announcement, calling it "a substantive plan for action."
"This plan would have an immediate impact and help close that gap by investing in our students and our schools," said national chief Perry Bellegarde in a written statement. "All the parties need to step up and make clear commitments to First Nations."
While the AFN did not comment on the other aspects of Trudeau's funding announcement, when Harper announced $500 million for First Nations infrastructure in 2014, the AFN said it fell short of "the urgent need for resources to build and repair First Nations schools."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has vowed to call a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in the first 100 days of taking office, which the Conservatives have refused to do. The Conservative government has opted instead to fund various programs it says help aboriginal women.
The Liberals, too, have promised to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Trudeau defends C-51
Trudeau was campaigning in the riding of Saskatoon West, where Lisa Abbott, a First Nations lawyer, is seeking to win the federal seat.
The Liberal leader has been criticized by some First Nations for his party's support of the government's Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-51.
Asked about it for a second-day in a row, Trudeau defended his support for C-51 and reiterated his position that a Liberal government would repeal the sections of the law that are of most concern to First Nations.
Mulcair also promised to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act, which his party opposed and said he would create and chair a cabinet committee "to ensure federal government decisions respect treaty rights, inherent rights and Canada's international obligations."
The New Democrats have yet to publicly cost out their First Nations programs.
This story has been updated from a previous version that misstated the Liberal and Conservative infrastructure funding promises for First Nations schools. The Liberals have promised $500 million over three years, and the Conservatives $500 million over seven years.Aug 13, 2015 6:40 PM ET