First Nations education bill: Ottawa won't move forward

The federal government will not move ahead with the First Nations education act without support from the Assembly of First Nations, a spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt tells CBC News.

Spokeswoman for federal minister says Assembly of First Nations support needed for Bill C-33 to proceed

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt says "too much work has taken place" to go back to Square 1 on the First Nations education bill. A spokeswoman for Valcourt said Friday that Bill C-33 won't proceed without the support of the Assembly of First Nations. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal government will not move ahead with the First Nations education act, a spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt told CBC News today.

"This legislation will not proceed without the support of the Assembly of First Nations," said Andrea Richer, director of communications. 

On Thursday, in his first public comments since a special assembly of chiefs voted this week to reject Conservative education reforms, the aboriginal affairs minister lamented the fact that the AFN has walked away from its agreement with the government.

"One thing is sure: We thought we had an agreement. Those chiefs present there decided not to honour that agreement that we had reached with the AFN," Valcourt said.

"I look forward to finding a way to not let the children, the students on reserves throughout all of those First Nations communities, to have to pay the price for this."

The aboriginal community remains split over Bill C-33, dubbed the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act. Some saw it as a step in the right direction, and welcomed the $1.9 billion tied to the bill. To others, it was a government imposing too much control over First Nations.

Shawn Atleo suddenly quit this month as AFN national chief after becoming a self-described lightning rod of controversy for backing the bill, leaving the organization in a state of flux.

The divisions within the First Nations community were on full display this week when chiefs gathered in a downtown Ottawa hotel to decide how they would respond to the legislation.

Bill remains on hold

After hours of sometimes heated debate, the chiefs voted in favour of a resolution that rejects the bill and calls on the
government to negotiate a new education agreement that provides transfer payments to aboriginal communities.

The resolution also asks Ottawa to provide $1.9 billion tied to the original bill immediately, with a 4.5 per cent escalator until a new deal on education is reached.

But Valcourt says too much time and effort have gone into the bill to start all over again. It was already retooled once before to include five key conditions needed to get the AFN's support, he noted.

"Then, we tabled the bill that incorporated those conditions. And moreover, the prime minister personally committed the funding necessary to implement this so that it'd be successful. And now, you know, we are back to — what? — Square 1? I don't think so. Too much work has taken place."

"In good faith, we worked together. I incorporated — we incorporated — those five conditions in Bill C-33 and we jointly announced a way forward that we had agreed to in Alberta," Valcourt said.

The bill remains on hold while he considers his options, Valcourt added. He also sounded frustrated when he spoke about the AFN.

"It was represented to us that the AFN was representing those First Nations across Canada and they were our interlocutor," Valcourt said.

"We have invested tens of millions of dollars in the last 10 years, eight years, into the AFN for that very purpose, to have this relationship rebuilt. And, you know, so I respect their charter, I respect their way of doing business, but we have got to find a way to move this file forward, because it is the kids, the students on reserve who are paying the price -- not the chiefs."

With files from CBC News


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