They are travelling together to hear concerns from educators and First Nations people.
© Herald photo by Jodi Schellenberg
MLA Doyle Vermette, MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan and Aboriginal Affairs critic Jean Crowder and NDP leader of the provincial opposition Cam Broten were in the Prince Albert region to meet with First Nations leaders and educators in order to hear their concerns.
Jean Crowder, MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan and federal Aboriginal Affairs critic, and Cam Broten, NDP provincial leader of the Opposition were in Prince Albert and the surrounding communities on Tuesday to discuss concerns with the Prince Albert Grand Council and educators. MLA for Cumberland Doyle Vermette also joined them for some of the conversations.
“It is really part of ongoing work to be listening to Saskatchewan people, what their concerns and priorities are,” Broten said. “I’ve really had some great meetings today with community members.”
During the day, the two met with northern teachers to discuss education needs in the north, met with local Métis leadership and met with representatives from the PAGC for First Nations leadership.
“I’ve definitely been hearing about it from the federal perspective,” Crowder. “I’m very interested particularly in the education because we expect the First Nations Education Act to be tabled this fall but I am interested as well to hear from the Métis.”
Education was the main theme that ran through all of their meetings, Broten said.
“What I hear time and time again as I travel is that people in Saskatchewan are doing their part,” Broten said. “Businesses are creating jobs and working hard to contribute to the economy, families are encouraging their kids to go to school and pursue training so they can participate in what is going on in the province.”
There has been concern, Broten said, that the government is failing to deliver in some key areas though, especially in regards to education.
“I hear concerns about large classroom sizes, school facilities that are crumbling, that aren’t up to standards,” Broten said. “From teachers, (I am) hearing concerns that there are not enough of the necessary resources being put into the classroom right at the front lines so that students have all of the one-on-one attention they need either from (teachers or) ensuring there are enough teaching assistants in the classroom.”
“Everyone recognizes that the way forward is to have a decent education, a comparable education and kids on reserves don’t have that,” Crowder added.
Crowder said it was coincidental but fortuitous that James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur in Human Rights, singled out education in his press conference on Tuesday.
“(He) talked about grave concerns about how the federal Conservatives are proceeding with the First Nations Education Act,” Crowder said. “He is suggesting they need to pull back and go back to a much more inclusive process to develop a First Nations Education Act that recognizes First Nations jurisdiction, First Nations ability and capacity to deliver education.”
From a provincial perspective, Broten said they have to make sure they are listening to students, parents and educators.
“The (educators) I spoke with this morning said to me that they don’t want this government to plow ahead with its own agenda,” Broten said. “One (concern) was the millions being put into standardized testing. What is really needed are more resources in the classroom to ensure the kids have the tools that they need to learn well.”
One key example of improvement educators would like to see is more teaching assistants in the classrooms, Broten said.
Another concern, Crowder said, is that reserve schools do not receive enough funding in order to pay for needed tools or resources.
“One of the big problems that we have and everybody acknowledges it is that First Nations schools on reserves get substantially less funding per capita than public school do,” Crowder said. “In some cases it is up to 30 to 40 per cent less. You are talking about a huge funding gap.”
Since there is such a large gap, the First Nations schools cannot afford to pay their teachers rates that are comparable to provincial schools.
“So you have a revolving door of teachers that runs through the reserve school system,” Crowder said. “The teachers come out of the education system, go to a reserve to teach for a year or two, then get experience and go into provincial school systems. You don’t have the continuity in the school system.”
She said that is only one small example of how a difference in funding can affect how schools operate.
“You have reserve schools that don’t have adequate libraries, they don’t have computers, they don’t have gymnasiums, they don’t have recreation programs, it goes on and on,” Crowder said. “The kids get a very minimal education compared to off reserve schools.”
In order to move forward, the government need to look at more funding for these schools, she said.
“If you are going to move ahead with an education act, you actually need to tie some funding to it,” Crowder said. “That is one piece that needs to be corrected.”
The federal government does not like comparing the reserve schools with the provincial schools, Crowder said, but it doesn’t change the fact that they receive less funding.
Some other concerns the pair heard were around housing and living in northern communities.
“One of the councilors spoke about how in some houses there are 20 or 22 adults living in a house,” Crowder said. “We know housing is in crisis on many reserves, particularly in northern parts of provinces. Often the housing was built to a southern standard, which doesn’t recognize the climate conditions and weather conditions in northern communities.”
Since the houses are not built for these conditions, they do not stand up to the weather or the amount of people living in them, she said.
“Housing is a serious issue in most communities -- the wait lists, the lack of funds to build housing, lack of recognition or the different standards that are required,” Crowder said. “That is a major problem and, of course, the cost of living in northern communities is a major concern, the transportation of goods and services and how it impacts cost of living.”
During their meetings, the First Nations leaders discussed with the two how the province can have the best possible future for all its people and how they can extend opportunities to more people.
“What I am hearing from so many communities is they are doing their part -- they are coming up with innovative programs, encouraging community members to think about how they can have the best possible future for their families,” Broten said. “What is missing is this government’s commitment to ensure that we have that better future and listening to what the good ideas are on the ground.”
He said the people he spoke to would like the government to start listening to their concerns and suggestions moving forward.
“In all the ideas we had today, another common message was local wisdom and local expertise need to be listened to and not all the answers should be forced from Regina or forced from Ottawa,” Broten said. “That is something that we heard very clearly today and that is the real benefit of being out in the province listening to people.”
The provincial legislature starts next week and Broten is looking forward to bringing attention to the concerns he has heard from people throughout the summer, whether they are about seniors’ care, education or the need to diversify the economy.
“These are the issues I am hearing from Saskatchewan people and what we will be raising in the legislature in areas where the government need to do so much better.”