May 31, 2014 7:41 pm

Harper’s actions unconscionable and immoral: Former PM

ABOVE: (May 31, 2014) Paul Martin calls the decision to withdraw Bill C-33, and the funding that goes with it, “morally wrong”. It’s been a controversial bill from the start, and as Vassy Kapelos reports, the government isn’t budging.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin says the government’s decision to put the First Nations education bill on hold is “morally wrong” and “unconscionable.”

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In an interview airing Sunday on The West Block with Tom Clark, Martin said the decision to shelve Bill C-33 and the money that goes with it, shows the government is playing a “very tough game…really an unfair game with the First Nations.”

The government has been flip-flopping on its First Nations policies, he added.

Martin said first the government admitted there was a gap in funding for First Nations education compared with funding for non-Aboriginal students, but then recanted. He says the government then again acknowledged the gap.

“I think there is an enormous amount of mistrust on behalf of the First Nations” said Martin. “And I understand why.”

On Tuesday the Assembly of First Nations voted to withdraw its support of the government’s First Nations education bill. But the Aboriginal community remains split over the bill, 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.

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

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.

The government rejected this request.

“As we have said all along, this legislation will not proceed without the support of AFN,” said the Director of Communications for Aboriginal Affairs, Andrea Richer.

“We have been clear that we will not invest new money in an education system that does not serve the best interests of First Nations children; funding will only follow real education reforms.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt later said 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.

“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 reserves who are paying the price – not the chiefs.”

Martin doesn’t agree the government has been trying to rebuild the relationship, rather he said it’s moving in the opposite direction.

Since 2006 and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to kill the Kelowna Accord, Martin said the government has allowed a decade’s worth of Aboriginal students go through an under-funded education system and attend schools “you would never send your children to.”

The government cannot “turn their back on the…fastest growing and youngest segment of our population,” he said, adding, “that’s what the government is doing.”

“Of course the First Nations want a say in the kind of education their children are going to receive.  If we had been through, you or I had ever been through, what the residential schools caused, we would certainly insist on having the say,” Martin said.

The full interview with former Prime Minister Paul Martin airs Sunday on The West Block with Tom Clark on Global News at noon Atlantic, 11 am Eastern and Central, and 10 am Mountain and Pacific.

With files from The Canadian Press

© Shaw Media, 2014

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