By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn Atleo came to a secret agreement outlining the broad framework and name of the now shelved First Nation education bill months before it was tabled in Parliament, according to a document filed in Federal Court.
The document, signed by Harper, Atleo, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and former Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters was filed in court by federal Justice Canada lawyers Wednesday.
The undated four-page document was titled “Bill C/S-X, First Nation Control of First Nations Education Act.” The document lists the sections of the new education bill and itemizes which parts would differ from a previous incarnation rejected by First Nation chiefs in the fall of 2013. The document was signed on Feb. 3, APTN National News has learned, over two months before a bill under the same name was tabled in the House of Commons on April 10.
“This document identifies the substantive amendments to the Oct. 2013 draft of the First Nations education legislative proposal,” states the document. “This does not preclude minor adjustments or tone.”
The document was signed after a meeting between Harper, Valcourt and Atleo at the request of Wouters who wanted the signatures for the historical record. The Monday meeting followed a contentious phone conversation on education between Harper and Atleo held the previous Friday, Jan. 31.
The emergence of the document casts Harper and Atleo’s Feb. 7 press conference on the Blood Tribe reserve in a new light. Harper and Atleo stepped onto the stage and announced they had reached a “historic agreement” on education knowing they had a signed document in their back pocket outlining what the new bill would eventually look like.
Atleo’s own executive however, was completely in the dark about the details on the day of that announcement. The AFN regional chiefs for Quebec and Ontario, Ghislain Picard and Stan Beardy, e-mailed Atleo that day saying they wouldn’t attend the announcement because of the lack of details.
The document also explains Valcourt’s office persistent talking-point use of the claim it had an agreement with the AFN on education. APTN National News has without success repeatedly asked Valcourt’s office for proof of an agreement.
In reality, however, the agreement was only with Atleo and not the AFN. Atleo never told chiefs about the document or that he knew the outline of the education bill the Harper government planned to table.
Nova Scotia AFN regional Chief Morley Googoo, who held the education portfolio on the chiefs executive, told APTN National News Thursday he didn’t know the document existed.
“I didn’t know about it, this is the first time I hear about it now,” said Googoo.
Justice Canada lawyers handling a court challenge of the education bill launched by the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) also didn’t know the document existed. In its Federal Court filing, the AFNQL requested Ottawa turn over any documents mentioning an education agreement between the Harper government and the AFN. Justice Canada initially responded saying none existed. Then, on Wednesday, Eric Gingras, senior counsel for Justice Canada, filed the document.
The First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act now sits in limbo, along with the $1.9 billion in new funding tied to the proposed bill. AFN-member chiefs voted to reject the Act arguing Ottawa failed to consult them adequately on the bill and that it threatened to undermine advances made in education by some First Nation communities.
Atleo resigned from his position on May 2 saying he had become a lightning rod on the education debate that had been raging since the Feb. 7 press conference.