Indigenous Affairs Minister Bennett avoids questions on education promise

Liberal campaign promise on First Nation education built on money that didn’t exist

(Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett during her swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall. APTN/file)

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Officials at Indigenous Affairs are continuing to block questions to Minister Carolyn Bennett on the fate of her party’s $2.6 billion promise on First Nation education which was based on money that didn’t exist.

On Thursday, a story based on an anonymous government source surfaced saying the Liberals failed to find the expected money to fund the First Nation education election promise.

In an interview following her appearance before the Commons Aboriginal affairs committee, Bennett refused to answer questions from an APTN National News reporter on whether the Liberal government found the expected left-over funds on which the party based its education promise.

“I think we, what are we saying? There are, I don’t know whether I can say,” said Bennett. “We are going to make sure it’s funded properly and we’ll find the details…”

Helene Laurendeau, the department’s associate deputy minister, said “the answer will be on the 22,” referring to the federal budget’s March 22 release date.

Laurendeau will become the deputy minister of Bennett’s department on April 4.

A Globe and Mail report quoting an anonymous government source surfaced Thursday evening saying the Liberal government failed to find the money on which the party based its First Nation education promise.

This is not the first time officials intervened to block questions to Bennett on the education promise. APTN asked Bennett about the promised money on the sidelines of an education forum held in Ottawa late last month. Bennett at the time said she wasn’t sure how to answer the question and was shielded from follow-ups by her director of communications Carolyn Campbell.

Campbell assured APTN Bennett’s office would provide details on the issue later that day, but she then refused to follow through with her promise.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a splash while campaigning last August promising that his party would invest $2.6 billion into core First Nation education.

That promise, however, hinged on the belief that the Conservatives left $1.7 billion on the books for First Nation education. The Liberals would add $900 million to the total if they took power, Trudeau said at the time.

“We have a commitment to spend $2.6 billion in c ore K-12 education funding,” said Trudeau, in a September interview with APTN. “The fact is the federal government as we know under (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) set aside a certain amount of money that he has yet to spend on First Nation education. We are using that money.”

The NDP immediately attacked the Liberals over the promise, saying it had a $1.7 billion hole.

APTN was told by Finance and Aboriginal Affairs officials during the election that the Conservatives did leave $1.2 billion on the books initially earmarked for education.

That meant there was an about $500 million gap in the Liberal education promise.

Liberal campaign staff disputed APTN’s reporting at the time, arguing it had failed to include the “escalator” that was part of the original $1.9 billion the Conservatives initially tied to passage of the controversial First Nation education bill.

That bill died on the order paper after it was rejected by First Nation chiefs.

The minister’s staff have also cancelled two scheduled interviews with APTN National News.

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