Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Harper Gives $27 Million for Aboriginal Adults to Finish School, Upgrade Skills: Harper Gives $27 Million for Adult Education

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Harper Gives $27 Million for Aboriginal Adults to Finish School, Upgrade Skills: Harper Gives $27 Million for Adult Education

Article excerpt

IQALUIT, Nunavut - Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew to a frigid Iqaluit to deliver $27 million for adult education in the North, an attempt to help high-school dropouts qualify for jobs.

The money will be spread over five years, and shared by three colleges, one in each of the territories.

"By improving access to adult basic education, we are giving Northerners the tools they need to seek higher education and secure employment in sectors that contribute to Canada's economic growth," Harper said in a statement.

Part of the funding was announced in last June's budget, which put $9 million over two years to adult basic education. Thursday's announcement extends the funding time frame and increases the annual allotment slightly.

Harper has frequently stressed that education levels among aboriginal peoples need to improve if they are ever to find prosperity. But he is under intense pressure from native leaders to ante up serious money.

That pressure may have persuaded Harper to spend a day on a short news conference and a photo op on the ice at -26 C.

"We try to obviously make our announcements in the areas where the announcements are most relevant," he said in explaining the northern jaunt.

Following the indoor formalities, Harper rode in a convoy of seven snowmobiles that drove out about 500 metres over the rough and bumpy sea ice of Frobisher Bay to a small camp set up by members of the Canadian Rangers.

He chatted briefly with some locals, including a man who asked him if his head was warm enough. "Yes," Harper assured him.

One of the Rangers explained through a translator how to harpoon a seal through a hole in the two-metre-thick ice.

"That's a hard way to get a meal," the prime minister chuckled.

Back in the south, the Liberal aboriginal affairs critic called Harper's announcement paltry compared with the needs of the North.

"The prime minister's drive-by announcement today provided nowhere near the kind of resources for education, social housing, mental health, drug treatment and food security desperately needed in the north in order to improve the health, education and well-being of northern Canadians," MP Carolyn Bennett said in a release.

"If Canada is to truly benefit from the opening of the Arctic, there must be focused federal investment in northern communities."

The federal government has been working with the Assembly of First Nations for more than a year to put together a complete overhaul of the funding and governance scheme for education on reserves. But despite holding a high-profile summit with First Nations leaders in January, Harper has yet to contribute anything concrete to improving schooling for aboriginals.

There are signs the government may be prepared to take modest action in the coming spring budget.

Thursday's funding, however, is small compared with the billions in annual funding increases that Inuit and First Nations groups say they need. …

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