Merasty, Oda Get Testy Over Native Languages

Friday, May 18, 2007 at 15:22



Northern Saskatchewan MP Gary Merasty apparently had a heated exchange with the Conservatives’ Minister of Canadian Heritage, Bev Oda, over her government’s position on funding for Aboriginal Language programs.


The debate took place during the Committee of the Whole of the House of Commons late Wednesday evening.


Merasty says it should be clear to anybody who was present that evening, or anyone who has had a chance to read the full text of the evening’s debate, that Oda is “out of her depth”.


He says it appears that she either does not care about the funding of Aboriginal language programs, or is uniformed.


In 2002, Liberal Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps announced $172.5 million in funding over 11 years to establish and operate a new Aboriginal Languages and Cultures Centre.


As of November 2006, $12.5 million of the funds had been distributed.


A November 2nd letter from Oda verified that the remaining $160 million of the Aboriginal Languages Imitative had been removed from the fiscal framework, replaced with $5 million per year for Aboriginal Language programs.


When Merasty asked Oda about the funding cut, Oda responded by saying there was not “unanimous agreement” that the creation of the centre was how money should be spent to support Aboriginal languages.


When asked if she made the decision to cut the funding, Oda replied: “The Liberals did nothing with the money that was there.” She added that the Liberal government “did not move forward on the centre because they knew the Aboriginal communities were not in agreement.”


Merasty then asked Oda if she redirected the funding to Conservative ridings for cultural events. Oda’s response: “. . . let me assure the member that this government does not act like the previous government by redirecting money to serve its own party purposes.”


After Merasty accused Oda and the Tories of being prepared to “skewer minority languages”, Oda told the committee that Aboriginal communities have come forward with a plan — a plan she says the government is reviewing.


Merasty says Oda is being coy with her answers.