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Ottawa underfunding aboriginal schools, former PM Martin accuses

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A former prime minister says it is "unforgivable" that Ottawa is short-changing the funding of aboriginal education.

Paul Martin, who served as PM between December 2003 and February 2006, said one of the reasons that aboriginal students drop out of school is the deplorable condition of many First Nation schools.

Speaking in Winnipeg at a luncheon co-sponsored by the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce and the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, Martin said in many parts of the country, aboriginal youngsters attend schools without adequate teachers, science or computer labs, or schools built on toxic dumps.

The reason, he said, is the "crippling shortfall" in funding in a key area of federal jurisdiction.

"Quite simply, at the present time, if you compare federal funding of on-reserve elementary and high schools with funding that the provinces provide similar schools off-reserve you get a shortfall of anywhere between 20 to 30 per cent per student depending on the province," Martin said in notes for a speech handed to reporters.

"This is unforgivable. It is discrimination of the worst kind," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, aboriginal Canadians are the largest potential source of new additions to what will be a declining workforce as the baby boom generation retires.

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