Report 5—Socio-economic Gaps on First Nations Reserves—Indigenous Services Canada

At a Glance Report 5—Socio-economic Gaps on First Nations Reserves—Indigenous Services Canada

What we examined (see Focus of the audit)

First Nations people tend to have significantly lower socio-economic well-being than other Canadians. Socio-economic well-being can be measured by tracking indicators in areas such as education, income, and health. Closing socio-economic gaps means improving the social well-being and economic prosperity of First Nations people living on reserves.

This audit focused on whether Indigenous Services Canada satisfactorily measured and reported on Canada’s overall progress in closing the socio-economic gaps between on-reserve First Nations people and other Canadians. It also focused on whether the Department made adequate use of data to improve education programs to close the education gap and improve socio-economic well-being.

Why we did this audit

This audit is important because Indigenous Services Canada—the lead federal department responsible for managing federal support to improve quality of life for on-reserve First Nations people—needs to collect and analyze appropriate data to know whether its approach to improving lives on reserves is working.

What we concluded

We concluded that Indigenous Services Canada did not satisfactorily measure or report on Canada’s progress in closing the socio-economic gaps between on-reserve First Nations and other Canadians. We also concluded that the Department’s use of data to improve education programs was inadequate.

What we found about…

Measuring well-being on First Nations reserves

Overall, we found that Indigenous Services Canada’s main measure of socio-economic well-being on reserves, the Community Well-Being index, was not comprehensive. While the index included Statistics Canada data on education, employment, income, and housing, it omitted several aspects of well-being that are also important to First Nations people—such as health, environment, language, and culture.

We also found that the Department did not adequately use the large amount of program data provided by First Nations, nor did it adequately use other available data and information. The Department also did not meaningfully engage with First Nations to satisfactorily measure and report on whether the lives of people on First Nations reserves were improving. For example, the Department did not adequately measure and report on the education gap. In fact, our calculations showed that this gap had widened in the past 15 years.

These findings matter because measuring and reporting on progress in closing socio-economic gaps would help everyone involved—including Parliament, First Nations, the federal government, other departments, and other partners—to understand whether their efforts to improve lives are working. If the gaps are not smaller in future years, this would mean that the federal approach needs to change.

Collecting, using, and sharing First Nations’ education data

Overall, we found that education results for First Nations students have not improved relative to those of other Canadians. We found that despite commitments the Department made 18 years ago, Indigenous Services Canada did not collect relevant data, or adequately use data to improve education programs and inform funding decisions. It also did not assess the relevant data it collected, for accuracy and completeness. Nor did the Department provide access to or regularly share its education information or the results of data analysis with First Nations. In addition, the Department was still unable to report how federal funding for on-reserve education compared with the funding levels for other education systems across Canada.

These findings matter because the Department and First Nations communities that deliver education need complete and accurate data to make evidence-based decisions and, ultimately, to improve education results and socio-economic well-being.

Reporting on First Nations’ education results

Overall, we found that the Department’s reporting to Parliament on education was inaccurate. The Department’s method of calculating and reporting the on-reserve high school graduation rate of First Nations students overstated the graduation rate because it did not account for students who dropped out between grades 9 and 11. For example, the Department’s reported data showed that, from 2011 to 2016, on average, about one in two (46%) First Nations students graduated, whereas our calculations showed that, on average, only about one in four (24%) students actually completed high school within 4 years. Moreover, between the 2014–15 and the 2015–16 fiscal years, the Department’s data showed that the graduation rate was improving, but our calculations showed that it was declining.

We also found that the Department did not report on most (17 of 23) education results it had committed to reporting on, to determine whether progress was being made to close the gap. For example, it did not report on student attendance or the delivery of First Nations’ language instruction.

These findings matter because, without complete and accurate information, Canadians, First Nations, and parliamentarians were not fully informed about the true extent of First Nations’ education results or the education gap.

Entity Responses to Recommendations

The entity agrees with our recommendation(s) and has responded (see List of Recommendations).

Related Information

Report of the Auditor General of Canada
Type of product Performance audit
Completion date 11 April 2018
Tabling date 29 May 2018
Related audits

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