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Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo (L) and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper take part in the opening ceremony at the Crown-First Nations Gathering in Ottawa January 24, 2012.

Despite dire warnings of deep cuts to government spending, Assembly of First Nations Shawn Chief Atleo believes the Harper Conservatives will provide funds for first nations education in the spring budget.

"I would expect to look forward to the budget announcements ... that there will be an expression on part of the government that the good will to build new education systems that would deliver real results for our children will be matched with the resources required," he told the Globe Wednesday morning in advance of his press conference.

He is scheduled to speak to reporters Wednesday morning to summarize the results, he felt were achieved, from Tuesday's Crown/First Nations Gathering that was attended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and many of his senior ministers.

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But with planned cuts of between five and 10 per cent to government departments as the Conservatives try to find $4-billion in annual savings, it's a bold declaration on Mr. Atleo's part to put forward these expectations.

In addition, Mr. Atleo says he will emphasize the need to follow through on the discussions and to keep the discussion going.

It has been noted, too, that the Prime Minister, who was initially not planning to spend the entire day at the summit, did remain.

"He was there for the entire day. I welcomed it," said Mr. Atleo.

The plight of young people – especially the need for education and jobs – was underscored during the meetings. And Mr. Atleo says the government is beginning to "really hear and understand the imperative and the urgency with which we must move."

"So we can be both practical and ambitious," he said.

A celebrity endorsement

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Another week, another high-profile endorsement for NDP leadership candidate Paul Dewar.

This time, it's from Maher Arar, the Canadian-Syrian, who was deported in 2002 from the United States to Syria. He was jailed and tortured for more than 10 months. Later, he was cleared, the government apologized and he was awarded $10.5-million in compensation.

"Paul's knowledge of foreign policy and his involvement in supporting human rights causes in Canada and abroad have allowed him to grasp many of the complex issues that Canada and the rest of the world are facing today," he wrote in a release.

Mr. Dewar had served as the NDP's foreign affairs critic. This endorsement follows support from senior caucus members, including Charlie Angus and Linda Duncan.

So far, the leadership race has not stirred much excitement. Debates between the candidates reveal little tension. There is a debate scheduled for Halifax on Sunday. The leadership vote takes place in Toronto in March.

Ottawa and the Oscar connection

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There's a back story to the Oscar nominated Quebec film, Monsieur Lazhar – and a connection to political Ottawa is not far away.

When he was 17 and 18 years old, the director, Philippe Falardeau, worked as an usher at the National Arts Centre, seating members of the audience at plays and concerts in Southam Hall and the smaller theatres in the building on the Rideau Canal.

His brother, Pierre, also worked at the NAC, according to communications director Rosemary Thompson. Although, this was in the 1980s, Mr. Falardeau is still remembered.

The two, according to Ms. Thompson, grew up across the Ottawa River in Gatineau.

Gaston Roussy, the NAC's head usher, remembers him well – as a quiet and intelligent teenager with a great sense of humour. He recalled, too, that Mr. Falardeau hated wearing the beige and brown NAC usher uniform.

Not surprisingly, there were whoops and hollers at the NAC Tuesday just after the announcement that his film about an Algerian immigrant, who is hired as a substitute teacher in Montreal replacing a teacher who committed suicide, was nominated for best-foreign language film. Reviews have noted that it's a powerful and moving tale.

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Ms. Thompson said that was great excitement at the connection now between the NAC and the Oscars.

As the Globe's Guy Dixon notes, Monsieur Lazhar is the sixth Canadian film to be nominated in this category. Last year, another Quebec film, Incendies, was nominated.

Coincidentally, Heritage Minister James Moore had already scheduled Monsieur Lazhar for his upcoming "movie night." And director Falardeau is to attend the February event as well. It's now being billed as an "Oscar" night.

The Minister, whose government is repeatedly criticized for being anti-arts and culture, has made a success of showcasing Canadian talent and creativity by bringing Canadian films to the nation's capital, inviting politicians of all stripes and making a night of it.

In October, for example, he played host to the star and producers of Breakaway, a Bollywood-meets-hockey adventure about a struggling all-Sikh hockey team. About 1,000 people, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, attended.

That was Mr. Moore's seventh movie night. Before that he played host at a screening of Barney's Version, the film based on Mordecai Richler's novel.

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As for the Monsieur Lazhar event that will take place at the NAC, head usher Mr. Roussy is attempting to dig up one of those old brown and beige uniforms and present it to the usher who's made good.

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