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The Lost Century of Opportunity

Author: Tanis Fiss 2003/06/13
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Centre for Aboriginal Policy Change's position paper, "The Lost Century - Moving Aboriginal Policy from the 19th Century to the 21st Century" illustrates that increased government spending has not improved health and other social indicators for native Canadians and outlines the inequality current federal legislation and policy has created for Indians. Good governance, accountability and transparency are minimal requirements for native communities to thrive. What follows is a brief overview of the Centre's recommendations.

It can be argued that the current plight of Aboriginal people was created in 1867 when the Canadian Constitution gave the federal government explicit responsibility for "Indians and lands reserved for Indians," thereby precluding provinces from legislating for Indians. Meaning the myriad of programs available to any other citizen of a province are not available to Indians living on reserve land, therefore; the federal government must create a separate layer of bureaucratic overlap. Consequently the federal government - by having programs specifically for Indians - treats Indians differently than other Canadians.

Clearly, treating one group of Canadians differently - often with preferential treatment - is wrong both morally and intellectually. For more than 130 years, Indians have been segregated from Canadian society by the Indian Act. Fortunately there are no legal or constitutional barriers to ending the exercise of federal jurisdiction over Indians. Though the federal government has sole jurisdiction, that does not also mean that it must exercise it. Consequently, the federal government can abolish the Indian Act and the polices of segregation at any time. The Indian Act must be phased out over the next 20 years to bring forth true equality.

The most imperative ingredient for native communities to have long-term economic viability is individual private property rights. The key to generating wealth and prosperity is easily identifiable individual property that can be leveraged for loans and wealth creation. Most Canadians can borrow against their own private property and thus obtain capital to invest in new business ventures. Capital formation allows the expansion of the economy and accumulation of wealth. But without property as collateral, individuals on reserves have difficulty obtaining credit or doing deals with outside investors; therefore the wealth of the land is under-utilized.

If native communities are to become economically self-sustaining, the reserve land which is now held by the Crown should be transferred to individual band members living on-reserve and living off-reserve. It will be up to natives themselves to decide if they want to transfer the land into a communal arrangement or allow for the property to be owned and managed individually.

A further benefit to private property on reserves would be the elimination of section 89 of the Indian Act which shelters native property and assets located on reserves from any process of garnishee, execution or attachment for debts, damages and other obligations. Private property on reserves would eliminate this disparity.

The CTF strongly supports tax relief and tax reform for all Canadians. However, both must be based on the principle of fairness. Taxes should be based on income; meaning if people do not pay taxes, it should be because they are too poor to pay, not because of their ancestry.

The tax exemption now provided for natives living and working on reserves is a provision of the Indian Act, not the Canadian Constitution. The Indian Act is like any other piece of legislation, capable of being amended and/or abolished at any time. Taxation at all levels (municipal, provincial, federal) should be phased in for natives over a period of ten years. As it is now, an artificial competitive advantage for native businesses has emerged.

Accountability on native reserves is lacking but there are ways to solve that problem. In order to increase the level of accountability on reserves, the payments currently transferred to native band councils should be re-directed to individuals. The money necessary for native governments could then be taxed back by the local native government. This would have an immediate effect on the size of government on reserves, which is unreasonably large in comparison to non-native communities of similar size. Reserve governments should be subject to the discipline of being accountable to taxpayers. This would gradually reduce the excessive size of government on reserves.

Under the current system, once the federal government transfers money (tax dollars) from federal departments to native band councils, The Auditor General of Canada no longer has the authority to audit how and where the money is spent. Without checks and balances, inefficiencies, redundancies, corruption and even abuse may occur.

A system of independent annual financial audits and operation audits of Indian bands - similar to how the federal and provincial auditors conduct their audits of government departments and programs should be implemented. Expansion of the current Auditor General's mandate to include native bands is imperative for true accountability and transparency to occur.

There are more than 600 native bands in Canada. The average band population on-reserve is 500. Municipal-style governments throughout Canada successfully govern small communities. Local government is delegated from the provincial government. If changes are needed, they can be implemented in the light of actual experience. In addition, local governments also have clear limitations on the powers they can exercise, thus providing a greater degree of certainty and accountability.

Municipal-type governments successfully manage small communities all over Canada. This model should be implemented for native reserves rather than a constitutionally protected "third order" style of government. In addition, the development of individual property rights must be established and protected in order to generate the wealth needed for a self-financed municipal-style of government.

The CTF believes Canadians - all Canadians - are fundamentally alike. Therefore all legislation and government policy must be based on fairness and equality - not race. As former Prime Minister Trudeau once stated, "The time is now to decide whether the Indians will be a race apart in Canada or whether [they] will be Canadians of full status." In other words, the time for equality is now.