Thursday 25 November 2010

The Canadian Indian Act has to be amended. (Part I)

The Indian Act (An Act respecting Indians), is a Canadian statute that concerns registered Indians (that is, First Nations peoples of Canada), their bands, and the system of Indian reserves. The Indian Act was enacted in 1876 by the Parliament of Canada under the provisions of Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provides Canada's federal government exclusive authority to legislate in relation to ‘Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians’. The Indian Act is administered by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

There are over 1 million native Indians living in Canada. Canada-wide, there are a total of 2,370 native reserves encompassing more than 10,000 square miles.

Aboriginal people in Canada are extremely diverse and widely dispersed. The three main indigenous groups according to the government of Canada are Indians, the Inuit and the M├ętis. To deal with native issues, various governments over the years have signed a number of treaties and provided massive funding programs.

Native peoples receive extraordinarily pleasant gifts from the federal government, particularly in the area of taxation. According to section 87 of the Indian Act, natives on a reserve are exempt from property taxes. Property includes goods, services and income consistent with Canada Customs and Revenue Agency policies. They are also exempt from GST and PST and have to pay no inheritance or estate taxes. Furthermore, according to the Indian Act, natives who work on a reserve are not obliged to pay income tax.

Despite those kinds of economic gifts from Canada, a great many them living on their reserves are living in poverty. In spite of Canada having an impressive economic status in the world, there unfortunately remains widespread poverty in Canada, particularly when one looks at the conditions of our indigenous peoples. With decaying homes, relatively high unemployment and no end in sight to what we all know is needless suffering, it has become clear that something must be done about the native Indians living in their reservations.

The problem with the Act that is supposed to protect the aboriginals is that it gives many of the leaders of the Indian bands so much leeway; they can do what they want with the funding they get from the government at the expense of the members of their bands. Worse yet, they seem to be doing it without the government stepping in to fix this problem.

The problem is that they are paying themselves enormous salaries that are far above what they should be paying themselves. Scores of First Nations chiefs and council members earn more than the Prime Minister of Canada, according to newly released data obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation; a revelation that is prompting calls for greater financial transparency on native reserves.

The figures, obtained through access to information requests, reveal that in 2008-09 more than 80 reserve politicians earned more than the after-tax income of $184,000 made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the same period. The data also shows that 222 reserve politicians were paid more in tax-free income in 2008-09 than their respective provincial premiers, who averaged an after-tax income of $109,893. One reserve politician in Atlantic Canada was found to have been paid a combined tax-free salary and honorarium totaling an astounding $978,468 almost a million dollars for the year.

There are a lot of reserve politicians that are blatantly abusing their powers to set their own pay levels and hide it from the public. It is so shocking, it boggles the mind. The band members should be outraged about this and they probably are. Even while thousands of First Nations members continue to live in abject poverty, more than 700 reserve politicians earned an income equivalent to over $100,000 off reserve, according to the data.

While the names of individual chiefs and councilors of the more than 570 reserves
have been blacked out, the released records disclose salaries, honorariums and travel expenses, painting the most complete picture to date of the remuneration and bizarre accounting practices of First Nations leadership across the country.

On one reserve of only 304 members in Atlantic Canada, the chief earned a total, tax-free income of $243,000 last year. The three councilors on that reserve were each paid more than $200,000 in band salaries, travel per diems and honoraria. One council member on that reserve earned a salary of $7,500, but a further $322,103 in other remuneration, according to the data.

Eighty-two native politicians received higher salaries last year than the Prime Minister. Eighteen of those rich salaries went to politicians on reserves in British Columbia, 47 in Alberta, 2 in Saskatchewan, 5 in Manitoba, 1 in Ontario and 9 in Atlantic Canada.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada refuses to publicly connect names with the numbers, although First Nations salaries and expenses are paid for out of $7-billion in annual transfers from the federal government.

Unfortunately the government cannot reveal the names of the high earners due to a decades-old court ruling prohibiting the publication of salary information. Disclosing such data could violate privacy laws because many salaries are a combination of government money and income earned from band-owned businesses, such as gas stations and casinos.

The problem is that the federal government plays no part in determining the salaries of First Nations politicians. What these native politicians get in salaries is left up to reserve residents to decide if compensation levels are appropriate or not.
The department of course encourages First Nations to practice sound fiscal management by setting compensation at reasonable levels with the duties and responsibilities of the position and to be mindful of the overall needs of the community. That is no different than having the fox set the combination lock to the hen house.

The Assembly of First Nations, which represents Canada's band chiefs, declined to comment on the salary records. The Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo lashed out at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, calling its campaign to publicize native political incomes as "an insult that paints First Nations leadership as overpaid, unaccountable local bosses, uninterested in the challenges faced by First Nations citizens.” He wrote on the AFN website, “I know the men and women they slander. I see their daily struggles as committed leaders, and I meet them on the job, on reserve, every week across Canada.”

I am sure there are many native leaders who are outstanding and honest committed leaders but the Canadian Taxpayers Federation wasn’t addressing their concerns about those leaders. They were condemning those native leaders who have been filling their pockets with outrageous and no doubt, undeserving fat wads of money in which the bulk of it should have been used to improve the wellbeing of the natives in their reserves.

Senator Patrick Brazeau, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, called the data a shocking indictment of the lack of accountability in many First Nations communities. He said in part, “It's imperative that accountability and transparency to community members be legislated. We have, through the efforts of grassroots band members who have contacted the CTF, a growing body of evidence that demonstrates little if any appetite for proactive disclosure by these politicians.”

He is urging MPs of all political stripes to support the passage of Bill C-575, a private member's bill put forward by Conservative Kelly Block last month that seeks to make public all First Nations chiefs' and councilors' salaries and expenses. I can’t help but wonder if the members of the bands even knew what these leaders were going to be paid when they voted them into office.

At present, First Nations governments are responsible for determining their salaries and other forms of compensation and the proposed bill does not change that, nor does it actually judge the levels they've set. What it does do though is ensure they are held accountable for the salaries and expenses that they have set for themselves. The bill is up for its first hour of debate in the House of Commons on November 25th 2010.

How can these native leaders who stuff unwarranted sums of money in their pockets be held accountable if the government keeps sending them money knowing that it plays no part in determining what the salaries of these native politicians should be?

High salaries paid to officials of a California city sparked local outrage and national attention when they came to light in July, 2010. Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia resigned after media reports that they were making several hundred thousand dollars a year each. Rizzo and Spaccia were later arrested and charged. The charges allege the officials misappropriated more than $5.5 million, including being paid for phantom meetings. Rizzo, who had an annual salary and compensation package of $1.5 million, gave himself an interest-free loan of $93,000 then paid it back with money the council put into his retirement fund. Rizzo made another $1.5 million dollars from the city's general fund available as loans to numerous city employees, who were allowed to use holiday time to pay it back at an interest rate of 0.5 per cent.
The taxpayers of Canada who in essence are paying the outrageous salaries of these native leaders expect the federal government to have a better means of making sure that those who are elected into office on the reservations are paid an amount that is equivalent to what politicians in small towns are paid. Those native leaders who are outrageously stuffing their own pockets with taxpayer’s money which is really intended to improve the wellbeing of the band members should be removed and sued for the money back.

Will the Canadian federal government do that? If you believe that they will then you are the kind of dupe I can sell an island to. It’s called Manhattan. Sadly, the band members who elected these politicians to run their bands will still suffer by continuing to live in their dilapidated homes, suffer from hunger and unemployment. And while they are suffering, their leaders will still be living the good life.

No comments: