Canada's teepee republic
By John Williamson
Representative government is a two-way street that gives citizens authority to remove lawmakers. If citizens lose this right, but the state retains its ability to tax and spend the outcome is authoritarianism. When corruption is exposed in such dictatorships, its leaders insist self-rule trumps political accountability. Countries on this path tend to be governed by a self-appointed, well-heeled cabal and are often reliant on foreign money for survival. We call them banana republics and a parallel type of home rule is about to be ratified in Canada -- call it the teepee republic.
British Columbia's Aboriginal Relations Minister Michael de Jong was in Ottawa last week to trumpet the Tsawwassen treaty along with Canada's Minister of Indian Affairs Chuck Strahl. It is a sweeping agreement that will transfer provincial and federal powers to the reserve's council and create a third order of government.
The band will be handed over 700 hectares of land in Delta, south of Vancouver, 14-million dollars, and management over child protection, health services, education as well as control of land, resources, wildlife and the environment. Minister de Jong candidly calls it "powers of self-government."
Along with the cash handout and new governing authority, governments that negotiated the treaty are telling B.C. voters that band members will begin to pay tax. True enough -- the exemption on federal income taxes will be removed 12 years after the treaty is law. Left unsaid is that taxpaying natives will not be sharing the cost of things like health care and defence along with other Canadian taxpayers. This is because income tax collected from the reserve will go to the band, not Ottawa. Moreover, a side agreement is expected for a similar share of GST revenues. Most Canadians will instinctively find these tax schemes objectionable.
It is conceivable a sound argument could be made that bands such as this one need cash to develop economic infrastructure and help its members. And perhaps there is even value in the federal government diverting tax collected on reserves to band governments to establish the important principal that natives ought to pay taxes. But the tax requirements under this agreement are not limited to natives. Instead, federal taxes paid by non-natives living on the Tsawwassen reserve will also go the band government.
Incredibly, these same taxpayers will not be permitted to vote in band elections, which mean they will lose the mechanism to remove lawmakers that waste money. Non-native citizens will suddenly become disenfranchised legal aliens, permitted to stay but without a direct say in the management of their tax dollars. This is hardly an exaggeration -- the term our government bureaucrats use in native agreements to describe these non-natives is "non-citizens." It is a disgrace public servants engage in these linguistic gymnastics to placate the cant of native sovereignty.
Ottawa's department of Indian affairs and B.C. treaty negotiators also suppose the ability to tax "serves as a means of government accountability." They skip over the caveat that this statement is only true if citizens have an ability to remove government officials. Without that there is no real accountability -- any despot can tax. A government is responsible only when it is answerable to the public.
The Tsawwassen agreement will instill little accountability on the band council. According to The Delta Optimist, the 2006 Census showed of the 674 people living on this reserve 506 were non-natives. The band is already salivating over the fact it will collect $3 from non-voting, non-citizens for every $1 it taxes from people it considers bona fide citizens (i.e. natives). This is not about self-sufficiency but skewering a new cash cow.
Conservative MP John Cummins (Delta-Richmond East) has reviewed the Tsawwassen tax agreements in advance of the treaty vote in Parliament. His findings have generated little interest. This treaty should be unacceptable to anyone committed to democracy, yet the Parliament of Canada is fixated on the Mulroney-Schreiber saga.
Winston Churchill once said democracy is the worse form of government, except for all the others. Does the federal government think he was wrong?
John Williamson is federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.