Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Ideas that work for First Nations

BY JOSEPH QUESNEL, FRONTIER CENTRE

Sun News

The post-Atleo Aboriginal landscape is the perfect time to explore ideas that actually work for First Nations.

First Nations need to take stock of what works and what does not.

First, however, cue the bad ideas. There is no shortage of ideas that are unproven or based upon questionable assumptions about what indigenous peoples need.

In mid-May, Alex Sangha published a column in the Huffington Post blog entitled, “Is It Time For An Aboriginal Parliament For Canada?”

Beyond being costly and divisive, the central problem is there is no evidence an Aboriginal parliament would solve many of the many pressing problems affecting First Nation communities.

The hopeful reality is there are some ways that First Nations can advance themselves here and now.

How about we focus on some of these ideas that have a proven track record?

The first has to do with First Nations being able to tax. According to the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, enabling First Nations to leverage real property taxation on reserve is an important way to ensure that a community benefits from market activity occurring on their lands. First Nations currently have two means of instituting property taxation frameworks on reserve: developing bylaws under section 83 of the Indian Act, or under the authorities of the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act (FSMA).

Property taxation also provides communities with access to stable revenue streams that can be reinvested into infrastructure and services, and give a community additional flexibility in spending-related decisions without the involvement of the federal government. With all the infrastructure problems on First Nations, this would be a welcome development.

The National Aboriginal Economic Development Board found that First Nations that have real property taxation bylaws tend to have better economic outcomes than those that do not. First Nations that have had property tax bylaws for longer periods of time demonstrate significantly higher outcomes than First Nations both with and without property tax bylaws.

According to the First Nations Tax Commission, participating First Nations generated over $99 million in property tax revenues under the FSMA between 2008 and 2012.

The next idea relates to First Nations control over their land and resources. First Nations that fall under the First Nations Land Management Act are removed from the land management provisions of the Indian Act and are able to develop land codes and assume management over their reserve lands. According to the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, the Act empowers First Nations to overcome some of the persistent barriers to economic development, enabling unrestricted access to manage their lands and – as the Auditor General of Canada has noted – providing them with the ability “to make timely business and administrative decisions and to accelerate their progress in economic development, resource management, and land use planning.”

The board also found that First Nations under the Act had better economic outcomes than First Nations who were not under it.

A 2009 KPMG study found that First Nations under the First Nations Land Management Act had better access to economic development than those simply under the Indian Act. Bands with an operational land code reported a 40 per cent increase in new business by band members.

Rather than emphasize pie-in-the-sky initiatives, First Nations need to look at the ideas right in front of them.

Joseph Quesnel is a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. www.fcpp.org

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