By Lorne Gunter ,QMI Agency
Here’s a proposal for dealing with First Nations’ objections to resource development (and projects such as pipelines) on land they claim is theirs by tradition: Let’s have the federal government cut off annual subsidies to reserve governments.
That way, First Nations would have to decide whether or not to allow development based on the same criterion the rest of Canadians use to decide their financial priorities. Can we afford to? Can we afford not to?
Without the billions in tax dollars annually showered on First Nations, chiefs and councillors would have to choose with their heads rather than their sentimental hearts.
This is similar to my argument that Quebec should lose much of its annual equalization subsidy.
The Quebec government makes foolish fiscal choices all the time because it can. It doesn’t have to own up to its own poor judgment because it can count on Ottawa’s billions year after year.
Quebec provides such lavish social benefits as half-price university and college tuition for in-province residents. It also offers cheap, cheap daycare, while at the same time running up huge annual deficits.
The Quebec government has also refused to develop resources such as shale gas and oil out of “green” concerns. If developed, shale alone could bring Quebec’s treasury nearly $2 billion a year.
So the only reason Quebec can offer such rich benefits to its citizens is that the provincial government receives $8 to $10 billion in annual equalization payments.
But why should taxpayers in the rest of the country subsidize Quebecers’ social fantasies? That province should have to maximize all its own-source revenue potential before receiving a single dime from the rest of Canada.
Indeed, this logic should apply to every province, just as it should also apply to First Nations. After all, First Nations are the most heavily subsidized of all Canadians.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that First Nations can apply for title to huge tracts of land way beyond the boundaries of their reserves. And if successful at winning title, they can have an effective veto over most development on these broad, traditional hunting grounds.
The court’s ruling was a little more nuanced than some reports would indicate, but not much more.
“Aboriginal title flows from occupation in the sense of regular and exclusive use of land,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote. This will not always be an easy standard to satisfy.
A present-day First Nation will have to show that its ancestors routinely hunted, fished or harvested over land it is claiming as its own. Moreover, it will have to show that competing First Nations didn’t also make “regular” use of the same tracts.
But once such title is established (and during the whole process to establish whether or not title exists), the justices decided governments have a Charter obligation to seek approval in advance from any First Nation making a claim against the land where development is proposed.
This will likely turn out to be a huge can of worms.
Many First Nations have fallen under the thrall of radical environmental groups backed by billionaire American lefties. If nothing else, Thursday’s ruling gives the aboriginal-environmentalist alliance a powerful new club to hold up Canada’s economic advancement for years.
However, the biggest reason First Nations feel comfortable stalling or even halting resource projects is the fact they can survive on their current taxpayer subsidies of $17,000 to $25,000 for every man, woman or child who lives on reserves.
Such lavish subsidies permit First Nations to indulge in fanciful thinking because they do not have to factor in the cost to themselves and their families of rejecting development.
So end the subsidies and encourage more rational land-claims negotiations.