Letter to the editor: Colin Craig — Sept. 27, 2012

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The federal government is in the process of making some great changes to aboriginal policy.

While you may hear grumblings about the changes from some chiefs, know plenty of grassroots band members like what’s going on.

First, the government’s Bill C-27 takes another step towards becoming law when it goes to a parliamentary committee for review this fall. Once passed, it will put the salaries and travel expenses for every reserve politician in the country on the _nternet for all to see.

This will bring reserve politicians in line with all other provincial and federal politicians in Canada who for ages have had their pay posted online.

Posting the pay information publicly is something the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has pushed hard for over the last few years. But what really got us focusing on the issue were grassroots band members in many communities telling us they couldn’t get copies of their chief and council’s pay information.

In other cases, band members leaked their politicians’ atrocious salary information to us. They wanted help exposing what was going on.

Incredibly, national data obtained by the CTF in 2010 showed approximately 50 reserve politicians earned more than the prime minister of Canada. No names were disclosed with the pay figures, but soon C-27 will lift that veil of secrecy.

Another positive change by the federal government comes in the form of funding cuts for provincial chiefs’ organizations like the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

The former will see a drop in annual funding from $1.5 million to $500,000 per year while the latter will see a reduction from $2.6 million to $500,000 per year.

To be clear, these are not dollars earmarked for providing clean water or housing to aboriginals living on reserves. These are funds used to help band chiefs lobby government. Governments shouldn’t fund special interest groups in the first place. If people like the work of a special interest group, they’ll have no problem making voluntary donations.

As the federal government has a $21.1-billion deficit, the reality is it has to make some tough cuts. Band members have told us they’re glad regional chiefs organizations are facing cuts rather than health and education funding for reserves themselves.

But even if you want the government to fund these groups, one has to ask how the Saskatchewan organization was able to do the same work as the Manitoba organization, but with $1.1 million less?

Finally, the government is also going to reduce costs for the land claims process.

For those not familiar with the matter, some communities have been in negotiations with the government for decades over land promised in treaties and agreements signed more than 100 years ago. Incredibly, some of these “discussions” have gone on for the past 30 years; all the while consultants and lawyers working on the matter have been rolling in money earned from providing their services.

The government will be urgently reviewing which discussions are productive and which ones are only serving the interest of lawyers and consultants. It will then focus on concluding productive discussions. Thus, it will help save both taxpayers and band members millions in legal and consulting bills.

There is more work to do in terms of reserve reform, but the feds are taking some good first steps, just ask the grassroots.

 

Colin Craig is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

 

Organizations: Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Saskatchewan organization Manitoba organization

Geographic location: Canada

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