Metis Should Avoid ‘Self-Government’

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Brian Giesbrecht

The federal government has signed “self-government” agreements with “Métis nations” of Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan. More agreements are in the works.

Until Métis requests for “self-government”, the term has been used in relation to First Nations (reserves). Since 1996, when the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) set self-government as a priority, efforts have been made to bring self-government for the 600 plus First Nations. Self-government was to close the gap that exists between reserve and mainstream populations in relation to income and social and health measurements. Despite federal spending — averaging more than $100,000 a year for each reserve family, reserves remain dependent and poor.

RCAP’s self-government plan has been a failure, because reserve residents don’t own private property, and don’t pay property taxes, they don‘t have any “skin in the game.”  As the money running the reserve comes from the federal government, local reserve politicians extract money from Ottawa and overly compensate themselves. From the day of the election, there is little of the day-to-day connection between reserve resident and political leader (chief).

In a municipality, or town, if a mayor or councillor tried to vote himself an exorbitant salary, the residents would not stand for it, because it would be their money that would pay inflated salaries. On a reserve, money for the chief and councillors doesn’t come from residents, but from Ottawa. Therefore, there can be no direct connection on a reserve between an extravagant salary, and the people who have to pay it.

On many reserves, tax-free salaries for chiefs and councillors can be many times what a municipal councillor would earn. The Financial Transparency Act, brought in by a Conservative government in 2013, meant salaries of chiefs and councillors would be published. The known highest salary of a chief in Canada was just less than $1,000,000 (tax-free). Many other chiefs have received more than $300,000, tax free, far higher than the prime minister’s taxed salary. Some of the highest salaries for chiefs came from the poorest reserves.

Despite knowing the situation, the Liberal government suspended operation of the Financial Transparency Act in 2015, so we have no idea how high reserve salaries are now.

Bloated salaries like that couldn’t happen in a municipality, but on a reserve, chiefs and councillors can get away with it. And while not all Indigenous leaders are unscrupulous, there are too many examples of chiefs and councillors earning much more modest salaries, tax free. There are too many examples of Indigenous politicians using Ottawa money supposed to help their poorest residents, for outrageous salaries and expense accounts.

Self-government is fair and feasible only if ownership of private property comes to reserves. Introducing private property onto reserves means getting rid of The Indian Act.

The Métis are fortunate to have escaped the massive historical blunder that are “reserves.” Métis, who have the right to own property, are far ahead of status Indians living on reserves by every measure available.

Yet, now misguided Métis leaders seek a new version of reserve ghettoization.

While many Métis were swindled 140 years ago, in a shocking collusion involving politicians and judges, the remedy should not be the absurdity of being granted “self-government.”

Republished from Winnipeg Sun, July 5, 2019.