Thursday, October 27, 2005

National Post Editorial

Here is today's National Post Editorial comment about the CTF's Centre for Aboriginal Policy Change's latest recommendations:

"Ottawa does not usually serve up much fresh thinking on the aboriginal file. In political circles, there are few politicians willing to challenge the status quo, whereby billions are sent every year to remote, economically sterile reserves, no questions asked -- with epidemic substance abuse, massive welfare dependence and poverty the predictable result. But this week -- even as residents were being evacuated from the particularly blighted Kashechewan Reserve in Ontario -- a tiny ray of hope emerged.

As Tanis Fiss of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation writes on these pages today, one of the greatest problems facing reserve-resident aboriginals is that they are not allowed to own their own land.

This is no mere inconvenience: Property ownership is the basis of middle-class wealth. It provides families with an economic incentive to keep their properties in good repair. It serves as an appreciating asset that provides a nest egg for retirement. It gives owners access to mortgage financing -- which is how small business owners typically raise money for their enterprises.

Finally, it allows the simple dignity that comes with autonomy. On reserves, chiefs and council control where people may live, how their properties may be disposed of and who gets a new house when the old one falls apart. Small surprise that many natives have no pride of place, and that their reserves often resemble Third World hamlets.

In recent years, governments have attempted to address this situation with a variety of faux-property regimes. These include Certificates of Possession, which signify a resident's interest in his land -- albeit one that falls short of fee-simple ownership.

As Ms. Fiss notes, Certificates of Possession can in turn be used to secure financing. But because banks are unable to seize property on reserves -- another anachronism forced on us by the Indian Act -- straightforward mortgages are impossible. Thus has the government been forced to step in to bankroll quasi-mortgages secured by quasi-property ownership.

It is all very awkward and convoluted. But at least such arrangements indicate that Ottawa understands how a lack of property rights on reserves is hobbling their development. And this week, it emerged the government would go further. According to a Cabinet document obtained by the Winnipeg Free Press, the Liberals are considering the creation of an Aboriginal Financial Corporation, which would work with the private sector to improve natives' access to home ownership and capital.

But such a plan, even if implemented, is only a start. In the end, the way to lift aboriginal reserves out of poverty is not through more government spending -- but by changing the law so that that natives are granted a right the rest of us take for granted: the right to own their own home."

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