Saturday September 02, 2017

What would Canada look like without the Indian Act?

First introduced in 1876, the Indian Act is seen by many as oppressive and racist legislation.

First introduced in 1876, the Indian Act is seen by many as oppressive and racist legislation. (CBC)

Listen to Full Episode 49:59

For the first time in a while, former prime minister Paul Martin, architect of the Kelowna Accord, says he's happy with where the federal government is steering its relationship with Canada's Indigenous Peoples.

During this week's cabinet shuffle, the federal government announced it would split Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) into two separate ministries with the goal of replacing the Indian Act, more than 20 years after the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended such a division.

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Former prime minister Paul Martin poses for a portrait following an interview with The Canadian Press in 2016. Martin says he thinks Canada's move to dismantle the Indian Act could have consequences for indigenous people around the world. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"I gotta tell you, I feel better about where we're going now than I have in a long time," Paul Martin told CBC Radio'sThe House.

"We've been living with the consequences of not living up to these issues now for the last 150 more years. Look, you can't avoid doing the right thing forever."

Jane Philpott will now lead Indigenous Services, a department that will oversee programs for status Indians, including welfare, education, child and family services, housing, long-term water advisories and health care.

Carolyn Bennett, will oversee Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. The former INAC minister is tasked with settling outstanding comprehensive land claims, clearing a backlog of grievances at the Specific Claims Tribunal and generally fostering a new era of self-governance.

Bennett will also lead the government's continued push to dismantle the Indian Act.

"It is racist, and it was racist when it was created. The Indian Act controls, or seeks to control, the lives of all Indigenous people in a way that you and I would never accept," Martin said.

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Naiomi Metallic chairs Aboriginal law and policy at Dalhousie University. (Canadian Press)

"I think what you'll find, once you've really given teeth to the inherent right of self government and you've given teeth to investing in the kinds of things that are going to give young aboriginals a chance and a future I think what you're going to see is they are going to function the same way everybody else in this country is. They're going to look to the future and they're going to build."

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, sometimes simply refereed to as RCAP, was established shortly after the 78-day armed standoff between the Mohawk community of Kanesatake, the Sûreté du Québec, and the Canadian army that became known as the Oka Crisis.

The commission was meant to "help restore justice to the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada, and to propose practical solutions to stubborn problems," according to the final report.

Naiomi Metallic, the chancellor's chair in Aboriginal law and policy at Dalhousie University, said the recommendation to dissolve the Indigenous Affairs department was just one of many recommendations in the royal commission, including proposals on self-g

Metallic said implementing the rest of the 1996 report is key to moving away from the Indian Act.

"If we're going to use the analogy perhaps of a race and a starting line you need to actually be starting at the starting line, not 50 feet behind it," she said. 

"Some of our communities we have, in terms of socioeconomic indicators, [are] below on everything."


Canada reflecting on 'geopolitical realities' as stopgap jet purchase sits in limbo

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Carla Qualtrough is sworn in as minister of public services and procurement during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The new minister tasked with procurement says negotiations of the North American Free Trade negotiations are casting a shadow over the Liberal's decision to buy to interim fighter jets to replace its ageing CF-18 fleet.

"I don't think we know exactly when we're going to make a decision on that. I think it'll have to be this fall and we're going to be mindful of all the other layers. This isn't a decision we can make in isolation without considering the consequences for trade negotiations and relationships with our own aerospace industry," Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough said.

"NAFTA is a big trade consideration. We're in the thick of it. Sleeves are at present being  rolled up and pencils sharpened on the NAFTA file. I don't think again that we can as a government look and make a decision on jets overall without considering kind of the geopolitical realities we're finding ourselves in."

Her comments pile further doubt on the Liberal's plan to make a stopgap buy until the government can finalize the purchase of 88 permanent replacements for the aging CF-18 fleet.

Canada opened negotiations for the sole-source purchase of 18 Super Hornet jet fighters earlier this year, but the program is on hold because of a trade dispute with Boeing.

The U.S. aerospace heavyweight has launched a commercial trade complaint against Montreal-based Bombardier putting the military contract into limbo.


Reality check on the Liberal's tax reform

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Finance Minister Bill Morneau has proposed new tax rules for small business owners. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

With politicians getting ready to head back to Ottawa, the Conservatives are making it clear that they plan to take aim at the Liberals' proposed tax reforms.

In mid-July, Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveiled his plans for closing the so-called tax loopholes for small business owners.

But where the government says the changes are all about creating tax fairness, the Conservatives are calling them a middle class tax grab. Last week Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said the changes could increase taxes by as much as 54 per cent.

"It's really hard when somebody quotes a statistic without stating their assumptions where they arrived at that statistic," said Lindsay Tedds, a tax policy expert at the University of Victoria.

"That is possibly what could be facing somebody who's earning well over $20 0,000 in Ontario, who is income sprinkling with their family members... So that's decidedly not a middle-class small business owner."

Instead, she said it's the amount of paperwork that might be required by the new rules that could hurt small business owners the most.

"Real small business owners who can't afford these big accounting houses to help them navigate these rules and set up their businesses and their paperwork in such a way to satisfy a CRA audit, there are real concerns here," she told The House.

But Tedds also said if either party is truly serious about tax fairness, they will need to take on comprehensive tax review.

"This is something we've been calling for for at least 20 years now. The Conservatives have ignored us, and the Liberals have ignored us to date."


Federal government makes its case on solitary confinement 

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The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the John Howard Society of Canada have brought a challenge against the federal government, arguing that current rules regarding solitary confinement are inhuman and unconstitutional. (Shutterstock)

This week, during a two-month trial examining Canada's segregation laws a lawyer for the federal government argued that the United Nations's guidelines on solitary-confinement are not binding on Canadian prisons.

Known as the Nelson Mandela Rules after the late South African president who spent 27 years in prison, the guidelines set standards for limits on the use of solitary confinement.

"They are technically right. Legally they 're not binding on the Canadian courts, however they are seen as certainly guidelines that should be followed and certainly most courts, the Supreme Court of Canada and courts of appeal, usually will comment on when Canada has not followed them," said independent Senator Kim Pate, who was the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

Pate pointed out that Canada has signed on to the Mandela rules.

A bill tabled June 19 in the House of Commons sets the framework to limit the time a federal prisoner can be held in solitary confinement to 15 days. The changes proposed in Bill C-56 come after a number of high-profile suicides by prisoners who were locked away for long periods of segregation.

"The bill that was proposed wouldn't even meet the U.N. minimum standards but unfortunately I am not surprised," Pate said.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the John Howard Society of Canada have brought a challenge against the federal government, arguing that current rules regarding solitary confinement are inhuman and unconstitutional.

The trial comes less than a month after the federal government brought in a 15-day limit on solitary confinement, and failed a bid to stop the trial altogether after numerous delays.


In House Panel

Finally, Globe and Mail Parliamentary reporter Laura Stone and senior iPolitics and Toronto Star columnist Susan Delacourt weigh in on this week's shuffle and what awaits all players when the House of Commons resumes.this month.