by Robert Metz – September 1995

The following essay is adapted from Freedom Party’s official Presentation to the Reform Party of Canada’s Aboriginal Affairs Task Force, written and delivered by myself on February 26, 1995.

The moment we use the terms “Aboriginal”, “Indian”, or “Native” IN THE CONTEXT OF DISCUSSING SPECIAL GOVERNMENT POLICY with respect to people identified as such, we are already practising RACISM.

As a representative of a political party whose principles do not permit our advocacy of the establishment of “special status” for any individuals or groups, what I have to say on this subject has already been somewhat predetermined for me.

Fundamentally, we must all learn to recognize that in a truly free society where every individual is equal before and under the law, there are no such things as “Aboriginal rights”, just as there are no such things as “French rights”, “English rights”, “Black rights”, “White rights”, “Women’s rights”, “Men’s rights”, “Labour rights”, “Business rights”, or a never-ending host of self-proclaimed collective rights whose causes our various federal and provincial governments have championed from time to time.

There are ONLY INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS, which, IN A FREE SOCIETY, accrue to ALL individuals, regardless of race, sex, colour, creed, interests, or affiliations. Legitimate rights do not accrue as a consequence of one’s racial or cultural background or history. Nor should any form of government be based on such grounds. If we believe that for a minute, then we are racists of the lowest order.

The problems faced by Canada’s aboriginal peoples are no different from those faced by the rest of Canadians. The things I hear them asking for are fundamentally no different than what all Canadians want.

We ALL want “self-government.” We ALL want the right to be free to make our own choices and to determine our own destinies. We ALL want to be free from violence, and be given due respect of our fellow citizens.

Just as Canadians feel that their governments are no longer representing their true feelings and values, Aboriginal peoples are faced with a leadership that does not seem to reflect their true feelings or values either. But even more reassuring, and what many may find surprising, is that aboriginal peoples in general do not feel any different than Canadians in general.

In a July 5, 1993 Montreal Gazette column by William Johnson (“Leaders appear out of touch”), he reports the results of a Statistics Canada “Aboriginal Peoples Survey”, which was a follow-up to the 1991 Canadian census. 625,710 Indians, Metis, and Inuit were questioned about language and lifestyle.

Significantly, the survey showed that most do not live on reserves or aboriginal settlements. In fact, 64% of Indians live outside of Indian settlements. As Johnson correctly comments, “Self-government, then, can hardly be a solution for the problems of the two-thirds of Indians who live away from the reserve.”

But most importantly, the survey asked what specific measures would best address the problems in aboriginal communities. The most popular answer among aboriginals, reflecting a similar demand in the rest of Canadian society, was “more policing”. Only 4,240 of the 625,710 people questioned endorsed the concept of “self-government”, while a return to a traditional lifestyle was endorsed by a mere 3,385 people.

In stark contrast, 58% of NON-aboriginal Canadians support self-government for aboriginal people, according to results of the Spicer Commission (1991). It has been suggested that this could be because the majority of Canadians do not hear the voices of the average aboriginal individual, but DO hear conflicting voices of native leaders whose definition of self-government is very different from theirs, and, among some leaders, includes the power to exempt aboriginals from the Criminal Code of Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Most Canadians would not, I believe, accept the latter proposition as a condition of self-government. The same Spicer Commission that reported 58% of non-aboriginal Canadians support self-government also reported that 85% of non-aboriginal Canadians favour more equitable treatment for the country’s aboriginals. An exemption from the supreme laws of the land would surely not qualify as equitable treatment, even by the furthest stretch of the imagination.

Fundamentally then, the proper principle on which to base any land claim settlements, rights, and government, is the principle of individual rights under which ALL individuals are guaranteed their fundamental rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and the necessary PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS to enable the exercise of such freedoms.

Unfortunately, we are far from the idealization of this principle, and we cannot move forward until certain important issues are resolved, not the least of which are outstanding aboriginal land claims with the federal government. It is my understanding that, as of 1992, there were still 310 outstanding specific land claims covering 53% of the surface of Canada, including downtown Vancouver, which is part of one claim.

I am not in a position to judge which of these outstanding claims have merit, and which do not, though I will go out on a limb to suggest that downtown Vancouver is unlikely to be handed back to any aboriginal group.

Any workable solution to this dilemma must be based on the principle of establishing legitimate private property rights. Property rights, in turn, establish OWNERSHIP, and define the RESPONSIBILITY for such ownership.

Private property rights make “self-government” irrelevant, since in a free society ALL individuals “govern themselves” and are free to do whatever they will — so long as they do not violate the similar rights of their fellow citizens. When that happens, we need the protection of such rights by the supreme law of the land, a law that treats us all equally, on the basis of our actions, and not on the basis of the colour of our skin or on our ancestry.

Many aboriginal leaders fear the privatization of reserve land. As aboriginal writer Roger Obonsawin put it in a Globe and Mail article (“How do we protect our treaty rights?” – May 4, 1993): “The privatization of reserve land strikes at the very root of the Aboriginal understanding of our relationship to the land and of the agreements in the Royal Proclamation and subsequent treaties. Other proposed laws involving governance, taxation and exploitation of our natural resources will also be contentious, since they will let Ottawa absolve itself of its fiduciary responsibility to our people.”

This argument, I believe, is a disservice to aboriginal peoples. It begins on a racist premise that by virtue of their race, all aboriginals share the same “understanding of (their) relationship to the land”, and concludes with a plea for the continuous subsidization of aboriginal groups by the rest of Canadian society.

In an age where our governments at every level are on the verge of bankruptcy, the continued subsidization of aboriginal groups is both irresponsible and destructive. I quote from a Reader’s Digest condensation of Lorne Gunter’s article from the Alberta Report:

“Canadians remain generally ignorant of the size of Ottawa’s current spending on native programs. For Indians alone (387,829), the federal government budgeted $4.4 BILLION for its 1992-3 program, or $12,359 for each man, woman and child, just to fulfil its interpretation of treaties and other statutory obligations. Most of this money goes to paying the 3807 employees of DIAND, building houses on reserves, paying the cost of administering Indian bands, and providing Indians with education free THROUGH UNIVERSITY, health and dental care, job creation and employment training. Indians are also eligible for most of the social programs available to Canadians generally, (and) when spending on Indians under these programs is added to the $4.4 billion, the total reaches nearly $7 billion. The $4.4 billion Indian-program spending could exceed $10 billion by the year 2000.”

And that’s just the federal spending. The province of Ontario, like the federal government, also spends fortunes on aboriginal spending, buried in the budgets of the Ministry of Citizenship, Ministry of Education and Training, and a host of others.

For example, on April 1, 1993, Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship, under its Aboriginal Economic Development Program, disbursed, among others, the following funds: $34,500 to build a comfort station at Wahta Campgrounds; $45,000 to establish a native crafts shop in Barrie; $75,666 for equipment to expand tree planting services; $28,000 to buy an electric sign for Peacetree Trade Centre; $25,000 for renovations to a gas/convenience store; $25,000 to establish a Native arts and crafts store in Fort Erie; $75,000 to start an advertising and promotion campaign in Fort Frances; $35,000 to build a laundromat in Fort Severn; $79,200 to build a gas service station in Kingfisher Lake; $15,000 for equipment to establish a guide service in Morson; $40,000 to create an equity fund for Native entrepreneurs in Muncey, and on and on. Combined with its aboriginal spending under “Jobs Ontario” on January 21, 1993, total spending under Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship amounted to $3,873,813.

The point to be made here, in addition to a condemnation of wasteful spending, is that this type of spending certainly does not reflect the so-called aboriginal lifestyle of the past. It reflects a clear desire for the products, goods and services provided outside reservations. It does NOT address any “aboriginal” concerns, as such.

Instead of privatization, Obonsawin advocates “an honest and open social contract” with Canada. This might sound viable to some on the surface, but it would be much less concrete a solution than privatization. Instead of ownership, which would empower all with ability for self-determination, he advocates yet another “agreement”, in effect, a contract with a government whose laws he neither trusts nor respects.

Yet, privatization is exactly what would solve all of the legitimate concerns of aboriginal peoples, and of Canadians everywhere. For example, in a full-page newspaper ad published by the Assembly of First Nations, it is asserted that Canada’s 1876 Indian Act “discriminates against Indians”, and in its examples cited, I couldn’t agree more:

“The Indian Act denies us the opportunity to make our own decisions, develop our lands and economic potential, educate our children and plan our future. It’s no surprise that this near-total government intervention into every aspect of life has undermined confidence, initiative and self-respect. The many regulations and guidelines have slowed down desperately needed improvements in housing, health, education and employment in First Nations communities.”

Now where have I heard these complaints before? From every Canadian of every conceivable background from coast-to-coast. We are ALL over-governed and over-regulated.

It is for that reason that I can well understand, and identify with, aboriginal apprehensions regarding privatization. After all, Canadians from coast-to-coast CANNOT COUNT ON THEIR GOVERNMENTS TO PROTECT THEIR PROPERTY RIGHTS, SINCE SUCH RIGHTS ARE NOT GUARANTEED US IN CANADA’S CONSTITUTION. Small wonder that the spectre of privatization is not seen as the solution by many. Canadian governments TAX private property, and there are no laws LIMITING such taxation. Canadian governments control property use well beyond the reasonable limits which should exist to protect neighbouring properties and people who may be affected by certain actions.

Instead of fighting WITH each other, and trying to negotiate agreements, contracts, and settlements through a very politically unstable and fiscally bankrupt government, ALL Canadians should be working together to get their governments to ENTRENCH and make as their prime function, the protection of property rights — REAL PROPERTY RIGHTS.

No country can claim to be a free nation without having the entrenchment and protection of private property rights as its prime function. No government operating on socialist principles can possibly carry out this function, since socialism is a redistributive philosophy which specifically requires the violation of property rights.

Many aboriginal groups have stated that they view themselves as caretakers of the land, rather than as owners. But in a free, non-socialist society, ownership is the very thing that would give them the RIGHT to be caretakers of their lands. Governments change with each election. Past agreements can be made null and void with the stroke of a legislative pen. But this is not so, in a country with entrenched property rights.

I realize that I have painted an idealized picture of what I believe to be a solution to a very complex situation. But I have done so mainly to establish a PRINCIPLE, one that will hopefully GUIDE THE DIRECTION of Reform Party policies on this issue.

Having this principle to guide us, answers to many of the more immediate issues become clear:

  1. We must AVOID ALL DEFINITIONS OF RACE, COLOUR, CREED, etc. in any legislation establishing rights, governments, or other official institutions.
  2. ALL Canadians, aboriginals included, should be TREATED EQUALLY BEFORE AND UNDER THE LAW. This would in no way exclude their direct participation in the administration of the law.
  3. Canadians should not be forced to subsidize racial or ethnic lobby groups.
  4. The issue of SELF-GOVERNMENT is a diversion from the real issues. We must never allow ANY government in Canada to be formed around any racial criteria.
  5. Any land claim settlements must allow individual aboriginals the full right to privately own their own land, including the right to buy, sell, rent, or mortgage that land to, from, or with anyone of any racial background.
  6. We must be careful to avoid any agreements or settlements that divide people according to their race. Racist policies require some way of determining whether individuals belong to one race or another, which is usually the most repugnant aspect of such policies. We do not need apartheid in Canada.

Aboriginals deserve better than apartheid. They deserve the full rights, responsibilities, and privileges of Canadians — as citizens — not by meeting a racial test.

It’s time to draw the line. Let us all work together to entrench private property rights in Canada’s constitution, and to form a government that respects, honours, and protects such rights.    {end}

– Robert Metz      Consent #23     September 1995