Sunday, 27 January 2013

Idle No More

The Idle No More movement is clearly one to be reckoned with, not only by non-indigenous people but also by the "white" establishment (which will suffice as a shorthand term for all Canadian citizens that are non-indigenous; it includes citizens of all races but the emphasis is on "establishment"). Finally, it is of major concern to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), whose national chief is Sean Atleo.

When we feel anything at all, most Canadians feel ashamed at the treatment served up to our indigenous people. We have consistently violated historical agreements, and this practice dates back a century and more. Most Canadians are oblivious to the fact that South Africa modelled its system of apartheid explicitly on the Canadian Indian Reserves model. That fact is not taught in our schools, perhaps because we are too ashamed of it -- and rightly so.

New events have cast all this history in a new light. I'm thinking specifically of the recent Supreme Court ruling that our Metis and non-status Indians are to be now recognized as Indians under the Constitutional Act. And of course, the Idle No More movement has brought all this to the forefront of consciousness in this country. It is too big to ignore.

Some of the opinions on this decision could be predicted. The economists, epitomized by Robert Lovelace (a global development studies professor at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario), declare that "This ruling could cost the government billions." On the other side, more than a few non-Metis First Nations people see this as a dilution of the moneys they currently receive. And finally, more than a few Metis people themselves are grateful that they were not included in the original definition of First Nations people, because their exclusion kept them out of the reserves system and forced them to fend for themselves; hence, overall they are doing better than the traditional First Nations people.

The Indian Act itself, whose most recent iteration was in 1985, has come under fire, with some on both sides arguing for its abolition.  (For the document in full, see The Indian Act (RSC 1985.)

One thing is perfectly clear: the gap between the AFN and the federal government is so huge that tinkering with a clause here and there satisfies no one, and further, gives the federal government both grounds to say "We're trying" and excuses to do nothing substantive.
I have a more radical, but in my view far more sensible, proposal:

Abolish the Indian Act and replace it not with some similar act, but rather to declare a new Canadian province, comprised of all the reserves, crown lands, and lands currently under territory arising from land-claim settlements. 

Note: Until I began to research this notion and its consequences, I had no idea that a formal paper on exactly this proposal exists. It was written by Thomas J. Courchene and Lisa M. Powell, of the Institute for Intergovernmental Relations, at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. (For the full document, see A First Nations Province).

There are more than 2,250 reserves in Canada, comprising approximately 600 First Nations governments. As of the 2006 national census, there were 1,172,790 First Nations people in Canada (this number includes First Nations, Inuit and Metis).
The following chart shows population by province from 2008 to 2012.

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
persons (thousands)
Canada 33,317.70 33,726.90 34,126.50 34,484.00 34,880.50
Newfoundland and Labrador 506.4 509.1 511.9 512.9 512.7
Prince Edward Island 139.5 141.1 143.1 145.7 146.1
Nova Scotia 937.5 940.6 945.2 948.5 948.7
New Brunswick 746.9 749.9 752.9 755.3 756
Quebec 7,750.50 7,825.80 7,905.10 7,978.00 8,054.80
Ontario 12,932.50 13,068.80 13,223.80 13,366.30 13,505.90
Manitoba 1,205.70 1,219.90 1,235.70 1,251.70 1,267.00
Saskatchewan 1,013.80 1,029.50 1,044.40 1,057.80 1,080.00
Alberta 3,592.20 3,672.70 3,723.80 3,778.10 3,873.70
British Columbia 4,384.30 4,459.90 4,529.50 4,576.60 4,622.60
Yukon 33.1 33.7 34.6 35.4 36.1
Northwest Territories 43.7 43.6 43.9 44.2 43.3
Nunavut 31.6 32.2 32.8 33.6 33.7
Note: Population as of July 1.
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table 051-0001.
Last modified: 2012-09-27.

To put it another way, the First Nations Province would be larger than Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Given that the creation of FNP would also be the subtraction of these people from the provincial numbers above, it's quite possible that FNP would surpass Manitoba as well, in terms of population.

Above all, the creation of FNP would finally give the First Nations peoples a place at all the First Ministers conferences, and entitle them to all the benefits and responsibilities enjoyed by the other provinces.

This change would have dramatic consequences, virtually all of which would be good in the end. perhaps the most immediate and obvious consequence would be the instant creation of a new "have not" province, and thus a significant shift in the moneys paid out in equalization payments. This new virtual province would also become responsible for education and medical plans; and be able to impose provincial taxes on its citizens. There are many more consequences, which have been addressed thoroughly in the paper cited above. I encourage the interested reader to examine this paper and give it careful consideration.

There remains the serious question of how to consolidate so many First Nations governments into a single entity. One thing is clear, however: this is not a problem for the federal government to solve. That is exactly the wrong thing to do. This is best left for the First Nations peoples themselves to solve.

I don't expect a solution to appear overnight. But I see no reason why the First Nations peoples would object to this proposal. On the other hand, I can easily imagine the federal government's objections, virtually all of which reduce to dollars. That in my view is unacceptable -- as unacceptable as was South African apartheid.

Monday, 14 January 2013

How about Obama's cajones?

In the US every year, guns kill almost as many people as cars do. Many of those victims are children, and many of those tragedies happen at home. If you compare the rational licencing controls on driving a car with the lax controls on owning and carrying a gun in the US, you feel sick.

So it may seem reassuring that there's broad public support in the US for more effective gun control. In a recent Pew poll, 85% of US respondents support background checks for private and gun show sales, 80% support banning gun sales to the mentally ill, 67% support a federal database to track gun sales, 64% support armed guards in schools, 58% support a ban on semi-automatic weapons, 55% support a ban on assault-style weapons, and 54% support a ban on high-capacity gun clips. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll found even stronger support for gun control.

Yes, you have to worry about that mental illness question. Error rates in psychiatric diagnosis run about 25%. That's at least 2,500% higher than the percentage of mentally ill people who kill themselves or others with guns. Prognostic predictions by psychiatrists are even worse. The simplest Bayesian arithmetic shows how useless such a program would be.

And you have to worry too about armed guards in schools. Would you send your child to a school where the guards are armed?

And the Pew poll revealed an interesting divide. Respondents with high school education or less are 31% more supportive of armed guards in schools. Did we know that the NRA view that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" plays best to the less well educated?

Still, the polls are clear, the US public wants more gun control, even if two of the controls they favour look dodgy.

Will the US public's preferences translate into effective legislation? Well, about two-thirds of the US public wanted a public option in health care, but the health and insurance industries would have none of it; they made sure no such legislation made it to the floor of Congress, and Obama refused to fight for it. 

Likewise, about two-thirds of the US public wants gun control, but the lobby for 5,400 gun manufacturers has the same kind of stranglehold on Congress. A couple of weeks ago, I asked if there were enough Congressional cajones to pass effective gun controls. Since then, only about a dozen Republicans have publicly broken ranks with the NRA. Not nearly enough.

Then does it come down to whether Obama is Chamberlain or Churchill?