Friday, March 28, 2008

Conservatives set record for settling native land claims.

The Harper Government is quietly getting more things done in Ottawa, while the opposition Liberals led by Stephane Dion are too concerned with their own fortunes and internal strife to even bother with their jobs by voting on issues before the house.

From the Globe and Mail:
OTTAWA The Conservative government resolved a record number of native land-claim disputes this year in a bid to improve relations with Canada's aboriginals and spur economic development on reserves.

Former Indian Affairs minister Jim Prentice caused a stir in his department last year when he quietly ordered public servants to conclude at least 50 specific land-claim disputes for the fiscal year ending Monday.

Meeting that target was left to his successor, Chuck Strahl, who confirmed yesterday that 54 claims have been resolved, of which 37 involved financial settlements.

"It was a big, all-out effort to do that," said Mr. Strahl, who took over the department last August.

The 34-year historical record of the specific claims process shows the ambitiousness of the target. On average, only 14 claims are concluded each year. The average annual amount paid out in settlements is $63.7-million.

The most productive year previously on record was 1993-1994, when the government paid out 30 specific claims settlements at a total cost of $263-million. The final tab for this year's record number of settlements will be about $70-million, Mr. Strahl said, which is only slightly higher than an average year. Mr. Strahl acknowledges that the department likely went after some of the simplest disputes to meet the demands of their political bosses.

"You want to do the low-hanging fruit first, that's for sure," he said. "I certainly gave no instruction that way, but it wouldn't surprise me."

Sources told The Globe and Mail that some native leaders expressed concern to Mr. Prentice that the bureaucracy would stop negotiating while the federal government established a new specific claims tribunal. To assuage those concerns, Mr. Prentice made the 50-claim promise.

The bill establishing the tribunal, C-30, was introduced last November and is still in the House of Commons. The new tribunal would have the power to make $250-million in settlement payments a year for 10 years with the aim of reducing the backlog of nearly 800 claims. Mr. Strahl expressed frustration that the bill has yet to become law, given that it has broad support.

"I am starting to get concerned about it. It's always possible an election could interrupt the process," he said.

There are two main types of land claims. Specific claims involve native communities arguing that their land or money has been stolen or misused. Common examples include reserve land used for highways or rail lines without compensation. From 1927 to 1951, it was illegal for lawyers to take on native clients for claims against the Crown.

The second type, called comprehensive claims, are usually larger and more expensive. These claims resolve land disputes with natives who never signed treaties with the government or establish self-government arrangements outside of the Indian Act.

Alberta lawyer Ron Maurice represents natives in land-claim disputes and worked with Mr. Prentice at the Indian Claims Commission and in private practice.

According to his contacts, Mr. Maurice said, not all public servants welcomed Mr. Prentice's 50-claim target.

"It's fair to say though that there are probably other people within the [specific claims] branch that saw it as being unrealistic or too onerous," he said.

Mr. Maurice said the focus on resolving land claims highlights a "sea change" in aboriginal policy.

In contrast to the 2005 Liberal plan signed in Kelowna, B.C., that would have spent $5-billion on programs for aboriginals, Mr. Maurice said Conservatives are spending money to resolve land claims in the hope that communities can raise their own revenue to meet social needs.

"I would think it's probably just a matter of course before the government expects first nations to look at their own source of revenues and the settlement of these land claims as one means of funding other aspects of band governance," he said.

Herman Crain, a band councillor with Saskatchewan's Muskoday First Nation, says a recent $10-million settlement will buy urban reserve land in Prince Albert.

He said the community could set up an on-reserve urban convenience store to sell tax-free cigarettes to status Indians living in the city.

"I think doors have started to open now," he said.

With a report from Brian Laghi.

Getting things done while the Dion led opposition run.

Here is a nice little update to the story. Inuit to name Island after PM Harper.

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper could end up with a remote Quebec island named after him following a land-claim deal with the Inuit of the province's northern Nunavik region.

After almost three decades of on-and-off negotiation, the people of Nunavik will get a new national park, new resource rights, administrative controls, and $54 million over nine years...."


Anonymous said...

Hard to believe anything remotely positive about our Conservative government coming out of the Globe and Mail.
Must have been a horrendously slow news day.

Babylonian said...

Funny thing eh?........I mean, I have noticed the past few weeks, it seems that media has given the conservatives a break.

The Liberals though, are being reported on (simply being exposed) in the past few weeks, and you will see blog after blog of Liberals crying media bias!!!

It would be amusing if it weren't so sad. They get a free media ticket to ride for decades, and now the media only exposes their party cruthces, and they cry bloody murder!

I never called liberalism a disease as some others have, but I am beging to see where some of you are coming from with that.

Ardvark said...

Kudos to the Globe and Mail for the story, even if it did come out late in the weekly news cycle. Another campaign of fear myth shattered by this government.

There is nothing really wrong with classic liberalism, it is in the bastardized form that the parties of the left practice that is the problem.