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December 14, 2005

Accountability for Indian Affairs

Many Canadians have come to realize that changes to Ottawa’s political structures and institutions are as important – and perhaps even more so – than the representatives that will be elected to Parliament on January 23rd. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation will release seven commentaries during this campaign that focus on broad themes of accountability, systemic and democratic reform measures. This second commentary in the series is written by the CTF’s Aboriginal Division director Tanis Fiss on the subject of increased accountability for Canada’s Indian reserves. Tanis is available for media interviews or comment on this subject by calling 403-263-1202 or e-mailing her at

December 14, 2005

Accountability for Indian Affairs

One well known definition for insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Canadians have witnessed this in the delivery of Indian affairs. Regrettably, Ottawa’s insanity is not likely to stop without our lawmakers first making a number of elementary reforms.

Canadian taxpayers spend approximately $10-billion each year, for federal and provincial programs for native Canadians. Regrettably, for both natives and taxpayers there is little to show for all the spending. The status quo is failing. Fortunately, change can provide new hope.

According to auditor-general reports, 80 per cent of the Department of Indian Affairs’ total expenditures are transferred directly to native bands. How these funds are disbursed is decided by the Chiefs and their band councils.

Accountability on native reserves is lacking today, but there are ways to solve that problem. One possibility is to have native governments collect taxes in the way other levels of government collect taxes: through income taxes, property taxes and a multitude of other measures.

To increase accountability, the payments currently transferred to native band councils should be re-directed to individuals. The money necessary for native governments could then be taxed back by the local native government. To ensure appropriate community support, this recommendation should be implemented on a pilot basis on one or more reserves over a set time-frame. That way the policy, if successful, can be expanded to other reserves.

Currently, once the federal government transfers money from federal departments to native bands, the auditor-general of Canada no long has the authority to audit how and where the money is spent. No checks and balances on tax dollars foster inefficiencies, redundancies, corruption and even abuse.

If the ultimate ambition is to eventually have all Canadians treated with the same rights and responsibilities, then creating another separate auditor’s office – as is being proposed – will not be the best route to achieve that important goal or ensure the best use of tax dollars. Expanding the existing auditor-general’s mandate to include native bands would instead require fewer tax dollars to operate due to the economies of scale. Moreover, the standard of audits, mandates and scrutiny would remain consistent.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) routinely receives calls from native Canadians either frustrated with their local council or with the Department of Indian Affairs. This is because, in part, the delivery of programs is in the hands of a few – the Chief and council.

Since there is little separation between politics and administration on reserves – and there is no requirement to do so – activities on a reserve that are related to band administration is often heavily politicized. This scenario provides the Chief and council with tremendous power and control over community members. Access to Information documents obtained by the CTF show in 2003, the Department of Indian Affairs received 297 allegations of corruption, nepotism or mismanagement by native band councils.

As an interim measure to ensure native Canadians receive appropriate redress, an independent ombudsman for aboriginal affairs needs to be established. The ombudsman would have authority to investigate complaints and propose changes to be made in a band’s administrative practices or the administrative practices of the Department of Indian Affairs. If the band or department fails to make the recommended changes, a report would be brought before Parliament.

Some might say such changes will lead to “cultural genocide.” Such overblown rhetoric has no merit. When native Canadians are enabled to succeed in the same way as other Canadians, they will be no less Cree, Mohawk or Ojibwas. In fact, by doing so, they will render the entire paternalistic mechanism of the Indian Act, and the Department of Indian Affairs irrelevant.

Regardless of who wins the election, the federal government must reform aboriginal affairs. It is only through major reform that aboriginal poverty on reserves will truly be eradicated. To do otherwise is insane. Even worse, it consigns many aboriginal Canadians to live in poverty and in despair.

Tanis Fiss is director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Aboriginal Division located in Calgary, AB.

John Williamson
Federal Director
Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Posted by John Williamson, Canadian Taxpayers Federation [permalink]

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