Scott Gilmore: The issues no party will touch -

Scott Gilmore: The issues no party will touch

How can one of the world’s wealthiest countries still have citizens living in medieval conditions?

An abandoned house, which has been taken over by some teens and is used as a clubhouse  for pool and Texas Hold Em poker, on the Pikangikum First Nation, Friday, January 5, 2007. Pikangikum First Nation is a remote-access community located on Pikangikum Lake, approximately 100 km northwest of Red Lake, Ont. Half of the 430 homes are falling apart and unfit to live in, yet continue to be occupied. Ninety per cent don’t have running water or indoor toilets.  (John Woods/CA)

An abandoned house on the Pikangikum First Nation, a remote-access community approximately 100 km northwest of Red Lake, Ont. Half of the 430 homes are falling apart and unfit to live in, yet continue to be occupied. Ninety per cent don’t have running water or indoor toilets. (John Woods/CA)

This has been an interesting election. Of course, no one would have predicted a three-way tie. And the issues we anticipated (the economy, leadership), have largely been shouldered aside by the unexpected, such as refugees and whether the Prime Minister’s senior staff read their email.

The cliché is that no battle plans survive contact with the enemy, something that is likely being muttered in all of the campaign headquarters. But what I find most interesting about this election is what we’re not talking about. Measured by wealth, lifespan, access to education, or security, Canada is objectively one of the best places in the world to live.

Unless you’re Aboriginal. In which case, you might have been better off born in Somalia (which has a lower murder rate than on our reserves) or maybe El Salvador (which has better health outcomes). The state of the Canadian First Nations is a national shame. And yet no one in this election is asking how one of the wealthiest and safest countries in the world could still have citizens living in medieval conditions.

Related: ‘It Could Have Been Me’: Harrowing stories from Indigenous women

We are more worried about income splitting and whether this will help or hurt our “struggling” middle class. Every time I see a politician in the suburbs, reassuring the long-suffering homeowners that he knows they’re hurting, I want to grab him by the scruff of his neck, drag him out to Pikangikum in northern Ontario, which has the highest suicide rate in the world, drop him on the unpaved main street, and yell, “Focus!”

It has never been a campaign issue and I have little hope that this year will be different. No one wins or loses an election, or even a riding, on this. There may be a photo op or two, some of the leaders will announce an education program or perhaps something to do with health. But that’s it. No one will stand up and say to voters with sincerity, “This must end”—and actually have a real plan to do so.

Defence spending is also an issue that rarely wins many votes. Compared to other countries, Canadians pay very little attention to our Armed Forces. This might be because our military bases are few and far away from major cities. Or perhaps we really are a gloriously pacific people, as the political left wants to believe. So it’s understandable why this is usually not a big election issue.

But I thought this year it might be. This is the first election after more than a decade of hard fighting in Afghanistan. We spent billions slogging it out in Kandahar, losing more than 150 soldiers in the process. And what we left behind was an ugly mess at best, a barren ruin at worst. None of the political parties and, it would seem, very few Canadians, are interested in asking: Was it worth it?

Our collective desire to avoid talking about Afghanistan is probably why the Conservatives were able to cut defence spending so successfully. No one is looking. No one cares. But they have made cuts. Big ones. According to NATO, Canada is now ranked at the bottom when it comes to investing in our defence. The debate about whether Canada should be fighting ISIS is moot, considering how few resources we are able to deploy. And, as Maclean’s has reported, our Navy is now so small and ill-equipped, it is just a coastal defence force that must borrow ships from Chile in order to even conduct training exercises.

Given the Conservatives’ track record, it’s unlikely they are going to talk much about defence spending. They will continue to warn everyone that “the night is dark and full of terrors” and only they can keep us safe. But when asked how they’ll rebuild the Navy or fix procurement, they’ll have to mumble into their sleeves. And the Liberals and NDP are apt to skip this issue, too. There may be a couple of announcements, but their voters either don’t prioritize defence or, in the case of the NDP, once went so far as to support Canada’s withdrawal from NATO.

But the biggest issue we are avoiding is climate change, which, one could argue, is the single greatest challenge of the century, in Canada and globally. But our main political parties are quite happy to keep it in the back pages of their pamphlets. Mindful of a persistently skeptical and disinterested base, the Conservatives are the least likely to raise it. And while the Liberals and the NDP give good sound bites on occasion, neither party wants to dance along the high wire strung between jobs and pipelines on the one side, and significantly reduced carbon levels on the other. Announcements will be made, about reforestation or recycling, but don’t expect anyone to push this to the front of his campaign.

Two things could change all this: events, or us. As the photo of Alan Kurdi suddenly pushed the refugee crisis into the election debate, a similarly evocative moment could thrust defence, First Nations or climate change to the forefront. A more likely way to make this an issue is if we make it an issue. If Canadians called their candidates, or emailed their political leaders and said, “Enough about the lobster tax credits, I want to know how you’re going to save the planet . . . ,” we might get somewhere. There’s no harm in trying.



Scott Gilmore: The issues no party will touch

  1. The only ‘old stock’ in Canada are the First Nations

    And look how they’re treated.

    Thank you Mr Gilmore…’re good.

    I will read anything you write.

  2. Harper negotiated an education agreement with the AFN twice, and both times the AFN rejected the agreement their elected leader (Shawn Atleo) had negotiated. Arguably, this should be the easiest of the agreements to negotiate, and yet once there is an agreement, the demands are changed again.

    What exactly is Harper supposed to do? Just throw money? He agreed to the new demands once. But the AFN refuses to say yes. The guy who they are negotiating with has to have the authority to make a deal. Does the new guy have that authority? I doubt it.

    • Paul Martin negotiated an agreement everyone liked

      Harper cancelled it

      Don’t blame others for Pur Laine Harper there.

      • Nonsense! It was cancelled because it was another example of a Liberal give-away. And neither the author of this piece nor the commentators have got a real handle on the aboriginal problem.
        Take few examples of what that problem is. What do you do with a people who on a reserve complain about an epidmic of enteric illness and do nothing about it? A simple examination showed that the water intake for the reserve was installed below the sewage outlet!. (I saw it). Did the Indians do anything but complain? No an outside contractor was sent in; it was deemed that earth moving equipment was required to a backhoe was flown in in a Hercules aircraft at a cost of $$$$. All that was really required was a few shovels and some braves to get of their butts and dig a ditch for 100 yards to divert the sewage outlet to a point in the stream BELOW the water intake. Example 2: I lived immediately next door to a reserve for 15 years. The chief was an habitual drunkard. In that 15 years they burned something like 10 of their house. First they trashed them and allowed them to become foul and corrupt – because of their own lack of moral fibre and decency or work ethic they simply torched the house because Indian Affairs would build them a new one (which they immediately set out to trash). And then there is the financial corruption and incompetency of the reserve chief at Attawapiskat showing foul shacks to the press when several new houses were not yet occupied. And where the lady chief routinely chartered an aircraft to visit daughter in Winnipeg.

        By contrast, the band at Osoyoos with the excellent leadership of the chief has built the showpiece Nk’nip into an impressive resort (from an unused desert and a shoreline on Osoyoos Lake) into a complex with $300/ night apartment units, an RV park and marina, a gold course and a first class winery. His orders to his people: ‘Come to work on time, no drinking and put in a fully accountable day’s work”. He has actually hired people from other reserves has there are not enough in his own tribe. Why the success? Probably because he was educated and holding a CA degree. He brought in consultants to help plan the enterprise. Conclusion? Aboriginals cannot remain wards of the state. To succeed in the modern world they must have education and some competitiveness instilled. The tragedy of the residential school system is not a few actual abuses and corporal punishment which was routine in the white schools of the day a discipline: the tragedy was the assignment of the task to the churches whose self-perceived role was christianization, not education. And principally the lack of accountability and selection of staff. . While that is unfortunately water under the bridge, the fact remains that Indians have to compete in society and to do that they need education, not reversion to tribal myths and magic. And they need the leadership to ban the bottle and get an education and move their butts.

        Nobody comments that much of the problem of aboriginal women is from sexual abuse as children ON THE RSERVATION not residential schools. And on the matter of the of the4 so-called “trail of tears” of missing aboriginal women and girls from Prince George to Prince Rupert nobody comments on the pick-up trucks with three or four aboriginal thugs cruising the route. It was only by luck and speed that my wife and I made to our car and sped away from a rest stop before an unpleasant incident or attack was averted. How would a hitch-hiking Indian on her own girl fare?

        Finally it is ridiculous to hang onto the idea that a people can subsist on a native economy of hunting and fishing in a harsh northern land base. The solution; cancel the Indian Act; allot lands (but not in the amounts the Indians claim) and get out of the Indian business altogether. Ultimately they have to pull up their own socks, get an education0, earn their own living, pay taxes and look after themselves and stop crying in their beer.(and drinking it too).
        In the interim Harper is to be congratulated for insisting on accountability.

        • Nobody understands it but you eh?

          5 paras of racism because the natives won’t act like you. Why do you expect them to?

          And you burble the same excuses you’ve been been passing around for probably close to a century now……and you wonder why it never gets any better.

          “It all has to do with ‘their own lack of moral fibre and decency or work ethic “….. while you of course are the god-fearing white man from a completely different culture. The ‘protestant work ethic’ is unique to Calvinism….damned religion again.

          What does ‘moral fibre’ have to do with 9 to 5?

          The Chief in Attawapiskat has a grade 8 education….probably the best one on the reserve……..and you will note she was never charged or punished…..just publically trashed by white guys like you who’ve had an entirely different life

          Aboriginals are not ‘wards of the state’……they are the first nations on this continent…..and have agreements with the British crown that precede our little time here.

          Yes it costs money….get over it…..and no, residential schools were not the same as schools for white kids. Did you think you could get the second largest country on the planet for cheap??

          By gawd if only those pesky ‘indians’ would behave the way you want them to, eh? Did what they were told. Behaved as you want them too…..and didn”t ever cost you a nickel.

          • If it is all about money then why are the conditions as crappy on rich reserves in Alberta as on dirt poor reserves in the rest of the nation? You can lament how it is all the fault of residential schools but today’s children cannot go outside in their yards and play due to gangs on the some of the reservations. Skip the bs and come up with some real solutions that involve all parties taking responsibility and buying in.

          • Gage……no it’s not ‘all about money’……but you can’t do much without it.

        • id like to know where you got the stats to prove sexual abuse was committed on reserve and not in residential schools. you ARE CLEARLY UNEDUCATED AND IGNORANT.with all the facts and stories coming to light of what happened to the aboriginal culture during assimilation you clearly ignored what was written in black and white and decided to make this all up as you wrote this.Prejudice is convenient because you dont need facts to have an opinion.

          • I am guessing you are replying to me…I wasn’t referring to sexual abuse on reservations. I was referring to gang fighting… at Hobemma (which I understand was newly named). Children couldn’t go out after school for fear of being hit by a stray bullet.

  3. We Canadians cannot continue to be held responsible for the conditions on native reserves. The money, which is very generous, never seems to get to the people who really need it, and the chief and council live like kings. Until they are ready to be accountable for the funds they receive, there is little the average Canadian can do. They will not allow ordinary Canadians on their property, often, not even the police, and the residents are helpless.

    • We could settle the land claims. We could let the FN own their own land as promised. We could scrap the mis-named ‘Indian Act’. They need tribal soverignty at the least. We could treat them as human beings, and give them some respect.

      Otherwise we’re tied to the current situation for the next thousand years.

      • We could do all of those things and we’d be back to square one in a couple of years. I’ve been on many reserves and they are all different, a few would thrive while many others would be far worse off. People bandy about terms like ‘cultural genocide’ to make people feel guilty without internalizing what it actually means. Most first nations members have a very tenuous connection to the past, they are far closer to white people than many would care to admit.

        • They are all ‘different’ because they are all different nations…so the cultures are different.

          However we are all the same species.

  4. I agree. First Nations living conditions are appalling and all levels of government and leadership need a minor renewal. It takes guts and the existing leadership haven’t the courage to do this.

  5. It is incredible to me that you can genuinely write this article without one mention of the Green Party. Their platform has meaningful, costed, and ambitious proposals about all three of the issues you raise. Sure, Elizabeth May isn’t going to be Prime Minister, but that does not justify pretending her party doesn’t exist. It is simply not true that no political party will touch these issues! The Green Party deserves credit for being the only party putting these issues at the top of their agenda!

    • Problem: The Green Party needs numbers, and success is measured by how many people will join forces with you. How do you mobilize literally half the country and have them move in lockstep?

  6. I’m not sure that any of you realize that most Indians (I will say NOT all) but a majority that I file income tax for have businesses or are working on the Reserve and make darn good money but it is all TAX EXEMPT when it is in Box 71. They have walked away constantly from land settlements and they have been offered lots…but walk away from it.

    What I can tell you from filing their income taxes is that anyone who works on the reserve, single and married their income is Tax Exempt totally. They do not pay a dime in taxes and some are earning over 1/2 million or more a year if running a business, and those working at the Government buildings on the reserve are also tax exempt. They PAY no tax, and with ZERO income showing get HUGE HST per quarter, HUGE OST per month, HUGE CTB both Provincial and Federally. So for most it is a cha ching. I have done side by side scenarios of a couple working off the reserve and taxed vs those making the same amount of money Box 71 exemption and the couple off the reserve gets NO CREDITS at all and pays out taxes.

    They also OPT OUT OF EI AND CPP (NOT ALL BUT A LARGE A MAJORITY making in the 250K – 500K on the reserve. Yes you can drive into or through the reserve and it all looks like run down shacks, but go deeper in from the main road to see the multiple mansions being built. I don’t begrudge them per say, but I do have a problem with my comparison above when those not living on a reserve are taxed and those sheltered under the Indian Act are making a killing on our tax dollars.

    I ask my clients why they will not settle land claims and they are (a) worried the Gov’t will take away their Exemption on income taxes (b) don’t want to maybe have to pay property taxes etc. on their reserve homes (the shacks or the mansions) Next I ask who their clan mother was? 75 out of 100 have no idea who their clan mother was.

    Do Indians Pay Taxes? It’s not a straightforward question: it varies from person to person, income to income, and even band to band. Some First Nations are self-governing or have tax agreements with the Government — to see if this applies to you, contact your First Nations Government. Now, different types of income are taxed differently, and it depends primarily on where and how that income is gained.


    If you own personal property situated on a reserve, that property is exempt from tax under section 87 of the Indian Act — contact your local band office to see if a tract of land is a reserve for purposes of that exemption. If the band is unsure, you can contact Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for more info.

    Here are some interesting facts about this exemption:
    •A tax exemption for Indian property situated on reserves has existed since before Confederation.
    •The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that this exemption is linked to the protection of reserve land and property.
    •The Court has concluded that the purpose of the exemption is to make sure tax does not erode the use of Indian property on reserves.
    •The Court has indicated that this tax exemption is not intended to remedy the economically disadvantaged position of Aboriginal people in Canada or bring economic benefits to them

    Employment Income

    Employment income is exempt from tax under paragraph 81(1(a) of the Income Tax Act and section 87 of the Indian Act only if the income is situated on the reserve. Income that is exempt is not included on a personal tax return. If you receive child and family benefits based on family income, it is possible to maximize your benefit entitlements by reporting your exempt income — consult a tax expert for more information on this. [BOX 71]

    There are a number of factors that determine when employment income is exempt or not. In general, more than 90% of the employment duties must occur on a reserve for the wages to be exempt and, notably, the employee does not necessarily need to live on a reserve in order to claim it; conversely, living on a reserve does not necessarily guarantee the income will be tax exempt.

    If less than 90% of the work done is done off-reserve, then the income is pro-rated to determine tax exemption (that said, if someone works 90% on-reserve, 100% of their income is tax exempt), but this has mitigating factors.

    This can be complicated when an employer lives is on a reserve, when the employee lives on a reserve but works off-reserve (but does 50% of their work on-reserve), and when the employee is working for an Indian Band / Council that has a reserve, or when the duties of employment are done for the benefits of Indians who live on reserves. The CRA has a full guide

    Further to these Supreme Court decisions, Indian property not situated on a reserve will be subject to tax just like property held by other Canadians.

    So, I am not sure that most Canadians actually know how much our tax system does for them in exemption. Just pointing this out as most people don’t even know this is how it goes :)

    • It’s no secret our entire tax system is a mess…..a crazy quilt of old laws and new laws, and quick fixes, and patches everywhere…..why blame FN for 148 years of bandaids?

      • And yet, the long form income tax return (Quebec has two) is what keeps the government of the day in business. They have information no one else has, and they are definitely using it.

  7. My question on the First Nations housing is why are those houses falling apart? Are they not kept up?

    I believe there are a lot of issues with aboriginal people that are government related, but there are also issues that are self induced. They all need to be discussed.

    • Some are definitely not kept up, but if one drives further back into “bushwhacking” area [ what we and they call it themselves ] and not their house on the side of the road, the mansions exist. I am not saying this is ALL FN’s but I can say that they do make good money, better than most living in Poverty who are working 2-3 jobs off the reserves trying to survive. My point is if they will not come to the table, refuse all options at the table, what are we suppose to do when working families off the reserve are paying the taxes and they reap the rewards. This all needs to be dealt with! My clients told me they were offered 1 million dollar settlements per person and they didn’t think that was enough. How many years do the rest of us have to work to make 1 million?

      • Yeah….thousands of mansions and Rolls……any proof of that or just your bar stories?

        • Is it a bar story that Theo Fluery was paid enough cash to play hockey for a northern Alberta hockey team?

  8. Pikangikum is tired of being used as an example of Canada’s failure

    Dear Mr Gilmore,

    While I agree with your article First Nations question should be on the agenda, I note that you say “Every time I see a politician in the suburbs, reassuring the long-suffering homeowners that he knows they’re hurting, I want to grab him by the scruff of his neck, drag him out to Pikangikum in northern Ontario, which has the highest suicide rate in the world, drop him on the unpaved main street, and yell, “Focus!” I believe that neither you nor your suburban politicians have been to Pikangikum in a very long time, if ever.

    Your statistics on suicide date back to 2011 and while there are many who still live in appalling conditions, Pikangikum is a proud and resourceful community. Check out the new dock built over the summer where the youth and community members came together to create something to benefit all. Perhaps you have missed the colorful new play structures throughout the community, also built by local hands and now covered in busy active children. Do you know about the new school or the Whitefeather initiative, and Project Journey?

    There are too many negative stories published about the situation in Pikangikum. Yes, the roads are not paved, yes, there is an extreme housing shortage and, yes, many houses do not have running water and sewage.

    What people are missing however, are the positive stories in Pikangikum! Pikangikum First Nation should not be used as the negative example anymore! There are amazing things happening here! I am not originally from Pikangikum, but have had the incredible opportunity to live and work in the community, to meet wonderful people and see some tremendous things happening. The young people are out doing exciting things! Just like any other community in Southern Ontario there are young people going to university with amazing goals and dreams to better their community.

    It is time that good news is shared about Pikangikum. We are tired of the stock photos that keep circulating about Pikangikum. It is time to celebrate the amazing things that are happening in this great community!

    Please, Mr Gilmore, next time you wish to use Pikangikum as an example of all that is wrong, show a little of what is being done that is right. I think that might go a long way.

  9. $12 billion a year given to the bands proves that money is not the problem.
    Leadership and motivation separates the successful bands and the ones that are not so successful.
    I look at Chief Theresa Spence flying to Winnipeg on a private plane, drives a new SUV and has her lane way paved while the rest of her band lives in poverty.
    Leadership and responsibility seem to be lacking in many bands…they not the rest of Canadians should look in a mirror rather than blame the rest of the country.

  10. Excellent article. I have worked on a few reserves during my career. We have employed many individuals from those locations, to great success, enriching their lives as well as mine. Even my modest farm existence was so far removed from their reality that I could not understand the how and why of things for the first year or two.
    I challenge anyone who has not done so to go out and meet some people living on reserves and come back without wanting our society to do something better.

    • Colby Cosh hasn’t written several articles on the different reserves across the country including the effects of residential schools on how reserves are doing now. It seems some provinces did not have residential schools and that not all residential schools were bad or unwanted by FN. For the most part, My Cosh has found that reserves in the prairies (Canadian West) are by far in the worst shape. Yet many of these reserves are in the richest provinces and the reserves have oil money. He questions why social conditions have not changed on these reserves. Why aren’t Alberta universities full of FN students. The University of Alberta saves seats in programs for FN students. Many of the reserves are flush in money but still have so many social issues…..why?

  11. There a whole other issue that, so far, receives very little attention as this election campaign progresses, that is the issue of Canada’s national sovereignty. We are steadily losing our sovereign right to govern ourselves, our capacity to actually act on the many issues of great importance require close examination before we vote this October 19th:
    •Issues around the environment and sustainability hold great importance but, if an international corporation can sue Canada in secret trial by tribunal, outside of our justice system and without recourse to appeal, to overthrow Canadian government actions in response to these environmental issues, efforts by any level of Canadian government will be futile;
    •Issues around the economy and employment hold great importance but, if an international corporation can sue Canada in secret tribunal, outside of our justice system and without recourse to appeal, to overthrow Canadian government actions in response to labour, health and safety, business practice, etc. issues, efforts by any level of Canadian government will be futile.

    Thus, the fundamental issue to address during this election has to be that of Canada’s sovereign right to govern ourselves as a free and independent nation, “The true north strong and free.”

    The first question every voter should ask of every candidate for election to Parliament from each riding across our much loved nation should be, “Are you Committed to Canada’s sovereignty as a free and independent nation?”

    •If an incumbent candidate who supports the current government answers, “Yes,” then the only possible follow-up question must be, “If you are committed to our sovereignty, why do you support a government that suborned Canada’s national sovereignty and continues to suborn?”
    -This so-called loyal Conservative government negotiated in secret, then signed and eventually ratified the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA) which goes far beyond simply providing for freer trade but, in effect, diminishes Canada to a resource colony of the Communist dictatorship in Beijing for the next thirty-one years. With the inclusion of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision, Chinese firms (which are merely arms of the Chinese Communist dictatorship) with investments in Canadian business now have the right to sue Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal governments in secret trials under tribunals outside of our justice system if new environmental, labour, health and safety, business practice, etc. law impinges on their investment. That is to say, Canada now has to clear such new laws, regulations, and court judgements with Beijing in order to bring them into effect.
    -Similarly, this government participates in Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) secret negotiations and has signed other so-called free trade agreements, all of which include provisions for ISDS by which international corporations can sue sovereign nations in secret trials under tribunals outside of any national judiciary to overturn new law enacted out of a nation’s sovereign right to govern itself (fortunately pre-existing law as at signing an ISDS containing agreement cannot get attacked, but participating nations will have to clear such new laws, regulations, and court judgements with corporate head offices if they hope to remain safe from attack). This provision raises international corporations from the subjects of nations to, in effect, non-territorial kingdoms equal with or superior to no-longer sovereign nations while reducing nations to resource and labour colonies of those multinational corporations.
    -For these actions Prime Minister Harper and those of his ministers involved in these negotiations should be called to answer to the charge of treason.

    •If a non-incumbent candidate who supports the current government answers, “Yes,” then the only possible follow-up question must be, “If you are committed to our sovereignty, are you aware that the current government suborned Canada’s national sovereignty and continues to suborn?”

    •If a candidate who does not support the current government answers, “Yes,” then a possible follow-up question would be, “If you are committed to our sovereignty, what are your thoughts on so-called free trade treaties Canada has already signed which include the sovereignty destroying ISDS provision and where do you stand with regard to Canada’s participation in the secret negotiations toward CITA, TPP, TTIP, and TiSA?”

    -Instead of ISDS, Canadian operations of international corporations that find themselves at issue with our governments at whatever level should bring the matter to an open and public Canadian court within the Canadian judicial system for decision under Canadian law in the same way as Canadian corporations and Canadian citizens must do.
    -If an issue exceeds the competence of Canadian courts, an international corporation should be required to publicly request its home nation government to pursue the matter in an open and public international court on a sovereign nation versus sovereign nation basis that clearly holds international corporations as subjects of sovereign nations and not equals with sovereign nations.