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Using money to bring fairness to Indigenous groups

Ridley Terminal money is an opportunity for the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla to invest in things that will lead to greater returns.

If there are any special Canadian values, fairness is surely one of them.

We want and expect our laws and courts to be fair.

Our economy, too, should give everyone an opportunity to do well. The resulting income streams should not excessively reward the rich nor should our taxes penalize the poor.

The United States, which dominates so much of our media, hasn’t been doing well on the economic fairness front. Ever-larger shares of wealth are going to a minute number of the extravagantly rich at the expense of the poor. Tax policies aren’t making things better.

In Canada, income distribution has been stable. Our system of taxes (mainly from the rich) and government transfer payments (mostly to the poor) means that those at the top aren’t taking ever-larger slices of the pie and those at the bottom appear to be doing better.

For the first time in this century and most of the last one, the 50 per cent of Canadians with below-average incomes are doing better in absolute and relative terms than their U.S. equivalents. Relative to our neighbour to the south, the results of our economic systems seem very fair.

But many Canadians would like to see a lot more fairness with respect to the well-being of First Nations. Indigenous peoples and communities fall well below other Canadians on many indicators related to income, health, education and other factors.

Most Canadians and their governments would like to improve this situation and reconciliation is often seen as the framework. It’s only fair.

Some steps have been taken to improve conditions in Indigenous communities and more measures are being put into place. A recent example occurred in British Columbia.

When the federal government, through the Canada Development Investment Corp. (CDEV), divested itself of the Ridley Island terminal facilities in the Prince Rupert area, private firms purchased 90 per cent, paying CDEV and through them, the Canadian taxpayers. CDEV then gave 10 per cent of the asset’s value or $38.9 million to the Lax Kw’alaams Band and the Metlakatla First Nation – two Indigenous groups in the Prince Rupert area.

No one is saying that these two groups don’t need support, especially since negotiated income streams from other developments failed to materialize when the projects didn’t go through.

However, to make best use of these significant taxpayer-provided resources and to ensure they aren’t forever dependent on such gifts, the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla and any other similar recipients need to define the monies received in a very specific way. They need to consider and treat the funds as capital and not as income.

Income is money we receive from wages or other sources like investments or pensions. It’s usually an ongoing stream and it’s ours to spend as we choose since next week or next month will bring more income.

If income is a stream over time, capital should be seen and used as a resource that will generate future streams of income. One shouldn’t treat capital as income. A farmer shouldn’t eat his seed corn and have nothing to plant the next year. A senior shouldn’t spend all his savings in the first year of retirement.

Instead, capital should be carefully invested to yield an ongoing income stream. The Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams governments can treat the funds received from their share of ownership of the terminals as capital by spending it only on things that will lead to future returns for their people and communities.

Investments can be made in carefully planned businesses that generate jobs and have clearly defined paths to profitability and earnings. Such businesses can be owned by the community or individuals within it.

Investment can be made in community infrastructure such as housing, medical services, water, roads, power and communication systems. These will attract businesses and people to the community and help retain them.

And investment must be made in people by providing the education, experience and skills training that will enable them to do well for themselves and their families and contribute to their community.

It’s investments like these that will ultimately result in fairness among all people in Canada, including First Nations.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.

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