Tag Archives: canada

Canada’s Shame

The treatment and conditions of living for Canadian Aboriginals has long been a source of embarrassment and discontent within a country that has been known for its human rights record.


Canada First Peoples


Canada has long been considered one of the best places to live on this planet due to the high standards of living, good quality education and health care, safe and secure society and an economy that is relatively strong compared to its developed peers. That is not to say Canada is without problems. The treatment and conditions of living for Canadian Aboriginals has long been a source of embarrassment and discontent within a country that has been known for its human rights record. From the residential school system of decades past to contemporary issues of teen suicide, housing, and water crises on native reserves it is clear that much more can and should be done in Canada.  These conditions are not only a black eye for Canadians within Canada but they have drawn international criticism from the United Nations and organizations like Amnesty International.

So the question becomes what can be done about it? There has long been an unspoken belief amongst Canadians and natives that if the First Nation peoples are simply left alone and are able to maintain their traditional cultures and beliefs it would result in a reconnection and reestablishment of their cultural pride and wellbeing that would allow them to overcome the socio-economic challenges that plague many reserves. The method to support this “solution” has for many years been to simply put more money towards a problem. Unfortunately this hasn’t solved the problems as issues of financial competence and accountability of some band leaders have resulted in millions of dollars disappearing whether through waste, inefficiencies, corruption or simply poor accounting. All of this has led to a situation where the status quo is far from ideal and the average Canadian blames all parties involved and they want some form of financial accountability from the native bands while an equitable solution is established.

There are two fundamental obstacles in my view preventing the rehabilitation of aboriginal communities. The first is simply geography. Canada is a massive country and some of the aboriginal communities that face the worst conditions are also some of the most remote. These remote northern communities suffer from a variety of additional challenges that are not faced by aboriginal lands further to the south. The isolation to these communities makes providing services to them very costly and difficult as some communities are only accessible by float plane or ice road. As a result, the cost of everyday goods are exorbitant ($38 Cranberry Juice, $28 Cheese Wiz)  as individuals face massive markup compared to their suggested shelf price found in southern communities. Although these prices do vary between communities, this isolation also results in difficulties attracting nurses, doctors, dentists, teachers, social workers and other role model citizens to provide basic services to the populace of these communities. Those who do decide to work in these communities often do so on short term contract basis for a year or two before moving on to a less demanding position in southern Canada. The resulting turnover means that there is little continuity for inhabitants of these northern aboriginal communities who require these services.

This isolation also breeds its own form of hopelessness. When individuals are raised in such small and isolated communities it creates a vision of the world that also seems equally small. As a result of no economic opportunities, few wholesome activities and a culture of dependency many youths turn to alcohol and substance abuse and these factors of course contribute to the aforementioned suicide issues. Although access to high speed internet has opened up connections to the outside world and allowed for a broadening of horizons and the voicing of issues for those who can/choose to leave the reserves for education, training and a chance at a better life they rarely return to their ancestral lands and as a result a brain drain of the most talented and skilled individuals, is occurring leaving those who are left with few skills and little hope in an ever shrinking community.

The only solution to this issue is of course a highly controversial relocation and resettlement program. With so many far-flung communities it is nearly impossible for the efficient allocation of resources, while economies of scale for local development and commerce see prices set at exorbitant levels. Now this resettlement doesn’t necessarily have to be to the South but just the merging of various far flung northern settlements to central locations where they can be more easily serviced from the South and infrastructure can be developed in a practical manor. Naturally this course of action will be opposed by many communities and portrayed as another attempt to destroy aboriginal culture and heritage but given the floundering conditions that exist in some communities this option is preferable to another day of living in third world conditions in a first world country.

The second issue emerges from a basic aspect of human nature: the idea that humans tend to maintain possessions that they own. When an individual owns something they are much more likely to properly maintain and take care of the possession.  Property on Canadian native reserves is held in commons and as a result, for the vast majority of these reserves, individual families do not own the house or the land that is built on. Aboriginal Canadian families are guaranteed housing under the Indian Act, with funding to build coming to the reserves from the federal government, but the property on these Canadian native reserves is held in commons. As a result, individual families do not own the houses they live in or the land those houses are built on. This lack of ownership is the root of many problems on Canadian reserves.

In many cases the housing issues that are faced on many remote reserves are a result of this lack of ownership. Houses are often poorly maintained with construction of new housing stopping and starting due to money and supply problems. According to Jonathan Kay, during a discussion for the Fraser Institute Student Seminar about aboriginal property issues, he stated that many of the new houses that are built on reserves already have mold problems before construction is complete and in some cases a house only lasts 10 years before requiring replacement.

Since the individual bands collect their money from the federal government and the lack of home ownership means no property taxes exist on the reserves it alters the dynamic of democratic responsibility and accountability of tribal leadership. Although elected by the members of the tribe, the band leadership can only effect change through their financial dependency on the federal government by garnering additional funds from Ottawa, and the most effective way to do this seems to be through highlighting the third world conditions on reserves, blocking road or rail lines in protest or staging hunger strikes. Since the tribal leadership is not financially tied to the members of the tribe this can result in poor accountability within the tribe, where your name and family relations can determine whether or not you receive new housing or not.

This lack of codified property rights compounds issues of economic development as numerous oil and mining companies have made millions if not billions of dollars in investment in and around reserve lands while offering job training, community development funds, and infrastructure, for example. Yet despite contracts being signed these companies find that they still face obstacles from a band or its members who become disgruntled and decide that they would want to squeeze a little more blood from the proverbial stone by blocking key (often only) roads to and from a project .

This lawlessness and disrespect for signed contracts ties back to the fact that these communities have no instilled rights of private property. In many cases these bands and individuals within them have not experienced the rights and responsibilities that come with property rights so it should come as little surprise that they then have little respect for contractual rights. As a result corporations are becoming hesitant in dealing with aboriginal groups thus limiting the ability for economic development to occur which of course feeds back into the cycles of isolation and poverty.

So what should be done? Well there is an unfortunate difference between what should be done and what is politically feasible to be done. What should be done of course is the implementation of private property rights across native reserves in Canada while simultaneously voluntarily relocating certain isolated communities to larger aboriginal population centers. This action would likely result in an aboriginal crisis the likes of which have not been since the Oka Crisis of 1990.

This past summer a more viable alternative was proposed by the federal government which would create a program under the Indian Act to allow tribes to opt out of the collective property management system and establish individual property rights on reserves. The hope would be that if a handful of pilot tribes found success and improving conditions on their reserve that other tribes would choose to opt-out themselves. The widespread adoption would not only be good for the aboriginal communities but Canada as whole.


Photo Credit:  BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives

Canada and the Arctic Council

The next two years will be defining for both Canada and the Arctic region. As the ice sheet continues to dissipate in the summer months, the pressure from multinational corporations and non-member governments to develop this vast, untapped wilderness will be immense.


canada flag


This coming May, Canada takes over the two year chairmanship of the Arctic Council. For those who are not familiar with this organization it is an intergovernmental body of Arctic nations (Canada, US, Russia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark representing its dependencies of Greenland and Faeroes) which pledges cooperation on issues of mutual concern. The organization emerged in 1996 as a part of the so called Ottawa Declaration and most recently in 2011, the Council trumpeted the signing of an agreement on mutual search and rescue responsibilities and capability in the arctic region.

For the duration of the chairmanship it is widely expected that the Canadian Government will push an agenda of economic development for arctic regions while encouraging greater involvement of indigenous aboriginal groups. The issue of grappling with the challenges of climate change has not been a priority for the Canadian government (both domestically and internationally) leading to environmental groups challenging its priorities in the face of the risk of ecological disaster in the arctic region due to both climate change and pollution. Most reports have found Canada’s readiness to handle a major ecological disaster in the arctic region to be surprisingly wanting, with one report citing that it would be likely to clean up 5% of oil spilled in the North Atlantic.

Beyond this broad agenda there is of course the touchy issue of territorial disputes that are ongoing across the Arctic region. Although it appears that bilateral negotiations and possible resolution under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) could see these issues sorted out. Canada has thus far failed to submit its claims and the December 2013 deadline is fast approaching. There have been reports that Canada plans on expanding its claims in the high Arctic as well as attempting to enforce the status of its Arctic Archipelago as an internal waterway. The effect of these overriding territorial issues on the ability of Canada to lead the Arctic Council is unknown but the fact remains that ongoing disputes with Russia, the United States and Denmark all have outstanding disputes with Canada that have yet to be resolved.

Canada’s perspective Chairwomen, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq (Canadian Minister of Health and Minister Northern Economic Development) not only faces challenges from within the organization but also outside groups attempting to gain a seat at the table. China, South Korea and the broader European Union have all made petitions for permanent observer status at the Arctic Council as a means to have their voice heard in the forthcoming rush for development in the far north. This expansion of the Arctic Council poses many challenges for Canada as the larger the institution becomes the less Canada’s voice will be valued. Being realistic, the organization is already geopolitically unbalanced with the United States and Russia being the “polar bears” in the room with their acceptance of agreement being nominally required for them to move forward. The adding of the European Union, China or others even in an observer role would further dilute the Council’s ability to reach consensus on vital issues.

The next two years will be defining for both Canada and the Arctic region, as the ice sheet continues to dissipate in the summer months the pressure from multinational corporations and non-member governments to develop this vast untapped wilderness will be immense. The Canadian government seems poised to pursue an agenda of economic development while thumbing its nose at its neighbours by claiming vast stretches of seabed. All the while, environmentalists worry about an ecological apocalypse in the region and circumpolar aboriginal groups call for greater representation and decision making power.


The Financial Crisis & Canada’s Fiscal Cliff

During the financial crisis not one Canadian bank failed, the housing market didn’t collapse, and the unemployment rate topped out at levels much lower than many other countries. So, what is the problem?


canada flag


In the final days of November, Canada’s national federal debt crossed a dubious mark, for the first time ever it cross the $600 billion mark. Compared to some other nations, $600 billion of federal debt is a laugh as is the debt to GDP ratio that hovers around approximately 33%. No country made it through the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed unscathed, but it can definitely be argued that some countries made it through better than others. Canada was one of those countries.

The Canadian Prime Minister has hyped the Canadian economy as a bastion of stability. This news of recent poaching of the Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney by the Bank of England has been touted as another example of Canadians showing the world how to get their finances in order. During the crisis not one Canadian bank failed, the housing market didn’t collapse, and the unemployment rate topped out at levels much lower than many other countries. So, what is the problem?

First, some history. In the early 1990s Canada’s economy was in trouble. Efforts in the late 1980s to control inflation resulted in a deep recession in 1990-91, while a looming debt crisis from over two decades of deficit spending resulted in debt levels that were comparable to some of the modern European examples. Meanwhile the Canadian business community had been slow to respond to the liberalizing and freeing world economy that resulted in them being internationally uncompetitive. All added up, this left them with an economically struggling nation.

The answer to these issues was austerity with deep federal government budget cuts along with a liberalizing of Canadian markets as well as the addition of financial regulations. It was the legacy of this action that resulted in a decade of federal surplus leading up to 2008 and a financial system that could weather the financial storm that wracked the world economy. It was the legacy of these measures that laid the foundation for a potential crisis.

Today, Canada faces a pair of challenges, the first of which comes from its provinces. Although Canada’s federal debt is only about $600 billion, the provinces together hold approximately $500 billion in debt themselves giving the nation as a whole a total national debt of approximately $1.1 trillion.

As Andrew Coyne, a national political commentator pointed out this past fall, Canada has a monetary union without a fiscal one. Canadian provinces unlike US states or members of the EU have no mandatory constraints on their debt levels (note the three territories do have budgetary debt limits due to the fact that they are funded directly by the Federal government).

Currently, every province but two (Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador) are running deficits; surprisingly this list does include oil rich Alberta. Canada’s two largest provinces (Ontario and Quebec) both have per capita debt levels exceeding those of the federal government. Each of these indebted provinces can use federal transfers as a form of annual bailout to help maintain credit ratings and spending priorities while putting off tough austerity measures that are needed in some cases. Most projections for when most of the provinces will reach balanced budgets are not until 2016 assuming current estimates are accurate.

The second challenge comes from the people of Canada whose personal debt to income ratios, reached 163% in the second quarter of 2012. What this means is that the average Canadian is carrying $1.63 of debt for every dollar of disposable income they have. This debt has been part of the reason why Canada didn’t suffer as badly during the recession; Canadians just kept buying. At the peak of the housing crisis in the US, their consumer debt was approximately 170% and as a result you can see the concern.

Although the federal government has already taken action by tightening mortgage rules by requiring larger down payments and higher minimum monthly payments on government insured mortgages, the fear is that when interest rates begin to climb (and the Bank of Canada has warned they could as soon as late 2013) many financially burdened Canadians will struggle to make ends meet in the face of higher monthly payments.

Of course this debt burden and the threat of higher interest rates may have a ripple effect across the economy. As consumers spend less, the risk of bankruptcies and foreclosures increases and the danger of a US-style housing crash coming to Canada truly becomes real. This all feeds back into government tax revenue and spending policy and the question of when they will get their books in order.

Canada isn’t about to go bankrupt, nor do we face the debt challenges of the United States or some of the nations of the EU. What Canada and Canadians do face is a fork in the road which can lead us to a return to the legacy of the 1990s, where fiscal responsibility became ingrained in society, or we can continue down our current path towards a fiscal cliff of our own.


Photo credit: Cindy Andrie

Il dominio dell’Artide e le conseguenze per la sicurezza globale

Il controllo dell’Artide è stato per lungo tempo oggetto di un dibattito intenso e di dispute tra Canada, Danimarca, Norvegia, Russia e Stati Uniti. Il risultato della controversia potrebbe avere un impatto significativo sulla sicurezza globale. 



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]l dominio sull’Artide è stato per lungo tempo al centro di un acceso dibattito e di varie dispute tra Canada, Danimarca, Norvegia, Russia e Stati Uniti. Ciascuno di questi Paesi rivendica la sovranità di parte dell’Artide. Secondo la Convenzione delle Nazioni Unite sul diritto del mare (UNCLOS), uno stato interessato dispone di dieci anni di tempo per rivendicare la sovranità su zone della piattaforma continentale. Tale periodo inizia con la ratifica della Convenzione da parte dei soggetti coinvolti. Ad oggi, il suddetto lasso temporale è stato già superato da Norvegia e Russia, mentre Canada e Danimarca si stanno avvicinando alla scadenza (prevista, rispettivamente, nel 2013 e 2014). Dal canto loro, gli Stati Uniti rivendicano la sovranità di alcune parti dell’Artico per via della vicinanza con il territorio dell’Alaska, sebbene non abbiano ancora ratificato la Convenzione.

Ci sono state dispute per la sovranità di alcune zone particolari dell’Artico. Le aree contese comprendono il Passaggio a nord-ovest, il Mare di Beaufort, l’isola Hans e il Polo Nord. Per il Canada il Passaggio a nord-ovest fa parte delle sue acque interne, il che gli conferisce la possibilità di applicarvi le leggi nazionali in materia di pesca e ambiente e imporvi tasse e restrizioni doganali. Al contrario, gli altri Paesi, Stati Uniti in testa, considerano il Passaggio a nord-ovest appartenente alle acque internazionali. Se quest’ultima interpretazione fosse unanimemente condivisa qualsiasi imbarcazione avrebbe la facoltà di esercitare il proprio diritto di passaggio, limitando in tal modo l’autorità canadese sull’area.

Il Mare di Beaufort si estende dalle coste dello Yukon (in Canada) a quelle dell’Alaska (negli Stati Uniti). Il Canada sostiene che la sovranità debba essere riconosciuta in base all’estensione dei confini territoriali, mentre gli Stati Uniti non appoggiano tale tesi. Questi ultimi, infatti, hanno autonomamente stipulato contratti di affitto per alcuni di quei territori sui quali il Canada rivendica la sovranità per le estrazioni petrolifere. La disputa non è ancora stata risolta, ma si presume che si debba attendere il giudizio di un tribunale internazionale non appena gli Stati Uniti ratificheranno la Convenzione UNCLOS.

Attualmente la Danimarca e il Canada hanno intavolato negoziati per la spartizione dell’isola Hans. Benché piccola e disabitata, l’isola ha attratto l’attenzione di entrambi i governi. Se la mappa elaborata nel 1967 per la determinazione della sovranità sull’isola la localizzava all’interno delle acque canadesi, le più recenti immagini satellitari hanno rivelato che, invece, il confine tra i due stati si trova proprio al centro dell’isola stessa. Nel 1984, 1988, 1995 e 2003 il governo danese ha issato la propria bandiera sull’isola di Hans. Per tutta risposta nel 2005, durante un viaggio in territorio artico, il ministro della Difesa canadese attraccò sull’isola, provocando ulteriori attriti tra i due governi.

In realtà, le più acute controversie riguardano il Polo Nord. La sovranità sul Polo Nord è stata rivendicata da diversi Paesi, anche se non è stato ancora stabilito a quale piattaforma appartenga ufficialmente. Infatti, dopo che nel 2007 un sottomarino russo issò la propria bandiera sui fondali del Polo Nord, seguirono numerose critiche internazionali. Il ministro degli Affari Esteri canadese Peter MacKay stigmatizzò tale atto dimostrativo, poiché implicava l’inequivocabile rivendicazione della sovranità di Mosca sulla regione. L’immediata replica del corrispettivo russo, Sergey Lavrov, puntò a minimizzare l’accaduto come mero atto celebrativo, paragonandolo al gesto americano sul satellite lunare. Ciò nonostante, il ministro delle Risorse Naturali, nonché collega di Lavrov, ha di recente sostenuto l’appartenenza del Polo Nord alla piattaforma sub-continentale russa: pertanto, il suo Paese rivendica di fatto il diritto a disporre delle vaste risorse naturali presenti nel territorio polare.

Le conseguenze delle dispute per la sovranità sull’Artico potrebbero avere un impatto significativo sulla sicurezza globale. Stando a quanto sostiene il Gruppo Intergovernativo di Esperti sul Cambiamento Climatico, l’industria marittima potrebbe iniziare a utilizzare l’Artico come rotta marina principale, man mano che la calotta glaciale continuerà a sciogliersi. Questo implicherà un maggiore sforzo per la protezione delle frontiere, oltre alla possibilità di tassare le imbarcazioni. Si crede, inoltre, che l’Artico sia una vasta riserva di gas naturale e petrolio. Considerando le scadenze imminenti della Convenzione ONU e gli alti incentivi economici, l’ipotesi di un conflitto appare sempre più veritiera.


 Articolo tradotto da: Valentina Mecca

Articolo originale: The Security Implications of Arctic Sovereignty

Photo Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

The Security Implications of Arctic Sovereignty

Arctic sovereignty has long been the subject of intense debate and dispute between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States. The outcome of the battle for it could have a significant impact on global security.


Arctic Sovereignty


Arctic sovereignty has long been the subject of intense debate and dispute between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.  Each country claims ownership of part of the Arctic.  In accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) countries have ten years to make claims for sovereignty over extended shelf areas.  The ten year period begins when each country ratifies the UNCLOS.  The deadlines for Norway and Russia have already passed while those of Canada and Denmark are approaching quickly (2013 and 2014 respectively.)  While the United States claims sovereignty over parts of the arctic due to its northern territory of Alaska it has yet to ratify UNCLOS.

There have already been disputes for sovereignty over particular areas of the Arctic.  Disputed areas include the Northwest Passage, the Beaufort Sea, Hans Island and the North Pole.  Canada considers the Northwest Passage to be internal waters which entitles Canada to the right to enact fishing and environmental laws, to enforce taxation and import restrictions.  The United States and others consider the Northwest Passage international waters.  This would entitle ships to a right of passage and limit Canadian authority over the area.

The Beaufort Sea covers the boundary between the Yukon (in Canada) and Alaska (in the United States.)  Canada maintains that sovereignty should be distributed based on extensions of the land border while the United States disagrees.  The United States has leased land under the sea that Canada considers to be its own to search for oil.  The issue has yet to be resolved but would probably be settled by a tribunal if the United States ratifies UNCLOS.

Denmark and Canada are currently negotiating the division of Hans Island.  The island is small and uninhabited but has received significant attention from both governments.  The maps originally used in 1967 to determine ownership of the island showed the island to be in Canadian waters but recent satellite imagery has revealed that the boundary between the countries falls directly in the middle of the island.  In 1984, 1988, 1995 and 2003 the Danish government planted flags on the island.  In 2005 the Canadian defence minister stopped on the island during a trip to the Arctic which resulted in another dispute between the governments.

Perhaps the most intense dispute in the Arctic has been and will be over the North Pole.  The North Pole has been claimed by many countries but it is yet to be determined which shelf it is attached to.  In 2007 a Russian submarine planted a Russian flag at the seabed of the North Pole and sparked a major international controversy.  Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay criticized the Russians for planting the flag as though it entitled them to sovereignty over the North Pole.  Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov responded that it was merely a celebration of national accomplishment akin to putting the American flag on the moon.  Despite this Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry claims that results from samples taken on the expedition indicate that the North Pole is an extension of Russia’s continental shelf and that Russia is entitled to the vast natural resources that it may hold.

The outcome of the battle for Arctic sovereignty could have a significant impact on global security.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the shipping industry could begin to use the Arctic as a major shipping route as the ice cap continues to melt.  This has consequences for border protection and the rights to charge levees on shipments.  Beyond that the Arctic is believed to have vast reserves of natural gas and oil.  With the impending deadlines and high economic incentives to gain sovereignty there is little doubt that conflict will arise.


Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey