Saturday, March 29, 2008

nmjn It seems that negotioniations of native land clains are Not going as well as our conservative government wants to pretend. Here is a news report from the Harper Index on this matter....

Apparent progess in first months of new tribunal has to do with which claims were processed, not now.

March 28, 2008:
This week the Globe and Mail reported that the Harper Conservative government has settled a remarkable 50 land claims, apparently validating its stated plan to speed up land claims resolution. corresponded by email with the native affairs analyst (who has requested anonymity), that it contacted last June (see below), about the government's claim it would speed up land claims. When asked how this week's news contrasted with his opinion last June, that the new process would result in little meaninful progress on land claims settlements, the analyst replied:
"The key sentence in the story: 'You want to do the low-hanging fruit first, that's for sure,' he [Prentice] said. 'I certainly gave no instruction that way, but it wouldn't surprise me.'
This approach has certain validity, but not without serious problems: 1) those who have been waiting for years and years had to wait still longer while the bureaucrats spent their time on the 'low-hanging fruit'; 2) the biggest reason while the fruit was 'low-hanging' was because the amounts were small, meaning the aggregate value of waiting claims was not reduced; 3) 50 claims out of 800 or so is still just 6% of the waiting claims and while the low-hanging fruit was being harvested, more than 60 new claims were filed.

It's sort of like being in the hospital and not being treated because the doctors are busy working on 'low-hanging fruit', and as a result, these patients' care being cheaper, saving on costs.
Key question to ask: total value of claims settled."

Here is the original article:
OTTAWA, June 13, 2007 — Yesterday, Stephen Harper announced a process, he says, will speed up Aboriginal land claims in order to clear up the 800-claim backlog and relieve native tensions. The changes give Harper a good-news story but, experts say, they will do little to achieve the stated goals.

A law professor, expert in native law issues, asks why Harper, not native affairs minister Jim Prentice, made the announcement, "given he's stayed far away from Aboriginal issues in the past." Bradford Morse of Ottawa University says Harper moved quickly because, "This government is looking to have positive things to announce, and this is a sector where it has been vulnerable." Like the Chinese head tax issue, which Harper took over from heritage minister Bev Oda, yesterday's announcement has important political audiences, such as voters Harper hopes will see him as a moderate. He is also reaching out to the transportation industry, which feels threatened by the possibility of summer blockades. Government-invited industry representatives attended the Parliament Hill announcement.

A veteran native affairs analyst (who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions from the government as a source of contract work) says many aspects of the announcement create problems and raise suspicions. For one thing, although the tribunal will be "independent", the government alone will pick the judges. Harper and cabinet "still have a unilateral approach to things."

The analyst points out that the tribunal, with just six judges, will be unable to deal rapidly with the backlog. "They're expected to deal with a backlog of 800 claims; you figure it out."
"The real problem," says the analyst, "is what has to happen before it gets to the tribunal," which is only going to be set up to deal with cases where negotiations have, in the government's view, failed. "As long as the government can say "let's continue to negotiate," cases will not be heard. You don't get a free ticket to the tribunal just because you have a claim," said the source.
Furthermore, the number of cases that can be dealt with is limited by the annual budget of $250 million. This includes the costs of the process, which could bring the actual claim fund down to $200 million yearly. "The commission will be set up so it can only have before it [that amount] worth of claims. You're really creating another block to the tribunal, in that it can only consider at one point in time on its docket $200 million worth of claims. If today they settle two $50 million claims and one $100 million claim, then only three more claims can come across in the following year," — with 800 waiting.

The source questioned, as well, the notion that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) would actually draft the bill with the government, saying this work is always done by legal experts and that citizens are never involved in the drafting of legislation. The source says "It's about 99 percent certain Cabinet has already set out drafting instructions," and in any case, "legislation is not necessary to accomplish what the government set out to do today." The promised bill is more for political purposes and reasons of delay, according to the analyst.

Why, then, did the AFN's Phil Fontaine offer such strong support to the move after making dire warnings of native impatience a few weeks ago? "It could be lack of analysis," says the source. "It could be he will feel differently about it the day after tomorrow, or in September." It could also be that Fontaine is being squeezed by the government. "They're not giving him money; he's a nobody to them. In the standing committee [on native affairs] today, all but one of the Conservative members left the hearing when he spoke. All the opposition members stayed. It's the way this government has treated him."

If land claims are sped up, it would appear to indicate a break with the positions of Harper's longtime mentor Tom Flanagan, a University of Calgary professor who has written in opposition to, and been used as an expert witness against, land claims.

Harper Index ( is a project of the Golden Lake Institute and the online publication

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