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Fraser Institute

Yes, B.C.’s Land Act changes give First Nations veto over use of Crown Land

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7 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

By Bruce Pardy

Nathan Cullen says there’s no veto. Cullen, British Columbia’s Minister of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship, plans to give First Nations joint decision-making authority over Crown land. His NDP government recently opened consultations on its proposal to amend the B.C. Land Act, under which the minister grants leases, licences, permits, rights-of-way and land sales. The amendments will give legal effect to agreements with Indigenous governing bodies. Those agreements will share decision-making power “through joint or consent models” with some or all of B.C.’s more than 200 First Nations.

Yes, First Nations will have a veto.

Cullen denies it. “There is no veto in these amendments,” he told the Nanaimo News Bulletin last week. He accused critics of fearmongering and misinformation. “My worry is that for some of the political actors here on the right, this is an element of dog-whistle politics.”

But Cullen has a problem. Any activity that requires your consent is an activity over which you have a veto. If a contract requires approval of both parties before something can happen, “no” by one means “no” for both. The same is true in other areas of law such as sexual conduct, which requires consent. If you withhold your consent, you have vetoed the activity. “Joint decision-making,” “consent,” and “veto” come out to the same thing.

Land use decisions are subject to the same logic. The B.C. government will give First Nations joint decision-making power, when and where agreements are entered into. Its own consultation materials say so. This issue has blown up in the media, and the government has hastily amended its consultation webpage to soothe discontent (“The proposed amendments to the Land Act will not lead to broad, sweeping, or automatic changes (or) provide a ‘veto.’”) Nothing to see here folks. But its documentation continues to describe “shared decision-making through joint or consent models.”

These proposals should not surprise anyone. In 2019, the B.C. legislature passed Bill 41, the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA). It requires the government to take “all measures necessary” to make the laws of British Columbia consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

UNDRIP is a declaration of the U.N. General Assembly passed in 2007. It says that Indigenous people have “the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired… to own, use, develop and control.”

On its own, UNDRIP is non-binding and unenforceable. But DRIPA seeks to incorporate UNDRIP into B.C. law, obligating the government to achieve its aspirations. Mere consultation with First Nations, which Section 35 of the Constitution requires, won’t cut it under UNDRIP. Under Section 7 of DRIPA, agreements to be made with indigenous groups are to establish joint decision-making or to require consent of the Indigenous group. Either Cullen creates a First Nations veto or falls short of the goalposts in DRIPA. He is talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Some commentators warned against these dangers long ago. For example, shortly after DRIPA was passed in 2019, Vancouver lawyer Robin Junger wrote in the Vancouver Sun, “It will likely be impossible for government to live up to the expectations that Indigenous groups will now reasonably hold, without fundamentally affecting the rights and interests of third parties.” Unfortunately, few wanted to tackle that thorny question head on at the time. All three political parties in B.C. voted in favour of DRIPA, which passed unanimously.

For a taste of how Land Act changes could work, ask some B.C. residents who have private docks. In Pender Harbour, for instance, the shishalh Nation and the province have jointly developed a “Dock Management Plan” to try and impose various new and onerous rules on private property owners (including red “no go” zones and rules that will make many existing docks and boat houses non-compliant). Property owners with long-standing docks in full legal compliance will have no right to negotiate, to be consulted, or to be grandfathered. Land Act amendments may hardwire this plan into B.C. law.

Yet Cullen insists that no veto will exist since aggrieved parties can apply to a court for judicial review. “[An agreement] holds both parties—B.C. and whichever nation we enter into an agreement (with)—to the same standard of judicial review, administrative fairness, all the things that courts protect when someone is going through an application or a tendering process,” he told Business in Vancouver.

This is nonsense on stilts. By that standard, no government official has final authority under any statute. All statutory decisions are potentially subject to judicial review, including decisions of Cullen himself as the minister responsible for the Land Act. He doesn’t have a veto? Of course he does. Moreover, courts on judicial review generally defer to statutory decision-makers. And they don’t change decisions but merely send them back to be made again. The argument that First Nations won’t have a veto because their decisions can be challenged on judicial review is legal jibber jabber.

When the U.N. passed UNDRIP in 2007, people said they can’t be serious. When the B.C. legislature passed DRIPA in 2019, people said they can’t be serious. The B.C. government now proposes to give First Nations a veto over the use of Crown land. Don’t worry, they can’t be serious.

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Fraser Institute

Bill Maher is right about Canadian health care

Published on

From the Fraser Institute

By Mackenzie Moir

Recently, popular American comedian and talk show host, Bill Maher, took aim at some of Canada’s public policy failings in one of his monologues. In entertaining fashion, Maher highlighted our high housing costs, unemployment rates and “vaunted” health-care system.

Indeed, citing work published by the Fraser Institute, he explained that after adjusting for age, Canada spends 13.3 per cent of our economy on health care (2020), the highest level of spending by a developed country with universal coverage that year. And that Canada has some of the poorest access to timely appointments with family doctors when compared to our peers.

Unfortunately, while that’s where his segment on health care ended, the bad news for the Canadian system doesn’t stop there.

On top of Canada continuing to be one of the most expensive universal health-care systems in the world, we get little in return when it comes to both available medical resources and wait times. For example, among high-income countries with universal health care, Canada has some of the lowest numbers of physicians, hospital beds, MRI machines and CT scanners.

And in Canada, only 38 per cent of patients report seeing a specialist within four weeks (compared to 69 per cent in the Netherlands) and only 62 per cent report receiving non-emergency surgery within four months (compared to 99 per cent in Germany).

Unfortunately, wait times in Canada aren’t simply long compared to other countries, they’re the longest they’ve ever been. Last year the median wait for a Canadian patient seeking non-emergency care reached 27.7 weeks—nearly three times longer than the 9.3 week-wait Canadians experienced three decades ago.

This raises the obvious question. How do other countries outperform Canada’s health-care system while also often spending less as a share of their economies? In short, their approach to universal health care, and in particular their relationship with the private sector, departs drastically from the approach here at home.

Australia, for example, partners with private hospitals to deliver the majority (58.6 per cent) of all non-emergency surgeries within its universal health-care system. Australia also spends less of its total economy (i.e. GDP) on health care but outperforms Canada on every measure of timely care.

Even with restrictions on the private sector, Canada has some limited experience that should encourage policymakers to embrace greater private-sector involvement. Saskatchewan, for example, contracted with private surgical clinics starting in 2010 to deliver publicly-funded services as part of a four-year initiative to reduce wait times, which were among the longest in the country. Between 2010 and 2014, wait times in the province fell from 26.5 weeks to 14.2 weeks. After the initiative ended, the province’s wait times began to grow.

More recently, Quebec, which has some of the shortest wait times for medical services in the country, contracts out one out of every six day-surgeries to private clinics within the publicly-funded health-care system.

Maher’s monologue, which was viewed by millions online, highlighted the key failings of Canada’s health-care system. If policymakers in Ottawa and the provinces want to fix Canadian health care, they must learn from other countries that deliver universal health-care at the same or even lower cost, often with better access and results for patients.

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Alberta

Alberta government should create flat 8% personal and business income tax rate in Alberta

Published on

From the Fraser Institute

By Tegan Hill

If the Smith government reversed the 2015 personal income tax rate increases and instituted a flat 8 per cent tax rate, it would help restore Alberta’s position as one of the lowest tax jurisdictions in North America

Over the past decade, Alberta has gone from one of the most competitive tax jurisdictions in North America to one of the least competitive. And while the Smith government has promised to create a new 8 per cent tax bracket on personal income below $60,000, it simply isn’t enough to restore Alberta’s tax competitiveness. Instead, the government should institute a flat 8 per cent personal and business income tax rate.

Back in 2014, Alberta had a single 10 per cent personal and business income tax rate. As a result, it had the lowest top combined (federal and provincial/state) personal income tax rate and business income tax rate in North America. This was a powerful advantage that made Alberta an attractive place to start a business, work and invest.

In 2015, however, the provincial NDP government replaced the single personal income tax rate of 10 percent with a five-bracket system including a top rate of 15 per cent, so today Alberta has the 10th-highest personal income tax rate in North America. The government also increased Alberta’s 10 per cent business income tax rate to 12 per cent (although in 2019 the Kenney government began reducing the rate to today’s 8 per cent).

If the Smith government reversed the 2015 personal income tax rate increases and instituted a flat 8 per cent tax rate, it would help restore Alberta’s position as one of the lowest tax jurisdictions in North America, all while saving Alberta taxpayers $1,573 (on average) annually.

And a truly integrated flat tax system would not only apply a uniform tax 8 per cent rate to all sources of income (including personal and business), it would eliminate tax credits, deductions and exemptions, which reduce the cost of investments in certain areas, increasing the relative cost of investment in others. As a result, resources may go to areas where they are not most productive, leading to a less efficient allocation of resources than if these tax incentives did not exist.

Put differently, tax incentives can artificially change the relative attractiveness of goods and services leading to sub-optimal allocation. A flat tax system would not only improve tax efficiency by reducing these tax-based economic distortions, it would also reduce administration costs (expenses incurred by governments due to tax collection and enforcement regulations) and compliance costs (expenses incurred by individuals and businesses to comply with tax regulations).

Finally, a flat tax system would also help avoid negative incentives that come with a progressive marginal tax system. Currently, Albertans are taxed at higher rates as their income increases, which can discourage additional work, savings and investment. A flat tax system would maintain “progressivity” as the proportion of taxes paid would still increase with income, but minimize the disincentive to work more and earn more (increasing savings and investment) because Albertans would face the same tax rate regardless of how their income increases. In sum, flat tax systems encourage stronger economic growth, higher tax revenues and a more robust economy.

To stimulate strong economic growth and leave more money in the pockets of Albertans, the Smith government should go beyond its current commitment to create a new tax bracket on income under $60,000 and institute a flat 8 per cent personal and business income tax rate.

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