Column: Eliminate reserve system in Canada

"When it comes to what needs fixing, every problem in this country pales beside our signature disgrace: the state of Canada's native reserves. The worst are bastions of truly Third World-style poverty and decrepitude, infectious disease and stomach-churning social pathologies.

In strictly numerical terms, the problem is not large. There are about 400,000 natives living on reserves -- just 1.3% of the Canadian population. It would be a simple thing to cap this wellspring of misery if we had the right policies in place. But that's the problem:We don't.

Every time the native file makes the news, the proposed solutions are the same: more money and more self-government. Each year the federal government spends over $8-billion on reserve-resident natives, or $80,000 per reserve-resident household (a statistic I never get tired of quoting, because it puts to rest the idea that natives are somehow being nickel-and-dimed under the current system). We have handed over all sorts of powers to native bands, even creating a new extra-constitutional order of government in the process.

None of this has worked, and the reason is simple: Our policy of propping up reserves with massive government subsidies flies in the face of three well-observed empirical truths learned the hard way in societies around the world. - The modern global economy is driven by cities, which serve as hubs for high-value knowledge industries, skilled workers and transportation networks. Rural economies have been dying since the Second World War. No government would pay white Canadians to confine themselves to the jobless outback, hundreds of miles from the country's universities and job centres (unless, perhaps, they lived in Atlantic Canada, a subject for a separate "Fixing Canada" column). Yet that is exactly what we do with our native population. - One of the great lessons of the 20th century was that collective land ownership is a recipe for economic disaster. Behind the Iron Curtain, agricultural productivity exploded once people were given the right to own their own parcels of land outright, and sell the proceeds for profit. As Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has definitively shown, denying land title to slum dwellers is one of the main impediments to prosperity in poor societies."

Get the Story:
Jonathan Kay: Off the reservation (The National Post 10/23)