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In-House Tax Havens Would Confound Ottawa


Free marketeers and critics of government native affairs policy may smile at the notion of tax-free havens within Canada on native reservations. Mohawk leaders are serious about it, and the government is not smiling. The column contends - satirically - that by encouraging First Nations to make banking their new economy and turn their territories into tax havens for besieged taxpayers, we will achieve some well deserved pecuniary parity and leave the feds in disarray.

Originally published in the Calgary Herald. Republished with the permission of the author.


Ilana Mercer

 Author Notes

Freelance columnist located in Vancouver, British Columbia. Ms. Mercer can be contacted via e-mail regarding publication of her columns.

 Essay - 12/3/1999

There is a way to get past the divisive policies our elected leaders foist on us. It is a way to: make up for being saddled with the cost of billions of dollars worth of treaties; ameliorate the price of bloated state bureaucracies; compensate for the wild spending of our tax dollars on more programs such as national day care; dull the pain of the tax robbery that yielded the federal multimillion dollar budget surplus; sweeten the bitter pill of bracket creep; numb the reality of the 73-per-cent projected hike in CPP taxes. The answer to both questions of national unity and fiscal woes, I suggest, may very well lie in tax havens - on native land.

The idea is delicious; poetically just, if you will. But it requires that Canadians challenge their notion of what it means to be Canadian. Let me explain: It has been said that Canada is the quintessential postmodern state. Those who appreciate Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson terms "the experiment that is Canada" probably enjoy the deconstruction this potage creates. If you hate tradition, history, religion, scholarship and duty; if you like moral relativism and think John Raulston Saul (rather than Allen Bloom) is a thinker, then Canada is your place. But if you have grown weary from the destruction brought on by the politics of privilege and petulance, then my little scheme, which essentially advocates you ditch all that for some laissez faire capitalism, should capture your imagination. At the very least, it should make you smile.

No need to call me callous for recommending we abandon the quest for lofty ideals like unity, equality before the law and other noble credo, and settle for keeping our hard-earned cash. This is nothing to scoff at. There is something to be said for the soothing effects of pecuniary parity. By encouraging First Nations, on the brink of separating from Canada, to make banking their new economy, and turn their territories into tax havens for the besieged taxpayer, we will leave in disarray the federal Grits and the localized buffoonery of provinces such as British Columbia. Gasping for air, they will be. And what could be sweeter, pray tell? Where there once was resentment towards First Nations for their mercenary pursuit of land, cash and special status, there shall be good will.

The Kahnawake Mohawks in Quebec have already begun to investigate how far they can push the envelope of self-government. Like Barbados, the Channel Islands or Switzerland, the band has been looking to turn its territory into an offshore tax haven, complete with bank, securities exchange, a separate regulatory authority, secretive accounts and low taxes. When it got a whiff of this, the Federal government understandably became apoplectic. It is one thing to expand the definition of aboriginal rights to an obscene extent. It's quite another to have to deal with the reality of autonomous chieftains intent on exercising self-determination. So the feds scrambled to invoke the Indian Act, the one they had previously denounced as parochial. So long as the Act is in effect it prohibits the extension of the tax-free status of natives on reserves to non-natives.

But not for long. As sure as Canada continues to trade on an identity the essence of which is non-Americanism, non-patriotism, non-free enterprise, non-competitiveness, and non-productivity - so too will the Indian Act be replaced. So too will the Supreme Court continue to exercise its autocratic casuistry by further expanding the definition of native rights. But an identity by default is no cause for puffery. Better that we be known as the Happy Nation of In-house Tax Havens.

Contingent on the acquisition of the accoutrements of modern technology, and the commitment to make banking and financial services part of its economy, the native reserve as tax haven can aim to offer us the option of reducing taxes on income, on capital gains and on estates. The ability to safeguard assets, to avoid being taken to the cleaners by a warring ex, or - naughty, naughty - to turn a tidy profit on an "active business", may become a reality. Can there be anything sweeter than the image of our congenitally stupid leaders puzzling over the reductio ad absurdum of their own policies?

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