Mr. André Pratte
Editor in Chief
7 rue Saint-Jacques
Montréal, Québec H2Y 1K9
The article by André Dubuc in La Presse on Thursday, April 26, 2012, entitled “Contribution Santé : Les Cris ne veullent pas payer” sends the message that the Crees are refusing to pay their fair share of the cost of health services while receiving large government transfers and enjoying personal income well above the provincial average. This message creates a distorted picture, and must be corrected.
As for the health contribution, as Revenue Québec itself points out, the Crees are subject to the contribution like other Québeckers if their family income exceeds the threshold of exemption. However, in response to representations by the Crees and other First Nations, Revenue Québec has clarified its position by holding that the tax-exempt income of First Nations persons will be excluded from family income for the purposes of calculating the threshold of exemption for the health contribution.
Contrary to the message implicit in the article, the Crees are not seeking any extraordinary or unusual benefit. They seek only the application of the statutory tax exemption which exists, not only for the Crees, but for all First Nations peoples in Québec and Canada. This exemption has existed for many years and is set forth, in the case of the Crees, in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement treaty of 1975 as well as in the laws and administrative policies of Québec and Canada.
The concluding paragraphs of the article return to the theme of government transfers to the Crees to argue that the Crees have a disposable personal income 16% higher than the Québec average. This creates an entirely misleading picture. The transfers include those to Cree governments and health and education institutions. For the most part, they are not paid to individuals. Yet Statistics Québec includes these transfers in the calculation of Cree personal income, citing Statistics Canada methodology.
We have strongly objected to Statistics Québec that this methodology is unfair and misleading. To our knowledge, inter?governmental transfers elsewhere in Canada are not included in the personal income of non?Aboriginal persons. In response, Statistics Québec has advised us that Statistics Canada is seriously considering withdrawing transfers to Aboriginal institutions from inclusion in the personal income of Aboriginal persons. Such a revision is long overdue. The current methodology grossly inflates the personal income of Aboriginal persons, and contributes to the public perception of Aboriginal peoples “getting more than their fair share”.
Employment income provides a more telling comparison. According to Statistics Québec, in 2009, the average employment income of the Jamésiens was $28,183, almost twice that of the Crees at $14,831. Yet the public is seldom made aware of this fact.
In conclusion, we find it unfortunate that this article perpetuates the negative stereotype of the Crees as taking much and giving back nothing to Québec. It would be interesting for your readers to know that, in signing the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement in 1975 and the Paix des Braves in 2002, the Crees have made possible the development of the natural resources of Eeyou Istchee (James Bay), creating tremendous wealth for the benefit of all Québeckers. We are at your disposal should you wish to learn more of Cree efforts to build partnerships with Québec and our neighbours in Eeyou Istchee to contribute to our common prosperity.
Executive Director, Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)