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COVER STORY: Growing concern
Between the Lions Gate Bridge and Deep Cove there are 12 kilometres and 12 municipal boundaries where one government ends and another begins.
The order goes something like: West Vancouver, Squamish Nation, North Vancouver district, North Vancouver city, Squamish, city, district, Squamish, district, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a co-managed Cates Park, and district again at Deep Cove.
It’s easy not to notice when a line has been crossed; some of them cut right through shopping malls and apartment blocks. But when it comes to voting rights, taxation and representation, those lines could spell clear trouble for some residents.
Take for instance the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish nations in North and West Vancouver.
A report now circulating among Metro Vancouver municipalities from the Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee warns that a likely future influx of non-aboriginal people onto reserve lands, could destabilize the governments of ruling band councils and their service provider municipalities.
It’s a long-view scenario but one which the LMTAC board is asking Metro municipalities to prepare for. North Vancouver district council has read the report and will likely vote to receive it in the coming weeks. The timing couldn’t be better: the district is currently in negotiations with the Tsleil-Waututh council to hammer out a new service agreement to replace the old one that expired last December.
“In the previous agreement, I don’t think a lot of development — either commercial, industrial or even residential — was contemplated,” says David Stuart, the district’s chief administrative officer. “But now we really have to put our minds to it.”
Failing to do so, could leave thousands of North Shore residents in political limbo as the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations explore their recently won right to attract non-nation members to their lands with large condo and housing developments. It’s an issue that will eventually affect every North Shore taxpayer — on or off the reserve.
Alan Nixon is a North Vancouver district councillor and the LMTAC representative to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
“This LMTAC paper is trying to be proactive in stimulating discussion among municipalities that may be impacted more than others such as West Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver,” Nixon tells The Outlook. “We saw this piece of legislation come from the federal government which would allow First Nations to engage in commercial, industrial and large-scale residential development on their reserve lands. The Squamish First Nation was the first one in British Columbia to apply for a project under this legislation and the Squamish have been quite forthright in saying that they have plans for some pretty large-scale development.
“And not only in North Vancouver,” Nixon continues, “but certainly in Ambleside we’ve seen artists renderings and plans for very large-scale residential development which would have the potential to attract a lot of non-members to reside on reserve land.”
For now, both the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations say they won’t comment directly on any future development plans or new service agreements with the municipalities until it’s all finalized. But under current First Nations agreements, non-member reserve dwellers pay taxes to the band — a portion of which, about 75 per cent on average, goes back to the North Shore municipalities — but those non-members can’t vote in band council elections or bylaw referenda. They can, however, vote in district or city municipal elections — as can band members — but aside from providing services like police, fire, water and sanitation, the municipal governments of North and West Van have no legislative or bylaw authority on First Nations lands. The result is that all those who live on the reserve and vote in district or city elections have no real responsibility to those governments they help elect.
It’s not a major issue yet, as the on-reserve housing boom is still in the planning stages, but it will be once the people come.
Across the country in places like Manitoba for instance, this problem has mobilized the federal government to exclude First Nations reserves from municipal elections, which has the unintended effect of formalizing these as islands of non-representation for any non-members who live there.
The Westbank First Nation, formerly of West Kelowna, was recently excluded from that municipality and several thousand non-members are left without much say in their local government. According to Coun. Nixon, Alberta is now exploring similar legislation.
At at least one of Nixon’s district council colleagues thinks it’s an option that could work in North Vancouver.
“The short-term fix around the voting issue might be to simply remove the band lands formally from the municipalities,” says Coun. Roger Bassam. “Then there’s no issue around who has a jurisdictional residency to participate in the elections and referendums.”
In other places in the province too, First Nations governments are working with municipalities to wrestle with the problem of providing fair and financially solvent government under a two-tiered system of taxation and representation.
“In Pemberton’s SLRD [Squamish-Lillooet Regional District], you have a population of 3,800 in the electoral area who vote on all sorts of issues,” Nixon says. “Three thousand of those people are First Nations — they don’t pay any fees or taxes at this time to the electoral area and yet they have the voting majority.”
More than just a problem for non-band members and municipal governments, it’s a problem for band members and their councils too, says LMTAC.
“The fact that all of the 80 First Nations across Canada (54 of them in British Columbia) that have assumed taxing powers have exempted their own members from these taxes further compounds the situation,” LMTAC wrote in a 2003 paper subtitled Considering Rights of Representation for Non-Member Residents in First Nation Jurisdictions. “In addition to the issue of taxation without representation [for non-members], the choice to exempt band members invokes representation without taxation. These conditions combine to reduce the accountability of First Nations governments both to their taxpayers and to their non-members.”
From the district’s perspective, Coun. Bassam says the municipality simply can’t afford to keep the terms of the old service agreement with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, especially since the growth of the band’s new Raven Woods housing development in the Deep Cove-Seymour area. “Because they’ve built up the Raven Woods and they have these people living there and we’re providing them with water, sewers and basic services, that obviously increases dramatically as you build out these condos and put all these people there,” Bassam says. “We have to fix that relationship. We simply can’t afford to keep providing services for 75 cents on the dollar. We can’t do it. Right now we’re at the point of telling our residents, ‘We’re increasing your taxes or we’re cutting your services.’ So how can we then justify subsidizing somebody else — some other government?”
And with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation now in the final stages of pursuing treaty status on the Raven Woods land, Nixon worries that with only 400 Tsleil-Waututh band members at Raven Woods compared with 1,200 non-member residents, the balance of voters versus taxpayers could become too skewed for either the band or district governments to sustain in good faith or good finance.
“This is one of the big issues that faced Tsawwassen [when they attained treaty status in 2009] because they have a big non-member population too on First Nations land now,” says Nixon. “They have no vote so those non-members have effectively been disenfranchised now through the creation of the Tsawwassen First Nation and there is good concern about it.”
Similarly, in the City of North Vancouver and West Vancouver where the Squamish Nation has reserve lands, the picture is the same. Recent development proposals have included high-rise waterfront housing in Ambleside for as many as 12,000 new residents, as well as new residential developments around the Lions Gate Bridge, the Capilano River and Park Royal Shopping Centre.
A New Deal?
Like North Vancouver district, West Vancouver and North Vancouver city have agreements with the Squamish Nation to pay back about 75 per cent of the municipalities’ costs for services used by the reserves. But both North Vancouver city mayor Darrell Mussatto and West Vancouver chief administrative officer Brent Leigh say the terms of those agreements will likely have to change when major residential developments are pursued.
“Proportional representation is a key issue that needs to be understood here,” Leigh says. “If some time in the next decade there’s going to be new development under the new legislation and should those [newcomers] want to have the right to influence the direction on those lands, there will have to be some kind of new governance mechanism to answer that.”
Luckily, the issue is still in the pre-problem phase for the North Shore, but some possible solutions are already being floated by B.C. municipalities and First Nations governments. At the extremes, those solutions involve the outright privatization of band lands, making them “members only” communities, or the abandonment of the reserve system altogether — with neither option seeming likely nor desirable.
There is perhaps a “third way,” as suggested by LMTAC but not yet endorsed by any Metro municipality or First Nation: a division between band government and public government on First Nations land.
“If the aboriginal rights of self-government extend only to matters of inherently aboriginal content, such as culture, education and public services that require special aboriginal adaptations such as child welfare,” LMTAC suggests, “then one can achieve aboriginal self-government and shared public government with no compromise to the rights of non-aboriginal residents.”
While carving up further the already split-hair territorial governments of the North Shore may seem like an unnecessary compounding of the current divides, it may eventually prove necessary to accommodate everyone; from the First Nations, the municipalities and all those who are coming to the North Shore but aren’t here yet.