B.C. municipal representatives were in Ottawa Tuesday to hammer home their concerns over a draft federal policy that they fear may let new aboriginal reserves spring up in the midst of local cities.
The revised additions-to-reserve policy under consideration by the federal government would allow First Nations to propose creating new reserve land outside their traditional territories – a major change.
Representatives from the Union of B.C. Municipalities and Metro Vancouver told the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs they support the addition of new reserves that are adjacent to existing ones, but not land that’s non-contiguous or outside traditional territories.
Metro reps have before warned that the outcome could be satellite reserves – possibly established by faraway bands – that could be developed in contravention of local zoning and confound municipal planning.
“We raised that issue,” Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said, adding he’s hopeful federal officials may yet make changes to the draft policy before finalizing it.
Daykin noted land within a municipality that is converted to reserve status would no longer pay local property taxes or utility fees.
“If it becomes commercial or industrial, the municipality loses the ability to collect property tax on a high-valued piece of property,” he said.
The House of Commons committee asked Daykin if he supported First Nations ownership of fee simple land in his city, and he said absolutely.
Daykin noted the Kwantlen band obtained an old gravel pit from the province that it’s developing into housing, but noted it is subject to all municipal regulations and will pay taxes because it remains fee simple property.
“That’s fine and I hope they make a bunch of money.”
Other issues include utility servicing – if polluting effluent from reserve property is improperly dumped into the local sewer system, the municipality or the region have no recourse.
The B.C. delegation underscored that they want to see clearer rules for consulting cities and ultimately deciding whether a proposed reserve addition proceeds.
With Daykin was Prince George Coun. Murry Krause on behalf of UBCM and two senior administrators from Metro and UBCM.
Daykin said he believes the trip to physically speak to the committee was “well worth the effort” as its members appeared to take the B.C. concerns seriously.
The additions-to-reserve issue has been divisive at the Metro board.
Some mayors have raised the spectre of First Nations buying up and converting strategic land – possibly in downtown Vancouver – where businesses may then operate under looser rules and pay less in tax.
Concern has also been raised that additions-to-reserve could be used to develop farmland now locked in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Vancouver councillors have repeatedly said such fears are overblown and undermine efforts to establish productive relations with First Nations.