First Urban Treaty up for Approval

By Staff Writers

Negotiators for the Tsawwassen First Nation, the federal and provincial governments, have signed off on a tentative agreement for British Columbia’s first urban treaty.

“Negotiators have reached a preliminary agreement and now we’re waiting for approval by the various parties,” said Chief Kim Baird.

The deal, reached in late August, will now go before the First Nation’s electorate for final approval as well as the provincial and federal cabinets for ratification likely sometime in the fall.

The new urban treaty gives the 348-member Tsawwassen some $60 million in cash along with a sizable chunk of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and one percent of the annual Fraser River salmon fishery. Once the final treaty is signed, the Tsawwassen will also receive $1 million to help the First Nation increase its commercial fishery capacity. The agreement also provides for a one-time payment of up to $1million for a Tsawwassen First Nations Fishery Fund.

Under the treaty terms, the Tsawwassen will own a total of 717 hectares of prime real estate -over double of its current size of 290 hectares. Of those lands, 365 hectares will come from the land reserve, with an additional 62 hectares of land outside of the First Nations’ jurisdiction known as “Other Tsawwassen Lands” under the terms of the treaty.

The first five chapters of the treaty dealing with wildlife, migratory birds, forestry resources and parks governance were released to the public in June, while negotiators worked on the more sensitive issues of land allocation and fisheries in the latter summer months.

Chief Baird wants those valuable coastal farmlands rezoned to industrial lands to build container storage sites and other supporting facilities as part of the expansion of the superport at the Roberts Bank terminal. Those lands were expropriated by the province in the late 1960′s as part of a port expansion that never took place.

The option to make an application to the Agricultural Land Commission by the Tsawwassen band council to have those lands released from the ALR is said to be one of the key points in making the final deal.

Policy planner Gary Hall of the Land Commission said the provincial government also has the option under the Agricultural Land Commission legislation to declare the approval of the rezoning of those lands in the “provincial interest” or simply pass an order-in-council to that effect.

Newly appointed Aboriginal Affairs minister Mike de Jong would only say that questions around the application would be answered only when the final text of the treaty is released to the public.

The agreement would also see the phasing out of tax breaks for the Tsawwassen residents who currently don’t have to pay income, tax, land tax or GST or PST – a precedent established in the Nisga’a treaty.

“I’m happy with the progress we’ve made, but it’s not a deal yet,” said Chief Baird. “I hope that we find out as soon as possible that the federal and provincial governments are in support of it.”