Land Title Act Offers Economic Opportunities For First Nations

By Cam Martin

A recent amendment passed in December that may change the way we look at land development on reservations. It’s called the First Nations Certainty of Land Title Act, and it would unify provincial property regulations on federally administered reserve lands. It changes some of the details of the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act in an effort to minimize the regulatory gap between reserve and non-reserve land. This “regulatory gap” is an absence of adequate laws for First Nations people including regulations, monitoring, and enforcement systems to govern activity on reserve land. Numerous reports have identified regulatory gaps as one of the key obstacles to Aboriginal economic development. Without legislation to level the playing field, First Nations people may find themselves continually marginalized.

The bill has an immediate affect for the Squamish band trying to establish several highrise residential towers. “This is an important first step to allow us to use our land to the highest and best use to support ourselves,” Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob said. The legislation normalizes the value of reservation land and non-reservation land, allowing equal economic opportunity, something that First Nations have been striving to attain for centuries. Jason Calla, a Squamish band member and real estate consultant, notes, “[The Squamish want] to give investors the same comfort, the same transaction procedures, the same certainty you get from the [provincial land registry].”

The legislation will provide money and jobs for any reservation that takes advantage of it. For example, the Squamish estimate that the residential development could draw $472 million in investment and more than 6,000 jobs. Further speculation about the second phase of development, which includes expansion to residential highrises, estimates its value at $7 billion in investment and more than 15,000 jobs. That’s an unprecedented benefit for the Squamish people. Chief Jacob said, “Our ancestors talked about [how] we’ve got to prepare for the future. Well, the future’s today for our nation. We have 3,600 people, and that’ll double in the next 20 years to 25 years, so we have no choice but to start looking at developing and creating a Squamish Nation economy.”

Premier Gordon Campbell supports the bill and believes that cooperation between parties will ensure that the legislation is workable. “There are always going to be negotiations back and forth, but we want to see First Nations and non-First Nations work together,” Campbell said. “I think the way to close economic gaps, education gaps, and social gaps is to form these partnerships.”

Though the legislation has passed, the Squamish are still looking to the provincial government to regulate details such as strata-property regulations and applying levies to property transfer taxes on the selected projects. But soon, the First Nations will have their Property Transfer Tax, and there will be an equal opportunity that favours neither side, creating an economic balance.