Metro Vancouver is backing a call to redraw municipal boundaries to exclude Indian reserves, a move that would block both aboriginal and non-aboriginal reserve residents from voting or running in future civic elections.
The regional district board endorsed that recommendation Oct. 28 and raised concerns about representation and taxation on reserve lands as First Nations aim to build more housing for non-native residents.
Local cities have no jurisdiction or taxing authority on reserves, said Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew, adding it’s therefore wrong to continue the “representation without taxation” allowed under the current system.
“There’s a jurisdictional void here that has all kinds of implications,” he said. “We need to ensure full cost recovery and protect the interests of local government taxpayers.”
Tens of thousands of non-aboriginal residents are expected to move into housing developments that will be built on First Nations land in the years ahead, particularly on the North Shore.
The building boom will be lucrative for native bands that are poised to convert their prime real estate into a steady flow of rental income.
But the trend raises issues of fairness.
Non-native reserve residents pay taxes to the First Nation and some of that money flows to neighbouring cities to pay for services, but Drew said the full costs aren’t covered.
And those reserve residents pay no property tax to TransLink or Metro Vancouver – effectively getting a free ride on the broader costs of regional transit and utility services, both of which are rising steadily.
Nor do they contribute to the education system through school property tax.
Such inequities were considered minor when relatively few non-First Nation residents lived on reserves. But with their numbers projected to swell to as much as 30,000 on the North Shore alone, some say it’s time for a rethink.
The issue was the subject of a report to Metro from the Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee (LMTAC), which recommended excluding reserves.
One concern is the voting influence non-natives on reserve could wield in the neighbouring municipality even though they’re not taxed directly. ”As that population grows they could be very influential in the outcome of elections and referenda,” Bowen Island Coun. Peter Frinton said.
The 7.5 per cent of West Vancouver voters who live on reserve is projected to climb to as much as 30 per cent of the electorate within 25 years, the LMTAC report said.
It warned on-reserve residents could, in theory, grow to hold the majority of votes for a city council even though they pay no taxes to the city.
Meanwhile, band members are exempt from the taxes their bands levy on non-aboriginal residents, creating yet another case of representation without taxation.
Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob appeared before the Metro board to try to allay fears and urge more dialogue.
“The reports and the comments made about our people are one-sided,” he said.
Harold Calla, an administrator and negotiator with the Squamish Nation, told directors he believes service agreements can be fair and address local cities’ concerns.
“We do not expect the non-aboriginal taxpayer to subsidize those on reserve,” he said.
Calla said it would be “unfortunate and regressive” to deny reserve residents the civic vote.
Unlike band members, non-aboriginals on reserve cannot vote for or be elected to the band councils that govern non-treaty First Nations land, so the proposal would leave them without any local vote.
Negotiated treaties would solve many of the issues arising from the population growth of reserves that remain federally regulated but with amended rules that have opened up more scope for on-reserve development.
The Squamish, however, won’t sign a treaty under the terms currently on offer, Jacob said. Nor is there any sign of other treaties imminent in the Lower Mainland, where just one has been signed by the Tsawwassen.
Several cities in Metro Vancouver are renegotiating service agreements with local First Nations.
While existing agreements typically cover critical services like water, sewer, fire and policing, they often contain no contributions to softer services reserve residents may use, such as recreation centres and libraries.
Concerns about reserve votes are not an issue in most other provinces, which exclude reserves from local cities.
The Tsaswwassen First Nation ceased to be part of Delta when their treaty was signed, but the TFN gained a seat at the Metro board.
There are 22 Indian reserves within Metro Vancouver and there are at least two each in Vancouver, North Vancouver District, Langley Township and Maple Ridge.
North Shore Outlook
Thousands of extra housing units are expected to be built on the North Shore in the years ahead.