I'm joined here by officials who will be pleased to help the committee and me answer any questions.
It's a delight to be here today, Mr. Chairman and committee members, and I want to thank the committee members from all parties for their support for this landmark legislation.
The fact that committee members of all political stripes recognize and endorse the merits of this act speaks volumes about our shared commitment to complete the unfinished business of settling treaties with First Nations in British Columbia.
This same spirit of reconciliation characterizes the negotiations over the past 14 years. Some confusion seems to exist as to whether or not the broader public has been consulted on this legislation. In fact, I'm happy to report there were more than 70 public consultations and 28 information sessions conducted as we worked our way toward this settlement. This process has enabled everyone to have the opportunity to make their voice heard. The agreement has received widespread support among local governments, the business community, the media, and citizens.
This success underscores that comprehensive treaties are possible when all parties work together in good faith. The final agreement reinforces that reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians is best achieved through negotiation rather than through litigation and conflict, and this is the only way we can hope to establish a new relationship based on mutual recognition, respect, and trust.
Mr. Chair, despite the strong support for this legislation, there are lingering misconceptions about it, which I would like to correct today. These misconceptions do a disservice to the Tsawwassen First Nation and the governments of Canada and British Columbia, all of whom negotiated in good faith to achieve this settlement, and to all Canadians committed to justice and reconciliation with first nations.
For instance, it should be clarified that under this agreement the rights of non-members who live on leased land on the reserve will be protected. The final agreement includes numerous provisions that ensure that the rights and interests of non-member residents are protected. Non-members who live on treaty lands will be consulted on decisions that affect their interests. They will also have the same right of appeal and review procedures as first nation members. The result is that non-members living on treaty lands will have considerably more influence in Tsawwassen governments than they have had in the past. Similarly, the rights of Tsawwassen members living off-reserve are fully protected under this bill. They have the same democratic rights and the means to exercise their individual rights as resident members.
Not only are these assurances enshrined in the legislation, they are guaranteed under the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, both of which apply to the Tsawwassen First Nation government in all matters.
Likewise, there have been misleading interpretations of the tax provisions of this bill. For the record, the legislation will only provide the Tsawwassen government with tax authority over Tsawwassen members living on treaty lands. It is true that leaseholders will continue to pay property taxes to the first nation, but that is already the case now, and most of these people have done so for years. However, other tax matters covered in the legislation will not in any way affect the rights of non-members or their access to public services and benefits.
Mr. Chair, while it is important to set the record straight, it's critical that we not lose sight of the countless benefits of reaching a fair and final settlement with the Tsawwassen First Nation. As you and your members have examined this bill closely, you are aware of the very real and meaningful improvements it will make in the lives of the Tsawwassen people and their neighbours in the surrounding areas.
The greatest advantage of Bill is the certainty it achieves related to Tsawwassen authorities, land and natural resources. Outstanding questions about the place of the Tsawwassen First Nation within the province are settled once and for all.
With this certainty come solutions to long-standing problems that have prevented the first nation from building a sustainable economy, creating jobs, and enhancing living standards for its members. Once it is finally free of the antiquated Indian Act, the Tsawwassen government will be able to put the settlement funds to work by investing strategically in social and economic development projects that create opportunity and increase self-sufficiency.
As Chief Kim Baird has said of the treaty, “It gives us the tools to build a healthy community and the opportunity to participate fully in the Canadian economy.” I can think of no one more capable of seizing this potential than Chief Baird. She is a remarkable young woman of vision and talent. It's no surprise that her name was on the Caldwell Partners 2007 list of the top 40 achievers under 40 in Canada for her many impressive accomplishments.
Ultimately, the Tsawwassen treaty is fair to all Canadians, as it has carefully considered and balanced the interests of all parties with a stake in this settlement. Take the example of the fishery. The agreement ensures that the first nation will have access to fish for food, social, and ceremonial purposes. But this provision is subject to conservation, public health, and public safety considerations. It's a balancing act.
The treaty provides for the integration of Tsawwassen First Nation into the metro Vancouver regional district. Tsawwassen will participate in regional planning and decision-making, and will contribute financially to regional district operations. Tsawwassen land use decisions will be bound by the same obligations that apply to other local governments.
The final agreement contains provisions related to overlapping claims by other first nations. The treaty contains specific provisions to safeguard the rights of other first nations, and this has led to widespread support among them for the Tsawwassen final agreement.
This historic settlement is truly cause for celebration. It represents an important step in restoring the proud heritage of the Tsawwassen people. Just as crucial, it's a giant step forward in aboriginal and non-aboriginal relations. This is the first urban treaty south of 60 in Canada--something that would have been inconceivable even a decade ago.
It wasn't always easy. But at the end of the day, all sides demonstrated a genuine desire to put the past behind them and discuss a broad range of issues of mutual concern in an open, cooperative fashion in order to achieve a better future.
As much as the provisions contained in this bill bring the promise of opportunity and prosperity to the first nation, the Tsawwassen final agreement is testament to the renewed respect and spirit of reconciliation on the part of the Tsawwassen people, British Columbians, and all Canadians, as we discover new and productive ways to live in harmony together.
This is an extraordinary accomplishment that deserves the full backing of all parliamentarians. I hope that I will be able to continue to count on your support as we move this groundbreaking legislation forward.
We're learning more and more about consultation and the need to do it first in first nations circles. But with these sorts of complex agreements there's a need to do a lot of consultation with the general community in an urban setting. In this case, over the past six years when this became quite intense, negotiators participated in some 70 third-party consultation meetings, where people were brought in to discuss the impact it might have on them. There were some 28 public information events, where people could come in to publicly ask their questions, get information, and so on.
There were meetings with the neighbouring town of Delta and the Lower Mainland regional governments to make sure they were aware of the interest of the Tsawwassen First Nation to be part of the regional government system. I've also given quite a number of briefings to MPs and others who were interested in knowing some of these details. Because it's so detailed, our negotiator has made himself available to members of Parliament and others, as requested, to describe the details and the consultation process to try to demystify some of this.
The Tsawwassen First Nation, of course, has done yeoman's service in explaining what this means, not only to themselves, but in terms of their relationship with the greater community and people who are non-members resident on their lands. They already have a lot of people living on their lands now, and there'll be more in the future. They have done excellent work in explaining that when the treaty is implemented, those people will have more influence in the future on issues of importance to them as residents who are non-members. They'll have positions on boards, and of course it's guaranteed that they'll be treated the same as everybody else on those treaty lands. They'll have the ability to take part in those discussions in a meaningful way.
The consultation to date is indicative of the consultation that will take place going forward. It's an example of what's possible in an extremely complex area. If you've been there--and you probably have if you've gone to the ferry--you've seen the port, the ferries, the roads, the neighbouring communities, and the fishing in an urban setting. To get it all negotiated meant that consultation was a buzzword and a key word throughout this entire process.
Good afternoon, honoured members of Parliament.
My name is Kim Baird, and I am the Chief of Tsawwassen. I have been the elected chief for about nine years now.
With me is councillor Laura Cassidy. A majority of my treaty team is in the audience—my posse, if you will.
I'm thrilled to be here today. It's been a very long journey and the last legs of it are excruciating, as we await the ratification of our treaty. It's been an extraordinary journey for me, my team, my council, and my whole community.
Ours is the first treaty, as discussed earlier, to be ratified through the B.C.treaty process. This makes it significant in many ways. In my presentation I'll speak to some reasons why I think it's significant before I move into the pre-implementation activities that we are now engaged in.
First, I think it's important for others to see how a modern treaty in an urban area will work. It is only through the hands-on experience of community-building provided by this treaty that people will be able to appreciate its potential.
This treaty provides for certainty in a key strategic area from a public policy perspective. In some ways, we are the keepers of the Pacific gateway, if you will. And as a result of this treaty, as well as a good relationship with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, we will now benefit from living in the middle of a transportation hub, instead of being an opponent to the nation's transportation infrastructure needs. This is good news indeed. It is certainty for everyone.
The treaty also brings real-world reconciliation. Undefined Tsawwassen aboriginal rights and title are defined and agreed to under this treaty. This represents a major paradigm shift for my community—a shift from dependency to autonomy, and a shift from being held back by a negative history and the Indian Act to taking charge of our future and destiny.
Another area of significance is the potential for sustainability for my community. Much of this comes through economic opportunities. This treaty provides for an increased land base, and although it's modest in size, it provides great opportunities. Ultimately I think the most important thing this treaty will provide is self-governance: we will be able, once and for all, to extricate ourselves from the Indian Act, to get this oppressive legislation off our backs.
But we will do so in a way that we can handle, which is based on our needs and, most importantly, our decisions over our own lives and the future of our community, a community that has existed for thousands of years and plans on thriving, thanks to this treaty.
I am saddened that many people don't believe in my community. Even a few of our own members expressed doubt publicly. I am convinced this is the residue of a colonial legacy, what I have heard described as an Indian Act hangover, a hangover that includes the residential school experience and its generational impacts. Tragic beyond any definition, it is nevertheless offset by the fact that a strong majority of my community believes in our ability to look after ourselves. This hope and belief overshadows the critics and naysayers who are trying to stop us from succeeding, for I believe in my heart of hearts that this treaty is the foundation for success.
We are confident that in 15 years or so we will no longer need transfers from Indian Affairs because we will be economically self-sufficient. This is an amazing prospect, something we couldn't dream of achieving while we were tethered to the Indian Act. And this economic independence will allow us to pursue our sustainability goals with respect to our culture, the environment, and our social fabric. It will allow us to provide culturally appropriate services to our membership. It will allow us to tackle poor housing and more. It will allow us to rebuild our culture. It will contribute to our wellness. It will contribute to the educational aspirations of our youth.
We have worked hard to reach an agreement. Do we think it's perfect? No, far from it. It took every dollar, fish, comma, and period contained within it for our treaty team and council to be able to recommend it to our community.
And I am so proud of the courage of my community in embracing our future. We were under so much pressure because, through no fault of ours, we became the first in the B.C. treaty process. We were page-one news for weeks on end. Many of my peers were less than supportive of our treaty and our community's decision. Some, because of many issues both related and unrelated to our treaty, protested during my entrance to the B.C. Legislature last fall when I had the honour of addressing it in relation to our treaty.
In some ways, I think it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. Cutting trail on these matters is not easy, but that is no reason for progress to stop. We can't afford to prevent progress.
Don't get me wrong: I don't want to gloss over the challenges we have faced and continue to face. We acknowledge that there are many hurdles still to come. Shared territories or overlaps, for example, come from within our first nations community, and are a critical area that we are still actively trying to resolve.
Currently we are working on pre-implementation activities to breathe life into this treaty. Our workload ahead is daunting. People are amazed when I tell them that we have less than a year to replace the Indian Act in our community. We are working actively on over 30 projects that we aim to complete by the effective date. We consider them absolutely necessary if we are to succeed from day one onwards as a self-governing first nation.
As a brief aside, I should say that the support from Indian and Northern Affairs has been tremendous so far. So we're very optimistic that we can reach the targets of this work plan.
But I'll describe these projects in a little more detail. First, there are the tripartite activities necessary to meet the obligations under the treaty. Surveying lands and looking at the replacement interests to register them with the provincial land title office is a huge amount of work that the three parties are sharing. This will ensure that our lands are put into a Torrens system, a system that guarantees title to the parcels.
Second, our participation in Metro Vancouver is important. We are the first first nation member in the history of regional governance in Vancouver, and our work is ongoing. Water and sewer servicing, membership obligations and the like are now being discussed. These discussions are time-consuming, but critical, if we are to benefit from and contribute to the growth of the region.
Third is our internal development work under way. This includes our new land use plan, which is almost ready for community release. This plan was based on community consultations and has been an exciting process. It has been challenging for a very specific reason, though. This process is as important as treaty, if not more so, but we have to do it in a relatively short time period. This process unlocks the potential of our lands under treaty, and provides zoning designations and a community-approved plan. We can't generate any revenue without it, but we refuse to move forward unless the community decides together how they want the land to look. A public release of the land use plan and community vote is pending. The vote on the land use plan will be in July.
This leads to the economic development potential and planning that is unfolding. We're actively looking at economic development opportunities with world-class companies. I can see the excitement build in our members as they realize a more prosperous future is no longer just a dream. The climate for cooperation between our members on economic development is greater than I have ever seen, and the enthusiasm is contagious. I must stress that there is a strong focus not just on collective opportunities but on individual wealth creation as well. A sustainable future will be built on entrepreneurial spirit and independence. Our government will do as much as possible to support both forms of economic development.
Consider, as well, one final area of work, our legislative drafting project. We are in close consultation with our members, drafting legislation to ensure that our new governance structures are in place by the effective date. As a law-making first nation, our government won't be able to do anything if there isn't a law in place authorizing it. It's yet another daunting prospect; but now, as we start developing policy in various areas, such as land management, finance, and administration, we are taking control. Our dream of independence and self-reliance is becoming a reality.
We anticipate that 13 laws will be ready by the effective date. By consulting experienced advisers, looking at best practices, reflecting on our traditions, and seeking advice from our community members, we feel confident and excited at the prospect of looking at a more democratic system accountable to our constituents.
So you can appreciate our developmental work now under way. I've given you a sampling of what we are up to—and I thought negotiations were busy. We want to be as ready as possible to maximize every opportunity and benefit under the treaty. Our resources are valuable but limited, so we cannot afford to make major mistakes. We're making every effort to get our pre-implementation work done, and done well.
I really have to compliment my treaty staff, almost all of whom are here today. They have courageously transformed themselves from a world-class negotiating team to a world-class implementation team. This demonstrates the collective belief we have in this treaty. We are a small number, yes, but with the team, I know our future is in good hands indeed.
In closing, I have to say that this treaty is a good deal for Tsawwassen First Nation. My responsibility was to negotiate the best treaty I could for my community. I had to be pragmatic and accept things that weren't palatable, but the overall impact will transform my community.
We could not afford to wait for the perfect agreement. The world is changing, and we have to change as well. The poverty and inadequate governance structure of the Indian Act is not sustainable. I refuse to see another generation lost.
When I started to work for my community nearly 18 years ago, my goal was to advance the conditions for my community. It has become even more important and meaningful for me now that I have two daughters, aged 4 and 17 months. Ten more years at the negotiation table would not have served my community. It became clear that we needed to move away from negotiations and to roll up our sleeves to start rebuilding our community. None of this would have been possible without a treaty.
We recognize that the treaty is only a tool box. Hard work is still required, but at least it can be done with tools that can make a difference. We will have to work on poor education rates and underemployment and a gamut of poor socio-economic conditions. We have never fooled ourselves that a treaty would be utopia with a bow on it.
Be that as it may, I can't wait to see what the Tsawwassen First Nation will look like 10 years from now. The legacy we're building for my community and our future generations is so much better. It is with great pride, optimism, and determination that we face our destiny. We have already turned all our energy toward implementing the treaty, and for us there is no turning back.
I'd like to thank the committee for providing me with the honour of presenting to you today. I hope you have observed the enthusiasm and passion that my team and I feel about this treaty.
Rather than summarize the facts of the treaty, I hope to impart the opportunity and the on-the-ground transformation the treaty will provide to my community. Our future looks very bright--filled with hope and optimism.
On a not-so-serious note, maybe my children, who will be going to French school, will teach me French. But on a more serious note, the workload, with the 30 projects we're working on, is quite complex. I told you about the law-making, I told you about the land use planning, but details and issues come uncovered as you drill down into the projects we're working on.
For example, we have a number of what are called “CP holders” in the land use plan, individuals who own land on our reserve. They don't want to be left behind by the economic development opportunities, because the best lands are owned by the nation as a whole. We are getting a facilitator to try to guide discussions to see if there's any way we can work cooperatively so no one gets left behind. That's just one example.
The infrastructure, the physical infrastructure we need to bring to the reserve to be able to develop, is in the range of well over $50 million. So once we negotiate the legal parameters to be able to access services from Metro Vancouver, the regional governance district—that's one big hurdle we haven't been able to cross in 20 years.... At least now the treaty provides for that, so that access to a water source can't be withheld from us legally as it has been for 20 years now, or longer, I should say.
Those are just two examples of the real sorts of challenges we have ahead of us. The workload of implementing the treaty is tenfold compared to negotiating the treaty, but we are making very good progress on all the 30 projects we have listed right now.
We expect the effective day to be next spring, March if at all possible, so we aim to have all this completed before then. There are plenty of challenges. I can't wait for the bill to be passed so it doesn't distract my team from the real work that lies ahead.
Thank you, Chief Baird and Councillor Cassidy, for coming. This is a very important day in British Columbia. I know that many people have talked about the B.C. treaty process and the diligent work you and your community have done to bring this treaty to this place. It needs to be recognized, but it also is some hope, I think, for other communities that are involved in treaty negotiations that a community can move forward.
Monsieur Lemay was saying perhaps you could speak French at some point. When we come back, perhaps on a nation-to-nation basis, we could expect some of the committee members to speak Hul'qumi'num as well, which would be good progress. I have been learning some Hul'qumi'num.
I also want to say that earlier when the minister was here I talked about Penelakut, and I wanted to reiterate that in their letter they actually had talked about the fact that they had met with you, Chief Baird, and that the meeting was very positive and that you had jointly identified a number of issues to work on together. I just wanted on record that the Penelakut people themselves have said they've had a positive working relationship and it was really more a question to government about whether they were going to provide adequate money for other nations who have overlapping territories.
I know you've been working with Sencoten and Cowichan as well, and those people are saying very positive things about the spirit and intent of moving forward. So I think that's an important thing.
I wanted to ask you two questions about something you had said. One was when you were talking about the land use plan. You were talking about how very tight the timeframe was, and I wonder if you could say a little bit more about that, whether it was the complexity, or the resources, or whatever.
The second piece I wonder if you could talk about is the water situation, because many Canadians may not know that Tsawwassen is butted up against the largest municipality in British Columbia. Perhaps you could talk about what the state of water is in your community; that's a reflection of what it must be like for other communities as well.