Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Note from a former Tsawwassen Resident--and Longtime NDP Supporter

Before my family moved to Williams Lake in 1973, we lived in Tsawwassen, a beautiful rural community that was rapidly sub-urbanizing (my old home became a parking lot in the Reed Shopping Centre). As someone whose earliest childhood memories were of a cows' field in the back yard, and a chicken farm behind Boundary Bay Elementary School across the road, I viscerally support the view that Dave Barrett's Agricultural Land Reserve was one of the most far-sighted pieces of legislation ever passed in this province.

Now, the NDP , worried that the Liberal government of the day may appear to be more friendly to native interests than they are, have decided to go along with Tsawwassen treaty--even though the treaty is far from being supported by the whole band, and is really inimical to Delta's character as BC's prime agricultural community.

To be fair to the NDP, it is equally the father of both the ALR and the Treaty process--and it is understandable that it should be torn. But the message that should be broadcast in the media is that the Campbell government did not negotiate this particular deal because it cares more about native treaties than the NDP does. It did so because it cares LESS about the ALR than the NDP does. The government's actions around the deal in Burns Bog and in the Roberts Bank Deltaport Expansion--reflecting Campbell's longstanding preoccupation with property development--are at odds with the historic role of the ALR and indeed the historic role of the municipality of Delta.

I would have supported this deal too, but with the very big difference that I would have a large part of those 207 hectares remain in the ALR. (Yes, probably in exchange for more cash and/or other commercial opportunities.) The basic premise of the ALR is that the accumulation of alluvial soil over many thousands (millions?) of years to create one of the world's most fertile river valleys in a province that is 95% non-arable is a precious gift of nature and/or the Creator, and therefore should not simply be left to the vagaries of real-estate speculators and developers. Is that not congenial to the First Nations outlook? How could it not be? Is aboriginal title simply about the right of First Nations governments to let private actors speculate and develop as they wish? A small First Nation community ostensibly attuned to keeping the land in its pristine state could still own it and lease it for agricultural purposes. It could also participate in the management of nature preserves--whether in the ALR, provincial parks, the Forest Land Reserve, ecologically acceptable fish farms, or elsewhere. That would also be a sensible compromise for the party of Dave Barrett and Mike Harcourt--the party that created both the ALR and the Treaty Process in a province where the Socred/ Liberals would not have created either. It would also represent a sensible reconciliation of sovereignties--which is what the treaty process ultimately should be about.

I do not disagree with this statement by Doug McArthur in the Vancouver Sun:
"[T]he first nations were never consulted on the application of the ALR to lands to which they have aboriginal title. To avoid costly court-imposed settlements, compromises are needed where rights clash with public policy as in the case of the ALR, no matter how popular the policy."
Of course Dave Barrett didn't consult natives on the impact of the ALR on aboriginal title--at the time the ink was still drying on the Calder decision and the modern legal concept of aboriginal title was still in its infancy. But it is a pernicious mistake to see anything other than a fundamental underlying harmony and complementarity between Dave Barrett's vision of protecting the natural integrity of the land and Tom Berger's vision of protecting the aboriginal interest in the land. Both are opposed to a pure unbridled market as the solution to how land questions ought to be settled. That is why First Nations should be asked to become partners in the ALR, instead of simply partners in eroding the ALR. Yes, the Tsawwassen band should probably be paid a large amount of money to do so. And yes, there is a political risk that the Liberals could be seen as getting the upper hand politically in their commitment to the Treaty Process if the NDP insists on their own version of "win-win". But that is a communications challenge that could be met, especially in view of the fact that the Liberals didn't give a hoot about treaties until just 4-5 years ago. To repeat: this deal doesn't show that they care more about the Tsawwassen First Nation: it merely shows that they care less about the Agricultural Land Reserve. That is the message that should be made loudly and clearly to the people of British Columbia.


Budd Campbell said...

An interesting viewpoint, one you should share with Bill Tieleman and David Schreck, ... to say nothing of Michael Sather.

Mark Crawford said...

Yes, but I think that I have a bit more sympathy for Carole James on this issue. With Sather threatening to vote against the Government and Corky Evans threatening to abstain, while Jimmy Doyle and other pro-treaty forces threatening to go the other way because the NDP didn;t support the Treaty soon enough or unreservedly enough, there was a difficult balnce to be struck.

Some will laud Campbell's political genius at co-opting the treaty process and splitting the NDP, but it is really a failry low cleverness--a room to manouevre that derives from not caring as much about the Land Reserve as the NDP does.

Mark Crawford said...

P.S. David Schreck may have been right to suggest that a free vote was the way for the NDP to go, given its deep commitment to both the Treaty and ALR--esp. since the passage of the Treaty was inevitable and the NDP's support could constitute a worrisome precedent.

Michael Sather said...

Just read your blog Mark. Good to see another informed person on weigh
in on this most important public policy issue.

A free vote on this issue would probably have resulted in less than a third of caucus voting against the treaty but it would have allowed us to show support for the ALR. Another issue is that the Semiahmoo from White Rock and the Cowichan from Van Island oppose this treaty so support for
the Tsawwassen on this one is selective of which First Nations one is supporting.


Michael Sather, MLA

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows