Land claim may impact towns: McCaig

Duane Hicks

The land claim agreement finalized in 2005 between Rainy River First Nations, the province, and the federal government was a historic event and a cause for celebration.
But it also may end up causing serious headaches for district municipalities down the road if senior government doesn’t provide better guidelines on how to handle the integration of “urban reserves.”
During the business portion of the Rainy River District Municipal Association’s annual general meeting Saturday in Atikokan, Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig spoke on what he feels will become a serious issue.
Under the 2005 agreement, Rainy River First Nations was provided funding to acquire some 31,000 acres of land in the purchase area extending from Rainy River to Couchiching and every municipality therein, he explained.
“If they go into a municipality under the Addition to Reserve policy of the federal government, they can apply to have the lands declared ‘reserve,’ and with that comes a whole host of expectations and implications for municipalities,” McCaig warned.
“First off, the municipalities are given a lump sum tax payment for a 10-year period based on a whole bunch of considerations and an analysis of how much that should be,” he said, noting the reserve lands don’t have to be contiguous with Rainy River First Nations and, theoretically, could be in the middle of Emo, Fort Frances, or nearly anywhere else.
“Then the municipality is expected to enter into service agreements to provide service to these properties.
“The problem is there is very short notice periods and we don’t believe, as municipalities, that anyone has acted on our behalf to investigate and see what the implications are,” McCaig argued. “Municipal bylaws and planning laws that the municipalities have had to follow for years from the province of Ontario don’t even apply.
“So the way it is, [the senior levels of government] talk about bylaw and planning harmonization, but there’s really no templates whatsoever to show how you achieve this.”
McCaig noted the planning process, as it stands now, allows for due notice and the provisions for affected parties to come and voice concerns over a proposed land use, but the Addition to Reserve policy doesn’t allow for that at all.
“These are serious implications,” stressed McCaig, adding municipalities have had little or no consultation with the federal government on the matter.
“What I see happening is because we haven’t been advised or consulted properly, the first time anybody comes in requesting a service agreement, I could see it being a very arduous and maybe even contentious affair. There’s no guidelines to follow,” he remarked.
“How can we be expected, in a very short timeframe, to make decisions that will have long-term effects for the municipality just like that.
“I have seen a template, a basic one, of what the government feels a service agreement should look like and there’s nothing in there. It doesn’t come close to having any of the conditions or provisions that an agreement of that nature should have.
“It’s flabbergasting,” he said. “They left us out here twisting in the wind.”
McCaig stressed the issue is not meant to be contentious with Rainy River First Nations in any way, shape, or form.
“Our problem is with the government,” he said.
“It’s a serious problem. We talked about it at the RRDMA, and the municipalities are going to be approaching the government about this issue.
“We are just not going to stand and not say anything about it and just accept it,” McCaig vowed.