5. Musqueam-BC Pact

This page from the “Digging Deep” series is largely about another issue but is included because there are some important implications for the Garden City lands issue.

Thanks to the province, the Musqueam Indian Band recently gained the land under the River Rock Casino in Richmond, the University of BC Golf Course, Pacific Spirit Park land, and over $20 million. That handover of BC assets has far-reaching effects, mainly because it was outside the BC treaty process. Let’s look at what it means for the process and for Richmond, especially the Garden City Lands.

In the big picture, the agreement impairs the BC treaty process. Strangely, the provincial mistake echoes a federal mistake that the Auditor General of Canada pointed out in her November 2006 report, where she alluded to the transfer to the Musqueam of a beneficial interest in Richmond’s Garden City Lands outside the treaty process. She concluded that “it did not support treaty negotiations nor help resolve the First Nation’s outstanding claim.”

Here’s a summary of the UBC golf course aspect. After BC transferred the golf course to UBC in 2004, the Musqueam took the province to court, asking that the lands be restored to the province. The BC Court of Appeal suspended the transfer because the province had made the lands less available for treaty settlement without sufficient consultation and accommodation. Essentially the province’s options were to take back the golf course or negotiate something else with the Musqueam.

In a few years, when a negotiated treaty might have included the golf course, there would have been treaty tradeoffs such as an end to tax-exempt status and to further claims. Instead, the province got almost nothing except, some say, the prospect of harmony in 2010.

During agreement talks, word about the golf course leaked out, and Point Grey golfers fought hand and foot to save what they valued. To calm the public outrage, the agreement requires that “the lands be used for golf course purposes until 2083.” The golfers won.

In the Richmond picture, the agreement has several effects. The City could lose River Rock Casino profits. The Musqueam will keep claiming Richmond areas, notably Iona Beach Regional Park. And the implications for the Garden City Lands are a mixed bag.

If the would-be developers of the Garden City Lands can’t get the lands out of BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), the parties appear to be required to work together to restore each to its original position, which would include returning the property to the federal government. That will happen on January 1, 2009.

If it acts like the province, the federal government might skip the treaty process and simply hand over the Garden City lands to the Musqueam, tossing in a few tens of millions and the land under the YVR terminal. But if it acts wisely, the federal government will keep the Garden City lands, and our politicians could co-operate to facilitate ALR use. The obvious use would be for an urban-agriculture innovation project under Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada.

The lands might remain available to be included in a treaty settlement—with ongoing ALR protection as long as the federal and provincial governments support it. However, the Musqueam, who have engaged in little treaty negotiation, have even less reason to negotiate after their recent triumph. The treaty process is likely to linger on, and added millions will be preferred to ALR land if a treaty somehow occurs. The Garden City lands will probably remain a community resource.

The BC Treaty Commission website states that “treaties bring certainty to land ownership and jurisdiction for all British Columbians.” That leads to economic growth, especially because “unresolved land claims and the resulting uncertainty scare off investors.” The non-treaty transfer of assets has the same costs but not the wide benefits. Luckily, we here in Richmond have a good way to bring something positive out of it.

While billion-dollar follies sap the BC treaty process, the Musqueam and their expert team consistently execute a smart business strategy. Let’s hope that our governments, wisely guided by our elected and aspiring Richmond politicians, will learn from the Musqueam leaders and begin to succeed at least as well.

Meanwhile, let’s learn from the golfers.

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2 Comments »

  1. 1
    David Roughley Says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how the Musqueam can claim land that was mostly under water or on fire before dyking or ditching by the city (of which they were not part of) and/or farmers. Before that; these lands/bog were at the mercy of mother nature and the river. Even now it’s under water for part of the year. If you google map the lands you’ll notice quite lot is at or below sea level. They may have had an eye on it for a thousand years but only at very low tide, between fires.
    I also object to a body that is not covered by municipal guidelines or codes dropping another couple of thousand people into the middle of an already strained infastructure.

  2. 2
    Lorne Brandt Says:

    This is by now quite outdated. Where are things with the talk of the Musqueam taking Richmond to court for buying the Garden City Lands? Is this over or how can the city be proceeding with plans for he lands now?


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