Since provincial New Democrats are generally supportive of the Campbell administration's New Relationship with British Columbia's First Nations, one could reasonably assume Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Tom Christensen would get through his estimates debate rather easily. In fact, Opposition critic Scott Fraser even said "I did express to the minister that I would not be obstructive if I saw true relationship-building and reconciliation." Thank goodness then for Liberal Bulkley Valley-Stikine backbencher Dennis MacKay.
During his pointy line of questioning earlier this week, Mr. MacKay asked whether government business loans to aboriginal bands were being re-paid, why the Nisga'a were being allowed access to those loans, seemed to suggest treaty negotiations in the Queen Charlottes could destroy the forest industry on the island and wondered aloud if First Nations had more of a say over land development decisions in rural areas than they would in urban areas. The following is Hansard's complete transcript of Mr. MacKay and Minister Christensen's exchange.
D. MacKay: I apologize if my questions are going to be a little bit disjointed this evening, but I had an awful time finding information on this new ministry that has been created, given the fact that part of it was under the Ministry of the Attorney General before, and I had to go into his ministry and the treaty negotiations office as well as to CAWS to get some of the questions.
The questions that I do want to ask this evening are questions that I'm interested in. As well, I'd like to get some answers to the many phone calls and queries I've had from different parts of my riding as well as the Queen Charlotte Islands. People on the Queen Charlotte Islands have phoned me and asked me to ask a few questions about this new ministry.
With that, I would like to thank all the members of your staff that are with you this evening for the time that they have put into the ministry and the time they are going to spend tonight being able, hopefully, to answer some of the questions that I would like to put to you. I will try to be quick, because I understand there are a lot of people who would like to talk to you tonight.
With that, I wonder if the minister could tell me: how many bands are actually in the treaty process today, and how many are outside the process?
Hon. T. Christensen: I apologize for the delay. It seems like a simple question, and it's actually not a simple question. It depends on how you…. Well, here's the challenge. There are 198 bands in British Columbia recognized by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. About 70 percent of the overall bands are actually involved in the treaty negotiation process. The Treaty Commission counts those as 57 first nations, so a first
nation may include one or more bands. Those 57 first nations are negotiating at 47 different negotiation tables. That leaves about 30 percent of the bands in the province that are not involved in the treaty negotiation process — so approximately 60.
D. MacKay: I understand the difficulty in coming up with an exact number, so I appreciate that answer. I'm going to go to the ministry service plan, under the treaty negotiations office on page 7, where it talks about full-time-equivalents, direct FTEs, for negotiations. This is on page 7. It shows 81 FTEs, and then it goes down in the same box and includes treaty settlement implementation costs, and it shows seven. Are we talking apples and oranges here? To me, it looks like we've got 81 FTEs, and then we talk about seven for treaty settlement implementation costs.
Hon. T. Christensen: I suspect the member is looking at a previous year's service plan, as opposed to the one that was published in September, which brings everybody into the new Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. So I may not be able to exactly understand the question.
As I understand it, there were 88 FTEs that used to be dedicated to or classified as treaty negotiations. Those comprised FTEs that were directly involved in the actual treaty negotiations side of things, but it also included FTEs that were involved in treaty implementation. We don't include them any longer as part of treaty negotiations; that's my understanding.
D. MacKay: Again, I'm going to refer to that same sheet. I'm a bit confused here. We talk about the treaty settlement implementation costs. In the year '04-05 we spent $16.967 million. In '05-06 it dropped down to $3.589 million, and then in '06-07 it drops down to $1.029 million and is ongoing. Is that the cost of the Nisga'a treaty, and if so, is it ongoing?
Hon. T. Christensen: Essentially, the figure drops quite dramatically from '04-05 to '05-06 because the number in '04-05 was a number that was based on an anticipated need for the acquisition of lands and treaty negotiations. Those funds actually didn't end up being needed, so the '05-06 number is a more up-to-date estimate of what is expected to be sufficient for Nisga'a capital transfer and other payments as well as some acquisition of land that may be required for treaty settlements. So if we find partway through the year that we're getting further along in some of the treaty negotiations than initially anticipated, we would need to go back to Treasury Board and seek additional dollars to proceed with that.
D. MacKay: To follow up on that, then, when we go out to '06-07 and '07-08, is the $1.029 million the actual cost to the province for Nisga'a? Where in this budget do I find what the cost is for Nisga'a?
Hon. T. Christensen: As we get out to '06-07 and '07-08, the $1.029 million is wholly for Nisga'a. One would expect that, again, as we go through this year, if we identify that we anticipate there will be additional land acquisition costs due to other treaties, those numbers would then adjust going forward.
D. MacKay: They would adjust upwards? Thank you. Again, now, flipping over the page to accountability on page 8, we talk about accountability: being accessible and responsive to our partners and stakeholders, measuring and reporting on our performance at all levels. This is the province's responsibility to the taxpayers.
My question to the minister is: what accountability levels have we built into the treaty process for the native bands that are getting funds from the province to make sure that those moneys are being spent and spent wisely and all the band members are benefiting from those moneys? What accountability provisions have we provided for?
Hon. T. Christensen: There are a number of different levels of accountability, depending on what is happening. In terms of any ongoing funding through the fiscal financing arrangements, which are separate agreements, those agreements themselves would really provide contractual accountability in terms of the expectations around those dollars. In terms of the overall operation within the treaty and the governance within the treaty, the accountability is through the democratic process that's provided for election of the Nisga'a government under the terms of the treaty.
D. MacKay: I mention that because I'd like to refresh the minister's memory about the Wet'suwet'en treaty process that just recently saw two of the negotiators find themselves looking for different employment opportunities after having spent $10 million during the treaty process. I'm not really sure what they accomplished during that process while they were negotiating on behalf of the Wet'suwet'en. The Wet'suwet'en now have a $10 million liability, and I'm not sure what they have to show for it.
That was the reason I asked about what accountability provisions we have applied here. Is this money forgiven if they ask for it down the road, or is it, in fact, a loan that we expect to get back when the treaty is signed off?
Hon. T. Christensen: In terms of the ongoing negotiations, those are loans. They're administered through the B.C. Treaty Commission process. As the member likely knows, the B.C. Treaty Commission is vested with the responsibility of keeping the process in terms of the ongoing treaty negotiations and is responsible for administration of those loans. But it is a loan.
D. MacKay: Are there examples of where those loans have been forgiven, and do we expect that we will forgive any of those loans in the future that are being provided as this process drags on and on and on?
Hon. T. Christensen: To be clear, the funding that's provided for negotiations to first nations is 80 percent loans, 20 percent grants, but it's all administered through the B.C. Treaty Commission process. The province shares in the grant portion, a 60-40 split with the federal government. The 80-percent loan portion is wholly federal funds, and certainly, it's our understanding that the federal government doesn't intend to forgive any part of those loans.
D. MacKay: I wonder if the minister could explain why the province is providing any money for the treaty process, given the fact that the natives are a federal responsibility. It was my understanding that the province was to provide land for treaty negotiations, so why is the province providing outright grants to this process?
Hon. T. Christensen: Since this process began - and granted, it was a number of years ago now - there was a 1993 cost-sharing memorandum of understanding between Canada and British Columbia with respect to the loans and the grants. It was under that memorandum of understanding that the province committed to sharing in the cost of the grants. Our share is 40 percent relevant to the federal government's 60 percent, and it's reflective of our ongoing commitment to the treaty negotiation process in terms of our continuing agreement with that memorandum of understanding.
D. MacKay: I'm looking at page 10 of the treaty negotiation service plan, and it talks about the percentage of B.C. Crown land covered by certainty agreements. On the bottom there are a couple of appendices that I want to read that cause me concern. They also have created some concern for people in the Queen Charlotte Islands in the northern part of the province as it relates to the land mass that's involved in the treaty process.
It says that, calculated as of March 31, 2004, the base figure for the amount of Crown land covered by certainty arrangements is 59.364 million hectares. It includes all certainty agreements across government. For 2004-2005, it is estimated that 14.57 percent of Crown land will be covered by Nisga'a treaty agreements-in-principle and operational certainty arrangements, and 18.75 percent will be covered by Treaty 8 for an overall total of 33.32 percent. Is that the total of the B.C. land mass that is tied up in those two treaties?
Hon. T. Christensen: We are having some difficulty following, because the member, I think, is working with the treaty negotiations office service plan from last February, and we're actually working with the September budget update, which is a whole new service plan. Certainly, we can get that to the member. It might make it easier for us to follow along.
In respect of the goal of increasing certainty and having certainty arrangements that apply in respect of Crown land, it includes agreements beyond treaties, so certainly it does include the Nisga'a treaty. It also includes Treaty 8 lands. It includes forest and range agreements and the extent to which those provide certainty over the land base. It includes land that is proposed for treaty through the agreements-in-principle. So there is a range of different agreements at play that provide additional certainty.
D. MacKay: As I stated at the start of my questions, I apologize because I'm going to be jumping around here, because I wasn't able to find the document that you are referring to. I am working from the TNO and the CAWS service plans. So I apologize for the confusion, but I still have to ask the question.
Given the percentage of land that was mentioned in the document that you don't have — 34 percent of Crown lands — causes me some concern, I want to know: are we talking about 34 percent of provincial Crown lands currently tied up under two treaties? Because we have got lots left.
Hon. T. Christensen: No, we're not. It is a range of other certainty tools that provide for that larger number.
D. MacKay: Again I apologize to the minister. Under the TNO office it talked about the negotiated agreements reflecting the referendum principles. Starting at '04-05 it shows that 100 percent of our work is going to be directed and in compliance with the referendum questions through '07-08. Can I ask the minister: was there any change in the process we are going through that will not comply 100-percent with the referendum principles that were signed-off on two years ago?
Hon. T. Christensen: No.
D. MacKay: I'm now going to refer to Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services. Again I apologize to the minister for this, but one of the questions I have that caught my attention under the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services deals with aboriginals. It talks about the number of aboriginal businesses created or sustained by the FCF business loan program. In '04-05 we talk about 150 in total. In '05-06 it's 150 in total, and it goes through '07-08 — 150 in total. Is this all that is being provided for through this time period — just 150 businesses? Or do they fluctuate year by year?
Hon. T. Christensen: No, those numbers are incremental, so the terms of the loans vary. But the intention in terms of the performance measure is to support an additional 150 businesses in each year.
D. MacKay: Thank you to the minister for that answer. It also talks at the bottom here about, "Forty percent of the businesses and jobs supported by the First Citizens Fund business loan program represent new business startups and new jobs," and it talks about: "The amount of money will actually vary from year to year, depending on the loan size." To me, a loan is money that's got to be paid back. I guess I'd like to ask the minister: are those loans in fact being repaid to the lenders?
Hon. T. Christensen: The program has been in place since 1988. In that time frame since then the default rate has been about 11 percent.
D. MacKay: Would 11 percent reflect the success rate of these businesses that the funding is being provided for? What is the success rate of those businesses?
Hon. T. Christensen: Eighty-nine percent of the businesses have successfully paid out the loan. I'm not sure if the member's looking for something beyond that.
D. MacKay: No, what I am looking for is accountability for the money that's being provided to these startup businesses. I just want to get some idea of how successful the businesses are — is the money being well spent? If the minister is telling me…. I think you said 89 or 90 percent. That, to me, would indicate it has been a success, and I'm pleased to hear that.
Now I'm going to jump around to the part of the ministry you have been charged with, and that is the consult and accommodate. I would refresh your memory on the Taku River Tlingit decision from the Supreme Court of Canada. There was no accommodation or compensation required. The Supreme Court of Canada said that the province had in fact consulted with the Taku River and dismissed their action. However, it was different for the Haida.
Now I'm going to take you to the Queen Charlotte Islands because this is where I'm getting the questions from. Does the minister have any idea how much land is actually tied up in federal parks on the Queen Charlotte Islands? We're finding more and more land is being removed from the forest industry over there. Soon there is not going to be a forest industry left on the island because more and more trees and land mass are being put into protected areas, and soon the forest industry as we know it on the Queen Charlotte Islands is going to cease to exist. I wonder if the minister has any thoughts on what's happening on the Queen Charlotte Islands as far as the forest industry is concerned.
I do know that a lot of the natives over there actually make their livelihood from the forest industry, and we have one particular group that seems to want to capture more and more land into protected area, which basically removes what little land there was left for harvesting wood. It removes it from the land base as well, given the massive federal parks we have there. I wonder if you would care to comment on that?
Hon. T. Christensen: As the member knows, there is a host of challenges in terms of the Queen Charlotte Islands. That is nothing new, quite frankly. We are involved in discussions with the Haida to try and ensure that we are meeting the province's consultation obligations and determining what obligations may exist in respect of accommodation, but it is fair to say that there are significant competing interests at play on the Queen Charlotte Islands.
We are in consistent and regular discussions with the Ministry of Forests, and they're certainly well involved in the ongoing discussions around land use on the Queen Charlotte Islands and how we can move forward to try and bring a greater degree of certainty for everybody that lives and works there.
D. MacKay: I would just like to preface my next comment about the fact that the ministry staff in mining and forestry, independent power production, the people that are involved in those do a great…. The ministry staff does a great job of consulting with the native bands in those areas that are looking to expand employment opportunities, not just for the people in the lower mainland, but more particularly for those native bands that are placed in these remote parts of our province. We are finally getting some employment opportunities out there for them to get them out of that 90 to 95 percent unemployment rate, and we do a great job of consulting with them.
There are some roadblocks that are put up quite often. It delays things almost to the point where I sometimes get the impression they actually have a veto power over the province as we develop public policy to allow development to take place throughout our province. I would like to ask the minister what native bands actually have traditional territory in the greater Vancouver area? How many bands are involved and what bands are they in the greater Vancouver area, if you could just give me a couple of names?
[R. Cantelon in the chair.]
Hon. T. Christensen: I do want to preface this by saying it is not an exhaustive list, but just off the tops of our heads certainly there are a number of first nations in the lower mainland: Musqueam First Nation; the Tsleil-Waututh, sometimes known as the Burrard band; Squamish First Nation; Tsawwassen First Nation; the Katzie First Nation; the Kwikwetlem First Nation. Those are a number of them.
D. MacKay: That leads me to my next question. Given the fact that, when any development takes place in northern British Columbia, it's mandatory that we consult and accommodate and compensate where necessary, what accommodation and what consultation takes place in the greater Vancouver area whenever we build a new highrise, whenever we expand the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre? What consultation and what accommodation were made with the native bands in the Greater Vancouver area as we see these developments take place?
Hon. T. Christensen: The obligation to consult arises in respect of Crown lands. The practical reality in the lower mainland is that there aren't significant Crown lands. Where there are Crown lands, though, we do clearly have an obligation to consult, and we have a number of recent court decisions reinforcing that. The Musqueam First Nation, on at least two occasions that come immediately to mind, has been successful in arguing that the government has failed to fully meet its obligations to consult and accommodate, where the courts have referred the government back to working with the Musqueam to try and come to terms. We're working hard at that. If that fails, the courts have put time limits in place where we'll find ourselves back before them, but we are working hard to avoid that.
There are also examples where first nations in the lower mainland have entered into agreements and have been accommodated in respect of their rights-and-title interest. With the Tsawwassen, for example, there's a very significant agreement between the port authority and Tsawwassen — the Roberts Bank agreement. Certainly those obligations arise. In an urban context they are perhaps not as obvious and frequent, but there's no question that the obligation still exists there.
D. MacKay: I have to question that last statement just somewhat. Living in rural British Columbia, I'm aware of several instances where private property was in fact subject to consultation and accommodation, where people who owned private property sought to have zoning bylaws changed, tried to sell private property within the Gitxsan traditional territory, and it involved consultation with the native band.
What you are telling me is that on the lower mainland it is not necessary to consult or accommodate if it's private land; however, there have been instances in northern British Columbia where that is not the case. If it's private land, they've actually had to consult with the native bands to change a zoning bylaw for private property. That's the reason I bring that up. I wonder if the minister is familiar with any of those cases?
Hon. T. Christensen: No, I'm not familiar with any of those cases, so if the member can provide additional details to my office, I'm happy to look at that and try to figure out what is happening.
D. MacKay: I take it, then, from that answer that if I run into that problem again, I can phone ministry staff, and the issue will be resolved. I'm hoping it will be resolved quickly, because it has delayed a number of projects in my riding.
I'd like to just ask you about the First Citizens Fund. What is the value of the First Citizens Fund today in dollars? And what is the process for native bands to access funds through the First Citizens Fund?
Hon. T. Christensen: The current balance of the First Citizens Fund is $72.359 million. As the member likely knows, we don't spend the principal of the fund. It is the interest from the fund that is spent on an annual basis. That's budgeted this year at $4.2 million.
That funding is distributed to a number of programs, and it is those programs that are administered by a number of different aboriginal organizations, which individual aboriginal groups or first nations would apply to, to access the funding. For example, there's a business loan program. There's the friendship centre program; the student bursary program; the elders transportation program; and the First Peoples Heritage, Language and Culture Council, which administers aboriginal language programs.
D. MacKay: For the information of those waiting to ask questions, I have just a couple more, and I'll be done. The First Citizens Fund. I wonder if the minister could tell me if Nisga'a has access to that fund?
Hon. T. Christensen: As a general rule, Nisga'a has access to any provincial programs, except those that are expressly funded through a fiscal financing agreement that's in place with them pursuant to the treaty. If it's already covered by the treaty, then they're precluded from participating, but otherwise, they can apply to funds of general application for aboriginal groups.
D. MacKay: That begs the question, then, minister, of the fact that Nisga'a has a treaty. They are now an independent nation within British Columbia. We've provided them with forest lands so they can be self-sustaining. They have access to the fishing in the river. A lot of them are commercial fishermen. They are now an independent nation.
Is the province granting them access to the First Citizens Fund, which is designed to help those native bands through some employment opportunities? Why do we allow Nisga'a access to this fund?
Hon. T. Christensen: The programs that are funded through the First Citizens Fund have been designed as programs of general application for aboriginal people in British Columbia. There isn't, at a practical level, a significant uptake in terms of the Nisga'a. Similarly, those first nations that are parties to the Douglas treaties or to Treaty 8 can also apply for that funding. It's intended to be funding of general application available for aboriginal peoples in the province.
D. MacKay: I have two questions, and I'll be finished. I want to ask the minister about roadblocks and blockades of developments taking place in northern British Columbia and the purpose of them. The province has a process in place to provide for development. It's a rather lengthy, onerous process for companies to proceed with development. We issue all the permits to the proponent, the developer, and then we have roadblocks set up by some people who are unhappy with development that is taking place and providing employment opportunities for them.
You may not be able to answer this, but why is it we always ask the proponent to go to court for an injunction and an enforcement order, when in fact the province is the one that's issuing the permits in the first place, telling all these developers: "This is your opportunity to go develop the property. However, there's a catch. You may run into some roadblocks"? If we as a province don't start doing something on that issue, we're going to see the developers leave our province, and they're going to go elsewhere with their money to develop employment opportunities, particularly in these remote parts of the province. I wonder if the minister would care to comment on that?
Hon. T. Christensen: I recognize the member's frustration and the frustration that the people in different parts of the province face when blockades are in place. I'm not going to hazard an answer to the member's question. I think it is better directed to the Attorney General, who will have legal staff with him, presumably, to provide an accurate answer at the time he's in estimates, because there are a number of factors at play.
D. MacKay: Time precludes me from carrying on my discussion with the minister. I would again like to thank the minister and the staff for their patience and forbearance as I waded through. I look forward to this new supplement that the minister spoke about, so I don't have to go through this exercise as I just did.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the time, and thank you to the opposition members for allowing me to butt in.