Tom Sasvari with files from
EVANSVILLE—The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) has endorsed a motion passed earlier this year by the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) on the latter’s concerns regarding the 1990 Manitoulin lands claim agreement process.
“Joe Chapman (mayor of the Northeast Town) made a presentation on behalf of our municipalities concerning the lands claims issue at the FONOM (annual meeting) last week in North Bay, and the motion was endorsed by the members,” confirmed Billings Township Mayor Austin Hunt.
Alan Spacek, president of FONOM, told the Recorder on Monday, “yes, we did endorse the resolution put forward by the MMA on the 1990 First Nations land claim agreement. More specifically we supported it, not so much due to concerns with the land claim agreement itself, but the province’s position and process in dealing with it and other land claims.”
“Joe (Chapman) was very clear, this is not an issue the municipalities have with claims being made by First Nations, but with the province abdicating it’s responsibility to municipalities as well in the lands claim process,” said Mr. Spacek.
Mr. Chapman and Central Manitoulin Reeve Gerry Strong, who also attended the conference, both stressed the Island municipalities have good relationships with their First Nation neighbours and hope those relationships remain strong. Instead the problem is with how the provincial government is handling the process of bringing the land claims agreement to law.
“The jist of it is that the province is acting irresponsibly in not consulting with the municipalities before making decisions,” said Mr. Chapman.
“To date the province is ignoring the concerns of the municipalities in the district in regard to the implementation of the 1990 lands claims agreement,” the resolution reads in part. It states, “the implementation of this agreement, without fair consideration of both Native and non-Native will create a serious conflict between Native and non-Native communities.”
The lands claim agreement allows First Nations to purchase land and hold it in trust, removing it from the tax base. Though municipalities can then create usage agreements for services like sewer and water, services like education and policing, and those services provided by the District Services Board (DSB), would be more difficult for municipalities to charge back ‘user fees’ to First Nations that would compensate the municipality for lost tax-based revenue is, in the DSB’s case, is based on the entire municipality’s assessment.
The resolution points out, “the continued erosion of the tax base will result in financial insolvency of affected municipalities,” and they are looking for “assurance the province will guarantee First Nation adherence to planning, zoning and municipal bylaw controls.” It also says, “that supporting the lands claims agreement as established would set a precedent that would negatively affect the municipalities in Ontario.” It also calls on the province to compensate municipalities for lost tax revenues, and assure that First Nations will follow existing bylaws, zoning and planning. It also demands the province to have surveyed road and marine allowances remain under municipal controls, and that a dispute resolution mechanism will be put in place to avoid legal disputes over infrastructure, social services, policing and education.
“The province is choosing to download its responsibilities to the municipalities,” Mr. Chapman said, “it’s simply not acceptable.”
Mr. Hunt said the motion, as all FONOM resolutions are, will be forwarded to various government ministries.