Northern Urban Reserves & Municipalities: Economic Development — Part 2 of 3

By Aimee Coueslan

May 24, 2019

Urban Reserves/Additions to Reserve

At the Northern Urban Reserve, Municipality & Economic Development Forum, the importance of Additions to Reserve (which RDI terms “urban reserves” when they are in or adjacent to urban areas) for regional economic development was a second main theme. André Le Dressay spoke about maximizing the fiscal and economic benefits that flow from investments. Le Dressay, Director of both the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics and Fiscal Realities Economists, described a research project he was involved in in 2015. This project looked at Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) Settlements — in other words, land selected by a First Nation from unoccupied Crown land, or purchased from a willing seller, and then converted to reserve land through the Addition to Reserve (ATR) process — which are made in order to fulfill unmet treaty obligations. They examined both urban reserves and non-urban resource-type additions to reserve. And they compared the benefits generated by TLEs in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to the benefits generated by some of what are considered to be the most successful First Nations communities in Canada. What they found was that fiscal benefits (which flow to communities via taxes) were 10% higher and economic benefits (which flow to individuals in terms of jobs and income, etc.) were 18% higher on TLEs than they were on the most successful First Nations. In Le Dressay’s words, “TLEs represent one of the most successful economic innovations for First Nations in Canada.”

Urban reserves and other additions to reserve represent one of the most successful economic innovations for First Nations in Canada.

Le Dressay laid out some practical steps for both First Nations communities and municipalities to take to realize these enormous benefits.

  • Step 1: Make a political commitment

If First Nations and municipalities want to develop the regional economy, the mayor and city council and the Chief and band council need to make a commitment towards joint development.

  • Step 2: First Nations and municipalities need to work on the investment climate by improving the public institutional framework, which includes

o Property rights

o Infrastructure

o Investment processes and rules

o Administration or governance system

o The fiscal relationship (how governments divide up who does what with what taxes to pay for all this)

  • Step 3: First Nations need to take advantage of their jurisdictional power by opting into the First Nations Land Management Act and the First Nations Fiscal Management Act in order to set up their own land laws, land planning process and procedures, property taxation and other taxation, and to raise long-term private capital.

And lastly, First Nations and municipalities have to commit to constant improvement and constant innovation to take advantage of their competitive advantages together.

Unfortunately, the truth is that TLEs and ATRs take far too long in Manitoba — up to 18 years. The Urban Reserve Forum ended with a presentation by Darryl Neufeld, Manager of Reserve Creation & Additions to Reserve with the federal government. He showed how few ATRs have been completed in the province since the program began. He said they have revised their process to make it more in line with Saskatchewan’s ATR process, in which various steps are allowed to happen simultaneously instead of sequentially. He also expressed hope that ATRs in Manitoba will take less time — as little as 2 years — in the future.

Unfortunately, I personally feel that First Nations in Manitoba seem — from the outside — pessimistic, as fewer and fewer land selections are being made under the TLE process. Also, in February of 2019, news broke that a group of First Nations in Manitoba are seeking to sue the federal government for not honouring the TLE agreement, since after 22 years, less than half the promised land has been converted. Unfortunately, who pays when the process isn’t working is the First Nations, municipalities, and the province of Manitoba who are losing out on potential jobs and revenues.

As Andre Le Dressay showed us, urban reserves and other rural resource-based additions to reserve hold the promise of 10% more community benefits and 18% more economic benefits to individuals of even the most economically successful First Nations in Canada. In Manitoba, where Indigenous people make up 73% of the population of the North and 18% of the population overall — and rising — it is of utmost importance that we seize this opportunity for economic growth which will benefit all Manitobans.

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