Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew (left) is vice-chair of Metro Vancouver's aboriginal affairs committee; Community

Metro Vancouver debates touchy issue of Indian Reserve voting

City boundary changes eyed to disenfranchise some residents in civic elections

Metro Vancouver directors are split over whether the regional district should try to block residents of Indian Reserves from voting in future civic elections.

Reserve residents in most cities can vote in municipal elections because the reserves are within city boundaries.

But that ability may have unintended consequences as local First Nations build market condo developments on their reserves and usher in thousands of new non-aboriginal residents.

Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew, vice-chair of Metro’s aboriginal affairs committee, said the planned Squamish Nation development in West Vancouver could add 30,000 residents who would not pay city taxes but would use city services and have a vote in civic elections.

He argues a reserve voting block that big could alter the outcome of council elections or referenda in smaller cities – perhaps causing the city to spend more on new projects without those residents having to contribute to the cost.

The proposed solution is for Metro cities to seek provincial government permission to redraw their boundaries to exclude Indian Reserves, ending the civic vote for their residents.

“I do not believe we can disenfranchise voters,” said Lions Bay Mayor Brenda Broughton at a Metro board meeting Friday.

Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer called it distorted logic for Metro cities to invert the principle of no taxation without representation and insist on “no representation without taxation.”

If it took that stance, she said, it would have to deny the vote to renters, people in social housing and others who don’t directly pay taxes.

The real issue, Reimer said, is how aboriginal rights and title is reconciled in the modern world.

She said that is best done through negotiation with First Nations and success will depend on good relationships that could be damaged by an effort to deny the vote.

“To focus on this particular issue is unhelpful and in fact quite inflammatory,” added Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird, who holds a seat at the Metro board.

Under the terms of the TFN treaty – the only urban treaty so far in the Lower Mainland – residents there no longer vote in municipal elections but do have a vote for school board.

Baird suggested the concerns of cities over taxation and the need for reserve residents to contribute to civic costs can be dealt with through negotiated servicing agreements with the local First Nation.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, chair of the regional planning committee, defended the committee recommendation to pursue the issue as a priority item for Metro.

“I don’t think anyone should be offended that we are putting these issues on the table,” Corrigan said. “We are not the decision makers. We just think they are important issues to be discussed.”

Metro already raised the idea with the province last October after the Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee issued a discussion paper outlining local government concerns, but some different directors now sit at the regional table following November civic elections.

Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong reacted cautiously in a Jan. 11 letter to the board.

“Disenfranchising citizens who live within local government service areas without their consent would be viewed by many British Columbians as undemocratic,” Chong said.

She said the proposal would have “significant and far-reaching impacts” and would require full consultation with First Nations and affected citizens.

Chong indicated her ministry would consider the idea if the new Metro board still wants to pursue it.

No vote was taken Friday because some newly elected Metro directors said they were unfamiliar with the issue and wanted to study the discussion paper.

The Metro board meets again March 30.

Concerns about reserve votes are not an issue in most other provinces, which exclude reserves from local cities.

More than 7,000 aboriginal and non-aboriginal residents currently live on the 22 Indian reserves within Metro Vancouver.

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