Lower Mainland cities are backing a contentious proposal to block Indian Reserve residents from voting in civic elections.
It was the most hotly debated topic at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA) convention in Whistler, where about 60 per cent of delegates voted in favour of the resolution Thursday.
Cities have grown increasingly concerned that an influx of non-aboriginal residents will move onto reserves, where some First Nations are building large market housing developments.
Critics fear the newcomers will add to the demand on services from the local city – possibly without having to pay for those services – while still being able to vote in elections or referenda and influence civic spending decisions.
“The Park Royal proposal by the Squamish First Nation has the potential to make up 30 per cent of the voting population of the City of West Vancouver down the road,” said Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew, one of the main proponents of excluding reserve residents from the civic vote.
Since First Nation bands have the authority to regulate and tax their residents and leaseholders, he said, they should also give them democratic representation.
“First Nations need to acknowledge that leaseholders on Indian Reserve lands are their constituents and they have the responsibility to enfranchise them, not the neighbouring municipality,” Drew said.
“What they’re really trying to do is fob off the responsibility of providing a democratic forum for their constituents.”
Others said they understand the rationale and to some degree share Drew’s concerns, but felt the resolution could damage relations with local First Nations.
“Everybody recognizes the challenge, the question is how do we best correct this,” said Coquitlam Coun. Selina Robinson, who opposed the resolution.
“I think you need to bring people to the table and you need to collaborate.”
Surrey Coun. Barbara Steele, the newly elected president of the LMLGA, said she was torn, adding she supported the idea last fall but now opposes it after witnessing important progress as an observer in treaty negotiations with the Katzie First Nation.
“I’m hearing from a number of cities that there’s much better relations than before,” Steele said. “Everybody is talking and working together. I feel it’s a time of keeping relationships going.”
The resolution, which asks the province to exclude Indian Reserves from municipal boundaries “in recognition of the absence of municipal regulatory and taxing authority” on reserves, now goes to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in the fall.
Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong has previously said she is prepared to consider the idea but cautioned cities that disenfranchising citizens would be seen as undemocratic and would require extensive consultation.
The Lower Mainland Local Government Association supported several other resolutions that advance to a vote of the Union of B.C. Municipalities next fall.
– A Surrey resolution seeking amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act to make it easier and quicker for tenants to force problem landlords to remedy unacceptable conditions.
– A call for looser liquor licensing regulations to allow adults at licensed events, such as festivals, to consume alcohol in areas where children are present, provided there’s local city and police support, rather than be relegated to beer gardens. The resolution was proposed by Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish and was also backed by Coquitlam and Abbotsford.
– A Delta resolution demanding the province regulate the sale of unsterilized rabbits to combat the problem of abandoned bunnies breeding out of control in city parks.
– A Surrey resolution that licensed medical marijuana growers be required to get a municipal permit ensuring they first meet all local safety regulations.
– A call for refundable deposits to be put on milk cartons, ending their exemption from B.C.’s beverage container recycling regulations to help keep them out of the landfill.
– A Burnaby resolution demanding the province include municipal representatives in its newly launched review of municipal taxation.