Tom Sasvari with files from Robin Burridge
MANITOULIN—While the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM) and the provincial and federal governments have now reached an understanding on most of the main concerns in the 1990 land claim agreement (resulting in the UCCMM proposing to finalize that agreement), it appears that one main issue still needs to be resolved to satisfy both local municipalities and the UCCMM itself: property taxes.
“The government representatives are going to go back to try and unfold the problems concerning taxation and downloading on municipalities,” said Billings Mayor Austin Hunt, who along with Joe Chapman, Mayor of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (NEMI), met with UCCMM and government officials last week.
“The UCCMM has been trying to implement fully the 1990 agreement between five of our six First Nations and the provincial and federal governments,” stated a letter to Northeast Town Mayor Joe Chapman and Billings Mayor Austin Hunt from UCCMM Chief Executive Officer Hazel Recollet in June. “You are also aware that many issues have transpired which have frustrated these efforts. This is to advise you that the First Nations and the governments now appear to have come to an understanding on all the major outstanding issues, and propose to finalize an agreement that will clear the way to final implementation on an as soon as possible basis.”
Ms. Recollet invited both Mr. Chapman and Mr. Hunt to last week’s meeting. “I am writing to you today to invite you, as the leaders of the two municipalities in which several properties are being held in fee simple in trust for the M’Chigeeng and Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nations, to an initial meeting to describe what has been achieved and to discuss the framework for a process of how our two First Nations and your two municipalities that are most directly affected by the 1990 agreement may work together to begin the process of developing, negotiating and implementing the service agreement that will apply to the properties that the First Nations have purchased since 1997, and the Ontario and the First Nations proposal will be exempt from municipal property and school taxes.”
In 1990, First Nation members of the United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin (UCCM) signed an agreement with the federal and provincial governments, which was intended to resolve certain land claims by those First Nations and the provincial government, however, the implementation of the agreement has yielded years of debate and negotiations with Island municipalities caught in the cross hairs, concerned for their tax base and the effect of the outcomes on their communities. Concerns have been raised by the municipalities these lands purchased by the First Nations would then be taken off the municipal tax rolls, and services provided on these lands could not only not be taxed, but these taxes would be downloaded onto the municipalities.
“They’re going to carry on the investigation into the concerns that we have raised,” Mr. Hunt told the Recorder. “We were fairly open on the consequences this agreement could have on us as municipalities and the government representatives are going to go back to try and unfold the problems,” he said, pointing out, “I don’t think they were completely aware of what this will do to our taxes, that these lands would be taken off our tax rolls, and services provided could be downloaded on the municipalities. That is the main issue on the table. One of the proposals brought up is that the First Nations could pay services on those lots, but this would then put a tax levy on the First Nations for these services; because we (municipalities) have to raise taxes on these lands.”
“This was the first meeting between the government officials, local First Nations and the municipal reps, and I think it was a good thing,” said Mr. Hunt. “All parties are going to reconsider the issues that have been raised, and in our case, Joe (Chapman) and I will be bringing this forward to the members of the Manitoulin Municipal Association.”
“The issue of the loss on our tax rolls with this land being purchased on municipal property, by First Nations, and our concerns on taxes being lost and how services provided on these lands is going to be downloaded, is something that the government reps will be taking back to the powers to be,” concluded Mr. Hunt. He noted further meetings will be held among all the parties, although dates for these meetings have not yet been set.