Tsawwassen treaty advancing

A treaty with the Tsawwassen First Nation advanced Wednesday as MLAs voted 62-3 to give it second reading despite fears from some it will consume important agricultural land.

Three Liberal MLAs – Daniel Jarvis (North Vancouver-Seymour), Blair Lekstrom (Peace River South) and Dennis MacKay (Bulkley Valley-Stikine) voted against.

Several New Democrats who oppose removing 500 acres from the Agricultural Land Reserve were absent, including Michael Sather (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows), Guy Gentner (Delta North) and Corky Evans (Nelson-Creston).

“I cannot vote for the treaty,” Evans said. “Neither can I vote against it.”

Sather, who was suspended from the NDP caucus for his treaty stance, indicated he will vote against it on third reading.

Gentner charged the agreement is about expanding Deltaport, trading precious farmland for “a field of containers” – with dire consequences for the future.

Rather than be viewed as a prescient decision to redress past wrongs, he said it will more likely be viewed as “shortsighted profiteering” by future generations.

“It will be the death of the ALR,” he said during the debate. “If we approve the removal of the province’s most valued agricultural land for treaty settlement, then all agricultural land is on the table, Crown or otherwise.”

Senior governments could have offered a stake in the port, or a tax on each container that is shipped, rather than farmland, he said.

“This is a dangerous dance we do,” added New Democrat Gregor Robertson (Vancouver-Fairview). “Food security is paramount to survival.”

Aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister Mike de Jong rejected suggestions the treaty manipulates the Tsawwassen into becoming partners in port expansion.

He said it’s important the band now be allowed to chart its own course.

“I have confidence that they will make decisions that take into account the interests not just of their community, but of the environment within which they live,” he said. “Time will tell, of course, and be the judge.”

Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Sue Hammell was among the majority of New Democrats who voted in favour.

“We should all be overjoyed,” she said, noting it’s the first modern treaty negotiated under the lengthy B.C. Treaty Commission process.

The Tsawwassen treaty, valued at more than $120 million worth of land and cash, will also provide the band self-government powers and a share of the Fraser River fishery.

Legislation must be approved in Victoria before it goes to Parliament in Ottawa for ratification.

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