Published on June 13, 2013 in EMC
EMC News - Do eastern Ontario's Algonquins have rights, or do they have privileges, under their land claim agreement in principle (AIP)? Well, if you're Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington MPP Randy Hillier, you believe that the document gives the Algonquins special privileges.
Picking up on a point made during the forum on the preliminary draft agreement in principle at the Perth Civitan Club hall on June 3, that the document would not grant the Algoquins new rights, Hillier said that "I think we need to speak honestly. Rights are things that are shared by all. If they are not shared by all, they are privileges."
However, if you are Bob Potts, principal negotiator and senior legal counsel for the Algonquins of Ontario, their rights are their rights.
"The privileges you refer to are not privileges," said Potts. "They are not privileges, they are rights," enshrined by the Supreme Court of Canada.
"They are what the existing law says," added Potts, though he admitted that "we have unique relations with the government, but we are not separate."
Hillier, however, respectfully disagreed.
"We are all in this together," said Hillier. "We all have shared responsibilities."
"We're not going to do it in isola-
tion," replied Potts.
However, Hillier added that there were many parts of the AIP that he admired.
"A lot of things in this AIP are solid...and moving in the right direction," said Hillier, a long-time proponent of land rights. He applauded open forums, which give "a good, frank, and honest discussion (which) allows for better outcomes."
Citing constituent concerns, Hillier also asked Potts "will this agreement hold up? Will it be respected? Will it mitigate problems or will it exacerbate those problems? (I) fear that this will be an ongoing process...that will leave them (municipalities) holding the bag on enforcement."
Potts however was adamant that the AIP "will release government of any further obligations of land or money." As for the strength of any fi-nal agreement to stand up in a court of law, "once it is in legislation," since it must be passed by both the House of Commons, Queen's Park, and an Algonquin referendum, "it is right up there with the constitution," and cannot be arbitrarily changed even by a bill passed by parliament.
Looking out at the municipal representatives from North Frontenac, Lanark Highlands Township, Tay Valley Township, and elsewhere, assembled before him, Potts pointed and said, "we will need to talk with you."
Before Hillier and Potts' spirited but cordial debate, Potts assured the audience that the agreement, and the talking, was far from over.
"We are not presuming to have the monopoly on knowledge," said Potts.
"We do not have all of the answers. If you know how to build a better mouse trap, we'd love to hear it. If it doesn't get resolved now, it will get resolved some day."
He said that not having an agreement would negatively affect everyone, not just the Algonquins.
"It is an impediment to development," said Potts. With an agreement in place, "that can't help but aid the economy," as one can witness with the development at the old Rockcliffe air base now proceeding as just one example, and there is Algonquin involvement in the new Lansdowne Park development in Ottawa, and along the Rideau Canal. "The Valley has had some economic challenges," said Potts. As an added bonus, "through a treaty...one of the most important aspects is reconciliation."
The issue should have been dealt with centuries ago, and at the beginning, the Europeans did in fact accept the first Algonquin petition for redress in 1772 seriously.
"It was received by the government of the day with great respect," said Potts. "There were a series of (British) governors who wanted to participate in this process," but by the time they were able to act, they were sent off back home to Great Britain, or elsewhere in the British Empire, a new governor would travel across the Atlantic Ocean, and the process would start all over again.
"The Algonquins were in charge of this area for a long time," said Potts, pointing out that they were even collecting tolls for people to sail up the Ottawa River in the 19th century. Potts stressed that this AIP was different than anything that came before it for many reasons.
"This is a preliminary draft," he said. "It has never been done before. They (land claim agreements) have been simply agreements between partners and then put out to the public."
With this AIP however, public consultation across the province, as far away as Toronto and northern Ontario, is seeking feedback, "to put that feedback into the agreement where necessary." In fact, members of the team will be going out to cottage country this summer to speak to cottage associations about the AIP.
"Nobody, nobody will be displaced from their property," said Potts. "Nobody is going to be expropriated."
The deal involves the gradual transfer, over a decade or so, of not less than 117,500 acres, and $300 million. The land transfer involves about 200 parcels of land. The money will be put into a tax free account, with an Algonquin corporation set up
which will determine where and when to invest the money.
"Our objective is not to spend the principle," said Potts. "It will not be raped and pillaged...it will be for the benefit of the Algonquins."
While the process has been centuries in the making, this latest stretch began in 1991 and "people have asked me 'Why haven't we been consulted on this five years ago?' We can't negotiate in public. I don't want that (process) reported in the press. I have negotiated thousands of agreements. I have never negotiated one through the press." Even negotiating amongst people who mutually admire and respect each other can have its onerous phases, and he has not hesitated from telling one of his co-negotiators "in personal terms," what he really thinks of their ideas.
"There is no more complex negotiation in Canada than this
one," he said. "We're looking at a process that will take another 15 years to complete."
He added that he hoped that some manner of Algonquin referendum would be held by year's end, and that while some non-natives might not be happy with the agreement, with some issues such as hunt camps
and snowmobile trails still to be discussed, Algonquins too are not entirely pleased with the deal. Walking away from the public announcement of the deal on Dec. 13, 2012, "we didn't walk out giddily happy," he said.
"We've all lived here.
We all live here now. We have to learn how to live together."