Is the City of Winnipeg exploiting aboriginal people to subsidize urban sprawl?
That is the question on the minds of many as negotiations between the City of Winnipeg and outlying bedroom communities to expand water and sewer services inch closer to completion.
In 2006, city council voted in favour of a plan that would allow city administrators to negotiate service-sharing deals with rural municipalities.
Late last year, that support was given more teeth through a council vote giving chief administrative officer (CAO) Phil Sheegl the authority to negotiate a service sharing agreement with West St. Paul.
Currently, negotiations are progressing rapidly with the affluent bedroom community, which plans to add 1,200 new homes along its southern border with Winnipeg in the coming years.
More than half of the current 2,000 West St. Paul homes rely on septic fields or holding tanks to manage their wastewater while around 800 are connected to separate wastewater treatment sites.
If negotiations prove successful, Winnipeggers would see the city’s water and sewer pipes expanded to the community for a connection fee of $3,000 per home and a $200 annual service charge. Water treatment would take place at the North End Water Pollution Control Centre and treatment plant.
CAO Phil Sheegl declined an interview with The Uniter.
However, Steve West, corporate communications spokesperson for the city, spoke about the general benefits of service sharing on behalf of city administration.
“The sharing of water and sewer services would provide additional revenues to the City of Winnipeg through increased water and sewer revenues,” he wrote in an email.
“From an environmental standpoint, service sharing would benefit the Capital Region as a whole ... much of the infrastructure in (rural) municipalities includes the use of septic fields and tanks that are not ... environmentally
Brian Kelcey, urban affairs blogger and former budget adviser to mayor Sam Katz, argues that service sharing has the potential to curb the environmental impact of septic field run-off, generate revenue for the city and give Winnipeg a say in development that would otherwise happen without its input.
“Once we start providing a service to a municipality, it becomes easier to say, for example, that new construction should be on a corridor that’s already serviced by the pipes.
That’s going to contain sprawl that might otherwise go anywhere without those services,” he said.
“More revenue for what is, for the most part, the same amount of pipe and a little more water makes sense for the city provided that they’re charging responsibly, and using that revenue responsibly, and using the new authority that delivering those services brings in achieving its long-term goals.”
Additionally, service sharing has been touted as a means to help manage what city administrators estimate to be a substantial long-term population boom in Winnipeg.
According to a Feb. 1 administrative report, the population of Winnipeg is expected to grow by 174,000 people within the next 20 years.
The report, which weighs the costs and benefits of annexing rural municipalities to manage the escalating population, lists inter-municipal service sharing as one potential tool to help manage a significantly bigger Winnipeg.
“Given this significant growth, the City is approaching a situation in which developable land could be exhausted within the next 20 years,” the report states.
“If the City of Winnipeg is unable to accommodate all of its future growth within its boundaries, surrounding rural municipalities may absorb spill over growth from Winnipeg, in addition to their own growth pressures.”
However, Lynne Fernandez of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, views service sharing as an outdated mechanism for managing population growth.
The city needs to build up instead of out, she said, and think creatively about development.
“To me, they are using a very outdated, last century approach to city planning rather than a modern, sophisticated approach ... that considers using all land available and using that land wisely,” Fernandez said, adding that the
city could develop the Kapyong Barracks for housing and find ways of facilitating infill rather than “subsidizing urban sprawl” by expanding city infrastructure.
“We can’t even seem to keep the services we have contained within the city from spilling into the Red River. ... Why are we taking on more of this kind of infrastructure when we don’t seem to be handling what we have properly?”
Kelcey agrees that the city needs to be planning more effectively within its boundaries, but, for him, population density in Winnipeg and service sharing are not mutually exclusive propositions.
“If we were handling urban development properly, nobody would be afraid of a few pipes out to smaller scale rural developments.”
First Nation takes city to court
Management of density and growth is only one obstacle the city faces as it trudges forward to secure service-sharing deals.
On March 13, the Iskatewizaagegan Independent First Nation, also known as Shoal Lake 39, filed for a judicial review with the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench seeking to quash all potential expansion of Winnipeg water and sewer services.
Shoal Lake, which straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border, has been Winnipeg’s source of drinking water since 1919, when a 155-kilometre aqueduct was constructed.
Two First Nations on either side of the lake, Shoal Lake 39 and Shoal Lake 40, had their lands and water expropriated for Winnipeg’s use through an Ontario order in council in 1913 and a decision by the international joint commission in 1914.
The order in council places certain conditions on the expropriation of the lake water, including that export is exclusive to Winnipeg.
As a result, any deal to export water to rural municipalities would contravene the order in council, according to Shoal Lake 39 consultant Mike Myers.
“What we’re asking the court to do is to quash their attempts to expand water and sewer services into other rural municipalities, which are outside the original authorization they were given back in 1913,” he said.
“Our position is that we continue to own the water as per Treaty No. 3. We have never relinquished our water rights.”
Treaty No. 3 was signed between various First Nations and the Government of Canada in 1873. In the case of Shoal Lake 39, there has been an ongoing dispute over whether the treaty ceded control of the First Nation’s resources to the government.
Myers, speaking about the legal proceeding filed in March, argues that the treaty maintains First Nation control over natural resources and that expropriation of the lake water has breached the spirit of that agreement.
“In Treaty No. 3 ... there’s what we call the consent clause. That clause says that the Government of Canada would not allow anything to happen that will either diminish our lands or our rights and interests pertinent to those lands, without our consent,” he said.
“Nobody came and got our consent to do all this so that’s what we’re putting in front of the court. We want their deals and everything quashed until they do consult and accommodate us.”
Myers added that Shoal Lake is often flooded with outside water in order to accommodate export to Winnipeg and that erosion has eaten away traditional agricultural land.
Aimée Craft, a lawyer and aboriginal law expert with the Public Interest Law Centre, helped put Shoal Lake 39’s claims into perspective.
“Governments generally do not operate on the basis of First Nations consent and that is in direct breach of international law principles and, in particular, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. It’s
also in part a breach of provisions within some of the treaties that are negotiated with some Canadian First Nations,” she said.
“I think governments need to be more aware of the particular situations of First Nations, accepting their treaty responsibilities, and First Nations need to be holding governments to account. Now that’s a heavy burden for each of those parties to hold, but it’s reflective of the historical relationship that was created by treaty.”
The City of Winnipeg maintains that Shoal Lake 39’s demands and claims to lake water are not legally valid.
Shoal Lake 40, which entered into a tripartite agreement with the City of Winnipeg and government of Manitoba in 1989 around economic development, has been under a boilwater advisory for nearly 20 years.
According to chief Erwin Redsky, they would prefer a negotiated, rather than litigated, settlement with the city around the lake water but may intervene in litigation in conjunction with Shoal Lake 39 at a later date.
Published in Volume 66, Number 26 of The Uniter (April 5, 2012)