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Squamish Nation puts off demand for transfer tax

First step is legislation that opens door to commercial real estate development on reserve



The Squamish Nation is holding off on its demand for a property transfer tax.

The Government of Canada announced last week that it's reintroducing the First Nations Certainty of Land Title Act at the request of the Squamish Nation. The legislation will allow the First Nation to register on-reserve commercial real estate developments in a tool that will replicate provincial land title and registry systems.

The legislation requires an amendment to the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act, something any First Nation requires when establishing such registries.

The legislation is being reintroduced because Parliament was prorogued for 22 days during the Olympics, effectively killing any legislation that was on the Order Paper, or up for consideration, during the Parliamentary session prior to that.

"The proposed legislation will make it easier for First Nations to pursue large real estate projects on their land, opening the door to new opportunities in a potentially lucrative market," Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said in a news release.

What he didn't say, however, is that this legislation will only apply to the Squamish Nation. The First Nation is described in the news release as a "major proponent" of the bill but that's because each First Nation in Canada has to request amendments for themselves.

The announcement also didn't carry a mention of the property transfer tax, which Squamish leaders want. In December, when the federal government first announced the Land Title Act, Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob said it fell short of what they were looking for.

"Federal legislation introduced in the House of Commons, while a first step for the Squamish Nation to undertake large-scale, commercial development of their Vancouver properties, still falls short of allowing them to compete on a level playing field in the growing Vancouver real estate market," he wrote at the time.

The Squamish Nation wants a tax similar to British Columbia's property transfer tax that land- and homeowners are required to pay when they purchase property.

Reached on his cell phone Monday, Jacob said the Squamish Nation has agreed with the federal government to deal with a property transfer tax at a later date. He said the First Nations Certainty of Land Title Act is their prime focus at present.

"We're just dealing with the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act right now," he said. "The rest of it will come at a later date and hopefully we'll be successful on that."

The Squamish Nation is making these requests at the recommendation of Tom Flanagan, a communications advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the 2006 election and now a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.

Flanagan was contracted by the Squamish Nation when the First Nation sought advice on how to develop 800,000 square feet of residential space on the Capilano reserve in North Vancouver.

In a report titled "Unlocking the Value: The Squamish Nation's Land Development Plans" he recommended that they seek their own transfer tax to help them compete in the Lower Mainland's housing market.