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Then-British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell and Chief Kim Baird of the Tsawwassen First Nation attend ceremonies before the treaty settlement legislation was tabled in the provincial legislature in Victoria in 2007. (Andy Clark/ Reuters/Andy Clark/ Reuters)
Then-British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell and Chief Kim Baird of the Tsawwassen First Nation attend ceremonies before the treaty settlement legislation was tabled in the provincial legislature in Victoria in 2007. (Andy Clark/ Reuters/Andy Clark/ Reuters)

Rod Mickleburgh

For Tsawwassen First Nation, development is the name of the game Add to ...

The landmark 2009 agreement between government and the Tsawwassen First Nation was rightly hailed as the country’s first modern urban treaty.

Unlike many native groups who occupy relatively isolated areas, surrounded by forested Crown land, Tsawwassen natives are hemmed in by a coal port, a ferry terminal and the municipality of Delta.

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When they sneeze, other residents of the Lower Mainland can catch cold. Now, we are beginning to learn what that means.

Long gone are hunting, gathering and the old ways of aboriginal life. The new name of the game is development.

Under the TFN’s plan to boldly go where no B.C. native group has gone before, a heretofore placid pocket of mostly rural land, ceded to them by the province, will be transformed into a hectic hub of commerce, housing and industry.

Projects include an industrial park to complement the nearby Deltaport, housing for an estimated 4,000 new residents over the next decade, and development of a mega shopping mall on land that was previously part of the province’s cherished Agricultural Land Reserve.

It’s time for profits, not turnips.

“They are going to do more to change the face of Delta in the next 10 years than what happened over the last 200 years,” fumed Delta Councillor Ian Paton in an interview with a local newspaper.

Policy analyst Neil Salmond, a member of a research centre at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, was also aghast.

“It came as quite a shock to me that such a classic suburban mall could be built on undeveloped agricultural land and in the second decade of the 21st century, as we battle the high … costs of fossil fuel dependency,” he wrote on his blog.

Mr. Paton, Mr. Salmond and concerned Delta residents may fret all they want, however. There is nothing they can do about it.

The TFN and its dynamic, 41-year-old Chief Kim Baird have powers other municipalities can only dream of. On their expanded native land base, deals can move ahead with the speed of a Sami Salo slap shot compared to the turtle dawdle that often slows municipal development plans.

With two major developers, the proposed, huge shopping mall was unveiled only last April. If approved, as expected, by TFN members in a vote Jan. 18, construction will begin later this year, with completion some time in 2015.

Delta’s controversial Southlands housing development, meanwhile, has been batted back and forth by critics and supporters for years. Yet another round of public consultation is set for the spring.

No wonder developers clamour for TFN attention. The process isn’t wide open. The TFN does do due diligence. But once a project gets the green light, it’s full steam ahead, without a need to rezone, abide by municipal bylaws, and the like.

Veteran Delta Mayor Lois Jackson says she doesn’t begrudge her native neighbours the powers she and her council don’t have. “They have a right to them,” she said.

Still, she wouldn’t mind a bit of that same clout coming Delta’s way. “We could always threaten to join Point Roberts, I guess.”

*****

Thank you, busy little elves in the B.C. government’s communications department.

While the rest of us indulged in laced eggnogs, squished figgy pudding and smashing any sound system blaring The Little Drummer Boy, they hunkered at their work benches to produce stockings full of press releases to remind us of government beneficence.

On Christmas Eve, just before Santa clambered down the legislative chimney with his government-ordered lump of coal for Adrian Dix, out came the news “for immediate release” that the government was creating and protecting jobs by “becoming more open and transparent.”

On Boxing Day, amid our frenzied shopping in the rain, we were cheered by a report of positive results from the work “to make B.C. communities safer.”

And on New Year’s Eve, as Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga cavorted in Times Square, the spin-meisters in the dark halls of the legislature celebrated in their own quiet way with a press release extolling B.C.’s Open Data initiative.

Finally, New Year’s Day. No sleeping in for the folks at the Ministry of Health. They woke disgustingly bright and early to provide a grateful, hung-over province with their “top 10 tips for a healthier you.”

Among them: “If you’re at home with the kids, get active by doing jumping jacks, playing tag or dancing around the house.”

And if that wasn’t enough to wean you from the Rose Bowl, there was also: “Pick a healthy recipe and get the whole family involved in learning how to make it.”

It’s a living.

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

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